Friday, October 28, 2011

Moneyball, a Hit

The Oakland Athletics were at the very bottom of Major League Baseball's salary scale and General Manager Billy Beane had to figure out a way to put a competitive product on the field given the organization's financial constraints. Beane implements a radical system of evaluating the talents of ballplayers that had been developed by the research of Bill James and statisticians to develop a roster.  Beane, played by Brad Pitt, was once a can't miss high school baseball star believed to be destined for greatness. He was drafted in the first round by the New York Mets in the 1980 draft after turning down a scholarship to Stanford University.  Billy was said to be a Five-Tool player that made baseball scouts drool. After many years toiling between the major and minor leagues Billy's career ended in 1989 never having lived up to the hype.

Moneyball, based on Michael Lewis' best seller of the same name, begins after the A’s successful 2001 season that ended in an ALDS defeat to the Yankees. The A's faced a problem; stars Jason Giambi and Jason Isringhausen were free agents that the A's could not afford to keep and Beane had a lot of work to do in order to field a winning team. Enter Peter Brand (Paul DePodesta in real life), a young Harvard educated economist played by Jonah Hill who was hired away from the Cleveland Indians to be Beane's top assistant. Brand brought his expertise of sabermetrics to the A's organization and applied new methods of assessing a ballplayer’s value to a team. Instead of focusing on traditional statistics like batting average and RBI, sabermetrics emphasizes on-base and slugging percentage.  Beane and his assistant were able to cobble together a lineup consisting of bargain basement retreads and young prospects to take the American League by storm. Conflicts arise between Billy, his scouting department and A's manager Art Howe, played by Philip Seymour Hoffman. Billy also deals with interpersonal conflicts throughout; his failure as a ballplayer and life as a divorced father. The movie goes on to capture the magical run that the A's made during the 2002 season and concludes with Billy's courtship by the Boston Red Sox.

Having read the book I was a little skeptical of a movie being made about baseball statistics, however I was pleasantly surprised and enjoyed the movie.  The movie was cast well as Brad Pitt and Jonah Hill were excellent in their roles. Art Howe was furious with Hoffman's portrayal of a clueless boob of a manager that was just along for the ride, but the role added to the against the odds theme.  The film does not go into great depth of the origination of sabermetrics and the different tools that are used to evaluate players and did not mention the 2002 draft which was a major topic of the book.  The film also focused on Beane’s relationship with his daughter which is hardly revealed if at all in Lewis’ book.  Perhaps the director wanted to give Billy more human qualities.  Criticisms I have read are that the A’s never won a World Series and the book/movie ignore the importance of the A’s terrific trio of starting pitchers Barry Zito, Mark Mulder, and Tim Hudson to the success of the team, which is true.  The point is, despite the huge salary disparity the A’s were able to have great success and found a formula that ended up changing the game of baseball.  As a Pirate fan I only wish that management had the same foresight and ingenuity to create a winning team.  I highly recommend this movie; one does not have to be a big fan of baseball to enjoy.  The Blast Furnace gives this picture 5/6 irons.


  1. Pills said...

    I agree with the review and did not read the book. I thought it was a very good story and introduced new ways to look at baseball statistics. I just don't really see how this strategy of evaluating players 'changed' baseball. I think it more 'changed' the way people determine how good a player is aside from the 5 tools, changed fantasy baseball, and gave stat enthusiasts more to discuss, however, money still dominates baseball which is why I am assuming the title is 'Moneyball'. Even new ideas can not overcome money and this movie proved that point - so in my mind baseball really wasn't changed. With that being said, it was a very good movie and I enjoyed it a lot.

  2. I'm not the biggest baseball fan, but I really enjoyed Moneyball. Very interesting sports story. I'm thinking about reading the book.