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Chat: Michael Lewis

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Welcome to Baseball Prospectus' Tuesday June 21, 2005 1:00 PM ET chat session with Michael Lewis.

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Michael Lewis is the author of the best-selling book "Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game". His new book, "Coach: Lessons on the Game of Life", was released May 16 by W.W. Norton.

Michael Lewis: Hi--Michael Lewis here, and ready to begin the chat.

Tim (NJ): Do you fear that the media's misconception of the term "Moneyball" has reached the point of no return? It seems as though they use the title of your book as a catch-all phrase to define one particular style of assembling a team rather than as a phrase that defines the constant identification of inefficiencies in the market for ball players. Are you starting to feel the need to somehow put a halt to this unfortunate momentum that is building because to much of the mainstream media is too lazy to read a book?

Michael Lewis: Yes, but it's hard for me to complain too much about this, as the various misconceptions about the book--that it's just about OBP, that Billy Beane wrote it, etc- lead people to mention it far more than they would if they had, say, done something so radical as sit down and read it. Anyway, I don't think there's anything I could do about them even if I wanted to.

Robert (East Bay): Do you feel that some of the A's employees might have been fooling with you, when you sat in on their conversations?

Michael Lewis: If they were fooling with me, they still have me fooled.

Ed (Philadelphia, PA): Crystal-ball what the next move of the "Moneyball" folks will be. OBP and defense are now starting to be correctly valued; what (other than the draft) will be the next big thing that is undervalued that smart teams will take advantage of?

Michael Lewis: I think the key word in the question is the plural "folks." The spread of the Oakland approach to the game--trying to measure more accurately the value of players, and find inefficiencies to exploit-means that there are fewer inefficiencies to exploit. Obviously the draft is the biggest opportunity, if an opportunity it is--that is, if there is ever any better way to evaluate amatuer players. Beyond that, I don't know. The health of pitchers' arms, perhaps?

DPV (TN): Jim Bouton wrote several addendums to his groundbreaking book, Ball Four. In this light, are there any plans for a follow-up to Moneyball?

Michael Lewis: When I figured out that Moneyball was a book I thought of it as not one but two books. My publisher is expecting another manuscript in a few years time about the players Oakland drafted in 2002. My life inside ballparks remains tax-deductible.

Robert (Milwaukee): Have you read Scout's Honor, the book that attempts to refute Moneyball, and if so, what do you think of the book?

Michael Lewis: I'm having a hard time keeping up with the literature that attempts to refute Moneyball. (Much of the time I can't figure out why they bother to refute a thing that was never said--say, for example, that the Atlanta Braves aer not very succesful, or that there are not other ways to win baseball games than the way Oakland wins baseball games.) I know of this book, but haven't gotten to it.

DrLivy (Charleston (WV)): Mike, I've read all your stuff and I'm a quasi-convert (otherwise I wouldn't have a membership at this site, I suppose). Still, I think the Cardinals have done well to acquire Isringhausen, spend big on Rolen and Pujols and Edmonds, and even take a risk on Mulder. They have a mid-market budget with big-budget performance (true, they lucked out on Pujols). I would guess though, from reading your stuff, that at some point in the future the Cards are in for some long lean times, after this current run is done.

Michael Lewis: One of the many subjects on which I'm unqualified to pontificate is the inner workings of the St Louis Cardinals. I do know that they have hired a gaggle of geeks to analyze stats for them, for what that's worth. But even if, up untilo 2002 or so, they have been going about there business in exactly the same spirit as the other 28 teams (excepting Oakland)there is no reason they can't have gone about it better.

Tim (PA): What is your opinion of the trades Billy Beane made involving Tim Hudson and Mark Mulder? Also, how much of the success of the Athletics the past few years do you feel was really based on the extraordinary performances of the Big Three starters as opposed to the overall Moneyball philosophy? I often hear that argument as a criticism of Moneyball.

Michael Lewis: My opinion is that I have no very strong opinion-yet. I can see why he made them--he was going to lose them anyway, both were at risk of injury, and the market for starting pitching went nuts this past offseason, so it may have seemed like the very best moment to sell them-but it's too early to seriously evaluate what he got in return. Unseriously, the Mulder trade looks pretty good (Haren and Mulder 's numbers are very similar and Haren is millionms cheaper, plus they got barton and Calero) and the Hudson trade looks awful. But two years from now we may be watching a different Dan Meyer and Juan Cruz.

Liam (New Jersey): When is the new book due out?

Michael Lewis: If by new book you mean the sequel to Moneyball, not for a few years. But I've just brought out a little book, called Coach, about a high school baseball coach (mine).

AJSofer (New York City): While I loved your book, I wonder if it could possibly be the worst thing that could happen to the Oakland A's organization. While their trade secrets would eventually come out since their top employees left for for other organizations (Riccardi, DePodesta), now every Tom Dick and Harry can have a better understanding of market inefficiencies in baseball. You said it yourself that a company loves it when their biggest rivals secret to success is exposed. I am grateful for the new perspective your book gave me, but won't the Oakland A's pay dearly for this? Oakland greatly benefitted from the fact that one of the most important statistics in the game (OBP) was so cheap. I am sure that something else is now undervalued, but it cannot be something as vital to a teams success as OBP, at least on the offensive side of the game. While not single-handedly, do you think it is possible that your book will contribute to the eventual downfall of the Oakland Athletics?

Michael Lewis: It's very hard to say what effect, if any, the book has had on the game. It generated a lot of noise, obviously. At the same time, several clubs were moving in the Oakland driection, and I tend to think that a lot of the change that has occured would have occured if Moneyball had never been written. On the other hand, I recall, fondly, a long lunch with John Henry and Theo Epstein--this was before Theo became GM-in which they politely but firmly suggested I not write the book, as I would ruin the market for them :)

emanski (trenton): Paul DePodesta faces an unusually difficult market in terms of his approach, and I imagine he's getting hammered in LA despite Choi's resurgence. How much is the Beane/et al approach tied to DePodesta's success or failure in LA?

Michael Lewis: I'm astonished at the vitriol aimed at Paul, and am equally amazed at the lack of curiosity of L.A. sports writers about why he does what he does. The Los Angeles Times, especially, employs two of the nastiest and most inept (least ept?) baseball columnists in the land. (I think it's just plain dumb how unseriously the major newspapers take sports; their approach to the hiring of sports columnists is an insult to sports fans.) Think of it! Young man takes over the previosly woeful home team, is hammered daily in the local papers for his idiosyncratic moves, pilots the previously uniwnning team to its first division title in, what, 15 years? and what do the local writers do? Hammer him some more!

DPV (TN): Do you think that there is a desire amongst the baseball elite to want LA, OAK and TOR to do poorly so that they can point at those organizations and say "See...Moneyball doesn't work"?

Michael Lewis: Yes.

ekroll (SF): Have you looked into the inefficiencies of other 'sports' markets? There's been talk of using Beane's ways in the NBA (Celtics) and NFL (49ers)... Perhaps a Moneyball sequel?

Michael Lewis: A bit. I've sat down with either the owner, gm, or in-house smart guy at a few footbakll teams and two basketball teams. It's much harder to get clean and useful stats in those sports. Baseball-in which it is so relatively easy to assign credit and blame accurately-is really made for the Beaneological aproach.

Matt McCracken (Belmont, CA): Will Joe Morgan ever relize that you wrote the book, not Billy? He still refers to it as Billy's book, while at the same time admitting that he's never even read it; and he continues still to judge the book's contents. When will he stop letting facts getting in the way of his opinions?

Michael Lewis: And the funny thing about that, from my point of view, is that Billy Beane had no clue what the book was about until he saw the galleys--and got upset with me. In fairness to Joe Morgan--though why start now?-a lot of sports books are as-told-to affairs. He probably has never been fully exposed to the old fashioned idea of the author.

Majael (Toronto): You've spoken before about the Great Lost Chapter of Moneyball, in which you watch a ballgame with J.P. Ricciardi. Is there any chance we're ever going to be able to read it anywhere?

Michael Lewis: Great Lost Chapters are usually better left lost. It wasn't as good as I've claimed.

Zacko (Los Angeles): Looking back, should Moneyball have been called Moneyball? It seems to have a negative connotation in the baseball industry for those that don't understand the book.

Michael Lewis: Well, it seems to have worked well enough for me.

Olsontros ((New York City)): Michael, huge fan of all of your work (and sneaking this chat in at my summer internship). As a rising college junior trying to decide between working on Wall Street or following my passion for baseball and journalism, I was wondering....it seems like you've made a shift recently to writing only about sports, when earlier in your career you wrote about a variety of subjects? A conscious decision, or did the success of Moneyball lead you towards writing about sports more?

Michael Lewis: It's better to be a rising college junior than a falling one. Nice work! Anyway, I'm working on a book right now that isn't (much) about sports. But sort of like the feeling of being a rising sports writer--it's better than being a falling financial journalist.

Alex R. (Cleveland, OH): Who is responsible for the epidemic of colons in book titles, authors or publishers?

Michael Lewis: I didn't realize there was one. But if there is, we must always blame the publishers. That's what they are there for.

syubnadroj35@yahoo.com (Austin, TX): Hello, ive read moneyball countless times... and aspire to become billy bean. I don't play baseball, but i am a fanatic. I was wondering do you think just because i won't have baseball experience it will be hard to become a high ranking officail inside a baseball team, and if so, what are some ways to over come them?

Michael Lewis: The good news is that teams are hiring unlikely characters (people from outside of baseball) at a greater clip than ever before. The bad news is that there are only a handful of jobs, and, apparently, thousands of PhDs in math and physics who would really prefer a job in baseball to one in math or physics.

stan1437 (Concord, CA): That was a great, great article in the New York Times magazine. Given your wife's TV background and photography skills, have you two ever thought about doing a documentary? ...of course, I have a few ideas...

Michael Lewis: Thanks--we are. Doing a documentary that is. But it's not for tv; it's a book about minor league players hat will contain her photos.

Joel (Washington, DC): I HAVE read the book and congratulate you on being provocative and adding a term to the baseball lexicon. At the same time, parts of it look pretty silly with the benefit of hindsight, especially the part on the A's 2002 draft. What is your own assessment now of your analysis?

Michael Lewis: Oh, you're so right, I am so silly, and you, with your hindsight, are the wise one! Seriously, did you grasp the main point of the draft chapters: that the odds of success in the draft done the old fashioned way were so poor that there was little risk in going about it a different way? That the A's were not certain they had found a better way of doing it--that they only hoped that they had? That the whole thing they viewed as an experiment? And, anyway, how are you so sure their experiment was a failure? (It looks pretty good to me, especially given how quixotic their methods were.) Three of the players are big league regulars already, and it's still very early. And you can't really evaluate it out of context. The question is: were they any better than other teams in finding the talent IN THAT YEAR. I don't know the answer--it isn't yet knowable-but they certainly didn't do badly.

Tim (PA): What impact, if any, do you see the new ownership in Oakland having on the front office philosophy?

Michael Lewis: My impression is that the new ownership found the A's appealing, in big part, because of the talent in the front office. (The old ownership treated the front office with some indifference.) And so, if anything, they should strengthen the font office's hand.

KSillini (Kansas City): Beaneological - I like that much better than using Moneyball as an adjective. Chad Bradford & Scott Hatteberg were prominent stories in the book. I'm curious as to who else may have made for an intriguing story that you didn't have room to include. Any surprises there?

Michael Lewis: It's funny--those very long sections of the book get ignored. And if you had asked me before the book was published what people would focus on, I'd have put the stoires of the players near the top of the list. I spent time with most of the players, and for a while had thought Tim Hudson would be an important character. but in the end I wanetd the reader to have the experience I had had: of discovering that a player they'd never heard of, and assumed was no good, was actually valuable. And Hudson was already a star.

Tim (NJ): You mentioned earlier that Beane was mad at you after learning the exact content of your book. Was this about the whole Steve Phillips thing (Steve's reaction to Billy making him look stupid during trade discussions) or more about the revelation of some of his secrets?

Michael Lewis: He thought I portrayed him as more maniacal than he actually is. And he was right--as, away from baseball, he is not at all maniacal. But I didn't have much interest in his life away from baseball.

Cris (Redondo Beach, CA): In looking at the approach of the A's and MLB in general did you encounter or have you since any approaches similar but different to that of the 'Beane' and his protege's that are not in the spotlight? And in a similar vein is there a new but similar direction some teams are taking in trying to seek some of the same advantages?

Michael Lewis: Well, Houston very early on ignored the bias against short right handed pitchers. And the Twins seem to have a gift for finding new talent pools of players (I'd very much like to roam Australia and Venezuala with the Twins' scouts.)But I haven't run across such a dramatic departure from established baseball business practices as has occured in Oakland.

William Shatner (Space): Who has more rabid fans, you or me?

Michael Lewis: My fans, such as they are, are not rabid. My enemies are.

reedjohnmiller (DC): I lost interest in baseball from 1994 to about 2003. Moneyball was a big factor in my sudden resurgence of interest in the game, thank you for that. The mention above of the Cardinals above makes me wonder if their are any GMS, scouts, etc, who evaluate talent "the old way" and yet, for whatever reason, consistently come to the same conclusions as they would have with the "Beane method?" Are some GM's "baseball instincts" a lot better than others?

Michael Lewis: I assume there are GM's with better guts instincts than others, just as there are Wall Street traders with better gut instincts than others. But I don't know who they are. And I'd be nervous about giving them my money.

Vander (NJ): What do you think about the writers who never mentioned the A's success, but are now having a field day ripping the "Moneyball" system.

Michael Lewis: I think they missed one literary opportunity the first time around and are missing another one now. It's of no interest to anyone whose lips don't move when he reads to come across some blowhard taking pot shots at Oakland. It would be of great interest to explore the reasons for Oakland's poor start. And the absence of Hudson and Mulder doesn't explain it. (Haren's been a bit better than Mulder, so really you're only left with Hudson in this argument--and he hasn't been sensational.)

Natan (CA): At one point you mention a group of of Chicago(AVM maybe?) who measure where and how balls are put into play. At press time no one seemed to be using there system, or one like it. Has this changed? If not will it?

Michael Lewis: I was really surprised, after the book came out, that the BP crowd didn't track down AVM and hound them into the public eye. This really is the next step in baseball front offices: collecting new and better data. And while I don't nkow for sure, I suspect that the Dodgers, Red Sox, A's and Jays all have somethng like AVM's system in place.

Thanks for the chat. I enjoyed it.

Michael Lewis: Thanks for the chat.


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