• Astros Hope That Their Radical Plan Pays Off

    Added - Nov. 27, 2014 - Comments


    Sports fans everywhere remember the movie "Moneyball" starring Brad Pitt. It was the story of the Oakland Athletics and their battle to remain competitive in Major League Baseball, with very limited resources with which to pay players. The movie somewhat accurately reflects the activities of general manager Billy Beane, who came upon a whole new world of advanced statistics, called analytics or, in this case, sabermetrics, which allowed him to find many hidden gems that made Oakland a division champion despite bargain-basement players.

    Seeing Oakland's success, other teams followed suit, and picked up on sabermetrics as a way to measure the effectiveness of players. Rather than the traditional statistics, which placed most of the value of home runs, runs batted in and batting average, the player's on-base percentage and other factors like OPS (on-base plus slugging) became much more prevalent. Many executives in bankroll-challenged franchises started to use it, and then it just became commonplace throughout baseball. Some of the disciples of this "Moneyball" concept include Jon Daniels of the Texas Rangers, Paul Di Podesta of the New York Mets (who is portrayed by Jonah Hill in the movie under the name of "Peter Brand") and Theo Epstein, who guided the Boston Red Sox to a World Series championship and is now in charge of baseball operations with the Chicago Cubs.

    But the Houston Astros are taking things to an extreme. It is said throughout baseball that they might be undertaking the most analytics-intensive experiment in the history of the game. In the Astros' front office are people you would have never seen 10 or 20 years ago, including a number of MBAs, computer geeks and advanced mathematicians. They are all being shepherded by general manager Jeff Luhnow, who believes that this radical approach will bring the Astros to a whole new level as far as analysis of talent is concerned.

    Not everybody is on board with this analytical approach. Last year Luhnow had a conflict with his own manager, as he had to fire Bo Porter during the season. Porter did not seem a very sophisticated type, and was heard in an interview shortly after his hiring talking about how "stats are nice, but these games are won between the white lines," or words to that effect. It was truly a matter of time before he and Luhnow parted ways when it came to philosophy. He was unable to finish his second season, as owner Jim Crane sided with the man, and the philosophy, that made the Astros do some things very unusual in baseball, such as shift their defenders on almost every play. It is very important that a general manager have a field manager who is on the same page, and Luhnow hopes that AJ Hinch will be that guy.

    Improvement has been happening; the Astros, who had lost 106, 107 and 111 games in the previous three seasons, had a 70-92 record and escaped the cellar in the AL West in 2014, and have developed a farm system that is generally regarded to be among baseball's best. Everyone knew this was going to be a slow process, and a big gamble. It remains to be seen whether it will pay off like a progressive jackpot for the Astros.