A fellow student in my Master of Marketing Research program told me that the book Moneyball was one of the factors that sparked his interest in marketing research. I just finished the book and enjoyed it thoroughly–as both a baseball fan and a (soon-to-be) marketing researcher.
Without getting into the nitty-gritty of the statistics, the book explained that a small group of people who had a passion for baseball, statistics, and uncovering the truth started futzing with baseball stats. They ran statistical tests (I’m assuming correlations, regressions, etc.) between various baseball stats and total runs scored by each team. Batting average, steals, home runs — whatever the stat, none of them had a huge affect on total runs scored except on-base percentage and slugging percentage, and on-base more so than slugging.
Strapped for cash, the GM of the Oakland A’s, Billy Beane, took an objective view of players based purely on the stats that actually led to runs and was able to find incredible bargains. Tell me when you find a use for trigonometry or calculus that cool!
While the talk of objectivity and statistics pumped me up about marketing research and my scary upcoming econometrics course, maybe the most enjoyable part of the book was when they started discussing the absurdity that is Joe Morgan — the greatest second baseman who ever lived and an Emmy-winning analyst who also happens to be the most insufferable sportscaster on television.
Despite the objective data that proves that the “Moneyball” style of not bunting, not stealing, wearing out pitchers, and taking walks works, Joe Morgan is an ardent opponent. When playoff time comes, Joe Morgan says you have to “manufacture runs,” meaning bunt and steal. Now I can’t paraphrase this without losing something so I’m going to quote the book:
“Incredibly, he [Joe Morgan] went on to explain that ‘manufacturing runs’ was how the New York Yankees had beaten the Anaheim Angels the night before. I had seen that game. Down 5-4 in the eight inning, Yankees second baseman Alfonso Soriano had gotten himself on base and stolen second base. Derek Jeter then walks, and Jason Giambi singles in Soriano. Bernie Williams then hit a three-run homer. A reasonable person, examining that sequence of events, says, ‘Whew, thank God Soriano didn’t get caught stealing; in retrospect a stupid risk that could have killed the whole rally.’ Joe Morgan looked at it and announced that Soriano stealing second , the only bit of ‘manufacturing’ in the production line, was the cause. Amazingly, Morgan concluded that day’s lesson about baseball strategy by saying ‘you sit and wait for a three-run homer, you’re still going to be sitting there.'”
Oh Joe Morgan…he gets mentioned again in the afterword where he calls Billy Beane arrogant for writing a book about himself…of course Billy Beane was not the author (Michael Lewis was) and he wasn’t all that interested in the book during the writing of it either.
To be fair I don’t agree with everything in Moneyball. There are certainly intangible benefits that go unaccounted for in an objective measure of a human game, such as the pressure put on a pitcher by an aggressive base stealer, but the book admits such. I’m not a big fan of the bunt, but in one specific situation–men on first and second with nobody out in a 1-run game–it works beautifully. I can’t pass on an opportunity to roast Joe Morgan a little though.
Anyway, phenomenal book. It’s especially great for someone who remembers the days of Chad Bradford, Scott Hatteberg, and the heap of misfit toys that always took the Yankees and the Red Sox to the brink. I highly recommend it to anyone who calls themselves a baseball fan or anyone in marketing research or economics.