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What about pitching?
on August 7, 2007
In 2002, the season that this book concerns itself with, the Oakland Athletics tied for the league lead with 103 victories. The book Moneyball frankly admits that it doesn't wish to concern itself with pitching, but rather with hitting--runs and on base percentage (OBP). The reader is told time again that runs and OBP define the game, that pitching is secondary and fielding a distance third. This strikes me as fundamentally ridiculous: the way baseball teams win games is not by scoring runs, but by scoring more than the opposition. And that means pitching is essential.
Let's look at the 2002 Athletics. Despite all the talk about runs, the A's were eighth in the league. In a league with only 14 teams, that puts them in the bottom half. Only one player (Miguel Tejada) had 100+ runs. And what about On-base percentage? The A's were a bit better, but only 5th in the league. Not one of their players, including MVP Tejada, was in the top 10 in the league in OBP. By their own metrics, this hardly seems to indicate they tied for the league lead in wins. By using common sense, however, we can deduce that the A's pitching was probably very good. And indeed it was. The Athletics had three pitchers (Barry Zito, Tim Hudson, and Mark Mulder, from lowest to highest) with Earned Run Averages (ERAs) under 3.50 and two with ERAs under 3, respectively placing 3rd, 6th, and 10th in the league. The A's pitching staff led the American league in ERA, shutouts, and fewest homeruns allowed. After the season was over Barry Zito was awarded the Cy Young award for the best pitcher in the league.
The point of this is not to (neccessarily) criticize sabermetrics or Billy Beane's strategy. This is a book review, and Michael Lewis could have written a better book. He devotes much page space to lengthy biographies of A's players and Billy Beane himself, whom the author seems to revere wholeheartedly, while not answering fundamental questions such as the title for this review: "What about pitching?" I have nothing but respect for the way Billy Beane's Athletics always seem to be in the thick of the hunt despite a low payroll, but that does not make this book any less flawed