Few reasons exist to follow the hapless Cleveland Browns. One is if you actually live in the Cleveland area and have suffered with this team for decades. Another is if you like the underdog.
And another is if you have an interest in the use of analytics in sports. The Browns have become one of the few NFL teams to fully embrace the use of advanced analytics in building the team and making strategic on-field decisions.
The popularity of sports simulation games spilled over into the real world of sports through baseball. Among the Major League teams to adopt the use of simulations to help plan for upcoming games, the most famous are the Boston Red Sox and Oakland Athletics
The Red Sox, adapting the use of simulation programs to help put together their best lineups, ended an 86-year championship drought, winning the 2004, 2007 and 2013 World Series.
The Athletics became famous with the 2003 book “Moneyball” by Michael Lewis (later a movie with Brad Pitt) that depicted how General Manager Billy Beane used analytics to keep a low-budget Oakland ball club competitive.
Since then, some teams have jumped into the analytics game whole hog, while others have steered clear. Results have been mixed in some cases and very successful in others.
Major League Baseball & Advanced Analytics
Outside the Boston Red Sox and Oakland Athletics, these two teams have become known for using analytics. They join many others we could mention, including the Cleveland Indians, Houston Astros and Pittsburgh Pirates.
Chicago Cubs. This year’s World Series champions jumped deeply into analytics when they hired General Manager Theo Epstein away from the Red Sox. Epstein brought the same data-driven strategy for personnel and game management to the Cubs he used in Boston. With the partnership of data-friendly manager Joe Maddon, he helped yet another famous team end a long championship drought.
Tampa Bay Rays. While they have not won a championship, the Rays made the World Series in 2012 thanks to the use of analytics to construct the team under then-manager Maddon and then-General Manager Andrew Friedman (now president of the Los Angeles Dodgers). The same approach continues under current General Manager Matthew Silverman.
More than 30 NBA teams now have an analytics department or have hired an outside consultant to do analytics for them. Here are two teams who, so far, represent the opposite end of the analytics spectrum.
Philadelphia 76ers. One of the first teams in the NBA to embrace analytics, the 76ers hired General Manager Sam Hinkle, a Stanford School of Business graduate, in 2013. Hinkle told The Washington Post he planned to build a team from the ground up using statistical models and strategy for players and in-game planning use data-driven models. They won just 19 games in his first season, 18 in his second and 10 in his third. Hinkle resigned in 2016.
Houston Rockets. The Rockets started before most teams with analytics, beginning in 2006 with the hiring of General Manager Daryl Morey. Based on statistical models, the Rockets attempt to avoid mid-range shots and concentrate on fast breaks and shooting three-pointers (the basketball version of “Moneyball”). The team has experienced great success, although they have yet to win a championship.
Of the three biggest sports leagues, the NFL has the fewest franchises that adhere to analytics. Of course, who knows what the New England Patriots are up to? For the most part they keep their inner circle of decision-making secret, but most suspect they have used some type of analytics during an incredible run of success.
However, these two franchises are out front on taking a “Moneyball” approach.
Cleveland Browns. The fear in Cleveland is that the team will become the NFL version of the 76ers. However, new chief strategy officer Paul DePodesta, a former baseball executive who worked with Beane in Oakland, is committed to a data-driven approach to the game. They have not yet won a game this season, his first.
Kansas City Chiefs. Coach Andy Reid is known as a numbers guy. When he came to the Chiefs after a long, successful run with the Philadelphia Eagles, be brought along his chief analytics guy, Mike Frazier. The team has done well under Reid and is a playoff contender yet again in 2016.
These represent just some of the teams that embrace statistics in building their teams. Certainly fans of sports simulation games have extra incentive to follow the fortunes of these teams.