The Real Lesson of Moneyball

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At this point in history Moneyball is an iconic book and movie. And even more than that, especially in the sporting world, it is an iconic idea. Moneyball is often mentioned as an ideal towards which we need to work. And once you mention Moneyball, everyone knows what you mean. But are they right in thinking they know what they mean?

For many people, Moneyball is analogous to analytics. The ‘Moneyball Approach’ to use large amounts of data to approach a problem. This is the most shallow interpretation of the book, and also the interpretation that most allows people to agree wholeheartedly while at the same time rejecting their need to learn any lessons… ‘we just don’t have access to that much data’.

For people who have read the book, Moneyball is about the search for value, value being something that provides more utility than it costs. Specifically by this interpretation, the ‘Moneyball Approach’ is finding particular skills within the game that affect winning, but which are not recognised by the market. The example most followed in the book is the value of getting onto to first base by walking. Analysing large data sets allowed the story’s heroes to identify those skills.

While both of those are perfectly valid and correct interpretations of the book, for me neither are the lesson. It is true that large datasets and analytics played a huge role. It is true that it was driven by the search for value. But the underlying philosopy was the willingness to look at the game in a different way. In the Moneyball world, walks were undervalued in large part because they are not counted in batting average. To get to that point, someone had to ask the question does batting average actually measure what we think it measures.

The Moneyball Approach in volleyball, is not analytics, athough analytics will help, it is not understanding value, although that is the outcome, it is asking questions like does attack efficiency really measure attack? Do blocks per set measure anything at all? How can we measure setters? The Moneyball Approach is looking at things from a different perspective and taking things that everything thinks they know the answer to and then looking at them from a different perspective.

The Moneyball Approach is a way of thinking.

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