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Amazin' Avenue Book Club: Moneyball, Chapter Six

It's been awhile since our last meeting, what with the holidays and my discovery of PaperBackSwap. Join the site (for free!) to send away your read or unwanted books and receive new selections in return. I put down Moneyball in favor of some of Roger Angell's baseball works, namely The Summer Game and Five Seasons. Angell's beautiful and effortless prose is really something to behold. But it's about time to get back to Moneyball. Here is Chapter Six: The Science Of Winning An Unfair Game.

Chapter Six reiterates the economic disadvantage facing the Oakland A's and covers the front office's strategy for combating that disadvantage. Major League Baseball creates the "Commissioner's Blue Ribbon Panel on Baseball Economics", to survey the MLB economic landscape. Luminaries George Mitchell, Richard Levin, George Will and Paul Volcker are part of the Panel, which more-or-less concludes that the system is broken. Small market teams have no chance and something has to be done about it. Billy Beane appears in front of the Panel, confirming its findings. From Chapter Six:

He [Beane] told the Blue Ribbon Panel that the Oakland A's inability to afford famous stars meant that no matter how well the team performed, the fans stayed away -- which was the opposite of the truth. All the A's marketing studies showed that the main thing fans cared about was winning. Win with nobodies and the fans showed up, and the nobodies became stars; lose with stars and the fans stayed home, and the stars became nobodies.

Billy welcomes baseball socialism and has no problem with the Panel deciding that system needs fixing. He realizes that fans care primarily about winning, with "brand equity" and other such marketing buzzwords taking a backseat to increasing run differential.

Billy's "Selling the Closer" concept is covered in Chapter Six. This is promoting a relief pitcher to the closer role from within, to accumulate saves. Said closer is then flipped for more prized assets. It is one of the great front office scams in recent memory. Billy Taylor, Jason Isringhausen and Billy Koch were the A's closers during the Moneyball heyday, and each returned more valuable compensation to the A's upon departure.

Paul DePodesta's use of run estimators and linear weights is also discussed. The importance of OBP and SLG is re-emphasized -- d3p0 comes up with his own formulas to determine just how valuable a point of OBP or SLG is to run production. The A's front office uses these high level statistics to figure out how to replace the production of departed free agents Jason Giambi, Johnny Damon and Isringhausen. They left after the 2001 season and the A's didn't skip a beat, winning 103 games and the AL West in 2002. Later chapters focus on Scott Hatteberg and Chad Bradford, two contributors to that 2002 squad.

If I had to pick one non-traditional statistical concept to share with an old school fan, it would be the triple slash line. It's easy to understand and conveys so much about a hitter in just three numbers. BA/OBP/SLG, brilliant.

Now on to some discussion questions.

Mets-centric appearances/mentions in Chapter Six:

  • Greg McMichael, former Met
  • Billy Taylor, former Met
  • Terrence Long, former Met minor leaguer

Discussion questions:

1. General discussion on the economics of baseball. Should a salary cap be considered? A salary floor? Will small market teams have a chance in the long-run?

2. If you had to choose one sabery stat to share with an open-minded traditional baseball fan, which would it be?

3. Obviously, the Jason Isringhausen-Billy Taylor trade ended up a disaster. But if you are old enough to recall, what was your take on the trade at the time (summer of 1999)? I remember giving a stamp of approval, though my view of the game was much different then. Busted prospect for proven closer -- yes please!

4. Do you think the famous Moneyball quotes will catch on in the cultural lexicon? Will "we're not selling jeans here" become the next "I love the smell of napalm in the morning!"?

5. I can quote at least 50% of the following films while watching them:

Die Hard With A Vengeance
Independence Day
The Rock
American Psycho
The Departed

Which movies have you viewed enough times to quote greater than 50% of the script?