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Moneyball | FM21 | Introduction

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After looking for something to pull me back into the world of Football Manager recently, having once again failed to find myself invested in any of my saves this year, I found myself reading my old articles. Something I’ve attempted several times in the past is Moneyball. In 2019, tedious games led to a slow process. In 2020 the wrong club choice led to a low interest in the save. This year, I think I’ve found a balance. Now I feel I can take the idea and run with it. Welcome back to Moneyball.

What is Moneyball

If you’ve never heard of Moneyball or Sabermetrics, I’d urge you to read the book by Michael Lewis, or watch the film; both are excellent. If you haven’t the time for that now, essentially, Sabermetrics is the analysis of statistics with reference to Baseball. Moneyball was the use of these metrics in order to find value in players who were overlooked for perceived flaws, such as age, injury or unconventional

Originally, the idea was popularised by statistician Bill James and was widely derided by the traditional scouts of the baseball world. They saw these statistics and numbers as fantasy baseball, something which didn’t apply to the real world. They argued that you can’t quantify a sport.

The idea was put into practice in Oakland, through General Manager Billy Beane and statistician Paul DePodesta. Using Sabermetrics, they found a strong correlation between on-base percentage and runs scored. This statistic was undervalued in the sport, and allowed them to take a team with the lowest wage budget in the division to a 20 game winning streak.

Scott Hatteberg, a pitcher signed precisely because of his on-base percentage, was trained to play at first-base. With non-reparable nerve damage in his throwing arm, he was widely overlooked by other teams. Beane and Podesta saw he was undervalued due to this flaw. He would go on to win them the final game in their twentieth game.

Statistics and Moneyball in Football (Manager)

So, how does Moneyball translate to Football, and more importantly, Football Manager. Essentially, rather than using attributes to judge a player’s ability, I’ll be looking at statistics. The Byline and FMStag recently released an article based around using data in FM21 to select players, which is well worth a read.

I’m aiming to conduct a regression analysis of salary and points scored, which will give me an estimate of how to calculate a players value, and also find statistics which heavily influence points won. In football, the obvious statistics to buy are goals and clean sheets; after all, these win games. I’m seeking to find more nuanced statistics which may be overlooked by some teams.

I’ve decided to set myself some rules, which include the type of signings I will be allowed to make. Some of these are taken from the book Soccernomics by Simon Kuper & Stefan Szymanski, another great read.

Transfer Rules

  • Some nationalities are overrated (pg. 24) – I won’t be buying players from England, Spain, Brazil, Holland etc.
  • Be as eager to sell good players as to buy them (pg. 29) – If an offer comes in for a player which is over what I deem their “market value”, I will accept.
  • Older players are overrated (pg. 29) – No players signed over the age of 27.
  • Buy players in their early 20’s (pg. 45) – Try to sign players who are 20-25, no players under 19.
  • Centre-Forwards are overpriced (pg. 47) – Avoid expensive, high scoring centre-forwards. Look to create some from within.
  • Say no to transfers (pg. 49) – Limit of three transfers per season.

I’ve also added something different this year, which will hopefully lower my workload when it comes to running the club. I will be taking the role of a General Manager. My responsibilities will align more with a Director of Football, deciding which players to buy and sell, hiring staff, etc. My assistant manager will be tasked with coaching the team and organising the squad on a match day. I’ll also be using Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) to analyse and compare potential signings, similar to my 2019 save.

Finding the Right Club

In order for this process to work, I think the club selection is hugely important. You need to find a club big enough to have a sufficient scouting network to reach far and wide to find the undervalued players, but small enough to be financial minnows against the bigger clubs. For this reason I think a top side in a second tier is around the right level.

Salary is a huge indicator of success; Kuper and Szymanski found that player salary accounted for over 90% of league positions, i.e. the team with the highest salary should finish 1st and the team with the lowest should finish last. Billy Beane’s Oakland A’s had the lowest salary in the American League, and he correctly reasoned, if they did the same as everyone else in the League, they would finish last.

In order for the process to work, I need a years worth of data to start analysing. Starting the game unemployed, I simmed through to March 2021, and took a look around for a suitable club. A club with a reasonably low overall salary and a big enough scouting network for this process to work.

Newcastle United

In game as of April 20th, Newcastle are 17th just one point ahead of Palace in 18th. Their salary is the 12th highest in the league, however, there are numerous highly paid players leaving in the summer, including Fabian Schar, Andy Carroll, Federico Fernandez and Dwight Gayle. As a Toon fan myself, this opportunity was too good to miss. A summer transfer window and a mass exodus gives the perfect opportunity to bring in the right players.

Thanks for reading. During the next post will probably include some assessing of my squad, as well as targeting players in positions I’m looking to strengthen in. Hopefully I have found a good balance here, reducing my workload by delegating training and match days so that the save doesn’t become all encompassing and time consuming. I think with this set up I can really power through some seasons to take the idea to fruition and see if in game stats can be a good indicator of player ability.

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Written by FMVars


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  1. Hi Vars I’m glad you have resumed the series. I would like to thank you because thanks to your first article on FM 2019 I became passionate about the Moneyball’s topic, and after watching the movie, I also read many books on the subject (Football Hackers, Soccernomics among others).I’m glad you started writing again, and I hope you’ll be able to continue this series over time.

    an Italian fan 😉

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