Play Ball! (Houston Astros Style)
When I’m not busy helping people build long-term wealth via evidence-based investing, in my daydreams, I’m a starting pitcher in the major leagues.
Admittedly, if my dreams ever come true, I’ll probably throw out my shoulder on the third pitch, after giving up a couple of home runs. But besides that technicality, there actually are a number of similarities between my real day job and my fantasy career. I know this, because the Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow happens to be a fan of Matt Hall’s Odds On book. He even wrote an endorsement for the book, and he has stayed in touch with us ever since.
As we’ve covered before, author Michael Lewis published his now-iconic book Moneyball in 2003. Both the book and the award-winning motion picture showcase how Oakland A’s general manager Billy Beane employed empirical evidence over expert opinion, studied patience over rapid reaction, and cost control over splashy spending to take his underdog team in a dramatically new direction on a shoestring budget.
Sounds a lot like what we aim to do for investors, doesn’t it? But a happy Hollywood ending is one thing. Can the strategy really work over time in baseball, or was it a sensational flash in the pan?
That’s where additional data points from Luhnow come in, when he chose to take Beane’s analytical approach one step further with “extreme Moneyball,” as described in this 2014 Bloomberg piece. Similar to the A’s, the Astros were underperforming at the time – big time. They literally had the worst record in baseball EVER during the first two years of Luhnow’s tenure.
Then came his fresh, evidence-based approach. The Astros made the American League playoffs in 2015 and, as I draft this piece, this recent Wall Street Journal piece describes Luhnow’s data-driven shift to maintain the team’s home run averages while reducing its strike-outs. The results so far? The WSJ reports: “More than 40% of the way through the season, the Astros own the best record in the majors, blitzing the competition with a lineup that defies all logic.”
Well, not all logic. The article also describes Luhnow as the “architect of perhaps the sport’s most data-driven organization.”
If you ask me, that probably explains it. Will the Astros take their first World Series in their 55-year history? Either way, come what may, I look forward to seeing what they have in store for 2017!