Moneyball by Michael Lewis

June 29, 2004 at 12:00 am | Posted in 3 stars, Book Reviews | Leave a comment
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You’ve probably heard about this. Possibly the most well-known book about sports written in many years, this describes Oakland GM Billy Beane’s “scientific” approach to baseball. There’s a lot of interesting material here about statistics and it is probably worth reading…baseball bores me to tears but the book was interesting throughout. That said, there are two problems with the book. The first is that it is too long. To articulate Beane’s strategy requires only about a fifth of the book’s length, and with some engaging anecdotes this could be stretched out to maybe 70-80% of the book’s length. But that would be too short a book, so there’s padding. It’s frustrating, because the book should actually be longer than it is. The second and largest issue is it is a huge love letter to Billy Beane. Right from the start “insider thinking” is ridiculed and the strategy of Beane and Paul DePodesta is exalted as flawless. Even other GMs are portrayed as completely incompetent, wringing their hands as Beane constantly out-maneuvers them. Now that might be true. But the trouble is the book just asserts all this. The only back up for the claims made is the A’s winning record through this period. That is good but it hardly begins to justify the many claims of superiority made throughout the book. This isn’t Lewis’ fault per se: hands are tied because he has so little data to work with. His sin is in taking those results and exaggerating them to cover up for the statistical insignificance. What the book really needed was some interviews with other GMs to get the other side. The book is completely devoid of any intelligent person who respectfully disagrees with Beane, even though there are many in baseball. Instead it is just Beane and DePodesta making unchallenged claims and everyone else being portrayed as stupid.

While Moneyball‘s one-sided vision of the world makes it fall short of being a great book, it is still a good book and worth reading as long as it is read with a bit of skepticism.

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