As previously discussed in another blog post, Moneyball is the story of how the Oakland Athletics challenged conventional baseball wisdom by eschewing heavy reliance on scouting reports in favor of statistical analysis to find inefficiencies in the game of baseball.
In 2001 the Athletics lost to the New York Yankees in the playoffs. The Athletics made the playoffs again in 2002, winning 103 games with a phenomenally low cost per win, using this unique strategy.
Unfortunately the Athletics again lost in the playoffs, this time to the Minnesota Twins. The detractors were all out in full force when the book detailing the 2002 season came out, about how Moneyball was a farce.
“Well sure, the Athletics had stellar starting pitchers Tim Hudson, Mark Mulder, and Barry Zito, none of whom were featured prominently in the book.”
“Miguel Tejada won the AL MVP and Zito won the Cy Young award, plus they had Eric Chavez! Of course they’re gonna be great!”
“The Athletics haven’t won anything since – use of statistics is overrated!”
“Moneyball couldn’t help them in the playoffs!”
I was driving home last night and heard one of the guys on the MLB Network channel on SiriusXM arguing about how the Athletics’ success was just a blip.
If that’s the case, why are so many other teams now using statistical analysis to virtually duplicate the Athletics’ strategy? The Boston Red Sox won the 2004 World Series continuing what Billy Beane pioneered, only with a much larger payroll.
The biggest downfall for the Oakland Athletics’ strategy? THE PUBLISHING OF THE BOOK!
Moneyball essentially spilled the beans (Beanes?) on the Athletics’ front office game plan and every other team in baseball copied it (to varying degrees). Now just about every team has an in-house statistical analysis wing to their baseball operations department.
Had Moneyball not been released, the Athletics would have had a couple more seasons (if not more) of being the exclusive users of this secret approach. They would have a longer stretch of having the market cornered on exploiting the inefficiencies of the game.
In few instances has the phrase “victims of their own success” ever been more true.
Other teams are using this approach now because it works. Michael Lewis writing and publishing Moneyball was the sharing of a best practice on a grand scale. Now the Athletics’ secret was in the hands of their competitors.
So the reason the Athletics haven’t won the World Series since the book was published isn’t because Moneyball doesn’t work – it’s because it’s now working for everyone else with larger payrolls.
(And to the folks who say the Athletics haven’t won anything at all since the book came out? The A’s made the playoffs in 2006 and even swept those same Minnesota Twins in their first playoff series before succumbing to the Detroit Tigers.)