Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game is a book by Michael Lewis, published in 2003, about the Oakland Athletics baseball team and its general manager Billy Beane. It describes the team's sabermetric approach to assembling a competitive baseball team on a small budget. It led to the 2011 film Moneyball, starring Brad Pitt and Jonah Hill.

The Art of Winning an Unfair Game
Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game
AuthorMichael Lewis
CountryUnited States
PublisherW. W. Norton & Company
Publication date
June 17, 2003
Media typePrint (Hardcover)
Pages288 pp.
LC ClassGV880 .L49 2003
Preceded byNext: The Future Just Happened 
Followed byCoach: Lessons on the Game of Life 

Synopsis edit

The central premise of Moneyball is that the collective wisdom of baseball insiders (including players, managers, coaches, scouts, and the front office) over the past century is outdated, subjective, and often flawed. That the statistics traditionally used to gauge players, such as stolen bases, runs batted in, and batting average, are relics of a 19th-century view of the game.[1] Sabermetrics and statistical analysis had demonstrated, for example, that on-base percentage and slugging percentage are better measures of batting. The Oakland A's began seeking players who were "undervalued in the market"—that is, who were receiving lower salaries relative to their ability to contribute to winning, as measured by these advanced statistics.

By re-evaluating their strategy in this way, the 2002 Athletics, with a budget of $44 million for player salaries, were competitive with larger-market teams such as the New York Yankees, whose payroll exceeded $125 million that season. The approach brought the A's to the playoffs in 2002 and 2003.

Lewis explored several themes in the book, such as insiders vs. outsiders (established traditionalists vs. upstart proponents of sabermetrics), the democratization of information causing a flattening of hierarchies, and "the ruthless drive for efficiency that capitalism demands".

Moneyball also looks at how the A's evaluated prospects. Sabermetricians argue that a college baseball player's chance of MLB success is much higher than the more traditional high school draft pick. Beane maintains that high draft picks spent on high school prospects, regardless of talent or physical potential as evaluated by traditional scouting, are riskier than those spent on more experienced college players. College players have played more games and thus there is a larger mass of statistical data on which to base expensive decisions. Lewis cites A's minor leaguer Jeremy Bonderman, drafted out of high school in 2001 over Beane's objections, as an example of the type of draft pick Beane would avoid. Bonderman had all of the traditional "tools" that scouts look for, but thousands of such players have been signed by MLB organizations out of high school over the years and failed to develop as anticipated. Lewis explores the A's approach to the 2002 MLB draft, when the team had a run of early picks. The book documents Beane's often tense discussions with his scouting staff (who favored traditional subjective evaluation of potential rather than objective sabermetrics) in preparation for the draft to the actual draft, which defied all expectations and was considered at the time a wildly successful (if unorthodox) effort by Beane.

Moneyball traces the history of the sabermetric movement back to such people as Bill James (then a member of the Boston Red Sox front office) and Craig R. Wright. Lewis explores how James's seminal Baseball Abstract, published annually from the late 1970s through the late 1980s, influenced many of the young, up-and-coming baseball minds that are now joining the ranks of baseball management.

Influence edit

"Moneyball" has entered baseball's lexicon; teams that value sabermetrics are often said to be playing Moneyball. Baseball traditionalists, in particular some scouts and media members, decry the sabermetric revolution and have disparaged Moneyball for emphasizing sabermetrics over more traditional methods of player evaluation. Nevertheless, Moneyball changed the way many major league front offices do business. In its wake, teams such as the New York Mets, New York Yankees, San Diego Padres, St. Louis Cardinals, Boston Red Sox, Washington Nationals, Arizona Diamondbacks, Cleveland Guardians,[2] and the Toronto Blue Jays have hired full-time sabermetric analysts.

When the Mets hired Sandy Alderson—Beane's predecessor and mentor with the A's—as their general manager after the 2010 season, and hired Beane's former associates Paul DePodesta and J.P. Ricciardi to the front office, the team was jokingly referred to as the "Moneyball Mets".[3] Like the Oakland A's in the 1990s, the Mets had been directed by their ownership to slash payroll. Under Alderson's tenure, the team payroll dropped below $100 million per year from 2012 to 2014, and the Mets reached the 2015 World Series—en route defeating MLB's highest-payroll team, the Los Angeles Dodgers.

In the 2019 and 2020 seasons, the Tampa Bay Rays were considered masters of Moneyball, reaching the 2020 World Series with a payroll prorated at US$28.2 million, third-lowest of Major League Baseball's 30 teams.[4][5]

Lewis has acknowledged that the book's success may have hurt the Athletics' fortunes as other teams accepted sabermetrics, reducing Oakland's edge.[6]

Since the book's publication and success, Lewis has discussed plans for a sequel to Moneyball called Underdogs, revisiting the players and their relative success several years into their careers, although only four players from the 2002 draft played much at the Major League level.

Moneyball has also influenced and been influenced by other professional sports teams including European club association football (soccer). Beane has regarded Arsenal's former manager Arsène Wenger as a personal idol. Beane has held discussions with Wenger, former Manchester United F.C. manager Alex Ferguson, and Liverpool F.C. owner John W. Henry.[7] His friendship with ex-Arsenal scout Damien Comolli and Arsenal owner Stan Kroenke allowed him to delve deep into the world of English football.[8] According to El País, Liverpool F.C. co-owner John W. Henry did not trust public opinion so he looked for a mathematical method similar to the one used for the Boston Red Sox (in guiding them to three World Series wins) which he also owns via Fenway Sports Group.[9] The mathematical model turned out to be that of Cambridge physicist Ian Graham, which was used to select the manager (Jürgen Klopp) and players essential for Liverpool to win the 2018–19 UEFA Champions League.[10][11]

People discussed in the book edit

Moneyball covers the lives and careers of several baseball personalities. The central one is Billy Beane, whose failed playing career is contrasted with wildly optimistic predictions by scouts.

Players and people discussed in Moneyball:

Oakland farm system edit

Nick Swisher, the prospect the traditional scouts and statisticians agreed upon

Oakland bullpen edit

Other players edit

Kevin Youkilis

Scouts, management, and journalists edit

Analysis of the 2002 Major League Baseball draft edit

Beane's list edit

Beane assembled a list of twenty players they would draft in a "perfect world"; meaning if money was no object and they did not have to compete with the other twenty-nine teams.

The list, and the teams who drafted them:


Oakland's picks edit

  • #16 – Nick Swisher – successful major leaguer, traded to Chicago White Sox after 2007
  • #24 – Joe Blanton – successful major leaguer, traded to Philadelphia Phillies in 2008
  • #26 – John McCurdy – never made MLB. Last played minor league ball in 2006.
  • #30 – Ben Fritz – never made MLB. Last played minor league ball in 2010.
  • #35 – Jeremy Brown – MLB experience consists of 11 plate appearances for Oakland in 2006. Last played minor league ball in 2007.
  • #37 – Stephen Obenchain – never made MLB. Last played minor league ball in 2006.
  • #39 – Mark Teahen – spent parts of eight seasons in MLB, played only in the minors in 2012 and 2013.
  • #67 – Steve Stanley – never made MLB. Last played minor league ball in 2006.
  • #98 – Bill Murphy – MLB debut in 2007, pitched approximately 18 innings in MLB. Has played only in foreign and minor leagues since 2009.
  • #128 – John Baker – traded to the Florida Marlins and has played around 300 total games in six MLB seasons.
  • #158 – Mark Kiger – MLB experience consists of 1+23 innings at second base for Oakland in the 2006 American League Championship Series. Never played in the MLB regular season. Last played minor league ball in 2009.
  • #188 – Brian Stavisky – never made MLB. Last played minor league ball in 2010.
  • #218 – Brant Colamarino – never made MLB. Last played minor league ball in 2007.

Reception edit

Richard H. Thaler of the University of Chicago Graduate School of Business and Cass R. Sunstein of the University of Chicago Law School described the book as a "sensation... Lewis has a wonderful story to tell, and he tells it wonderfully... Lewis also raises some serious puzzles that he does not resolve, and his account has some large and perhaps profound implications that he does not much explore."[12]

David Haglund of Slate and Jonah Keri of Grantland criticized the book for glossing over key young talent acquired through the draft and signed internationally. They argued that the book ignores the pitching trio of Tim Hudson, Mark Mulder, and Barry Zito, and position players such as Eric Chavez and Miguel Tejada, all of whom were discovered via traditional scouting methodology and were key contributors to the success of the 2002 Athletics. In 2002, Zito received the AL Cy Young Award and Tejada the AL MVP Award.[13][14]

Sheldon and Alan Hirsch also argue against Moneyball's thesis in their 2011 book The Beauty of Short Hops: How Chance and Circumstance Confound the Moneyball Approach to Baseball, pointing out that the 2002 A's were notable for allowing fewer runs than other teams, not scoring more.[15]

Film edit

A movie based on the book was released in 2011. Actor Brad Pitt stars as Billy Beane, while Jonah Hill plays fictional character Peter Brand, based on Paul DePodesta; Philip Seymour Hoffman plays A's manager Art Howe. Academy Award-winning screenwriter Steve Zaillian was hired to write the script, and Steven Soderbergh was slated to direct, replacing David Frankel.[16] But in June 2009, because of conflicts over a revised script by Soderbergh, Sony put the movie on hold just days before it was scheduled to begin shooting.[17] Soderbergh was eventually let go.

Bennett Miller took over directing duties,[18] and Aaron Sorkin rewrote the script.[18] Shooting began in July 2010 at Blair Field, the Sports Stadium for Wilson High School (Long Beach, California), Sony Studios in Culver City, Dodger Stadium, and the Oakland-Alameda Coliseum.[19][20] The film was released in theaters on September 23, 2011. Moneyball was nominated for six Academy Awards, including Best Actor and Best Picture.

In popular culture edit

The book is parodied in the 2010 Simpsons episode "MoneyBART", in which Lisa manages Bart's Little League baseball team using sabermetric principles. Bill James made an appearance in this episode. The film adaptation is mentioned in Brooklyn Nine-Nine as being Captain Raymond Holt's favorite film because of the beauty of its statistical analysis. Additionally, Moneyball was the namesake for the Moneyball Act by U.S. Representatives Barbara Lee and Mark DeSaulnier with the intended purpose of having MLB teams that move 25 miles from its former home city, including the Athletics, to compensate them.

See also edit

References edit

  1. ^ "A Study of Sabermetrics in Major League Baseball: The Impact of Moneyball on Free Agent Salaries" (PDF).
  2. ^ Woolner, Keith (2007-05-04). "Articles | Aim For The Head: Aim For the Front Office". Baseball Prospectus. Retrieved 2011-09-24.
  3. ^ "The Moneyball Mets". New York. 25 March 2011. Retrieved 2011-04-06.
  4. ^ Rogers, Martin (October 10, 2019). "The Tampa Bay Rays are the undisputed kings of Moneyball" – via
  5. ^ Rubin, Shayna (October 20, 2020). "World Series: Why Tampa Bay Rays do 'Moneyball' better than Oakland A's" – via
    N.B. While this reference uses "28th lowest", it clearly means 28th highest (out of 30), aka third-lowest.
  6. ^ "Michael Lewis on A's 'Moneyball' legacy". San Francisco Chronicle. 18 September 2011. Retrieved 2011-09-23.
  7. ^ Lyttleton, Ben (March 26, 2015). "Why Billy Beane was right to avoid the EPL and work with AZ Alkmaar". The Guardian – via
  8. ^ Bascombe, Chris (October 13, 2011). "Arsenal manager Arsène Wenger is an idol of mine, says revered baseball coach Billy Beane". The Telegraph. Archived from the original on 2022-01-12. Retrieved June 18, 2012.
  9. ^ O'Connor, Luke (2 November 2015). "Jurgen Klopp & Liverpool's 'Moneyball' Policy". Retrieved 4 June 2019.
  10. ^ Maupomé, Ana Paulina (3 June 2019). "Moneyball, Liverpool's reason behind Jürgen Klopp's hiring". Retrieved 4 June 2019.
  11. ^ Prentice, David (May 24, 2019). "Unknown LFC backroom boy who convinced Klopp to sign Salah & Keita". liverpoolecho.
  12. ^ "Who's On First". New Republic. 2003-09-01. Retrieved 2017-02-09.
  13. ^ "More Moneyball, Same Problems". Slate. 2011-09-21. Retrieved 2017-05-22.
  14. ^ "Baseball's Big Three: A Look Back at Tim Hudson, Mark Mulder, and Barry Zito in Oakland". Grantland. 2015-09-23. Retrieved 2017-05-22.
  15. ^ Barra, Allen (2011-09-27). "The Many Problems With 'Moneyball'". The Atlantic. Retrieved 2023-01-18.
  16. ^ Siegel, Tatiana. "Columbia pitches Moneyball to Pitt", Variety (October 16, 2008).
  17. ^ ""Benched: 'Moneyball' Flick on Hold at Last Minute", Associated Press (June 22, 2009)". 2009-06-22. Retrieved 2011-09-24.
  18. ^ a b Fleming, Mike (12 April 2010). ""Finally, It's Batter Up For 'Moneyball,'" (April 12, 2010)". Retrieved 2011-09-24.
  19. ^ ""'Moneyball' begins filming in Oakland", ABC7 KGO-TV San Francisco, California (July 27, 2010)". 2010-07-27. Retrieved 2011-09-24.
  20. ^ "'Moneyball' films scenes in Dodger Stadium". Los Angeles Times. 2010-09-14. Retrieved 2011-09-24.

External links edit