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Has “Moneyball” Failed, Or Succeeded?

By Matthew Yglesias  

"Has “Moneyball” Failed, Or Succeeded?"

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I don’t really follow baseball in enough detail to know for sure if he’s wrong, but this Buzz Bissinger argument is wildly unconvincing:

Whatever happens in the National League and American League Championship series unfolding over the next week or so, one outcome has already been decided–the effective end of the theories of Moneyball as a viable way to build a playoff-caliber baseball team when you don’t have the money. That no doubt sounds like heresy to the millions who embraced Michael Lewis’s 2003 book, but all you need to do is keep in mind one number this postseason: 528,620,438. That’s the amount of money in payroll spent this season by the teams still in it–the New York Yankees, the Los Angeles Angels, the Philadelphia Phillies, and the Los Angeles Dodgers. Moneyball? You bet it’s Moneyball, true Moneyball, like it always has been in baseball and always will be.

Bissinger goes on to diss Billy Beane across various modalities. But my impression watching from afar is that recent developments in baseball largely vindicate Beane’s work. Obviously, having a bigger payroll to work with is helpful to a general manager. But for a while, detailed attention to statistical work allowed Beane to exploit massive market inefficiencies and put together high-quality, low-payroll teams. But then other people noticed. Michael Lewis wrote a bestselling book about it! So the insights spread, and there are fewer inefficiencies to take care of. If it had somehow been possible to copyright on base percentage and force everyone else to keep relying on batting average, that would have been nice for the early adopters. But it’s not, and the broad outlines of statistical analysis of baseball performance are now pretty widely understood.

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