This book follows Billy Beane, the general manager (money guy, deals, trade, etc) of the Oakland Athletics through a season in the early 2000s as he’s three years in a new approach to baseball using statistical analysis (termed sabremetrics) to have a successful baseball season. Rather than a focus on traditional baseball values and certainly rather than trying to win specific games in micro ways, Beane employed a system of maximizing the benefit of certain parts of baseball, to win as many games over the course of a season. The traditional ways also work, but Beane is working with a very tight budget, so that’s way he needed a different approach. By determining that scoring runs was the most important thing a baseball team should do well, and then figuring out what other things teams can do to keep scoring runs, he realized that a lot of stats ended up being either useless or obscuring this goal. For example, a player might have a really good batting average, say 310, which is enough to win a batting title in some years, but if that never translates to scoring runs or generating runs, it’s not helping the team much. Plus, if a player is just as good at getting on base (through walking) or getting more bases per at bat (slugging percentage) those might end up being more useful in the long run. He also realized that players qualities could be hyper analyzed and quantified in a way to figure out not just how valuable they were, but how they might be replaced if they got traded or left for free agency.
So the book follows this journey while also telling the basic history of sports analytics and drafting to tell a compelling story. It slices up the story in the same way that Beane slices up players, and it’s also a frustrating book because it means players end up getting absolutely screwed on this close analysis (well, marginal players do), but it’s definitely fascinating.
This book takes something that generally requires a decent amount of specialized knowledge and makes it fully legible. Because “insider baseball” is so insider baseball-y, this book shouldn’t work so well as it does. But it does!