Michael (Michael M.) Lewis.

Moneyball : the art of winning an unfair game online

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the A's several times already this season. Hatteberg had been in
the lineup just once. Hatty has been a subplot in a running dispute
between the front office and Art Howe. The front office want Hat-
teberg in the lineup all the time. Art Howe wants to do the usual
thing, and keep lefties out of the lineup against lefties. The last
two times the A's faced Moyer, Hatteberg hadn't been in the
lineup. Moyer had shut out the A's both times, and given up a
grand total of six hits. Now the front office were having their way.
(The surprising thing is how long it took.) All this Hatteberg
knows. He doesn't say it, but he wants badly to prove his manager
wrong and his front office right.

He watches Jamie Moyer pitch against a series of left-handed
hitters. Moyer's under six feet tall and narrow-shouldered, with
the demeanor of a chartered accountant. When his fastball regis-
ters 82 miles per hour on the radar gun, he's having a good day.
"I've faced guys who threw harder in high school," says Hatteberg.
"This guy wouldn't get drafted. He could go out and try out for a
team right now and if they didn't know who he was he wouldn't
get signed."

That one of the best pitchers in the big leagues couldn't get
beyond a tryout tells you something about the big leagues. It also
tells you something about pitchers. A good pitcher, Hatteberg
explained, creates a kind of parallel universe. It doesn't matter
how hard he throws, in absolute terms, so long as he is able to dis-
tort the perception of the hitters. The reactions of the hitters on
the tape reveal that when Moyer is on the mound, the batter's box
feels like the Twilight Zone. We watch as Moyer renders the Yan-
kees outfielder, John Vander Wal, helpless. He actually jams him
with a fastball — that is, Vander Wal is unable to get his bat around
quickly enough to hit it squarely.

"You know how many times Moyer jams guys with an eighty-
mile-an-hour fastball?" says Hatteberg. "All the time. It's because
he sets it up with a sixty-nine-mile-an-hour change-up." He fast-


forwards to a slow curve, and an even slower change-up. "See," he
says, "All this other shit is what makes his fasthall look like
ninety-four." He watches Moyer jam two more left-handed hitters
with S2-mph fastballs and says, "He'll do this to me, too. If he gets
two strikes on mc, he'll try to get mc pitching mc inside." Then
he reconsiders, and smiles, and says, "Unless he thinks I'm look-
ing inside."

Moyer was one of the few pitchers in baseball who would think
about Scott Hatteberg as much as Hatteberg thought about him.
Moyer would know that Hatteberg never swung at the first
pitch — except to keep a pitcher honest — and so Moyer might just
throw a first-pitch strike. Rut Moyer would also know that Hatte-
berg knew that Moyer knew. Which brought Hatteberg back to
square one.

He was knee-deep in game theory, and he had only an hour
before he had to play the game. One of the big reasons he watched
tape was to see if a pitcher "patterned himself" — that is, if you
could count on seeing a certain pitch from him in a certain count.
Moyer scrambled his pitches so thoroughly that looking for pat-
terns was a waste of time. Moyer he watched just to imagine how
it might go.

Then John Mabry walked into the video room.

"Hey, Hatty."

Hatty makes room for Mabry at the video screen. Hatty glances
back at Feiny and says "1 understand there's been some lipreading
going on in here."

"Oh yeah'" says Mabry.

Feiny reddens and Mabry smiles — sort of. Mabry and Feiny
have something like a running argument going, about why Mabry
doesn't play more. Right after he came over from the Phillies, in
exchange for Jeremy Giambi, Mabry had been torrid. Over the
course of several weeks, playing irregularly, he'd hit over .400,
with half a dozen homers, and still the manager seemed reluctant
to write his name in the lineup. He'd asked Feiny why. The man-


ager won't put him in the lineup, Feiny has explained, because the
front office don't want him in the lineup.

What bothered Billy Beane about Mabry's approach to hitting
was that it was the opposite of Scott Hatteberg's. When Mabry
stepped into a batter's box, he intended to swing from the heels at
the first pitch that looked tasty. Mabry made an enthusiastic case
that a pinch hitter, to succeed, needs to be wildly aggressive, but
it's not a case Billy cares to hear. Billy, for reasons he refuses to
explain, is willing to have John Mabry in an A's uniform but he
doesn't want to go so far as to let Mabry play. When Art Howe put
Mabry in a few games, to give other guys a rest, and Mabry had
started hitting homers, both Billy and Paul reacted as if they had
walked into the casino, stuck a quarter into a slot machine, and
hit the jackpot. They'd gotten lucky,- it was now time to leave
with their winnings. "Mabry's a great guy," Billy had said the
other night, "but sooner or later Tattoo's going to show up and
take him off the island."

A few days earlier Mabry had complained to Feiny about his
lack of playing time, and Feiny had tried to help him out. "You
know, John," he'd said, "maybe you want to try taking a few

That night Mabry had played — with Feiny's voice in his head.
The first time he came to the plate he took the first five pitches
he saw — till the count was full: 3-2. The next pitch he took a giant
hack at, and struck out. The television camera read his lips as he
walked back to the dugout. "Fucking Feinstein," he said. Mabry
wound up walking twice and one of those walks led to a run that
won the game; still, it was unclear whether he had forgiven
Feiny — or even if he thought Feiny needed forgiving.

Mabry, too, is playing tonight. He sees the tape of Moyer, and
wants to discuss him.

"This guy is hard to prepare for," Mabry says. "He chews up
young guys because he feeds on their aggression."

"He's just so different from everyone else," says Hatty. "You're


gauged for harder speeds. You almost have to remember your old
high sehool swing."

"He preys on your aggression," says Mabry, making whatever
Moyer does sound slightly vampirish. "He makes you thmk you
can hit pitches you can't even reach."

"It It's not a strike, how hard it is to lay off?" asks Feiny. He's
still staring into his own screen, watching Alex Rodriguez at bat.

"Oh, it's hard," says Mabry. On the screen Moyer doesn't seem
to be pitching so much as tossing. I've seen less arc on ceremonial
first pitches.

"Just lay off the bad pitches, John," says Feiny teasingly.

"Feiny," says Mabry testily. "You ever been in a major league
batter's box?"

Feiny doesn't answer.

"I'm telling you," says Mabry, turning back. He points to the
screen, on which Moyer tosses another cream puff. "You see that
coming at you and it looks like you can hit it three miles."

"So iust don't swing, John," says Feiny.

"Yeah," says Mabry, turning around again to glare at Feiny.
"Well, the time you don't swing is the time he throws you three

"He IS a really smart guy," agrees Hatty, looking to settle the
dispute. "He's tough to plan for."

But Mabry is still staring at Feiny, who is refusing to stare back.
"Feiny, have you ever faced a major league pitcher?"

"No, John," says Feiny, wearily, "I've never faced a major league

"1 didn't thmk so," says Mabry. "I didn't thmk Feiny had ever
faced a major league pitcher."

That looked as it it might he a conversation-stopper. Then
David Justice walks m. He sees that they've been watching the
tape of Moyer and knows instantly what they're arguing about.
They're arguing about the price of greed m the batter's box. Your
only hope against a pitcher with Moyer's command ol the strike


zone, Justice says, is to give up on the idea that you are going to
get rich and satisfy yourself with just making a Uving. "You think
you can hit it out," says Justice, "but you can't hit it at all."

"Exactly," says Mabry.

"Which is why you don't swing at it," says Feiny.

Mabry just gets up and leaves. When he's gone, Hatteberg con-
siders why everyone doesn't prepare for Jamie Moyer as he does —
by watching tape, imagining what will happen, deciding what to
look for, deciding what he will never swing at. "Some of the guys
who are the best are the dumbest," he says. "I don't mean dumb-
est. I mean they don't have a thought. No system."

Stupidity is an asset?

"Absolutely. Guys can't set you up. You have no pattern. You
can't even remember your last at bat." He laughs. "Arrogance is
an asset, too. Stupidity and arrogance: I don't have either one. And
it taunts me."

He soon needs to stop thinking about playing and actually play.
During the game he's as finicky as ever. He waits for pitches like
a man picking through an apple bin at a grocery store, looking for
the ripest. The first time up, the fruit's no good. He just stares at
the first four pitches, all millimeters off the plate, and walks down
to first base. His second time up, Moyer throws strikes. Hatteberg
watches the first go by, and fouls off the second. With two strikes
he thought Moyer would pitch him inside, and he does. He lines
it into right field for a single, and knocks in what would prove to
be the only run of the game. The third at bat he hits a shot to deep
left that looked gone for a moment but wound up being caught on
the warning track.

But none of those first three at bats stuck in Hatty's mind like
the fourth. The fourth and final time he came to the plate, Moyer
teased him with pitches on the edge of the strike zone and quickly
got ahead 0-2. The next four pitches were either balls Hatty took
or strikes he fouled off, because he couldn't do anything more
with them. Six pitches into the at bat, with the count 2-2, Jamie


Moyer walks oft the mound. He actually says somcihini; lo I latty,
and stands there, as if waiting for an answer.

This is new. Hatty's at hats, inevitahly, are conversations, hut
the non-verhal kuid. The pitcher isn't supposed to stop in the mid-
dle of the game for a sociahle chat. "I'd never had a pitcher talk to
me while I was in the batter's box," he says. With Moyer just
standing there, refusing to budge, Hatteberg steps out of the box:
"What?" he shouts.

"lust tell me what you want," says Moyer wearily.

Hatty shrugs, as he doesn't know what to say.

"Tell me what you want and I'll throw it," says Moyer.

Hatty was always having to make a guess about what was com-
ing next. His ability to do it depended on his knowing that the
pitcher was trying to fool him. This more straightforward
approach made him uneasy. It screwed up some inner calculation,
threw him ott-halance. He didn't feel comfortable. For once, he
couldn't think of anything to say. And so he didn't say anything.
He didn't want to know. He preferred to stick with his approach.

On the next pitch Moyer throws a change-up and Hatteberg hits
right back at him. lust another out — and yet it wasn't. He did what
he did so quietly that the market in general never perceived the
value in it. Scott Hatteberg will finish the season at or near the top
of a couple of odd statistical categories, and one not-so-odd one.
He'll be first m the entire American League in not swinging at first
pitches, and third in the percentage of pitches he doesn't swing at
(64.5 percent). Trivial accomplishments, if they did not lead to
another, less trivial one. At the end of the season Paul DePodesta
will measure the performance of every A's hitter. He'll want to
know how efficient each hns been with liis plate opportunities.
He'll answer that question in an unorthodox way, by asking; how
many runs would a lineup produce that consisted of nine perfect
replicas of that hitteri' If Scott Hatteberg, for example, had taken
every single at bat for the Oakland A's in 2002, how many runs
would he have generated? Nine Scott Hattehergs generate


between 940 and 950 runs, tied for the Oakland A's lead with
Miguel Tejada and Eric Chavez, obviously much flashier hitters.
The offensively explosive 2002 New York Yankees, by compari-
son, scored 897 runs. Nine Scott Hattebergs are, by some measure,
the best offense in baseball.


Chapter 9

It's not like I'm making pitching changes
during the game.
-Billy Beanc, quoted in the Boston Herald, January 16, 2003

IT WAS LATE lULY, which is to say that Mike Magnante had
picked a had time to pitch poorly. "Mags," as everyone called
hmi, had come in against Cleveland in the top of the seventh
with two runners on and a three-run lead. The first thing he did
was to walk Jim Thome — no one could hlame him for that. He
then gave up a hloop single to Milton Bradley and the inherited
runners scored — just plain bad luck, that. But then he threw three
straight halls to Lee Stevens. Stevens dutifully took a strike, then
waited for Mags to throw his fifth pitch.

The first question Billy Beane will ask Art Howe after the game
is why the fuck he'd brought Magnante into a tight game. In tight
situations Art was supposed to use Chad Bradford. Bradford was
the ace of the pen. So that it would be clear in Art's head, Billy had
instructed him to think of Bradford as "the closer before the ninth
inning." Art's first answer about Magnante was thai lie thought
Mags, the lefty, would be more effective than Bradford, the righty,
against a Ictt-handed slugger like Thome. Which is nuts, since



Mags hasn't gotten anyone out in weeks and Bradford has been
good against lefties. Art's second answer is that Billy put Mags on
the team, and if a guy is on the team, you need to use him. Art
won't say this directly to Billy but he'll think it. The coaching
staff had grown tired of hearing Billy holler at them for using Mag-
nante. "The guy has got braces on both legs," says pitching coach
Rick Peterson. "We're not going to use him as a pinch runner. If
you don't want us to use him, trade him."

Mike Magnante goes into his stretch and looks in for the signal.
He just last month turned thirty-seven, and is four days shy of the
ten full years of big league service he needs to collect a full pen-
sion. It's not hard to see what's wrong with him, to discern the
defect that makes him available to the Oakland As. He is pear-
shaped and slack-jawed and looks less like a professional baseball
player than most of the beat reporters who cover the team. But he
has a reason to hope: his history of pitching better in the second
half than the first. The team opened the season with three lefties
in the bullpen, which is two more than most clubs carried. A
month ago they'd released one, Mike Holtz, and two days ago sent
down the other, Mike Venafro. The story Mike Magnante told
himself on the eve of July 29, 2002, was that he hadn't pitched
often enough to find his rhythm. He'd go a week when he made
only three pitches in a game. With the other Mikes gone, he
finally had his chance to find his rhythm.

He makes an almost perfect pitch to Lee Stevens, a fastball low
and away. The catcher is set up low and outside. When you saw
the replay, you understood that he'd hit his spot. If he'd missed, it
was only by half an inch. It's the pitch Mike Magnante wanted to
make. Good pitch, bad count. The ball catches the fat part of the
bat. It rises and rises and the two runners on base begin to circle
ahead of the hitter. Mags can only stand and watch: an opposite
field shot at night in Oakland is a rare, impressive sight. It is Lee
Stevens's first home run as a Cleveland Indian. By the time the
ball lands, the first and third basemen are closing in on the mound


like bailiffs, and Art Howe is on the top ot the dugout steps. He's
given up five runs and gotten nobody out. It wasn't the first time
that he'd been knocked out of the game, but it wasn't often he'd
been knocked out on his pitch. That's what happens when you're
thirty-seven years old: you do the things you always did but the
result is somehow different.

The game is effectively over. Chad Bradford will come on and
get three quick outs, too late. The Indians' own left-handed relief
pitcher, Ricardo Rincon, strikes out David lustice on three pitches
and gets Eric Chavez to pop out on four. The contrast cast Mags in
unflattering light. The A's had the weakest left-handed relief
pitching in the league and the Indians had some of the strongest.
To see the difference, Billy Beane didn't even need to watch the

XIavinc. iust finished an enthusiastic impersonation of a base-
ball owner pretending to be a farm animal receiving a beating,
Billy Beane rose back into his desk chair and waited, impatiently,
for Mark Shapiro to call. Mark Shapiro was the general manager of
the Cleveland Indians.

When Billy sat upright in his office, a few yards from the Coli-
seum, he faced a wall covered entirely by a white board and, on it,
the names of the several hundred players controlled by the Oak-
land A's. Mike Magnante's name was on that board. Swiveling
around to his rear he faced another white board with the names of
the nearly twelve hundred players on other major league rosters.
Ricardo Rincon's name was on that board. At this point in the year
Billy didn't really need to look at these boards to make connec-
tions; he knew every player on other teams that he wanted, and
every player in his own system that he didn't want. The trick was
to persuade other teams to buy his guys for more than they were
worth, and sell their guys tor less than they were wortii. He'd done
this so effectively the past few years that he was finding other


teams less eager to do business with him. The Cleveland Indians
were not yet one of those teams.

Waiting for Shapiro to call him, Billy distracted himself by pay-
ing attention to several things at once. On his desk was the most
recent issue of Harvard Magazine, containing an article about a
Harvard professor of statistics named Carl Morris (the Bill James
fan). The article explained how Morris had used statistical theory
to determine the number of runs a team could expect to score in
the different states of a baseball game. No outs with no one on
base: 55. No outs with a runner on first base: 90. And so on for
each of the twenty-four possible states of a baseball game. "We
knew this three years ago/' says Billy, "and Harvard thinks it's

He shoves a wad of tobacco into his upper lip, then turns back
to his computer screen, which displays the Amazon.com home
page. In his hand he's got a review he's ripped out of Time maga-
zine, of a novel called The Dream of Scipio, a thriller with intel-
lectual pretension. He reads the sentence of the review that has
made him a buyer: "Civilization had made them men of learning,
but in order to save it they must leave their studies and become
men of action." As he taps on his computer keyboard, the televi-
sion over his head replays Mike Magnante's home run ball of the
night before. The Oakland A's announcers are trying to explain
why the Oakland A's are still behind the Anaheim Angels and the
Seattle Mariners in the division standings. "The main reason this
team is trailing in the American League West," an announcer says,
"is that they haven't hit in the clutch, they haven't hit with guys
in scoring position." Billy drops the book review, forgets about
Amazon, and reaches for the TV remote control. Of the many false
beliefs peddled by the TV announcers, this fealty to "clutch hit-
ting" was maybe the most maddening to Billy Beane. "It's fucking
luck," he says, and faces around the dial until he finds Moneyline
with Lou Dobbs. He prefers watching money shows to watching
baseball anyway.


On the eve of the trading deadline, luly .^0, he was still pursu-
ing two players, and one of them is the Cleveland Indians' left-
hander, Ricardo Rincon. At that very moment, Rincon is still just
a few yards away, inside the visitor's locker room, dressing to play
the second game ot the three-game series against the Oakland A's.
The night hefore, he'd only thrown seven pitches. His arm, no
doLiln, telt good. 1 he Cleveland Indians have given up any hope of
winning this year, and are now busy selling off their parts. "The
premier left-handed setup man is just a luxury we can't afford,"
said Indians' GM Shapiro. Shapiro has shopped Rincon around the
league and told Billy that there is at least one other bidder. Billy
has found out — he won't say how — that the other bidder is the San
Francisco Giants and that the Giants' offer may be better than his.
All Billy has offered the Indians is a minor league second baseman
named Marshall MacDougal. MacDougal isn't that bad a player.

Anyone seeking to understand how this team with no money
kept winning more and more games would do well to notice their
phenomenal ability to improve in the middle of a season. Ever
since 1999 the Oakland A's have played like a different team after
the All-Star break than before it. Last year they had been almost
bizarrely better: 44-43 before the break, S8-I7 after it. Since the
All-Star Game was created, in 1933, no other team had ever won
so many ot its final seventy-five games.*

The reason the Oakland A's, as run by Billy Beane, played as if
they were a different team in the second half of the season is that
they were a different team. As spring turned to summer the mar-
ket allowed Billy to do things that he could do at no other time ot
the year. The bad teams lost hope. With the loss ot hope came a

• Tom Ruanc, a researcher associated with Retroshcet, which had evolved from
Bill lames's Project Scoresheet, offers this calculation: the only team since 1961
with a better second-half record over a four-year stretch than the Oakland A's in
1999-2002 were the 1991-94 Atlanta Braves, and no team over a four-year stretch
has improved itself in midseason by so much.


desire to cut costs. With the desire to cut costs came the dumping
of players. As the supply of players rose, their prices fell. By mid-
summer, Billy Beane was able to acquire players he could never
have afforded at the start of the season. By the middle of June, six
weeks before the trading deadline, he was walking into Paul
DePodesta's office across the hall from his own and saying, "This
is the time to make a fucking A trade." When asked what was
meant by a "Fucking A trade," he said, "A Fucking A trade is one
that causes everyone else in the business to say Tucking A.'"

By late July — the trade deadline was July 31 — Billy's antennae
for bargains quivered. Shopping for players just before the deadline
was like shopping for used designer dresses on the day after the
Oscars, or for secondhand engagement rings in Reno. His goal at
the start of the season had been to build a team good enough to
remain in contention until the end of June. On July 1, the Ameri-
can League West standings looked like this:



Games Behind
















Fiaving kept the team close enough to hope, Billy could now go
out and shop for whatever else he needed to get to the play-offs.
When he set off on this shopping spree, he kept in mind five sim-
ple rules:

1. "No matter how successful you are, change is always good.
There can never be a status quo. When you have no money you
can't afford long-term solutions, only short-term ones. You
have to always be upgrading. Otherwise you're fucked."

2. "The day you say you have to do something, you're screwed.
Because you are going to make a bad deal. You can always


recover from the player you didn't sign. You may never recover
from the phiycr you signed at the wrong price."

3. "Know exactly what every player in baseball is worth to you.
You can put a dollar tigure on it."

4. "Know exactly who you want and go after hmi." (Never mind
who they say they want to trade.)

5. "Every deal you do will be publicly scrutinized by subjective
opinion. If I'm [IBM CEO] Lou Gerstner, I'm not worried that
every personnel decision I make is going to wind up on the front
page of the business section. Not everyone believes that they
know everything about the personal computer. But everyone
who ever picked up a bat thinks he knows baseball. To do this
well, you have to ignore the newspapers."

His complete inability to heed Rule #5 Billy Beane compen-
sated for by fanatically heeding the other four. His approach to the

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Online LibraryMichael (Michael M.) LewisMoneyball : the art of winning an unfair game → online text (page 16 of 24)