The San Francisco Giants own the lionshare of the local fanbase. Many years ago, I got tired of rooting for the Giants after the Barry Bonds debacle. Of course, the team has made amends since then. The Houston Astros were my favorite team, but I switched to the Giants when I moved here. The Astros had been in a rut for a long-time. The “other” local team had been left behind.
The Oakland A’s changed their strategy and came up with Moneyball (coined in Michael Lewis’ book) thanks to their brilliant manager Billy Beane. Sabermetrics had been around long before Billy Beane. The A’s began focusing on sabermetric principles in the early 2000s, in order to obtain undervalued players. I became a fan of the underdog A’s. They had a couple great years back then and were good last year, too.
Based on the A’s success, other teams began following suit—using statistical analysis to analyze baseball records & player performance. The right set of metrics offered a baseline for continuous player improvement. Sabermetrics became baseball’s secret sauce in uncovering hidden talent. One could argue that this ‘globalized’ the game more than anything else. Talent scouts discovered “global talent” which passed the sabermetrics test. They were much cheaper and more “game-ready” than local talent found through the MLB draft, college programs and minor leagues.
The search for Sports talent has become akin to the hunt for low-cost, high-performing Tech talent. The downside of Moneyball is the degradation of human relationships and disappointing your fans. Players become short-term transactions in the war for championships. Sabermetrics has been used to justify many recent trades in baseball. Sometimes, there is a lotto effect in making moves where everyone actually wins.
In the case of the Oakland A’s, sabermetrics can also fail. Last year, the A’s were a wild card playoff team led by Yoenis Cespedes (now with New York Mets), Brandon Moss (St. Louis Cardinals), Scott Kazmir (Houston Astros) and Josh Donaldson (Toronto Bluejays). These guys were fan favorites and well on their way to A’s stardom. Today, the A’s are the 2nd worst team in the American League. The departed talent finds themselves in better situations.
Some “fair weather” fans like myself have become Giants and Astros fans, again. The A’s could have listened to their fans and held onto their stars. Instead, they forgot about their customers. The seats are empty now. And they might have a repeat of April 17, 1979.
If you are looking for another sports team going beyond this metrics-based approach, check out the Seattle Seahawks (blog post).