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Indians looking like 'Major League' version, while both World Series teams adopt 'Moneyball' practices

Indians looking like 'Major League' version, while both World Series teams adopt 'Moneyball' practices

The Oakland A’s were not the first MLB team to use Moneyball. It was actually the Cleveland Indians that first used a version of advanced analytics. Well, at least the fictional Indians from the 1989 movie "Major League." The main plot of "Major League" is that a rich widow becomes the owner of the Indians after her husband dies. She wants to move to the team to Miami (which did not have a team at the time), and she intentionally signs players and hires a manager who should cause the team to lose games. Losing games would cause attendance and revenues to decline enough that she could move her team to Miami.

In a deleted scene from "Major League," however, the Indians’ owner actually states this a ruse. In fact, she wanted to create a cover story for why she was signing players that were undervalued using more traditional methods. She says she scouted all the players and the manager personally to find the best possible team for lowest amount of money because the team was broke. She created a narrative using herself as the villain to inspire the players to win to spite her and have the city rally around the team.

For many fans of "Major League," this is an incredible plot twist that changes how they view the movie. What is arguably more interesting is that this is almost a perfect summary about how advanced analytics are used in sports today and in particular by the two teams in the World Series: the Indians and the Cubs. In the movie, the owner’s goal was to find undervalued players that could help her team win games. That is thesis of "Moneyball" and perhaps what the book and movie are best known for by most people. However, another interesting part is that owner scouted the players and the manager, as well. That is something that is a common misconception about "Moneyball." In fact, many teams have actually increased spending and/or relied more heavily on scouting while also using advanced analytics more frequently to evaluate players. 

The Indians and Cubs are good examples of this approach. In fact, the current, real iteration of the Indians is almost eerily similar to the fictional Indians of "Major League." The Indians had the 26th (out of 30) highest payroll for the 2016 season yet had the fourth highest team WAR in MLB (WAR is the most commonly used advanced analytic in baseball). This starts with manager Terry Francona. While he did win two World Series titles with the Boston Red Sox, Francona was let go by the Red Sox after the team lost a nine-game September lead for the American League Wild Card to the Tampa Bay Rays in 2011. This included stories that focused on how players were eating chicken, drinking beer and playing video games during Red Sox regular-season games that year. It is easy to see why many teams thought that Francona’s best managing days were behind him when the Indians hired him in 2013 — similar to Lou Brown of the fictional Indians.

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Francona is not the only similarity between the two Indians teams. Catcher Mike Napoli is almost the spitting image of catcher Jake Taylor. He is a veteran catcher brought in more for his clutch hitting and the way he can handle young pitchers. Pitcher Trevor Bauer’s drone accident prior to his playoff start would remind "Major League" fans the antics of Rick “Wild Thing” Vaughn. Up and down the Indians rosters are players that many baseball fans have never heard of but are delivering significant results to the team.

The team with the highest WAR total and best record in baseball in 2016 is the Cubs. It is easy to think that the Cubs are the exact opposite of the Indians. More specifically, almost every baseball fan knew of Cubs stars such as Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo, Jake Arrieta and Jon Lester. Yet, the Cubs only have the 12th highest payroll for the 2016 season. How could that be possible? Many of the Cubs players are still operating on the deals signed as draft picks. Younger players typically are more cost effective than veterans because players need to have six years of MLB service time before they can become free agents. Finding young players who can have significant impact creates extraordinary value for a team. For example, likely National League MVP Bryant is only making $652,000 this year.

Having younger players on your roster that can make an impact is something that most, if not all MLB teams understand. Finding those players, however, is a different story. Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein has excelled at finding these players. Whether it is drafting players such as Bryant or trading for young talent like Rizzo, Epstein has built a team where the oldest starting infielder is 27. In addition, the team prioritized “building an offense from within and a pitching staff from spare parts. This flies in the face of more than a century of conventional baseball wisdom, which states that (1) pitching wins championships, and (2) a team can never have too much pitching.” The Cubs gained an advantage by taking a different approach to the draft than most teams and then developing a scouting department that would find the players needed to compete for championship.

"Major League" might have been ahead of its time in 1989 using Moneyball concepts, but that time has clearly arrived for both the Indians and Cubs. As Taylor said in "Major League," now there is only one thing left to do with this strategy: “Win the whole f---ing thing.”

Adam is the CEO and Founder of Block Six Analytics. He is also a lecturer for Northwestern University's Masters of Sports Administration and the co-author of The Sports Strategist: Developing Leaders For A High-Performance Industry.

Illinois legislature passes bill that could help build casino in Chicago

Illinois legislature passes bill that could help build casino in Chicago

The Illinois state legislature passed a bill that could help entice developers to build a casino in the Chicago city limits, according to the Chicago Tribune.

According to the report, both the House and Senate passed a bill which would restructure the tax structure for a potential casino-- something that had been viewed as an obstacle to draw interest from potential developers.

If a casino is built in the city, it would likely come with a sportsbook so that gamblers could stay closer to home to bet on games.

The bill now heads to Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s desk where he is expected to sign the bill into law.

The Chicago casino could also help fund the $45 billion Rebuild Illinois capital plan that Pritzker signed last year.

RELATED: First legal bet in Illinois was made on the White Sox

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NBC Sports Chicago to provide live multi-platform coverage of 2019 MLB Winter Meetings

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NBC Sports Chicago

NBC Sports Chicago to provide live multi-platform coverage of 2019 MLB Winter Meetings

Chicago, IL (December 5, 2019) – NBC Sports Chicago - THE NEW EXCLUSIVE HOME of the Blackhawks, Bulls and White Sox - is set to provide southside and northside baseball fans with extensive multi-platform coverage of the 2019 MLB Winter Meetings live from San Diego, Calif. beginning Monday, December 9 through Thursday, December 12, featuring nightly editions of Winter Meetings Live presented by Wintrust, SportsTalk Live presented by The Chevy Silverado, live afternoon editions of the popular “White Sox Talk” and “Cubs Talk” podcasts, along with massive in-depth reports/video offerings at NBCSportsChicago.com and via the MyTeams by NBC Sports app (NOTE: Fans located anywhere in the U.S. can download MyTeams for free on iOS and Android devices in the Apple App Store and Google Play Store).  Please note NBC Sports Chicago’s 2019 MLB Winter Meetings coverage highlights:

“WINTER MEETINGS LIVE” presented by Wintrust (Mon, Dec. 9/Wed, Dec. 11 at 10:30 PM CT -- Tue, Dec. 10/Thu, Dec. 12 at 7:00 PM CT) -- Hosted by David Kaplan (@thekapman) and Chuck Garfien (@ChuckGarfien), Winter Meetings Live presented by Wintrust will provide fans with the very latest White Sox/Cubs/MLB free agent signings details, along with the hottest trade rumor chatter throughout the week.  Kaplan and Garfien will also be joined by NBC Sports Chicago White Sox insider Vinnie Duber (@VinnieDuber) and Cubs insider Tony Andracki (@TonyAndracki23), along with additional national baseball experts, to break down every player move and provide additional analysis on how those moves affect the White Sox and Cubs heading into the 2020 MLB season.  NOTE: Live stream of Winter Meetings Live will also be available to unauthenticated NBC Sports Chicago subscribers via NBCSportsChicago.com/WatchLive and the MyTeams by NBC Sports app.

“SPORTSTALK LIVE” presented by The Chevy Silverado (Weeknights at 6:00 PM CT) -- NBC Sports Chicago’s weeknight sports discussion roundtable program SportsTalk Live presented by The Chevy Silverado - featuring host David Kaplan - will on location in San Diego throughout the week providing viewers with the very latest Cubs & White Sox free agent player moves, news, rumors, analysis and more.  In addition, “Kap” be joined each night by a panel baseball experts, along with numerous special guests from both teams.  NOTE: Live stream of SportsTalk Live and is available at NBCSportsChicago.com/WatchLive to authenticated NBC Sports Chicago subscribers.

“WHITE SOX TALK” & “CUBS TALK” Podcasts presented by Wintrust (Mon, Dec. 9-Thu, Dec. 12: “White Sox Talk” podcast at 12 NOON CT; “Cubs Talk” podcast 1:00 PM CT) -- Live, afternoon “Winter Meetings” editions of NBC Sports Chicago’s popular podcasts -“White Sox Talk” (featuring Chuck Garfien, Ryan McGuffey and Vinnie Duber) and “Cubs Talk” (featuring David Kaplan and Tony Andracki) - will be presented exclusively via the MyTeams by NBC Sports app next week, providing fans with up-to-the-minute breaking news, updates, detailed analysis, along with appearances from a number of special guests. Fans located anywhere in the U.S. can download MyTeams for free on iOS and Android devices in the Apple App Store and Google Play Store. In addition, fans can download all of NBC Sports Chicago’s podcasts at NBCSportsChicago.com/podcasts and simply subscribe to them via Apple Podcasts, Google Play or Stitcher.  The podcasts can be played on any mobile device, laptop, or desktop computer.

NBCSportsChicago.com/”MyTeams by NBC Sports” app/Social Media – White Sox and Cubs fans are also urged to visit NBCSportsChicago.com and the “MyTeams by NBC Sports” app for expanded “Winter Meetings” coverage, along with video offerings, including interviews with team executives, national baseball experts and much more. From a social media standpoint, NBC Sports Chicago will also deliver a number of additional on-site Facebook Live (Facebook.com/NBCSChicago) “Winter Meetings” interviews and special segments throughout the week, along with “Sights & Sounds” highlights from ‘NBCSChicago’ via photos/quick video offerings from Instagram and Instagram Stories.  Fans can follow @NBCSWhiteSox and @NBCSCubs on Twitter for the very latest White Sox and Cubs news 24/7.

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