~ ATHARVA PADWAL
Most of us have heard about Baseball. It is one of the most popular sports in the United States and it is widely played by countries across the globe, including Japan, Cuba, Netherlands, USA, South Korea and many more. Baseball is a competitive sport and many teams pour a lot of money into figuring out the best strategy to success. Major League Baseball (MLB) is the second-highest professional sports league in the world in terms of revenue after the NFL and the New York Yankees is the most successful team in history to win the MLB with 26 titles to its name. Baseball has many formulas to quantify the skill of players into specific offensive and defensive capabilities but most of these numbers were still secondary when selecting players during the transfer period. Bill James is one the pioneers of Sabermetrics, the empirical analysis of baseball and baseball statistics which measure ingame activity. One of the important strategies employed in the baseball world, or more accurately, the baseball team management world is the Moneyball strategy, which is portrayed more dramatically in the 2011 movie, Moneyball, starring Brad Pitt and Jonah Hill. The two main architects of this strategy were Billy Beane and Paul DePodesta. Billy Beane, played by Brad Pitt, is the General Manager of the Oakland Athletics team and Paul DePodesta, who is named Peter Brand in the movie and played by Jonah Hill, is a former baseball executive who worked for teams in MLB before becoming the general manager of the LA Dodgers and currently is the chief strategy officer of the Cleveland Browns(NFL). While he was the assistant GM at The A’s, he helped Billy Beane lead the A’s to 20 straight wins in the 2002 MLB season.
The story starts with the departure of the three-star players of the A’s – Jason Giambi, Johnny Damon and Jason Isringhausen, after the humiliating loss to the New York Yankees in the first round of the playoffs, where the A’s blew a 2-0 lead to lose the series 3-2. Baseball is a game of money and there are a lot of decisions that need to be taken based on the economic status of a team. The A’s were a small city team, with less expendable income compared to the Yankees or the Red Sox. Due to this, Billy Beane was desperate to find a better way to replace the 3 players that left the team. While other teams used the old scouting method to select players from the draft, Billy Beane hired Paul and worked on the new strategy. The strategy gave no importance to the body of the athlete or the physical tools he possessed, unlike the scouting method. Instead, the new strategy gave importance to two simple questions about offense in baseball – Can the player get on base, and can the player hit? These two questions were answered by two specific statistics, the On-Base Percentage and the Slugging Percentage. These two were combined to form the statistic, On-base plus slugging called OPS. Billy Beane also did not give any attention to power. He believed that power could be developed, but patience at the plate(slugging) and getting on base could not be developed. Billy believed that OPS was an underrated statistic and he could get 3 players for cheap who could replace the missing players. Though he was criticized for this move, Billy ended up signing Scott Hatteberg, David Justice and Chad Bradford(among others).The three new players had an aggregate of OPS similar to the players that left the team. The idea Billy implemented was that he wanted to buy wins by buying runs that meant securing players who can run. Buying runs means getting on base and having a much higher number of runs scored to the number of runs allowed to the opponent teams. Since these new players were undervalued in the market, they could easily buy them and build a team worthy to reach the playoffs and have an amazing run of 20 straight wins. There was a second action that Billy implemented.
He took advantage of the rumours in the market due to the early season games and performed many more transfers to suit the Moneyball strategy. The 20th game in the streak, the A’s somehow lost an 11-0 lead in runs when the Kansas City Royals tied them for 11-11. Scott Hatteberg who was the last pinch hitter for the A’s hit a home run, securing the 20th win dramatically with the score of 12-11, thus creating history. Eventually, the statistically sound team took him to the playoffs where they lost to the Minnesota Twins. Soon after the 2002 season, The Boston Red Sox hired Bill James, the sabermetrician to work as a senior advisor after the big teams realized that there was something that worked for the A’s. That year, the Yankees had a payroll of around 125 million dollars whereas the A’s had a payroll of only 40 million dollars. Both teams lost the first round of the playoffs. In further seasons, Billy Beane used models to increase the defensive ability of the A’s. He rejected an amazing offer to be the General Manager of the Red Sox and continues to work at the Oakland Athletics. This proved that the Moneyball strategy worked and teams soon had to incorporate the old and the new strategies together and value players accordingly. There is a similar case in the English Premier League. Liverpool F.C. co-owner John Henry decided to use a mathematical model, similar to the one used by the Red Sox, built by Cambridge physicist Ian Graham, to select a manager and players for the team. The manager selected was Jürgen Klopp and the players selected like Van Dijk, Mo Salah, Sadio Mané led Liverpool to the 2018-19 Champions League victory and the Premier League 2019-2020 trophy.
About the Author:
Atharva Padwal is a Sophomore at IAQS who has a passion for critical thinking and mindfulness. Currently, he is working on streamlining financial modules and spending his time working on multiple projects.