THE AMERICAN WEST (mostly): Fact and Fiction (mostly fiction)

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Monday, September 29, 2014

MONEYBALL: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game by Michael Lewis

In honor of the MLB postseason, I am resurrecting a book review that I wrote back in 2009.

I hardly know where to begin in attempting a review of Michael Lewis’ Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game.  It isn’t that I don’t think that the book is well written, because it is. It isn’t that I disagree with the conclusions that are reached in the book, because, for the most part, I don’t. What bothers me, as a recovering baseball fanatic, is that I don’t enjoy the game that utilizes the approaches that are proposed in this book.

Moneyball  describes how the general manager of the Oakland A’s, Billy Beane, has been able to use sabermetrics (statistical analysis originated by Bill James and others) to more intelligently draft players and win games.
According to the proponents of this new approach:
1) offense is more important than pitching; 2) defense hardly matters at all; 3) the most important baseball statistic is on-base percentage, followed by slugging percentage; 4) stealing bases should not be attempted because it is not worth the risk; 5) the same goes for the hit-and-run; 6) never sacrifice because it is not worth giving up the out ; 7) scouts are unnecessary; and 8) line-ups and game strategy are dictated to the manager by the general manager and his statistical analysts, making managers almost as unnecessary as scouts.

Beane and his statistical guru, and not the scouts, decide who should be drafted.  According to Lewis, the most important statistic to Beane and his statistician in determining what position players to draft is the ability of the player to draw walks. They look for players (only college players for they never draft high school players) who have exhibited the ability to work deep in the count and to draw walks.
I can’t speak for others, but I don’t watch baseball games in order to watch hitters work deep into the count, draw a walk, camp out on the bases until somebody gets an extra-base hit (or two) to drive them home. The strategy utilized by Beane and his proponents may produce a more efficient style of baseball, about that I am in no position to quibble. It may be the only way that a team like the Oakland A’s can compete with the deep pockets of the New York Yankees (the ‘unfair game’ mentioned in the book’s subtitle).

However, to repeat, I find
the emphasis on this approach to result in a game that is much less fun to watch. 

Michael Lewis

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