Moneyball Review - Book vs Movie
Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game is a book written by Michael Lewis, published in 2003, later adapted in a movie by Bennett Miller in 2011, about Oakland Athletics baseball team and their general manager, Billy Beane, and how their analytical, sabermetric approach to baseball recruiting allowed them to achieve disproportional success relative to their financial position.
The central theme of the book is that conventional wisdom isn't always right and quite often is wrong - there is a better way if you are willing to look. Baseball like many sports was dominated by staunch traditionalist who believed that recruiting should be subjective and intuition based i.e. on physical qualities like build, appearance, athleticism, movement patterns, style, swagger - "you could dream on him becoming an all-star big-league player" was a favourite saying among many.
Billy Beane opposed this view - losing several quality players in the 2001 post-season to free agency including all-stars, Jason Isringhausen and Jason Giambi, Beane is faced with the task of assembling a competitive team with a paltry budget. As a youth Beane was one of those players that recruiters believed had all the physical tools to be a superstar and was selected in the first round of the draft. However, he never managed to find his place as a major league baseball player and his career as a player ended in stark contrast to recruiters pre-draft predictions - he failed to reach his potential. This wasn't an uncommon story and Beane set out to find a better way - to maximise returns with minimum expenditure.
Meeting and eventually hiring Paul DePodesta, a Harvard economics graduate and scout at the Cleveland Indians, as his assistant to GM, they combined to develop a recruiting approach that cut through the bullshit and allowed them objectively analyse baseball players e.g. their rigorous stastical analysis showed that on-base percentage (OBP) and slugging percentage (SLG) were the best indicators of offensive success and these qualities were undervalued compared to speed, agility, power etc. and sought to pursue players with those qualities.
The book is excellently written by Lewis and documents the story of Billy Beane leading up to the 1980 MLB Draft, the Oakland A's preparation for the 2002 MLB Draft where they had a number of high draft picks, the Oakland A's record breaking 20-game winning streak, the history of sabermetrics tracing back to Bill James and the influence his publication Baseball Abstract had, as well as the stories of some of the players involved with the Oakland Athletics that were seen as 'misfits' by the baseball world at large including Scott Hatteberg, Jeremy Brown and Chad Bradford.
For non-baseball fans like myself, don't fear - all the baseball specific terminology is explained clearly by the author - it is a story that can be appreciated by any sports/business minded person.
The film directed by Bennett Miller, follows a farily similar plot expectedly without as much depth as the book - it doesn't include the historical elements of sabermetrics, nor does it include the story of the unconventional submarine pitcher, Chad Bradford. The 2002 draft isn't covered in anywhere near as much depth as the book, where it is a cornerstone of the story.
Brad Pitt plays the lead role of Billy Beane well - I don't know what Beane is like in real life, but based on the book I believe it was an accurate portrayal - he shows charisma, internal drive and bursts of bad temper Beane was renowned for. The movie also includes a number of scenes with him, his daughter (Kerris Dorsey) and ex-wife (Robin Wright) - in the book his daughter and ex-wife are only mentioned once and briefly at that. I don't mind this and it's expected as part of fllm - it helps enrich Billy Beane's character, even if it is fictional.
The movie also includes a fictional character, Peter Brand (Jonah Hill), based on Paul DePodesta in real life, who didn't want his named used in the film. The dialogue scenes between Brand and Beane, as well as Beane and Art Howe (Phillip Seymour Hoffman), coach of the Oakland A's are my favourite parts of the film. The field action is also captivating - not overdone, which is often the case with sports films.
Credit should also be given to Chris Pratt who was excellent in his minor role as Scott Hatteberg, the Oakland A's first baseman.