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‘Moneyball’ & the magic of numbers

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Paul DePodesta’s brain processes information statistically, so when he left Harvard in 1996 with an economics degree and landed an internship with the Cleveland Indians Major League Baseball team, he’d already run the numbers for every baseball team in the 20th century.

The young baseball nut saw that a player’s value to the team lay in how often he reached base safely. Yet, those very players were undervalued because they lacked the showboat quality of home-run hitters. His team, he argued, should go bargain-basement shopping.

The Indians took some of DePodesta’s ideas. More important, they “challenged me to do things differently,” he says.

And so grew the roots of the “Moneyball” movement, which has revolutionized the way Major League teams scout and sign talent.

The Oakland A’s snatched up DePodesta two years later and exploited his discovery that almost all the sacred cows in baseball—including the reliability of talent scouts’ instincts—needed to be questioned. He scoured the Internet for the stats of little-known college players, then picked up talent on the cheap.

As a result, DePodesta—along with A’s General Manager Billy Beane—helped build low-cost, winning teams in Oakland. At age 31, DePodesta landed a job as general manager for the Los Angeles Dodgers. And last season, the Dodgers reached the playoffs for the first time since 1996.

His secret: Stick to the hard, cold numbers and bypass the given wisdom. Never be satisfied with gut feelings or the way things are.

“Don’t be wed to conventional thought,” DePodesta says. “Think critically.”

— Adapted from “The Stats Wonk Who Runs a Pro Sports Team,” Andrew Tilin, Business 2.0.

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