Saturday, September 13, 2014

Moneyball by Michael Lewis (Book Review #88 of 2014)

I needed something lighter after the works of Plato, and this was a great light read. I also have a goal of reading all of Michael Lewis' books, so check another off the list.

I read The Blind Side before seeing the movie, but watched Moneyball before reading this book. Lewis' writing on sports just lends itself to good movies that are able to stick closely to the book. The book reads like the movie just with more detail, and the movie captures some of the more fun scenes in the book very well. "I couldn't do a regression analysis but I knew what one was." Billy Beane is much smarter than the movie made him out to be, Beane read all of Bill James' abstracts and devoured articles on baseball analysis; the A's genius wasn't all based on egghead Paul DePodesta's work, though DePodesta did pioneer a few models and built much of the computer work. Beane could easily run up statistical refutations of media criticism, such as the A's supposedly not "manufacturing runs in the playoffs."

Lewis apparently got interested in the A's after the 2001 season and was present for part of 2002, given access to Beane and the clubhouse and apparently the 2002 draft. (The draft drama is largely absent from the movie.) This wikipedia page on the book gives an update on how the A's draft analysis panned out. At first glance it appears they did not fare much better than randomness, but perhaps in sports a slight edge makes a big difference. Lewis was there for the famous streak-breaking game where the A's blew an 11-run lead. The movies portrayal of those moments are quite good. Beane has a darker temper and is much more profane than Brad Pitt's character portrayed (there is no shortage of f-bombs in this book).

Another difference between versions is that Oakland manager Art Howe understood that Billy Beane and the front office called the shots, there was much less conflict than what was portrayed. On the field, Howe stood where and how Beane told him; the appearance of his command was all illusion. The players all knew Beane called the shots, even though the front office shared little of the data they were crunching-- unlike in the movie.

The A's analysis was much more thorough than the movie made out, too. Lewis takes the time to explain the history of sabermetrics and the various controversies such as how to judge fielding and pitchers' contributions. From here out, I will only look at on-base percentage and slugging percentage for hitters, and OBP is four times more important than SLG. But the revolution has only changed baseball so much, most articles I see only reference batting average and home runs.

Scott Hatteberg was acquired by the A's for his great on-base percentage, but missing from the movie is Hatteberg's own approach to methodically recording data about all of his at-bats. The Red Sox had criticized him for his scientific method.

Another difference was that the touching stories about Beane's relationship with his daughter are not in the book version.

I give this book 4 stars out of 5.

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