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Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game

Moneyball cover
Book (with additional video)
Michael Lewis
Recommended by: Drew Erdmann, Former Chief Operating Officer, Office of the Governor
Additional Video
Title: Michael Lewis on 'Moneyball' and Wall Street
Date: April 23, 2012

1) What is your suggestion about?

Moneyball is a baseball book that tells a much bigger story. It is a story of how Oakland A’s General Manager Billy Beane challenged the “conventional wisdom” of baseball with new data and analyses, transformed how his organization competed, and changed how the game is played.

2) Why did you choose it? 

Moneyball is relevant to any leader in any organization. Lewis shows how a leader armed with new analyses and insights can overturn “conventional wisdom” to revolutionize how people understand good performance. That new understanding led to better results. I also love Michael Lewis’s storytelling. (By the way, even though I am proud to call one of the best baseball towns — St. Louis — my home, I confess I am not a huge baseball fan.)

3) What else do you want to tell us about it? 

Moneyball focuses on the Oakland Athletics’ 2002 season. The A’s couldn't compete with other teams in terms of payroll. They just didn't have the budget to buy big name talent like the New York Yankees could. They needed, therefore, to find a new way to win.

General Manager Billy Beane knew from his own disappointing career as a player that the traditional ways of picking baseball talent didn't always work. He had been a top high school prospect in the 1980's. He looked the part and that impressed the scouts, but he never panned out in the big leagues.

Beane, a baseball insider, eventually became a baseball revolutionary. He needed to find talent for the A’s that had been overlooked or undervalued in the traditional baseball market. So he recruited a team of outsiders — experts in mathematics, data analytics, the statistical analysis of baseball called ”sabermetrics” — to redefine what matters to win and how to find undervalued talent. Just one example, his analytics team concluded that how often players get on base (“on base percentage”) is a more meaningful statistic than their hitting percentage. After all, it doesn't matter if a player gets to first base by drawing a walk or hitting a single. 

In the face of fierce resistance by old timers, Beane led the A’s to adopt new data and analytic techniques that changed the way the game of baseball is understood, managed, and won. Many of the techniques Beane introduced with the A’s have since become standard practice with most major league teams, including the St. Louis Cardinals and Kansas City Royals. 

The 2011 movie version starring Brad Pitt, Jonah Hill, and Chris Pratt is fun too. 

Lastly, Michael Lewis is a master at telling clear, compelling, and often amusing stories of real people that also explain complicated things like Moneyball analytics. He also wrote The Undoing Project, The Blind Side, The Big Short, and Liar’s Poker, among other bestsellers. I read whatever he writes, whatever the topic. I always learn something new from him. 

4) What is a key takeaway for leaders driving improvement in how we deliver for the citizens of Missouri?

Too often in our work we rely upon “conventional wisdom” or “that is the way we have always done things here.” We all do this at some time. Moneyball shows how inherited ways of doing things can be misguided, and that facts and analysis can transform how we should manage the game. So I like to ask: What is the “Moneyball” that would improve our team or our organizations?

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  • Ryan Smith, Department of Economic Development
  • May 7, 2018 10:06 am
  • Great selection. I'm a big Michael Lewis fan. He has a newer book with similar themes as moneyball called the Undoing Project, which you've probably heard about. If you've already read moneyball and liked it, you might check this one out
  • Joshua Shewmaker, Department of Revenue
  • May 7, 2018 10:13 am
  • I have seen the movie, but i have not read the book. I loved the movie, and so i look forward to reading the book in the near future. Good Review!
  • Maida Coleman, Department of Economic Development
  • May 10, 2018 4:20 pm
  • "Moneyball" is indeed a great read. The book offers insights that open the mind to developing a myriad of concepts that are not only valuable in a business environment, but daily life also. It challenges the notion of doing things the "same old way" and instead encourages action. One of my favorite books. I recommend it wholeheartedly.