The idea of sabermetrics in baseball involves relying heavily on statistics and figures rather then intuition or desire. Pioneered by the likes of current Red Sox advisor Bill James and infamously at the cash strapped Oakland Athletics by Billy Beane and Paul DePodesta, the latter inspired firstly a book and then an Oscar nominated film starring Brad Pitt and Jonah Hill as the A’s overachieve despite their financial restrictions going on a record breaking 20 game win streak.
Yesterday we published an article lending support toward the owners of Liverpool, Fenway Sports Group, as they receive criticism from many circles after an indifferent start to the season. Inspired by Beame and the A’s they optimised the sabermetrics technique to great effect at Boston Red Sox, winning the World Series two years after adopting it. The article argued that the appointment of Rodgers was a direct parallel to the idea of adapting to win; encompassing a new philosophy, regardless what it is, if it is successful therefore escaping some of the more prehistoric means of running football clubs in terms of player development in England.
Rodgers has been the poster boy of ‘tika-taka’ football in the UK at Swansea, with Joe Allen, Ashley Williams and Leon Britton all excellent examples of commodities once undervalued in a different market. Utilising the Opta Stat features cross the internet you can see that many of the league’s best passers were Swansea players last season, therefore making them harder to beat and helping them to Premier League survival in their first season.
The parallel is that Swansea are the Oakland Athletic’s and Liverpool are Boston. Liverpool & FSG see what has happened in South Wales and believe that is the future of football and that Brendan Rodgers is the man to do so, regardless of what you hear about Roberto Martinez.
A word of caution however; chronologically sandwiched in between the Oakland A’s unprecedented win streak and the Red Sox’s decimation of an 86 year wait for World Series glory came the story of the Florida Marlins. The Marlins were a low salary side, with little or few stars that stunned the world by defeating the Yankees in the World Series against all the odds.Little mention of sabermetrics, stats or base averages, simply one of those things you just cannot predict in sport; the miracle.
Before we get bogged down in the idea that a transition from baseball to football can be seamless this acts as a reminder that at times nothing can be predicted and it is simply sport being sport.
Baseball is a more measured sport, a closed skill in an open environment while football is more fluid, less rigid and therefore more unpredictable.
Yet if you have a team of ball retainers you will most likely have good possession stats; if you have high percentage crossers delivering to high percentage goal area scorers you will more than likely score more headed goals.
Stoke come to mind with Matthew Etherington a definitive ‘Moneyball’ player; undervalued despite being backed statistically season after season. If more learned men, those such as Rodgers can adapt such stats along with the philosophy then sure it can work.
But as much as stats and philosophies work sporting miracles happen, just look at the Florida Marlins, or that night in Istanbul.
Can the ‘Moneyball’ affect be applied to football? Or is it simply too unpredictable?