MoneyBall-Using Math in Sports

I am not a math person. Numbers and I get along just fine, in school I always managed to survive my math classes and even received decent grades but I am not a math person. In part because I didn’t see the beauty of numbers that so many people speak about.

However I have always loved sports and if my teachers had shown me the connection between numbers and sports I might have been more interested and paid better attention in class and that my friends brings us to MoneyBall.

MoneyBall is the title of a book that was written about how the General Manager of the Oakland A’s. Here is the Amazon description of the book:

“Billy Beane, general manager of MLB’s Oakland A’s and protagonist of Michael Lewis’s Moneyball, had a problem: how to win in the Major Leagues with a budget that’s smaller than that of nearly every other team. Conventional wisdom long held that big name, highly athletic hitters and young pitchers with rocket arms were the ticket to success. But Beane and his staff, buoyed by massive amounts of carefully interpreted statistical data, believed that wins could be had by more affordable methods such as hitters with high on-base percentage and pitchers who get lots of ground outs. Given this information and a tight budget, Beane defied tradition and his own scouting department to build winning teams of young affordable players and inexpensive castoff veterans.”

Last night I read an article in Sports Illustrated that discussed how the NBA has taken this concept under its belt and how teams are using stats to more effectively compete against other teams. The math geeks are running amok, but what they are doing makes sense and I found to be interesting.

Unfortunately I do not have access to the article online so I am going to use a variety of sources to try and paint the picture for you.

Dean Oliver appears to the be the man who is kind of spearheading this charge. He is the author of a book called Basketball on Paper. The book is endorsed by Dean Smith (which certainly gives it a lot of weight) outlines how using stats can improve a teams ability to compete.

He also offers an online journal called Journal Of Basketball. In it he alludes specifically to my earlier comment about using the connection between sports and science as a tool for teaching. There is a lot of material here that I find to be of interest:

Then I went to college, Caltech, to be precise. I worked so incredibly hard at my studies that I had to put away my basketball work even though I played on the team and was in contact with the sport almost every day. However, at the end of my sophomore year, the Lakers were beating the Celtics for the NBA title and I had time on my hands, having finished finals early. That was when I developed the Possession Scoring System, which became the basis of all this work.”

In any case since Dean is not paying me to do his PR I am going to leave you with that and provide a couple more links to look at.

Mark Cuban is the owner of the Dallas Mavericks. On his blog he has listed a number of the stats that they are using to try and be more effective.

One of the primary resources that many of the teams use is a website called 82games. There you can find a plethora of stats about all of the players and the teams in the NBA. One of the categories that I thought was interesting is the player pair category which explores how effectively pairs of player play together.

If you find this to be of interest you might also be interested the story that was written about the Seattle Supersonics and MoneyBall.

Anyway, that is it for now, it is time to do more work.

(Check out Basil’s Picnic lunch post.)

(Visited 40 times, 1 visits today)


  1. Ezzie November 4, 2005 at 7:59 am

    Stacey – nothing wrong, but I liked the quick, pure, number crunching.

    Jack – I still play the games. But I use math to win them…

  2. Jack's Shack November 3, 2005 at 10:50 pm

    I’d rather play the game then play with the numbers, but I admit to finding this stuff interesting.

  3. Stacey November 3, 2005 at 8:08 pm

    What’s wrong with Calculus, Ezzie? It’s beautiful and goes hand in hand with physics. And finding the area under a curve is nothing short of tantalizing.

  4. Ezzie November 3, 2005 at 7:26 pm

    And in baseball this year, I invented my own system – I was second to last when I started it, and climbed right near 2nd before falling back a bit the last week.

    Practical applications: I have 2 posts about how I use math for the NFL Pool I run. I tied for the win last week, and won this week.

    Sorry for the blabbering, but I’m a big math guy – not calculus style, numbers style.

  5. Ezzie November 3, 2005 at 7:23 pm


    My friend brought over Moneyball a couple of months ago – brilliant.

    I used the NBA’s Efficiency Statistic last year for my fantasy league – I romped the regular season with ease.

  6. Stacey November 3, 2005 at 6:24 pm

    Math is quite beautiful and its practical applications are not stressed enough in school.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

You may also like