What Does Moneyball Mean?

The Wikipedia article for Moneyball says that “[r]igorous statistical analysis had demonstrated that on-base percentage and slugging percentage are better indicators of offensive success, and the A’s became convinced that these qualities were cheaper to obtain on the open market than more historically valued qualities such as speed and contact.” While defending Wikipedia as a credible source is another issue entirely, but this sums up the idea of Moneyball: Players on base means more runs, no matter how they get on base. And more runs mean more wins.

And it’s my belief that as long as there’s initial talent, you can teach motivated players the “correct” way to play team baseball and win games.

After the A’s front office generated a team with great on base and slugging statistics who were undervalued on the market for some reason or another, the team started the season by losing, and losing often.

They’re way below .500 before Brad Pitt smashes a speaker with a bat, yells at the team about how losing isn’t fun, and the team turns around. The following montage shows Pitt and Jonah Hill teaching the players the art of getting on base — taking pitches to wear down the opposing pitchers and get walks, and waiting for pitches in areas of the strike zone where they already have a higher average. Assuming that the motivating music during the montage had nothing to do with the turnaround, I’ll put money on it being the players finally buying into the idea that getting on base means wins for the team.

But instead of teaching and motivation being integral parts of Moneyball, popular culture seems to think that Moneyball is purely data science / big data trumping a person’s intuition about a player. Scott Hatteberg, Chris Pratt’s character, has good on base stats. But what the stats don’t show are his determination to provide for his family and contribute to the team.

Data is a hugely popular theme for pretty much every industry in this day and age. Every company touts their data departments as the reason they’re having success. And if a company isn’t “leveraging the cloud and it’s data opportunities” they’re going to be left in the dust. Bullshit words aside, I believe data is important, but not necessarily more important than humans and what drives them. And no matter what light you shine on it, humans were the difference in making Moneyball work. So really, coaches make the difference. More on that to come.

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