Teaching with Scenes from the Movie

There are a variety of scenes from the movie that demonstrate foundational economic concepts, which could explain why economic educators rated it among the Top 10 films for teaching economics. Below we highlight scenes from the film that are hosted on Critical Commons for educators to download. Critical Commons provides educators with a special account that allows them to download the files directly from their site. Once downloaded, these files can be embedded in your course slides for a more seamless presentation.

There are a variety of ways to teach with media in the classroom. Educators can integrate these clips with think-pair-share activities, follow-up with questions using a classroom response system, or could allow for open discussion afterward. The Science Education Research Center (SERC) at Carleton College provides a variety of resources for faculty who are interested in effective pedagogy techniques. 

Many principles courses start with the concept of “thinking like an economist.” This scene can be used to teach about strategic thinking using the notion of opportunity costs, scarcity, and rationality. While the A’s would like to keep Jeremy Giambi, they do not have enough space in their budget to keep him and must let him sign with other teams who are willing and able to pay more for his services. The resounding question that Beane poses to his scouts is a question that can be integrated throughout almost any economics course, “what’s the problem?”

Thinking Like an Economist

Billy Beane was considered one of the best baseball prospects in the country (five-tool guy), but he has an important decision to make. He's been offered a full scholarship to play baseball at Stanford, but the New York Mets are interested in signing him after graduation.

Billy can't do both, and if he picks Major League Baseball, he loses the opportunity to ever play college baseball again. Sign with Stanford, and he risks an injury that could keep him out of Major League Baseball forever.

Opportunity Costs

When making decisions, there will often be situations where a lot of time and money have been spent, but can't be recovered. In the case of young Billy Beane, teams spent a lot of money training and paying Billy, but he just doesn't seem to be productive. An irrational manager would keep Beane around because of all the money they've spent.

If things don't go the way you anticipate, it's important to move on if that's the best move. Decision-makers shouldn't fixate on the past.

Sunk

Costs

The A's are interested in signing players who have a particular skill set, namely getting on base. Scott Hatteberg spent his career as a catcher, but he isn't as skilled this position anymore.

His comparative advantage isn't playing catcher, but it's getting on base. Billy Beane and a member of his coaching staff attempt to recruit Scott to join the team and play first base instead.

Comparative Advantage

Firms tend to emphasize the role of hiring players, but this bias is what Peter Brand hopes to overcome. He believes the focus should be on the production out output (runs), not on the input (labor).

Derived demand implies that firms demand inputs as a result of demand for the final product. Because teams want to see wins and runs, firms should focus on hiring workers who produce those, not on particular workers themselves.

Derived Demand

Discrimination occurs when people are treated differently despite having the same productivity as others. Statistical discrimination is a special example of discrimination that requires the firm to consider observable characteristics (like having a goofy throw) and assign values to that characteristic.

Workers who are different than average are the ones most often harmed from statistical discrimination while firms can be profitable by lowering their costs of hiring.

Statistical

Discrimination

The General Manager (Billy Beane) decides which players are on the team, but it's up to the Coach (Art Howe) to set the lineup. Wins and losses are tagged with the coach, even though they don't get to pick the players.

The problem for the A's? The GM has a different agenda than the coach. The Coach is working in his own best interest, which isn't aligned with the GM's plan of using sabermetrics. 

Principle Agent Problem

During a montages in the movie, Beane expresses how his desire to win is dwarfed by his hatred of losing. He keenly tells his player that there is a difference between the two.

 

This attitude is the mindset of prospect theory and loss aversion. People respond more strongly to losses than they would for an equivalently sized gain.

Loss

Aversion

After losing a tough playoff series, Billy is back in the owner's office trying to get more money to sign players. The A's are stuck in a small market and Billy feels like they're close.

This scene shows the logic behind constrained optimization. Billy has lots of things he wants (mainly a championship), but they have to settle for what's within their budget.

Constrained Optimization

Teaching Economics with 

Moneyball

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