The Cleveland Browns are headed for another rebuild, and their hiring of noted baseball executive Paul DePodesta for a front office role has grabbed attention this week. It’s unclear if owner Jimmy Haslam will show enough patience with DePodesta’s data-driven approach to allow it to bear any fruit, but a willingness to think outside the box has to be commended to some degree.
As expected, the Browns’ attempt to bring “moneyball” from baseball to football has already met with some criticism. During his weekly appearance on ESPN Radio’s ‘Mike and Mike In the Morning’ Thursday morning, former Baltimore Ravens head coach Brian Billick weighed in on Cleveland’s new direction.
“One of the most common questions I get is, Can you do ‘moneyball’, for lack of a better term, in the NFL? And the answer is, No, you can’t,” Billick said. “You can’t quantify the game of football the way you do baseball. It’s not a statistical game. The parameters of the game, the number of bodies and what they’re doing in conjunction with one another.”
Due to inherent differences in the nature of each game, with a player’s individual value in football dependent on his teammates much more than in baseball, the analysis of below the surface data has to be different. DePodesta presumably realizes that, and it will be interesting to see if he is allowed to stick in his role long enough to possibly affect on-field results with a new approach.
Deeper analysis of football data within organizations, assuming it takes hold at all, could ultimately make no impact on winning and losing. That would prove old school minds like Billick right, even though he jumped the gun with his immediate public dismissal of something that has even a slim chance to change football analysis.