MoneyballBy: Sean Pidgeon
Some quick thoughts on Moneyball, which I saw for the first time Wednesday night.
• The real life baseball clips were great, especially the opening scene. It is never not a good thing to portray the Yankees as bad guys.
• Jonah Hill’s Peter Brand is almost a pitch perfect character. The awkwardness around Pitt’s Billy Beane and then the scouts is great. I liked the scene in the scouting room where Billy Beane asks Brand a question and Brand says, “You want me to answer?” and when Beane says yes, Brand says, “He gets on base.”
• And speaking of those scouts, the movie probably overdid its portrayal of those grizzled tobacco spitting men who look down on advanced stats. But the exaggeration was probably necessary to promote the sabermetric viewpoint to a mass audience with a lot of non-baseball fans.
• While Moneyball rightly highlighted small market Oakland’s money struggles through the loss of big name free agents Jason Giambi, Johnny Damon, and Jason Isringhausen, it skipped over good players still on the team like shortstop Miguel Tejada, the eventual 2002 AL MVP, and the superstar pitching rotation of Tim Hudson, Mark Mulder, and eventual 2002 Cy Young winner Barry Zito. I know those players were beside the point of Moneyball’s main thesis, but it probably wouldn’t have hurt to mention that Oakland had some pretty good players to begin with and Beane’s underrated additions like Scott Hatteberg, Chad Bradford, and David Justice helped their highly talented teammates reach the playoffs, instead of hinting that the sabermetric heroes were the major reason for Oakland’s success.
• I loved that Scott Hatteberg was played by Chris Pratt, who plays the hilariously goofy Andy Dwyer on Parks and Recreation, and I got chills when he hit that game winning homerun. But you could argue that stubborn manager Art Howe was right to ignore Beane and play Carlos Pena at first base over Hatteberg, since Pena did go on to become an All-Star, and has had the type of career Billy Beane would be proud of as a power hitter who walks and is wrongly looked down on by the anti-SABR traditionalists who obsess over batting average.
• I liked the scene where Beane and Brand are talking to the players and opening their eyes to how the new stats can help them. “No bunting.” “If they bunt, we throw it to first base and say thank you for the out.” If just one high school coach stops sacrifice bunting because of this scene, then Moneyball will be a success.
• The closing was poignant. The radio talking heads bashing Billy Beane after Oakland’s divisional series loss highlight how people will always resist new ways of thinking, using the tiniest failure as a trump card over vast evidence of success, as if a five game series playoff loss is a better measure than 162 games of regular season greatness.
• One message I hope people don’t take away is the (false) idea that Moneyball is just about getting fat players who walk a lot but can’t field. Moneyball is about exploiting market inefficiencies. Great players like the 2002 version of Jason Giambi will always be in demand; that’s why rich teams like the Yankees will overpay and poor teams like the A’s will let him leave thru free agency. But at the time, flawed players who got on base a lot were undervalued. Someone like Scott Hatteberg could provide a few million dollars worth of value for $900,000. Now, everyone values on base percentage, so the smart teams, the new Moneyball teams, are teams like the Tampa Bay Rays, who realized that defense was undervalued and put together playoff teams in 2008, 2010, and 2011. Moneyball is about teams finding undervalued players and getting more production than they paid for.