Russ Brandon bringing “Moneyball” to Bills


The Bills can not sell winning tradition, or good weather.

So they’re going to start looking for efficiencies in the market.

Bills president Russ Brandon said Tuesday he wanted to steal a page from baseball and implement a “Moneyball”-style analytics department.

“We are going to create and establish a very robust football analytics operation that we layer into our entire operation moving forward,” Brandon said, via Tim Graham of the Buffalo News. “That’s’ something that’s very important to me and the future of the franchise.”

The Bills aren’t the first to use advanced stats to assist their evaluations, as not every team feels compelled to announce they’re marching boldly into the 21st century.

But it is an important step, and one that could shift the future of the franchise.

Brandon said he’d work on the plan with general manager Buddy Nix, assistant GM Doug Whaley and football administration senior vice president Jim Overdorf, his contracts and cap guy.

“You know, obviously, I’m old-school in more ways than one,” the 73-year-old Nix said with a laugh. “It’ll be something I’ll have to get used to because I go a lot on feel and what I see.”

This isn’t to pick on Nix, there are a league full of “football guys” who don’t trust any degree of change to the routine they’ve enjoyed for generations. They rely on their eyeballs and instincts, and sometimes both can deceive. And they also will scoff loudly at “numbers guys,” the same way newspapers used to scoff at “that internet thing” as a means of self-delusion in the guise of self-preservation.

Using numbers is simply adding a tool to the toolbox, no different than transitioning from sweep-second stopwatches to digital in hopes of making a more accurate measurement.

Taking a closer look at the numbers might prevent the Bills from making an emotional “I know it when I see it” mistake like paying quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick during a 4-2 start in 2011, and realizing later their eyeballs and instincts cost them millions of dollars and cap space.

Any effort to add a level of analysis is smart for the Bills, who need to upgrade their talent base across the board.

32 responses to “Russ Brandon bringing “Moneyball” to Bills

  1. The Bills are getting on my last nerve. Not a fan but I do live close enough and my region is considered a fanbase. They are already downhill by announcing their serious candidacy for Ken Wisenhunt. This team won’t get it together until they hire a guy that has shown consistent ability to win. By that measure, Chip Kelly, Andy Reid, and maybe even Lovie Smith should be the names coming out of their mouths. Do they REALLY THINK KEN WISENHUNT is going to right the ship?

  2. In the same way that you cannot JUST use instincts, you cannot JUST use numbers. Sports rely on emotions almost as much as skill and you cannot quantify emotions. You could definitely use analytics on the business side, but on the football side your greatest tool is common sense.

  3. It’s not really moneyball that wins in football. It’s not overpaying players and investing in a great quarterback and defense that wins. Overpaying Fitzpatrick had nothing to do with analytics. It was just stupid.

  4. Any team which has to announce this is desperate. And this isn’t baseball where it’s a one on one matchup at the plate. There’s 22 moving parts and many of them don’t have meaningful stats. Of course there’s ways to quantify it, but I don’t see Bill James in buffalo.

  5. I’m more alarmed that every team in the league doesn’t already employ an analytics department of some sort. Moneyball stuff aside, it just seems logical.

  6. Isn’t that basically what the Cowboys did when they ruled the NFL? Tex Schram and Gil Brandt had the most elaborate computer system in the NFL just for scouting. Thats how they found guys like Harvey Martin (ETSU) and Cliff Harris (Ouachita Baptist University).

  7. Moneyball won’t work in a league with a salary cap/salary floor. Also, they already blew the budget just one offseason ago.

    Maybe the Bills should just focus on paying a real coaching staff real salaries. Other than that, they already had the Moneyball QB and then they gave him $4o million. And guess what? He stinks. They need a QB then maybe be can be respectable.

  8. Sounds like throwing in the towel. What i read is, hey, we can’t compete, so we’ll make sure that every aspect of our operation is run as cheap as possible.

  9. I think it’s funny that in 2013 people still think using measurables to determine an athlete’s actual production on the field is nothing more than a “cute idea”.

  10. Last I looked, the Athletics have never even won a playoff series, let alone a championship during the Moneyball Era.

    Isn’t trying to find players that can contribute to your team, that don’t cost you a lot of money, the goal of every GM? Did the Colts use advanced statistics to determine that Andrew Luck was going to be good? Or the skins with RGIII? Hell, drafting a Tom Brady in the 7th round is a one in a million. There are no stats that can determine a guy is going to turn into that.

  11. There is no substitution for bringing players in and evaluating them firsthand to actually see if they can do what you want them to do. Go and take a look at the massive roster turnover the Seahawks went through in their first two years with Carroll and Schneider running the show.

    Of course, that takes money in the form of having to fly in players and try them out, but Paul Allen has never been afraid to spend a buck or three. You want a computer to do the job for you, that’s your call, but there’s no substitution for human evaluation when it comes to football.

  12. 1)they would be looking for market “inefficiencies,” i.e. undervalued assets that the market doesn’t reward properly.

    2) A bad franchise like Buffalo is the ideal opportunity to see how effective a Moneyball style approach would be in the NFL. I’m guessing it would be less focused on finding undervalued players and more focused on contract strategy, draft strategy, etc. It’s neat, but implementing a superior organizational philosophy in the “what have you done for me lately?” cap era may be difficult, especially when coaches with any sort of sustained success move on rather frequently.

  13. Isn’t this what Belichick has been doing for more than a decade at NE with his ‘value’ emphasis? You’re ten years late, Buffalo.

  14. I rest my case. If Doug Whaley is the guy have him take over now!!!!!! We see where feeliand see has gotten us. Brandon can show us he really is ready to change. @footballady52 🏉

  15. “Moneyball” is such a buzz word. That’s like saying ‘synergy’ in the business world.

    Also, if that is his strategy, why would he so openly reveal it? Doesn’t that remove a huge amount of trade leverage? The idea of Moneyball was that other teams undervalued talent (by focusing on the wrong metrics).

    So when the Bills call to inquire about a player, the other GM must be thinking “their analytics say this guy is a great price:quality. The last thing I should do is trade him.”

  16. “Taking a closer look at the numbers might prevent the Bills from making an emotional “I know it when I see it” mistake like paying quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick during a 4-2 start in 2011, and realizing later their eyeballs and instincts cost them millions of dollars and cap space.”

    You got this completely backwards. Fitzpatrick got that contract BECAUSE of the numbers: in those 6 starts at the beginning of 2011 he had 12 TDs, 6 INTs, completed 67% of his passes and had a rating of 95. Going by the numbers is what got the Bills into trouble … a more instinctive “know it when I see it” approach would have told them that Fitzpatrick was in no way, shape or form a “franchise” QB. This is actually a classic case of the numbers deceiving a team into thinking they’re smarter than other teams when they’re not (few other teams prior to 2011 had considered Fitz anything other than a useful backup/journeyman type QB)

  17. This reads to me as:

    “We are going to be even cheaper and have even more of collection of throw aways from other teams.”

    Are any other teams relying on this in the NFL or is the front office saying we aren’t going to spend any money on high value free agents in buzz words and catchy concepts?

  18. I love what the bills are going to do. What they have been doing has worked right? Um no. Did they say they are hiring the wiz? No. They are keeping everything on the table and they should because we are not in the position to not look at every option. If the team makes you that angry don’t support them and if your not a fan why does this even spark an interest with you. I’m along for the ride for life. Go Bills.

  19. If you guys no so much about what the bills should do maybe you should be running a football team. I bet a few of you are living check to check.

  20. What this is, is what you get when you have a marketing guy running things. I am sure Russ has had Wilson’s ear for years and presented this grand scene to turn things around and being so old fashion and just so old he fell for it. Marketing guys are basically the best salesman. that is how they go there. To problem here is they will be measured on the field, not in an office with fancy charts. I am worried we are set up for a long test run. They are already talking about grooming people to replace people. I bet they will have 5 years to fail, so that might mean the streak without playoff could come to almost 20 years before this experiment runs it course.

  21. oh also I mind it interesting that their first visits for coaches are in Arizona with a bunch of guys they have worked with before. I am not sure if their analytic s show that the Bills have been picking off the Pittsburgh tree for over a decade. Donahue, Malarkey, Gailey. so if they were to hire one of the Arizona coaches are we to believe it was a process of analytical approach or more of hey I worked with this guy before, were friends approach. Well let’s see. Last note last time we hired a coach all we heard was that money was no object and that we would get a top flight coach. What we got was Gailey who was about to lose his job at a middle of the road college team. So we have heard this all before, the difference is now a new guy is saying it and he is a salesman so he don’t realize that we have heard all of this before, just packaged a different way.

  22. Moneyball made for a great story but it doesn’t really work. How many championships have the A’s won?

    It helps you find decent players at bargains, but not superstars. Superstars are what you need to win in the NFL – not bargains. If the NFL played over 100 games a year, sure you could roll the dice and play the averages. I don’t see how that works in the NFL though.

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