Moneyball

I thoroughly enjoyed watching Moneyball last Thursday.  It puts a different spin on economics and it is refreshing to know our discipline truly has countless applications.  Brad Pitt and Jonah Hill quickly draw the audience in and Philip Seymour Hoffman does an excellent job portraying a disgruntled manager.  But the thing that struck me the most was the contrast between the economic analysis approach to baseball introduced by Peter Brand and the conventional wisdom approach of Billy Beane’s team of scouts.  The movie makes it out to seem that these are competing, mutually exclusive methods as evidenced by the dismissal of Beane’s head scout and replacement with someone whose experience playing baseball consisted of t-ball.  This made me wonder: is it possible that there could be no overlap between the two?  It is obvious that only people who believe that Brand’s economics-based decision making will work are Beane and Brand himself.  Beane only gets Art Howe (Hoffman) to play Hatteberg at first by trading the starting first baseman.  And after Beane hires Brand, Brand is the only person Beane will listen to.  The scouts’ opinions are for all intents and purposes thrown out the window.  Beane does eventually get his way and this new approach to baseball proves very successful.  The Oakland A’s would not have made the ALDS again without this new methodology but the result is ultimately the same.

Except there is one crucial difference, and it links back to the question I posed earlier.  The movie opens with the A’s losing to the Yankees.  It ends with the A’s losing to the Minnesota Twins.  The Yankees and Twins are polar opposites.  The Yankees buy the best players.  The Twins have to contend with a small market much like the A’s do.  And since Beane and Brand were the first to put so much faith in moneyball (the person who inspired the approach used in the movie was a baseball outsider), neither relied on such in-depth statistical analysis.  Yet both beat the A’s.  This means experienced scouts and personal observations do play an important role in putting together a winning team.  There are simply intangibles that statistics cannot replicate.  Billy Beane did the best he could with the hand he was dealt, but failing to integrate statistical analysis with the human aspect of the game ultimately cost the A’s a chance to play for the championship.  Moneyball revolutionized the sport of baseball and allowed teams to build more effective rosters but who wins and who loses are still determined by the players playing the sport.  No amount of statistical analysis can ever fully account for the randomness associated with being human.

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