Monday, January 30, 2012


Having watched the film Moneyball when it came out last year, I have wanted to read the book by Michael Lewis, which I had heard was quite good. And after finally reading it this weekend, I must say I have to agree.

The book was amazing. It was like a dive into the world of the sports executive. The ideas presented in the book were mind-blowing: the fact that players were being valued by how they looked playing the game rather than how they produced on the field, that baseball clubs were taking risks on high school players when they were largely unproven, that the disparity in riches in baseball did not make a huge difference as long as the poor teams used their money wisely. The scene that captivated me the most, both from the movie and book, was the scene where Oakland A's manager Billy Beane orchestrates a trade for Ricardo Rincon of the Cleveland Indians. Beane discovers that there is one more suitor for Rincon other than the A's, the Giants. Beane offers his own reliever, Mike Venafro, to the Giants to lower their interest in Rincon. At the same time, after realizing that he probably can't pay for Rincon, he lures the Mets into a trade where he receives enough cash to pay for Rincon for the remainder of the season.

This scene blew my mind. Beane's character was so manipulative that he was able to implement his ideas and create a successful baseball team considering the amount of money that he had.

I have heard many people say, "Sure, the A's won many games, but they never won a World Series, so the moneyball strategy is a hoax." Beane answers that in the book, saying that he can use stats to determine what will happen throughout the course of the regular season. However, once the team gets to the playoffs, he says, it all comes down to luck. And the A's just never had the luck.

What the A's did changed baseball completely. So many teams now apply Beane's principles to how they create their teams. What I'm wondering is, can these principles be applied to other sports. I understand that in other sports there is a salary cap, so the strategy is not so much about the money but about the process of player evaluation. Can teams in, say the NFL, evaluate players using Beane's strategies of risk avoidance and statistical analysis.

Let's take the NFL for example. Risk avoidance. Do not draft young, immature players out of college. If they have had trouble with the law, then do not draft them. I'm not sure if that rule is a good one, because many great players have overcome their troubles with the law to become great, but it certainly minimizes risk. If teams are going to spend a lot of money on a player, you have to hope that his number one priority is football. That makes sense and definitely lowers risk in the investment.

Let's move on to statistical analysis. The most important stat to me is turnovers. Turnovers can doom a football team if they commit them and can provide the edge if they take advantage of them. Therefore, to avoid turnovers, acquire backs who do not fumble (like BenJarvus Green-Ellis) and receivers with sure hands who will not tip passes. Another element of statistical analysis: Just like in baseball, where every out counts, in football, every down counts. Therefore, receivers who drop too many passes are no good and tight ends who cannot catch are not attractive.

Now, I'm pretty sure it's not that easy to bring all this baseball strategy into other sports. I was simply exploring the possibility. Let me know what you think, can the Moneyball strategies implemented by the Oakland A's of the early 2000s be applicable in other sports?

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