The Oakland A's have just won their first playoff series of the Billy Beane/Moneyball era, sweeping the favored Minnesota Twins in three straight games. As described in Michael Lewis' book Moneyball, A's General Manager Billy Beane pioneered the use of statistical analysis to guide personnel decisions in major league baseball.
Thanks in large part to Beane's moneyball strategy, the A's have posted one of the best records in baseball since he took over the team in 1999, despite having a payroll less than half the size of most of their main competitors. As I explained back in August, Beane's teams have posted records comparable to those of the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox, despite spending only about one third as much as the Yankees and one half as much as Boston.
I am a big fan of Beane and his methods, all the more so because George Mason University has used a similar approach in hiring faculty for our law school and economics department, both of which have risen in the rankings almost as fast as Beane's A's rose in the American league standings. Both the A's and GMU use statistical analysis to identify "players" whose productivity has been undervalued by their respective industries, and sign them before the competition catches on. Both also have far less money to spend on payroll than their wealthier competitors, and so have to do more with less.
Until now, however, the A's were dogged by their lack of playoff success. In 2000-2003, they lost four straight playoff series, all by razor-thin 3-2 margins; in 2004 and 2005, they narrowly missed making the postseason. Critics claimed that Beane's methods were defective because they supposedly don't work in the postseason. As Beane himself would be the first to point out, chance factors play a major role in influencing the outcome of short playoff series in baseball. Therefore, this victory does not "prove" that moneyball methods work, any more than the previous nailbiting defeats proved the opposite. However, those moneyball critics who claimed that Beane's methods are a failure because of A's lack of playoff success must now rethink their position.
Since my beloved Red Sox (who also relied on Moneyball methods in recent years) are out of the playoffs, I will definitely be rooting for the A's to go all the way and win the World Series. Hopefully, Beane is rooting for GMU to do well too:).