In 2003, author Michael Lewis published a book about the Oakland A’s, their general manager Billy Beane, and the untraditional methods that Beane and his staff (including assistant GM Paul DePodesta) used to evaluate talent. It was based on playing high percentages, using statistics to predict outcomes, and going away from touch and feel scouting that was predominant since the day baseball scouting existed. It put terms like OBP, SLG, and OPS into popular sports lexicon, even if baseball nerds like myself had been following those stats since we first started following baseball. Those terms begat WAR and even more obscure, yet completely logical stats like MP/MW (as explained in Bill Barnwell’s first post on Bill Simmons’ new Grantland site). But there’s a reason the book is titled Moneyball. The reason Beane and company had to change the thinking is because of one thing. Yep, money, or lack there of it.
The Oakland A’s franchise has a rich history. The team was founded in 1901 as the Philadelphia Athletics and went on to win five World Series championships in baseball’s earlier days. In 1955, the team moved to Kansas City for a 13-year run, before moving to Oakland, where they’ve been for the last 44 years. In those 44 years, they’ve gone on to win four more World Series championships.
Even though the franchise has been very successful over the years when it comes to putting together championship winning teams, their small market defines them as a team that can never compete for players against the big market teams. You don’t hear a lot of marquee players say that they want to play for the Oakland A’s. Big-time players want to play in large media markets. Superstar status can have a short window, and athletes are raised with the idea to get as much as they can because in the blink of an eye, their talent can be gone. The A’s usually get the secondary pick of the free agent litter.
All of that is why Beane’s way of finding players to maximize his dollars spent through the amateur draft (and smart trades as well) was the preferred method. But he wasn’t the first to do it. His mentor and boss Sandy Alderson was doing it in the mid-90s. I’m sure other GMs were looking at players differently as well, considering Bill James was authoring books in the late 70s about this very thing. But Beane made it popular. This book made it even more popular. One of the major theories of Moneyball was that teams with larger payroll had bigger nets to catch them in case they failed. With smaller market teams like the A’s, those nets were tiny. They simply couldn’t make mistakes in putting together their teams or they wouldn’t be able to compete.
Now that I got that out of the way, the entire reason for even bringing up an 8-year old book is to present the trailer to the Moneyball movie. And no, it’s not a documentary. And yes, it stars Brad Pitt in the lead role as Billy Beane. Now, it must pump Beane’s ego full of OBP and OPS to know that one of the most famous movie stars of our time is playing him in a movie. But, I wonder if he looks at the movie and wonders if he can slash some of the supporting actors like Jonah Hill (playing someone fictionally based on Paul DePodesta) and Philip Seymour Hoffman (playing Art Howe) and bring in unknowns, simply to come in under budget?
You’re going to hear a lot about this movie simply because Brad Pitt is involved. But it sure looks hokey as hell based on the trailer doesn’t it?