There I was, minding my own business, happily watching the final session of the test match when out of the blue up pops ‘Moneyball’. Michael Atherton made reference to it and the broad sweep of the concept and suggested that one of the IPL owners had used it as a basis for his auction strategy. Can’t remember what team he cited so I don’t know if it was applied successfully, but if it was then perhaps this owner would be good enough to sit down with Billy Beane and tell him how it can work in Oakland.
No game more closely matches it’s statistical data than baseball and, fortunately, it’s still a long way from the actuality. A regular season of 162 games in 6 months, for a comparative data set it would take, even for T20 cricket, something approaching 5 years to compile and would still be far less a representation of a cricketer’s capability. What player is substantially the same player now that he was 5 years ago, I accept that there are a few who may have a reasonably steady plateau for a five year period somewhere between age 27 through to 34 but even this plateau would be based on very simple measures of average, strike rate, wickets taken and economy rate, as far as I am aware there is no equivalent of batting average for balls in play, range factor and even more esoteric Sabermetric calculations of a baseball player’s worth, for a cricketer’s worth?
But this is not my beef with the ‘Moneyball’ being used in some fashion in cricket, if someone wants to try it, that’s fine. The problem I had was with Atherton’s inference that it was a proven concept, and he is not alone in this, but it does indicate that he is certainly not an Oakland A’s fan and probably not a baseball fan. The clue is there in the title, this is a book and a philosophy, if you will, about money first and baseball second. It has proved over the 12 years that Beane has been GM in Oakland to be a strategy for limited success at a limited price, just one ALCS appearance, and the highwater mark for ‘Moneyball’, losing 4-0, in 2005 with pitching from the likes of Haren, Zito, Harden, Blanton, Kennedy and Street with run support of 2.25 per game from a batting average of .221 and we have not had a winning season since that time or finished better than 3rd in the AL West. If the ‘Moneyball’ concept ever had any real merit, teams, other than Oakland, have taken it and subsumed it into their own culture and filtered out the dogmatic junk, dogma which seems to have become every bit as ingrained in Oakland as the wise words of the scouts, which grated so much with Beane, were before he became GM in 1998 and turned it all on it’s head.
I have no problem with people referencing ‘Moneyball’ as long as they understand what it is they are referencing; a strategy not for success, but for failure. It is not a strategy of towering intellect showing the hidebound traditionalists that they are no more than a bunch of spendthrift dolts, though this seems to be the shorthand use it has acquired.