Due to the baseball season starting up, there seems like no better time to bring up a dominating topic within baseball over the last 20 years. Moneyball.
What is Moneyball you might ask? Well it’s within the process of MLB teams acquiring players whether in the draft of free agency based on their on base percentage if they’re classified as a hitter and by ERA, if they’re a pitcher.
By able to value players not just by what you see on the field, but by the numbers they produce. By using sabermetrics, teams are able to see value in players that they couldn’t see on the field.
In 1977, Bill James crafted the idea of using statistics to determine how teams win or lose. From that he made a formula believed to get teams the most optimal amount of wins.
The idea didn’t start making waves into mainstream baseball until the 2002 Oakland A’s. The Oakland A’s had the third lowest payroll in all of baseball at the time. They had just lost the American League Divisional Round 3 games to 2 against the New York Yankees, and the team started to disband with a flood of doubts washing over the team. Losing the AL MVP from the 2000 season in Jason Giambi and an all star star in Johnny Damon to free agency.
The A’s heading into the 21st century, looked to be a team to be feared. But instead looked as if the team was heading into and quick and rapid descent.
When Billy Beane started doing things the way Bill James described how to run a franchise in 2002, it changed the organizations tides going from a downfall into propelling them into the 2002 AL West champions. Not only did it change their season, it changed the entire way teams evaluated players in the game of baseball.
Though as in 2001 the team lost in the AL Divisional Round to the Minnesota Twins, the A’s managed to get at the time an AL best 20 consecutive wins in a row (the 2017 Cleveland Indians just surpassed that record in the 2017 season with 22 games). Though the MLB’s best is held by the 1916 New York Giants at 26 games games, winning 20 consecutive games in the modern era with one of the lowest payrolls with the odd against them, makes the feat incredible.
There are several popular works based on this season, Michael Lewis’s 2003 book “Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game” which explains the front offices design of building a team with a low payroll. Based off the book, spawned a 2011 movie starring Brad Pitt and Jonah Hill.
Within the movie, there’s a pivotal scene in which Jonah Hill’s character explains to Billy how sabermetrics works within scouting. How numbers can see through biases that baseball has, age, off field antics, and appearance. Peter Brandt (Paul DePodesta) states “It’s about getting things down to one number. Using the stats the way we read them, we’ll find value in players that nobody else can see. People are overlooked for a variety of biased reasons and perceived flaws. Age, appearance, personality. Bill James and mathematics cut straight through that.”
Though this story was 16 years ago (and they didn’t win) the strategy has been picked up and used by numerous other franchises because of the A’s success.
The slayer of curses Theo Epstein was hired by the Red Sox in 2002 to be their GM when he proposed the similar plan that Billy Beane was doing. He was 28 years old and the youngest GM in baseball history. He won the world series two season after that ending an 86 year drought within the franchise. In 2011, he was hired by the Cubs and in 2016, he ended the longest drought in North American sports, of 108.
In current day, other sports are using this strategy of stats over visual scouting. In 2016 Paul DePodesta was hired by the Cleveland Browns as their chief strategy officer. He’s is know most notably as the assistant General Manager of the Oakland A’s during their 2002 run, the man working right beside Billy Beane.
Moneyball is the future of sports, cutting out biases because they’re not the traditional look for the sport. The quicker teams adapt to this, the further ahead they’ll have on the competition.