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Thursday, Nov. 27, 2008

Moneyball

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There are a few sports-themed movies that have been embedded into our psyche. There are the obvious- Bull Durham, A League of Their Own-but there are seminal films too. Pride of the Yankees, Bang The Drum Slowly, Slap Shot. I suppose the original Longest Yard might make that cut.

Now, Hollywood says a film is being made about a non-fiction interpretation of the Oakland Athletics and its GM, Billy Beane. Oh yeah, superstar Brad Pitt is rumored to play Beane.

The book upon which the movie will be based came out in 2003, titled Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game. Yeah, I'm a bit behind the times. I don't even own a BlackBerry. I don't have a cell phone plastered to my ear. So, you can forgive me for getting to a book five years after it was released. Anyhow, Moneyball, written by Michael Lewis, focuses on breaking the mold of previous baseball thinking. In essence, it's like taking a bucket of all baseball scouting traditions and interpretations such as a player having wheels, (base speed,) a hose (a great throwing arm), great body (huge, strong) and dumping the contents of the bucket into Lake Michigan.

These aging scouts were in essence kicked to the curb in favor of the statistics compiled in a computer which more often than not discovered an anomaly. Players overlooked by the cigar-chomping, constipated, coffee-breath scout based on their one-dimensional and outmoded criteria. As the book states, the wisdom and conventional baseball thinking was flawed.

Other baseball front office staffs scoffed at Beane's instincts and iconoclastic methods.

According to Beane, baseball failed to take into account the intangibles, both in life and the ability to play a sport, any sport. How can you look at a player's throwing arm and determine whether he'll collapse mentally at the plate when the pressure hits. You just don't have any real indicators and this happens all the time. Expectations can be so great, a can't-miss prospect and the demands for him to excel can be so great they cause a player to crumble before our very eyes. Instead of home runs and earned run averages, Beane and his staff looked at on base percentages, a pitchers lack of giving up walks. These were not traditional bench marks. Beane and his staff shuffled the deck on baseball knowledge and put it on its ear. Soon, every GM in baseball was looking at what the A's were up to, and keeping their hands very close to their chests.

Statistical analysis has demonstrated that on base percentage and slugging percentage are better indicators of offensive success, and the A's became convinced that these qualities were cheaper to obtain on the open market than more historically valued qualities such as speed and contact.

Len Kasper, the voice of the Chicago Cubs, says Moneyball is mostly about exploiting inefficiencies in the marketplace. "Organizations tend to put a high value on certain things that other competitors may not value as much in an effort to better compete in that marketplace." Kasper explains he believes most (if not all) Major League clubs employ statistical experts who look at all the things the A's have long espoused.

"Moneyball may have had something to do with that but it also could just be the natural progression of the game with all the specific statistical analyses now available at everyone's fingertips." There's a lot about the game we don't (and will never) know, but there's no doubt Moneyball spawned a generation of baseball fans who have come to objectively question all the things. "What all of us thought we knew about the game has been challenged. Some of the beliefs have been proven true and others not so much."

Moneyball traces the history of the Sabermetric movement back to such luminaries as Bill James who now works in a front office capacity for the Boston Red Sox front office.

The book has made such an impact in professional baseball that the term itself has entered the lexicon of baseball.

I don't think Billy Beane, a former can't-miss prospect who ultimately missed, could ever have envisioned how his theories and belief system could be so widely embraced. So, when you see Brad Pitt as the GM of the Oakland A's at a theater near you, this will all come back to you.

Jim Cryns

There are a few sports-themed movies that have been embedded into our psyche. There are the obvious- Bull Durham, A League of Their Own-but there are seminal films too. Pride of the Yankees, Bang The Drum Slowly, Slap Shot. I suppose the original Longest Yard might make that cut.

Now, Hollywood says a film is being made about a non-fiction interpretation of the Oakland Athletics and its GM, Billy Beane. Oh yeah, superstar Brad Pitt is rumored to play Beane.

The book upon which the movie will be based came out in 2003, titled Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game. Yeah, I'm a bit behind the times. I don't even own a BlackBerry. I don't have a cell phone plastered to my ear. So, you can forgive me for getting to a book five years after it was released. Anyhow, Moneyball, written by Michael Lewis, focuses on breaking the mold of previous baseball thinking. In essence, it's like taking a bucket of all baseball scouting traditions and interpretations such as a player having wheels, (base speed,) a hose (a great throwing arm), great body (huge, strong) and dumping the contents of the bucket into Lake Michigan.

These aging scouts were in essence kicked to the curb in favor of the statistics compiled in a computer which more often than not discovered an anomaly. Players overlooked by the cigar-chomping, constipated, coffee-breath scout based on their one-dimensional and outmoded criteria. As the book states, the wisdom and conventional baseball thinking was flawed.

Other baseball front office staffs scoffed at Beane's instincts and iconoclastic methods.

According to Beane, baseball failed to take into account the intangibles, both in life and the ability to play a sport, any sport. How can you look at a player's throwing arm and determine whether he'll collapse mentally at the plate when the pressure hits. You just don't have any real indicators and this happens all the time. Expectations can be so great, a can't-miss prospect and the demands for him to excel can be so great they cause a player to crumble before our very eyes. Instead of home runs and earned run averages, Beane and his staff looked at on base percentages, a pitchers lack of giving up walks. These were not traditional bench marks. Beane and his staff shuffled the deck on baseball knowledge and put it on its ear. Soon, every GM in baseball was looking at what the A's were up to, and keeping their hands very close to their chests.

Statistical analysis has demonstrated that on base percentage and slugging percentage are better indicators of offensive success, and the A's became convinced that these qualities were cheaper to obtain on the open market than more historically valued qualities such as speed and contact.

Len Kasper, the voice of the Chicago Cubs, says Moneyball is mostly about exploiting inefficiencies in the marketplace. "Organizations tend to put a high value on certain things that other competitors may not value as much in an effort to better compete in that marketplace." Kasper explains he believes most (if not all) Major League clubs employ statistical experts who look at all the things the A's have long espoused.

"Moneyball may have had something to do with that but it also could just be the natural progression of the game with all the specific statistical analyses now available at everyone's fingertips." There's a lot about the game we don't (and will never) know, but there's no doubt Moneyball spawned a generation of baseball fans who have come to objectively question all the things. "What all of us thought we knew about the game has been challenged. Some of the beliefs have been proven true and others not so much."

Moneyball traces the history of the Sabermetric movement back to such luminaries as Bill James who now works in a front office capacity for the Boston Red Sox front office.

The book has made such an impact in professional baseball that the term itself has entered the lexicon of baseball.

I don't think Billy Beane, a former can't-miss prospect who ultimately missed, could ever have envisioned how his theories and belief system could be so widely embraced. So, when you see Brad Pitt as the GM of the Oakland A's at a theater near you, this will all come back to you.

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