Amazin' Avenue Book Club: Moneyball, Chapter Two

Checklist:

____ Comfy couch

____ Sweatpants and old school Mets t-shirt jersey (Edgardo Alfonzo? Cliff Floyd?)

____ Glass of your favorite beverage

____ David Sanborn smooth jazz playing softly in the background

____ Copy of Moneyball  and a pen for taking notes

No better way to spend a Friday night. Chapter Two: How To Find A Ballplayer.

This is the chapter that really started ruffling the feathers of baseball's establishment. Billy Beane and his advisors sit together in the draft room, a week before the 2002 MLB Draft, devising their plan of attack. A "science experiment" is taking place -- the A's are doing things differently this year. High school players are to be avoided; college players with a body of work to examine are preferred. Prospects who look nothing like the 1980 version of Billy Beane are of special interest, especially because the A's don't have the money to spend on high priced, scout-beloved talent.  

Paul DePodesta and his trusty laptop make their first appearance in Chapter Two, and Michael Lewis writes things like:

Billy had his own idea about where to find future major league baseball players: inside Paul's computer.

and

Paul's list of hitters were distinctly not guys the scouts found driving around. They were guys Paul found surfing the Internet.

DePodesta is juxtaposed with Grady Fuson, the A's head of scouting who expresses an aversion to d3p0's spreadsheets. Fuson is portrayed as the traditionalist simpleton -- d3p0 is the progressive genius, discovering talent in Microsoft Excel, such as Kevin Youkilis, the "Greek god of walks". Much like how young college graduates misinterpreted Lewis's book Liar's Poker as a how-to guide to getting rich on Wall Street, I feel that many (maybe myself included) read this chapter and came away with an enlightened feeling of empowerment. "Screw you, Jon Heyman, I never saw Bert Blyleven pitch but he is a Hall of Famer because my computer told me so!" The enlightened is correct, of course, but the idea that any Joe Chill off the street has as much a clue about baseball analysis as the pros do rubs some the wrong way.

In reality, this chapter isn't about scouts vs. stats. It was at the heart and soul of the book's thesis. The A's front office felt a certain set of ballplayers were being undervalued. It just happened that computers and spreadsheets were a means to finding these players. Fuson is snarkily referred to as the "soon to be former head of scouting". Meanwhile, in the eight years that have passed, he worked with Sandy Alderson in San Diego and was actually re-hired by Billy Beane this past February. And d3p0, AKA Google Boy, is now in a scouting position with the Mets. A pair of competent professionals, no matter their roles.

Three prospects are discussed as possible draft picks. They are:

  • Nick Swisher, the extroverted Ohio State outfielder
  • Mark Teahen, the plate discipline champ third baseman from St. Mary's
  • Jeremy Brown, the husky backstop from the University of Alabama

Brown elicits the most discussion in the draft room. He is a bad-bodied catcher who put up stats in college to make Billy drool. Unsurprisingly, the scouts are way down on him. The debate about Brown also concerns how much to weigh statistics when evaluating prospects.

One final note -- a reference is made to "Operation Shutdown", wherein Billy Beane was kept away from Swisher so no other teams knew the A's were high on him. I'm thinking this is a nod to Derek Bell.

There's plenty of discussion material in the chapter, so let's cut it off there.

Mets-centric appearances/mentions in Chapter Two:

  • Paul DePodesta, current Mets Vice President, Player Development & Amateur Scouting
  • Jason Isringhausen, former member of "Generation K"

Discussion questions:

1. For all the eye-opening benefits of Moneyball, did its (unintentional?) propagation of the fictional scouts vs. stats debate damage the discourse?  

2. General discussion about drafting high school players vs. college players. Given the same cost, would you prefer a high-risk, high-reward high school player, or a low-risk, medium-reward college player?

3. ***SPOILER ALERT**** Had Jeremy Brown been a successful player, would the Moneyball  haters have been as numerous and fierce?

4. The men in the A's draft room are depicted packing lips full of chewing tobacco. Have you ever "packed a lip"? What did you think? Awesome or gross?

5. Two of my favorite lines from the book are in Chapter Two. The first is Billy Beane, talking about a player with bad makeup whom the A's previously drafted:

"Who's that f*cking guy we took last year we had to release because he robbed a bank?"

The second is Billy again, emphasizing that the A's should draft players who can help the team win games, regardless of appearance:

"We're not selling jeans here"

What are your favorite lines from Moneyball?

6. Which scenes from the chapter, and book as a whole, seem appropriate for the film version of Moneyball?

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