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Old 01-18-2013, 10:53 AM    (permalink
bigbluedefense
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Default Moneyball's Growing Relevance in Football

Moneyball is a growing phenomenon in football. The first GM to really start using it was Thomas Dimitroff and its starting to trickle into other teams and their philosophies.

Several GMs have said they are starting to create statistical departments in their organizations that use moneyball tactics to identify potential players both in free agency and the draft. Profootballfocus and footballoutsiders are now being used by many teams as a means of statistical analysis of players.

Moneyball is an interesting topic. I think there are both pros and cons to it and you have to be careful with how deeply you involve moneyball in your scouting process.

The pros are obvious. You identify players who have certain characteristics that strongly fit your scheme for a cheap price. By doing this, and not caring for what they do poorly, only focusing on what they do well and how that fits in your scheme, you can generate some great production out of what is perceived to be an average player.

For example, if you're a heavy zone scheme on defense with a lot of emphasis on 4 man rush, then naturally you can use moneyball to identify mid level free agents who fit your scheme, who play zone really well for example but are terrible man coverage defenders who would come cheap yet become effective for your team. You can also identify guys who may not be the greatest run stuffers up front, perhaps undersized or slow, but production wise, generate a lot of hurries in the pass game and develop a cheap effective pass rush this way.

By using moneyball to fill out the backend of your roster, you can really take develop an effective method of building depth for your schemes at a cheap price. And with substitutions and specialized player roles becoming more prevalent, the use of moneyball to identify specific characteristics necessary for your team and getting players to fit that role has more of an impact now than ever before.

However, moneyball has its faults too. Clearly, when you only look for certain characteristics in players and do not care for their weaknesses, you will eventually come across a team that can attack those weaknesses. Also, you make your team as a whole too dependent on a singular way of winning. Because you identify players who can do 1 thing very well, if they're needed to get out of character and do something else, they will fail miserably.

Ultimately, nothing beats the eye test. Ideally you want a great team loaded with depth all over that has the ability to be multiple in their capabilities.

But in a realistic world, you're not gonna have that. So I believe moneyball has it's place in this league, but only if you're filling out your roster with it. You should not use this statistical analysis in building your starting lineup. You should look for guys who are more than just specialists in certain areas when identifying your starters.

Let's look at Atlanta for example. The results are undeniable. Atlanta is a team that for the most part, really wasn't all that talented until arguably this year when they put it all together. Even now most of us don't view them as a very talented team. Just look at how overlooked they are all year. All year they were the 1 seed, yet none of us ever gave them a chance to go to the SB. Most people expected Seattle to beat them. This week, they're underdogs in their own house vs the 49ers. Why? Simply because we do not view them as a very talented team. We see the talent on the other teams and believe they have more talent and should win.

And to be fair, we're correct in our assumptions. Atlanta barely won their first playoff game. They were 0-3 in the playoffs prior to last week. When the cream rises to the top in the playoffs, Atlanta can't hold up. And that's because of their moneyball philosophy. It just doesn't add up vs the other top tier talents in the league.

But let's also view their success. They were the 1 seed in the NFC twice in the past 3 years. While the talent doesn't match the production, this is ultimately a production league. And that's impressive production. It's been done with a team that was largely built on moneyball.

But what set them over the top? A power play move. Completely opposite of the moneyball philosophy, Dimitroff knew that he couldn't win with just moneyball players and made a power play for an impact player like Julio Jones and it paid off.

It was that move that set them over the top and made them a legit contender.

So what's your take on moneyball? It's an interesting dynamic that is gaining momentum in the NFL among scouting circles. I'm curious to hear everyone's opinions on how much involvement you think it should have in your team's scouting department, and how strongly you feel about it's effectiveness.
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Old 01-18-2013, 11:07 AM    (permalink
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How much of Atlanta's success can be attributed to new moneyball tactics? The key players have been acquired primarily through quality drafting and quality free agent signing, very traditional methods.

Several of their moves seem pretty straight forward; Matt Ryan, Michael Turner, Julio Jones, Tony Gonzalez. These are all big name guys who the Falcons' dished out a lot in order to obtain, either in high draft picks or big contracts. The only one that somewhat deviates from the norm is getting Julio when they already Roddy White, but when they drafted him sixth overall, as you admit that's not moneyball.

Asante Samuel is probably the only move that could qualify as a moneyball move. But one move doesn't indicate a organization-wide strategy, as acquiring a quality veteran for a low draft pick is far from a new concept. As the rest of their best players on defense, they were either simply drafted or holdovers from before Dimitroff.

To me, Atlanta's success comes simply from successful navigation of the traditional channels of roster building, and not a new shift in scouting philosophy. Even when you analyze them as supposed moneyball practitioner, you only point to their success, and not any roster moves that enabled such success, other than Julio Jones which you admit was not a moneyball move.

Also, when you say they weren't that talented, what do you mean? They made the playoffs 3 of the 4 previous seasons prior to 2012. Simply because they weren't making it to the championship game those seasons doesn't mean they're all of a sudden more talented now that they are.
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Old 01-18-2013, 11:15 AM    (permalink
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Now I can't say this for certain, as I clearly don't have any contacts in the Atlanta scouting circle, but it's been implied that they use moneyball analysis when identifying players they've drafted over the years.

For example, William Moore and Curtis Lofton. They wanted first and foremost a MIKE who was a great phonebooth run stuffer. Didn't care much for his coverage. So Lofton was good value on their draft board where he was drafted. Ditto for Moore. They wanted a box run stuffer as their SS. He fit the bill.

Grimes is a guy they extend and keep even though he has severe limitations as a man defender bc of his ability to play zone in their scheme. They draft Harry Douglas specifically to be their shifty slot guy. Asante as you mentioned.

Bierrman as their traditional LE. Then they draft pass rushing specialist in the 4th, I forgot his name, to spell Bierrman for passing downs.

They basically define specific roles for certain positions, and actively look for guys who fill those roles despite their flaws.
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Old 01-18-2013, 11:25 AM    (permalink
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Here's the difficult part of discussing moneyball, it's much harder to identify in the NFL bc the sport isn't so dependent on statistics like baseball is and it's hard to identify a guy as a moneyball player bc of that.

But there are certain characteristics that teams are scouting for now, that they've already admitted to using when forming their opinions on players that is based off of statistical analysis from moneyball concepts.

Like with pass rushers, they are measuring success of hurries with more emphasis than before. They value hurries/dollar when evaluating pass rushers.

There are certain statistics that we may view as misleading, like many of the statistics used by PFF that are now being heavily weighted when evaluating prospects and players by these scouting departments.

Teams aren't forming entire departments dedicated to keeping track of these statistics if it didn't play a role in their scouting.
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Old 01-18-2013, 11:31 AM    (permalink
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"Money ball" and advanced statistics are always great. You're going to always run into guys that don't play well, but somehow have great advanced stats, and vice versa, but overall, when you have a large sample size, more good than bad will come out of it.

It's when you become too rigid in following one metric that gets you in trouble. "Omg, player A's zone rating is a 51, and B's is a 50... A is better!"

The way I feel, is if you are using advanced statistics, and you see a player that rates really high in something, go back, and review to find out why with your own eyes.
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Old 01-18-2013, 11:44 AM    (permalink
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Originally Posted by bigbluedefense View Post
Now I can't say this for certain, as I clearly don't have any contacts in the Atlanta scouting circle, but it's been implied that they use moneyball analysis when identifying players they've drafted over the years.

For example, William Moore and Curtis Lofton. They wanted first and foremost a MIKE who was a great phonebooth run stuffer. Didn't care much for his coverage. So Lofton was good value on their draft board where he was drafted. Ditto for Moore. They wanted a box run stuffer as their SS. He fit the bill.

Grimes is a guy they extend and keep even though he has severe limitations as a man defender bc of his ability to play zone in their scheme. They draft Harry Douglas specifically to be their shifty slot guy. Asante as you mentioned.

Bierrman as their traditional LE. Then they draft pass rushing specialist in the 4th, I forgot his name, to spell Bierrman for passing downs.

They basically define specific roles for certain positions, and actively look for guys who fill those roles despite their flaws.
Yes, they're drafting for a scheme. What's new about that? Coaches are aware that schemes require certain things of certain players, the good ones have always been focusing in on players who fit their scheme. Of those moves you listed, I don't really see moneyball, I see coaches being aware of their scheme and thus judging a player by how he'd fit in said scheme, a common method of scouting.

For instance, if the Panthers draft a NT like Hankins or Je. Williams instead of just any DT, is that moneyball? They'd be drafting a specific type of defensive tackle that fit the scheme/needs rather than simply the highest rated defensive tackle, but that's not moneyball to me, that's just smart roster building.

Perhaps some teams are building statistical departments. But from your examples, they seem to just be using these new departments to augment their traditional scouting philosophies, and not using them as the basis of something entirely new.
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Old 01-18-2013, 11:51 AM    (permalink
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I think it would be a lot more prominent if fans (or people like Bill James) could get access to a good variety of statistics.

I guarantee you that I could do some stuff if I could get the stats that NFL teams compile.
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Old 01-18-2013, 11:52 AM    (permalink
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Yes, they're drafting for a scheme. What's new about that? Coaches are aware that schemes require certain things of certain players, the good ones have always been focusing in on players who fit their scheme. Of those moves you listed, I don't really see moneyball, I see coaches being aware of their scheme and thus judging a player by how he'd fit in said scheme, a common method of scouting.

For instance, if the Panthers draft a NT like Hankins or Je. Williams instead of just any DT, is that moneyball? They'd be drafting a specific type of defensive tackle that fit the scheme/needs rather than simply the highest rated defensive tackle, but that's not moneyball to me, that's just smart roster building.

Perhaps some teams are building statistical departments. But from your examples, they seem to just be using these new departments to augment their traditional scouting philosophies, and not using them as the basis of something entirely new.
We're not talking about first round draft picks. We're talking about guys at the back end of the draft, rounds 4 and beyond. Guys who are mid level free agents.

Some teams will draft guys in rounds 4 through 7 based on measurables (the Giants predominately do this). They look for height/weight/speed and hope they can develop into players. Other teams will go off of production.

What's becoming a growing trend is not necessarily following either philosophy but instead identifying key components, or a singular component to a position that you value, and grading players on that alone.

So for example if you're scouting DEs in rounds 4 through 7, instead of looking at his height/weight/speed, or how well he plays the run and his arsenal of pass rush moves etc, you would identify hurries as the key component you're looking for, identify whoever is the best available guy in regards to generating hurries, and take him based on that and that alone.

This line of thinking is not predominant at the moment, but it's growing. I just find it interesting how the landscape of scouting can potentially be effected by this line of thinking taking a bigger role in the sport.

Maybe moneyball is the incorrect term for what I'm discussing. Perhaps advanced statistics as Saints Tigers mentioned is a better way of putting it.

But whatever you want to call it, it's becoming more of a factor when evaluating players for roster development than it was 10, even 5 years ago.
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Old 01-18-2013, 11:59 AM    (permalink
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We're not talking about first round draft picks. We're talking about guys at the back end of the draft, rounds 4 and beyond. Guys who are mid level free agents.

Some teams will draft guys in rounds 4 through 7 based on measurables (the Giants predominately do this). They look for height/weight/speed and hope they can develop into players. Other teams will go off of production.

What's becoming a growing trend is not necessarily following either philosophy but instead identifying key components, or a singular component to a position that you value, and grading players on that alone.

So for example if you're scouting DEs in rounds 4 through 7, instead of looking at his height/weight/speed, or how well he plays the run and his arsenal of pass rush moves etc, you would identify hurries as the key component you're looking for, identify whoever is the best available guy in regards to generating hurries, and take him based on that and that alone.

This line of thinking is not predominant at the moment, but it's growing. I just find it interesting how the landscape of scouting can potentially be effected by this line of thinking taking a bigger role in the sport.

Maybe moneyball is the incorrect term for what I'm discussing. Perhaps advanced statistics as Saints Tigers mentioned is a better way of putting it.

But whatever you want to call it, it's becoming more of a factor when evaluating players for roster development than it was 10, even 5 years ago.
Where are you seeing any indication that that is why these players are being taken? You've pointed to situations where it could be applied, can you point to a situation where it has been applied? I'm sure teams have more access to more in-depth stats than before. But I haven't seen any indication as to how much these stats are actually impacting roster moves. Like you said, football isn't as neatly summarized in statistics as baseball is.

This moneyball argument seems to be either re-describing existing trends, or just hypothesizing that certain things are going on.

I understand partly what you are saying. Advanced statistics are more pervasive than they were before. But I don't see the evidence for the rest of your claim, that these statistics are heavily altering the scouting landscape. Perhaps they are, but you've yet to show any hard evidence of such.
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Old 01-18-2013, 12:24 PM    (permalink
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Where are you seeing any indication that that is why these players are being taken? You've pointed to situations where it could be applied, can you point to a situation where it has been applied? I'm sure teams have more access to more in-depth stats than before. But I haven't seen any indication as to how much these stats are actually impacting roster moves. Like you said, football isn't as neatly summarized in statistics as baseball is.

This moneyball argument seems to be either re-describing existing trends, or just hypothesizing that certain things are going on.

I understand partly what you are saying. Advanced statistics are more pervasive than they were before. But I don't see the evidence for the rest of your claim, that these statistics are heavily altering the scouting landscape. Perhaps they are, but you've yet to show any hard evidence of such.
That's the hard part. I have none. Nobody does, but you hear it being mentioned by some on twitter and articles briefly. I'm basing this off assumptions and rumblings that have gathered steam in the light of the recent GM hires according to beat writers. NFL teams are so guarded with their methods that they don't openly discuss them often, but it's been linked to be used by several from the Bellichick tree. The Patriots and Falcons seem to be pioneers of it according to articles online, but no one has clear evidence of it bc teams aren't talking about it, other than admitting that they've formed or are beginning to form departments to compile these statistics.

Other than I believe the Bears GM, who has openly admitted to using pff and football outsiders, most teams haven't openly admitted to using it bc of how secretive they are.
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Old 01-18-2013, 12:42 PM    (permalink
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Where are you seeing any indication that that is why these players are being taken? You've pointed to situations where it could be applied, can you point to a situation where it has been applied? I'm sure teams have more access to more in-depth stats than before. But I haven't seen any indication as to how much these stats are actually impacting roster moves. Like you said, football isn't as neatly summarized in statistics as baseball is.

This moneyball argument seems to be either re-describing existing trends, or just hypothesizing that certain things are going on.
Yea I agree with Cigaro, this is nothing new. Your describing EXACTLY what Bill Walsh did in the 80's....draft players and acquire free agents who had certain characteristics that were valuable to his scheme and his scheme alone. He valued O-Lineman who could move and we're agile over big powerful maulers, who were the prerequisite at the time. Things of that nature. I don't see how its any different now from then.

Each team or GM has certain things they look for physically or skill-wise, at certain positions. Me personally, I would prefer a CB 6'0 and over, who has good man skills, good ball skills, and had excellent short-area quickness more so than straight-line speed. So if I were a GM, that would probably be a guy that caught my eye over a guy who timed really fast and was really physical, but displayed some stiffness and wasn't as fluid, turning and running, at only 5'10. But if I was a smart GM, I would be watching tape of future prospects with my DB coach and DC and asking them what type of CBs do you need to best run the scheme the way you see fit. I don't think alot of GMs do that. They just draft players they feel bring the best attributes to the table and rely on the coaches to coach them up. That might work in some instances. It also allows more leeway with scheme changes if there's turnover in your coaching staff. But you also run the risk of drafting guys who aren't ideal fits, based on measurables and overrating your staff's ability to get guys to play 'your' way.

IMO, you have to find guys who best fit what your coaches want to do and how they scheme. That's where your scouting department and pro personnel departments come in. You have to identify draft prospects and players already in the league that you feel best fit what you do and have a plan in place to secure those guys. If both your pro and college staffs are in step with the coaches and the philosophy, and you have good scouts that can identify said talents in prospects(the hardest part) than your good to go. You may worry about scheme changes and coaches leaving, but you can always have a contingency outlook, like promoting from within, to keep schemes in tact and lessen the burden of having so much player turnover when successful coaches are hired away. May not always work out like you have it plan but a smart GM is just that because he can read the tea leaves well in advance.

Its a marriage between a good FO, good coaching, and good scouting. That's the formula and I don't think it will ever change. The problem has always been finding good FO guys to identify good coaching. Then having great scouting to tie it all together. Most teams don't have all three. Barely have 2 out of 3. And the way the NFL shelf life is with coaching and personnel, it rarely offers either part of that trifecta time to secure the other two elements.

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Old 01-19-2013, 07:39 PM    (permalink
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You know Moneyball is finding market efficiencies to compensate for not being able to spend as much as larger market teams, right?
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Old 01-19-2013, 08:00 PM    (permalink
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You know Moneyball is finding market efficiencies to compensate for not being able to spend as much as larger market teams, right?
That's the main point of Moneyball, but it could be more generalized to paying for undervalued traits while avoiding overvalued ones.

edit: Like speed in old Madden (and new Madden?)
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Old 01-20-2013, 01:56 AM    (permalink
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They aren't doing anything special with their backups (which is where you'd use Moneyball tactics). Their depth is actually really ******. They've been lucky to be so healthy.

I think you were actually talking about Sabermetrics, and I just don't see it with this team, either. Stats work with baseball for a reason. The entire sport is just stat sheets. There are some variables, but just about everything in baseball can be quantified with a statistic.

They try to do it with other sports, but it simply doesn't translate.

With the Falcons, you see their drafts and nothing jumps out compared to other teams or standard scouting. Especially not in the first two rounds. The team actually has not drafted well at all since 2008 and is really lucky that the few picks they've hit on were at important positions.
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Old 01-20-2013, 02:10 AM    (permalink
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$120 million vs $40 million.

That's what Moneyball is.

A theme in Moneyball is relying on advanced statistics and metrics to find those gems. A theme in Moneyball is finding value in players that are not highly valued by other teams because you can't match teams dollar for dollar in a bidding war. A theme is finding the castoffs and making them work.

But that's not Moneyball. Moneyball is $120 million vs $40 million. The nature of the NFL inherently means Moneyball does not exist in the NFL.
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Old 01-20-2013, 03:34 AM    (permalink
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$120 million vs $40 million.

That's what Moneyball is.

A theme in Moneyball is relying on advanced statistics and metrics to find those gems. A theme in Moneyball is finding value in players that are not highly valued by other teams because you can't match teams dollar for dollar in a bidding war. A theme is finding the castoffs and making them work.

But that's not Moneyball. Moneyball is $120 million vs $40 million. The nature of the NFL inherently means Moneyball does not exist in the NFL.
No. It's about maximizing the value of your budget versus that of the other teams'. You're citing one specific example.

If I weren't so drunk, I'd berate some of you about your misunderstanding of moneyball. But alas.....
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Old 01-20-2013, 03:48 AM    (permalink
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You know Moneyball is finding market efficiencies to compensate for not being able to spend as much as larger market teams, right?
This. I was just about to tell him that he needs to read moneyball because what he's said was only the tiniest part of it and even that wasn't even quite right.

I read his whole post and was like "wtf does this have to do with moneyball?"



BBD, Moneyball isn't about grabbing flawed players that can only do one thing and are a huge liability to you when they do other things. It's simply about identifying market inefficiencies and taking advantage of them. That allows you to win against the teams that can throw crazy money at the guys who pass the "eye" test with flying colors. Doesn't apply to football; revenue sharing allows everyone to spend up to the cap. In short, you're not spending less money because you're getting lesser talent...you're spending less money because you're recognizing good talent that others don't see, understand, care about, or choose to be willfully ignorant of.

Originally, the market inefficiency was OBP. People paid out the nose for power hitters that hit big home runs and racked up RBIs. It was figured out that another way of building a lineup that can score a ****-ton of runs is simply getting all guys who get on base a lot and letting them do what they do. Crazy, right? lol. Common knowledge now, but at the time, those guys were able to be snapped up on the cheap because they didn't pass the "eyeball test" with a bunch of flashy power hitting or maybe they walked a lot and had a mediocre batting average.

In football, it would be more like going 4-3 if the league went overwhelmingly 3-4, allowing you to snap up the less-desired (but just as good or better) 4-3 guys on the cheap.

What you were talking about with getting one-dimensional players to fill out the back of your roster or work in a rotation isn't moneyball at all. That's more like business as usual. Every single team in the league has done it since the NFL's earliest days. Eventually you run out of complete players, so everyone gets some one-dimensional pass rushing specialists, run stoppers, dime backs, and blocking TEs.

Now, the websites you mentioned aren't about moneyball, they're about advanced metrics. It's different. This is the wagon people need to get on. Don't build your line out of guys who get a lot of sacks and tackles; build your line out of guys who get a lot of QB disruptions and stops. It's a better way of identifying good players, but it has nothing to do with Moneyball.

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Old 01-20-2013, 11:47 AM    (permalink
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No. It's about maximizing the value of your budget versus that of the other teams'. You're citing one specific example.

If I weren't so drunk, I'd berate some of you about your misunderstanding of moneyball. But alas.....
Except that you can't have moneyball in football because every team has the same budget. You can find undervalued players and guys that aren't typical, but it's not the same thing as finding specific market efficiencies in a money market. It's even tougher to manage in baseball these days with all the stats out there and since the A's/Rays strategy of grabbing top defensive players to match their big ballpark was figured out incredibly quickly. The same would be said if anything was of any success in football.
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Old 01-20-2013, 12:58 PM    (permalink
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yeah i guess my interpretation of what moneyball is was not accurate.

Maybe sabremetrics was a better definition of it like someone mentioned above?

I guess maybe the best way to put it is advanced statistics are becoming more popular in the sport.
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