1-Page Summary 1-Page Book Summary of Moneyball
The 2002 Oakland Athletics, pegged by baseball insiders as a mediocre club at the outset of the season, expose much of the sport’s conventional wisdom as flawed when they post a 102-60 regular season. They do this with a roster composed of players who have largely been overlooked by the insiders—pitchers with unusual pitching technique, fielders who are overweight or can’t run quickly, and hitters who struggle to hit home runs. In short, the 2002 Oakland A’s are a team of players who don’t look like players at all.
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Baseball’s old guard—a consortium of coaches, scouts, general managers, owners, former players, and sports journalists—have rigid conceptions of what a good player is and how teams are supposed to win games. But the success of the 2002 Oakland A’s proves that much of this conventional wisdom, propagated by baseball’s traditional gatekeepers, is hopelessly wrong.
Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game is the story of this team and how an iconoclastic, convention-defying general manager named Billy Beane manages to turn the baseball world on its head and call into question everything that everyone thought they knew about the game.
A Failed Playing Career
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Let’s start back in 1980. Billy Beane is an extraordinarily talented high school baseball player—immensely talented and fiercely competitive, he is an all-around natural athlete. His rapid ascent to the major leagues seems all but assured.
But Billy also has dreams of going to Stanford University (where he had been admitted) and getting a world-class education, dreams that will be closed to him if he decides to go to the majors. He is, in fact, highly ambivalent about embarking on a career as a professional baseball player.
Nevertheless, he is drafted in the first round by the New York Mets in 1980 as one of their top prospects, signing with the club for a $125,000 bonus before being assigned to one of their minor league affiliates. He sacrifices his dream of studying at Stanford, which promptly rescinds his offer of admission once he decides to go pro instead of playing for the university’s baseball program.
Once he becomes a professional player (albeit in the minor leagues), he begins to crack under the enormous expectations that have been placed upon him and is emotionally unable to cope with failure on the field. Although endowed with natural athletic ability and a keen understanding of baseball, he is unwilling to be patient with the game and is paralyzed by his fear of failure: a failure which he had been told throughout his young career he would never experience due to his talent.
Billy has a middling MLB career throughout the 1980s, in the course of which he is traded from the Mets to the Minnesota Twins to the Detroit Tigers, and finally, to the Oakland A’s. In 1990, he accepts his status as a draft bust, retiring as a player that spring. After walking off the field, he takes a job with the team’s front office, in the lowly position of an advance scout, a shocking move for a former blue-chip baseball prospect.
As a scout, and eventually as GM, Billy will butt heads with the men who make up the scouting department. Scouting is the stronghold of baseball conventional wisdom, of men who believe that they can predict a player’s future success in the majors simply by observing with their own eyes how well they can hit a ball, throw a pitch, or steal a base, even if they only see that player play a handful of times. To Billy, these are the same men whose preference for subjective wishful thinking over objective analysis had raised his expectations, waved away his obvious psychological flaws, and set him on a path to failure.
As a scout, Billy is determined to never repeat their mistakes. He learns from both their failure and his own. He looks for players whose statistical performances indicate a likelihood of success in the major leagues. He is determined to never draft the next Billy Beane.
Undervalued Vs. Overvalued Metrics
In 1995, as Billy Beane is working his way up the ranks of the Oakland organization, the new owners of the A’s demand that the team drastically reduce payroll. The team must now economize, making sure that every dollar spent on players contributes to on-field success.
This occurs during an era of skyrocketing player salaries, driven by the rise of free agency, which profoundly changes the economics of professional baseball. Rich teams like the New York Yankees and the Boston Red Sox are able to spend unlimited sums in order to acquire the biggest stars on the free agent market. But relatively poor teams like the A’s are forced to take a new approach to player acquisition, looking for players who are undervalued by the market and can be gotten on the cheap.
At this time, many of baseball’s most widely used statistics to evaluate baseball players are coming under fire. These critics (including the A’s general manager as well as a baseball writer named Bill James) note, for example, that team batting average is overrated because it overlooks the importance of walks to a team’s total offensive output. Likewise, James criticizes the RBI as a product of luck: a batter must have the good fortune to be at bat when other players are already on base to be able to bring them home with a hit. It is a matter of luck to even have the opportunity to score an RBI.
James contrasts this with statistical measures that had been overlooked by professional baseball. On-base percentage, he argues, has a better correlation with run production than batting average, because it accounts for all the ways a player can get on base and contribute offense—: including walks.
Despite this, players with high batting averages and low error counts are highly valued, while players with lots of walks and a high on-base percentage (but who aren’t flashy sluggers with high batting averages) are deeply undervalued. Yet teams continue making poor (and expensive) personnel decisions based on flimsy information, despite the availability of better data.
The world of professional baseball ishostile to this statistics-based criticism, refusing to take seriously ideas from which they would clearly benefit. But Bill James does have one devoted reader, who soon puts his ideas into practice at baseball’s highest level—Billy Beane.
Underpriced Talent Through the Draft
In 1997, Billy Beane becomes GM of the Oakland A’s. He is determined to use sabermetrics to build a successful team with very little money, and to do so, must look for underpriced players. By 2002, he assembles a sabermetric-focused team in the front office, most notably his Assistant GM Paul DePodesta, who had graduated from Harvard with a degree in economics and has never played professional baseball. Billy is a micromanaging GM, deferring very little in the way of trades, drafting decisions, or even on-field tactical decisions to his scouting staff or even the manager.
Going into the 2002 draft, Billy’s mandate is to acquire effective players on the cheap—and the draft is the best way to do this. When a team drafts a player, they acquire the exclusive rights to sign him, after which they have exclusive rights to his first seven years in the minor leagues and six in the majors. This gives the drafting team enormous leverage in the contract negotiation process, enabling savvy drafters to get good players for a fraction of what they would cost on the free agent market.
Billy has been burned in previous drafts by his scouting staff’s insistence on drafting high school players over college players, despite the objectively better performance history of the latter group. Based on his own experiences as a high school draftee, Paul DePodesta’s statistical analysis, and his insights from reading Bill James, Billy Beane establishes a new rule for his club going into the 2002 draft: no high school players.
Billy and Paul create a shortlist of 20 players they wish to select, many of them overlooked and undervalued, but nevertheless, extremely talented college players with a talent for getting on base. But getting most of them, or even some, is difficult. Whether or not they are still available depends on what the other teams do. The picks any team ends up with depends on a combination of prioritization, strategy, and pure luck.
At the top of Billy’s shortlist are two amateur players—fielder Nick Swisher and catcher Jeremy Brown. Swisher is one of the relatively few players about whom both the traditional scouts and the sabermetric-focused newcomers are in agreement: the young player is a surefire MLB star.
Brown, on the other hand, is a highly unconventional pick. Most of the scouting on Brown assigns him a very low place in the draft, if, indeed, he is to be drafted at all. Although he has what appear to be great stats coming out of college, most of the scouting world (including the A’s own staff) has dismissed him as being too heavy to make it as a major league baseball player.
As the draft unfolds, Billy and his staff can’t believe their good fortune. As the rest of the league makes shortsighted draft choices (including many high school players), more and more of the A’s targeted players are available. The team snags 13 of the 20 players they had targeted, including Jeremy Brown (typically, getting three or four is considered a success).
Billy Beane and Paul DePodesta profit from the irrationality of their competitors, who overvalue athletic attributes like speed and strength which aren’t necessarily effective at winning baseball games. The A’s, instead, select players using a process of rational, scientific, data-based analysis, which is better at predicting their likelihood of succeeding in the major leagues.
A Value-Driven Philosophy
As a cash-strapped club, the Oakland A’s adopt a practice of developing players on their own through the draft and then trading them a few years later when they become free agents, after which such players will be too expensive to retain. After the 2001 season, they lose some major stars—through trades and free agency—whose contracts they are no longer able to afford.
Despite the team’s lack of financial resources, the A’s are remarkably successful on the field under Billy’s leadership. The 2001 A’s finish 102-60. The 2002 iteration of the team goes on to a 103-59 record, good for first place in the American League West Division and second overall in the league, despite having what appears to be an inferior roster.
They achieve this through shrewd, value-driven management of their most important asset: the players. No one on the team is treated as irreplaceable. DePodesta is able to quantify the net runs each player contributes to the team (by adding runs through offense and preventing them through defense). Every action taken by a player has an expected run value.
Taking this a step further, DePodesta calculates that the team will likely need to win 95 games to make the playoffs. To win 95 games, they will need to have a net run differential of approximately +135. And this makes the team’s task a lot clearer. They need to find a combination of players whose net run production will offset the loss of Isringhausen, Damon, and Giambi, plugging in those holes to get the run differential they need.
Assembling the Pieces
The team is simply the sum of its parts. While certain star players obviously contribute more runs than others, their output can be replicated. The production of a Giambi might not be easily replaced by another single player, but it can be replaced by a combination of other players, each of whom can do their part to fill in the gap left by his departure.
They don’t need to find the total package in a new player—they just need to find a fraction of that package, which will form part of the whole when joined with other players. They aren’t looking for the next Giambi, nor, frankly, can they afford to. They need to find the parts of Giambi, which can be obtained for far less.
Isringhausen and Damon had been overvalued players—Isringhausen because he was a closing pitcher (who only came into games once the outcome was already likely decided) and Damon because he had a poor on-base percentage. Thus, Billy is able to trade them off for more than they’re worth or let them walk away in free agency and allow another team to overpay them. The loss of Jason Giambi is tougher, but not impossible, to replace.
The A’s bring in Scott Hatteberg, David Justice, and Jeremy Giambi (Jason’s younger brother). These are players whom most of the rest of the league has written off as inadequate or defective, which, of course, is why the A’s are able to so easily acquire them. Yet they all boast above-average on-base percentages, largely due to their patience at the plate and ability to draw walks.
DePodesta stresses the importance of process over results. By adhering to a sound process, the team is likely to win more games than they lose over the long haul of a 162-game season, even if individual games might be lost due to chance events.
The Trade Deadline
The 2002 trade deadline is on July 31. Billy Beane excels at the trade deadline. Since 1999, his A’s have always performed remarkably better in the second half of the season, after the deadline, than they had in the first half. The A’s organization has quantified the value of every.. Buffalo stampede slot.
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