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IOD 11 Dispatch: Big data on the baseball diamond
Delaney Turner 270003RQ8K Delaney.Turner@ca.ibm.com | | Tags:  iod11
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Moneyball author Michael Lewis and Moneyball pioneer Billy Beane closed out Information On Demand 2011 in a rollicking conversation with event host Katty Kay. Among the topics were challenging a century-old business culture with business analytics, the risks of standing still and why it's never a good idea to mess with Billy Beane's mom. Turbo's already done a great summary, so I've distilled their conversation into a few key quotes.
On the meaning of Moneyball: 'This was riveting to me. The number crunching was less interesting than what it exposed about the markets people operate in. The people running baseball considered themselves player experts because they'd been doing things the same way for 150 years. And here was Beane recruiting people the market perceived as defective. He was building a juggernaut out of defective parts.'
On bias: 'People tend to overvalue things that are flashy and easy to see. And they tend to undervalue things that are more difficult to see. You need to understand the forces that are clouding your judgement.'
On Beane and his players: 'He had tremendous credibility with the players because he was a great athlete. Being bigger than them also helped. The players were physically intimidated. It was kind of the law of the jungle in the clubhouse – reason imposed by violence.'
On offending Beane's mother because he left in Beane's profanity: 'She said, 'My son doesn't talk like that.' After the book signing I invited her to a two-hour dinner. It was the most awkward conversation I've ever had. I laid on as much charm as I could and got nowhere. She was just as angry with me at the end as at the beginning.'
On the need for change: 'For us it was out of necessity. Where were we going to get the best return on our dollar? We weren't in a position to trust emotion to run our business. We couldn't invest in the romance of the players. We had to be disciplined card counters.'
On taking risks: 'We didn't think it was risky because the math told us we'd be successful. Over enough games we knew we'd weed out the randomness. There was certainly resistance, but there was more risk in not doing it. Going with our gut would have been the most irrational thing to do.'
On Lewis revealing the secret: 'You could see the market was going move. It was just a matter of time. There was already momentum – you could feel the rumblings. You couldn't ignore the fact that the data was everywhere. The secret now is to keep your expertise in-house.'
On outcomes: 'I believe the best teams make it to the playoffs, but the best team doesn't always win the World Series. Small events in a short series can have a bigger impact; we never try to make decisions based on short-term results.'
On being played by Brad Pitt: 'You tend to hold your breath while they're casting the film. When you hear it's Brat Pitt, you exhale.'
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