Preface and Chapter 1 Summary
Michael Lewis explains in his preface that he wrote Moneyball because he fell in love with a story about
a small group of undervalued professional baseball players and executives, many of whom had been rejected as unfit for the big leagues, who had turned themselves into one of the most successful franchises in Major League Baseball.
However, the idea for the story formed when Lewis noticed that the Oakland Athletics (the A's) were winning a lot of baseball games, even though they were one of the poorest teams in baseball.
The A's were not physically or athletically inferior to other teams; instead, they were at a financial disadvantage. The New York Yankees, for example, had a payroll of $126 million in 2002. Just a decade before, the New York Mets had the highest payroll in the league at $44 million. Although it seemed like money buys wins, Lewis notes that some high payroll teams have nevertheless failed to win. Oakland, meanwhile, had won more regular seasons games than every other team but the Atlanta Braves, in spite of having the second lowest payroll in the league. The A’s general manager, Billy Beane, realized that he would never have as much money as the Yankees, so he began to look for “inefficiencies in the game.” He had his staff investigate the market price for undervalued skills such as "foot speed," and they began recruiting bargain players with those skill sets. They achieved great success. Before long, bigger market teams like the Red Sox began reinventing their organization in the image of Beane’s A’s, establishing Beane's reputation as one of baseball's great modern innovators. What, however, made Beane reevaluate player selection in the first place?
In the opening chapter, “The Curse of Talent,” Lewis explains how scouts have traditionally searched for talent in their prospects. He begins in San Diego in 1980 where managers from several teams were evaluating five especially promising prospects. One of the prospects was a young Billy Beane. Scouting had recently taken on greater significance because “professional baseball players had been granted free agency by a court of law,” and players’ salaries subsequently tripled. The scouts carried a checklist as they look for a player’s “tools.” The five tools were: ability to run, throw, field, hit, and hit “with power.” The five prospects were asked to run, and...
(The entire section is 607 words.)
Chapter 2 Summary
The second chapter, “How to Find a Ballplayer,” begins over twenty years later. Beane is now the general manager of the Oakland Athletics. Although he has sworn never to make another decision based on money, he is happy to manage money “so long as he was using it on other people, and not having it used on him.” Beane is in a room full of scouts, a group of people that are “invisible to the ordinary fan,” but who “decide who gets to play, and, therefore, how [baseball] is played.” Beane intends to draft players based on what they have done, whereas the scouts draft players based on what they imagine the players might become.
The scouts watch games and try to see something in a player no one else does, and they deride Beane’s belief in “performance scouting.” They prefer players “you could dream on.” As they discuss who they will draft, many of the scouts are irritated by the ubiquitous presence of Beane’s assistant, Paul DePodesta. Paul, armed with his laptop and his Harvard education in economics, has Beane’s ear even though he has never played professional baseball. Lewis explains that Beane “intended to rip away from the scouts the power to decide who would be a pro baseball player and who would not, and Paul was his weapon for doing it.” Paul is unusual because he ignores the five tools and focuses on on-base percentage.
Beane plans to test Paul's method in the 2002 draft, which is an important draft for the A’s because they cannot afford to buy players at market prices. Drafting and signing good players is essential for the poor A's because they can control that player’s contract for seven years in the minors and the first six years in the majors. The A’s have just lost three of their top players—Jason Giambi, Johnny Damon, and Jason Isringhausen—to richer teams. However, they will receive these richer teams’ draft picks, which means that this year Beane will have an unprecedented seven first-round draft picks.
Unfortunately, the only player that DePodesta, Beane, and the scouts can agree upon is Nick Swisher. The scouts are interested in players that have the tools, whereas Beane cares about his players’ ability to hit the ball. For example, Beane likes Mark Teahen, who does not hit with power, but he does get on base, which is important because “good hitters develop power. Power hitters don’t become good hitters.” Paul, meanwhile, likes players...
(The entire section is 503 words.)
Chapter 3 Summary
The third chapter, “The Enlightenment,” begins with Beane’s career with the Mets. He has just been signed along with another high school phenom, Darryl Strawberry, and Roger Jongewaard thinks that Beane is more ready for pro ball than Strawberry. The Mets send Strawberry to their rookie league but advance Beane to play with their college players. They think that Beane is better equipped to deal with the pressures and frustrations of the majors. Unfortunately, Lewis explains, Beane “didn’t know how to think of himself if he couldn’t think of himself as a success.”
Beane returns home after the season and enrolls at the University of California at San Diego, though he would not graduate. By the following year, he would be playing alongside Strawberry, who would go on to be named the most valuable player in the Texas League. During this time, Beane lives with Lenny Dykstra, who did not have Beane’s tools, but was mentally built for baseball because “he was able to instantly forget any failure and draw strength from everyone success.” It was from Lenny, Beane would later explain, that he began to learn what a baseball player was. Over the following years, Beane would continue
grinding his way up through the minor leagues, propelled by his private fears and other peoples’ dreams. The difference between who he was, and who other people thought he should be, grew day by day.
On the field, Billy was able to make spectacular plays, but he continued to struggle at bat. Mentally, Beane would unravel if he struck out.
In 1985, Lenny joined Strawberry in the Big Leagues. In 1986, Beane was traded to the Minnesota Twins, where he starts in left field. Though he gets five hits in his first game, he goes hitless the following two nights and is taken out of the starting lineup. For the next three years, Beane would play “up and down between Triple-A and the big leagues, with the Twins, the Detroit Tigers, and, finally, the Oakland A’s.” Before long, the consensus is that Beane was failing because of mental reasons, not physical ones. Harvey Dorfman, who wrote The Mental Game of Baseball, would become Beane’s “baseball shrink.” Though Dorfman suggests that baseball will “yield itself” to Beane’s character, Beane argues that “sports psychologists are a crutch.” Ultimately, in Beane’s view, his character did not match with baseball...
(The entire section is 874 words.)
Chapter 4 Summary
In the fourth chapter, “Field of Ignorance,” Lewis tells the story of Bill James and his methodology of baseball statistics. James self-published his 1977 Baseball Abstract: Featuring 18 Categories of Statistical Information That You Just Can't Find Anywhere Else, and he managed to sell 75 copies of it. Encouraged, James continued to collect statistics. Lewis explains that baseball is a game that lends itself to counting, and that although an observer might not be able to see the difference between a .300 player and a .275 player, new statistics would reveal the difference. James believes statistics that people have traditionally followed, like batting average, often say very little about a player’s value. He suggests that some statistics produce "numbers," but other stats are like "language" because they are capable of telling stories.
Many of the most useless statistics, Lewis suggests, can be traced by to Henry Chadwick. The RBI, or “runs batted in,” for example, is a statistic that seems to depend upon luck more than skill. So why use it to predict a player’s worth? However, it has been used to evaluate players, and has led players to swing at bad pitches in a desperate effort to add to their RBI totals. It is ironic that Chadwick’s statistics, which were designed to improve the game, often led to inaccuracies in player evaluations. James would soon come to term these new statistics “sabermetrics.” Over time, Lewis explains, James began to prioritize offense over defense. Realizing that batting average is an inaccurate way to measure the amount of runs a player contributes, James would produce his own "runs created" formula for measuring the offensive abilities of players. His formula was:
Runs Created = (Hits+Walks) x Total Bases/ (At Bats+Walks)
It turned out to be a more accurate predictor than the formulas used by professional baseball teams.
James begins to attract many eclectic readers, some of whom were mathematicians at prestigious universities who are obsessed with baseball. By 1984, James became disillusioned with the Elias Sports Bureau, an organization of baseball "insiders," and he proposed to his growing number of readers that the baseball "outsiders" start keeping their own statistics. Many new statistics were born including the pitch count, pitch types, and distance of batted balls. This led to the creation of STATS Inc.,...
(The entire section is 664 words.)
Chapter 5 Summary
The fifth chapter, “The Jeremy Brown Blue Plate Special,” returns to Billy Beane’s story in his role as the general manager of the Athletics. The 2002 draft is about to begin and Beane has a list of 20 players that he covets. His top priority is Nick Swisher, a hitter. Though Beane has never seen him play, he has heard a great deal. More importantly, he has seen the statistics on Paul DePodesta’s computer. Beane does not sleep for two nights before the draft because he is so excited. However, on the day of the draft, Beane is worried that he will not be able to sign his top picks.
The major league general managers all know each other and before the draft begins, they call each other in the hopes of finding out who others are drafting. Beane has seven first round picks, but he does not get to pick first. When Beane learns that the Mets may end up drafting Swisher—not because they think he is the most talented player but because their top choices will be taken by others—Beane is furious. Although years have passed since he would break bats after striking out, Beane’s fury is still enough to silence a room full of athletes. But Swisher remains on the board as the Brewers and the Rays, who both pick ahead of Beane, end up drafting high school pitchers. This pleases Beane to no end since high school pitchers are a notoriously unreliable investment.
Though Beane’s objective criteria for drafting players gives him an advantage over other players, he still has far less money than they do to sign players. Teams are not allowed to meet and negotiate with players, but Lewis points out that every team does it. The Athletics negotiate with players ahead of the draft with special enthusiasm. One scout, Rich Sparks, tells Steve Stanley, a center fielder from Notre Dame expecting to be drafted, that the A’s intend to draft him in the second round. They will offer only $200,000, but they intend for him to play in the majors. Meanwhile, Billy Owens, another scout, has begun to work a similar strategy on Jeremy Brown, a catcher. They will offer him only $350,000, and they will require him to lose weight. Beane knows when they draft him, agents will call and tell him that they can get him more money, and this obviously will not work to the Athletics’ advantage. However, if Brown stays true to their verbal agreement (which he does), it would be a great deal for Beane.
Although Beane is trying to be objective,...
(The entire section is 620 words.)
Chapter 6 Summary
In the sixth chapter, “The Science of Winning An Unfair Game,” Lewis explains how Beane uses market inefficiencies to compete with richer teams. The problem is that the Athletics have $40 million to spend on twenty-five players and the Yankees have $126 million. Beane argues that it would be wrong to try to do what the Yankees are doing because latter has three times the money to spend. So while the Yankees can afford to buy major league stars that are in their prime, the A’s cannot. Beane is forced to find young players and veterans that are undervalued by the market.
In 1999, Major League Baseball studied whether the poorer teams were hurting the competitiveness of the league. The Commissioner’s "Blue Ribbon Panel on Baseball Economics" concluded, as Lewis puts it, that
poor teams didn’t stand a chance, that their hopelessness was bad for baseball, and that a way must be found to minimize the distinction between rich and poor teams.
One member of the panel, columnist George Will, pointed out that the ratio of the payrolls of the seven richest and seven poorest teams in baseball was 4:1. The ratio in professional basketball was 1.75:1. The ratio in professional football was 1.5:1. Paul Volcker, the economist, raises two questions against these findings. First, why do the rich keep paying higher prices to buy teams? Second, why do the Oakland Athletics win so many games? When Beane speaks to the panel, he argues that the Athletics’ success is likely to wane because of the inequalities in the league. Further, their inability to afford stars will keep fans away. However, Beane is merely trying to sway the panel to give him a further advantage. Beane knows that as long as a team is winning, fans will come. And, thanks to the scientific method that he and Paul DePodesta were applying to baseball players in order to find market inefficiencies, the A's would continue to win.
In 2002, the A’s end up losing their three biggest stars: Jason Isringhausen, Johnny Damon, and Jason Giambi. Most teams at this point would begin a “rebuilding” process, but Beane intends to continue winning. In some ways, he feels, losing these players is not as bad as it seems. Isringhausen is a closing pitcher, and a closing pitcher’s value is determined by his “saves.” However, Beane and DePodesta have studied this statistic and found that the closer rarely “saves” the...
(The entire section is 566 words.)
Chapter 7 Summary
In the seventh chapter, “Giambi’s Hole,” Michael Lewis recalls one of the times he visited the Oakland Athletics clubhouse. He explains that the clubhouse is “famously the cheapest and least charming real estate in professional baseball and the video room was the meanest corner of it.” From this video room, Lewis will watch the Athletics play the New York Yankees, who have recently signed Jason Giambi, Oakland’s best hitter in the previous season.
To fill the void left behind by Giambi, Beane and DePodesta have decided to “recreate the aggregate.” Though they cannot afford to replace Giambi, they can replace his on-base percentage. It will not be easy, since Giambi’s on-base percentage is second only to Barry Bonds’. Beane looks at the players he has lost and tries to bring in new players that will, collectively, provide that on-base percentage. Beane decides to sign David Justice, Scott Hatteberg, and Jeremy Giambi (Jason’s little brother). Each of these players is undervalued because the Major League executives view them as “defective.” Justice, for example, is old. Hatteberg used to be a catcher, but can no longer throw. Giambi’s on-base percentage is good, but his defense is alarmingly weak. Nevertheless, DePodesta believes that these players will get on base enough to make up for their weaknesses and for Giambi's departure.
Lewis explains that many players are surprised by the way that Beane runs the Athletics. Unlike other general managers, Beane is not distant. Some players complain that Beane will not let them steal bases or that he wants them to take walks whenever possible. But many attribute the Athletics’ success to their innovative general manager. Beane is unusual, and he doesn't hesitate to chase players down to lecture them on their performance. Even the manager, Art Howe, is told what to do, including telling him to stand rather than sit in the dugout so that he will look more inspiring to his players. Beane is not allowed in the dugout, and he never watches games because his anger will make him too “subjective.” Instead, Beane works out in the weight room or drives around Oakland listening to tapes on European history.
The game against New York starts out badly for the Athletics. Lewis finds himself rooting for the A’s, whom he likens to David fighting Goliath. Though he gets angry when the Yankees take the lead, he notices that DePodesta watches the...
(The entire section is 478 words.)
Chapter 8 Summary
The eighth chapter, “Scott Hatteberg, Pickin’ Machine,” explains how Scott Hatteberg, a catcher, came to thrive playing first base for the Athletics. Hatteberg had played catcher for the Boston Red Sox. However, when he lost his throwing ability due to a ruptured nerve in his throwing arm, the Red Sox dropped him. The Colorado Rockies signed him briefly, but ultimately gave him up to free agency. The minute (literally) after his contract with the Rockies expired, Paul DePodesta calls his agent to offer him a chance to play with the Oakland Athletics. It is only after Scott signs with the A’s that he learns that Beane intends for him to play first base. Beane promises not to suggest that he will be replacing Jason Giambi. Hatteberg is intimidated, but he asks his wife to hit ground balls to him.
At first, Hatteberg struggles at first base. Ron "Wash" Washington, the infield coach, has been sent some tough assignments while working for Billy Beane, a general manager that does not value fielding. However, Hatteberg is an especially weak first baseman. His footwork is awful and he does not react to the ball. Nevertheless, Wash begins to work on his new first baseman, praising him to boost his confidence and calling him a “pickin’ machine.” Surprisingly, Hatteberg’s athleticism and growing confidence allow him to improve to the point that people start commenting that he is an above-average first baseman. Hatteberg soon discovers the advantages of playing first and one of them is that he gets to chat with players. He even suggests that there is an etiquette to striking up a conversation with the opposing team, but after a conversation starts, he will not hesitate to ask which of the A’s pitchers is toughest to hit.
Lewis suggests that Hatteberg’s ability is tied to his personality. This is especially true of the way that Hatteberg approaches hitting. Hatteberg studies pitchers very closely and he keeps track of the pitches that they throw him. The Red Sox criticized him for doing this, but in Oakland, he is praised for his careful approach. Hatteberg almost never swings at the first pitch, and he always studies pitchers until he has figured out the best pitch they will give him. Every hitter in the Majors has a hole in the strike zone that he cannot hit, and usually DePodesta can find it with little effort. However, Paul cannot find Hatteberg’s hole. In this way, Lewis points out, Hatteberg is the opposite...
(The entire section is 444 words.)
Chapter 9 Summary
The ninth chapter, “The Trading Desk,” begins with the Oakland Athletics playing the first of three games against the Cleveland Indians. Art Howe, who manages the A’s, has put Mike Magnante (Mags) on the mound to end the game. Art has done this because Mags is a left-handed pitcher. Art has also done this in spite of Beane’s specific instructions to pitch Chad Bradford, whom he has described to Art as the “closer before the ninth inning.” Mags gives up five runs. Meanwhile, the Indians’ left-handed reliever, Ricardo Rincon, earns a save.
It is late July, and the trade deadline is approaching. There is a whiteboard wall in Beane’s office, and on it are the names of the several hundred players that the A’s control. On a second whiteboard are 1,200 players from other major league teams that Beane would like to acquire. As the trade deadline approaches, the value of players will fluctuate throughout the league. Lewis explains that Beane’s task is to
persuade other teams to buy his guys for more than they were worth, and sell their guys for less than they were worth. He’d done this so effectively the past few years that he was finding other teams less eager to do business with him.
The Indians are still willing to take his calls, which is fortunate since Ricardo Rincon is one of the pitchers Beane would like to acquire.
The Indians are having a losing season and are looking to sell off the pieces of their team. However, the San Francisco Giants have also expressed an interest in Rincon, and they are willing to offer more than Beane can afford. To improve his position, Beane offers the Giants a player he has just sent down to the minor leagues, Mike Venafro, to reduce their need for a left-handed reliever. Beane will no longer have to pay Venafro, which will allow him to raise roughly half of what he needs in order to pay Rincon’s salary. However, he also offers Venafro to the Mets, thinking that he might be able to get more money out of them.
Beane approaches trades with certain rules in mind:
1. The first rule is: “No matter how successful you are, change is always good.” Lewis points out that the Athletics’ roster already looks very different than it did at the start of the season. Jeremy Giambi, who was a good leadoff hitter, has been traded because he does not take the game seriously enough for Beane, a subjective...
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Chapter 10 Summary
When the tenth chapter, “Anatomy of an Undervalued Pitcher,” begins, the Oakland A’s are on a phenomenal winning streak, largely thanks to the addition of Ricardo Rincon and Ray Durham. They are now at the top of the very competitive American League West. On September 4, 2002, the A’s are playing to beat the American League record for consecutive wins. They just have to beat the Kansas City Royals. At the top of the seventh inning, the A’s are winning 11—5, but just as suddenly, Tim Hudson gets into trouble. Howe looks at his bullpen and remembers Beane’s command to turn to Chad Bradford.
Lewis notes that many major league pitchers are eccentric. Turk Wendell, for example, brushes his teeth between innings. Bradford approaches the mound calmly. However, no one would look at Bradford’s delivery and call it “normal.” Lewis explains that Bradford:
jackknifes at the waist, like a jitterbug dancer lurching for his partner. His throwing hand swoops out towards the plate and down toward the earth. Less than an inch off the ground, way out where the dirt meets the infield grass, he rolls the ball off his fingertips. When subjected to slow-motion replay, as this motion often is, it looks less like pitching than feeding pigeons or shooting craps.
He is not a sidearm pitcher, though he is sometimes called one. He is actually a “submariner,” which Lewis suggests is a word that attempts to make throwing underhand “sound manly.” It is Bradford’s unusual delivery that allows him to eventually play for the A’s.
From a young age, Bradford dreamed of being a pitcher, but few ever expected his dream to become a reality. His father, who suffered a stroke when Bradford was still a young man, would defy doctor's predictions that he would never walk again and go on to play catch with his son. When Bradford's father threw, he threw underhanded. In high school, Bradford’s coach suggested that he move his delivery from 12 o’clock to 2 o’clock, which improved Bradford’s speed. He made it to the minor leagues, playing for a White Sox farm team. However, the team never took him seriously, and Bradford eventually found himself pitching in a Calgary ballpark where the thin mountain air was perfect for hitters. Amazingly, Bradford was successful. Though he was called up to the majors to play, the White Sox soon sent him back down to Triple-A, where he would...
(The entire section is 595 words.)
Chapter 11 Summary
The eleventh chapter, “The Human Element,” finds the A’s streaking for their twentieth consecutive win. The Kansas City Royals are a weak team and would usually draw a small crowd, but tonight is a media sensation. Though Beane would rather go for a drive, he is talked into a media junket before the game. The A’s take an 11—0 lead early. Art Howe calls Chad Bradshaw in to close the game. However, Bradshaw is in the middle of a psychological slump. For the first time, he is the only one that doubts his talent, as opposed to the only one that believes in it. And he cannot get over it. Howe takes him out of the game before the inning is over, but by then the Royals have scored five runs.
Lewis finds himself watching the game on television with Billy Beane in Art Howe’s office. With his team ahead eleven runs, Beane allows himself to watch the game. Lewis explains that Beane, baseball's scientist, normally views watching the game as act that will make him subjective. All he needs are the cold, hard statistics. He watches his third baseman, Eric Chavez, bat and points out that his numbers suggest he will go on to play as well as Barry Bonds, Jason Giambi, and Alex Rodriquez. As the Athletics continue to give up their 11—0 lead, Beane begins to lose his objective stance. No longer the objective, serene scientist, Beane moves from irritation to anger to rage. Eventually, he leaves the office to pace around the clubhouse. As the Royals continue to score, Lewis begins to hear Beane throwing things around the clubhouse in his frustration. The game is tied at 11.
On the field, Howe calls upon Scott Hatteberg to pinch hit. Hatteberg is not expecting to play. He has had too much coffee and is carrying a bat he has never used before. Nevertheless, he enters the batter’s box determined not to swing at the first pitch. He is looking for a high pitch that he can hit for a double. Instead of a double, he hits it out of the park. He looks to the dugout as he rounds the bases and “by the time he touches home plate, he’s less man than boy.” The Athletics have just won twenty consecutive games, breaking the American League record. Within five minutes, Beane returns to Art Howe's office and was able to look him "in the eye and say that it was just another win."
(The entire section is 418 words.)
Chapter 12 Summary
The twelfth chapter, “The Speed of the Idea,” finds the Oakland Athletics in the first round of the playoffs against the Minnesota Twins. Although Beane has defied all expectations and led his low-payroll team into the playoffs, no one is prepared to acknowledge his accomplishments. Instead, the media criticizes his approach, arguing that the playoffs are different. In the playoffs, teams need to be aggressive. They need to “manufacture” runs rather than just avoid outs. In other words, they need to steal bases and make sacrifice bunts. Beane does his best to convince his coaches of the theory behind the A’s stats-based strategy.
However, the A’s end up losing to the Twins in five games. Beane tells Lewis that his theory "doesn’t work in the playoffs.” Paul goes on to explain that the sample size of a playoff series is too small for accurate measurement, but that actually the A’s produced on average more runs during the playoff series than they did during an average regular season game. Really, they lost because their pitcher played poorly, which could not have been foreseen. The playoffs are a “crapshoot,” and a cold, hard judgment of Beane's philosophy. Still, there are other teams that have begun to take note of Beane’s approach. The Toronto Blue Jays’ new owner refuses to just spend money on a team and goes searching for a new general manager. Every GM that he interviews says that he will compete with the Yankees if he is given a similar payroll. Beane and DePodesta both refuse the owner's offer, but the A's third-in-command, J.P. Ricciardi, accepts Toronto's offer.
When the new owner of the Boston Red Sox, John Henry, begins to “overhaul his franchise in the image of the Oakland A’s,” he hires Bill James as a consultant. He also offers Billy Beane $12.5 million to come in as general manager, which would make him the highest paid general manager ever. Beane agrees and begins thinking of all the moves that he can make. However, Beane finds that he cannot sign the contract and he turns the job down. He explains to the press that “I made one decision based on money in my life—when I signed with the Mets rather than go to Stanford—and I promised I’d never do it again.” Nevertheless, Henry’s offer validates Beane’s strategy, and it puts a dollar price on his ability as general manager. In other words, it shows that “for a brief moment, he was right and the world was wrong.”
(The entire section is 429 words.)