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Michael Lewis chat

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BP hosted a chat session with Moneyball author Michael Lewis today...

It is largely a pretty obsequious group of questions...but there was one snippet that I thought was indicative of the problem I have with Lewis being a self-appointed Pied Piper of the stathead movement...

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.

This is the only question Lewis fields that could be construed as critical of him or his subject matter -- and even then, pretty gently critical -- and he responds right off the bat with childish sarcasm.

Secondly, Lewis's contention -- that the main point of the draft chapter was that there was "little risk" in doing it a different way -- is simply disingenuous. In his book, Lewis presents the 2002 drafting strategy as not just being a "different" way, but as being the right way, while seeming to showcase Nick Swisher and Jeremy Brown and Ben Fritz as future stars.

Third, compounding the disingenuousness, he brags on the draft as producing "three major league regulars" -- even though, of those three, Mark Teahen and Nick Swisher have both been sub-replacement-level players this season, and Joe Blanton has been barely above replacement level.

Fourth, he chastises the questioner for daring to suggest that the draft was a "failure", because it is still early, while he was willing to write off the A's 2001 draft as an "expensive disaster" just a year after it occurred.

Lewis frustrates me...as someone who was turned on to sabermetrics through Bill James' books in the early-80s, Moneyball is neat in that it attempted to bring the ideas to a new audience. But at the same time, Lewis is such an obvious victim of the "new convert" syndrome, and his books is so lacking in nuance, that I'm afraid it ends up being misleading.

Update [2005-6-21 15:52:16 by Adam J. Morris]: -- This comment from Athletic's Nation sums up my feelings on it very succinctly.