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Friday, May 9, 2014

The true story behind Moneyball

By Rebecca Fearn

Moneyball is the 2011 film starring Brad Pitt in which he turns to computer analysis to build a winning team with the tiniest salary budget in baseball. The film was nominated for six Oscars at the time and is a real feel-good film where the good guys overcome big bucks to become winners – and when the USA’s favourite sport meets Brad Pitt, essentially, what’s not to like?

Baseball loves statistics

Baseball was one of the first sports to use statistics intensively and still uses them more than almost any other. Even before the advent of easily accessed computers, baseball fanatics would collect all the data they could on their team and the best players and soon the commentators joined in, giving statistics out throughout the game. From this rudimentary system, the whole science of sports analysis kicked off and now trainers and managers across the board use it to not only check out the competition but also to choose teams and to spot potential stars.

Great training aid

At first the statistics were used to track games and teams – betting was illegal for much of the time in the US but even so it went on, using statistics to choose who to back. At first it was based on batting averages and other obvious facts but of course with the advent of video and computers it is possible to work out performances to the millimetre. This is handy not only to make sure that athletes are working at their best but also to identify weak spots if any. If an athlete is feeling their performances are under par the sports science analysis can tell them if their performance is indeed suffering – often it is all in the mind and seeing in black and white that all is well is all that is needed to turn someone around.

It really can save money

Of course the whole point behind Moneyball is that Brad Pitt’s character has only a tiny budget for buying and retaining a team. Whilst every other trainer is able to flash the cash, he has to choose more carefully, picking players who are just as good as the expensive ones, but without the price tag. This doesn’t happen now, but the use of sports analysis software will still mean savings on injuries and expensive layoffs of players. It may also pay dividends in reductions of costs when it comes to training.

Many people overtrain simply because they don’t know whether they have done enough or not. Not only is this time consuming, but it also often results in injuries because overtraining is often worse than not doing enough. Without enough training all that happens is poor performance – with the opposite it may mean that there is lasting muscle damage meaning a player has lost the edge for ever. If a player has cost a lot of money, this is just waste and a relatively small outlay on some top quality sports analysis software can avoid the problem at the stroke of a key.

About the author: Article by Rebecca Fearn who often writes for The Sports Office.

Image license: Timothy Takemoto; CC BY 2.0