Moneyball and Linsanity

Linsanity passed me by for about a week.  In case that describes you, too, here’s a quick update.  Jeremy Lin was a very good high school basketball player in California.  He wanted to play for Stanford University, but they did not offer him a scholarship.  He ended up at Harvard, where he was a standout for four years.  However, when big-time NBA scouts look for players, they do not tend to look in the Ivy League, but he did end up playing summer ball and signed with the Golden State Warriors.  Eventually they put him on waivers and he was picked up by the Houston Rockets.  He played seven minutes in two preseason games, after which he was again put on waivers and picked up by the New York Knicks on December 27, 2011.  Because the Knicks were playing so poorly, their coach put him in a game on February 4.  That’s when a streak of seven wins began for the Kicks.  Lin became the first NBA player to score at least 20 points and have seven assists in each of his first five starts.[1]

Here’s the funny thing.  Most people saw nothing exceptional in Jeremy Lin.  Remember, no college wanted him badly enough to offer him a scholarship.  However, there was one guy.  He’s a delivery man for FedEx, and his hobby is numbers analysis.  He wrote an article for Hoops Analyst on the potential he saw in Jeremy Lin–back in 2010.  Ed Weiland noted Lin’s performance in two-point field goal percentage and rebounds, steals and blocks per forty minutes.  Those numbers compared favorably with point guards in the NBA who were stars.  Weiland concluded that Lin could someday be a star, too.[2]

I know you think this is a sports report, not a library blog, but the reason the whole thing has intrigued me so has to do with the fact that I just watched the movie Moneyball[3],

based on the book of the same name by Michael Lewis.[4] The plot of Moneyball is not unlike this story of Jeremy Lin and Ed Weiland.  Billy Beane, the general manager of the Oakland Athletics, has to field a contender with far less money to spend on players than other teams have.  He listens to an analyst named Paul DePodesta [Peter Brand in the movie] who shows him how to use sabermetrics [an attempt to be objective about baseball]  to decide what undervalued players will actually make big contributions to the success of the team.  Sabermetricians often use different measures to determine true baseball skill, and that is at the heart of the movie.

Moneyball is essentially a business book, not a baseball book.  It makes you think about what qualities are undervalued in other areas of life, not just sports.  I have expressed my admiration for Michael Lewis’s writing about financial matters in earlier posts.  A rational approach to markets may be the best way to manage an investment portfolio; however, it’s hard, as Billy Beane notes, to remove the romance from sport.

That’s what gives the Jeremy Lin story its staying power.



[3] There’s a copy at each of our branches; DVD 5620.

[4] There’s a copy at the Chatham library; Dewey number is 796.357L.

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