It’s early October 2002, and Jeremy Brown steps into the batter’s box. Not too long ago, he was the laughingstock of baseball—a fat, unimpressive-looking athlete who somehow became a first round draft pick. Soon afterwards, he gets the news that he and his teammate Nick Swisher are being sent to Single-A ball in California. In Single-A, Brown distinguishes himself with his high batting average, slugging percentage, and, most importantly, on-base percentage. Unlike most other players from the 2002 draft, Brown was invited to the 2003 big league spring training camp, and by this time journalists weren’t making fun of him anymore.
The book ends with a reminder of how greatly Billy and Paul have changed the game of baseball. In earlier decades, Jeremy Brown would never have been drafted into Major League Baseball. However, thanks to the insight of sabermetrics, Jeremy is on the Single-A team in California. He quickly distinguishes himself, showing that Billy’s sabermetric strategy is already paying off. Furthermore, the fact that the journalists are no longer laughing at him suggests that his success has caused people to rethink the game of baseball.
On that day in October 2002, Brown steps up to the plate in the bottom of the second inning. On the fourth pitch, he hits a hard line drive into the left center field. Believing that the ball is going to hit the wall and then bounce back into the field, he runs over the bases, thinking he’ll get a triple. Then, embarrassingly, he slips on first base and falls into the dirt, “like Charlie Brown.” Brown looks up to see the other players, including his own teammates, laughing at him. Then he realizes what’s actually happened: “The triple of Jeremy Brown’s imagination, in reality, is a home run.”
Jeremy may not be the most conventionally talented player; indeed, he’s pretty clumsy in some ways. Clumsy or not, however, Jeremy is a successful player. His success proves that GMs can produce successful, record-setting teams by ignoring conventional baseball wisdom and trusting the numbers. While some might criticize this sabermetric approach to baseball management as overly rational, or even dehumanizing, Michael Lewis has shown that sabermetric management can create baseball games that are as exciting and surprising as any in the history of the sport. And yet, at the same time, Brown’s homer that he thought was going to be a triple speaks to the inherent luck built into baseball, and the fact that even those who find success over the long term by minimizing luck as much as possible, are still in the short term subject to its whims.