“Moneyball asks us to root for a team whose management saw every player not as a person capable of greatness but as a set of stats to be fed into an algorithm. If you’ve just lost your job as a result of some digital innovation, this is probably not the movie to cheer you up.”
Still, it’s a damn entertaining movie, and anyhow econ majors need to eat, too. (Nate Silver, now of FiveThirtyEight political-stats fame, is a poster boy for number crunchers who got their start in baseball.)
Aaron Sorkin wrote the script, and with Social Network and now Moneyball, he’s gotten quite good at explaining how the geeks are winning the future.
And yet, the Oakland A’s are currently closing in on five straight non-winning seasons. There are plenty of theories—the Coliseum’s sheer ugliness impedes player performance, stats can’t predict injuries—but the most compelling for my money is just that: money. Sabremetrics + “good old fashioned money-muscle” = wins. Once the formula behind the A’s incredible 2002 season was essentially open-sourced by Michael Lewis’s book, big money teams got with the program, and the A’s again found themselves in the same cash-poor position as the start of that very season, when they’d just lost Johnny Damon to a $31 million-dollar Red Sox contract and Jason Giambi to the Yankees for $121 million. Meanwhile someone finally hired Bill James, the father of sabremetrics (to be fair, the Red Sox did try to bring Billy Beane on, first, but he turned them down to stay in Oakland), and you can see a straight line from the 2002 A’s to the 2004 Red Sox, when another team of misfit players spectacularly beat the odds by studying them.—Tasneem Raja