On Wednesday, January 29th, The Wharton Leadership Lecture Series presented current New York Mets General Manager, Sandy Alderson, to the Wharton student body. The former Marine and graduate of Harvard Law School spoke in detail about how he got his start in Major League Baseball, what his duties are as a general manager, and how analytics have a major impact on the game of baseball today.
After graduating from Harvard Law School, Alderson moved to San Francisco to practice real-estate law at a small firm, but soon realized he had not found his life’s calling. Eventually, his co-worker along with his co-worker’s father decided to purchase the Oakland Athletics. Alderson eagerly helped his co-worker with the legal process of acquiring the Oakland Athletics and subsequently joined the Athletics’ organization as general counsel, before being promoted to the role of general manager of the team in 1983.
Because of his rapid and unconventional move into the sports world, Alderson had minimal experience in the three key responsibilities of being a general manager: scouting, player development, and player acquisition. As a result of this Alderson said when he first took over as general manager he had no decision making strategy and relied on the process that has contributed to a lot the success the he’s had in his career. The current Mets GM said this process is “surrounding yourself with great people, structure, and systems. The systems and structure leveraged the people.”
Through this process Alderson decided that the best approach for his decision-making would be primarily predicated on analytics. By 1985, the A’s began conducting business strictly on analytics alone. Alderson stated “If you look at the correlation between winning and scoring runs, and the run differential between what you give up and what you score, in the end it doesn’t matter too much if you win the individual tactics war in a game or innings situation.” Alderson refers to these, and other, concepts as baseball’s Pythagorean theorem. These concepts became much popular later when the term “Moneyball” was created and now analytics are becoming an ever increasing way to run sports franchisees around the world.
We all know that big data continues to affect all aspects of society. But, little do people know, sports—at least partially through the efforts of Sandy Alderson in Major League Baseball—was the once of the first non-traditional industries to embrace the benefits of analytics. In addition to encouraging us to trust the power of analytics, Alderson’s talk reminded us all to work hard at whatever we’re doing, be open to change, and create a positive environment for ourselves in order to reach your personal bests.