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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.

The Daily Line: Week 1 football picks

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USA TODAY

The Daily Line: Week 1 football picks

The Supreme Court opened the door for sports betting legalization with its May ruling that struck down a 1992 law that banned commercial sports betting in most states. Sports betting is not yet legal in Illinois, but with football season underway, former Northwestern offensive lineman Eric Olson will take a weekly look at the odds surrounding the action on the field.

It is here. Football season is upon us. The best time of year has begun. By way of introduction, I am Eric Olson. I played football for Northwestern from 2012- 2016, started over 30 games at Right Tackle, got a Master’s in Predictive Analytics and love to look at football through the eyes of a sports bettor. I will be writing up my weekly NFL, and a few college picks here at NBC Sports Chicago. With the legalization of sports betting in a handful of states already, and possibly growing to others soon, there will be a lot of new interest and increased awareness on the sports betting factors around the games this year.    The best pieces of advice I can give you are: #1 Don’t bet what you can’t afford #2 If it feels too good to be true, it probably is. And #3 If it feels ugly when you place it, good. Other than that, let’s have some fun and hopefully have some success along the way.

Jacksonville Jaguars vs New York Giants, 9/9 12:00pm CT

The Line: Jaguars -3

Betting Percentage Split: 50/50

The play: Giants +3

The Jacksonville Jaguars wildly overachieved in 2017. The New York Giants wildly under achieved in 2017. Week 1 is a phenomenal time to exploit biases like this from the previous season. In fact, teams that won under six games the year before are an incredible 59% against the spread in week 1 of the following year over the last 8 years. The Giants are not a 3-13 team based on the talent on their roster. Odell is happy, McAdoo and his stupid haircut are out, Saquon is in, the OL is revamped and seemingly there is actually some sort of balance in the locker room. The Jaguars may have the best defense in league for a second straight year, but that doesn’t mean they will recapture the spark they had in 2017. Bortles is still a very, very average NFL quarterback and I am not ready to pencil this team as the new AFC powerhouse for years to come like some people seem so set to do. Take advantage of this situational play and take the team that under achieved the previous year at home getting points with a veteran QB.

San Francisco 49ers vs Minnesota Vikings, 9/9 12:00pm CT

The Line: Vikings  -6.5

Betting Percentage Split: 66% of tickets on the Vikings

The play: Vikings -6.5

Everybody and their mother have the 49ers as their ‘surprise’ team this year. People love to talk about how Jimmy G went 5-0 in his first 5 starts, but look past the fact that he had a pedestrian 7:5 interception to TD ratio, he won his last two games against a Rams team that sat all of their starters and a Jags team that already clinched their division; not to mention, the Niners had one of and will have one of the worst defenses in the NFL. The Vikings return nearly their entire NFC Championship Game roster, make a lateral (maybe slightly upward) move at QB and add Sheldon Richardson to their already stacked defensive line. Simply put, there is nothing, I mean nothing, better than fading over-hyped teams in the NFL. Give me the Vikes to show up at home in week 1 (6-3 ATS at home last year) and take 49ers under 8.5 wins while you’re at it too.

Dallas Cowboys vs Carolina Panthers, 9/9 3:25pm CT

The Line: Panthers -3 (+100)

Betting Percentage Split: 72% of tickets on the Panthers

The play: Cowboys +3

This is an interesting spot for a lot reasons. Two talented teams with a lot of question marks coming into the season. From a betting perspective, we also see one of the most public teams in all of sports (Cowboys) getting only 28% percent of bets. Furthermore, we have seen this line move the opposite direction of the ticket count (you can get -2.5 in some places). In the betting world this is called ‘Reverse Line Movement’ and it usually is an indicator that professional bettors are targeting a particular side. I love siding with the pros here and taking the underdog Cowboys when the public has hopped off their bandwagon. The Panthers lost pro-bowl guard Andrew Norwell in the offseason and will be without Left Tackle Matt Kalil, and possibly Right Tackle Daryl Williams, in week 1, giving what was one of the best units in football last year a ton of questions heading into the season. I like the Panthers to regress this year and the Cowboys to take a few steps forward from their disappointing 2017 campaign. Give me the contrarian Cowboys (a phrase you will not hear often) in week 1 winning outright.

Tennessee Titans vs. Miami Dolphins , 9/9 3:25pm CT

The Line: Titans -2

Betting Percentage Split: 66% of tickets on the Titans

The play: Dolphins +2

The NFL is a strange league, especially when it comes to gambling. The Dolphins went 6-10 last year, got rid of two of their biggest stars in Ndamuking Suh and Jarvis Landry (and Jay Ajayi late last season as well), have injury concerns at QB and play a playoff team in week 1 with a QB who many people think is poised to make the proverbial leap this year. Well, I am not one of those people and I am not a believer in this Titans teams. While getting rid of talent like Suh, Landry and Ajayi may look bad on paper, not only do player acquisitions matter far less than the public perceives them to in the NFL, there was a method to Adam Gase’s madness. He has publicly stated that he got rid of these players, who were often polarizing personalities, to change the locker room culture and instill a level of stability. Will this translate to prolonged success in Miami? I’m not ready to make that leap, however I am ready to say it gives them enough of a spark in week 1 at home to beat an overvalued Titans team. Take the Dolphins and the points.

Chicago Bears vs. Green Bay Packers , 9/9 7:20pm CT

The Line: Packers -7/-7.5

Betting Percentage Split: 53% of tickets on the Packers

The play: Packers – 7/7.5

Somehow, after being one of the most boring teams in the NFL for the past couple years, the Bears are a part one of the most exciting and anticipated games of the weekend. Between the Khalil Mack addition, Aaron Rodgers coming back from injury, Nagy coaching his first game and Trubisky finally getting some freedom, this game has some genuinely interesting storylines to follow. From a gambling perspective, this game was as high as Packers -8.5 at one point and since the Khalil Mack addition it has moved all the way to -7 in some places. With the betting ticket disparity being so even, it’s most likely not professional action moving the line, rather bookmakers knowing that the public will be willing to pay a steeper price for the Bears with added excitement. Khalil Mack is a phenomenal player, as a former offensive lineman, players like him give me nightmares, however, on Sunday, his role will be limited and not nearly worth the 1.5 points they are giving him. Take advantage of this Vegas overreaction and take the Packers at -7 if you can get ‘em.

Bonus College Game:

Duke vs. Northwestern, 9/8 11:00 am CT

The Line: Northwestern -3

Betting Percentage Split: 75% of tickets on Northwestern

The play: Northwestern -3

Full transparency here: I am going to take Northwestern every week. While I hate seeing the public all over the Cats, as we typically fair better in the underdog role, this line indicates that these teams would be a pick-em on neutral field. I do not believe this to be an accurate assessment of these two teams. The two biggest questions coming into the season for NU were the health of Clayton Thorson and who was going to replace the production of RB Justin Jackson. Well, in week 1, Clayton looked phenomenal in his limited role, which will only increase week to week, and Jeremy Larkin went for 143 yards and 2 TDs on 26 carries in his debut as the starting RB. The Cats had arguably one of the most impressive week 1 victories going on the road, in prime time, against an upstart conference foe in Purdue and I love them to carry their 9 game win streak into this game and keep rolling. In what was by far their most disappointing result of the season, Northwestern got rolled by Duke last year, give me the Cats, all day, at home, in this revenge spot.

Why Cirque du Soleil, NFL experience could come to Chicago

Why Cirque du Soleil, NFL experience could come to Chicago

With the success of the NFL Draft going mobile, the league may eventually decide to take another NFL experience on the road.

The NFL has partnered up with Cirque du Soleil to launch an interactive exhibit in New York City this fall.

The attraction, titled NFL Experience Times Square, will include interactive screens, an auditorium for 4D shows, coaches clinics, autograph sessions and much more.

[BEARS TICKETS: Get your seats right here]

CSN Sports Business Insider Rick Horrow explains why taking the experience on the move could be a good thing for the franchise value of the Bears.

"This is an example of a $25 billion NFL business joint-venturing with another pioneer in the entertainment industry Cirque du Soleil to make it better," Horrow explained. "Here's the case, because the NFL Draft has become mobile with Chicago leading the way, then Philadelphia, the Pro Bowl, the Super Bowl, you can't believe it's not an opportunity for potentially doing this NFL experience along the streets of Madison Avenue, along State Street, as well as Michigan Avenue.

"How about downtown Chicago on the way to other places."

Watch the video above to see what else Horrow had to say about the NFL Experience possibly coming to Chicago.