moneyball

Moneyball

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It was last Wednesday night at 12:15am.

I had woken my wife up by screaming and carrying on over the unbelievable events that had just unfolded. People often misuse the word “tragedy,” but the nightmarish end to the Boston Red Sox season can rightly be described as tragic.

As we both lay in bed – too hyped up to sleep – my wife asked me whether I should remove all mention of the Red Sox from my review this week so as not to upset Boston fans. I told her that I do not have the power to make Sox fans feel any worse than they already do.

That said: I am not a monster. I promise that I would never ever have written a column about baseball right now if not for the fact that “Moneyball” was released last weekend.

The odd coincidence is that “Moneyball” partially explains what happened to the Red Sox in 2011.

One would think that a poor ballclub with a small fan base like the Tampa Bay Rays could not possibly compete with a rich, storied franchise like the Boston Red Sox. Tampa is a small city and its ugly domed stadium is always half-empty. Boston’s Fenway Park is a national treasure and its seats are always filled with passionate paying patrons.

But all the money in the world doesn’t buy a great team. A lot of brains beats a lot of money. That’s Moneyball.

“Moneyball” begins as the 2001 baseball season ends. The Oakland Athletics were pretty good. But after getting knocked out of the playoffs, the team lost its two biggest stars to free agency. New York nabbed Jason Giambi and Boston bought Johnny Damon.

Oakland General Manager Billy Beane (Brad Pitt) recognized that he couldn’t possibly compete with the big market clubs for high-priced superstars. He needed to use a different method of evaluating talent.

Beane’s scouts and advisors were recommending players based on their pretty swings and high batting average. Beane ignored their advice. Instead, he teamed up with Peter Brand (Jonah Hill): an ivy league math nerd who calculated that on-base percentage is the true measure of a player’s value.

Beane and Brand recognized that scoring runs is the key to winning so you want players who reach base a lot. And contrary to conventional wisdom, a walk is as good as a hit.

Red Sox fans believe that signing left fielder Carl Crawford to a $143 million contract was a mistake. They’re right. Crawford hit .255 this year. That’s not so good. But the real problem, Billy Beane would argue, is that Crawford’s on-base percentage was just .289. An OBP of under .300 is unacceptable.

Contrast that with Robert “Bucky Dent” Andino of the Baltimore Orioles. He finished with a batting average of just about .260 as well. But Andino’s on-base percentage was a halfway decent .327.

Robert Andino put up comparable numbers to Carl Crawford, and he did it for $421,500. That’s no more than David Ortiz spends each year on fancy beard trimmers and Ring Dings.

“Moneyball” shows how Beane assembled a rag-tag group of unknown youngsters and forgotten veterans into an Oakland A’s squad that was both low budget and competitive.

In 2011, the Red Sox organization foolishly blew $16 million on John Lackey, $14 million on JD Drew, and $10 million on Daisuke Matsuzaka. $40,000,000 bought Boston a grand total of 15 wins and 4 home runs. Ouch. Meanwhile, the Tampa Bay Rays cleverly assembled an entire playoff-caliber roster for a little under $42 million.

Once again: a little bit of smart money beats a ton of dumb money.

The film “Moneyball” is okay, I guess. But the two hours I spent watching it weren’t nearly as compelling and dramatic as the five hours I spent watching actual Major League Baseball last Wednesday night. Not even close.

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