Daily Archives: Oct. 27, 2011

Moneyball

Went to see “Moneyball” last night, finally. Being a baseball guy, I’m ashamed it took me so long.

I judge sports movies a lot on their authenticity. Do the people in the film look like athletes? Do they perform like athletes? When an actor or his stand-in swing a bat, do they look like plausible big leaguers.

The real Billy Beane, general manager of the Oakland Athletics.

“Moneyball” passed the test for me on that level. And the producers and director obviously paid great attention to the historical detail. Good stuff.

The movie, of course, is about baseball’s change, more than a decade ago now, to a more computer-based, analytical way of identifying talent. A lot of clubs use that style now to help with drafting players, making trades and deciding on what potential free agents they will or won’t pursue.

The movie cast old-school scouts – scouts who relied on stopwatches and intuition – as generally out of touch. One of those scouts, Grady Fuson, nearly came to blows with Brad Pitt’s character, Oakland Athletics general manager Billy Beane, in one of the movie’s scenes. Fuson was fired after cussing out Beane.

Interestingly, Fuson rejoined Beane and the Athletics as a special assistant to the general manager a couple of years ago.

I’m torn on the whole Moneyball premise. I think it’s probably valuable to break down a player’s worth by analyzing statistics. But I’m not sure the game needs spreadsheets as much as it needs good, solid players who understand how to play the game. And is it easier to find players like that with a computer or with a scout’s feel for the game?

A lot of teams use a combination of both, which is probably the right way to go about it. The Oakland A’s, even, didn’t close down the scouting department during the Moneyball era.

Statistical analysis can be comprehensive and, I suspect, tell general managers and scouting supervisors anything they want to hear. It’s based on a runs-produced theory and emphasizes on-base percentage. Taking pitches, working counts and drawing walks is an important factor in the Moneyball premise.

But didn’t most of the good players already know that?

The whiz kid of the movie was Peter Brand, played by Jonah Hill. Peter Brand is really Paul DePodesta, currently vice president of player personnel and scouting with the New York Mets. DePodesta didn’t want any part of the movie; thus his name was changed. He was formerly general manager of the Los Angeles Dodgers.

The movie was centered around Beane, but also about Beane’s relationship with DePodesta (Brand), who assumed a great amount of power immediately after leaving the Cleveland Indians to join Beane in Oakland.

At one point, Beane was offered a $12.5 million contract to leave Oakland for the Boston Red Sox, but he ultimately turned down that opportunity to remain near his young daughter in Oakland.

The book on which the movie was based was released in 2003, in the midst of an incredible Oakland run. Although the Athletics have not made it to a World Series since Beane became GM in 1998, they did make the playoffs in 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003 and 2006. From 2001 through 2003, Oakland won 102, 103 and 96 games, respectively.

Beane’s star has faded of late, though. The Athletics haven’t been a contender since ’06 and are 47 games below .500 since the 2007 season. It’s been a strange dry spell for a general manager who cornered the market on the ability to be successful without the financial resources of big-market teams.

Portrayed in the movie as ultra-competitive, I wonder how Beane is handling mediocrity?

Good movie. Glad I finally got to see it.