Moneyball… the Art of Winning

Michael Lewis is an author who has published two well-known books that have been adopted into movies. One of these movies is called the Blindside. Yes, that movie that was adopted from Lewis’ book focused on Michael Oher. The other movie is called Moneyball, again loosely based upon Moneyball: the art of winning an unfair game.

Moneyball was a book that was about Billy Beane and the Oakland Athletics who would among the smallest payrolls in the league, a small fraction of the Yankees and Red Sox.(Disclaimer: I will warn you right now that I am a fan of the Oakland Athletics and I will try not to have any biases in their success or philosophies.)Billy Beane is the GM of the Oakland A’s MLB baseball team. He is widely regarded as a innovated and great GM. If you have not read the book, I encourage you to read it. Contrary to the movie, there are several bullet points that I would like to point out, and some of my own observations on modern management techniques.

The book was about using statistical analysis and unconventional wisdom to look past biases and challenge the conventional sports executive way of doing business. Billy Beane through statistical analysis found “bargain value” players who the other 29 other teams did not highly value. In the book, that commodity was the ability to be selective at the plate and get on base. In 2002, walking or OBP was an undervalued skill. The players that were getting the money had personality, looked good in a uniform, and had great tools. They had pop, or speed, or excellent defense. They would be players who had average, home runs, low ERAs, or other published stats. Beane lost his top 3 players and was still able to be atop the American League, despite the payroll differences. Beane has consistently had among the lowest payrolls over the past 10 years, but among the higher winning percentages. He no longer believes walks are undervalued, but now they are actually overvalued. In 2002 they A’s were based off no speed, but power, and OBP. Last year they were 7th in steals and last in OBP and again had a substantially lower payroll than most. Beane is arguably an innovator in thinking. He isn’t the smartest GM. He really doesn’t know much about statistical processes. He has had success via trial and error. My perception is finding value will always give your team an advantage. My other perception is he has made two fundamental errors: He hired his friend (and brother in-law) Bob Geren as manager. Bob was smart but couldn’t communicate with his team or assistance. His other error was drafting his perceived BPA and ignore their grade. Jeremy Brown was a catcher that would probably have been a 20-30th round selection. Billy took him in round 1.

Here is my premise of all of this. A successful team is able to be successful by having a sustainable strategic vision that can separate themselves by being innovative and identifying value. How can I apply this to the Jets and why am I reading this?

I will tackle the later question first. It’s Sunday, there is nothing on TV, and you really aren’t in the mood for the Pro Bowl. How can the Jets use this as a building block? Well, the NFL is a relatively competitive league. Each team has the ability to be at the hard salary cap. There are 32 teams, so the statistical chances that you win the Super Bowl is 1:32. There are some teams that are consistently contenders, and others that are well are not. How can you be a perennial contender? Stragetic, long term vision focusing on value.

Premise #1. Do not give mediocre players large amounts of money. Seems logical, right? See Calvin Pace.

Premise #2. Do not give perceived immature or low character players large amounts of guaranteed money for lots of years. Many people in our society that didn’t have money and come into lots of money tend to get in trouble and can’t continue to sustain their success. Mark Sanchez was, and arguably still is a little immature at times. See hard knocks. Hot dog incident. No disrespect Mark, but you are starting to grow up and be a man. Some boys become men at 15, some at 18, some at 21, some at 25 and some that may even be more than that. Santonio Holmes arguably falls into that category. Good player with lots of talent you can’t coach. He is a “me first” player. He is still another marijuana test away from a 1 year suspension.

Premise #3. Hire coaches and scouts who are sharp, they listen, and they can communicate. A GM in a strategic organization needs to coach and trust his team. Peers need to have trust in their boss, but they need to listen and also effectively communicate if they disagree.

Premise #4. Continue to build through the draft. Do not continue to have shallow drafts and trade draft picks for more expensive, unwanted players. Trading up for Julio Jones is fine IF you are a Julio Jones away from being that dynamic and trusted your other 52 roster spots. It’s a good rule of thumb to consistently draft 7 players a year on average.

Premise #5. Continue to have a solid balance of veterans, players entering their prime, players who are starting to hit their stride, and prospects.

Premise #6. Hang on to your core, veteran players, but only within reason. This comes back to Revis. Generational Talents are very tough, but be professional and understand if you commit $$ per year, understand that you still need 52 other players to fill the roster. I’m not saying don’t pay the man, but ensure you can pay the man. Ensure you haven’t passed up a kings ransom. I’m not suggesting what to do here other than cross your T’s and dot your I’s and lower case J’s. If New England gives you all picks in this years draft or 3-5 first rounders, you need to seriously consider. It probably won’t happen but you can have Revis, who won’t alone stop an offense, or 15 million in cap flexibility and an injection if youth.

Premise #7. Don’t be afraid to bench anyone. Depth is a good thing. When you have it, you are able to bench players lacking confidence or who are playing through injury. Think of the skins and RG3. A nonmobile RG3 is now a pocket passer in a playoff game. Good idea? NO!

Premise #8. Give any and all players on your radar a draft grade. Do not overdraft. If you are the Chiefs, do not pick Geno Smith #1 because you need a QB. Take BPA according to your teams inputs. I would recommend giving each prospect a 0-3000 point grade. Grade prospects based on value and recent comparables. Have your 0-3000 grade mirror the NFL draft value chart. If you feel no one is of value when you draft, explore trading down. If you strongly feel that a top 15 pick has dropped into round 3, it may be strongly advisable to trade up. Don’t take Bruce Irvin as the #1 DE/OLB… trade down.

Premise #9. Trust statistics as a guide. If virtually all QB’s fail that are Juniors, complete less than 60%, or come from a spread/option read system, don’t give them a high draft grade. Glennon anyone?

Premise #10. Consider injury history and character. One strong reason I didn’t believe Shipley was a sure fire, can’t miss prospect was his injury history. Do you know what? It happened again the pros. I’m not saying don’t draft them at all, but consider that you probably a player capable of starting in rounds 1-3. I consider injury risk players like Bowers. If you have depth but lack special talents, Bowers can be a decent pickup in round 2. But Tampa Bay probably wasn’t in that scenario. Sergio Kindle would be another bust. Injuries weren’t good, but his character wasn’t too strong either. Sued for nonpayments, DUI’s, etc.

Premise #11. Try to diversify your draft picks. If you feel a BPA but you took a WR 2nd and 7th last year, and you have confidence in them, and you again draft another one, consider lowering their grade and value. Look at the Detroit Lions. They used 3 #1 picks on WR. The Jets have used back to back first rounders on DE’s!

Premise #12. Don’t be afraid to bench anyone. Depth is a good thing. When you have it, you are able to bench players lacking confidence or who are playing through injury. Think of the skins and RG3. A nonmobile RG3 is now a pocket passer in a playoff game. Good idea? NO!

So in a nutshell, I consider these 12 premises the foundation to maximizing value and making any team a successful one. Please feel free to add additional ideas.

And yes, since it is the offseason, I will offer my “value” mock draft.

We trade #9 to the Dolphins and the Dolphins select OT Eric Fischer for Miami’s #12 and #77. Jake Long looks like he is going bye bye and I don’t like Fischer drops now.

Our draft

1. Kenny Vaccaro, S, Texas – perhaps the best safety prospect in a couple of years. Possible BPA at a definite need. Instant starter and very possibly future probowler.

2. Tyler Eifert, TE, Notre Dame. His blocking seemed to improve. Would not hesitate to take Ertz here either. Valuable weapon for the offense. Could instantly start. Possible future probowler

3. Zac Dysert, QB, Miami OH . Project. Generally I don’t like to take projects but statistically has a chance to succeed if not thrusted into the role. Landry Jones or Manuel would also be ok, but would probably wait a little longer.

3. Chase Thomas, OLB, Stanford. An every down OLB. Can play the run and pressure the QB.

4. Hugh Thornton, G, Illinois. He could possibly be a starter in year 1. Mean streak. Solid run blocker.

5. Zach Line, RB, SMU. A football player. Perhaps will not be a start but will contribute immediately on special teams and could be a good

6. A.J. Klein, ILB, Iowa State. Has a nose for the ball. Doesn’t have the measurables.

7. Gilbert Pena, NT, Ole Miss. I think some late round depth at nose could be huge. Pouha is no longer durable and Kendrick Ellis may not be ready to step in.

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