Moneyball: Why Oakland Analytics will change our world

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Neil Stoneman

29. 11. 2011 | 3 min read

Moneyball: Why Oakland Analytics will change our world

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I watched Moneyball last night.

It’s the true story of how baseball started to introduce statistical and scientific methods to build better teams with reduced budgets.

For over 100 years baseball scouts (usually ex-players) picked and discarded players using gut instinct. Their thinking on what makes a great player conformed: technique, grace, beauty, reputation, potential, reliability and creativity.

Scouts looked for what you might call a player’s player. And the received wisdom worked, in the sense that nobody got fired for employing it.

The Oakland Analytics
No sport is an exact science, but baseball gets closer than most. There’s a mountain of data managed by a bunch of geeks who can tell you everything you need to know about players from a numbers perspective: hits, walks, runs, steals…

And these people look at the game differently. They don’t understand potential or grace: they do understand the raw contribution every player makes to the bottom line of winning matches.

And guess what? An analyst’s player isn’t a player’s player. Not even close.

The raw data theory is simple: it says you can assemble a winning team for a fraction of the usual cost if you change focus from subjective feel to objective analysis.

But would anyone have the bottle to take on the establishment and risk their reputation and livelihood? Billy Beane and the Oakland Athletics, with one of the league’s smallest budgets, risking their reputations and livelihoods, finally went for it and recorded the longest winning streak in baseball history with their ugly team of graceless, ageing misfits. And changed the game.

Resistance is Futile
The Oakland management team realized they could only compete by focusing on direct return on investment. They stopped asking how much a player would cost to buy: they started asking how much a run, or even a win, would cost to buy.

They looked at the sport differently and, despite being lampooned by a hostile establishment with everything to lose, they changed the way baseball works.

And it’s the same in B2B marketing. Time to adapt or die. Let’s:
Quit thinking of science as a geek’s preserve and embrace a quantitative approach to marketing.
Stop caring about what our peers think and start finding out which investments actually buy us prospects, customers and revenue.
Cease wasting cash on what’s big and trendy and keep investing cash in whatever tried and tested process keeps bringing in the punters.
Lose reliance on big opinions and take control of the marketing process with big data.
End the fascination with agency beauty parades and get deep and dirty with analysts and data jockeys who truly understand what’s working.
Adjust any hiring processes that rely on portfolios that don’t show impact on the bottom line.
Scrap any marketing campaign that talks costs rather than value and revenue.
Pull creatives out the darkness and give them a fantastic platform to spin their best ideas.
Rethink the idea that growing a marketing budget is more important than delivering more than less.
I could go on. But at the end of the day it’s all about money, whether it’s ball or marketing, and we’d all better get used to it.

I’ll leave you with a quote from  “The Win Without Pitching Manifesto” by Blair Enns:
“There are greater causes by which to frame an enterprise, and there are nobler metrics by which to measure the value of effort. But we cannot escape the fact that money is both a necessity in life and the most basic scorecard of success in business. Even if it is not the validation we seek, it is the most basic of test that we must pass.”
And it’s our job as B2B marketers to make sure we pass the test every day.

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  1. Andrew Bruce Smith

    November 29th, 2011

    Have you read the book as well? Well worth it. Then again, any Michael Lewis book is worth the entry fee.

  2. Neil Stoneman

    November 29th, 2011

    Hi Andrew,

    It’s on the Christmas list now…


  3. Doug Kessler

    December 2nd, 2011

    Agreed — a great post about a movie I haven’t yet seen based on one of the best sports books of all time.

  4. Paul Nerger

    December 25th, 2011

    Agreed – Great book and great post.

    But the book really isn’t about Baseball but about management. It’s about looking at things in a different way and finding insight based upon fact rather than instinct. Baseball is the vehicle but using fact and rigor to make management decisions is the message.

    I work with lots of managers that make decisions based upon assumptions that are put into a spreadsheet and they see this as fact. When I take those assumptions, associate a probability distributions around them such that I can run a Monte Carlo analysis to understand the risk in the modeled; they typically freak.

    Lord Kelvin said that you can not control (i.e., manage) that which you can not measure. The lesson of Moneyball is an old one; come up with a way to measure it and you will get a better result. Don’t be afraid of measurement; do your job and manage which means measurement.

    And one last word about business sabermetrics; don’t rest on your laurels. Once everyone figures out that on-base percentage and slugging is more important than batting average, you’ve lost your advantage. It’s time to look for the next metric that will reestablish your competitive advantage.

    Don’t believe me — ask Google. Oh, I forgot, unlike Billy Budd, they don’t talk about the metrics that give them competitive advantage:-).

  5. Paul Nerger

    January 2nd, 2012

    Actually, I meant to say Billy Beane and not Billy Budd :-} it was a flash back to my American Lit class in college:-)

  6. Neil Stoneman

    January 3rd, 2012

    Nice one Paul.

    There are so many measurement lessons we should be taking on board.


  7. Raj Gondhali

    February 25th, 2012

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