By now, the majority of sports fans (especially Cleveland Browns fans after today) are familiar with the “Moneyball” story involving Billy Beane and the Oakland Athletics, but what they may not be familiar with is the National Football League’s emerging role in Sabermetrics over the past few seasons. Teams like the Patriots, Falcons, Cowboys, Ravens and Chiefs have all recently begun using analytics in their day-to-day operations, but none have really doubled-down and gone all in on the aggressive concept yet.
While it may be odd to think, the Cleveland Browns could be among the leaders in the forefront of the NFL analytic era. It’s not a frightening concept, it’s simply a different method. The study of Sabermetrics is the science of utilizing advanced statistics and patterns to determine the likeliest outcome of a player or event to gain a competitive advantage. Essentially, it sets you up for a series of seemingly minor wins that, over time, begin to add up to a larger victory.
For the Cleveland Browns, let’s face it, they need every competitive advantage they can get their hands on. That isn’t meant to be a knock on the team, but nobody can deny the lack of success since the team has returned in 1999. The team has a record of 77 wins and 185 losses in that time, perhaps changing their approach can finally turn the beleaguered franchise in the right direction.
The Browns structure that will lead the way starts at the top with President Alec Scheiner, who began the process of installing analytics in Cleveland upon his arrival, stating, “You will have minor victories every single day at an NFL team if you’ve got analytics in house. I want to win, and it’s almost impossible right now to ignore how baseball and basketball and soccer teams are using this.”
To back it up, the Browns president brought his right-hand man in Dallas to Cleveland, Ken Kavash, to be his Director of Football Research.
“He can do things that none of the rest of us can do,” Scheiner said. “He’s an advanced economist who can run regression models and do all kinds of data analysis that we can’t do. So No. 1, he’s got the core skill set that you need to have for a job like that. And then he came highly, highly recommended from some people I really trust. I spent about 2½ years trying to find someone for that role because my feeling was if we don’t get the right person, we’re going to fail. That’s how important it is to me. So we did a very broad search, and all roads came back to Ken.”
In addition to Scheiner, the Browns now boast a quartet of Executive Vice Presidents in Sashi Brown (Football Operations), Brent Stehlik (Chief Revenue Officer), Brian Wiedmeier (Business Operations) and David Jenkins (Chief Financial Officer).
The trio of Scheiner, Brown and Stehlik, who were all featured at one time in the 40 Under 40 on the Sports Executives list, lead a promising team into the future, but it’s the addition of former New York Mets executive, Paul DePodesta, as Chief Strategy Officer that really launches the Browns into the analytics race.
“Paul has invaluable experience in management and leadership with a number of highly successful sports teams,” Brown said. “His ability to create better processes and systems throughout organizations, his use of data as a tool to produce better outcomes, and his relentless focus on looking for innovative ways to create more success will be a strong asset as we look to be as comprehensive as possible in our decision-making.”
Now if all this intelligence and analytics can live up to their hype and nail down the right general manager and head coach to lead this team into the future, maybe for once, the Browns can finally be the envy of the league and return to the “Glory Days” fans haven’t seen since the Kardiac Kids. The team may be a disaster on the field, but for once, it seems as if the front office is in good hands.