Thursday, September 29, 2011

Some Beane-free alternatives to Moneyball

Someday I might watch Moneyball. My wife and I haven’t been to the movies in so long that when we talk about it we can’t even clearly remember what film we last saw in a theater. I think it was The Wrestler. That would timestamp our cinema trip around spring 2008. With a nearly 2-year-old son to contend with now, I’m not going to push Moneyball as the must-see masterpiece to break our streak.

There’s more to it than a consecutive games-not-played streak, though. I’m not prepared to like Moneyball the movie, because I didn’t really like Moneyball the book. Insulting Moneyball is like insulting the Bible to certain people, so I won’t get too far into it, other than saying, I had enough of the “Billy Beane’s a genius” thing by the end of the first chapter. I didn’t need an entire book. Though it was good for a laugh when I got to the parts on how much smarter he was than everyone else on the planet for picking John McCurdy, Ben Fritz, Jeremy Brown, and Steve Obenchain in the first round of the 2002 draft. The chapter on Brown was especially humorous.

It’s not that I don’t buy sabermetrics. It’s just that I think you can think sabermetrically without being a pompous ass about it. So in that light, I have three books I’d like to pump as alternatives to Moneyball, which is shooting back up the bestseller list.

Beyond Batting Average, by Lee Panas (2010)
This self-published sabermetric primer squeaked out the last spot on my Best of 2010 list for Baseball America last December. Here’s a great explanation of all the latest stats and measurements, in simple language that student of the game can follow. Panas discusses hitting, pitching and fielding measures in detail. Readers will learn about isolated power, win probability added, FIP, BABIP, range factor, zone rating, and much more. Panas concludes with a chapter on total player contribution, where he breaks down stats like win shares and wins above replacement (WAR). I hope Brad Pitt’s available to play Panas in the Beyond Batting Average movie.

No, Billy Beane wasn’t the first guy to ever use on-base percentage in building a team. Not even close. Paul Richards was doing it before Beane was born. Richards spent his entire adult life in the game, as a player, manager, general manager, scout and special assistant. His influence was felt in both leagues for years and years, yet today he’s been nearly forgotten. Corbett’s biography is a great introduction to one of the game’s real innovators.

It was billed by some as “the new Moneyball” when it came out this spring, though this is a completely different story about another small market team, the Tampa Bay Rays. Perhaps their dramatic September comeback to capture the AL wildcard will rekindle interest and sales. Keri does a great job here of providing a broad view of the many challenges that confront a small-market front office, even aside from the obvious ones such as building a roster. Readers looking for the heavy sabermetrics of Moneyball may not get their fill here, though there are several chapters that discuss some non-traditional stats the Rays have put to good use.

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