Can MLB analytic mind Paul DePodesta turn around the Cleveland Browns?

I thought I read the headline wrong. Obviously, it was a typo and the New York Mets VP of Player Development Paul DePodesta was heading back to his roots and signed on with the Cleveland Indians. It makes sense, the Indians are a team that needs help with their farm system, and DePodesta has shown he can do that.

It was no typo. He is heading to the NFL in attempts to rebuild one of the sorriest franchises in the game’s history.

If you don’t know who DePodesta is he was part of Billy Beane‘s think-tank that created the Moneyball plan. He was the character Jonah Hill was based on in the movie. He likes analytics and he made Billy Beane’s Oakland As contenders — to an extent — in the early 2000s when he was part of the team.

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He started in Cleveland — with the Indians, mind you — before being hired away by Beane. The As rise to prominence caught the eye of a team south of the bay, and DePodesta would become the GM of the Los Angeles Dodgers.

The move was met with much skepticism. Some felt he was too young (he was 31 at the time), some were not bought into the analytical approach to the “nerd-stats” yet and felt that it was no way to build a team. Whatever the case was, he took the helms of the Dodgers and they made the playoffs that season.

If only it were that easy.

DePodesta became more known as the guy who traded away one of the Dodgers most beloved players and didn’t match a huge offer on a potential Hall of Famer. He traded away Paul Lo Duca, a fan favorite and considered by many the leader of the team, for Brad Penny, who actually would become pivotal in the Dodgers success. He also allowed Adrian Beltre to walk after he smashed 48 home runs for the Dodgers by being outbid by the Seattle Mariners.

Those two moves, plus sinking to a sub-.500 record in 2005 saw DePodesta on the move again, first stopping at the San Diego Padres before heading to the New York Mets. I think it’s safe to say that whatever he did with the Mets since coming on board in 2010 worked.

By the way, anyone see who the Mets beat in the NLDS? It was the Dodgers if anyone is taking notes.

But that’s the past. Now, DePodesta is the Chief Strategy Officer for the Cleveland Browns, whatever that is.

I think it is somewhat humorous that the Browns had to turn to an MLB executive to take a job with the team. It seems like no one with NFL experience would want the job, doesn’t it?

What DePodesta did in New York is what the Browns desperately need. It’s not so much the talent on the roster that is the ultimate problem with the Browns — although it is by no means a competitive NFL roster — but the entire organization needs a rebuild. This is what DePodesta did in New York. He helped tear down their scouting department and retooled their player development team. He became active in the trades and free agent signings to bring in pieces that would play a pivotal role in one of the better turnarounds in the past few years in MLB.

Can he do that in Cleveland? This is a team that leads football in quarterbacks used and coaches gone through over the past few years. The last five head coaches hired in the AFC North have all been by the Browns. How long does DePodesta have to right the ship if seemingly everyone else is on a two or three year timeline?

The first move he has to make is to get Johnny Manziel out of Cleveland. Mr. Football is a child, and every time someone in the Cleveland front office tells him no, he acts out in a state of defiance… like my dog. Seriously, every time I tell my dog not to eat off the table, what does he try to do? That’s right, he puts on a wig and parties in Vegas.

Secondly, he needs to bring stability to the team, and he has a good chance to do that. He can bring in a new quarterback — one that he can hand pick and make “his quarterback” — and stick with him. He has a good draft pick and can make a mark showing that his analytics and draft strategies will transcend sports. Simply put, he is in a position where he can’t make the Browns any worse, so he is in a great position to make his formula succeed. Or at least appear to.

I don’t know that it will work, I don’t think anyone does, but I think it’s a great move. Here’s some food for thought: the Patriots use analytics in scouting a bunch of “nobodies” every year. It seems to work pretty well for them. What DePodesta’s biggest challenge will be is to find a stable head coach that has a Bill Belichick system in place that plays to players’ physical and analytical strengths.

The Browns need to try something new, and this is about as new as it gets. DePodesta has his work cut out for him, but I think this offseason will be very interesting in Cleveland.

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