Moneyball

In the off season of 2001, it looked as though the Oakland Athletics’ era was over. The team lost three impactful players in their lineup: Jason Giambi, Johnny Damon, and Jason Isringhausen. Now, none of you may know these names, however these ballplayers were the only hope for the club to make it to the playoffs. Re-signing these players seemed hopeless since the Athletics were not able to offer the “Walmart price match guarantee” on contracts these players received from the New York Yankees or the Boston Red Sox--baseball powerhouses. To put the Athletic's salary into perspective, the New York Yankees’ had $125,928,553 to work with, and Oakland had a pathetic, $39,679,746 to pay their players. This is Moneyball, the ridiculous amount of money some organizations have at their disposal to buy the best players and tip the scales of baseball in their favor. Consequently, the Athletics managed to scrape together replacements with their inferior budget and acquired a really old David Justice, a disabled Scott Hatteberg, and an unknown Ray Durham. These new additions led the team to a historical win streak of 20 games and a spot in the playoffs, a finish no one expected. How were they able to do this? By playing the numbers.

Billy Beane was the general manager for the Oakland Athletics that season, and he was the key factor that led to the shocking success of the ball club. Beane used an original strategy to pick the replacements of Giambi, Damon, and Isringhausen. Up until this point most guys were brought up to the show because of their raw talent in a game, and pro scouts would determine if the player was it. Practically, the only numbers teams used were batting average and how many home runs they hit. The really flashy stuff. However Beane had another strategy, he used a technique that would evaluate players purely based on their on base percentages (OBP) and other statistics nobody has even considered before. Hypothetically, if a player gets on base the team has a significantly higher chance of acquiring a run that inning, just because of the player being on base (he can’t score if he isn’t on there); that chance is all you need to significantly increase your chances of winning the game all for the price of off-brand Nike cleats. “Your goal shouldn't be to buy players, your goal should be to buy wins. And in order to buy wins, you need to buy runs”, this quote from the book sums up Billy Beane’s strategy completely. Using this scheme, Beane bought players that the public eye despised or didn’t even know, but eventually these were the players that carried Oakland to first place in their division. In a way, losing Giambi, Damon, and Isringhausen was a blessing in disguise for Beane and for baseball.

The principal reason why Michael Lewis, the author of Moneyball, calls baseball an unfair game is the money disparities between baseball organizations, such as the one between the A’s and Yankees. The Yankees had more than enough money to pay for solid gold baseball bats while buying out Jason Giambi or Johnny Damon. And the Oakland A’s were left with the rejects of major league baseball, the rock-bottom players that most baseball clubs looked over. Despite that, both teams finished their season in the first round of playoffs. Baseball managers thought the only way for their team to win was to pay the most money for the most popular and best guys. But for teams that don’t have the success or don’t reside in popular rich cities, buying out players isn’t an option. Beane opened the door for teams, the ones who can’t pay tens of millions for an athletic anomaly like Lebron, to win, just by looking at all the numbers in baseball. The goal is not spending all your money on the best, but using your money to build a team that wins consistently enough to get a spot in the playoffs. The most cost-effective way.

An example of the crazy amounts of money in baseball today would the Los Angeles Angels. Since its LA, the team has an incredibly high payroll and offers large quantities of money to their players. A few years back, the Los Angeles Angels invested heavily on Robert Pujols, signing him to a 10-year, $240-million deal back in 2011; some consider this deal to be the worst in baseball. He may be a good power hitter (gets a good amount of home runs) and a first baseman that gets the job done, but his performance on the field is nowhere close to his towering contract. Today, there are hardly any players that are worth their high contracts. Moneyball has evolved baseball into a sport that values specific players and extravagantly large contracts, even though at the heart of the game, it's part of being a team. Baseball requires a solid bullpen, great defense, and players that can get on base. Obtaining one spectacular hitter that has the highest batting average cannot lead a team to a world series title. Billy Beane’s strategy of securing players based on OBP and synergy set a historical run in baseball history, exposing the flaws of an overvalued system that cares too much about pleasing its fans only with the biggest names in sports.