Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game

by Michael Lewis

Hardcover, 2004

Call number

796.3 L



W. W. Norton & Company (2004), Edition: 1st, 320 pages


This book explains how Billy Beene, the general manager of the Oakland Athletics, is using a new kind of thinking to build a successful and winning baseball team without spending enormous sums of money. The author examines the fallacy behind the major league baseball refrain that the team with the biggest wallet is supposed to win. Over the past four years the Oakland Athletics, a major league team with a minor league payroll, have had one of the best records in the country. General Manager Billy Beene is putting into practice on the field revolutionary principles to build his team that have been concocted by geek statisticians and college professors, rather than using the old scouting technique called "gut instinct." The author takes us behind the scenes with the Oakland A's, into the dugouts, and into the conference rooms where the annual Major League draft is held by conference call, and rumor mongering is par for the course as each team jockeys for position for their favored player.I wrote this book because I fell in love with a story. The story concerned a small group of undervalued professional baseball players and executives, many of whom had been rejected as unfit for the big leagues, who had turned themselves into one of the most successful franchises in Major League Baseball. But the idea for the book came well before I had good reason to write it, before I had a story to fall in love with. It began, really, with an innocent question: how did one of the poorest teams in baseball, the Oakland Athletics, win so many games? This book is a quest for something as elusive as the Holy Grail, something that money apparently can't buy: the secret of success in baseball.… (more)

User reviews

LibraryThing member ElectricRay
Being a British naturalised Kiwi, I could not possibly know (or, to be honest, care) less about baseball. Nonetheless, I found this to be a fascinating book, and have been recommending it to everyone I meet. It contains a fundamental truth of investing that anyone could use, useful precisely because most people (like the low-scoring reviewers on this site) think they know best.
If every armchair sports fans thinks they know better than the others, it stands to reason that most of them are wrong.

The fact that the Oakland A's never won the world series is absolutely not the point. If the market was functioning efficiently, on their budget, they should never have got within cooey of it: The buying power of behemoths like the Mets should have ensured that. What is remarkable - and what is important - is that the A's consistently, massively, exceeded their own expectations.

Sport is a business. I mean that figuratively as well as literally: profit can be measured in dollar terms but also in percentage of wins to losses. Fans seem to forget that. In business, consistently exceeding expectations is an even better thing than winning the World Series, because it necessarily means you've made MONEY. If you're the favourite and you win the World Series, you have only met expectations, and you may even have made a loss.

If baseball were a perfect market, it wouldn't be possible to exceed expectations over a long period. Over a few games, maybe - that could be a fluke. Over two seasons, it almost certainly couldn't be. That means two things: (a) conventional wisdom about the value of certain baseball players and certain attributes is wrong; and (b) The Oakland A's have worked out what is right, or at any rate their model is better than the conventional wisdom.

This is the sort of thing Billy Beane should have kept as quiet about as possible. Michael Lewis' book ought to be a Eureka moment for every baseball manager: if it is, then the market mis-pricing will disappear, everyone will acquire players on the strength of the new valuation methodology and the Oakland A's will gradually fall down the rankings to where they should have been in the first place, given their budget. I dare say that has already started to happen.

What it ought to do is open eyes of managers from other codes, and indeed other businesses: The key is in having sufficient data. If you have enough good quality data (like baseball does) then if your analysis of it is better than your competitors, then as long as your approach is disciplined and consistent, you will, over time, turn a virtually risk free profit. It's called arbitrage.

I haven't even got onto the fact that Michael Lewis is one of the most insightful and witty writers writing in business at the moment, and this book is a pleasure to read from start to finish, notwithstanding my ignorance of its subject. I have read a number of business titles recently, and compared to the rest of the pack Lewis is, if you'll excuse the pun, a major leaguer amongst amateurs.

Highly, highly recommended.
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LibraryThing member KApplebaum
Any book that gets Joe Morgan so worked up can't be all bad.
LibraryThing member JonArnold
This isn’t, at heart, a book about baseball. On the surface it’s about the how the Oakland A’s, who should be the equivalent of the kid in the old Charles Atlas adverts getting sand kicked in their faces, live with the big financial bullies of the league. How they compete in the only major American sport that doesn’t have a salary cap to provide a level playing field. The difference is this kid didn’t send off to get the muscles, he simply got smart instead. This book is about how being smarter than your opponents can work. Even if you’ve got zero interest in baseball, it’s an absorbing, intelligent read.

There are two real threads to this book. The first is the rise in sabermetrics, which tried to take the elements of luck and judgement out of baseball statistics and actually measure a player’s performance – for example, fielders being judged on how few errors they made when an error was obviously a subjective call. And the second is how Oakland’s general manager Billy Beane, originally a can’t miss prospect who missed, determined that the conventional methods of building a team were wrong and set about some unorthodox methods of constructing that team.

The threads intertwine as Beane, with the help of his assistant Paul DePodesta, uses the sabermetric system, rather than the conventional league approved ones, to analyse the truly important underrated stats and pick up cost effective players who performed well in these categories. In short, he takes advantage of crucial data that other teams ignore in favour of the more gaudy stats. It’s fascinating to see Beane rebuild the organisation using these stats as a basis. He fires the scouts, who look only at what they want to see - who looks good and athletic, who pitches the fastest, who runs the swiftest. These scouts, who’ve been trained by convention and accepted wisdom, are all booted in favour of those who’ll look beyond the appearances and to actual performances. And with the help of his new scouts and sabermetrics Beane takes the equivalent of rescue dogs from Battersea Dogs Home and transforms them into stars. And if they don’t work out, or work out too well he trades them to his advantage. And as the book clearly shows the methods are wildly successful – the A’s consistently have one of the league’s lowest payrolls yet consistently make the playoffs.

Beane’s a fascinating central character, a GM whose own experiences of being the can’t miss prospect who missed lead him to question the whole system of talent evaluation. He’s an intriguing mixture of gambler, thinker and horse trader, even not watching his own team’s games because it might bring cloud his judgement on players. It’s clearly his failure to make it that drives him to prove how wrong the league is when it comes to selecting players, and use that failure to outsmart the rest of the league. Michael Lewis clearly conveys the passion that drives him and the pleasure he derives from building his team. He doesn’t shy from portraying Beane’s ruthlessness either, mixing the fairytale pickups of Chad Bradford and Scott Hatteburg with Mike Magnante, who’s cut immediately before a game his wife and children had turned up to watch, effectively ending his career four days short of receiving his full pension benefits.

By the end of the book a couple of other teams have started to cotton on and follow Oakland’s methods, rather than dismissing them as a freak situation. Only a few though, the majority of baseball still cling to their received wisdom. When you finish reading this book the new afterword will give you the impression that the powers that be in Major League Baseball are like the Spanish Inquisition trying to silence anyone who tells them the world isn’t flat or the centre of the universe, suppressing and ignoring knowledge that might improve them and their teams.

It’s a great story which Michael Lewis tells fluently and clearly, meaning the baseball stats and often complex trades are rendered clearly to outsiders. It fires what Beane and DePodesta are dong through a business perspective, showing clearly how the often hollow business mantra of more efficiency, fresh perspective and exploiting previously unknown holes in the market can work even applied outside the traditional business arena. It focuses an already great story through a prism of fresh perspective, although naturally it’s an occasionally harsh perspective on Beane treating his players as commodity. Each chapter focuses on some aspect of Beane’s thinking and the background to it, meaning the methods he uses are vividly and clearly illustrated, even to those with little or no interest in baseball.

In the end the book is best summed up by a rare example Lewis gives from a game. A television analyst is explaining exactly why Oakland always fail in the playoffs, whilst in the background the team are actually doing what he’s saying. Naturally his lecture goes unquestioned, even in the light of hard evidence from the game. If there’s one favour a sports fan can get from Moneyball it’s to realise how little sportscasters engage their brains when ‘analysing’. In fact, how little most teams seem to be using their brain, instead favouring received knowledge.

This is a book that can be read, digested and enjoyed even by non-baseball fans, hell even by non-sports fans. In that respect, Moneyball is simply one of the greatest sports books ever published.
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LibraryThing member Davidmanheim
MoneyBall, by Michael Lewis, was about a paradigm shift in baseball revolving around accurate evaluations of players worth, and the market inefficiencies created by the subjective valuation that was occuring in most of the league as the Oakland A's bought out all of the undervalued players from both the majors and the minor leagues. I found it particularly interesting as a discussion of applied markets theory.

Despite not really caring about baseball, and being from Atlanta, I actually followed the A's until the person doing the statistical work was sent to a different team, because it was so cool.
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LibraryThing member Othemts
The story of Billy Beane, general manager of the Oakland Athletics, delves into the baseball culture of statistical analysis and scientific reason that grew around the likes of Bill James. It’s really a lively written book that makes be admire the A’s as a team of misfits, while at the same time Beane’s megalomania and treatment of players as investments somewhat disturbs me. I also notice this story has a lot to do with the Mets – Beane himself the Mets prospect who failed, Lenny Dykstra who succeeded in his place, Art Howe the figurehead manager of the A’s that Beane was able to pawn off on to the Mets. In fact the Mets often appear to be at the short end of many of Beane’s deals. How unfortunate. Still you can’t blame Beane for the Mets stupidity. Nice stories about Scott Hatteberg and Chad Bradford as well. I’d like to see a rebuttal from the baseball traditionalist’s point of view (obviously many successful teams have been built using the accepted methods), but overall I’m sold on Jamesian baseball analysis.

“The pleasure of rooting for Goliath is that you can expect to win. The pleasure of rooting for David is that, while you don’t know what to expect, you stand at least a chance of being inspired.” (p. 158)
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LibraryThing member KurtWombat
To celebrate the opening of baseball season, decided to delve into the most talked about baseball book of recent years. I was as surprised as I was dissappointed. The book became notorious for outlining the success of the small market Oakland A's at maintaining their competitiveness despite humble funds. The A's brain trust used computers, creative statistics and thinking outside the box to scoop other teams for the best players. At the time the A's had been consistently good....but the passing of seven years offers a different perspective. The dissapointing part of the book is that the revelatory statistical analysis that was supposed to have given the A's such an advantage, is really just another tool. Like any other tool in a gold mine, it will uncover it's share of nuggets. The 2002 draft which is followed in delightful detail, can be viewed differently now that the players have had a reasonable time in the minors. The A's had stocked up several extra first round picks because of losing several free agent players. Their choices, at the time still question marks, have not proven to be any better than an average draft. The players that have been the most successful were sought by many other teams...and thus not a product of their new way of thinking. With all their extra early picks, you can argue that they should have done much better. For example, one of the players they were praying someone else would "waste" a draft pick on was only Prince Fielder who is doing quite well these days. Their open minds bashed him because his father Cecil Fielder was overweight his whole career. While I found much of the statistical analysis interesting, when they broke down much of a ball player's success to "luck", the whole argument lost air. Now the surprising part, was how much I enjoyed not only the inside the baseball world mechanics, but the profiles of players like Scott Hatteberg and Chad Bradford and others involved in the game. The gradual unfolding of their stories and how their skills evolved to keep them in the big leagues was intriguing and even endearing. The A's General Manager, given the lion's share of the credit for the A's success, is quite captivating....almost appearing a work of fiction at times. His desperate need to succeed to the point of being not only unpleasant to be around, but also self destructive captivates in an often ludicrous way that someone from Joseph Heller's Catch 22 might. On the whole enjoyable, but not always in the ways they intended.… (more)
LibraryThing member johnnylogic
The story of the Oakland Athletics (circa 2002) and their salvation through sabermetics. I have never been a baseball fan, but Moneyball inspired me to look deeper into the conjunction of America's favorite passtime and statistics.
LibraryThing member jddunn
An excellent book about markets and the imperfect way in which we attach quantitative and subjective value to things within them; further, how this process can affect individual lives and dreams. It just happens to also be an exciting tale of a season in the remaking of baseball’s conventional wisdom as well. Sweet.
LibraryThing member tcpeter
A good read whether you like sports or not, Moneyball highlights using an unconventional mind-set to achieve extraordinary results. Highly underrated as a business book.
LibraryThing member conceptDawg
Moneyball is an look inside one of the more interesting modern mysteries in the game of Major League Baseball. Specifically, how in the hell have the Oakland A’s continued to consistantly post winning records despite having one of the lowest payrolls in the league?

The answer? Statistics and highly educated people running the selection process of new talent. The A’s broke from the norm and are now using computer-based statistics and game theory to make their draft and trade selections instead of the “old-school” method of sending scouts to see if a candidate “looks” like a player. Apparently, “The Look” doesn’t amount to a hill of beans in the record books and the A’s figured that out.

The book is quite interesting from a geek’s point of view in that it give some insight into the statistical methods and idiosyncracies that they look for in players. From a baseball player’s standpoint I can’t say that the book offered anything of real value other than a couple of chapters of interesting tales from the minor leagues and scouting incidents. But, all things considered, it is an enjoyable read for the sports enthusiast and tech-geek alike.
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LibraryThing member mynameisvinn
not very entertaining. i wanted to stop in the middle. pretty much each chapter repeats itself on how billy beane finds undervalued players.
LibraryThing member rachelv
I think that anyone who's even remotely interested in baseball would find this book really interesting, though being a little bit of a geek probably also helps. It's especially fun to read now, as a lot of the players drafted in this book as minor leaguers are currently making their careers in the big leagues. Highly recommended for any baseball fan.… (more)
LibraryThing member Tipton_Renwick
I am a baseball fan who read Moneyball after reading 3 Nights in August. Both try to explain how winning baseball teams win, though approach the subject in very different ways. As a lifelong fan of a team with a huge payroll and a history of losing, I would like to see the Cubs front office apply some of these techniques for finding good players. Where I start to disagree with Moneyball, though, is with the insistence that bunting and stealing should not be part of the game. That and Beane's own admission that his strategy doesn't work in the post-season requires his approach to be a bit more finely-tuned.… (more)
LibraryThing member armyofbobs
Past performance is a great indicator of future performance. Wish more coaches knew this. Felt a lot of vindication for a lot of players I knew as I went through it. Also, anything that debunks old wives tails and untruths is good stuff.
LibraryThing member KeithMerron
Michael Lewis is a brilliant observer of human beings and writes eloquently on a variety of topics. In this book, although not necessarily intentionally, he offers insight into one crucial feature of leadership—that it matters what you measure. By chronically the efforts of one baseball team, the Oakland As, which, with paltry investment in players and low-ticket sales became a consistent top producer to a large extent by analyzing data that others tended to ignore. Instead of measuring home runs, batting averages, and other statistics that appear important but do not necessarily produce wins, they discovered that on base percentage was the winning statistic that produced real results and hired players with that in mind. Their success defied the prevailing wisdom and challenged sacred assumptions. The key takeaway from the book is that often we miss the most important factors that cause success in organizational life. Finding it is the key.… (more)
LibraryThing member piefuchs
While this is not a great book, it has a spectacularly interesting subject - how can you find inefficiencies in the economic system that guides baseball and use these to create a winning team for little money? I was mesmorized by the parts of the book which detailed the use of statistical models to predict sport success. Unfortunately, as a journalist, Lewis felt the need to personalize the story, and huge amounts of the text focus on Billy Bean (as one person who uses this technique) and a few baseball players that Bean identified as being undervalued. I could have done with less of the lifestories of the undervalued players and more on the techniques used to determine how they were undervalued. Highly readable.… (more)
LibraryThing member gq2000
A good way to understand how quantitative investors make money: identify a statistical edge that is overlooked by the marketplace and apply it in a discplined way again and again (hopefully over thousands of times).
LibraryThing member jonathon.hodge
The book that caused all the contraversy - an insightful and entertaining look at a new way of building a winner. Baseball is so hidebound that the revolutionaries come from Harvard and Yale!
LibraryThing member Belzebub
A great book for a baseball fan that is interested in the game beyond what happens during those nine innings.
LibraryThing member slpaine
fascinating read. If you commute to work get a copy of the unabridged audio CD read by Scott Britt. I found that I was stopping the CD to jot notes that I could use for projects at my work. Like all books on behavioral economics/econometrics it is just one of the many that have come out in the last 5 years attempting to show that we can do better by being more numerate. Most important for me was that the books contents lead me to other fruitful lines of inquiry....Game Theory, esp. The Evolution of Cooperation by Robert Axelrod… (more)
LibraryThing member AriH
Disappointing book for me. It has been years since I read Liar's Poker and The New New Thing, but I still remember the stories. To enjoy Moneyball, you probably have to be interested in and already know a lot about baseball before opening the book.
LibraryThing member jeremytaylor
It’s pretty amazing, when you think about it, just how much time and money and energy and brain power have been invested in professional sports over the past hundred years or so, and none more than major-league baseball. Tracking and evaluating individual and team statistics has become an entire industry, and it’s an established enough industry that it can support heated debates about methodology and best practices. Moneyball is a fascinating peek into that world. It examines some of the arguments and grudges that have sprung up over the years among analysts and baseball insiders, and it somehow manages to do it in a way that will pique the interest of even non–baseball fans.

In 2002, the Oakland Athletics had the second lowest payroll in baseball, yet they managed to acquire more wins than all but one other team. According to conventional baseball wisdom, this was an impossible feat. So how did they do it? Michael Lewis answers this question by telling the story of A’s general manager Billy Beane.

Beane, drawing on very unconventional analysis by a baseball scholar named Bill James, believed that winning games depended far less than commonly believed on things like hitters’ batting average and fielders’ number of errors and relief pitchers’ saves. Instead, the most telling indicators of success were things like a batter’s ability to get on base with or without a hit and a pitcher’s strikeout percentage. Through the course of the 2002 season, Beane’s scrappy team won game after game while acquiring players everyone else thought were worthless and emphasizing strategies most other teams scoffed at. It seemed Beane was being proven right.

Of course, not everyone agreed. The 2002 A’s were an anomaly, some argued. But the numbers speak for themselves. Even readers with little or no interest in baseball will be intrigued by Lewis’s ability to describe and analyze statistical trends. Billy Bean comes off looking like a heroic David fighting against the Goliath of major-league baseball’s institutions. Traditional baseball scouts and others who hold fast to supposedly time-tested “truths” about America’s favorite game come across as naïve at best and downright foolish at worst. Through it all, the background stories of players—some whom no one but the most ardent baseball fans have ever heard of—add a delightful element of human interest, and the team’s ultimate success gives the book an almost epic hero’s-journey feel.

One word of caution: baseball is a dangerous sport to become interested in. With 162 games per season, not including the playoffs, loyally following even one team is a time-consuming enterprise. If you’re a baseball fan already, Moneyball will make you watch and think about games differently. If you’re not a fan, reading this book just might make you one.
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LibraryThing member shawnd
This is an insanely good book, and I am not a big fan of baseball (I watch parts of perhaps 5 games a year). The book is about a true revolution in how baseball is managed and thus played, perhaps the first revolution in decades. It introduces the wider population to Bill James and his theories, sabermetrics, and using new statistics about player performance to mix winning with managing the economics of the salary cap and player compensation. The book is captivating, well written, and its setup around the life of Billy Beane is emotionally wringing enough to plant the seeds of sorrow and momentum that later turn into victorious happiness for the reader. It's so rare for a book to spark what truly has become a religious war in baseball. This is a must read for any student of business or data or performance of any institution (colleges, who are picking students, to be athletes, scholars, and future financial contributors, are a great example).… (more)
LibraryThing member Cris987
Great insights on the current game of baseball.
LibraryThing member jontseng
Tails off after a good start. Much of the discussion focuses around the 2002 draft and its implications... but it is year before we will see these picks come to fruition - which is far beyond the timescale of this book. What would be more interesting is the story of what happened in the years leading up to the 2002 season, but we never get the full story, probably because this is prior to Lews' reportage taking off. A revolution unfinished (NB this is written from the perspective of an intelligent British baseball ignoramus. There is undoubtedly much nuance and cant which I have missed.)… (more)




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