Monday, 2 April 2012

Moneyball: aesthetic or effective?

I've just finished reading Moneyball by Michael Lewis, about how sabermetrics allowed the Oakland A's baseball team to compete on a limited budget. Two things in particular struck me reading it.

Firstly, that those paid to commentate on and analyse the game, whether they be journalists, managers or scouts and including lots of ex-players, know no more about how to win baseball games than fans watching from the stands or on TV. And indeed cannot know just by playing or watching the game. The only people who do know are Yale-educated computer nerds who spend their lives analysing the key baseball stats on their laptops as an alternative to working on Wall Street (and those journalists, managers, scouts and fans who read what they write).

Another, for me even more disturbing, thing is that sabermetrics emphasises getting on base and not getting out. That means no sacrifice flies or bunts - giving up an out to advance a runner or drive in a run - and no baserunning or base stealing.  As a fan of National League-style "smallball", I enjoy all those aspects of the game (sabermetrics also dismisses the need for expensive outfielders whose spectacular plays I similarly enjoy).

Lewis admits that playing baseball according to sabermetrics makes a team more effective but less aesthetically appealing. There's  a poignant scene where Oakland A's coach Ron Washington commiserates with second baseman Ray Durham about him not being allowed to express his talents for stretching a single into a double or stealing a base, recalling his own enjoyment of baserunning as a player.  I accept that the stats behind sabermetrics stack up but still think it would be a shame if baseball becomes less enjoyable to play and watch as a result.

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