Moneyball vs. Betterball

Given the circumstances of the past year, attending a baseball game has not been an option. So instead of watching baseball, I’ve been reading about baseball. Although other sports are gaining, baseball is still the most analyzed game around. Basketball and football are also joining the sabermetric revolution; however, both sports pale compared to baseball’s unique relationship with statistics. In the book “Moneyball,” baseball executives are documented using statistics as a primary player evaluation tool. Although this form of statistical analysis is still present, most teams shifting from the “Moneyball” model.

The objective in “Moneyball” was to find players that were already good but undervalued. Nowadays, franchises are moving away from this model of finding valueInstead, the general managers are placing an increased emphasis on creating value. With the available technology, discovering a great player is something that all clubs can do. The successful teams are the ones that can develop a player.

“I don’t think people realize that if you’re a Moneyball team right now, you’re getting your ass handed to you,” says one quant for an MLB club. “When you hear the smart teams saying they use analytics now, they’re not saying they’re doing Moneyball. They’re saying they’re doing the thing that comes after.” This new phase dedicated to making players better is “Betterball,” and it’s taking over.” – from The MVP Machine

“You can identify value, or you can create value,” says former San Diego Padres senior quantitative analyst Chris Long. Historically, baseball has never placed a priority on player development. The accepted mindset was after a player reached the major leagues, they will have plateaued relative to performance. To embrace the “betterball” approach requires the dedication of significant time and financial resources. At this level, the incremental improvements might be small. A small change in the pitching mechanics to increase velocity on a fastball by two miles per hour. Another example might be if, by increasing the spin rate on a curveball, can more movement be created?

In general, referencing the above information, collegiate volleyball would fall into the Moneyball approach to how metrics are being used. The statistical model that is most used in volleyball is outcome-based. What number is attached to passing performance, sideout percentage, opponent’s weakest rotation, etc.? There is a significant amount of money and personnel that collegiate programs devote to these outcome numbers. Division 1 programs spend close to $10,000 annually to determine these numbers and associated video, not to mention the hours of labor to enter and analyze the information. Is there value to this information? No doubt! However, compare the time and money spent on outcome statistics and scouting opponents to the time and money spent on player development. Baseball is trending towards an emphasis on player development. My hope is volleyball might follow its lead.

Most collegiate teams spend 15-20 hours per week training during the season. If one examines how much time is spent in skill development versus system development, most of the time in practice is spent working on system development and scrimmage activity. The hope is for skills to develop inside the system work. The lack of focus on skill development isn’t the fault of the coach. The collegiate calendar is not conducive to budgeting time for skill development. There is always match preparation that takes priority.

Given the current collegiate calendar, the college coach’s focus is by necessity on what can be done by the player on their own time. The video below shows how the University of Virginia invested the money and time to create a learning environment for the basketball players to improve independently.

A skill development focus such as this requires a significant financial commitment. If we transfer this concept to volleyball, if we change armswing mechanics, can more velocity be created in a jump serve? Perhaps the athlete will video themselves and, with the coach’s assistance, develop a skill montage that you see below that a coach can analyze with the player.

Resources for most collegiate programs are limited. Implementing a program of skill improvement will take time, money, and coaching expertise. However, the payoff might be better performances by the players. The question becomes how does a coach want to spend their time and money?