11 min

2016 Cleveland Browns move toward Moneyball

Jan 6, 2016 - And I like the idea. It's intriguing. But I might be a bit bias because my degree is in mathematics, and I like using stats to provide context.

Since a lot of Cleveland media and national media are confused and upset about the recent moves by the Browns over the past few days, then it makes me think that the Browns are on the right path, finally. Since when do sports media know anything about the field of statistics and running a team?

Many or all NFL teams use "analytics" to some degree. But on the surface, it appears that the Browns will use Moneyball techniques at a much higher level or involvement.

The idea may bomb, but how will we know unless it's tried? And if it works for a lowly franchise for the Browns, then that will shake up the NFL.

As a math and computer guy, I'm fascinated by this. It will be interesting to see how this applies to football.

Last night, my wife and I watched the Moneyball movie again. It has been a long time since I last saw it. The objections and criticisms to what the A's were attempting back in 2002 sound similar to what has been said this week about the Browns' changes.

The problem is, nobody will have patience. When the Browns lose a preseason game this August, the analytics critics will say, "See, I told you that it wouldn't work."

The Browns v2.0 completed their 17th season since returning in 1999. Cleveland made the playoffs in 2002. Cleveland's last non-losing season was 2007 when the Browns finished 10-6.

Cleveland Browns - An Unstable Sports Franchise - Oct 2015 Update

Over the past four drafts, Cleveland had seven first round draft picks. Seven! And yet, Cleveland finished the 2015 season with a 3-13 record.

The Browns have many problems in many areas. It will take more than one offseason to rebuild this team. But the opponents of analytics will exude no patience. And I'm sure the Browns management is aware of this, and they will ignore the critics. Math lacks emotion.


Two days after hiring a non-football person to run their football operation, the Browns have hired another executive who’s never worked in the NFL.

Paul DePodesta — he was the model for the Johah Hill character in the movie Moneyball — has been hired as chief strategy officer. Per Joel Sherman of the New York Post, DePodesta will fit in the organizational structure behind only team owner Jimmy Haslam and team president Alec Scheiner.

After firing head coach Mike Pettine and general manager Ray Farmer on Sunday, Haslam announced that Sashi Brown, the team’s general counsel, had been promoted to executive director of football operations and given full control of the roster.

The hirings of Brown and DePodesta indicate the Browns will rely heavily on analytics as they remake the roster. The team is expected to begin interviewing coaching candidates this week.

DePodesta was the Los Angeles Dodgers’ general manager in 2004-05. He comes to the Browns from the New York Mets, where he’s been the vice president of player development and scouting since 2010.


by Pat McManamon who covers the Browns for ESPN, and he appears at times on the Really Big Show on AM 850 WKNR.

From "Draft Day" to "Moneyball."

The Cleveland Browns are either trying to revolutionize the NFL, or they are just so sick of losing they are willing to branch out and try as many different ideas and methods as they can.

Perhaps it's a combination of both.

The hiring of Paul DePodesta as the team's chief strategy officer brings the model for the Jonah Hill character in "Moneyball" to Berea. DePodesta was the guy who convinced Billy Beane that analytics and numbers and run production were more important than traditional scouting methods.( That approach has caught on in baseball, where numbers are more clearly defined and easier to assess.

It may have caught on in baseball but not without a lot of trepidation. When it was a proven success at Oakland, then other teams became a bit more open-minded. The same thing will need to occur in Cleveland.

While some websites have started using analytics in the NFL -- ProFootballFocus.com is the leader -- the trend still is toward traditional scouting methods that measure height, weight, speed and production. In the NFL, things like heart, desire, toughness and professionalism can't be measured.

All the analytics in the world won't make a team that lacks a quarterback into a champion.

And how is that a proven fact? Pat doesn't know that for certain.

Josh McCown would have done well this past season IF Cleveland had a decent offensive line to provide pass protection and not allow Cleveland QBs to get pummeled, and IF Cleveland had an offensive line that could run-block, and IF Cleveland had some better pass-catchers, and IF Cleveland had at least a mediocre defense, instead of one of the worst defenses in the NFL.

That's a lot of IFs, but analytics might have done a better job with drafting and signing players through free agency. If analytics were used over the past five years, would the Browns played better in 2015? Would analytics "say" that McCown would be a good acquisition? Would McCown be the David Justice of the A's?

Moneyball ignores the age of players and focuses on production. The archaic mindset of many people in the NFL is not to acquire players over the age of 30.

McCown produces numbers. He simply did not have much of a team around him.

Pat represents the knuckle-dragging thinking of many old-school NFL thinkers. They think that they know with authority, but they don't because the process has never been tried in the NFL to the degree that Browns plan to implement analytics. After three to five years, then we should have some idea, and then Pat can speak with authority.

Dismissing a new idea before the idea has been tried is infantile.

It's possible that the Browns' implementation of analytics does not work as planned, but it's also possible that other teams take some of the ideas tried by the Browns and then implement a hybrid version with their own teams.

If the lame-thinking sports media opposes the idea before it has been implemented, then it's probably a good idea.

How is that the so-called experts listed Justin Gilbert as the best defensive back in the 2014 NFL draft? The Browns chose him with the 8th pick overall, and he has been a major bust these past two seasons. It's amazing how unqualified he is to play in the NFL. Undrafted players have performed better.

Would analytics have chosen Gilbert in the first round? Let's hope that some kind of measurement exists that would have said, "No. He's a fifth-round pick, at best."

Or even if math said Gilbert was a second or third round pick, then that would have been enough for Cleveland not to pick him with the 8th overall pick.

Critics like to bring up the fact that if the Browns hire an old-school-thinker NFL coach, then that will create conflict with management. No kidding. That's probably why Cleveland will not hire a coach who thinks that way.

Pat wrote:

Joe Banner and Alec Scheiner brought analytics to the Browns. Scheiner strongly believes in it. But Banner appeared on SportsCenter shortly after the hiring was announced and said conflict could follow if the Browns go all-in on analytics and hire a traditional coach.

Really? Conflict could occur? No kidding. Hence the reason not to hire those people.

If the Browns are emphasizing analytics to the extreme, they at least will have to find someone who buys into the thinking. If it is one tool in personnel assessment, they will have to find someone who at least believes in it.

A crusty veteran coach like Mike Zimmer in Minnesota probably would lean away from numbers. A guy like Hue Jackson of Cincinnati also seems inclined to the traditional way.

The key is that it's one tool, not the only one.

Nothing but master of the obvious writing. Pretty weak.

New football operations guru Sashi Brown, though, said DePodesta has strength in using "data as a tool to produce better outcomes," and that DePodesta will help the "high performance and analytics departments maximize their efforts."

Since NFL analytics are in the toddler stage, DePodesta may bring some refinement and skill to the technique that other teams don't have. Anyone who speaks of him talks about his intelligence, and his people skills.

Brown and DePodesta are Harvard grads. That causes some Cleveland Neanderthal media people to make mentally feeble jokes.

Tony Grossi - Jan 6

Quotes from Browns beat writer speaking on AM 850 WKNR's RBS. Tony clearly doesn't like the moves by the Browns. He listed a lot of reason why football is different from baseball. Really? Different? I thought that the two sports were identical.

In the past, I don't think Grossi had any fondness for Joe Banner, but now Grossi cites Banner's comments about why analytics will not work.

Grossi has watched a lot of bad football in Cleveland for a long time. How in the heck does he know what will work and won't work?

He's inventing odd hypothetical. What media people and fans need to realize is that they are not as intelligent as Brown and DePodesta.

Grossi is bothered by the fact that the Browns will rely on people who never played the sport. And somehow Grossi knows better even though he has never played in the NFL.

Sorry, football experience in high school or even college does not count as NFL playing, coaching, or management experience.

Shockingly, Tony Rizzo is the only WKNR media host who is taking a common sense, wait-and-see approach. Rizzo is more open-minded than any other media people.

Grossi's quotes:

  • [Browns are] taking analytics to an extreme that hasn't been seen in the NFL, yet.
  • This is a radical approach.
  • They have been using analytics since Joe Banner introduced it in 2013.
  • This is putting Harvard graduates specializing in numbers making football decisions.
  • It doesn't take a Harvard graduate to see what the problem was.
  • So they decided to go with this radical approach.
  • My opinion is it's a long shot.
  • It's a refreshing change.

For some reason, these media hacks are hung-up on the fact that Brown and DePodesta are Harvard grads. Intellectual envy?

If it works in Cleveland, the process could upset the potato carts of a lot of people and their archaic thinking, and people like Grossi fear this.

The bottom line is winning. Who cares if it's the emotionally-based scouting way, analytics, or throwing darts at a board? The methods need to be tried.

If the Browns' analytics implementation fails, then we will have at least three more losing seasons, which Cleveland would have had anyway. But at least this option can be removed as a process.


A bit more sensible angle.




Count Super Bowl-winning former Ravens coach Brian Billick as one of the skeptics. Billick said today on Mike & Mike that Moneyball simply isn’t going to work in the NFL.

“One of the most common questions I get is, Can you do Moneyball, for lack of a better term, in the NFL? And the answer is, No, you can’t,” Billick said. “You can’t quantify the game of football the way you do baseball. It’s not a statistical game. The parameters of the game, the number of bodies and what they’re doing in conjunction with one another.”

Billick is clearly correct that statistical analysis in football is not as advanced as it is in baseball. Most football analytics people would freely admit that. Baseball is a fundamentally different sport, in which one player’s performance is less reliant on his teammates’ performances, and therefore the statistics of a baseball player are a much better reflection of his own value than are the statistics of a football player.

But DePodesta is presumably smart enough to know that. The question, then, is not whether football statistics are as beneficial as baseball statistics, but whether DePodesta’s analytical approach to football statistics can find advantages over teams that don’t use the same approach. That’s a question that we haven’t seen answered yet because no NFL team has gone all-in on analytics the way teams like the Oakland A’s have in baseball. But DePodesta’s hiring is a big moment in the NFL: If he finds strategic advantages that help the Browns become winners, other teams will seek to emulate his approach. If DePodesta fails, analytics in football will take a hit.


#math - #data - #sports - #football - #nfl - #browns - #business - #blog_jr

By JR - 2135 words
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