Moneyball: Better Baseball Through Data

This week, the movie Moneyball arrives in theaters, and I’m completely looking forward to seeing it.  I’ve read the book (by Michael Lewis, author of other books such as The Blind Side and The Big Short, which I wrote about here) and it is a fascinating read.

If you are a baseball fan, you’ll appreciate the passion that baseball historians have for the statistics of the game, and the magic that some of these numbers have.  755 (Hank Aaron’s home run total), 511 (Cy Young’s win total), .424 (Rogers Hornsby’s batting average for the 1924 season), and so on…

However, as the Oakland A’s general manager Billy Beane knew (thanks partly to the contributions of Bill James and his famous Baseball Abstract), some statistics don’t tell the right story if what you’re trying to do is win baseball games.  Given a salary budget that paled in comparison to his competition (like the New York Yankees), Beane crafted a strategy of picking players who were undervalued. 

Beane found that some statistics, like a high batting average, didn’t paint a complete picture for winning games.  For example, getting hits (singles, double, home runs) was important, but getting on base was actually more important.  So, even though dull, walks (getting on base by being patient and not swinging at bad pitches) were incredibly valuable to winning at baseball.  Beane found players that had a high on-base percentage, which he could acquire more cheaply than other players.

In doing so, Beane put together a string of four straight playoff appearances, despite having one of the lowest payrolls in baseball.  Quite an accomplishment – other teams have followed suit, and it has changed the nature of the game.  I had a post on this topic about a year ago…

Moneyball shows the example of how we can look at the data the right way, and make better decisions, and sports is just one area where it can be applied.  I’m looking forward to seeing the movie, and I recommend reading the book as well!  Here’s another article from Wired magazine for further reading…

I serve as Director of Data Science & Analytics Engineering at Areté Associates. I've also served in leadership positions with Elanix, Inc. (now Agilent Technologies) and Mentor Graphics. I live in Thousand Oaks, CA, where I've served the public as Chair of our city's Planning Commission and our county's Tobacco Settlement Allocation Committee. I have been married to my wife Stephanie since 1993, and we have a wonderful daugther Monroe. Learn more about me »

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