A lot has changed in the decade since Billy Beane began implementing his ‘Moneyball’ theory in baseball. Beane was the general manager who helped the Oakland Athletics punch above its weight in the world of professional baseball. He used analytics to get ahead of the game, and this is how he did it.
The subject of a book
Billy Beane’s methods of using analytical data to pick players for his team first became known to sports fans from the book ‘Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game.’ In that book, author Michael Lewis detailed how Oakland was able to find so much success.
Beane and his Oakland A’s team faced a tough task of competing against the super powers in the MLB who had way more money than they did. Every time Beane wanted to buy a good player, he was outbid by another franchise who just had more money to spare. That’s when the general manager knew he needed to make a change.
Looking at baseball differently
With his team being outbid left, right, and center, Beane looked to Paul DePodesta, a guy with a Harvard education and a love of baseball. Together, Beane and DePodesta mined through decades worth of baseball statistics to find something other people were missing.
Their analysis showed that while baseball scouts could spot a talented player, there was so much they were overlooking when it came to statistics. Beane and DePodesta were able to accurately predict how many runs players could score, and from that assemble a team of winners for a bargain-basement price.
This story would have been nothing if it hadn’t worked, so once Beane was able to get the players he wanted, he had to hope the ‘Moneyball’ tactic would work. Beane faced a lot of pushback, but when he assembled his team, they were the first in over 100 years to win 20 games straight in the American League.
The story was a remarkable one, and it gave the Oakland Athletics a fighting chance in a league full of franchises with deep pockets. Since Beane introduced his analytical-focused scouting system, the world of sport has changed dramatically.
Technology is becoming a bigger part of sports than ever before. At the 2018 soccer World Cup, FIFA began using Video Assistant Referees (VAR), while heat maps for soccer coaches help analyze their players’ performance better. All sports are beginning to turn to technology and analytics to find those small gains, which can be the difference between winning and losing.
Beane believes sport will always be played between the white lines, especially where baseball is concerned. He does acknowledge that while baseball looks to “embrace historical consistency,” how play is evaluated will fundamentally change.
Beane believes “technology will transform the social fabric of sport,” and hopes that in the future professional sports will no longer be an exclusive club for the rich. The general manager showed it’s possible to beat the system in baseball by using statistical analysis, and since his success, many other baseball teams have integrated this approach.