Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Moneyball, by Michael Lewis

This is another book I got from the library when I got a stack of baseball books. I had heard a lot about this book, since I hang out with economists and there's a particular type of economics nerd who tries to deny his nerdiness by applying economics tools to baseball. “See, I'm not a nerd,” he says, “I'm analyzing something cool, like sports!” He has a bit of a convincing argument until he goes and ruins it all by calling himself a sabermatrician. Only a total nerd would have a name like that for himself. A cool guy would call himself a stats jockey. Well, this book is about how sabermetrics came to be, how baseball people generally dismiss its conclusions, and how one small-market club, the Oakland Athletics, has tried to use sabermetrics to gain an advantage over the clubs that dismiss it.

It was enjoyable because I'm an economist and a baseball fan. The economist in me enjoyed the rational analysis of baseball performance, and the baseball fan in me enjoyed the inside look of how a baseball team works. It was fun to read about players' conversations in the video room, and it was touching to read about Scott Hatteburg's wife spending the winter months hitting ground balls to him off a tee for him to prepare for a transition from catcher to first baseman. It was also enjoyable reading this book a few years after it was written, because some of the players who were just draft prospects when the book was first published are now major league players, like Mark Teahen, Kevin Youkilis, and Nick Swisher.

I would recommend this book to any baseball fan, not just economists. It's an interesting look behind the scenes, and the analysis is explained enough that non-economists can understand. (One of the most interesting things I learned from this book is that the author is married to former MTV News anchor Tabitha Soren.) When my wife writes book reviews she has to count the instances and varieties of profanity, because some of her readers care about that. Since most of the principles in this book are career baseball men, the language can be fairly salty. If that's a deal-breaker for you, then be forewarned. That's not a deal-breaker for me, though, and that's why I'm generally more well-read than you are, sucker.

Rating: 6 out of 7 giant inflatable monkeys.

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