A 2014 Sports Illustrated cover which declared that the worst team in baseball, the Houston Astros, would win the World Series in 2017 has gone down in legend. It would almost have been more believable to pick Leicester City to win the Premier League the year earlier. Improbably, Ben Reiter’s prediction came through as the ambitious blueprint for rebuilding a baseball club set out in his SI article came to fruition on schedule.
Reiter therefore is the ideal writer to chronicle just how the Astro’s rose to success. Astroball is the story of how a farsighted owners and executives learned from Moneyball and went on to find a new path to success.
The stars of the book are Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow and his top analyst, Sig Mejdal. Both came to the Astro’s in 2011 having had some success in Arizona. Both were determined to figure out how to combine stats with instinct and get the best results.
Reiter highlights three main improvements – better draft picks through understanding stats in a new way, coaching improvements for individual players by focusing on their form and tendencies and a recognition of the intangible role that veteran players have in bringing the team together at crucial moments. There were some bumps along the road – such as failure to sign an injury prone first draft pick – but the faith in ‘the Process’ proved justified.
Reiter clearly had exceptional access and the trust of those he spoke with. It’s a very well written book which captures the balance of appealing to baseball fanatics and non-fanatics alike. It’s a fascinating account of team building in the post-Moneyball era. A really enjoyable read.