Can Baseball Teach Us Something About Farming?

Prairie Gleanings

Paying attention to stats can give you a leg up on the baseball diamond. Can this be related to farming?

Published on: July 5, 2011
A lifelong fan of Major League Baseball (St. Louis Cardinals), when a friend told me about a book called Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game by Michael Lewis it quickly leapfrogged to the top of my reading list.

The book looks at Oakland A’s general manager Billy Beane’s novel approach to building a baseball team. Faced with a scant budget in the early 2000s, Beane seeks to build a team based heavily on statistics, rather than scouts’ projections.

For example, Lewis explains that Beane’s research indicates there is a strong correlation between runs and wins. For hitters, the two stats that lead to more runs are on-base percentage and slugging percentage. This is contrary to the common notion to put a strong priority on a hitter’s batting average and RBI count.

As a former high school baseball catcher, the premises laid out by the book were hard to swallow. Drafting players based on how many walks they have, rather than home runs seemed silly. I wasn’t quite ready to ignore intuition as to a player’s athletic ability, simply because the stat book says something different. As I near the end of the book, my brain seems to be coming to terms with Beane’s scientific analysis of baseball. It’s starting to make some sense.

Many of the premises employed by Beane have roots in finance and economics. This got me to thinking, if these ideas can be applied to baseball, can they be applied to farming? What are we overvaluing in farming that isn’t really worth a dime?

For starters, it seems there are potential gains to be had in varying populations according to yield potential. If high, sandy hills don’t have the yield potential, we should be bumping down pops as far as we can, without reducing yield potential.

Speaking of yield potential, are insurance applications of fungicides and insecticides really paying the bill? University professors constantly preach the importance of leaving check strips. Are we doing this?

At $7 a bushel, a lot of folks can get away managing their corn fields like the New York Yankees. However, it seems one of two things will happen. Grain prices could remain high, meaning the farmers managing according to a statistically- and economically-sound manner are gaining an advantage over you. Or, prices could break low. Again, giving the folks paying attention to these little details a big advantage.

Moneyball is set to become a major motion picture this fall, starring Brad Pitt as Billy Beane. Check it out and see if you can adapt any of the ideas to your farm.  

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