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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 4 March 2015
Just from the off I need to point out that I'm English and not a baseball fan. However, I found this book fascinating. The way in which players are now looked at is extremely logical and I can't believe it took decades for this system to be used. It is explained really well and even baseball novices will find it interesting.
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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 2 June 2017
Brilliantly written. Lewis is up there as my favourite author and I read a lot. He has the nack of making a non-fiction account into a rip-roaring thriller. Challenging the status quo is always a story that needs to be shared.
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on 28 June 2017
v happy
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on 10 June 2017
Interesting read. Breaks down professional sports statistical analysis and provides the history and context within baseball. Definitely worth a read.
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on 27 August 2017
another remarkable Michael Lewis book. Great insight into human behaviour and Baseball.
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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 9 June 2017
Great service, good quality
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