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Moneyball:

Just read this book -- largely because some of my cobloggers have spoken highly of it -- and liked it a lot, though I'm not a baseball fan. To me, this book is about science, psychology, and the power of reason and the scientific method. The story that it tells reminds me of the Royal Society's motto, "nullius in verba," an approach that I much admire (though, sad to say, so rarely emulate, given the limitations of my profession at least as I practice it).

Thief (mail) (www):
I read Moneyball on the recommendation of a former boss of mine and absolutely loved it, even though I was never much of a sports type. It is one of a handful of books I've read that really encompass "everything:" it's a baseball book, a business book, a management book, an economics book, a psychology book, and a character study all in one.
4.10.2006 3:09pm
Thief (mail) (www):
Oh, and maybe a few of your friends in the AALS could stand to read it too...
4.10.2006 3:11pm
Wince and Nod (mail) (www):
"Nullius in verba" is hard for everyone to practice, including scientists. My brother the scientist points out that most scientists have to take other scientists at their word, outside their own narrowly specialized fields of study, because, well they don't have the time or the expertise to do otherwise. I think that by seeking extensive original source documents your own research exemplifies "nullius in verba", myself. Even if the conclusions are subjective, the data gathering is objective. Keep up the good work.

Yours,
Wince
4.10.2006 3:24pm
Donald Kahn (mail):
What does the Latin mean?
4.10.2006 3:59pm
Ross Levatter (mail):
As it happens, I am coincidentally now about 2/3 through Moneyball, which I began reading 3 days ago. Very enjoyable book, discussing baseball, which doesn't much interest me, from a strikingly interesting perspective. Highly recommended. Vaguely reminiscient of Freakonomics, in using economic reasoning to explain things most people don't associate with economics. (As it happens, if you choose it on Amazon, you're given an opportunity to buy Freakonomics as well.)
4.10.2006 4:15pm
Eugene Volokh (www):
Donald Kahn: It means "follow the clickable link."
4.10.2006 4:21pm
Frank Drackmann (mail):
The recent controversy re Barry Bonds got me to thinking about Pete Rose. Any one else think he was on the 'juice' back in the 70's? He definately seemed to perform above the level of his physique. You would also think with his amazing competiveness that he would take advantage of any thing available.
4.10.2006 4:23pm
Donald Kahn (mail):
Many thanks. I read it too fast.
4.10.2006 4:51pm
KevinM:
The Latin is from Tony Soprano; it means "Don't talk on the phone."
4.10.2006 5:02pm
Guest2 (mail):
Nullius in verba -- kind of goes against the whole common law system.
4.10.2006 5:07pm
Donald Kahn (mail):
This is by Michael Lewis? I don't much like him: he wrote a book called "Liars' Poker" and never actually described the game.
4.10.2006 5:07pm
Jared K.:
It is worth pointing out, especially given the comment by Ross Levatter, that the Freakonomics authors (or at least one of them) had some issues with Moneyball. The debate settled down sometime last year when Oakland started winning, but interested readers can find the relevant posts here.

Disclaimer: I have read neither book and make no judgements on who is/was right.
4.10.2006 5:20pm
alkali (mail) (www):
Donald Kahn: FYI, here are the rules to Liar's Poker.
4.10.2006 5:30pm
Londo (mail):
I agree, it's a good book, but some of the conclusions turned out to be very false. Read the section on Jason Giambi -- one of the author's principle examples of why Moneyball works -- over again.
4.10.2006 5:51pm
Serenity Now (mail) (www):
Steven Levitt (Freakonomics) on Moneyball:

- one
- two
- three
- four
- five
- six
4.10.2006 6:42pm
Brendon (mail):
I read the book in whole yesterday, as it happens. It is very good, but while he disparages the traditional measures of player ability, he should point out that they are not totally useless, but just incomplete or at times deceiving. As Depodesta says at the end, most of the teams already had their eyes on most of the people causing his computer to go off. But mostly the book is great.
As for Giambi, I'm not sure the stats can correct for steroid use.
4.10.2006 7:17pm
gwangung (mail):
I think the point of Moneyball is not to embrace new methods of evaluation, but to use new ways of evaluation to find players who are undervalued by older ways of evaluation. In other words, find bargains.
4.10.2006 7:52pm
Silicon Valley Jim:
The recent controversy re Barry Bonds got me to thinking about Pete Rose. Any one else think he was on the 'juice' back in the 70's? He definately seemed to perform above the level of his physique. You would also think with his amazing competiveness that he would take advantage of any thing available.

I'm reasonably sure that he wasn't. If you look at Barry Bonds's year-by-year batting statistics (at baseball-reference.com), you'll see his highest slugging percentage prior to his alleged use of steriods starting after the 1998 season is .677 in 1993, the year in which he turned 29. His slugging percentages starting in 1999 are: .617, .688, .863, .799, .749, .812, and .667. From 2000 (when he turned 36) through 2004 (when he turned 40) his slugging percentage was above his pre-1999 high in every single year. In 1993, his batting average was .336, a figure that he hadn't achieved before that, and didn't achieve again until 2002, when it was .370, followed by .341 in 2003 and .362 in 2004.

Pete Rose's statistics tell a different story. His highest slugging percentage was in 1969 (.512), when he turned 28. It was .470 the next year; only one year after that did he achieve only .450. His batting average didn't suffer the same decline, but it certainly didn't improve.

You can do the same analysis with home runs per plate appearance (using official at-bats plus walks as plate appearances), or per at-bat. Bonds's ratio for every year from 1999 on is higher than it was before that. I chose not to focus on that comparison because Pete Rose was never much of a home-run hitter.

I'm not a fan of either Rose or Bonds, but the evidence looks to me as if Bonds starting using steroids or human growth hormone just about the time that the reports said that he did, while Rose's performance in terms of slugging percentage and home runs, although not batting average, started a pretty steady decline as he approached thirty.
4.10.2006 8:00pm