New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick likes to pretend that he doesn't understand technology. He drops the same "SnapFace" joke with the ease of a Tom Brady quarterback sneak, and his struggles with car clocks and computers are well documented.
Belichick's old team, the Cleveland Browns, hired Moneyball cornerstone Paul DePodesta to help earn the most laughable franchise in the league a modicum of respect. DePodesta was one of the first brains in baseball to start using advanced statistical analysis to construct winning rosters against all odds. Belichick doesn't know how helpful analytics can be in the NFL.
"It's not really a big thing with me," Belichick said about analytics. "I'm sure you can go to the [MIT Sloan Sports] Analytics Conference or whatever it is they have here in the summer or spring, whenever it is, and get your fill of it. I'm sure there's a lot there."
The Patriots try to rely more on past precedence and interactions when evaluating an opponent.
"I'm sure we do a lot less [with analytics] than what other people do," Belichick said. "It's not really my thing."
"[Film is] one tool," Belichick explained before listing other factors. "Your personal experience, who the play callers are on the other side of the field - there is a philosophy that they have, which it's on film but there may be other sources of information on that - so who's calling the plays, what their philosophy is, what they're trying to do, what the skills of the players are, which again is verified on film, but ultimately you've got to watch something, so you watch them on film. If you have personal experience seeing a guy live, whether it be as an opponent or in a practice or in college or whatever it is, I guess that plays into it, too."
What has to be slightly amusing for statheads is that Belichick is describing the direction of football analytics. What is Broncos defensive coordinator Wade Phillips favorite personnel and play call against 3rd and short is a fact that can be gleaned from both scouting and from analytics. These analytics are just another tool in the box.
Plenty of institutional thinkers believe that Moneyball can't work in the NFL, which I believe is just a gross misinterpretation of what Moneyball actually entails. Football doesn't contain the sheer volume of useful data that baseball offers, with one-on-one at bats, and ball speeds, and defensive shifts, and pitch types. But the heart of Moneyball is finding the economic inefficiencies in the market an exploiting them.
The Patriots realizing that 3-4 players were undervalued and capitalizing with a terrific defense? That's Moneyball.
The Patriots finding Wes Welker and making the slot receiver an important piece of every offense? That's Moneyball.
The Patriots finding two tight ends in Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez and revitalizing a rare offensive package? That's Moneyball.
Trading down out of the first round and continuously picking up a free second round draft pick? Yeah, that's definitely Moneyball.
Maybe Bill Belichick doesn't want to classify what he does as analytics but it's clear that his daily practices align with the exact same principles of Moneyball. Belichick doesn't need to rely on a computer to do the work; he is the computer.