BSUK Playing Moneyball


Jenny Fromer

Over the last few days the film "Moneyball" has done the rounds of US premiere screenings before going on big-screen release this week. The lag to UK screens is about two months as the film is scheduled to open here on 25 November. However it's good news that a baseball movie has made it to general release in the UK at all, probably helped by having Brad Pitt in the lead role.

Based on Michael Lewis's 2003 book of the same name, "Moneyball" is an analysis of the 2002 Oakland Athletics' use of rigorous statistical analysis in order to exploit market inefficiencies in evaluating players' likelihood of offensive success. The point is to show how Oakland General Manager Billy Beane got a lot more bang for his buck than big-market teams like the Yankees and Red Sox by looking at statistics in a new way. The movie almost writes itself....

For those who follow baseball, "Moneyball" is now part of the language of the game -- although it's often, incorrectly, seen as synonymous with playing "small ball". Instead, the story is about how a club with relatively small resources and a willingness to consider something new saw a statistical edge that it felt could be exploited. Back in 2002, players were valued primarily on speed and batting averages, whereas Billy Beane saw that a better measure of success might be on-base and slugging percentages and that this should be applied to drafting polished college players rather than wasting high draft picks on untested high school prospects.

It's certainly true that from 2000-2006 the A's record was in no way commensurate with their payroll. They made the playoffs five times during that period (roughly the same as the Yankees and Boston) whilespending roughly a third of what the Yankees spent and about 40% of Boston's salary costs. Since 2006, the A's have dropped off dramatically, and it's assumed that this is a reflection of other clubs catching up to their use of sabrmetrics.

Early reviews of the film have not been glowing, which may not be that surprising as the subject is effectively statistics and their application. That said, with the screenplay by Aaron Sorkin (West Wing, The Social Network)  it's bound to be a film worth sitting through.

Now to make a nebulous connection between my theme and BSUK For me, this revolves around the concept of a small market club (read: baseball and softball) having to be more productive with fewer resources to compete with big-market clubs (read: bigger sports). The parallel occurred to me while thinking about starting work on our next four-year application for funding from Sport England. Among the list of investment principles to be considered is that sports need to demonstrate significant value for money. For BSUK, that means doing what the bigger sports do, only much more efficiently.

In our case, this does not mean spotting a gap in the statistical information that gives us a new approach. It does, however, mean making the most of scant resources by finding economies of scale from working collaboratively with other sports. It means taking opportunities to increase participation through less traditional routes such as Go Mammoth or the Wickes League. And it includes intangibles such as the commitment and dedication of our staff, each of whom are responsible for delivering across multiple targets, and who often work above and beyond what could be expected.

"Moneyball" is also essentially about insiders and outsiders. In that case, the Oakland A's sat outside the key players in Major League Baseball and used an outsiders' approach, sabrmetrics, over traditional scouting. Oakland forced MLB to take notice of what they were doing because they apparently got results. BSUK, representing relatively small sports in baseball and softball, has had to do much the same thing. Having built up a track record of meeting our targets across two funding cycles where some bigger sports have struggled, has put us in a good place for the next one.

tagged under: development, moneyball, value

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hamzen 18:56

No ecuse for not using sabermetrics in British Baseball and softball. Certainly in baseball in the UK no teams that I’ve come across seem to have any idea what the break even point is for stealing bases, at best assuming it should be like MLB, mid 70’s%. That basically just gives runs to the opposition. At the lower levels the success rate needs to be about 95%+.

Easy to work out using Tango Tigers Run Calculator, just input the league scoring rates and it’;s easy to work out. Surely this kind of thing should be being done at the national level too, in a country that is less endowed with talent compared to other european countries, every edge would make a difference.

All about improving efficiency, across all angles.

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