New York Times: When Data Guys Triumph

October 1st, 2011

New York Times
October 1, 2011

JOSHUA MILBERG has plenty of business cred: an M.B.A. from Yale, experience in the mayor’s office in Chicago, a job as a vice president for an energy consulting firm.

But all of that, Mr. Milberg says, matters less than his reputation as “the data guy” — someone who can offer insights through statistical analysis. And for that, he and a growing number of young executives can credit none other than “Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game,” by Michael Lewis.

More than eight years after “Moneyball” was published, the book refuses to shuffle meekly to the remainder bin of public consciousness. Now, “Moneyball,” the movie starring Brad Pitt, could restore the title to best-seller lists.

But a generation of managers like Mr. Milberg, now 31, never really put down “Moneyball,” which examines how the Oakland Athletics achieved an amazing winning streak while having the smallest player payroll in Major League Baseball. (Short answer: creative use of data.)

These managers are savvier with data and more welcomed in business circles in part because of the book. Among other things, Mr. Milberg’s analysis has helped his clients understand when to prioritize high-volume, low-revenue sales over their sexier, high-revenue siblings.

“The book impacted the way I looked at data,” he says. “And it impacted those around me, allowing me to go farther afield with those data than usual.”

At its heart, of course, “Moneyball” isn’t about baseball. It’s not even about statistics. Rather, it’s about challenging conventional wisdom with data. By embedding this lesson in the story of Billy Beane and the Oakland A’s, the book has lured millions of readers into the realm of the geek. Along the way, it converted many into empirical evangelists.

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