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


Over the years, baseball has evolved into a game where cash is king. In the professional world, the teams with the most money land the best players. Disgruntled at the ever-lopsided nature of America's pastime, several baseball enthusiasts have attempted to come up with a winning formula for the underdogs. Here, several fans, working in many different fields, present the secret ways to win in baseball.

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 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 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 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 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 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 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 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 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 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 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 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 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 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 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 mary3s
I grew up watching and listening to baseball. And I live in the SF Bay Area. So, Moneyball was a great fit for me. I love that a whole new view of statistics altered the game so much.

Great read and a must for any baseball fan.
LibraryThing member Cris987
Great insights on the current game of baseball.
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 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 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)
LibraryThing member jclemence
This is a great book on the topic of sabermetrics. Lewis uses Billy Beane and the Oakland A's as his test case, arguing that the proper use of statistics in baseball can overcome any financial limitations a team might have. In the early 2000s, Beane had one of the lowest payrolls in baseball, and yet his teams managed to win 100+ games multiple seasons in a row. How did he do it? He realized that the game of baseball was a process, in which the output was to score runs. He also found the world of sabermetrics (study of baseball statistics) and used the key stats/metrics that factored into generating runs to build his roster. Luckily for him, it just so happened that his "key stats" were worth very little money on the open market. He thus aggressively sought after players who other teams overlooked, paid them their "market worth" and used them to build a winning ball club.

Since I have an interest in baseball and work in the field of quality, I really enjoyed this book. It's a great piece of objective evidence that taking a process- and fact-based approach to a task can generate great results. It was also very interesting to see the history of Billy Beane, and how he turned what many would consider a failed career as a player into an exceptional career as GM. The only downside to this book is that it ends somewhat abruptly. I felt like it needed two or three more chapters to round out the story and tie up loose ends.

In any case, anyone interested in baseball, statistics, or quality in general should pick up this book.
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LibraryThing member upstairsgirl
This is a great read. Lewis explains, in a book that's largely easy to follow and really engaging, the market inefficiencies in major league baseball and the way the Oakland A's exploited them under the management of Billy Beane. Lewis talks to a lot of people in fleshing out his account, and the stories they have to tell are great.

As a casual baseball fan and a person with only a passing familiarity with economics and statistics, I found the book easy and engaging. There are a handful of places where my brain shorts out a little, sometimes because Lewis has wrapped a tangent around himself, a little, and sometimes because he occasionally shifts verb tenses in ways that are a little strange, but he tells a great story, full of smart and interesting people, and now that the book's been out for six years, it's even more interesting to read knowing what's happened in the meantime to the teams and players he discusses. Well worth it - even if you don't care about the statistics or the money, the stories are enough all by themselves.
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