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Book Review: Moneyball

September 13, 2010 3 comments

I love Moneyball. It was listed on “The 100 Best Business Books of All Time” and totally deserved its spot. Wikipedia says, “Its focus is the team’s modernized, analytical, sabermetric approach to assembling a competitive baseball team, despite Oakland’s disadvantaged revenue situation. The central premise of Moneyball is that the collected wisdom of baseball insiders (including players, managers, coaches, scouts, and the front office) over the past century is subjective and often flawed.”

On a large scale, Moneyball is about Old thinking vs. New thinking. It’s about mass egos, herd mentality and the flat out rejection of new ideas. And everything comes unhinged when one person asks the simple question “Why?” There’s lots of parallels I can draw to other industries:

  • music
  • advertising
  • auto
  • newspapers + publishing
  • and of course, the government

Major league baseball is apparently run by a bunch of idiots. These people have been using the same antiquated methods to analyze baseball players for years and never seem to try to find a better way to recruit and evaluate ballplayers. They’re stubborn and close-minded. What’s worse is that when presented with fresh ideas they don’t want to hear it. Most of the league, from the Managers to the Owners to the Sportscasters are completely clueless. Lewis, a talented storyteller, has created a book about baseball statistics that is an engaging page-turner. It’s not just for baseball fans – I also think it’s a great read for Planners. Lewis knows how to craft a compelling story with mundane data while the story shows what can happen when you question strongly-held beliefs.

On the 3 outs rule: “Analyzing baseball yields many numbers of interest and value. Yet far and away — far, far and away — the most critical number in all of baseball is 3: the three outs that define an inning. Until the third out, anything is possible; after it, nothing is. Anything that increases the offense’s chances of making an out is bad; anything that decreases it is good. And what is on-base percentage? Simply yet exactly put, it is the probability that the batter will not make an out. When we state it that way, it becomes, or should become, crystal clear that the most important isolated (one-dimensional) offensive statistic is the on-base percentage. It measures the probability that the batter will not be another step toward the end of the inning.” pg. 58

On errors: “The manner in which baseball people evaluate players’ fielding performance — adding up their errors, and applauding the guy with the fewest — struck him as an outrage. ‘What is an error?’ he asked. ‘It is, without exception, the only major statistic in sports which is a record of what an observer thinks should have been accomplished. It’s a moral judgment, really, in the peculiar quasi-morality of the locker room….But the fact of a baseball error is that no play has been made but that the scorer thinks it should have. It is, uniquely, a record of opinions.” pg.66

On stats: “The problem,”‘ wrote James, “is that baseball statistics are not pure accomplishments of men against other men, which is what we are in the habit of seeing them as. They are accomplishments of men in combination with their circumstances.” pg.71

Further reading:

More “Moneyball” quotes

The Ad Contrarian – “Not Following The Herd

If This Is a Blog Then What’s Christmas? – “What Can ‘Moneyball’ Teach Advertising?

Amazon Reviews for Moneyball

Finally Joining the Revolution by Bill Simmons on ESPN.com

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Buy it on Amazon Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game

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