Lessons from Moneyball

Originally Posted on teammoshman.com

 

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A few years back a friend of mine, who had just moved out here to California from the Massachusetts, asked me how a state with 5 baseball teams broke down geographically.  I told him it was actually pretty easy to paint a picture of California in terms of team loyalty.  California tends to be a predominantly National League state.  Northern California roots for either the Giants or the A’s (or sometimes both when they aren’t playing each other).  Southern California tends to root for the Dodger or the Angels.  And no one outside of San Diego cares about the Padres.  If you ever meet a Padres fan, you can bet money on the fact that they have spent some time living in San Diego.

 

So being a Northern California kid, it was pretty obvious that my choice of teams was going to be either the A’s or the Giants.  I ended up gravitating towards Oakland, in part because I was a long time Oakland football fan (even though they had already moved to LA at this point) and in part because of this rookie they had that could hit the ball a mile.  But the rest of the cast of characters they had on those teams were certainly just as entertaining.  Stew, Hendu, Jose, Steiney and Eck, among others, captured my imagination and provided a lot of entertainment during my long summers.  I’ve bled green and gold ever since.

 

Michael Lewis first popped onto my radar when I heard about a book he was writing about my favorite baseball team.  I had found an excerpt of it in some magazine and was instantly intrigued by the style of the writing (as well as the subject).  Liking what I had read, and still having a few months before the book was published, I went to Amazon and bought a few of his other books.  Once Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game
was released I devoured it, finishing the first reading in one night.

 

If you just listened to Joe Morgan inane rantings, who completely missed the big picture lesson of the book, you’d also end up missing a lot of the little lessons that could have been learned from within the pages of this tome.

 

One of the things that you learn while reading is that when evaluating pitching Oakland started looking at statistics other than wins (W), loses (L) and earned run average (ERA).  These are all numbers that have a great deal of variance to them and can be affected by things outside of the pitchers control.  Wins and loses certainly depend on how many runs the other eight (or nine if you’re in the American League) players on your team score for you.  ERA is also highly dependent on your teammates and how well they can catch and field.  Instead they started looking at the three outcomes that a pitcher has direct control over on the mound: walks, strike outs and home runs.

 

In poker we tend to look at the flashy numbers too, things like ROI (or bb/100 in ring).  We often get caught up in them and place a fair amount of focus on them and sometimes give them a little more weight than the numbers that we can directly control.

 

One of the things that I learned from Moneyball that directly translated to my poker game was this: focus on the things you have direct control over and the rest will sort itself out.

 

When a pitcher works on the things that he can control, reducing the number of walks and home runs that he gives up and increasing the number of strikeouts, the wins, losses and ERA tend to follow.  With poker, it’s the same.  When a player focuses on the things they can control, game selection, making correct decisions, volume, the ROI tends to take care of itself in the long run.

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