Book Review: Moneyball

I have decided to start a new column for Dingerball. This column will be consisting of various book reviews as you can probably indicate from the title. Obviously the books will only be baseball related and probably in some way be related to analytics. Overall the next several weeks there will probably be more book reviews than in the distant future because I can already write about the books I have read so far. So, be prepared for a solid dose of book reviews to start things off. Hopefully you can benefit in some way from this column as I know it will definitely be a beneficial experience for me.

If you have visited this site even once than the odds are that you’ve read the book Moneyball before. However, I figured it would be the perfect book to start this column off as most of us would not be so involved in the game of baseball today without it. The book brought the analytical movement to the world stage and changed the game of baseball forever.

The book Moneyball by Michael Lewis is about the 2002 Oakland Athletics and their general manager, Billy Beane. Over the course of the book you learn about the team’s journey through the baseball season and how they got to that point through the construction of Billy Beane. You also learn about how Billy Beane got to this point as he was once a high sought after draft pick. Beane was drafted out of high school in the first round by the New York Mets and bypassed the opportunity to play college baseball at Stanford. His career never panned out and was a player that bounced around from team to team over his short career. He was never able to achieve the first round expectations that were placed on him and didn’t last long in Major League Baseball. However, he is still now one of the most important people in the history of baseball for what he did off the field as an Oakland Athletic’s executive.

When I evaluate the career of Billy Beane I believe his playing career shaped his ability to be such an open minded general manager. He is know for saying that signing with the Mets out of high school was the only decision that he made in his life based on money. He realized that the scouts were wrong about him and that they would continue to be wrong even when he was the general manager years down the road. So, he turned to unconventional ways by using analytics to create the 2002 Oakland Athletic’s roster. The Athletic’s organization was a franchise with a low payroll attempting to overcome this disadvantage and compete with teams who had a payroll that was usually double but sometimes triple their size.

Scott Hatteberg celebrating after a walk off home run
Image via SF Gate

Throughout the book, Michael Lewis writes about several case studies of players that were a part of the Athletic’s roster that season. Specifically, the ones that were on that roster because of what the analytics showed. Scott Hatteberg is one example of a player that was signed to the roster because he provided the team with a competitive advantage. It appeared his career was over due to his inability to throw a baseball due to injury. However, the Athletic’s organization taught Hatteberg how to play first base because they new he would be a valuable addition to their lineup. What made him so valuable was his ability to get on base. Beane and his assistant, Paul DePodesta, discovered that on-base precentage is more valuable than batting average. Beane worked to construct his team around this new competitive advantage in an attempt to compete with teams who had a higher payroll.

Beane also uses analytics in the book when making his draft choices. He decided to forgo what the scouts say and to relay more heavily on what the numbers say. The primary competitive advantage that Beane discovers in the draft is that college draft picks are more likely to succeed than high school draft picks. So, Beane implements this strategy and in that 2002 draft, he had one of the most successful draft classes in the league.

Billy Beane
Image via Check Swing

Moneyball explores how Billy Beane and Paul DePodesta find overlooked competitive advantages and implement them in an attempt to compete in an unfair game. There story changed the game of baseball to what it is today and it was the start of the analytical movement on the large stage. If you are yet to read this book, I highly recommend it to see how the 2002 season played out for the Oakland Athletic’s and how Billy Beane changed the game of baseball.