SB Nation is running a campaign to promote the release of the Moneyball movie (in theaters September 23). Rob Neyer called Moneyball "the single most influential baseball book ever." I'm not about to argue with Rob Neyer, though I don't think there would have been a Moneyball without Bill James Baseball Abstracts, but Neyer's point is that no one, back in the day, in the baseball industry read Bill James books, while everybody (except for Joe Morgan) read Moneyball.
I am a huge fan of Aaron Sorkin's writing and loved the book so I'm interested to see the movie.
The idea of the book was that the only way for small market teams to compete is to find inefficiencies in the market for baseball players. Basically, if you and I are competing and you can spend 5 times as much on players as I can, if we both do things the same way, you are going to win every time. So I have to find players that you undervalue.
What Billy Beane did was realize, back then, that teams undervalued players with high on base percentages. So he went after players that got on base a lot. It wasn't quite that simple and, of course he did other things. The book came out and suddenly every team wanted players that walked a lot. Their value went up. So Beane, and other small market teams, have to search for the next type of player that is undervalued.
With or without the book, teams would have copied some of what Beane was doing. Baseball always copies success. Back in the 80's, Whitey Herzog won with a team of base stealers. He had artificial turf, he had a big park, speed worked to cover the large space in the outfield and it moved base runners in a park where you didn't get many home runs. Lots of teams copied him. Even George Steinbrenner traded sluggers for speedsters. Not that it helped the Yankees, playing in a smaller stadium with real grass.
In baseball, like most industries, success gets copied. In the movie industry, a superhero movie does well, we get 50 superhero movies. In music, a sexy female singer sells a couple of million discs, we are suddenly up to our armpits in female singers who look good.
The point of Moneyball wasn't 'the way to win is to sign slow, fat guys'. It was that to compete with less money you have to go about it differently. It seemed pretty straight forward to me, but it did cause a lot of controversy, especially from folks that didn't bother to read the book.
Since half the teams in baseball hired guys that worked with Beane and the other half copied him, OBP isn't a market inefficiency anymore. Teams have to look for the next thing.
If Michael Lewis were to write Moneyball 2 about Alex Anthopoulos, I'd bet he would write about how Alex picks up talented players who fall out of favor with their team's management and therefore are available cheap. Not all those trades will work. Sometimes guys fall out of favor with their teams for very good reasons. I'd suggest that Yunel Escobar, Brett Lawrie, Colby Rasmus and Brandon Morrow are our Moneyball players.
Yunel Escobar: Alex picked up Yunel for pennies on the dollar. We got Yunel for Alex Gonzalez and 2 middling prospects Tim Collins and Tyler Pastornicky. Gonzalez had a good half season for us, then went back to being that player he always had been. It is possible that Collins could turn out to be an good reliever. This year, he's walked 47 in 63.2 for the Royals, but he is just 21. Pastornicky is a prospect that I have a lot of affection for, but, at best he'll be a fairly average player. The only reason we got Yunel so cheap, is because Bobby Cox (and some key Brave veterans) didn't like him. After watching him play for a season and a half, I still cannot figure out why. But I'm not complaining.
Colby Rasmus: I can't believe we got him for 3 middle relievers and a pitching prospect. I love Scrabble and Frasor. Octavio Dotel was useful and Zach Stewart might become a good starter, but but it is a great trade for the Jays. And we only could get him that cheaply, because Tony LaRussa had some personality conflict with him. Now I get that Colby's personality is, how to put it, an acquired taste, but if I was running the Cardinals and LaRussa couldn't get along with Colby, I'd fire LaRussa.
Brett Lawrie: Brett for Shawn Marcum is a far more even trade but we wouldn't have been able to get Lawrie if it wasn't for the 'attitude problems' the Brewers felt he had. I'd like every player to have his attitude, but that isn't what the Brewers thought and so he was available to us. I like Marcum and I'm sure the Brewers won't regret the trade, at least for a few years.
Brandon Morrow: The jury is still out on Morrow, but still, it is a trade you would have to make. League is a good reliever, we knew that when we traded him. Johermyn Chavez might turn out to be good. He had a poor season at Jackson in Double-A, hitting .216/.312/.360 this year. But then lots of prospects have trouble with Double-A in their first try at it. Morrow was the 5th pick in the 2006 draft, he got rushed through the minors and the Mariners couldn't decide what to do with him, so they were willing to trade him.
I'm sure there are other 'inefficiencies' that Alex tries to exploit. Gathering up as many potential Type A and B free agents as he can get his hands on, so that he has plenty of draw picks is one.