Recently I saw Moneyball, the blockbuster movie based on Michael Lewis’s best seller, Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game. The movie has been successful for some obvious reasons, one being that Brad Pitt is not too hard to look at for two hours. But I liked it for an imperceptible one. It illustrated the advice I’ve been giving clients for years: Hire for project management talent. You can buy experience by the pound.
Brad Pitt plays Billy Bean, a one-time phenomenon who flamed out in the big leagues, who went to work as the GM for the Oakland Athletics. As the movie opens, the franchise faces the loss their three best players. Because the team doesn’t enjoy the financial position of the perennial favorites like the Yankees and the Red Sox, Beane realizes he needs to radically change how he evaluates what players can bring to the squad. Then he meets Peter Brand, the first and best talent decision Beane made during his journey to success.
Brand was a twenty-five year old recent Yale economics graduate who specialized in sabermetrics, a scientific approach that uses objective, empirical baseball statistics that measure in-game activity.
Beane realizes Brand understands how to subvert the system of assessing players that’s been in place for nearly a century. However, as the duo begin to acquire less-than-first-round-choices, they face stiff resistance from both the A’s longtime scouts and the team’s manager, Art Howe. They experience a bumpy start, but ultimately, Beane and Brand prevail.
Let’s Look at the Lessons for Leaders
- Like business leaders today, Beane faced severe economic restraints—chains that did not hinder his competitors. In 2002, The Athletics paid approximately $41 million in salary while competitors like the New York Yankees spent over $125 million in payroll that same season. Because of the team’s smaller revenues, Oakland was forced to find players undervalued by the market. Clearly, the economic playing field wasn’t level, so Beane needed new ideas. If he had embraced the traditional approach of hiring for experience, Oakland could never have maintained a competitive edge.
- Beane did not possess the talent to analyze players, so he hired Brand for his expertise. And most importantly, he took the advice he received from Brand.
- The current economic situation will not allow you to do what you’ve always done and get the same payoff. You too need a new approach to hiring the talent that will allow you to outplay your competition. Often you won’t have the budget for the most experienced player, but if you objectively analyze the talent you can afford, you too can win.
Teams that value sabermetrics are often said to be playing “Moneyball.” Baseball traditionalists, in particular some scouts and media members, decry the sabermetric revolution and have disparaged Moneyball for emphasizing sabermetrics over more traditional methods of player evaluation. Nevertheless, the front offices of major league teams like the St. Louis Cardinals, who, incidentally just won the World Series, in case anyone was on another planet during October, the New York Mets, the Yankees, the Padres, the Red Sox, the Washington Nationals, the Arizona Diamondbacks, and others have hired full-time sabermetric analysts. The general managers of these teams understand what I tell all my clients: Instead of paying top dollar for talent, get top talent for the dollars you pay.
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