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Past book reviews & discussions > October book discussion - "Moneyball"

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message 1: by Lance (new)

Lance (sportsbookguy) | 12620 comments Mod
This will be the discussion thread for our non-fiction book for October, "Moneyball" by Micheal Lewis. Below is the question to get the discussion started, but feel free to contribute any thoughts about the book you wish to share - the discussion is by no means limited to this question.

What is meant by the subtitle of the book, "an unfair game"? Why "unfair"?


message 2: by Ashley Marie (new)

Ashley Marie  | 1457 comments I've just started Moneyball, but I already think "unfair" references how different teams have different payrolls -- that is, the Yankees have always been able to afford the best / most expensive players while teams like the A's, Indians, and Rays (at the time of the book's writing) were scraping the bottom of the barrel and still trying to put together a contending team.


message 3: by Harold (new)

Harold Kasselman | 17650 comments Crux; Why did a team with the lowest payroll become highly competitive while the richest spending teams faltered? It's not how much you spend but how.

1. High school draftee pitchers are twice as likely to fail as college pitchers

2. position high school players are 4 times less likely to make the big leagues.

3. Best line- Kelly Heath who subbed one game for KC Frank White who was suffering from hemorrhoids(must be contagious in KC even ten years earlier), a scout says about heath, "only player whose entire big league career was made possible by an asshole".

4. The ability to control the strike zone was the best indicator of future success-ie, the "great take" Joey Votto the prime example. OBP and the number of pitches seen in an at bat.

5. That Sandy Alderson was one of the first true believers that OBP and slugging % rather than batting average was what counted and that steals, bunts, and hit and runs were mostly self-defeating. New system and approach-walks and home runs. In what other business does a middle manager make policy for the whole organizational system? Billy v. Art Howe(loved the notion of Art posing with his chin up in the air on the first step of the dugout as a prop for motivation.

5. Bill James, "The naked eye was an inadequate tool with which to evaluate players and teams". Managers tend to pick a strategy that is less likely to fail rather than pick one that is most efficient. (Baseball insiders initially called sabermetricians a cult)

6. It isn't the money disparity championed by Bud Selig that causes small market teams not to compete, but their failure to recognize efficiency; namely OPS

7. AVM and expected run value- a derivative , a better way to value players. Baseball is a game of attrition-taking pitches to get rid of the starter and into a weaker bull pen. Query: 13 years later, the pens are so strong that there is a push to do away with starters and just have everyone pitch 3 innings.. Now the philosophy is be aggressive early.

8. I loved the description of the last game in the 20 consecutive wins in 2002 when Oakland blew an 11-0 lead because of a melt down by Bradford and Tam only to be resuscitated by Scottie Hatberg on a walk-off home run.

9. Joe Morgan's mistaken analysis of why the A's lost to the twins in the playoffs; namely a failure to manufacture runs via bunts and steals Vs Hudson pitched poorly twice and the pitching staff gave up far more than their norm. A's had actually scored more runs per game than in the regular season.

10. To answer Doug's comment about why the A's can't win despite their supposed brilliant staff, playoffs frustrate the scientific strategy of OBP; it's too small a sample size. Pete Palmer of SABR"the average difference in baseball due to skill is about one run per game. Luck is about 4 runs per game. Over a season, the luck evens out but skill shines through. But in a short series, anything can happen. The worst team can win 15% of the time. Beane himself says his job is to take his team into the playoffs. After that it's f###ing luck.
could grasp its meaning.
I thought it was brilliantly presented so that anyone could grasp its meaning. I liked it better this time than when I read it 7 years ago.


message 4: by Harold (new)

Harold Kasselman | 17650 comments As for the question, yes I agree with Ashley that in 2003 the unfairness referenced the imbalance of money that teams had in order to compete. And to counter-balance those financial realities, someone had to create a new system to compete. The relatively new concepts of statistics over scouts and the need to look at OBP and OPS rather than traditional stats was the way to compete; Billy Beane was the personification of that philosophy.


message 5: by Ashley Marie (new)

Ashley Marie  | 1457 comments Harold, #3 made me laugh out loud when I heard it in the book this morning!


message 6: by Harold (new)

Harold Kasselman | 17650 comments Me too Ashley- I loved that line


message 7: by Brad (new)

Brad I think "unfair" refers to the fact that the highest payrolls theoretically should win, but don't, and vice versa. Low payrolls can and do win thanks to a more nuanced understanding of the game. It doesn't seem "fair" if your team is one of the big payrolls but lacks the smarts to understand the game in a more subtle way.


message 8: by Michael Linn (new)

Michael Linn | 10876 comments Very astute for comment number one, welcome Brad
Mike Linn


message 9: by Ashley Marie (new)

Ashley Marie  | 1457 comments Brad wrote: "I think "unfair" refers to the fact that the highest payrolls theoretically should win, but don't, and vice versa. Low payrolls can and do win thanks to a more nuanced understanding of the game. It..."

Interesting thought. I could easily imagine the Yankees crying about this, to which I would stick my tongue out and tell them to revamp their system and get with the program. Nothing in life is fair, is it?


message 10: by Brina (new)

Brina | 8144 comments Mod
Welcome Brad. And I think the Yankees are starting to get it judging by their trades and calling up all the baby bombers this season.


message 11: by [deleted user] (last edited Oct 02, 2016 06:36AM) (new)

Harold wrote: "Crux; Why did a team with the lowest payroll become highly competitive while the richest spending teams faltered? It's not how much you spend but how.

1. High school draftee pitchers are twice as ..."


Very good summation for the defense, Harold. I would like to disagree with Beane and the SABR guy about luck playing that big of a role. I think that is a total cop out. Luck plays very little role.

Sure, there are lucky bounces and seeing-eye bleeders and important blown calls that we all remember from baseball post-season history, but the reason we remember them is because they are rare.

The vast majority of the time the best team wins--the team that executes and plays the game right. It may not be the team that was the best for the entire season, but the team that gets hot and plays the best for the few weeks in the postseason. Of course, a few hot pitchers can make the difference.

But over a 10 or 20 year sampling, if the same team fails every time at the end of the season, it is not due to luck, but due to something else.


message 12: by Harold (new)

Harold Kasselman | 17650 comments Welcome home Doug. I was getting worried about your absence. Glad to have you back.


message 13: by [deleted user] (new)

That thing called work is killing my fun time. A local ophthalmologist retired this year and I absorbed his crowd of 80+ year old chronic patients and now I am the only guy in town who takes Medicaid and a few other state plans, so every time I try to sneak away my staff drags me back.

Anyway. Another point I thought of: although I sounded like a bit of a curmudgeon in the last post (every discussion needs a devil's advocate), I do think that we should give Beane and Lewis credit for being pioneers in this form of thinking. A lot of fans take things like OBP and other stats for granted now, but when this book came out, it was really cutting edge stuff. So in that regard, it has withstood the test of time.

And speaking from a point of sports literature, they are as much of ground breakers as Brosnan, Bouton and Ritter (who showed the potential of the modern oral history).


message 14: by Lance (new)

Lance (sportsbookguy) | 12620 comments Mod
That's a big reason why I agreed with Brina to make this one of our books to get the discussions going again. It should already be considered a "classic" considering in only about 15 years or so, the concepts decribed in the book are now a regular part of the game. That is fast movement in ths sport.


message 15: by Harold (new)

Harold Kasselman | 17650 comments Lance wrote: "That's a big reason why I agreed with Brina to make this one of our books to get the discussions going again. It should already be considered a "classic" considering in only about 15 years or so, t..." Well said


message 16: by [deleted user] (new)

On the other hand, it is good to remember that this is only one formula for "winning," and the original premise was for winning with an underfunded, small-market team.

I think the traditional way of winning (get as many superlative players as possible, such as the Yankees of the '50s did) is still the way to go but, fortunately for all fans, it is not a guarantee either due to things like team chemistry and injuries.

But the Moneyball guys seemed to dismiss speed (and stolen bases) and defense. We have all watched the past two seasons in which the small-market Royals rose to the top by their excellent use of speed and exceptional defense. How many games did the Royals win in the past two postseasons with timely bunts, stolen bases and small-ball-type runs? Not to mention their great defense robbing runs. Of course part of any winning formula is always a lock-down bullpen.


message 17: by [deleted user] (new)

Another point for discussion might be the difference between the true stuff in the book and the Hollywood/Brad Pitt version.

One thing that jumped out to me was that the movie tried to make manager Art Howe out to be a buffoon--an obvious standard plot device to give the good guy a natural foil to prove wrong.


message 18: by Harold (new)

Harold Kasselman | 17650 comments I remember you saying that a year or so ago. It's true. In the book, while it's clear that Beane controlled the philosophy and picked the roster, Art had control of the day to day strategies. And the movie portrayed Howe as being totally opposed to Bean's OBP and OPS philosophy but the book din't portray an antagonistic relationship. I guess the Howe movie character embodied the old time scouting ethos. But, I do recall Billy telling Art to stand on the top step of the dugout with his chin jutted out like George Washington and a stoic look on his face to instill in the players that Howe was a calm and deep thinker always in control of the ship.


message 19: by Ashley Marie (new)

Ashley Marie  | 1457 comments Doug wrote: "Another point for discussion might be the difference between the true stuff in the book and the Hollywood/Brad Pitt version.

One thing that jumped out to me was that the movie tried to make manag..."


Good point, Doug. It's been awhile since I saw the movie (completely forgot Philip Seymour Hoffman played Howe).


message 20: by [deleted user] (new)

A pretty poor choice I thought for Howe, who I always respected as a player. But probably a better realistic choice than Brad Pitt for Billy Beane (only in Beane's, and maybe his wife's, dreams).


message 21: by Ashley Marie (new)

Ashley Marie  | 1457 comments Doug wrote: "A pretty poor choice I thought for Howe, who I always respected as a player. But probably a better realistic choice than Brad Pitt for Billy Beane (only in Beane's, and maybe his wife's, dreams)."

In terms of character decisions, yes. But as far as casting decisions, PSH was a phenomenal actor.


message 22: by Harold (new)

Harold Kasselman | 17650 comments Yes he was one of my favorites. he could play anyone or any part-sad loss


message 23: by Brad (new)

Brad Thanks for the welcome all. I haven't seen the movie version so can only guess at how they portrayed Beane, Howe, etc. Based on the book though, it sounds like Howe didn't have much choice but to go along for the ride. I'd like to have been the proverbial fly of the wall as lineup cards were being filled out.


message 24: by Lance (last edited Oct 04, 2016 02:37AM) (new)

Lance (sportsbookguy) | 12620 comments Mod
I am currently listening to the audio version of the book (BTW...Scott Brick is a fantastic narrator) and I am on the part where Beane threw his chair in the scouting meeting. When I saw the movie, I thought they made "traditional" scouts and their methods sound like idiots.

In the book, I had thought it wasn't so harsh...that traditional scouting still has a place but can be even better if analytics are mixed in. So far, this re-read (okay, re-listen) seems to confirm that. The only concept that seems to be roundly criticized, and this is more from Beane than the author, is drafting high school pitchers, who traditional scouts "love."


message 25: by Harold (new)

Harold Kasselman | 17650 comments I thought the book and Beane made a compelling case with data to show that drafting high school kids was a bad decision.


message 26: by Lance (new)

Lance (sportsbookguy) | 12620 comments Mod
Even before this book, I always questioned that - just too much time for something to go wrong. And we saw what happened when high school pitchers were rushed to the majors - David Clyde as example #1.


message 27: by Lance (new)

Lance (sportsbookguy) | 12620 comments Mod
One other thought - Beane is another in a long line of successful front office guys or managers who wasn't successful in the major leagues. Did his failure on the field play a big part of his success in the front office? When I got out of the car this morning, I just reached the part where he asks Alderson for the job as advance scout. Scout...seems funny now with his attitude toward traditional "scouting"


message 28: by Harold (new)

Harold Kasselman | 17650 comments He realized that he never really wanted to be a baseball player, He felt pushed into it but never really enjoyed it. I think he needs to be in charge and he has a fear of failure. He took the scouting job merely to stay in the business.


message 29: by [deleted user] (new)

Lance wrote: "I am currently listening to the audio version of the book (BTW...Scott Brick is a fantastic narrator) and I am on the part where Beane threw his chair in the scouting meeting. When I saw the movie,..."

Good point on the traditional scouts, Lance. The movie really did make 100 years of finding baseball players look like a crap shoot run by idiots.

Of course that is not true and there is definitely a place for guys who know what they are looking at. True scouts know how to look for small signs that most of us would routinely miss.

Not that they can tell by the sound of a home run whether or not a high school kid can hit a curve or not (like Clint Eastwood in Trouble with the curve), but they definitely know what they are doing.

The problem with using Moneyball stats to draft or sign guys from other countries, such as Dominicans or Cubans is that there really aren't alot of reliable stats to look at. So the grizzled old scout may be your best bet there.


message 30: by Ashley Marie (new)

Ashley Marie  | 1457 comments I should be finishing this tomorrow; really enjoyed it! Especially how it involved certain players that I remember maybe not-so-vividly from the early 2000s.


message 31: by Daniel (last edited Oct 06, 2016 11:56AM) (new)

Daniel Chaikin You all are so freaking knowledgeable. Great discussion.

I'm not re-reading the book, but I'll try to follow along and I remember a lot of my thoughts about the book.

Some random thoughts:

1. Beane was less a sybermetrics guy than argued, and really more of a wheeler and dealer. He just worked over other GMs.

2. There is a reason those A's teams failed in the postseason. They were designed to win a lot of regular season games. You do that by beating the lower half and taking some from the upper half. Record is good, team isn't.

3. (This one depends on definition of unfair - to me Yankees had an unfair advantage over Pittsburgh because of money. Beane was trying to close the gap) The game is different now. It's not as unfair financially. That's why the Yankees are struggling and the Royals, Pirates are more competitive.


message 32: by Harold (new)

Harold Kasselman | 17650 comments I agree Daniel. You impressed me with your memory. But I do think Billy was a sybermetrics guy as well as a great negotiator.


message 33: by Ashley Marie (new)

Ashley Marie  | 1457 comments Negotiator and wheeler/dealer for sure, and Paul was definitely the driving sabermetrics force, but Billy gets credit for recognizing how useful it could be and latching on really before anyone else.


message 34: by Brina (new)

Brina | 8144 comments Mod
Theo owes Billy and Paul his baseball life. Because if they hadn't been successful. At what they did no way does Boston hire a 28 year old Ivy Leaguer with no playing experience.


message 35: by Harold (new)

Harold Kasselman | 17650 comments Here was the first of tbe breed way back in the 40''s
http://www.baseball-reference.com/bul...


message 36: by Harold (new)

Harold Kasselman | 17650 comments 2 batters into the game and we are already seeing Hamels' Achilles heal; inability to put them away with 2 strikes


message 37: by Harold (new)

Harold Kasselman | 17650 comments Not exactly a nail biter like last night


message 38: by Mike (new)

Mike (mike9) | 6338 comments Beltre should have had out of that inning unscathed. Desmond was just as bad.


message 39: by Harold (new)

Harold Kasselman | 17650 comments Beltre didn't jump for that ball. Desmond's blunder was worse


message 40: by Lance (new)

Lance (sportsbookguy) | 12620 comments Mod
Just finished the chapter on Scott Hatteberg. I was surprised at his stats with the Red Sox...they really weren't that bad. Also, I found the comments on Jim Rice's coaching interesting because it reinforced what I have belived...that great players in any sport usually don't make great managers or coaches because they expect ordinary players to be as good and have the same work ethic they did during their playing days.


message 41: by Harold (new)

Harold Kasselman | 17650 comments Brina, I ordered my Cubs baseball cap today from them MLB shop in time for the WS.


message 42: by Brina (new)

Brina | 8144 comments Mod
After the SI jinx? Oh no. By the way I love the line at the end of the chapter "by some measure a team of Scott Hattebergs is the best team in baseball."


message 43: by Lance (new)

Lance (sportsbookguy) | 12620 comments Mod
Or how a team of 9 Scott Hattebergs will outscore the Yankees. That was a good chapter.


message 44: by Brina (new)

Brina | 8144 comments Mod
I also enjoyed his work ethnic to learn a new position. And I like the thought that best players make the worst managers. The best managers imho- catchers.


message 45: by [deleted user] (new)

Lance wrote: "Just finished the chapter on Scott Hatteberg. I was surprised at his stats with the Red Sox...they really weren't that bad. Also, I found the comments on Jim Rice's coaching interesting because it ..."

Perhaps the problem (among others, such as a personality disorder) with the great Barry Bonds experiment that just ended.


message 46: by Ashley Marie (new)

Ashley Marie  | 1457 comments Brina wrote: "I also enjoyed his work ethnic to learn a new position. And I like the thought that best players make the worst managers. The best managers imho- catchers."

A case could be made against Ausmus, but for all I know he's an outlier. ;)


message 47: by [deleted user] (new)

Lance wrote: "Or how a team of 9 Scott Hattebergs will outscore the Yankees. That was a good chapter."

I believe the author and possibly Beane got a little carried away with their view of their own brilliance at times, though. Yeah, Hatteberg had a very good OBP, but he had a little help with the team winning by traditional guys named Tejada and Chavez who the book gives very little credit to.

I remember Hatteberg with the Reds for 3 seasons and he did essentially the same as he did with the A's and was viewed as a below-mediocre corner infielder on a very below-mediocre team.


message 48: by Brina (new)

Brina | 8144 comments Mod
Not that I think of it, Tejada and Chavez were called "Me" players who swung for the fences when they were supposed to take a walk. Not to mention giving little credit to the starting staff. On a team like the Reds, Hatteberg's weaknesses would be more obvious.


message 49: by Brina (new)

Brina | 8144 comments Mod
*Now


message 50: by Mike (new)

Mike Kennedy (mpkennedy3) | 6 comments I think Beane's greatest strength was his ability to adapt and take advantage of the inequities in the market. I don't think he was a big sabermetrics guys, as much as he was able to see he could sign guys with statistical advantages in areas that were undervalued. Basically, since everyone wanted home run hitters, he could get guys who excel in on base percentage cheap. This allowed him to assemble a better team overall. It also helped he had great young pitching.

As far as the playoff, or lack there of, success, I am a firm believer that the best team doesn't always win in the playoffs. Every team hits hot and cold streaks. Look no further than the Cubs this year. They had a stretch of about 30 games where they played sub .500 ball. It is all about being hot at the right time, and getting a couple of breaks.


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