Take Me Out to the Ball Game

© Can Stock Photo Inc. / dehooks

Thirteen years ago, Oakland manager Billy Beane turned the world of professional baseball on its head. As depicted in the movie Moneyball, Beane knew that the Oakland Athletics didn’t have the budget to compete head to head with better-funded teams from larger markets. He looked to advanced statistics to give him an advantage, realizing that baseball’s conventional wisdom did a poor job of judging player performance. Traditional baseball skills like speed and contact hitting were being overvalued, while game-winning skills like patience at the plate and slugging power were being undervalued. By focusing on what really mattered over what was popular, Beane was able to find the best bargains in the baseball universe.

While many baseball franchises grudgingly followed suit after Beane, traditionalist manager Ned Yost has stuck to the old wisdom. Under him the Kansas City Royals have broken every rule set forth in Moneyball, emphasizing speedy contact hitters who will swing at anything to get the ball in play and steal bases at the slightest opportunity. Despite that, he’s taken the Royals to two consecutive championships and a long-awaited World Series pennant, leading some fans to hail his success as the death of Moneyball-style statistics.

In fact, Ned Yost apparently took to heart the one true lesson behind Moneyball: never follow the crowd.

The Oakland Athletics were able to win because they turned aside from what “everybody knew” about baseball. After their successes were highlighted by Moneyball, what “everybody knew” changed. When everybody else started chasing after the same statistics that led the Oakland A’s to victory, they started undervaluing old-fashioned baseball skills like speed and contact. Ned Yost ignored what “everybody knew” about those old baseball skills and built a great team around them.

Billy Beane is fond of comparing the baseball world to investment markets, and the comparison is an apt one. Both baseball and investment markets are prone to cycles as people chase after the crowd—creating opportunities for those who avoid the common wisdom of what “everybody knows.” The Royals’ pennant is a testament to the value of going against the grain.

The opinions voiced in this material are for general information only and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual.