The Art of Winning an Unfair Game (2003)
by Michael Lewis (1960-)
This is a fascinating book about an aspect of baseball that had escaped my notice.
Sabremetrics is an approach to analyzing the statistics of the performance of baseball players, to determine the most important contributions to winning. Though the effort started in the 1970s (or earlier), it was not used successfully by baseball insiders until Billy Beane became general manager of the Oakland A’s. With one of the smallest payrolls in baseball, the A’s have won more games than nearly all of the teams with much larger payrolls.
The book is based on a season’s inside view granted by the A’s to Lewis, apparently to ensure a more widespread appreciation for their success and the methods they’ve used. Since that success depends on the ignorance of others, it’s a little hard to understand why they cooperated with the book. I suppose the answer is pride. At the end of the book, Beane nearly accepts the GM position in Boston, but eventually stays at Oakland. It seems he was tempted to move as a way to prove to himself that his worth was recognized; once the offer was made, he seems to have been satisfied. Still, he might have wanted a little more widespread recognition, and perhaps to rub the noses of other managers in their lack of success using the old ways.
The term ‘sabremetrics’ comes from the Society for American Baseball Research, and follows the approach of Bill James. As a result of reading this book, I have started looking into James’s work. It gives another way of looking at baseball, and of analyzing the potential of minor leaguers. Maybe it can be applied at local games.