June 17, 2011

"Moneyball:" The Movie

When I talk about the bizarrely large impact that Bill James has had on American culture, I'm thinking about, oh, that Brad Pitt is starring in a movie version coming in September of Michael Lewis's book Moneyball. Pitt plays Oakland A's general manager Billy Beane, whom Lewis celebrated for accepting the sabremetric revolution launched by James. Instead of looking for the best athletes, Beane found guys who can hit home runs and get walks.

Jonah Hill plays Beane's quant, Philip Seymour Hoffman is A's manager Art Howe, and it looks like Kevin Costner has a role as somebody because it's a baseball movie. Here's the trailer (via Jonathan Last), including exciting killer dialogue from Aaron Sorkin like, "Because he gets on base."

There's an alternative interpretation of Oakland's success in the early 2000s, which is that the franchise already had a history of playing Moneyball (i.e., guys who can hit home runs and get walks, such as the Giambi Bros., Michael Tejada, and David Justice) under the previous general manager Sandy Alderson (1983-1997), when Oakland went to three straight World Series (1988-90), which is three more than Billy Beane has accomplished. 

In this subversive view, the man who introduced Moneyball to Oakland wasn't Beane or Alderson or whomever, it was Jose Canseco, "the Typhoid Mary of steroids."

I like Bill James and Michael Lewis, but these journalists made a lot of money by not mentioning the elephant in the baseball living room: steroids. 


Anonymous said...

Random fact: Michael Lewis, the author of Moneyball, is married to Tabitha Soren (the former MTV News anchor). Remember when MTV had "news"?

Anonymous said...

OT. Sounds like a great read.


I enjoyed Kehr's reviews in New York Daily News, but now we get to read his earlier Chicago pieces from the 70s and 80s.

Anonymous said...

Yeah some time ago, I realized that moneyball independently discovered a way to find steroids enhanced players without any need to actually talk about steroids (thus everyone had plausable deniability).

josh said...

Incidentally, here is Paul DePodesta, Beane's actual "quant". He played baseball and football and graduated cum laude at Harvard. Seriously, this guy is the exact opposite of a fat loser. He's a rich, athletic, good-looking guy with an incredibly cool job.

Anonymous said...

I actually saw a steroid commercial on TV the other day. I used to joke with people that old timers would want to get on the juice to try and bring back the good old days and would ask their doctors for a prescription. I never imagined the drug companies hawking the stuff on TV.
I had my first physical in 25 years the other week and the doctor was surprised that I was not on any medication. Exactly how many people or what percentage of American people are taking meds? I suspect that number is rather large.

Mike Kenny said...

steve, what do you think of art devany, steroid skeptic?

his paper on steroids having nothign to do w/ home runs:


Anonymous said...



DCThrowback said...

Clearly a collective effort.

Alderson drafted Tim Hudson in '97; Beane drafted Mark Mulder in the first rd of '98 and Barry Zito in the first rd of '99.

Developing those pitchers had just as much to do with OAK's success in the early aughts as did getting guys like Hatteberg.

Of course, some moves are just bad luck. Who knew Eric Chavez, after signing a 6 yr/$66M contract would get injured and be totally ineffective?

Small market teams like the A's live on the fringe. Every move matters.

alonzo portfolio said...

Boy you're really getting sloppy. "Michael" Tejada didn't play much in Oakland until 1998.

Ian said...

FWIW, Moneyball is *not* "finding guys who can hit home runs and get walks". Moneyball *is* exploiting market inefficiencies by finding guys with skills that contribute to winning, but who other teams undervalue.

So, like fifteen or twenty years ago, when other teams were fixated on batting average, the moneyball/sabremetric way of doing things included getting dudes with strong secondary averages (ie on base % - average (walks), and slugging % minus average (power)).

But then the rest of the league got hip to that. So, the Moneyballers switched to other skillsets - it was defense for a while (which meant getting slick-fielding guys who actually were often quite bad at walking or hitting homers), or players with a low single-season babip (batting average in balls in play - which means your % of hits on at bats where you don't walk, strike out, home run, get hit by a pitch, sacrafice, or sac fly - you want guys who are low in that, since it evens out over time, and, if it's low one season, it will generally regress up to the mean the next). They also have looked for stuff in pitchers that is complicated, and that I don't fully understand (a lot having to go with groundball vs flyball rates, %-home-run-on- fly-ball rates, strikeout-per-walk %, etc).

It's worth noting that Beane's A's have not had a winning ore playoff season in five years. To my eyes, the book Moneyball coming out, which gave people a peek inside how Beane had been doing things, basically evaporated the power of his methodology, and his ability to gain competitive advantage. The Red Sox (with, yes, Bill James as adviser) have been making it work, but they also have the second highest payroll in the game to play with.

Anonymous said...

"under the previous general manager Sandy Alderson (1983-1997), when Oakland went to three straight World Series (1988-90), which is three more than Billy Beane has accomplished. "

Tony La Russa had a lot more to do with the A's being in the World Series than Alderson did.

- broodrax

jody said...

george romero has had a larger impact than bill james, with his obsession over zombies. when he started, almost nobody was into zombies. fast forward 40 years and the CDC itself is literally issuing "zombie invasion plans" and a new zombie apocalypse movie is released every year. super 8 features 13 year old kids in 1979 making a zombie movie - this is an anachronism (probably), because zombie stuff just plain wasn't a phenomenon in 1979 like it is in 2011.

i've been to many boards where people are making posts about what are the best weapons to have in case of a zombie outbreak. WTF?

i bring this up because brad pitt has asked to star in the movie adaption of world war z, a book about, obviously, a zombie war.

David Davenport said...

i've been to many boards where people are making posts about what are the best weapons to have in case of a zombie outbreak. WTF?

Zombies = metaphor/synecdoche/acceptably peecee guise for hordes of colored peepul immigrating/invading white countries.

Steve Sailer said...

"steve, what do you think of art devany, steroid skeptic?"

Not much.

The drug testing revelations of the last half decade have confirmed my view a lot more than Devany's.

athomeatfenway said...

Steve, the subversive interpretation makes zero sense to me. Sorry. When Jose infected the Rangers at large they didn't become a money ball team. Nor did the Red Sox when he moved to Bean Town. Money Ball's obsession with OBP, OPS and non-fielding related Pitching stats does not have one poop to do with PED's. These newer gateway stats have always been appreciated at least quietly (see Eddie stanky's career OBP. See Branch Rickey's 1955 Look Magazine article on OBP). But the true wake up call to Baseball occurred when the 2000 A's won a division with a $40 million payroll.

Steve Sailer said...

The A's won a division title in 2000 with Jason Giambi winning the MVP award for hitting 43 homers and getting 137 walks ... on the juice. They only had to pay him $3 million because he wasn't that big of a power hitter until past the usual ballplayers' peak at age 27.

Steve Sailer said...

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

SAN FRANCISCO - Former Yankees first baseman Jason Giambi walked confidently past a motionless Barry Bonds Tuesday, took the witness stand at the federal courthouse and told the jury about using performance-enhancing drugs he received from Bonds' former personal trainer, Greg Anderson.

Steve Sailer said...

Moneyball made a more sophisticated cover story for the A's winning with Giambi and shortstop Miguel Tejada going .275-30-115 in 2000 than in the days of Canseco and McGwire, but Beane's A's won for the same reason as Alderson's Bash Brothers A's: the juice.

athomeatfenway said...

Steverino. I get that the 2000 a's were juicers. I get that perhaps 2 of 3 MLB players may have been juicing between 1992 and 2003. Giambi and Tejada included. But this does not mean that Beane's emphasis on non glorified performance measures was nothing but a smokescreen. You don't have to give the dude his due. But I certainly will. Money ball forever changed the way I understand the game.

nick said...

A central tenet of Moneyball philosophy when Lewis wrote the book was, "give me a guy with great on-base percentage and we'll teach him power." It has since become obvious what "teach" meant. Not only was Moneyball a rhetorical cover for steroids, but Moneyball philosophy at that time was based on optimizing the use of steroids. No need for scouts to try to discover natural power when it can be "taught."

Of course, the more general Moneyball philosophy is just to find the undervalued statistic, which keeps changing as people learn what is undervalued. And of course this changes as the biology of the players changes, so any real Moneyballer has long since moved on, and is ironically now touting many of the virtues that Lewis trashed (e.g. good defense and base stealing). And with nearly every GM trying to find the undervalued statistics these days, the A's, despite still having Beane at the helm, have long since lost their advantage.

Lewis' best-seller went to Beane's head and five years ago he hired his best man to be his manager. Two weeks ago after as many losing (except one which was exactly .500) seasons he finally got around to firing his best man. What a managerial face plant, just in time for his "Glory Days" being played by Brad Pitt.

One big problem with even the general Moneyball philosophy is that it's not really Money-ball, it's Win-ball. It optimizes wins not revenue. Wins and revenue tend to be correlated but they are far from the same thing. Ask the A's, who by picking subtly good but boring Moneyball players, and by trading their best players when they become stars, have seen a huge decline in ticket sales since the Haas days, even after they got into the 2006 ALCS. They can't afford player salaries because few want to pay to see their boring play, and they end up with boring players because they focus only on wins rather than on sizzle. And just when A's fans falls in love with a player they trade him. It's been a downward spiral. Moneyball is an extremely poor name for the philosophy, since its Soviet-style autistic obsession with optimizing a single statistic, wins, and its obsession with statistics alone, while neglecting all sources of information except statistics and neglecting all other aspects of the baseball business besides winning games, results in the money going elsewhere.

kaganovitch said...

btw "michael" tejada is not a high obp player but rather your stereotyical aggressive latin hitter with a career obp of .336

Anonymous said...


The A's trade away players because they have too. Their revenue is a function of their market, which is true of pretty much every team. They will never be a high revenue team.

Here's the thing with all this stat analysis that modern processing power provides. It only benefits first adopters for a short period before everyone catches on. As the idea of using stats becomes common the edge gets smaller and smaller. There are only so many inefficiencies to exploit.

Baseball is always going to be about farm system quality and spending the most, couple with some random chance. Inefficiencies won't last.

nick said...

The A's trade away players because they have too.

And they have to because they've alienated the fans by trading players when they become stars. It's a death spiral. Under Haas they had many stars they didn't trade and as a result attendance was far higher, and viola they could afford to pay the stars.

The Outsider said...

Steve, what do you mean the steroid testing revelations have supported your theory over De Vany's? He doesn't dispute that steroids are prevalent, he disputes that they have a (statistically significant) affect on home run hitting. So the fact that steroids are common is, in itself, irrelevant.

What am I missing?

astorian said...

Fans of Billy Beane invariably insist that Moneyball is NOT about signing guys who hi homers and draw walks! They’ll swear it’s just about “exploiting inefficiencies in the market.”

At one time, many baseball executives didn’t fully appreciate the value of drawing walks. Hence, Billy Beane was able to pick up guys with low batting averages and high on-base percentages for cheap. Today? EVERYBODY sees the value of walks, so the kinds of players Billy Beane once signed for a song are gong to the Red Sox and the Yankees.

“Not to worry,” insisted Billy Beane’s fans. “He’ll just find a DIFFERENT market inefficiency to exploit.”
Nope. He hasn’t. There just AREN’T any underappreciated stats out there that nobody else has picked up on.

Billy Beane was smart enough to understand and appreciate the revolution in baseball statistics. He grasped an exploited OBP and OPS and VORP and WHIP when older executives were still fixated on batting average, RBIs and wins. Good for Billy. But today, EVERYBODY appreciates the new stats, and Billy just isn’t that much smarter than his competitors any more.

Eesti said...

Good basic story, strong acting. Very enjoyable and entertaining. You don't need to like baseball to enjoy this one! Much better than mosr of the other options for movies. Brad Pitt more than made up for "The tree of life" with this film.

Anonymous said...

Remember when MTV (Music Tele-Vision) had music?

Anonymous said...

"under the previous general manager Sandy Alderson (1983-1997), when Oakland went to three straight World Series (1988-90), which is three more than Billy Beane has accomplished. "

Tony La Russa had a lot more to do with the A's being in the World Series than Alderson did.

- broodrax

coug cough Wherever LaRussa is there are steroids cough cough