Analytics is the difference maker in today’s Major League Baseball
By Kent R. Kroeger (March 2, 2023)
My favorite scene in the movie Moneyball is the one where Oakland A’s general manager, Billy Beane (played by wonderfully Brad Pitt), having just been upbraided by the team’s head scout (played brilliantly by Ken Medlock) for relying too heavily on analytics when making personnel decisions, gives this response:
“My turn. You don’t have a crystal ball. You can’t look at a kid and predict his future, anymore than I can. I’ve sat at those kitchen tables with you and listened to you tell those parents, ‘When I know, I know. And when it comes to your son, I know.’ And you don’t…you don’t.”
Any soul with respect for evidence-based decision making should have jumped out of their seats in that scene. I did.
Yet, oddly enough, I am also an insufferable skeptic on the omnipotence of data analytics when making business decisions, or, as in Beane’s case, in making player personnel decisions for a major league baseball team.
The first baseball team I ever loved was the 1970s Oakland A’s (Vida Blue remains my favorite baseball player of all time). So when a colleague of mine asked me in 2011 what I thought of Moneyball, I said the book and movie made me sick.
Why? Because, as an Oakland A’s fan, Billy Beane’s love of analytics has offered me barely more than nothing. The following is a summary of the Oakland A’s since their Moneyball season in 2002:
The A’s under Beane is an abundance of postseason disappointments. If I had to summarize the value of baseball analytics based on Beane’s tenure as the A’s general manager, I’d say it made one of the poorest teams in baseball consistently competitive, but never great.
That isn’t nothing, but fans want great…or, at least, one or two appearances in the World Series in their lifetime.
Yes, the A’s won their division six times under Beane’s leadership. But that is not a metric fans care about — they care about winning in the postseason. And from an A’s fan perspective, analytics…