The Moneyball Effect: Baseball, Politics, Trump’s Victory, and Nonprofits

With baseball season right around the corner, it’s time for me to dust off Moneyball for another read (yes, that’s my copy in the featured picture alongside other Michael Lewis’ works; and that’s C.S. Lewis on the far left, another book worth reading). This book by Michael Lewis brought attention to the strategies of Oakland A’s general manager, Billy Beane, who used deep statistical analysis to discover stats beneath the stats, or stats that weren’t even really popularized. He brought in Ivy League numbers crunchers, and the rest is history. While the A’s never won a World Series, they were a competitive team that operated on budget constraints.

Theo Epstein, currently with the Chicago Cubs, has implemented Moneyball with a larger budget, and has proved successful, winning titles in Boston and Chicago. So, while money isn’t everything, it certainly helps, especially when the undervalued stats at that time are now valued far more on the market, leading to increased demand and salaries for players possessing those skills in demand. The principle of Moneyball, however, lives on, which is to discover the undervalued data of the present and thus buy in at an undervalued rate, where return on investment is maximized. How much more can be mined is yet to be determined. But there are far more applications of Moneyball than just base on balls and zone rating; it applies to organizational structure, drafting, contract strategy, and more.

Moneyball’s impact has gone beyond baseball. Sen. Ben Sasse (R — Nebraska) was asked on Twitter what the “best/most important policy books/papers/discussions from this century” was. Sasse’s answer? Moneyball.

As pundits, shell-shocked by Donald Trump’s victory, tried to piece together exactly how it happened, his son-in-law and senior advisor, Jared Kushner granted an interview with Forbes and was happy to share his strategy. It’s really a fascinating read. Here’s an excerpt from Kushner:

“We played Moneyball, asking ourselves which states will get the best (return on investment) for the electoral vote,” he said. “I asked, ‘How can we get Trump’s message to that consumer for the least amount of cost?’”
“We weren’t afraid to make changes. We weren’t afraid to fail. We tried to do things very cheaply, very quickly. And if it wasn’t working, we would kill it quickly,” he said. “It meant making quick decisions, fixing things that were broken and scaling things that worked.”

Kushner also realized that Michigan and Wisconsin were in play, that the return on investment would be huge, electorally speaking. Team Hillary undervalued the importance of Michigan and Wisconsin, even when operatives on the ground were allegedly pleading for help, trying to convince the top of the campaign that these states were in play. That is playing Moneyball, going where the behemoth is mostly ignoring, spending little in hopes of a large return, and not like a lottery ticket, but based on a probable shot.

As I work through a certificate program in nonprofit management, I’m learning that most nonprofits have to generate impact efficiently because there’s little to no margin for error. As a nonprofit director — and Moneyball proponent — I frankly love the challenge of making an impact with efficient use of resources, all the while not forsaking quality. In fact, qualitative analysis informs exactly how the money should be invested because return on investment isn’t measured by profit but rather impact. In baseball, it’s runs. In politics, it’s winning — and policy-making. In the corporate world, it’s innovation for greater flourishing. In the nonprofit world, it’s impact. And if we can achieve impact on less, then more money can be invested in generating more impact.

I know Moneyball is a tough read for someone not familiar with baseball, but familiarize yourself with baseball so you can read the book. Because, well, baseball is also amazing. And there’s also a movie. I think the movie popularizes the major themes for the disinterested baseball fan — I think. Now, time to get into the book yet again. I’m a geek; it’s my inspirational reading of the year.