Thursday, May 10, 2012

Moneyball by Michael Lewis

After finishing Moneyball by Michael Lewis, I was reminded of my own short lived high school baseball career as a pitcher.  The last year that I pitched, I had a record of 5-2 and our overall second place team finished with a 7-4 record.  My coach had a very successful strategy: in a 7 inning game, I would start for 4 or 5 innings and be replaced with a dominating closer.  After a few years out of baseball and in College, I bumped into my old coach and after a genuine warm greeting, he commented about my pitching.  Although I am sure he meant well (there was always a rapport between us) he said, “I don’t know how you were so successful for us!  You must have baffled the hitters with such slow pitches!”   I was his workhorse starter and he did not seem to understand that I threw so many different types of pitches all at different parts of the plate.  It was true that I was not like our 6’4’ fireball closer; I was short, left handed with three different fast balls (overhand, ¾ and sidearm) and three different curve balls (deliveries that came from the same way as the fast balls).  I had a sidearm curve that broke off the table that I considered my strikeout pitch.  I was a little hurt that all my coach could remember was that I threw with such little velocity. That he remembered I was successful but did not fit the mold of a classic pitcher and thus implied I was some sort of fluke was disappointing.   After reading about Billy Beane’s approach: efficient, effective and economical baseball based on statistical analysis and results, I compared myself to Chad Bradford, his unusual delivery, his effective results and felt vindicated!

The book is about prejudice and lack of creativity on the part of traditional baseball insiders versus those who see the game with a creative look of success.  The concept of getting on base to generate runs is so basic to baseball but noticing how a hitter works the pitcher is real poetry in getting to 1st base!  I think of the 1927 Yankees (Murderers Row) as the model of the establishment and how it looks for talent vs. the A’s looking for stats about who get on base every which way and make put outs every which way (like the unorthodox delivery of Chad Bradford).

Billy Beane has the recipe for creating superstars; he sees success in subtle ways through statistics when the player is unknown,  letting them develop with their own style that would have been overlooked by the establishment  because the player did not have the traditional physique of a true athlete.  At Oakland, a player develops and when he is a proven asset and just before free agency eligibility, the A’s sell his contract to the more affluent teams.   Theoretically, the player is thankful and the A’s save and make money.

Lewis’s style is philosophic.  Each paragraph is well constructed and provocative.  Many think baseball as  pastoral, slow and dull, Lewis proves, however, baseball is a business and raises the bar and intelligence quotient.  The book reinforces Vince Scully’s famous characterization that “Baseball is only as slow as the mind that watches it!”

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