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Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game

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Title: Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game  
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Subject: On-base percentage, Oakland Athletics, Sabermetrics, Bill James, Run batted in, Cyril Connolly, Kevin Youkilis, Lenny Dykstra, 2003 in baseball, Nick Swisher
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Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game

For the film based on the book, see Moneyball (film). For the statistical approach sometimes referred to as "Moneyball", see Sabermetrics
The Art of Winning an Unfair Game
Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game
Author Michael Lewis
Country United States
Language English
Genre Non-fiction
Publisher W.W. Norton & Company Inc.
Publication date 2003
Media type Print (Hardcover)
Pages 288
ISBN ISBN 0-393-05765-8
OCLC Number Dewey Decimal 796.357/06/91
LC Classification GV880 .L49 2003

Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game is a book by Michael Lewis, published in 2003, about the Oakland Athletics baseball team and its general manager Billy Beane. Its focus is the team's analytical, evidence-based, sabermetric approach to assembling a competitive baseball team, despite Oakland's disadvantaged revenue situation. A film based on the book starring Brad Pitt was released in 2011.


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. Statistics such as stolen bases, runs batted in, and batting average, typically used to gauge players, are relics of a 19th-century view of the game and the statistics available at that time. The book argues that the Oakland A's' front office took advantage of more analytical gauges of player performance to field a team that could compete successfully against richer competitors in Major League Baseball (MLB).

Rigorous statistical analysis had 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. These observations often flew in the face of conventional baseball wisdom and the beliefs of many baseball scouts and executives.

By re-evaluating the strategies that produce wins on the field, the 2002 Athletics, with approximately US$41 million in salary, were competitive with larger market teams such as the New York Yankees, who spent over US$125 million in payroll that same season. Because of the team's smaller revenues, Oakland is forced to find players undervalued by the market, and their system for finding value in undervalued players has proven itself thus far. This approach brought the A's to the playoffs in 2002 and 2003.

Several themes Lewis explored in the book include: insiders vs. outsiders (established traditionalists vs. upstart proponents of sabermetrics), the democratization of information causing a flattening of hierarchies, and "the ruthless drive for efficiency that capitalism demands." The book also touches on Oakland's underlying economic need to stay ahead of the curve; as other teams begin mirroring Beane's strategies to evaluate offensive talent, diminishing the Athletics' advantage, Oakland begins looking for other undervalued baseball skills such as defensive capabilities.

Moneyball also touches on the A's methods of prospect selection. Sabermetricians argue that a college baseball player's chance of MLB success is much higher than a traditional high school draft pick. Beane maintains that high draft picks spent on high school prospects, regardless of talent or physical potential as evaluated by traditional scouting, are riskier than if they were spent on more polished college players. Lewis cites A's minor leaguer Jeremy Bonderman, drafted out of high school in 2001 over Beane's objections, as but one example of precisely the type of draft pick Beane would avoid. Bonderman had all of the traditional "tools" that scouts look for, but thousands of such players have been signed by MLB organizations out of high school over the years and failed to develop. Lewis explores the A's approach to the 2002 MLB Draft, when the team had a nearly unprecedented run of early picks. The book documents Beane's often-tense discussions with his scouting staff (who favored traditional subjective evaluation of potential rather than objective sabermetrics) in preparation for the draft to the actual draft, which defied all expectations and was considered at the time a wildly successful (if unorthodox) effort by Beane.

In addition, Moneyball traces the history of the sabermetric movement back to such people as Bill James (now a member of the Boston Red Sox front office) and Craig R. Wright. Lewis explores how James' seminal Baseball Abstract, an annual publication that was published from the late 1970s through the late 1980s, influenced many of the young, up-and-coming baseball minds that are now joining the ranks of baseball management.


Moneyball has made such an impact in professional baseball that the term itself has entered the lexicon of baseball. Teams which appear to value the concepts of sabermetrics are often said to be playing "Moneyball." Baseball traditionalists, in particular some scouts and media members, decry the sabermetric revolution and have disparaged Moneyball for emphasizing concepts of sabermetrics over more traditional methods of player evaluation. Nevertheless, the impact of Moneyball upon major league front offices is undeniable. In its wake, teams such as the New York Mets, New York Yankees, San Diego Padres, St. Louis Cardinals, Boston Red Sox, Washington Nationals, Arizona Diamondbacks, Cleveland Indians,[1] and the Toronto Blue Jays have hired full-time sabermetric analysts. Since the book's publication and success, Lewis has discussed plans for a sequel to Moneyball called Underdogs, revisiting the players and their relative success several years into their careers, although only four players from the 2002 draft played any significant amount of time at the Major League level. When the New York Mets hired Sandy Alderson – Beane's predecessor and mentor with the A's – as their general manager after the 2010 season, and hired Beane's former associates Paul DePodesta and J.P. Ricciardi to the front office, the team became known as the "Moneyball Mets".[2] Michael Lewis has acknowledged that the book's success may have negatively affected the Athletics' fortunes as other teams have accepted the use of sabermetrics, reducing the edge that Oakland received from using sabermetric-based evaluations.[3]

People discussed in the book

Moneyball also covers the lives and careers of several baseball personalities. The central one is Billy Beane himself, whose failed playing career is contrasted with wildly optimistic predictions by scouts.

Players and people discussed in Moneyball:

Oakland farm system

Oakland bullpen

Other players

Scouts, management, and journalists

Analysis of the 2002 Major League Baseball draft

Beane's list

Beane put together a list of twenty players they’d draft in a "perfect world", meaning if money was no object and they didn't have to compete with the other twenty-nine teams.

The list, and the teams who drafted them:

  • Nick Swisher - Oakland, #16 (1st round)
  • Russ Adams - Toronto, #14 (1st round)
  • Khalil Greene - San Diego, #13 (1st round)
  • John McCurdy - Oakland, #26 (1st round)
  • Mark Teahen - Oakland, #39 (1st round)
  • Jeremy Brown - Oakland, #35 (1st round)
  • Steve Stanley - Oakland, #67 (2nd round)
  • John Baker - Oakland, #128 (4th round)
  • Mark Kiger - Oakland, #158 (5th round)
  • Brian Stavisky - Oakland, #188 (6th round)
  • Shaun Larkin - Cleveland, #274 (9th round)
  • Brant Colamarino - Oakland, #218 (7th round)

Oakland's picks

  • #18 - Nick Swisher - successful major leaguer, traded to Chicago White Sox after 2007
  • #24 - Joe Blanton - successful major leaguer, traded to Philadelphia Phillies in 2008
  • #26 - John McCurdy - never made MLB. Last played minor league ball in 2006.
  • #30 - Ben Fritz - never made MLB. Last played minor league ball in 2010.
  • #35 - Jeremy Brown - MLB experience consists of 11 plate appearances for Oakland in 2006. Last played minor league ball in 2007.
  • #37 - Stephen Obenchain - never made MLB. Last played minor league ball in 2006.
  • #39 - Mark Teahen - spent parts of eight seasons in MLB, played only in the minors in 2012 and 2013.
  • #67 - Steve Stanley - never made MLB. Last played minor league ball in 2006.
  • #98 - Bill Murphy - pitched fewer than 18 innings in MLB. Has played only in foreign and minor leagues since 2009.
  • #128 - John Baker - traded to the Florida Marlins and has played around 300 total games in six MLB seasons.
  • #158 - Mark Kiger - MLB experience consists of 1⅔ innings at second base for Oakland in the 2006 American League Championship Series. Never played in the MLB regular season. Last played minor league ball in 2009.
  • #188 - Brian Stavisky - never made MLB. Last played minor league ball in 2010.
  • #218 - Brant Colamarino - never made MLB. Last played minor league ball in 2007.


Main article: Moneyball (film)

A movie based on the book was released in 2011. Actor Brad Pitt stars as Billy Beane, while Jonah Hill plays a fictional character based on Paul DePodesta; Philip Seymour Hoffman plays A's manager Art Howe. Academy Award-winning screenwriter Steve Zaillian was hired to write the script, and Steven Soderbergh was slated to direct, replacing David Frankel.[4] However, in June, 2009, because of conflicts over a revised script by Soderbergh, Sony put the movie on hold just days before it was scheduled to begin shooting.[5] Soderbergh was eventually let go.

Bennett Miller took over directing duties,[6] and Aaron Sorkin rewrote the script.[6] Shooting began on July, 2010 at Blair Field, the Sports Stadium for Wilson High School (Long Beach, California), Sony Studios in Culver City, Dodger Stadium, and the Oakland-Alameda Coliseum.[7][8] The film was released in theaters on September 23, 2011. Moneyball was nominated for six Academy Awards including Best Actor and Best Picture.

In popular culture

The book is parodied in the Simpsons episode "MoneyBART", in which Lisa manages Bart's Little League baseball team using sabermetric principles. Bill James made an appearance in this episode.



External links

  • by John Manuel
  • (April 13, 2006)
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