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Moneyball Revisited

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7 Responses

  1. pe says:

    of those years when they were 3rd, 4th, 8th, 9th, and 9th in offense, what did they rank in payroll? That is sort of like the central premise of the book….a point you should at least consider addressing.

    • Michael Kang says:

      pe, thanks for the comment, but I think you may be sort of like missing my point. There’s no question that Oakland won a lot of ballgames with low payrolls during 2000-04, but most academic commentators cite that fact, credit Moneyball strategies, and call it a day. But that’s insufficient to show Moneyball strategies were largely responsible for those victories. My discussion of the offensive rankings suggests that perhaps the prominent Moneyball emphasis on on-base percentage, discussed very prominently as a focus of the book, wasn’t as responsible for those victories as Lewis represents.

      You’re right, though, that cost is central to Moneyball, and I hope to talk more about it in my next post (which I’m struggling not to make so long!).

  2. Andy says:

    Regarding your point about the strength of the A’s pitching during this period, I’m curious as to how much of a home field advantage the A’s had playing in one of the most pitcher-friendly parks in baseball. It makes alot of sense that the A’s focused on pitchers that did not walk many hitters or historically give up many HRs because their stadium has a very large foul territory and I believe is hard to hit the ball out of.

    I also wonder how much money the other teams in their division were spending during this time (cannot remember if Moneyball mentioned this comparison as opposed to just the top spenders in baseball).

  3. That the Red Sox and Yankees also adopted OBP strategies, but could also outbid other teams watered down the market advantage of the A’s.

    Part of the difficulty in seeing the Moneyball lesson – even for the A’s – is that OBP has come to be seen a player evaluation strategy in the present, when its better value is as a predictor of young players’ progress. Control of the strike zone is a good predictor of improvement in a 22 year old. Think Kevin Youkilis. It is far less effective in predicting the rate of decline in a 32 year old. Think David Ortiz.

    While I agree that the lack of injury to A’s pitching was fortuitous, it is not altogether accidental in their strategy. Acquiring a lot of pitchers whith good strikeout-to-walk ratios and few homeruns creates a bench strength that means there is less pressure to overuse a star pitcher.

    All in all, I agree with your assessment, however, and look forward to your evidence for other factors.

  4. Linus says:

    My understanding is that the new “OBP” or undervalued, cheap skill available, is now defense. But of course, some of the large market teams have already been able to move ahead of the curve on that, and so it becomes harder for the smaller market teams to hunt for inefficiencies.

  5. Linus says:

    Perhaps you’ll explain this in a future post. But you seem to indicate that the success or value of Moneyball doesn’t lie with the actual results of the philosophy and approach of Billy Beane, (namely the success of the A’s), but can be found elsewhere.

    So a couple of questions then.
    1) How do you judge the success or importance of Moneyball if not by the A’s performance on the field?
    2) Would it be more accurate to say that much of the “paradigm ” shifting ideas attributed to Billy Beane and Moneyball, belong far more to bill james and SABR? It seems to me that the biggest real change in the As was to start taking sabermetrics seriously, and other teams began to legitimize that approach from Paul DePosta to the BoSox hiring the guru himself.

    Finally, i would most definitely recommend reading “The Drunkard’s Walk” for anyone interested in quantative analysis and statistics in general, or baseball specifically. One of the best chapters is on how to evaluate the underlying performer based on performance. I suspect that most evaluations (either quantitative or qualitative) suffer egregiously by not considering confidence intervals properly.

    • Michael Kang says:


      To assess Moneyball’s value, I agree that we need to look at performance on the field, but looking just at the number of wins and losses plus payroll is insufficient. We need to look more closely at how well specific Moneyball strategies worked. For instance, in the next post, I try to do this by studying the results of Oakland’s 2002 “Moneyball draft” described glowingly in the book. By looking more closely at specific Moneyball strategies, we learn more than by looking just at wins and losses. It is a mistake, in my mind, to assume that Moneyball was a success simply because Oakland won with low payrolls in the early part of the decade, or to assume that Moneyball is a failure now simply because Oakland has been losing in recent years.

      You’re right that Bill James was a sabermetric pioneer, and Beane and Lewis fully credit James’s critical importance. To be sure as well, the A’s before Beane, the Yankees, and perhaps other teams understood long ago certain Moneyball insights like the importance of walks and OBP. Beane’s innovation was embracing statistical analysis at the organizational level and relying on it so heavily, as described in the book. It was an important innovation, but I think Moneyball and its value gets oversimplified and somewhat overblown by commentators who may not follow baseball so closely.

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