Pros: Very insightful inside view of a small-market baseball teams struggle to compete
Cons: Many players mentioned didn't pan out for the A's, and their payroll expanded
I first began reading Michael Lewis' works in college. For a Business Perspectives class my sophomore year, I read Liars Poker, the semi-autobiographical look at the crazy 1980s bond market. From this work, I grew very fond of Lewis insightful and comedic writing style, and have read several of his other works over the years. Last year, several of my friends started begging me to read Moneyball, just so they could discuss the work with me. I acquiesced. They were right; it was a great book.
Moneyball is an inside look at the 2003 Oakland Athletics, and their wise general manager, Billy Beane. The have and have-nots were driving a deep chasm between the teams of Major League Baseball. In 2006, several teams put players on the field making more than the combined salaries of the Florida Marlins. The Yankees in fact had a payroll sixteen times that of the Marlins. In a league whose market economics dictate that most players follow the money to big market teams, an unfair dynamic developed in Americas pastime.
With Billy Beanes leadership in the front office, the Athletics were able to post very successful playoff-bound teams while keeping their payroll in the bottom third of the league. With big-market teams dominating throughout the rest of the league, Lewis tried to find out how the Athletics achieved sustained success.
The books central thesis revolves around the old-school talent evaluation and on-field tactics, versus the new-school methodology of sabermetrics techniques, which were adopted by Billy Beane and the Athletics front office. Sabermetrics is the utilization of statistical analysis to dictate personnel decisions. Lewis discussed the reasons that statistics, such as RBIs and batting average, developed in baseball. The one-hundred and fifty year old statistical metrics were archaic relics of the ancient game, which were replaced by Billy Beans with on-base percentage and slugging percentage.
The well-educated mathematicians in the As front office deemed these statistics and as wealth of others as better indicators of future runs scored. Using these offensive statistics, devaluing the import of defensive play-making ability, and utilizing pitching statistics, such as, groundball/flyball ratio helped the As front office find undervalued talent. Undervalued talent is of magnanimous import in the dichotomy of the small-market versus major-market baseball. The As used this analysis for the amateur baseball draft and major league free agency market. The As would often promise players a higher than expected draft spot in an exchange for a lower than market signing price. In the free agent market, the Athletics would find players the rest of the market deemed of little value, but the A's determined possessed a certain quality (ability to throw groundball outs or get on base) missed by the rest of the market. Lewis' coverage of these techniques included covering the baseball peronalities involved, and was very interesting reading from an insider's standpoint.
The import of the book can be seen in Major League Baseball today. Several teams now employ statistical analysis, and the statistics employed by the A's are now a part of the everyday baseball lexicon.