Phillies, statistics, the A's and Money Ball

Except for the fact that I love Philadelphia and I want any of our teams to win, I don't care that much about baseball (Go Phillies!!!!!!). But I love any story about management and sports because the lessons apply to any endeavor. So, I'd like to recommend "Money Ball," a baseball book by Michael Lewis. 

Here's how pathetic I am. Even though I read and loved this book, I can never remember the name of the team (it's the Oakland Athletics, way formerly, the Philadelphia Athletics). Anyway, they had a low hiring budget, so their manager, Billy Beane, trusted some number-crunchers who developed a theory about what type of players would create the best success of the team. Success was defined as ability to win games.

The stat the crunchers settled on was not the usual batting average, or runs-batted-in. They looked at on-base percentage (whatever that is) and slugging percentage (another mystery term). The players with high stats in those elements hadn't moved to the top of the draft lists and so were cheaper. The debate was over whether these stats were more predictive of success or  whether the "gut" feeling of scouts had more validity.

Even though I didn't recognize the name of one player and didn't have a clue who Billy Beane is or was, I loved this book, because it raises the question of the value of measurement. 

It seems so easy, in a way. But it is really tricky to come up with a definition of success. (Read a similar discussion in the business book classic "Good to Great.") And then, it is even harder to find the measurement that will match that definition. Because baseball is such a statistics-rich sport with a relative narrow range of goals, Billy Beane's job was fairly easy, although he had to have tremendous courage to overcome immense pressure from his scouts and other baseball old timers.

In the end, .... well, you'll just have to read the book. Meanwhile, go Phillies! Even I know enough to hate the Yankees.