A Summary and Review of The Book, Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game, by Michael Lewis

This summary and review of the book, Moneyball, was prepared by Matthew Martin while an Accounting student in the College of Business at Southeastern Louisiana University in Hammond, Louisiana.

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Executive Summary: Doing more with less

There are plenty of talented GMs in MLB, but Billy Beane might be the best.  From the start of his baseball career to the elimination game in the ALDS vs. the Yankees, Micheal Lewis gives readers an exclusive glimpse into the organization who has taken the cutting edge to an extreme.

Billy Beane has always been considered the best when it came to sports. From the time he was a young child, till he was a grown man playing in Major League Baseball, a lot was expected out of him.  People saw a special talent that no one in their community possessed and new that he was destined for greatness. Six years jumping around from one baseball team altogether. He decided that he was no longer competitive in the job he loved and decided to change his position in the organization to scout.

While scouting with Athletics Billy was introduced to a new form of player valuation that was different than anything he’s ever seen.  The GM a t the time, Sandy Alderson, believed that the only true way to scout players in the MLB was through statistical analysis not by radar guns and the naked eye.

Saber metrics was the brainchild of Bill James, a economist and baseball enthusiast.  James wrote a series of books called Baseball Abstract to combat the conventional wisdom of baseball analyst throughout the world.  He argued that many baseball stats created by “experts” were flawed and did not represent an accurate account of how good a player was.  James’ work would help the A’s create a winning team in the late 90’s and early 2000s.

After the 2001 season the Oakland Athletics were going through a transitional period.  Johnny Damon and Jayson Giambi were both lost to Free Agency to teams that were willing to spend more than the Oakland A’s. This was devastating to the Athletics.  In order for Beane to fill in the gaps left by these two players, Billy Beane would have to find two great hitters that were relatively cheap.  Instead of looking at high dollar players that could do many things well, Billy looked for players who were strong hitter and defective in other areas.  Beane offered Scott Hatteberg, former Red Sox catcher, a 200,000 contract and David Justice, an aging all star, one for 3.5 million.  This was a fraction of what they would have to pay Giambi and Damon.

The 2002 season started slow, the Athletics were last in their division and their new players, especially Scoot Hatteberg, did not seem to fit into the system.  After the first few weeks to the season many baseball analyst and fans believed that the Oakland A’s did not have the talent or money to compete with high dollar teams like the Yankees and Red Sox.  Just as people were counting out the Athletics, Billy Beane’s ball club did something that no other team in major league history has done. Led mainly by these defective players Billy signed, they won 20 consecutive games (still a MLB record).  2002 proved to be a success for Billy and the A’s.   At the end of the season the Athletics finished with a record of 103 wins and 59 losses. They finished first in their division and made the playoffs.

The Ten Things Managers Need to Know from Moneyball

1. Don’t be afraid to take risks – After losing star players Jason Giambi and Johnny Damon to Free Agency in 2001, many baseball analysts ruled out the Oakland A’s as a serious Playoff contender in the American League. Beane replaced these players with ones deemed by his scouts and competitors as damage goods and formed a winning team.

2. Step away from the norm- During Billy Beane tenure as GM of the Athletics he experimented with different ways to evaluate prospects that differed from the norm.  While traditionally prospects were graded only by potential seen with the naked eye, Beane used historical data and Saber metrics to grade players.  This was considered revolutionary at the time and has become a common practice by scouts and GM’s today.

3. Look outside of yourself for knowledge – Beane was a complete novice when it came to the idea of evaluating players using Saber metrics.  Beane went outside the box and hired a young economics graduate, Paul to help establish this system.

4. Play to your own strengths not others- Beane mentioned throughout the book that they didn’t have the resources that other teams in the league had.  He said if we do business like the Yankees we’ll always lose because we can’t compete with their resources.

5. Motivation can lead to success -.  Scott Hatteberg said that his biggest fear was having the ball hit in his direction.  Beane motivated players especially Hatteberg by praising them for good plays and using words of encouragement for errors. Beane always believed that motivation was the best way to bring out the best in his players.

6. Set high standards – entering the 2002 season baseball analysts didn’t expect much from the Oakland A’s.  That year the A’s broke a baseball record winning 20 straight and bettering their 2001 record by 1 win. After breaking the record Beane, with seemingly no emotion at all, stated that it was just another game.  Later he states that he will be content when the A’s win the World Series

7. Be Patient- While coaches and other teammates didn’t see Scott Hatteberg as a serious 1st baseman, Billy knew that he was more than capable in filling the role.

8. Find a place for you – Some people are better at certain things than others.  Billy Bean says throughout the book that he wasn’t meant to be a baseball player.  In his 6th season of playing professional baseball he switched from baseball player to front office scout.

9. Don’t be afraid to say no – Billy Beane was a highly recruited by major colleges throughout the nation. Likewise Beane was also being recruited by Major League baseball clubs. Beane describes the process and how he was pressured by the scouts to sign with the Mets who he ultimately signed with for the money.  From that day forward he has always regretted that decision.

10. The power of an idea- Bill James created an idea that has changed the way baseball has been played since its inception. James knew that there was a better way to judge players than what the MLB baseball teams were doing at the time, and that a lot of MLB teams were making mistakes in carrying out their processes.  James changed the game of baseball from one simple idea.

Full Summary of MoneyBall

Chapter 1- The Curse of Talent

Billy Beane has always been considered the best when it came to sports.  From the time he was a young boy people expected bigger things.  He was considered a 5 tool player by many scouts that watched his countless number of high school games.  ”I’ve got a first round draft pick,” says Billy’s high school coach Sam Blalock “and Fifteen and Twenty scouts showing up every time we scrimmage” (Lewis, Moneyball pg.7).  Big League teams weren’t the only ones trying to get there hand on Billy Beane.  Countless colleges throughout the nation including Stanford wanted the young star.  Stanford pushed hard for Billy.  They offered him a scholarship to be a two sport athlete in baseball and football (to succeed John Elway) all he needed was a B in math.  The scouts upped the ante to fight off the colleges lure.  The New York Mets offered Billy a contract worth $125,000 and he accepted.  Billy states that this would be the last time he did something just for the money.

Chapter 2- How to find a Ballplayer

Billy, now General Manager of the Oakland Athletics, is sitting with his MLB scouts talking over the new prospects for the 2002 draft.  After disappointing 2001 draft, Billy was determined to find new prospects that could play big league ball.  From the start of the meeting, Billy and the scouts disagree over draft prospects; none more than Jeremy Brown.  Brown was a record setter in college, but was being passed over by all of the scouts in the big leagues.  Billy with the help of his assistant, Paul DePodesta (an Economist from Harvard), broke down the stats and argued that Brown was the perfect tool that the A’s would need to win games.  The scouts agreed that the guy had talent, but his weight was a cause for concern.  Brown was severely overweight and was considered a burden on the base pads.  Beane saw an opportunity.  He could get Brown for a steal in the later rounds.

Chapter 3- Enlightenment

After Billy accepted the New York Mets contract all of the attention went away.  He was now considered a minor league baseball player in the lowest lever of the Major League farm system (Low A ball).  From the beginning of his major league career there were problems in his game.  He was extremely talented physically, but mentally, he was frail.  Billy was known be seen in a minor league game playing with his emotions on his sleeve.  When Billy was finally called up from the minors to play for the New York Mets, it seemed a little overdue. Despite making the team playing time was hard to come by.  In a very talented outfield he was the odd man out playing behind Daryl Strawberry and Lenny Dykstra. Beane was traded around the league for the rest of his playing days eventually ending up with the Oakland A’s.  Before his sixth year in the Major League, Beane decided to quit baseball in order to concentrate on scouting.  Beane admits that he was a much better scout than baseball player.  While scouting he was introduced to a new form of scouting by the GM at the time Sandy Alderson.

Chapter 4-Field of Ignorance

Sandy Alderson derived most of his scouting knowledge from the series of books by Bill James.  Alderson, a lawyer and former Military serviceman, started to use more of the statistics that are associated with baseball to judge players.  He believed that this could be more accurate than some of the other methods used by Major League Baseball scouts. James books looked at major league baseball statistics and attempted solve the riddle of what is the most important tools that a team should look at.  He spent numerous hours number crunching stats not available to Major League baseball to find a similarity between them and runs. He came to a few conclusions:  The difference between an average hitter with a .270 hitter and a good hitter with a .300 average was almost impossible to see with the naked eye.  The difference was one hit every two weeks. He also concluded that the fielding percentage statistic was highly flawed.  He argued that an error can never be an exact stat because in order to for a fielder to be charged an error the score keeper must use his own judgment if the play was routine or not.  James also concluded that scouting only by potential can become highly costly because major league ballplayers salaries were ever-increasing.  James dismissed fielding statistics and batting average to being important to a team and concluded that the most important stat a team should dwell on is runs.  James pioneered the saber metrics field with an originally designed runs created metric ( runs created= (hits + walks)x total bases/(at bats+ walks).

Chapter 5- The Jeremy Brown blue plate special

Prior to the 2002 draft Jeremy Brown was only hoping that a team would draft him. When Billy Beane told him that the Athletics were going to draft him in the fifth round, he was awestruck.  By challenging convention wisdom Beane concluded that many college baseball players were undervalued by traditional scouts.  He also concluded that college players were more likely to play big league ball than high school players.

The 2002 was considered a success by the A’s organization.  They drafted every prospect that they targeted.  Beane gained much needed confidence after the draft. Beane believed that he had a winning system to the draft that limited the amount of risk in the players they selected

Chapter6- Winning an Unfair Game

“If we do what the Yankees, do we’ll lose every time.”  With a new system of valuating players Beane is confident that they can compete at a high level despite their low salary cap.  Bean has come to the conclusion that in order to compete with higher salary teams they must focus on players who were undervalued by the market.  Bud Selig, the commissioner of baseball, created a panel called The Blue Ribbon Panel to conclude whether teams with lower salaries are at a severe competitive disadvantage. Out of all the teams in the MLB the Oakland A’s, with the second lowest salary in baseball, won a tremendous amount of game narrowly missing the playoffs. Despite the success of the Oakland A’s the Blue Ribbon Panel concluded that low salary baseball teams were unable to compete because of free agency.

Chapter 7- Giambi’s Hole

Prior to the 2002 season the Oakland A’s lost three of its biggest stars: Jason Giambi, Johnny Damon and Jason Isringhousen to free agency.  Beane needed to fill the holes that these players left in the batting lineup.  Paul DePodesta concluded that the only player that hurt the A’s by leaving was Jason Giambi.  Giambi had an on base percentage of .477 which was the highest percentage in the major leagues.  DePodesta factored the loss of Giambi in his calculations and found that his loss would be a major blow to the organization, but the cost of replacing him with any one player was impossible because of  their lack of funding.  Beane along with DePodesta decided to fix the hole by signing three cheap players: Scott Hatteberg, David Justice, and Jeremy Giambi that posted an above average on base percentage.

Chapter 8- Picking Machine

Scott Hatteberg, former Red Sox catcher, was considered by many major league teams as being damaged goods.  In the prior years with the Red Sox he sustained an injury to his arm that resulted in nerve damage.  Keeping these facts in mind, Beane concluded that Hatteberg could no longer withstand the tasks of being a catcher.  In order for Hatteberg to be an effective player he would have to change his position to first base.

Hatteberg’s first spring training didn’t go as planned. His skills were lacking and he had fear of getting the ball hit to him. In order for Hatteberg to gain confidence, Beane only used motivation when he would make an error, and praise when he didn’t.  By the end of Spring Training, Hatteberg was considered by most to be a slightly above average first baseman.

Chapter 9- Anatomy of an Undervalued Pitcher

Chad Bradford was a pitcher from Mississippi who had always dreamt of making it to the major leagues.  In high school he wasn’t his high school’s best pitcher, or next best, or even top three. Chad Bradford was so bad that his high school coach contemplated cutting him from the team.  He was described by many as an un-athletic looking kid with no fastball velocity and no special pitches.  A major league career looked bleak.  One day after practice Bradford’s high school coach decided to try something different with him, hoping that he could blossom into a slightly better pitcher.  Bradford’s coach taught him to drop his arm slot to that that resembled a side arm pitcher.  Amazingly, Bradford’s fastball didn’t lose much velocity and had sinking movement on it. Bradford improved so much that he was given the chance to play college ball.

In college Bradford’s arm slot dropped even further.  Instead of throwing with a side arm pitcher’s arm slot, he was now throwing simulate to a submarine pitcher.  This proved successful for Bradford. His numbers were some of the best on the team, but his fastball velocity was laughable.  It was in fact so bad that many major league scouts refuse to acknowledge him as a legitimate college prospect.  Only one person, a young scout for the Chicago white Sox scout, saw him as a legitimate prospect.

Bradford had a rough time in the Chicago White sox organization.  His stats were very good, but the front office saw it to be more of a fluke than some think sustainable. He was constantly sent up and down the Major League and Minor League systems before being acquired by Billy for a salary of just over $200,000.

Chapter 10- The Human Element

The 2002 year was a record setting year for the Oakland A’s.  The A’s won a record 20 games in a row beating the previous record of 19.  This was done in major part to the players who others judged as damaged goods.

The Oakland A’s blew an 11-0 lead on the Kansas City Royals only to come back on a home run in the bottom of the 11th by Scott Hatteberg

The Video Lounge




In this clip, Billy is discussing the hardships that their team faced trying to compete with lager teams like the Red Sox and Yankees.  Their $40,000,000 budget was next to last in the league and the owner wanted to keep it that way.  Unable to sign big player for long term deals, Billy know that they had to differentiate themselves from others on how they operated the front office.

Personal Insights

Why I think:

  • The author is one of the most brilliant people around because

Michael Lewis is able to take sports stories and make them enjoyable for people who do not have the slightest interest in sports.  His special ability to leave readers on the edge of their seats and explain the emotion of the moment is a treat for the reader, and leaves you wanting more. I am not surprised that his books are highly sought out by Hollywood producers and actors.

  • If I were the author of the book, I would have done these three things differently:

1. Explanation of Saber Metrics- Although Michael Lewis did go into detail on Saber metrics, I thought that a more detailed explanation of the factors calculated into the equations was needed.  I would have liked to have seen more detail on why these equations were more accurate than others previously made.

2. More details about the scouting process – In the story we here of prospects having potential, but we never hear of the scouts using stats or data to make their decisions. What do they have against statistics?

3. More background on Billy Beane- Although Michael Lewis does mention the background of Billy Beane, it’s only from a baseball perspective.  He briefly mentions Beane’s daughter and ex-wife but leaves the characters only with a simple introduction.

  • Reading this book made me think differently about the topic in these ways:

1. Baseball Scouting- Before I read Moneyball, I perceived baseball scouts as a highly informed authority on judging talent.  After reading the book, I tend to have my doubts on how precise their judgment can be.

2. Money always wins- Moneyball has changed my perception of how GMs try to form winning teams.  I believed that in order for a team to win both regular season games and playoff games they needed to spend high dollar amounts on free agents.  I realize now that there is a smart, relatively cheap way to stay competitive.

3. The adaptability of people – In the book Lewis tells the story Scott Hatteberg who has never played first base a day in his life, and it showed.  He was able to adapt to that position with practice and the help of the people around him and became pretty good. This reminds you that some people take a little longer to adapt than others.

  • I’ll apply what I’ve learned in this book in my career by:

1. Using my own judgment rather than others    - Sometimes we need to challenge the norm in our fields.  We need to question if I can find ways to make tasks simpler or if it is the best way to go about it.

2. Gathering knowledge from others – Nobody knows the answers to every question or dilemma they might come across. Sometimes it is best to gain a perspective through the eyes of others.

3. Motivation can be just what the doctor ordered – Sometime all we need is someone to acknowledge us on the hard work we put into tasks.  Motivation can help us along with other feel more comfortable and complete our work more efficiently.

  • Here is a sampling of what others have said about the book and its author:

Forbes says: Michael Lewis has a gift: He can walk into an area already mined by hundreds of writers and find gems there all along but somehow missed by his predecessors. Of all the thousands of baseball books (Amazon.com lists more than 300 published or to be published this year alone), there are none, so far as I know, like this one, about the remarkable recent history of the Oakland Athletics and the team’s general manager, Billy Beane.

Amazon.com customer reviewer Lee had a different experience with the book, “I genuinely found this one of the most tedious books I have ever (tried to) read. The writing style contains no flair or wit whatsoever, and I cannot see how anyone but the most obsessive baseball freak could enjoy reading about an assortment of obscure players, scouts and journalists.”

Bibliography

Ackman, Dan. (05.28.03). Moneyball: The Art Of Winning An Unfair Game. Retrieved from http://www.forbes.com

Hafez, Khaled. 19 Brilliant Business Lessons From Moneyball. Retrieved from http://www.kgeektime.wordpress.com

Hebert, Paul. 10 Lessons from Moneyball That Have Nothing to Do with Data. Retrieved from http://www.fistfulloftalent.com

Lewis, Michael. Moneyball: The Art Of Winning An Unfair Game. New York: W.W Norton and Company, 2004. Print.

Customer Reviews, Moneyball:the art of winning an unfair game. Retrieved from http://www.amazon.com/

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Contact Info

To contact the author of this article, “A Summary and Review of the Book, Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game, by Michael Lewis,” please email Matthew.Martin-2@selu.edu.

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About the Publisher

David C. Wyld (dwyld@selu.edu) is the Laborde Professor of Management at Southeastern Louisiana University in Hammond, Louisiana. He is a management consultant, researcher/writer, and executive educator. He also serves as the Director of the Reverse Auction Research Center (http://reverseauctionresearch.org), a hub of research and news in the expanding world of competitive bidding. His blog, Career News 24/7, can be viewed at http://wyld-about-careers.blogspot.com/.


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