Like many other sports, baseball has a huge fan community – but one thing that sets baseball fans apart is their love of statistics. Followers of baseball have been meticulously recording and analyzing data about everything from players’ batting speed to pitching averages in an attempt to assess the “value” of a player to their team, since 1858 at least.
In the 1970s, a member of the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR) by the name of Bill James came to believe that people misunderstood the way baseball was played, and that they were unaware of several key factors that had a huge influence on the outcome of the game. To prove his thesis, he turned to deep statistical analysis as a means of demonstrating its worth, thereby establishing the concept of SABRmetrics – and the profession of “SABRmatician.”
It is this field of study that Billy Beane (Brad Pitt’s character) turns to, with the help of the Yale-trained economist Peter Brand, in order to map out the gaps in his team’s abilities, and to begin to search for talent that, despite not being recognized as “high quality” or “high value,” will still be able to propel the Athletics forward. Rather than looking at traditional skills deemed desirable by baseball enthusiasts and professionals, Brand and Beane examined what the team’s concrete, numerical goals were, and what specific player abilities were needed to reach these goals, while still staying within the budgetary limitations set by the team’s owners. Do you see the HR and management connection yet?
Using this approach, the Athletics manage to make baseball history, setting a record 20 consecutive win streak and almost win the 2002 American League Division Series, despite the severe hindrances they faced after their star players had left or been bought-out in the beginning of the season.