The “Moneyball” Kerfuffle

In case you live under a rock — which I have been accused of many times in the past — the new “Moneyball” movie comes out in theaters next Friday. Many baseball writers have already seen the movie in private screenings, and reviews are starting to trickle out. From what I’ve seen, the movie is drawing mixed reviews — some people like it and some hate it, but overall it sounds like a fun movie that won’t be terrible. And you know, that’s better than I had originally expected.

But one review has currently caused a bit of a skuttlebutt. Keith Law wrote a fair-handed takedown of the “Moneyball” movie on his person blog a few days ago,  and his review drew enough attention that Michael Lewis himself responded. Law’s criticism touched on both the movie and baseball aspects of the film, and in general, he felt that both were lacking. Some of the comments seemed nitpicky to me — inaccuracies I wouldn’t necessarily have noticed, even as a pretty big baseball and “Moneyball” fan — but one of his comment has really stuck with me:

…[T]he lampooning of scouts, which draws from the book, isn’t any more welcome on screen (where some of the scouts are played by actual scouts) than it was on the page; they are set up as dim-witted bowling pins for Beane and Brand to knock down with their spreadsheets. It’s cheap writing, and unfair to the real people being depicted.

Man, how far we’ve come since “Moneyball” first came out. It makes me wonder if this movie is going to end up being a bad thing for the public perception of sabermetrics.

You know, it wasn’t all that long ago when it seemed funny and hip to make fun of scouts and baseball “traditionalists”. When “Moneyball” first came out, there were darts being flung back and forth from both sides of the aisle. Saberists weren’t afraid to criticize old-school baseball thinkers for being close-minded and stuck in their ways, and the old-school certainly wasn’t afraid to give right back at them. The baseball world was changing at a rapid pace, and it scared some people while invigorating others.

But these days? While there is still some lingering animosity, I think we can firmly stamp out the notion that saberists think scouts are useless. Even the most experienced and knowledgeable statheads acknowledge the importance of scouts, and the value in accruing as much knowledge and information as possible. Sabermetrics isn’t about stats; as Tango loves to say, it’s the search for objective truth about baseball.

The more and more we discover about baseball, the more we realize the truth is somewhere in-between. Pitchers do have some control over their balls in play…just not nearly as much as traditionally thought. Lumbering sluggers with high walk rates are valuable….just not as valuable as saberists used to think, due to their poor defense. As our knowledge has become more nuanced, I’ve started to realize that whoops, maybe we were a bit too harsh on non-saberists back in the day.

Many of the statistics tracked here on FanGraphs have their roots in scouting data — velocity readings, Pitch F/x charts, plate discipline rates, batted ball profiles, etc. — and scouting is a vital part of any organization. But when this “Moneyball” movie comes out, are saberists going to be depicted as know-it-all, holier-than-thou elitists? Because if so, dammit. That’s the image we’ve been trying to tear down for the last few years, and now it’s just going to be reinforced.

I’m excited to see the “Moneyball” movie, as I was a big fan of the book at the time. But I can’t help but ask myself: is “Moneyball” slightly dated already? Yes, Billy Beane’s general principles of statistical analysis and market inefficiencies still hold true today — and both have swept the baseball world — but will this movie only widen the divide between those that appreciate stats and those that don’t?

Only time will tell. I wish I could say I was optimistic.



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Steve is the editor-in-chief of DRaysBay and the keeper of the FanGraphs Library. You can follow him on Twitter at @steveslow.


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Jason
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Jason
4 years 9 months ago

“…are saberists going to be depicted as know-it-all, holier-than-thou elitists? Because if so, dammit. That’s the image we’ve been trying to tear down for the last few years, and now it’s just going to be reinforced.”

Whenever I question sacred cows like WAR or UZR around here plenty of people reinforce the image you’ve been trying to tear down. …and I criticize them on statistical grounds…

DavidCEisen
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DavidCEisen
4 years 9 months ago

Shut up. Using terms like ‘sacred cows’ makes you look like an asshole and a moron.

Jason
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Jason
4 years 9 months ago

haha, well done.

Daniel
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Daniel
4 years 9 months ago

… sounds like someone doesn’t like their Sacred Cows being questioned. :)

Jerome S
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4 years 9 months ago

My sacred cow is Bruce Chen

DavidCEisen
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DavidCEisen
4 years 9 months ago

No one treats UZR or WAR as ‘sacred cows.’ Every one admits that there is serious noise in UZR data, and that large sample sizes (bigger than one season) are needed. Further, everyone is hopeful that UZR and other advance defense metrics will be improved. So obviously WAR has flaws too. It is only in your paranoia and pretension that you perceive them as being sacred.

nosferatu
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nosferatu
4 years 9 months ago

What god would Bruce Chen be if Bruce Chen were a Hindu god?

Jason
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Jason
4 years 9 months ago

Oh, you were serious! …which makes it funnier actually.

shthar
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shthar
4 years 9 months ago

mmmmmmmmm, sacred cow.

Chris
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Chris
4 years 9 months ago

Gave this a thumbs up for well-placed sarcasm. Then I read on to find out the writer was serious. Whoops.

Tommy
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Tommy
4 years 9 months ago

It’s not true that “no one” thinks that. Don’t speak for EVERYONE else, man.

GiantHusker
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GiantHusker
4 years 9 months ago

I could be wrong, but I read this as superb parody. I think you negative voters owe David an apology.

Bip
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Bip
4 years 9 months ago

The thing is, people often cite acknowledged flaws in WAR and UZR and use that to basically declare a “toss up” between old fashioned and advanced statistics, i.e. that “eh, none of them are really accurate, so we might as well just use ERA.” This fallacy is common enough that it can be assumed that people who criticize the advanced metrics, when usually the articles themselves contain qualifications about their accuracy, probably have an agenda behind it.

Yirmiyahu
Member
Yirmiyahu
4 years 9 months ago

I’d love it if, whenever a sportswriter cited ERA, AVG, or W-L record, they included the caveat “these stats mean virtually nothing.” That’d balance out all the caveats that the advanced stats routinely get.

Jason
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Jason
4 years 9 months ago

Yirmiyahu,

Sportswriters typically cite the advaced metrics with the caveat that they are better than the traditional ones. Here is an example:

http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/2011/writers/cliff_corcoran/09/13/mariano.rivera.stats/index.html?sct=mlb_bf2_a3

It is not actually true that ERA, AVG or W-L record mean virtually nothing, so that caveat would be misleading.

joser
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joser
4 years 9 months ago

But they’re not especially predictive and it would be awesome to occasionally hear that mentioned in the mainstream.

Jim
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Jim
4 years 9 months ago

The other thing is, too many defenders of WAR and UZR take the Keith Law approach of belittling their detractors (like DavidCEisen) rather than offering a reasoned counter that doesn’t insult (like Bip). I think that was Jason’s main point in the first place.

DavidCEisen
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DavidCEisen
4 years 9 months ago

What is belittling is saying that UZR and WAR are sacred cows, when the exact opposite is true. Nearly any defender of UZR would admit that there are serious flaw in UZR (which is why Fangraphs lists other advanced metrics) and is hopeful that they can be improved upon. By definition that means they aren’t ‘sacred cows.’

Jason
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Jason
4 years 9 months ago

DavidCEisen,

I appreciate the unintended irony.

Barkey Walker
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Barkey Walker
4 years 9 months ago

ERA is plenty predictive. I’d give you FIP is a lower variance estimator, but not that ERA isn’t predictive.

DCN
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DCN
4 years 9 months ago

Well, are you questioning them as flawed or are you dismissing them as meaningless?

There’s a big difference. I think most people on this site would be very receptive to specific criticism of stats like WAR and UZR; that’s how we get better stats (and how we got those stats in the first place.)

Jason
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Jason
4 years 9 months ago

DCN,

I think they are not useful for making meaningful comparisons between players until someone slaps some error bars on them. UZR is likely to be particularly problematic. The error very well may be on the same order as the differences it is trying to measure.

I’ve seen people sort of recognize this by saying that, for example, WAR shouldn’t be carried out to the second decimal. Well, it is actually the case that without having any sense of the error, we don’t even know if it makes sense to carry it out to single digits, or tens, etc. I doubt these extreme examples are the case, but I also have no confidence that a WAR of 6 is actually meaningfully better than a WAR of 5 or even 4. How can I possible know this without knowing the amount of error?

None of this is really my point here though. I was just pointing out that some people really don’t like when you question WAR. You might be called “asshole” or “moron”.

Patrick
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Patrick
4 years 9 months ago

DavidCEisen is actually right, ‘sacred cows’ is indeed one of those terms used by pretentious assholes. I would not recommend using it.

tsinor
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tsinor
4 years 9 months ago

Strange as it sounds I have no interest in seeing this movie.

GiantHusker
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GiantHusker
4 years 9 months ago

I’ll probably see it eventually on a DVD from Netflix, but I don’t know why.

Hark
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Hark
4 years 9 months ago

Qwikster, you mean.

George
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George
4 years 9 months ago

It’s a movie, something designed for entertainment and not necessarily true to life. I think some need to stop taking it so seriously.

Bill
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Bill
4 years 9 months ago

Agreed….Keith Law taking issue with Billy Beane flying to Cleveland to make a trade for a Lefty Reliever isn’t something a general movie goer will take issue with.

joser
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joser
4 years 9 months ago

Yeah, it’s a bit like all the hoopla over that X-Men movie messing with the history of the Cuban Missile Crisis. Yes, because its meticulous accuracy on the biology of mutation causes us to trust it as an accurate depiction of historical events.

Yeah, real people are depicted in “Moneyball”… but they have Brad freakin Pitt playing Billy Beane. That right there should make you take it as seriously about baseball as Harry Potter is about life in English boarding schools.

This Fangraphs follower is going to go see it on Friday with a SABR-ignoring baseball history buff, and I expect we’ll both enjoy it some (and be annoyed by it at times). We’ll eat our overpriced popcorn, have a couple of laughs, and then get ready to watch pennant chases this weekend. And we’ll probably never speak of it again.

Now, you want a good baseball movie that deserves some attention? Go rent Sugar.

channelclemente
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4 years 9 months ago

I’d recommend ‘The Sandlot’ myself.

Undocorkscrew
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Undocorkscrew
4 years 9 months ago

Sugar is easily the best baseball movie I’ve seen over the last 20 years. An absolute treat without all the ridiculous cliches and surprising accuracy.

Well-Beered Englishman
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Well-Beered Englishman
4 years 9 months ago

Seconded (thirded). ‘Sugar’ is a masterpiece.

Whelk
Member
4 years 9 months ago

Fourthed.

Statement
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Statement
4 years 9 months ago

Sugar blew, dude

Yirmiyahu
Member
Yirmiyahu
4 years 9 months ago

He’s also conflating the real world with the fictitious movie world. He tries to keep his critiques of the movie separate from his critique of the baseball aspects, but he fails. For instance:

I spent most of the movie wondering what was really on the line here. The A’s don’t win a playoff series in 2002, so the script can’t set that up as a goal or use the playoffs as a climax. Beane took a $39 million team to the playoffs the year before; he wasn’t going to be fired in May for taking a few risks that his owner more or less told him to take (and if he had been fired, he would have been hired by someone else in a heartbeat, despite the character’s later claim to the contrary).

And then most of his criticisms of the baseball stuff seem really petty. Like how Carlos Pena’s personality is different than that shown on-screen. And how a formal, post-signing physical isn’t shown.

KDL
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KDL
4 years 9 months ago

Keith Law?…being petty?…now I’ve heard EVERYTHING.

Bill
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Bill
4 years 9 months ago

Saw Moneyball last night and enjoyed it…haven’t read the book so I don’t have anything to compare the film with.

Daniel Stern
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Daniel Stern
4 years 9 months ago

Seems like a really egregiously biased review from Law, and again him just trying to stir up shit again. If you’ve ever read his movie reviews, he seems to really like Sorkin (gave high marks to Social Network and Charlie Wilson’s War) so I would find it hard to believe that he just wouldn’t be able to tolerate this movie on an objective level.

He likely just takes issue to the subject matter and the book itself (as a scout, and forward-thinking person inside baseball) and took to this as a chance to taint the public perception of the film before it came out.

And while I like the guy’s baseball work, Keith Law does generally seem to have really questionable options about movies and music, so I guess it shouldn’t seem surprising that he’d write something dumb.

Paul
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Paul
4 years 9 months ago

I think it’s more along the lines of him wanting the scouts who give him information to think he’s firmly in their camp, or that he sees their side of things. He relies on them for his living, whereas by slamming old print media who could easily be stand-ins for the curmudgeonly scouts in “Moneyball,” he actually gains readers.

Jamie
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Jamie
4 years 9 months ago

I tend to agree, Law does have some questionable opinions about entertainment. But, if I want movie reviews worth a damn, I’ll go to Rotten Tomatoes. If I want music reviews, well, I usually go with the A/V Club or I just check things out on my own. The (our?) passion for baseball and metrics doesn’t necessarily translate to writing an opinion worth reading regarding film and/or music.

I love John Sickels and am fairly confident that he (or Law) are the authorities on baseball prospects (I tend to read and trust Sickels more frequently). But good Lord, that guy has terrible taste in music. Unfortunately, there is no quantitative way to measure that, but when he recently wrote on his Facebook page that he is, “Really getting into Green Day,” I had to see if Sickels was really a pseudonym for a 14-year old kid who had fooled thousands of baseball fans. Just sayin’.

mike wants wins
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mike wants wins
4 years 9 months ago

I’m 47, and just went to a Green Day concert and own all of their music….not sure what your point is. If your point is that the value of entertainment (including sports) is largely listener/watcher dependent, great. If your point is that there is “one right kind of music”, then that’s like arguing scouting is the only right way to judge a player….

Josh
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Josh
4 years 9 months ago

His point is Green Day sucks.

JayTeam
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JayTeam
4 years 9 months ago

Is Jamie implying Green Day sucks as a sabermetric fact or a scouting opinion.

David
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David
4 years 9 months ago

A scout told me Green Day is a scrappy player with lots of intangibles and hits for decent average. Saberists will point out that Green Day rarely walks and hits for little power (career .093 ISO). So he’s right, Green Day sucks.

Lloyd mclendon
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Lloyd mclendon
4 years 9 months ago

Lol @ jon

JohnOrpheus
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JohnOrpheus
4 years 9 months ago

I think Law is one of the most interesting people to read out there when you agree with him. But when you read something you don’t agree with he comes off as being rather snobish.

Regardless, this is a big win for Keith. He got Michael Lewis to personally respond and further Keith’s name. If you read him consistently, you realize he says certain things just to bring attention to himself, which is fine, because that’s what makes him interesting.

He is especially critical of mainstream film and music, so I would not go to him on those subjects unless you’re into purely artsy stuff, which he loves. Though I do agree with him that Arcade Fire’s last album was great.

Dealer A
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Dealer A
4 years 9 months ago

Arcade Fire’s last album was debuted at no. 1 on the pop charts and won a shit load of awards. That’s pretty much the definition of mainstream music.

Jamie
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Jamie
4 years 9 months ago

Yup. But it was still a great record. I just don’t need Keith Law to tell me that. He knows more about baseball than I do, I’ll read him for that. If he wrote for Pitchfork or A/V Club, then I might turn to him for music reviews.

Brandon B
Member
Brandon B
4 years 9 months ago

I find it funny how you think that Arcade Fire is considered mainstream. For one they don’t associate with the mainstream for they don’t think they “don’t belong”. Granted they won some awards at the Grammy’s, it doesn’t mean that millions of teenagers/young adults are buying up all their albums. I highly doubt that if you asked numerous teenagers/young adults to name an Arcade Fire album or song, they would be hard pressed. I feel that the Grammy’s throw in artistic bands to reach a broader audience. I highly doubt Arcade Fire likes to be associated with Lady Gaga, Katy Perry, and Rihanna. They do it every year, look at last year they had Radiohead going up against Ne-Yo and Lil Wayne. I highly doubt Thom Yorke associates himself or believes he is equal to those performers.

Dealer A
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Dealer A
4 years 9 months ago

Brandon, I guess it depends on your definition of “mainstream” then. You think “mainstream” means that it’s popular with teens/young adults. Arcade Fire was on the cover of Time magazine, they are not some unknown underground indie band.

Tommm
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Tommm
4 years 9 months ago

Keith Law is the Bill Maher of baseball.

RC
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RC
4 years 9 months ago

There’s nothing worse than somone who dislikes media simply because others like it.

marlu
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marlu
4 years 9 months ago

I don’t see why you’d say Keith Law is a fan of “artsy” film and music. He likes stuff like Mumford and Sons and old school hip hop, which I don’t think one would normally describe as “artsy”. And it’s not like he’s touting the merits of David Lynch and Alejandro Jodorowsky. You could argue that about his selection in literature though.

Telo
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Telo
4 years 9 months ago

Just from seeing trailers, this article mirrors my exact thoughts. I’ll reserve judgment on the movie until I see it… if I see it…. but wow, exactly what I’ve been thinking.

It’s Hollywood – they have to make it dramatic. To make any (mediocre) film about stuff that people don’t really know about, they NEED to make caricatures of both sides, so people can more easily relate and decode the film. Thus, the scouts look like morons, and Beane looks like, well, a genius Brad Pitt.

The truth about what Beane did with the A’s is much more subtle in real life. Unfortunately, subtle doesn’t sell very well when it comes to summer blockbusters.

And as you say, the picture this movie paints would be so much more appropriate when the two sides were more black and white, a few years ago. But in that short time both traditionalist and saberist have taken steps to the middle.

I think I’ll probably save the $12.50.

Adrian
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Adrian
4 years 9 months ago

Lost of some respect for Keith Law over this. The least he could do is admit his biases and that it may have affected his view of the film – and that, as a result, it might have been a little unfair to come out swinging the way he did.

In addition, if what Michael Lewis said is true (and as far as I know Law has not debunked it, just complained that he considered it to be an ad hominem attack…), then Law circa 2003 is one of the very persons that those scenes ridiculing scouts could be based on). Makes his review of the film even more questionable.

SF 55 for life
Member
SF 55 for life
4 years 9 months ago

Keith Law admitting he’s wrong? Good joke.

JayTeam
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JayTeam
4 years 9 months ago

Then you’ll find Law admitting he was wrong funny.
http://www.drunkjaysfans.com/2011/09/layin-down-law-keith-law-on-scouts.html

Jim
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Jim
4 years 9 months ago

Oh, he’ll admit he’s wrong…just takes him 8 or 9 years to do so.

Hector
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Hector
4 years 9 months ago

I really do believe that Moneyball is outdated. I re-read it this summer for a stats class and also read the Extra 2%. It’s pretty clear that the ideas that the A’s were using have been quickly surpassed. It’s still interesting how the A’s as an organization had been shifting to find these gaps (beginning under Sandy Alderson) but other teams quickly adapted and caught up. Being objective will never go outdated but the simple ideas that gave the A’s huge advantages in market inefficiencies has quickly closed. As Keith Law pointed out yesterday, by the time he was working in Toronto they were already far behind in trying to exploit these inefficiencies and that was only 2006. It’s fascinating how fast the baseball world can change with new information being available. The current A’s are probably far more advanced than they were early in the 2000s but so is everyone else.

CircleChange11
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CircleChange11
4 years 9 months ago

The truth about what Beane did with the A’s is much more subtle in real life.

Re-reading the book really illustrated for me just how important Sandy Alderson is to the whole thing. He’s the one that saw the importance of the sabermetric analysis in James’s (and others) writing and brought it into the front office … occassionally commissioning further work. He was also “in charge” during those early drafts.

Beane, to his credit, saw the value in the information and process very early and had the playing experience and personality to be influential enough to have it be taken seriously.

As you noted, I think there are smarter guys than Beane that have taken it to a level that Beane cannot go.

From the second reading, I came away with a whole new level of respect for Sandy Alderson. Maybe Robert Redford could play him in the “prequel”. Oh wait, Redford already mentiored Piit in a movie, didn’t he?

Flip
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Flip
4 years 9 months ago

Sandy Alderson and Walt Jocketty had more to do with the A’s success, than Billy Beane ever did. At least that’s what I always thought.

I think Billy Beane is a fraud.

Al
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Al
4 years 9 months ago

The trailers for this movie kind of confuse me … make it look like the A’s blew-up baseball and won 5 world series in a row.

Telo
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Telo
4 years 9 months ago

Hahaha. Exactly. Hollywood…

CircleChange11
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CircleChange11
4 years 9 months ago

Given the time of the movie, the key thing done was replacing megastars that left town (i.e., Giambi with Hatteberg) … but the core of the team (Zito, Mulder, Hudson) were already drafted, and Tejada (via PEDs) just blew up into an MVP, and it’s easy to forget just how damn good Eric Chavez was.

The did a good job finding Bradford and a few other “misfits”, but their highly acclaimed drafting strategy would rapidly be shown to be sustainable. Billy Koch as closer was a good move as well.

That’s the value of the process … finding inexpensive options to replace guys with better “talent”. I think it’s questionable whether that action is sustainable due to demand being greater than supply.

This is the area where we’ll see if TB’s 2% is better. The low budget teams must continue to find mega talent through the draft. In baseball, that is traditionally, very difficult to do with consistency.

CircleChange11
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CircleChange11
4 years 9 months ago

You don’t think it’s impressive for a team in the bottom 5 of payroll to go to the playoffs 4 consecutive years?

I’m not a big fan of sensationalism and exaggeration (and I think there’s quite a bit of that in the book), but what the A’s did was impressive as hell.

SF 55 for life
Member
SF 55 for life
4 years 9 months ago

this, people completely overlook the money aspect.

GVeers
Guest
4 years 9 months ago

I don’t have my copy of Moneyball handy, but this kerfuffle really makes me want to revisit the footnote mentioning Law. It’s getting downright juicy.

Norm
Member
4 years 9 months ago

I can’t believe someone reviewing a movie causes a kerfuffle.
Jesus people, he didn’t like it, BFD.

Welp
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Welp
4 years 9 months ago

The subsequent dispute was not about whether the movie was good or likeable.

Danmay
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Danmay
4 years 9 months ago

“is “Moneyball” slightly dated already?”

Of course it is, how couldn’t it be. From what I understand about this movie (which I will see if for no other reason than my A’s fandom) the premise of the movie may have to do with Moneyball and the surrounding sabermetric discussion, but the driving force of the film is more a character study of Beane (much unlike the book).

So the fact that it is dated from a statistical/anaylsis point of view, bias in its perception of scouts, and contains some altered facts seems to be exactly the point of a good dramatic movie.

Omar
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Omar
4 years 9 months ago

How mad is Paul DePodesta that Brad Pitt plays Billy Beane and Jonah Hill plays him?

nosferatu
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nosferatu
4 years 9 months ago

Mad enough that I believe he didn’t allow his name to be used in the film.

Oh, if only Johah Hill had lost the weight before this role. But then, not saber-nerd enough?

Bigmouth
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4 years 9 months ago

I believe that’s correct. As I recall, he objected to the stereotyping of stats people.

The_NV
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The_NV
4 years 9 months ago

I believe DePo decided to not allow them to use his name after the movie character was transformed into an amalgumation of several different people in the book. The character was no longer a representation of him, so he didn’t think it should bear his name. I’m pretty sure he made it clear that it his decision to remove his name from the movie had nothing to do with the change in actors portraying him.

grandbranyan
Member
grandbranyan
4 years 9 months ago

The angle here that is most interesting to me is that by all accounts Keith was one of the most vocal “anti-scout” voices to be heard during the time the book was being researched and written and now (like most knowledgeable fans) he realizes that a combination of scouting & statistical data is the best way to go.

In a world where a large percentage of the population has issues with accountability and admitting the error of their ways I’d be interested to know what motivated Keith to finally come to understand the importance and value of the scouting perspective he had no problem mocking and discarding in the past himself.

paranoiaagent
Member
SF 55 for life
Member
SF 55 for life
4 years 9 months ago

so basically he blames it on Ricciardi . . . classy.

JE
Guest
JE
4 years 9 months ago

As you will note from the Drunk Jays post, Law says that Lewis interviewed him for the book, meaning that the caricature of scouts that he now complains about stems, at least in part, from what he told the author in 2002.

channelclemente
Guest
4 years 9 months ago

One of the many excuses given for Neukom’s recent ouster as MGP of the Giants was his expenditures on “electronic toys” for the baseball unit. It was subsequently revealed that the purchases were electronic devices, software, and associated items to fully employ statistical analysis as a criterea in evaluating player performance and value. It seems Neukom is a devoted ‘sabermetrician’ and insisted on it being a tool among many others utilized in baseball operations. I would say ‘the world is flat’ is still among the operating philosophies in MLB.

Robert
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Robert
4 years 9 months ago

I would say the “world is flat” is an operating philosphy among “some” organizations in MLB. I do not view the Giants as one of the teams that has embraced advanced statistics. In fact, they are one of the true Luddites in this area, and I don’t see that changing as long as Brian Sabean remains.

Some organizations, such as the Red Sox, are very vocal and obvious in their support of sabermetrics. Yet other organizations that we might think have little interest in advanced statistics use it reguarly. The Yankees are one of those teams. That’s how Nick Swisher ended up on their team. The Yankees knew Swisher’s BABIP was abnormally low in 2008 and was a candidate for a strong bounce-back season, so they offered Wilson Betemit to the White Sox, a team that at least then didn’t use internal statistical analysis, and agreed on the Swisher-for-Betemit deal.

Sabermetrics is not going to cure a poorly run team, and teams that don’t use it are still capable of winning. I’m pretty sure the Phillies do very little with sabermetrics. Meanwhile, J. P. Ricciardi was a strong proponent, and he was a pretty poor GM, IMHO. Overall, though, it would seem to be a poor decision to ignore an area of the game that competitors are using and might help your team play better.

channelclemente
Guest
4 years 9 months ago

I think Neukom’s ‘adventure’ to bring Giants baseball operation up to date and the consequences might be viewed under the rubric of ‘no good deed goes unpunished’. In any case, his trying to surgically remove their ‘Ludite’ tendencies was in part given as the reason for parting ways. Perhaps, in some small part, sabermetric evaluation can explain the Giants pulling Huff and Ross from the baseball trash heap last year. As far as ‘good pitching’, that does seem to cure a raft of intellectual sins, doesn’t it.

Robert
Guest
Robert
4 years 9 months ago

Scouts have always used statistics, so the battle years ago was some very old-time scouts refused to acknowledge the new statistics that sabermetrics brought.

The reason many saberists now accept scouts is because many of the younger scouts use advanced metrics as part of their talent evalutation. It’s a balance, but without the talent evaluators, there’s nothing for the saberists to evaluate. I mean, really, I’ve been reading Bill James since 1980, but I never once thought scouts had no value. It’s insane, and what we’re seeing now with people like Keith Law (and Bill James) is as they become more integrated into the game of baseball, they have a greater undersanding or scouting and talent evaluation.

In the end, both scouting and saberists are better off working together than apart.

Bigmouth
Guest
4 years 9 months ago

One point Law raises I think is a good one. Why do they focus on the year after they lost to the Yanks? They actually had to change history (i.e., the timing of antiDepodesta’s hiring) to do so. Why not just start the story several years earlier, then have the story climax with their winning the AL West?

Not really a baseball complaint, more a storytelling issue.

Tom
Guest
Tom
4 years 9 months ago

Jason,

I’m sorry people make fun of you when you bring up weak criticisms of WAR and UZR. That doesn’t mean they are sacred cows, it means you need to try harder.

Lloyd mclendon
Guest
Lloyd mclendon
4 years 9 months ago

You are a clown tom

Billion Memes
Guest
Billion Memes
4 years 9 months ago

Message for Keith Law, since his blog isn’t accepting comments or emails: It is unreal how highly you think of yourself. Many people think you are too much of an insider to have an open perspective on this movie, reasonably so in my opinion. You claim that you are “too smart” (my paraphrasing to refrain from taking two paragraphs to explain what I think the reasons are) to be biased and we are supposed to just accept your word as fact on this matter. Nobody is capable of putting aside bias in all instances, nor should they. Bias is a good thing! I could write an article on that sentence alone but I’ll leave it at that. You had the exact same viewpoint that this movie portrays and were enlightened through time, effort, and age like most normal human beings. Now, you rip that to shreds in this review. For someone who appears to be well read and intelligent, I find it incomprehensible the amount of petty, contrarian, pretentious crap that spews out of you. The funny thing for me is that despite your high opinion of yourself and your academic like justifications for everything you say being right, I believe that you are motivated by the same basic force that motivates everyone to differing heights: self preservation. This is summed up by this commenter on Fangraphs, “I think it’s more along the lines of him wanting the scouts who give him information to think he’s firmly in their camp, or that he sees their side of things. He relies on them for his living, whereas by slamming old print media who could easily be stand-ins for the curmudgeonly scouts in “Moneyball,” he actually gains readers.” That’s my opinion of your motivation for taking such extreme positions so often.

Jay Stevens
Guest
Jay Stevens
4 years 9 months ago

Well, now we know why Law’s blog isn’t accepting comments or emails…

mike
Guest
mike
4 years 9 months ago

“When “Moneyball” first came out, there were darts being flung back and forth from both sides of the aisle. Saberists weren’t afraid to criticize old-school baseball thinkers for being close-minded and stuck in their ways”
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“As our knowledge has become more nuanced, I’ve started to realize that whoops, maybe we were a bit too harsh on non-saberists back in the day.”
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“But when this “Moneyball” movie comes out, are saberists going to be depicted as know-it-all, holier-than-thou elitists? Because if so, dammit. That’s the image we’ve been trying to tear down for the last few years, and now it’s just going to be reinforced”

Well, you reap what you sow. Up until very recently, saberists in general did indeed come off as know-it-all, holier-than-thou elitists.

Beane and his team of never having played the game spreadsheeter assistants certainly did. So if the movie depicts them that way, it’s simply being accurate to the book.

No use crying over spilled milk.

CircleChange11
Guest
CircleChange11
4 years 9 months ago

IMO, the eason 2002 was chosen was because it followed the offseason where the A’s lost 3 of their best players (Giambi, Damon, and Izzy) to free agency and big contracts.

It was supposed to be the end of the story but they replaced those guys with lesser talented players whose combination of performance (namely OBP) roughly equaled the star performance lost.

I think it was a brilliant means of displaying the A’s challenges, and showing that you have to look at the team as a whole, and not just a collection of stars.

The rub with the scouts is due to Beane’s de-emphasis on scouting talent and looking at performance, again namely OBP. They were foregoing tools for skills, and scouts were primarily based on evaluating tools.

Bigmouth
Guest
4 years 9 months ago

Actually, that makes a lot of sense re why they picked 2002.

CircleChange11
Guest
CircleChange11
4 years 9 months ago

The interesting part of the 2002 seasons, is that’s when Beane totally implemented the new strategy of using performance/stats to draft players. Aside from Swisher, a guy that everyone loved, the batters the computer/system selected were guys you’ve never heard of (except from the book).

The quote that I found interesting/dumbfounding is when Beane told everyone (in 2002) “Well we certainly couldn’t do it more wrong than how we’ve been doing.” A very strange thing to say to guys that drafted Jason Giambi, Eric Chavez, Barry Zito, Mark Mulder, Tim Hudson, and signed Miguel Tejada.

That’s basically 3 CYA, 2 MVPs and at the time, probably the best 3B in the game.

McExpos
Guest
McExpos
4 years 9 months ago

Keith Law reviewed Moneyball and worked in some criticisms of the book. Michael Lewis responded with confusion (and annoyance) regarding Law’s criticisms of the book (which was his mistake, he should know better than to give an ESPN employee some controversy to run with), and then Law played the victim.

ESPN gets a controversy to cover, a couple of people go see the movie who wouldn’t otherwise, both Law and Lewis get followers on their Twitter accounts. Everyone wins, except for us, who can respect each man’s writing without needing to care about their egos. La di da, la di da, la la, yeah.

everdiso
Member
everdiso
4 years 9 months ago

Keith’s dirty little secret is that he doesn’t know much about baseball. At least no more than any other fan with half a brain who can read a stats page.

When JP was his daddy, he toed JP’s company line. That was his only source of baseball knowledge, and he thought it made him an expert.

When JP ditched him, and no other front office wanted him, he ran to the shelter of the handful of scouts who would still talk to him and feed him information, and now that they’re his daddies, he’s toeing their company line.

His relentless pettiness towards everyone and everything is just a blatant product of his basic insecurity around the fact that he knows he doesn’t know what he’s talking about, and is just passing off secondhand knowledge off as his own with a bluster and arrogance designed to give himself authority he doesn’t have.

It’s nice to seem him dickishly admit he was wrong 10 years ago for being a baselessly arrogant ignorant prick, and it will even be nicer 10 years from now when he finally admits he is just as wrong at this point, and just as much of a dick as always. Of course, his prickishness 10 years ago was all JP’s fault, so his current “insiders” should be expecting to take the fall for his current prickishness in a decade from now as well. Regardless of who takes the fall, though, we can rest assured it will never actually be Keith’s fault.

Patrick
Guest
Patrick
4 years 9 months ago

Damn, I wouldn’t hate Keith Law this much if he ran over my grandmother.

BlackOps
Guest
BlackOps
4 years 9 months ago

I know, I’m still sitting here wondering what Keith Law really did to all these people.

Kevin S.
Guest
Kevin S.
4 years 9 months ago

He’s even doing this on multiple web sites.

Alvaro Fernandez
Guest
Alvaro Fernandez
4 years 9 months ago

I’m waiting for Joe Morgans’ review of the movie.

Bigmouth
Guest
4 years 9 months ago

Already done. Joe Morgan doesn’t need to see a film to review it.

Notrotographs
Guest
Notrotographs
4 years 9 months ago

It would have been better if Billy Beane hadn’t directed.

Tom
Guest
Tom
4 years 9 months ago

Everdiso is both a Blue Jays fan and the biggest douchebag on the planet, so that explains that. He also thinks JP Ricciardi was the BEST GM EVAR.

Lloyd mclendon
Guest
Lloyd mclendon
4 years 9 months ago

Tom is still a clown

Chair
Guest
Chair
4 years 9 months ago

Well it can’t be as bad as Contagion

RC
Guest
RC
4 years 9 months ago

We still have scouts who think that Yuniesky Bettancourt is good enough to start for a MLB team. I think lampooning them is still fine.

Bobby Ayala
Member
Member
4 years 9 months ago

Yuniesky’s got 0.3 WAR this year. Career 3.0 WAR. Better than Ian Desmond.

james wilson
Guest
james wilson
4 years 9 months ago

Moneyball is a great and hilarious book. It is a real bonus to baseball. The movie, not so much.

Billy Beane has been mailing it in for some time. There is a reason he did not take the Boston job.

The divide between those who value stats and those that don’t won’t close, it is not in the nature of things.

Whelk
Guest
Whelk
4 years 9 months ago

The time period depicted is absolutely dated. But like any piece of history, there’s no problem with depicting it accurately. We statheads were merciless in our tearing down of the old guard.

I liken it to. Movie about Sherman’s march through Georgia. If a southerner didn’t already know the story, it might be shocking, and stir up resentment against the North, despite the dated nature of the conflict. But if they did know the story, and the movie showed the Union army distributing aid packets, it would be inaccurate, laughable, and insulting to the history all at the same time.

tinaz
Guest
tinaz
4 years 9 months ago

This is the kind of movie that is awaited by all. I like the trailers of the movie very much. And Now i am very excited to watch this movie. http://www.access-movies.com/moneyball/19/
As storyline of the movie seems to be very good.

Netherland
Guest
4 years 5 months ago

Rob is right that a great team can be built without a lot of money, but the key is you have to bring in good players. Guys like Jack Wilson and Ronny Cedeno might be cheap, but that’s because they just aren’t very good. If we were truly running things the “Moneyball way”, we would find undervalued but worthwhile guys that wouldn’t cost a fortune.

Antonio bananas
Guest
Antonio bananas
4 years 5 months ago

I thought the movie was good, but wish they didn’t depict the As as some group of useless scrubs. They had Hudson, Mulder, and Zito. Not sure if they had Tejada or chavez for the year the movie depicted, but it’s not like Billy Beane was pulling a team of guys hitting .200 together and winning and the rest of the world is going “ZOMG WTF is going on!?!??!?!”. He simply filled out the rest of his roster with those guys.

CircleChange11
Guest
CircleChange11
4 years 5 months ago

All that teams need to do in order to reproduce what the A’s accomplished is draft/sign 6 All-Stars in 3 years.

THAT’s why the A’s haven’t been able to reproduce their success. It’s not because everyone else is copying them. It’s because they hit the jackpot (or luck) with drafting Hudson, Zito, Mulder, Chavez, Giambi, and signing Tejada.

Furthermore, they had all of those players under cheap team controlled contracts, and benefited from Miggy and Giambi’s “assistance”.

They haven’t come anywhere close to their previous success (Alderson/Beane) using Beane’s “college stat spreadsheet approach”, where they measure performance instead of tools.

The Phillies, for what it’s worth, also had a great “drafting streak” where they got Utley, Victorino, Howard, Rollins, hamels, etc. We could also say the same thing about the NYY that built their 98-02 teams (or whatever the exact years were). They, too, drafted a ton of good young talent in only a few years.

Why don’t more teams just do this? Just draft 4-6 All-Stars every few years and have a loaded team for cheap?

IMO, the real value in Moneyball wasn’t having a great team for cheap payroll … you can do that with team-controlled young players (provided you can find them), but how you can replace a superstar’s production by examining exactly what they contribute and upgrading multiple positions … well, and you get Scott Hatteberg to have a career year.

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