This belongs on the game’s wider curriculum. It doesn’t contain a single sentence about European sport, but it’s a useful starting point for anyone trying to make sense of football’s forays into analytics. It’s also interesting as a piece of work because, awkwardly, it probably doesn’t present Billy Beane in the best possible light.
During his time with the Oakland Athletics, author Michael Lewis evidently saw the full rainbow of Beane’s behaviour. The alternative thinking and the fresh perspective, certainly, but also the odd flashes of anger and (what’s certainly portrayed as) a slightly unappealing narcissism. Beane is clearly smart, his supporting staff even more so, but the way they behave around the game’s traditionalists can sometimes grate and, if there is a criticism, it’s that the dividing line between “old” and “new” baseball is drawn a little too thickly.
That might well be a misrepresentation. Lewis is certainly full of admiration for Beane and with no little justification, but that does lead to passages in which he paints him more as Greek hero than General Manager. In fact, the reader is left with the perceptionthat baseball is a sport split into two camps: the people who feature in this book and the unthinking, luddite masses who don’t.
More importantly though, this will provoke a reaction. it’s well written, really well-researched and it’s highly engaging. No maths degree is required and, beyond the numbers, the story of Beane’s own washing out from the Major Leagues is a fascinating sub-plot, as is the background on Bill James, the founding father of sabermetrics.
How relevant is it to football? It’s hard to say. It deals principally with identifying overlooked value, which is a fairly universal sporting pursuit, but reading this won’t equip anyone with applicable knowledge or empower them to start their own analytics blog.
Still, it serves a curiosity. This is a gateway to understanding where this movement comes from, whether you care for it or not, and there’s a rewarding read beyond the occasional layer of evangelism. Lewis’ job was to document Beane’s work and to present the processes behind it in an interesting, thorough and enjoyable way, and he very much succeeded.