Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Books: Moneyball


Unlike the other three big professional sports leagues in the U.S., Major League Baseball has no salary cap or salary floor. Teams can essentially spend as much or as little on their rosters as they like, and, as a result, the big market teams like the Yankees and the Red Sox can have payrolls that are several times the size of their small market opponents. "Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game," by Michael Lewis, explores how the Oakland Athletics managed to win enormous amounts of games despite having one of the cheapest teams in the league.

Lewis attributes the difference to the Oakland A's use of sabermetrics to buy undervalued players while discarding established notions of what a big league player should look like. To this end, the book dutifully describes the Oakland A's as a ragtag assortment of defective players: Scott Hatteberg has a ruptured nerve in his throwing elbow and average hitting ability, Chad Bradford has a weird underhand delivery and a crappy 84 mph fastball, and so it goes.

I'm not really a big baseball fan, so I have no idea if Lewis slanted the characterizations in order to fit his narrative - the David-and-Goliath narration is pretty thick at times. The success of the 2002 Oakland A's, though, is pretty inspiring, and it lends credence to the book's overall message:

...if gross miscalculations of a person's value could occur on a baseball field, before a live audience of thirty thousand, and a television audience of millions more, what did that say about the measurement of performance in other lines of work? If professional baseball players could be over- or under-valued, who couldn't?

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