Billy Beane was a natural athlete. As a teenager he was tall, good looking, fit and strong. Every game came easily to him, and when he played baseball at school he set records and won trophies. Scouts who came to watch Billy Beane play were convinced he was a superstar in the making.

Every attribute they looked for, this kid had. And then some. But Beane wasn't a superstar. He was a below average top flight player, a player who spent his playing days keeping benches warm and only got that opportunity because of who he was at 17. 

Beane however has gone on to revolutionise baseball. Not as a player, but as a General Manager - something like a Director of Rugby in our game. Beane's own experience, as a superstar who wasn't, has led him to embrace a completely new approach to player evaluation, disregarding the knowledge amassed by baseball men sine the game began and relying completely on an objective look at statistics. Gone is an emphasis on the headlining numbers (strikes, bases stolen, batting average) and instead Beane and his team developed a system that focused on what won games and then picked players who had the numbers to suggest they would win games. They might not sell much merchandise, they wouldn't make many "plays of the day" but they'd win games. 

Beane's new approach was driven by his position as head of the second poorest team in the league. Like an anti-Harry Redknapp he set about looking at what he could do within his limited means, rather than demanding his owners matched the means of others. And it works. Beane's side, the Oakland Athletics, have consistently over achieved, finishing towards the top of the league while languishing at the bottom in terms of budget. Without trophies to his name it's easy to dismiss Billy Beane and his methods. But have a look at the Aviva Premiership or football in this country and ask how many sides consistently at the top end of the table are operating with a budget in the bottom two or three. There aren't any. The greatest compliment is of course to be copied and today the Oakland Athletics are finding life tough, as every major league baseball team has begun to adopt Beane's methods.

Two Beane-driven observations:

1. The wrong numbers:

As the 6 Nations finished I spent a lot of time re-watching the games, trying to focus on the coaching and seeing if I could detect what the coaching plan was, how it was being implemented and where it went wrong and right. To help with this I looked at the statistics of each game. And I've been struck by how little you can tell by looking at what we measure. 

Have a look at the tournament statistics: http://www.rbs6nations.com/en/20926.php

Wales didn't make the most tackles, complete the most passes, make the most line breaks, win the most scrums, score the most points, tries or conversions, make the most off-loads, win the most ball in the opponents 22 or have the best strike rate. They did miss the second highest number of tackles, kick away the second highest amount of possession, lose the most line outs and concede the most penalties. Is that what you'd expect to see when evaluating a Grand Slam winning side? Aren't these the stats we tend to look at? Line breaks. Tries scored. Tackles missed. 

What about possession and territory? Or turn-overs? Well have a look at the GS winning sides most important recent victory; their comprehensive WC win over Ireland: http://www.rwc2011.irb.com/home/matches/match=11227/statistics.html

So: What are we measuring and do these numbers have anything insightful to offer? And if not what should we be measuring? 

2. Talent:

When Ben, Fred and I attended the last London Coaching Conference we were treated to an insightful and informative talk from Tony Diprose, discussing the lessons he and his coaching team-mates from Harlequins had learnt from a trip to NZ to observe their Super franchises and their plans for creating a sustainably successful Harlequins side. For the most I thought Diprose was spot on. But at one point he drew a quasi-scientific grid up on the whiteboard; a Talent/Character graph. He went on to say that top players, and especially top prospective players, had to sit high up in this graph, possessing innate talent and good character.

Should you watch or read Moneyball it'll strike you how much it sounds like the utterances of the scouts sat round the table as the story begins. These are the men who's life-earnt knowledge Beane is about to trounce all over and show up horribly. 

Of course talent matters. Of course players have to posses certain characteristics. But how many of you can remember the Billy Beane in school? The kid who was best at every sport he played, the natural athlete who was on every first team when he was two years younger then his team-mates. I can remember a few. They weren't just great sportsmen, they made their coaches happy, they had the right character. Now how many of those kids made went on to play at a higher level? From primary school to university I can remember those guys, because I'm not one and I'd have killed for their athleticism and success. There's not one who made it. And I grew up in a nice town, full of sports clubs and supportive households and schools with playing fields and money to spend on equipment. So again, what are we looking at and is has it got anything to do with success?