Contrary to popular opinion, the book Moneyball by Michael Lewis is not about how Billy Beane and the Oakland A’s prefer to take walks rather than put the ball in play.
The book is about market inefficiency, and how small-market teams must compete by getting the most production out of their ballplayers for the least amount of money. In 2002, the Oakland A’s found that batters who scored low in many traditional scouting measures but were still able to post a high on-base percentage were being under-valued by most MLB teams. General Manager Billy Beane was able to use that knowledge to build a winning team on the cheap.
One of the central themes of the book was that traditional scouting at that time relied too heavily on subjective, unquantifiable opinions of prospects rather than hard data. This is best illustrated in the following passage from the book. Recounting the scouting opinion of young Billy Beane, who in 1980 was a first-round draft pick by the New York Mets, Lewis writes:
[Beane]encouraged strong feelings in the older men who were paid to imagine what kind of pro ballplayer a young man might become. The boy had a body you could dream on. Ramrod-straight and lean but not so lean you couldn’t imagine him filling out. And that face! Beneath an unruly mop of dark brown hair the boy had the sharp features the scouts loved. Some of the scouts still believed they could tell by the structure of a young man’s face not only his character but his future in pro ball. They had a phrase they used: “the Good Face.” Billy had the Good Face.
The best example of this “good face” scouting assessment that I’ve ever seen has to be Branch Rickey’s 1954 scouting report of an 18-year-old pitcher from southern California, Don Drysdale. Drysdale, of course, would go on to be a Hall of Famer for the Los Angeles Dodgers. He also made appearances on The Rifleman, The Flying Nun, and The Brady Bunch before a long and distinguished career as a baseball broadcaster, so that “good face” did turn out to serve him well.
Thanks to Major League Baseball’s Official Historian, John Thorn, who posted to his Facebook feed this scan of Rickey’s report on Drysdale.