I have been awestruck ever since I saw the movie ‘Moneyball’, a movie based on a non-fictional novel written by Michael Lewis which follows Oakland Athletics then-General Manager Billy Beane. Like most successful stories, this one also had a great message. However, this message was not about timing, precision, nor was it about working hard. Rather, it was about using your resources wisely by applying statistics.
This movie introduced me to the term ‘Sabermetrics’, which means the use of statistical methods to analyse player performance and game strategy.
The exceptional impact of mathematics on the growth of man’s lifestyle needs no introduction, but we must also thank statistics for introducing us to the power of forecasting. For example, here is a work from Sir Francis Galton where he introduced us to regression and correlation by predicting height of child from parent's height.
I am still waiting for a term like sabermetrics for cricket. Below are 3 main takeaways from ‘Moneyball’ that I believe hold relevance for any business in life.
1. Use analysis to back up your hunches
Historical data suggests success has bestowed its love to those who followed their intuition, but I believe following blind intuition alone is suicidal. You need some data to back up your claim and make your work more calculative. So, as a cricket admin, if I were to ignore the weight of a player and focus on their spin bowling strength or batting ability I might be surprised with what that can do.
I personally liked Inzamam-ul-Haq for this, as he was quite different in terms of his build for cricket. While his build and slow reflexes would suggest otherwise, he is a regarded as one of the most successful batsmen from Pakistan. He was also a fairly impressive slip fielder, holding the distinction of having the second highest run-outs in ODI history. Maybe there are many Inzamam’s in the game who are going unnoticed, but if we have data about their strengths, then more of these hidden gems would be unearthed by applying sabermetrics.
2. Let data back you up – not the other way round
There was an interesting story shared by Michael Lewis where the Houston Astros asked their analyst to analyse the impact of shifting the Astrodome’s fence. The Houston Astros wanted to bring the fence closer, with the increase in potential home runs hit translating to higher ticket sales. However the analysis highlighted that the Astros were more likely to lose most of their games if fence was moved closer since their opponents were more also more likely to hit homers. With this knowledge, the Houston Astros still wanted to bring the fence in and effectively cover up the information; "they didn’t want the information to inform the decision. They’d already made the decision".
This prevailing trend is why we should make a decisions based on analysis and not vice versa.
3. Moneyballing in general
What we do today will have an impact on tomorrow, but most of time we do not have historic data of yesterday, the data can be incorrect or incomplete, which is pivotal in making informed decisions.
The more historic data we have for every action performed increases the likelihood of making better judgements, provided we keep going back to check our metrics. We can always change our metrics to reflect the business KPI’s. That is one of the major takeaways from the Moneyball, relying on data to back your moves which keeps your options open.
To quote David Fizdale of the Memphis Grizzlies, "Take that for data!"