How Much of Baseball Is Science? Part 1: Analytics (or Sabermetrics)


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Baseball is "America's Past time" and the game I have loved since I was a kid. But it's not JUST a game or all about guys throwing a ball, hitting it (or not), and catching it. It's a lot more complex than that. How much of the aggregate game of baseball is skill, luck, and science? Lets not get too out of hand here about the first two, because most people probably know that hard work and god given talents amount to success in athletics. But in most cases, especially in baseball, when it comes to decision making; NUMBERS NEVER LIE! Since this is in fact a science course I will focus on the science part

moneyball.pngBy now everyone has seen the Academy Award noninated movie "Moneyball" starring the ever-so-popular Brad Pitt and funny guy Jonah Hill right? Well if you haven't it's time for the SPOILER ALERT! It is based on the true story of the 2002 Oakland Athletics who changed the game of baseball in a very unconventional manner and revolutionized baseball as we know it today. Simply, Athletics General Manager Billy Beane (played by Brad Pitt) and his front office staff were able to take advantage of a market efficiency by overlooking conventional baseball statistics and use advanced analytics, or what most people now know them as "sabermetrics". At the time the Athletics were (and still are) one of smallest market teams in baseball and "financially challenged". So they had to find any way possible with their lack of financial resources to field a competitive team. Their front office staff turned to new-found 20th century analytics that had not been tapped into yet to build their team and decision making around. These analytics bypassed the "norms" and changed baseball front offices forever. The 2002 Athletics went on to lose in the first round of the playoffs, but they set the modern day American League record with a 20 game winning streak.

From then on out, the "Moneyball" philosophy established by Beane and Company began a modern-day movement towards new found thinking and decision making. Since then, small market baseball franchises such as the Rays, Pirates, Indians, among many others, started to preach the "Moneyball" way. Even the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox of the world use these techniques for scouting and decision making. Sabermetrics are now part of the everyday norm of baseball, unlike before. It basically proved that "teams didn't need a big payroll to win" (Mahler, 2011). My next post, Part 2, will elaborate more on this new-fangled thing called sabermetrics.

3 Comments

First off, I wanted to say as a huge sports fan that I absolutely loved "Moneyball", thought it was a great film. The idea of moneyball to me seemed very unrealistic at first but then as I watched the film and with my knowledge of baseball it started to make sense. A question for some thought that I started thinking about was, do you think this form of thinking and decision making by the general manager, is only beneficial to the lower-market teams? Lets be honest, if I was the GM of the Yankees or Red Sox I would go after the big contract guys over smaller guys because I would be able to afford them. What do you think?

Thanks for the interest in my post, Matt. Take a look at Parts 2 and 3 if you get the chance because I elaborate a tad bit more for people that may be confused on what all of this means and what Moneyball was REALLY about.

But to answer your question, every type of team, whether it be small or large market teams, can benefit from "Moneyball" thinking. Small market teams have to use it more because they don't have as much financial resources obviously (like the A's or my beloved Pirates). So they have to load up via the draft or with prospects, unload because of affordability, and then find guys that "are on an island of misfit toys"

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