Paul DePodesta, who has spent the past five years as Sandy Alderson’s right-hand man with the NL champion New York Mets, has joined the Cleveland Browns as the team’s Chief Strategy Officer.
On the surface, it appears to be a very dramatic move given that DePodesta has been in MLB in some capacity for nearly 20 years. But DePodesta played football at Harvard and after graduation worked as an intern with the Baltimore Stallions the year they became the only American based CFL team to win a Grey Cup.
After cutting his teeth in MLB with the Cleveland Indians, DePodesta increased his profile with the Oakland A’s as he carried out Billy Beane’s vision of incorporating sabermetrics into scouting and player personnel decisions. DePodesta was a prominent figure in Michael Lewis’ Moneyball (although he declined to be portrayed in the movie, Jonah Hill was cast as Peter Brand but his character was loosely based on DePodesta).
After the A’s reached the post-season for four consecutive seasons, the Los Angeles Dodgers hired DePodesta as their GM. While the Dodgers won the NL West in 2004, they faltered in 2005 & DePodesta was fired. Since 2006, he has been tied to Alderson’s hip first with the San Diego Padres and then with the Mets who, of course, in 2015 won their first NL pennant in 15 years.
If DePodesta wanted a challenge, he has certainly found one. The Browns 3-13 record was tied for the worst in the NFL this season along with the Tennessee Titans. Since their re-christening in 1999 (the original team moved to Baltimore in 1996 to become the Ravens), the Browns have only made the playoffs once back in 2002 and haven’t had a winning record since 2007.
DePodesta’s first challenge will be what to do with former Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel who has been a bust for the Browns since being drafted by the team in 2014. Beyond that, DePodesta will be tasked with finding value in players who have undervalued statistics. In other words, is there a football equivalent to on base percentage? I’m not so sure given that every football team, be it in high school or college, is centered around a different offensive strategy. It will be difficult for DePodesta to take a one size fits all approach in terms of drafting and acquiring players.
But if the Browns reach the NFL playoffs in the next two to three years and become a contending team, DePodesta could revolutionize the NFL as he did with MLB during his tenure with the A’s. In which case, other NFL teams will follow suit. If the DePodesta experiment in Cleveland succeeds, Michael Lewis might want to call his agent. There could be another book and a movie in it for him. The only question is would DePodesta actually consent to be portrayed in the movie.
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