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on 5 December 2012
Moneyball is ostensibly a book about Baseball, superfIcially a book about the Oakland A's (equivalent of Bolton Wanderers under Sam Allardyce) and their General Manager (equivalent of a 'Director of football') Billy Beane in the late 90's/early Noughties and how a club with scarce financial resources consistently out-performed its more wealthy rivals and it is! But it is so much more than that, this book has more layers than an onion.

On one level this is a book about Baseball and a maverick who subverted the consensus view on how the game should be played and understood but on a deeper level this is a case study of an idea. It is behavioural economics as applied to sport.

The book demonstrates how Billy Beane used the insights of a Baseball statistician named Bill James (a cipher for Nobel winning behavioural economist Daniel Kahneman, author of 'Thinking, Fast and Slow'?) and the practical mathematical genius of Paul Podesta (a Harvard graduate with no Baseball experience) to outsmart his competitors.

'Reason, even science, was what Billy Beane was intent on bringing to Baseball...... Paul wanted to look at stats because the stats offered offered him new ways of understanding.....That was James's most general point: the naked eye was an inadequate tool for learning what you needed to know to evaluate baseball players and baseball games.'

On one level level this is an old-fashioned David vs Goliath story but on a deeper level it is a book about two competing views of human nature. The view being triumphed in this book is that of 'behavioural economics.' In short, that human beings are inherently irrational. Trusting one's gut, or intuition, is inherently flawed and is subject to systematic biases/limitations/flaws/illusions which can only be rooted out by a sophisticated analysis of relevant statistical data.

The author Michael Lewis is really an economics writer and what he has managed to do is something that many writers (including Daniel Kahneman, whose writings in my opinion tend to be turgid in the extreme) seem unable to do, and that is:- make seemingly complex ideas come alive by embedding them in real-life situations with real people. Moneyball is a great sports book but it is also popular social science writing at its finest too.
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on 15 December 2009
American baseball - I wouldn't even read a book about British cricket and I played that avidly as a kid. I do not know what a walk is or a strikeout or a home run but this book proved compulsive reading.

Oakland A are a small, unsexy US baseball team who consistently got to near the top of the baseball leagues on a fraction of the money and budget of the leading high profile teams like the Boston White Sox or the New York Yankies. When you think of intellectuals influencing the course of human affairs, you think of physics, or political theory or economics. You do not think of baseball because you don't think of baseball as having an intellectual underpinning. But everything does have an intellectual underpinning and when an original thinker applies his mind startling results can be achieved.

Billy James, a Kansas University educated pork and bean factory worker was fascinated by baseball and studied it assiduously. He published his first leaflet : 1977 Baseball abstract: Featuring 18 Categories of Statistical Information That You Just Can't Find Anywhere Else. Doesn't sound a best seller does it?

But his thesis was that people in charge of professional baseball believed they could judge players performance simply by watching it. In this conventional wisdom on which millions of dollars was lavished, they were deeply mistaken. It was only by measurement and statistics that you could distinguish the good hitter from the average hitter - it is simply not visible.

James theory was not original - many others had measured players' performance. But he lived in a time of radical advances in computer technology enabling him to analyse vast amounts of data. And he lived in a time when baseball players salaries boomed - dramatically raising the value of his information. He developed computer models that correlated the number of runs a team would score against key statistics he identified but which were not particularly valued by the professional scouts and baseball professionals based on historical analysis. His models proved accurate in prediction future performance. However the baseball professionals failed to see the point. Until Billy Beane came along.

Billy Beane became General manager of Oakland A in 1997 and he had read all of Billy James Abstracts and had taken to heart not just the knowledge, but more importantly, had adopted the attitude of rational thinking and testing the evidence empirically. Billy Beane was not a statistician but he employed one - Paul DePoesta who applied the computer power and models developed by Wall Street Traders to baseball.

Billy Beane and Paul Depodesta developed Billy James approach to rate all the unknown, as well as famous players, in the game. Then they withstood the ridicule of their contemporaries by seeking the unknown or the quirky players, but ones that have a proven track record in some key criteria by which Billy and Paul rated them. They bought players at a fraction of the cost of the high profile teams and became winners. They achieved consistent success on the baseball pitch reaching the playoffs season after season from 2000 to 2004, when this book was written. And success at a fraction of the cost of the high spending teams. Once the value of their discoveries was recognised they had no hesitation in selling the stars they had created and bringing in more unknown players.
But it was not just in buying unknown players with special talents that Oakland excelled. It was also in identifying what each individual could contribute to the team and coaching them intensively in that trait and accepting their deficiencies in other traits. This is not just a story about dry statistical analysis - it is full of colour of the individual and quirky characters that Billy Beane turned from outcasts to key players in his teams.

Billy Beane's approach generated an enormous amount of antipathy among conventional baseball professionals, but Billy was not intimidated. .

This book is a lesson in life and in business - do not try and change people, nobody is talented in everything but if you build on people's strengths you can overcome their weaknesses in a team; don't follow the herd, think for yourself, look at the evidence, measure the outcomes; take some of Billy Beane's courage.
P.S. I love the names in the US - where else do you get Pauldepodesta working with Billy Beane.
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on 6 March 2017
very detailed, an interesting read if you follow baseball.
If not really into baseball then the film is probably more suited than the book.
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on 31 March 2017
everyone assumes Billy B is the hero, when its obvs Bill J
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on 29 July 2003
If you love the underdog, you will love the story of the Oakland Athletics from the last few years. I enjoyed this book a great deal, racing through it in a couple of days. Lewis has done a great job of showing just why the Oakland Athletics have been competing with the New York Yankees the past few years. The revealing chapters on Oakland's draft strategies and approach to trading show their general manager, Billy Beane, to be a guy who is flying by the seat of his pants, trying to eke out any tiny advantage he can, getting the most from every single dollar he spends on his team.
Although this book will appeal to any disciple of baseball analysts like Bill James and Rob Neyer or the Baseball Prospectus team (all who receive positive mentions in this book), I found the moments where the book dwelled on the statistics and theory to be very dry and boring. Luckily, there was probably on 20 or so pages of this in the entire book, and the rest of the time it concentrates on the more human side, the psychology and the baseball. The chapters devoted to two individual players who became successful despite the odds were particularly enjoyable.
Overall this is an essential book for any baseball fan. Traditionalists may balk at some of the ideas and thoughts contained, but any baseball fan with an open mind will find it a joy.
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on 28 April 2004
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 all armchair sports fans think 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 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 everybaseball 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.

Olly Buxton
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VINE VOICEon 22 December 2011
In 1990 I fulfilled a long-standing ambition and went to the first two games of the World Series. Cincinatti Reds were on their way to sweeping the Oakland As. The previous year, the As had won the Series for the ninth time, a total still exceeded only by the New York Yankees and the St Louis Cardinals. But in the 21 years since that defeat the World Series hasn't seen the As again.

In Moneyball, Michael Lewis suggests a simple explanation: the game's finances had gone stratospheric, leaving the As unable to compete for the superstars. At the same time, he explains how they remained seriously competitive without going bankrupt: they disregarded the gut instincts of scouts immersed in subjective assessment of players, adopting instead an analysis of statistics weighted in favour of certain key elements.

At first, the book looks at how and why the analysis worked, but it evolves into the story of a single season when it was the essential rationale that governed the way Oakland identified and signed players. So it becomes a human story, focussing on the unlikely heroes out on the diamond and on the General Manager who believes implicitly in the information emerging from the computer of his Number Two. The General Manager is Billy Beane, a former player who should have been a star but never quite made it, and is now a quixotic leader who prefers to be somewhere else when his team is playing. It will be a hard-hearted reader who fails to empathise with Beane as the season unfolds. Never mind the mathematics, the book is worth reading if only to sit beside him while he trades away his best players in order to sign unrated others.

Lewis doesn't claim that the As found a one-size-fits-all infallible blueprint; unarguably, several million dollars into the annual bank balance of a Barry Bonds, an A-Rod or a Jeter make for an interesting alternative. Moneyball, really, is simply a one-off example of brilliant sports writing by an author whose true beat is big business. In this edition, Lewis unfortunately, cannot resist an appendix to deal with a faction in baseball that decries his efforts. He should have let the book speak for itself. It is certainly good enough.
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on 22 December 2011
Michael Lewis is better known for his books giving an insider's view into the world of high finance and economics so knocking out a book on baseball may seem somewhat incongruous. However, a few pages in and the parallels between the two subjects seem suspiciously close - like Liar's Poker and The Big Short and their investors trying to make a killing on the markets by staying ahead of the game using information and careful blagging, Moneyball tracks cash-strapped baseball team the Oakland Athletics and their unconventional manager Billy Beane as they successfully compete against the wealthy teams by careful analysis of players' statistics and doing the complete opposite of what is generally expected. Picking up a rag-tag line-up of players that don't look the part for knockdown salaries - fat kids, kids that throw funny, kids that are scared to hit the ball, older players thought past their prime - they give the multi-million dollar players more than a run for their money, continually defying the odds season after season to finish near the top. This is a book packed both with wit and fascinating insight into the science of baseball (you don't need to be an enthusiast to start with but you may end up being one at the end!) and a very engrossing read, highly recommended!

I would suggest trying to pick up the edition with the "new afterword" which discusses the response to the book from the "baseball industry" which treated as arrogant bragadocio from writer Billy Beane, totally missing that it wasn't actually written by Mr Beane and was hardly boastful or arrogant. The baseball industry - the writers, scouts, managers etc - continues to perpetuate their myths even as other smaller teams (and some of the bigger teams) adopt the A's modus operandi with similar successful results.
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on 4 April 2008
Moneyball, by Michael Lewis, takes as its central focus the exploits of the Oakland A's and their svengali general manager Billy Beane. Ignoring conventional baseball wisdom, he and Paul DePodesta have developed a whole new strategy, using the groundbreaking work of the likes of Bill James, for competing in the big leagues on a fraction of the budget of teams like the New York Yankees.

In essence this very readable book can be divided into two distinct styles, the personal and the scientific. When Lewis addresses the history and use of baseball theory, that is to say statistical analysis in the judging of players and games, he creates a sense of an almost academic approach to a national passtime. While this could be utterly confusing to a non baseball fan, to anyone with an interest in the game his discussions come as something of a revelation and can only serve as a starting point to further reading.

But where this book really comes into its own is in the personal stories and psychology of Billy Beane and his team. While it is made abundantly clear that Beane is no ordinary GM, the insight this book provides into the workings of a front office and its relationship with both the playing staff and management is utterly compelling.

All in all, for a baseball fan this is an absolute must read and for everyone else, you are guaranteed to find something of interest.
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on 17 January 2005
This is a good book about a fascinating story. In a nutshell it is the story of Billy Beane and how he defied conventional baseball wisdom. Billy Beane was (is) the general manager of the Oakland As, a relatively poor, small market team attempting to complete with the big boys (the New York Yankees) with only a small fraction of the budget.
How could he compete? His approach was to eschew the conventional view of what a good baseball prospect is and to use the statistical methods developed by Bill James et al to help him get good players at a reasonable price. The story is made more poignant because Billy was a 'great' prospect' who only managed a fairly mediocre career - essentially his method means that he is only interested in players who are not like him. For example: he favoured college players over high school players (for one thing they have played for longer so there are more statistics, for another they are statistically more likely to succeed); he believed that on-base percentage was the fundamental baseball percentage and was not something that could be easily taught. Finally he had the nerve to put it into practice.
The style of the book is highly anecdotal, which works well most of the time, particularly in the chapters about the unlikely success of certain players, but it does occasionally grate. Unlike some of the other reviewers, I think that he includes just about the right amount of statistical detail - enough to be interesting; not so much as to become tedious.
In many ways the most interesting thing about the book is the reaction from the Club (as he calls the collection of baseball 'insiders') - who seem to a) not really understand the book and b) hate it because they are the custodians of conventional wisdom.
Highly recommended for baseball enthusiasts and sports fans in general
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