Post-Moneyball: is gut feeling overruling analytics?

Remember the movie ‘Moneyball’? The story of Billy Beane, Oakland A's general manager who successfully attempted to assemble a baseball team on a lean budget by employing computer-generated analysis to acquire new players? How proud were we, analytics professionals and baseball lovers, to see Brad Pitt combine two of our favorite pastimes and make it look like a sexy and exiting occupation.

Analytics was officially branded a worthwhile and fascinating addition to baseball scouting, and Billy Beane declined an offer from the Boston Red Sox (one of the most legendary teams worldwide) to become the best paid baseball manager ever. But the Red Sox managed to copy his success and use analytics to their advantage as well.

And then something interesting happened. All top baseball teams started using analytics, and instead of a competitive advantage, analytics became just another cost of doing business. When everybody is using the same tools, the differentiator is to be found elsewhere again. And ‘elsewhere’ is often the company’s expertise, the people who know their business, their markets and who often can’t explain why they would prefer this decision over that one.

Enter Clint Eastwood

Putting this in baseball context we arrive at another - far less successful - movie: ‘Trouble With the Curve’. In this movie, Clint Eastwood is Gus, a seasoned scout who is, according to some, ready for retirement. He is sent to scout one of the most promising talents and advises against him, based on “the sound of his batting”. Gus is laughed at and almost sent to retirement, when this young talent proves him right by failing at several attempts.

So is that it? Should analytics be thrown away in favor of the good old gut feeling? I would argue against that, obviously. Instead, I would propose a healthy balance of both analytics and business sense, or in this case: of analytics and scouting. Then you can listen to your gut feeling and have the numbers confirm or contradict these. I am almost certain that they will more often confirm your business instinct than contradict them, especially when more and more data will be brought into the equation. Or, from a baseball movie perspective: if you have your baseball talents scouted by Gus as well as by Moneyball’s (slightly less sexy) numbers guy, you will easily win the competition.

If you want to read more about my take on analytics and baseball in the post-Moneyball era, click here. And, equally important, go watch both movies, even if you’re not that into baseball. I don’t need analytics to predict you’ll love them.