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PHILADELPHIA—When Billy Beane was named general manager of the Oakland Athletics in October 1997, the team was only weeks removed from finishing dead last in all of Major League Baseball that season. The A's total payroll that year, $21.9 million, represented about 37% of the league-leading $59.1 million payroll carried by New York Yankees.
Five years later, the A's and Yankees tied for the most wins in the league with 103, even though the gulf between the two teams' payrolls had actually widened—Oakland paid its players $40 million to win the same number of games in 2002 for which New York had shelled out nearly $126 million.
Exactly how Mr. Beane and the rest of the A's front office were able to prove wrong the prevailing wisdom in professional baseball that only the richest teams stood a legitimate chance of competing—and what lessons today's risk managers might extract from the team's turnaround—will be the subject of Mr. Beane's keynote address at the 2012 Risk & Insurance Management Society Inc. Conference & Exhibition in Philadelphia this month.
“Probably the main lesson is that no matter how scarce your resources, there is always a way to find creative solutions that can help your organization thrive,” said Mary Roth, executive director of the New York-based RIMS.
In Mr. Beane's case—as was detailed in Michael Lewis' 2003 best-selling book “Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game” and, later, in the Academy Award-nominated film by the same name—the creative solution was a new approach to team building rooted heavily in an unorthodox way of looking at statistics.
By de-emphasizing some of the traditional metrics of player performance—batting average, stolen bases and runs batted in—in favor of rate-based and, importantly, undervalued statistics like on-base and slugging percentages, Athletics executives believed they could more accurately quantify a player's potential production on the field.
Those analyses began revealing value in players that the rest of the league had dismissed or greatly underutilized. The results spoke for themselves. From 2000 to 2006, Oakland won four division titles and qualified for the playoffs five times.
“The fact that Mr. Beane was able to use sophisticated metrics and statistical analysis to discover and exploit market inefficiencies to make his team successful can serve as an example for any risk manager who is trying to make do with an underfunded department,” Ms. Roth said. “And given how many creative risk transfer methods are available today, there is a good chance that, like Mr. Beane, a risk manager that conducts some careful analysis might reveal some useful alternatives that might have been otherwise overlooked.”
Not surprisingly, many other Major League teams have adopted similar strategies for their player evaluation and team-building operations since 2003. In his second year as general manager of the Boston Red Sox—a job that had been offered to Mr. Beane—Theo Epstein used elements of the “Moneyball” approach to guide the team to its first World Series win in 86 years in 2004.
In a somewhat ironic twist, several baseball analysts have argued that greater implementation of “Moneyball” principles likely is one of the reasons the Athletics have struggled to record a winning season since 2006. Still, when Mr. Beane addresses the RIMS 2012 audience on April 16, Ms. Roth said she expects attendees will appreciate the value of his contributions to professional baseball and strategic risk management.
“Mr. Beane is an innovator who uses an unorthodox yet highly effective data-driven approach to selecting Major League Baseball players, and it has changed the game, impacting the way all teams evaluate players,” Ms. Roth said. “As we encourage risk practitioners to assess their current risk management strategies, we felt his story was very relevant.”