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Moneyball quick book review

It might be that you’ve watched the Moneyball movie starring Brad Pitt and Jonah Hill before you realised there was a book. Regardless of whether or not you’ve watched it, Michael Lewis’ book of the same name is a great read for anyone who’s looking for a practical example of applied analytics.

It centres around Billy Beane, the general manager of the Oakland Athletics baseball team. With a small budget compared to wealthy competitors, Beane’s challenge is daunting. He needs to be able to find a way to win with the league’s leftovers. He turns to analytics to help in order to unearth undervalued players in order to find that competitive advantage.

The basic premise of the book is that Beane figures that there must be a better way to look at performance in baseball. The traditional methods of scouting for new talent is flawed, in his opinion, and rather than looking at a player’s “tools”, he digs deeper, and eventually lands at the concept of “moneyball”. Using data and statistics, Beane begins to unearth those talents that have been overlooked by competitors.

One of the things to remember when reading “Moneyball” is that it isn’t just a sports book. It goes beyond this, sharing an insider look at innovation and what could be achieved with unconventional thinking. The approach that Beane takes to team building was not typical at the time, but what it did was ultimately revolutionise the way baseball works. Other sports have also adopted the blueprint, and a more controlled way to investing in teams has flourished.

The book unravels the Oakland Athletics’ story and challenges piece by piece, demonstrating how they broke down the problem and sought to address issues objectively. And there’s plenty to enjoy as you learn more about the story. Lewis has a good, accessible style and provides a lot of descriptions with clever linguistics.

One interesting aspect about the book is how Lewis goes beyond Beane. The backroom staff of the team are also introduced, in addition to their interactions with the league and other associations. For a casual observer of baseball, this provides a very eye opening introduction to the goings on inside the sport. For sure, it shows precisely how difficult it is to create and sustain a winning team.

Rounding off this quick review, let’s think about what it means to a digital marketer. Looking for transferrable ideas will take a bit more work, but if a baseball player generates trackable data, then the same can be said of advertising campaigns. You need to look for metrics that indicate value above the expected norms – what targeting options, keywords or copy are having a positive impact above its level of investment? The essence of Moneyball is how the Oakland Athletics’ management is trying to find a combination of metrics that can be distilled down to a single number to indicate how good a player is.

With enough thinking, this can also be done with ad campaigns. Is an ad and keyword combination that generates better CTR with fewer clicks higher value than a combination that has twice the number of clicks but lower CTR? It’s hard to say, but taking Beane’s approach, you could try creating a measurement index that helps you to make that judgement objectively. So grab a copy, settle in, and get ready to be entertained and enlightened.

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