Could Football Adopt Baseball's Approach?

The Birmingham Post (England), November 4, 2010 | Go to article overview

Could Football Adopt Baseball's Approach?


Byline: PETERSHARKEY

One of football's most regrettable truisms is that the game's most profligate clubs are drawn from its so-called elite, yet even they will need to pull in their horns between 2012-15 as UEFA insist upon implementing ''financial fair play'' across the continent. What happens when Europe's leading clubs are compelled to break even is anyone's guess, although a number of high-profile administration orders are widely anticipated.

Some clubs are already taking positive action to avoid such consequences, drawing upon the decade-long experience of several US-based sporting franchises, the benefits of which could possibly apply to all football clubs, irrespective of their spending power.

As is the case with football clubs on this side of the Atlantic, most American sports franchises are not awash with cash. This is particularly true of baseball where big names such as the New York Yankees spend extraordinary sums on players in an attempt to retain their dominance; that was until one man came up with a method which enabled less well-heeled sports teams to compete with the big boys.

Like most sports, statistics have long been an integral part of baseball, but Michael Lewis's Moneyball, written in 2003, showed how one sports franchise in particular, Oakland Athletic, was able to overcome its financial disadvantage by making use of a different set of baseball statistics under the guidance of general manager Billy Beane.

Beane modified some of the statistical thinking first put forward by baseball enthusiast Bill James: essentially, this meant dispensing with traditional ways of assessing a player's potential and applying more scientific and empirical methods.

Once it was proved that these methods worked, they became the cornerstone of Oakland's player recruitment policy.

They began targeting players who were undervalued according to traditional valuation methods, yet once they slotted into Beane's statistical jigsaw, the transformation was remarkable. Within a relatively short period of time, Oakland were able to compete with the Yankees and Red Sox despite having vastly inferior financial resources.

Beane's first step was to jettison established baseball wisdom which maintained that instinct and experience were paramount when it came to identifying latent playing talent.

Instead, he applied a statistical methodology known as Sabermetrics to build his winning squad. This unique gauge of playing ability is based upon an analysis of every piece of action that takes place on the baseball field, data which is then quantified and broken down to a set of results.

Significantly, it is these numbers, not the subjective judgement of an ex-player who has become a scout, that determine a prospective player's abilities.

Of course, other professional baseball managers had long placed some weight on statistics, although their ultimate recruitment policies were based upon hunches or gut feeling. What made Beane's approach so different was his belief that they were looking at the wrong statistics. …

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