Sports Business

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.

[SHOP: Buy a "Try Not to Suck" shirt with proceeds benefiting Joe Maddon's Respect 90 Foundation & other Cubs Charities]

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.

Kaplan: Chet Coppock's impact on my career

Kaplan: Chet Coppock's impact on my career

The death of legendary Chicago sportscaster Chet Coppock has stoked many memories for me because of the lengthy history he and I had, particularly the huge role he played in my life. I would not be writing this nor would I be broadcasting on radio and TV without him taking me under his wing and giving an inexperienced kid from Skokie a chance to be on the air in Chicago.

Prior to entering the broadcasting profession I was a college basketball coach at Northern Illinois University from 1982-86. Like so many in the coaching profession, I lost my job when my head coach lost his job and I wondered aloud what the heck I was going to do with my life. I knew I had to be in the sports world and I knew deep down that I wanted to be on air. I started a college basketball recruiting newsletter that coaches and fans subscribed to and as I tried to market it I sent a letter to the biggest name in Chicago sports broadcasting that I could think of, Chet Coppock. He was a fixture on radio five nights a week in CHicago.

I distinctly remember walking into my house and seeing the message light blinking on my recorder. "Hey David, okay kid I'll give ya a shot! Tonight, let's talk college basketball. Bring your 'A' game! This is Chet Coppock from Coppock on Sports. Call me back!"

Wow! I was actually going to be on with the one and only Chet Coppock? The Big Rock Candy Mountain himself? I knew it was a big opportunity but I had no idea at that time that that phone call would change my life forever. Chet Coppock gave me a shot and he would become the single biggest professional influence in my career. Regularly he would have me on to talk about college basketball and the recruiting world. DePaul and Illinois basketball were hot topics.

It was always a huge thing to be on his show.

Fast forward to March of 1989. It is a Tuesday night, two days before the start of the NCAA Tournament, and I get a call from then-University of Arizona assistant basketball coach Kevin O'Neill, who was then and remains one of my closest friends in the world. K-O, as he is known, calls me in the early evening to tell me he has a great source telling him then-Michigan head basketball coach Bill Frieder is going to be named the new head coach at Arizona State the next day.

After I make a handful of phone calls to confirm the story, I call Chet.

He is on the air hosting the Doug Collins show, the head coach of the Chicago Bulls at the time. Chet comes to the phone during a commercial break and I tell him my scoop.

"I'll put you right on but if you're wrong I will bury you in this town and you will never get a broadcasting gig," Chet said. "Do you still want to come on? Do you feel confident enough in your story?"

Yes, I told him.

I go on the air, reveal the news and Collins tells me no way that is going to happen. He is a former assistant coach at Arizona State and he, like many others, did not believe the story was accurate. 

The next day the story breaks and the USA Today credits "Coppock on Sports in Chicago."

From that day forward Chet was a huge influence on my broadcasting career and he opened doors for me that I would never have been able to open myself.  Without him I would never be doing what I am doing today.

Rest in peace my friend. You will always be remembered as a legend.

NBC Sports Chicago announces multi-year media rights deal with White Sox, Bulls, and Blackhawks

nbc_sports_press_release_3_team_deal.jpg
NBC Sports Chicago

NBC Sports Chicago announces multi-year media rights deal with White Sox, Bulls, and Blackhawks

STAMFORD, Conn., and CHICAGO, Ill. – January 2, 2019 – NBC Sports Chicago and the White Sox, Bulls and Blackhawks today announced a multi-year media rights deal that provides NBC Sports Chicago with exclusive local, multi-platform media rights to present game coverage of all three teams starting with the 2019-2020 season. The deal is subject to formal documentation and pending MLB, NBA and NHL approval.

NBC Sports Chicago and NBC Sports Chicago+ will be the exclusive regional home for all regular season games, pre-season/spring training, and the first round of post-season coverage for the Bulls and Blackhawks. This new agreement also enables the continuation of all games to be streamed on NBCSportsChicago.com and the MyTeams by NBC Sports app.

“The Chicago White Sox, Bulls and Blackhawks have provided countless memorable moments for this city’s fans, and NBC Sports Chicago has been dedicated to immersive coverage of each and every one,” said David Preschlack, President, NBC Sports Regional Networks and Platform & Content Strategy. “This is a significant agreement, and we are proud to continue to provide the most comprehensive, multi-platform coverage of these historic franchises.”

“We are very pleased to extend our relationship with our partners at NBC Sports Chicago,” said Jerry Reinsdorf, Chicago Bulls/White Sox Chairman. “In addition to being the experts in consistently delivering the finest game and surrounding game coverage in the business, it is their year-round commitment to providing our fans with innovative and entertaining multi-platform content that makes NBC Sports Chicago among the very best in the regional sports industry. Chicago sports fans are the greatest, and we are pleased that this agreement allows for the very best access to Bulls, Blackhawks and White Sox live action and content.”

“Blackhawks fans should be very excited that we are continuing our partnership with NBC Sports Chicago. In addition to raising the bar on our game day broadcasts, NBC Sports Chicago has elevated non-game day television coverage and evolved their digital and social media platforms into some of the most viewer-friendly in the industry,” said Rocky Wirtz, Chicago Blackhawks Chairman.