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Baseball, Sports & Trading

Baseball, Billy Beane and Trend Following. What Do The Oakland A’s Know?

Approaching the world logically with great discipline is not only the world of trend followers. The following excerpts are from a New Yorker article by James Surowiecki:

Even if you set aside the accounting scams and the free palaces for C.E.O.s, these last few years would rate as some of the most dismal in the annals of corporate leadership. Intoxicated by cheap money, executives squandered hundreds of billions of dollars on doomed mergers, vacant dot-com warehouses, and thousands of miles of useless fibre-optic cable. Now their rickety empires are falling to pieces.

Billy Beane followed a different path. Beane was frugal, Beane was shrewd. In three short years, he turned a stumbling outfit into a profitable enterprise that is the pride of its industry. If he hasn’t been recognized as one of the most successful executives in America, it’s only because his business isn’t derivatives or microchips. It’s baseball.

TurtleTrader® comment: Shrewd and frugal are words that could easily describe Jerry Parker or Bill Dunn. We recently heard from an over-excited European day trader who described trend following as too boring. He said they were like long-haul truckers, but he only wanted to drive a Porsche. Ask yourself, what is your goal? Do you want to make money or drive fast? It is a choice. Everybody gets what they want.

Beane is the general manager of the Oakland A’s, one of baseball’s much pitied small-market teams. The A’s don’t have a deep-pocketed owner or a fancy stadium, so their payroll is small—about one-third that of the Yankees. In an era of high-priced free agents, the A’s should be sad-sack losers, but they’ve reached the playoffs in the last two years, and they’ve been this summer’s hottest major-league team.

How has Beane done it? Most baseball men subscribe to familiar truisms about talent, character, and the chemistry of winning teams. Over the years, however, extensive scientific research into baseball statistics—often called sabermetrics, after the Society for American Baseball Research—has proved most of these truisms to be false. The Copernicus of this revolution was a mechanical engineer named Earnshaw Cook, who, in the early nineteen-sixties, compiled reams of data that overturned baseball’s conventional wisdom, and then presented the data to executives at a handful of struggling teams. The executives shooed him away. So Cook wrote a book, called Percentage Baseball. Most of its assertions were irrefutable.

TurtleTrader® comment: A strategy rooted in numbers is a trend following cousin.

Since then, thanks in large part to the work of the sabermetrician Bill James, a number of baseball executives—including Beane’s mentor and predecessor, Sandy Alderson—have tinkered with the sabermetric method. But Beane is the first G.M. to build his organization around it. He and his assistants focus on things that can be measured (like someone’s ability to get on base), instead of things that can’t (like whether someone is a clutch hitter). Beane uses actuarial analysis to figure out, say, the odds of a high-school pitcher’s becoming a major leaguer. And, in drafting and acquiring talent, he relies on sabermetric truths. For instance, if your team draws a lot of walks and hits a lot of home runs while giving up few of each, it will win a lot of ballgames. So Beane has stocked his team with sluggers who take walks, and control pitchers who rarely give up home runs. This strategy wins games and, equally important, saves money, because even though the players Beane likes are as productive as many high-profile stars with gaudy stats, they come a lot cheaper. Think of Beane as the Warren Buffett of baseball.

TurtleTrader® comment: Thinking in terms of odds is one of the traits of Trend Followers. Not many really look at the world that way. We would compare Beane to John W. Henry, not Buffett.

The A’s approach was born, in part, of necessity. We can’t do things the way everyone else does, because of our payroll, Beane said. We had to create our own niche and be disciplined about staying with it. In a sense, the small budget has worked to Oakland’s advantage. If corporate America’s excesses in the last decade demonstrated the perils of having too much capital, Oakland’s success has demonstrated the virtue of having just enough.

TurtleTrader® comment: Most of the great trend followers started small. They grew slowly. They are not at all like Goldman Sachs or Morgan Stanley. They are independent. They are renegades. Their nature and strategy are polar opposites of the Wall Street world grounded in commissions. Trend followers, just like Beane, realize too much capital doesn’t guarantee a damn thing. Strategy and smarts beats capital 9 times out of 10.

But can it last? In baseball, conventional wisdom may still rule, but Oakland, like any successful business, has begun to attract imitators, which will presumably make it harder for Beane to find his diamonds in the rough. Even so, Oakland has one great competitive advantage: the entire organization has been built, from the bottom up, around Beane’s ideas. In this respect, Oakland resembles companies like Dell Computer and Southwest Airlines, which have structured their business around a coherent strategy. Dell’s rivals have tried for years to emulate its made-to-order, just-in-time model. But the copycats, because their businesses were initially built around different models, couldn’t compete. The major airlines haven’t had any better luck trying to copy Southwest.

TurtleTrader® comment: A relevant question from a reader and our response:

It is truly amazing how traders were so successful using trend following. But that was then. What makes you think trend following still works? Is the fact that too many traders should be using it by now, take the edge away. What I mean is that, any system that is followed by many traders becomes less and less efficient until there is no abnormal return from it. Can you comment on this?

TurtleTrader® comment: You have read our entire site? Where is the evidence trend following has stopped? Start here to change your view. Just like those that think Beane’s success will soon fail, we hear from those that mistakenly believe trend following will soon fail. Whether, baseball or trend following, the naysayers will have a long wait.

Oakland’s success is the fruit of what the legendary corporate theorist Michael Porter likes to call strategic fit. Every part of its business is tightly linked with every other part, creating, in Porter’s words, a chain that is as strong as its strongest link. You get strategic fit only when you have a clear sense of what you are and of what you are not. The essence of strategy is choosing what not to do, Porter says. By choice and by necessity, Beane decided that the A’s would never be a team of conventional stars. And that has made him the best general manager in baseball.

TurtleTrader® comment: What’s our point? It’s obvious. Discipline, discipline and more discipline are the keys to trend following success. You want Holy Grails, not hard work? You are doomed.

Moneyball by Michael Lewis: What Can Trend Followers Learn?

Consider the excerpt:

Thomas Boswell, “Evaluation By Numbers Is Beginning To Add Up”
The Washington Post: May 29, 2003

For nearly 25 years, there’s been a huge food fight in baseball. The argument was basic: How do you evaluate a player? On one side were general managers, scouts and managers. For the most part, they evaluated players the old-fashioned way — with their eyes, stopwatches and radar guns and by looking at statistics which were popularized in the 19th century. Their mind-set was always, “How fast does he run? How hard does he throw? What’s his batting average? Does he look like a major leaguer should look?” On the other side — led by statistical gurus such as Bill James and Pete Palmer, and assisted by countless lesser “seamheads” (including, at times, me) — were the geeks, the outsiders, mere fans, who thought they knew better. Many of us never thought this day would come. Now, with the best-selling success of Moneyball by Michael Lewis, sophisticated statistical analysis has finally become a publicly acknowledged part of baseball’s mainstream. As Lewis has chronicled, the methods used by the Oakland Athletics in recent years have succeeded so suddenly and so well that, after reading “Moneyball,” many an owner — especially poorer ones — will have to ask, “Why aren’t we doing it this way?” A few years ago, Oakland General Manager Billy Beane bought the whole New School stat-analysis worldview, inspired by James’s popular “Baseball Abstract” but expanded by many people over many years. Beane’s 100-win low-budget A’s have been constructed almost entirely on academic ideas that are heresy to traditionalists. In Beane’s world, the stats always rule…Just as important, Beane’s disciples or imitators are now in complete control of the Boston Red Sox (for whom James is a consultant and owned by John W. Henry) and the Toronto Blue Jays — the Red Sox lead the American League East and the Blue Jays are three games back. The virus has spread. The genie is out of the lamp. There’s no turning back now.

TurtleTrader comment: John W. Henry, now owner of the Boston Red Sox, is of course part of Lewis’ Moneyball. Trend followers will enjoy this book, as the parallels to trading are uncanny. Read it!

Buy Moneyball from Amazon.com

Review from Forbes

Billy Beane of the A’s

Percentage of Accuracy Means Nothing – Take a Look at Babe Ruth

Winning percentage in your trading… does it really matter? Did you know that trend followers win 40% of the time on average?

George Herman Ruth, hero of New York, hero of baseball and arguably one of the greatest sports legends of all time, will always be known for his home runs. But he had another habit that isn’t talked about much: striking out a lot. In fact, with a lifetime batting average of .342, the Babe spent almost two thirds of his time trudging back to the dugout. From a pure numbers perspective, he saw more failure at the plate than success. But when he got a piece of one, well, it was enough to give any pitcher nightmares. There’s a reason why Ruthian is still a well known adjective in sports writing, conveying the awe and power of a grand slam in the bottom of the ninth.

Ruth fully understood that the hits help a whole lot more than the strikeouts hurt. He gave his philosophy in a nutshell:”Every strike brings me closer to the next home run.” And when reporters asked him how he dealt with the occasional slump, he replied: “I just keep goin’ up there and keep swingin’ at ’em.”

The lesson for traders is this: If you have realistic confidence in your method and yourself, then temporary setbacks don’t matter because you will come out ahead in the long run.

To further illustrate the point, consider a modern day example: The blue collar joe v. the entrepreneur. The blue collar joe is paid the same lump sum every two weeks like clockwork (with the occasional miniscule raise paced to keep up with inflation). In terms of winning percentage, blue collar is king: his ratio of hours worked to hours paid is one to one, a perfect 100%. He has a steady job and a steady life. Of course, the security he feels is something of an illusion – his paycheck comes at the whim of his local economy, his industry, and even the foreman of his plant. And the pay isn’t exactly impressive. It gives him a solid, livable life- but not much more.

In contrast, consider the entrepreneur. His paydays are wildly irregular. He frequently goes for months, sometimes years, without seeing tangible reward for his sweat and toil. His winning percentage is, in a word, pathetic. For every ten big ideas he has, seven of them wind up in the circular file. Of the remaining three, two of those fizzle out within a year – another big chunk of time, money and effort down the drain. But we can’t feel too sorry for the poor entrepreneur who spends so much time losing. He has a passion for life, he controls his own destiny and that last idea paid him off with an eight figure check.

The irrelevance of winning percentage is nicely summed up by another legend named George (Soros): “It doesn’t matter how often you are right or wrong – it only matters how much you make when you are right, versus how much you lose when you are wrong.”

Billy Beane in Michael Lewis Moneyball: Lessons for Wall Street?

Download the Adobe .pdf report. Michael Mauboussin offers more on …

Download the Adobe .pdf report.

Michael Mauboussin offers more on Billy Beane, the focus of Michael Lewis’ Moneyball.

More on Moneyball.

The Life of Game: Sports, Stats, and the Lessons they Teach Us

Download PDF report.
Source: Michael Mauboussin of Legg …

Red Auerbach: What Can Traders Learn?

Listen Now to Red Auerbach (Source: Fox News).

The above audio clip is a must listen for traders — or anyone chasing any passion in life for that matter.

Biography.

John W. Henry: Great Trend Following Trader Buys Boston Red Sox Baseball Team

The following excerpt shows just how much wealth can be generated by trading trends:

BOSTON (AP) — In a $700 million deal that would double the record price for a baseball team, the limited partners of the Boston Red Sox voted unanimously Thursday to sell the franchise to a group led by Florida Marlins owner John Henry and former San Diego Padres owner Tom Werner…Henry, a math junkie and former commodities trader who bought the Florida Marlins from H. Wayne Huizenga in 1999 for $150 million.

John W. Henry is one of the great trend followers of all time. The excerpt above states he is a former traderhe never stopped!

How did Henry make the money needed to buy a pro baseball team? Read:

Barings Bank and Henry Part I

Barings Bank and Henry Part II

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