Stuff You Should Know: Moneyball

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This week, Moneyball will be released to unsuspecting pro-scouting department crowds across the nation (I’m assuming Brad Pitt fans HATE Sabermetrics).

Whether or not you like sabermetrics or even know what it is, “Moneyball” (the book) revolutionized baseball for this generation more than anything other than steroids and the World Baseball Classic (this is a joke. I can’t assume everyone reading this knows Chad Curtis’ career Wins Above Replacement Player. It’s 13.3, stay with me people). The film will likely draw more attention to the heated scouts vs. numbers debate as well as the fat vs. skinny Jonah Hill debate.

Moneyball is a movie that nearly didn’t get made, with three different writers and directors attached to it at one point or another (including a rewrite from Aaron Sorkin) after the original script which had interviews with real baseball players interspersed in it. But Brad Pitt refused to give up on it.

Now, hot on the heels of Scott Hatteberg becoming your favorite player, here’s stuff you should know about “Moneyball.”

“Moneyball” Wasn’t Written by Billy Beane

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Despite the best efforts of Hall-of-Famer Joe Morgan to erroneously attribute the book to Beane, it was written by Michael Lewis (pictured above), the same dude who wrote “The Blind Side.” It takes place during the 2002 A’s season, a year in which they won 103 games, including a 20 game win streak. Will they win the World Series? I won’t spoil it for you.

It’s Not All About On Base Percentage

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But it sorta is. The point of the book is how a small-market team needs to think creatively to win games, and for the A’s they did this by finding stats outside the traditional homers, RBIs and batting average to determine the value of a player. These unfamiliar statistics were used by sabermetricians (nerds) while the traditional stats were used by scouts (old dumb people).

It’s about new vs. old and the clash in how the game is understood. The A’s were trying to survive as a small market team by doing things like minimizing risk with the draft by selecting college players who had a greater chance of reaching the majors and by acquiring cheap players with good numbers who didn’t fit the usual way of looking at talent like Chad Bradford.

Brad Pitt is Way More Likable than Billy Beane

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In the book, Beane is sort of an egomaniac who can’t even watch the games because it’s too stressful for him. He once told the A’s manager where to stand during games. He would also do things like call the Mets and ask the secretary who the best-looking GM was (him).

Beane was a top prospect drafted by the Mets out of high school and was thought to be more advanced than Darryl Strawberry when drafted, so he started a level higher. Turns out he sort of sucked and became the perfect example of a player who scouts loved but red flags were visible when looking at the stats, although he bounced around the Majors for a while. In the book he’s divorced with a daughter, which is played up way more just in the movie trailer than it was in the book. Meanwhile, Brad Pitt is married to Angelina Jolie. There are few similarities.

Paul DePodesta Will Hate this Movie

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The A’s assistant GM is a Beane and sabermetric disciple. He didn’t give permission for his name to be used in the film so he’s referred to as Peter Brand, and it’s understandable since he’s played by Jonah Hill, who weights about 150 pounds more than him and is way more nerdy than a guy who had a baseball and football scholarship (granted, to Harvard).

In 2004, at age 31, DePodesta went on to become the GM of the Dodgers and was run out of town pretty, winning the division his first year and then finishing last his second. He was heavily criticized for being pro-stats by LA columnists. Originally his name was going to be used in the film and with Demetri Martin playing his role. Now DePodesta is the vice president of player development for the Mets.

A lot of the Guys Weren’t Very Good

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In the book, the A’s rave about Jeremy Brown, a fat catcher who didn’t look like he was going to be very good at doing anything athletic, but had a great on-base percentage. Turns out he wasn’t very good at doing anything athletic but had a great on-base percentage. He retired by 2008.

Scott Hatteberg has a huge role as well as a converted catcher with a solid on-base percentage trying to learn the impossible position of first base (this switch is made to seem like a huge deal. It’s not.) Before he signed with the A’s, he hurt a nerve in his elbow and was unable to even hold a baseball, so his underdog story is pretty true. It’s just that he wasn’t a great player by any stretch. Hatteberg was not much of a power hitter, one of the keys to being a first baseman, but did end up playing solid defense and got on base which the A’s are super into. Hatteberg is probably the dullest person to ever have a movie made with them as a starring character.

The A’s Weren’t Really Underdogs

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The A’s had just lost Jason Giambi, Johnny Damon, and Jason Isringhausen in the offseason and are made to be underdogs. Granted, losing some of their best players hurt the team, but they still had the rotation featuring Barry Zito, Mark Mulder and Tim Hudson and a payroll a little over what A-Rod makes in a season.

But the defending Wild Card winners who won 102 games in 2001 going on to win the division (and 103 games) wasn’t a complete shocker, especially since Gimabi presumably left some steroids around for Eric Chavez, Miguel Tejada and Jermaine Dye to chew on.

It Didn’t Work

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Sorta. It also worked brilliantly. It really depends on how you measure success. Soon other teams began using the same methods and Beane lost his big advantage over competitors. They still couldn’t afford to sign major free agents (they did spend $10 million for Ben Sheets to post a 4.53 ERA last year for them and spent $66 million over six years to be not very good and very hurt.) They continually had to trade away talent before losing them as free agents. Since reaching the ALCS in 2006, they haven’t made the playoffs. That said…

Billy Beane is a Great GM

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No one doubts Beane’s talent as a GM, but it appears playing in a market where no one cares about you doesn’t do much for supporting a good team. He made the playoffs five times in seven years, but it seems like now he might be looking for a chance to stop trying to outsmart the big-market teams, and join one. He’s been linked to a number of clubs, including the vacant Cubs GM job, which wouldn’t help with his goal of winning much.

The real question is…will the movie be a winner at the box office? Probably. But, like the A’s, I wouldn’t expect it to last past the second week.

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