Some folks believe they’re always the smartest people in the room; DePodesta often truly is. He just doesn’t act like it. Unlike the character in the film, DePodesta articulates his position well whether speaking with old-school scouts or economists. And he definitely doesn’t require help navigating athletic fields, having played baseball and football at Harvard.
DePodesta didn’t advocate scrapping baseball’s traditional evaluation system. Beane instructed him to think outside of the box, and “we always felt as though what we were doing was unique to Oakland,” DePodesta, now vice president of player development and scouting for the New York Mets, said.
Baseball executives are “constantly trying to predict the future performance of human beings. We’re trying to get our arms around that uncertainty. Scouts really help you deal with that uncertainty. On the other hand, we looked at it and said, ‘How can we further decrease that uncertainty?’ And being able to use data was one of the ways we could do that. It wasn’t to replace anything else. It was only to further augment what we were already doing and get a better grasp of the unpredictability.”
My biggest gripe with both the book and movie is that Lewis and the filmmakers essentially ignore the contributions of players who don’t support their underdog narrative. Any discussion of those Athletics teams should start with their outstanding starting rotation, led by Tim Hudson, Mark Mulder and Barry Zito. They’re hardly mentioned or seen on screen.
Lewis’s supporters argue he was doing what writers do: using only the facts that support his premise. There’s no doubt he wrote a compelling book that’s now a critically acclaimed movie and a box office hit.
But it’s intellectually dishonest to attribute the Athletics’ success during that era solely to calculator work while ignoring the contributions of players such as Hudson, Mulder and Zito. That’s like having an in-depth discussion about Joe Gibbs’s three Super Bowl victories without mentioning the Hogs.
“No doubt,” said DePodesta, still the smartest person in the room. “I agree with that.”