Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Moneyball, lacrosse style

With the Academy Award nominations coming out soon, it's worthwhile to discuss an interesting aspect of ... the Buffalo Bandits' roster.

Don't worry, I'll get there soon enough.

"Moneyball" might get Brad Pitt an Oscar nomination. He played Oakland Athletics general manager Billy Beane in the movie. Beane became famous in the early 2000's for trying to figure out ways to compete with teams that had more to spend on payroll that his team did.

What's more, he was successful at it for a while. That probably was due to a group of young pitchers who came up from the minors and were good right away, thus giving the Athletics an edge. However, Beane also discovered the on-base percentage was undervalued by the rest of baseball, so he could stock up on players who were good at that skill at a relatively cheap rate. It didn't get the A's any championships, in part because of a little bad luck in the playoffs, but they had a nice run.

It gets more and more difficult to find a competitive edge through roster selection like that in any sport. Still, the idea comes to mind when looking at the Bandits.

The Bandits have a Native American general manager/head coach in Darris Kilgour, as well as several players on the playing roster who are Natives from either the United States or Canada. I'd have to do a ton of research into the numbers, and figure out how to count them. But ... I'd guess that the Bandits have had more Natives than any other team, and they've drafted more such players over the years as well.

Part of the reason is certainly geography. The Bandits have tended to use players who are from the area, and thus able to drive to games and practices. That area does contain a good amount of Natives, including Six Nations near Brantford, Ontario, and the Syracuse region as well as some Western New York locations. The Natives have played lacrosse almost forever, and the game attracts the best athletes. In that sense, it's a good fit.

There's another issue that more difficult to quantify, though. Are ther Bandits going out of their way to select Native talent, or are they are taking advantage of an underutilized source of players? Teams that go out of their way not to take the best player when they have a choice usually face severe penalties in the standings. Remember when teams like the Red Sox and Cubs were slow to sign African American players? They paid for it in the Fifties and Sixties.

But that's not happening here. The Bandits have not a record under .500 since 1999; By the way, Kilgour came aboard in 2003.

It's even tougher to guess if other teams have avoided acquiring Natives for whatever reason. Geography might be a factor there too. But it's at least worth noting that a team with a large Native percentage has been better than average in the league over the long term.

Wonder if Pitt is interesting in doing a lacrosse movie?

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