At one point in Moneyball, Michael Lewis’ book on the improbable winning run of the Oakland A’s in the early 2000s, Billy Beane, general manager of the underfunded baseball outfit, makes a surprising declaration. His statistical analysis doesn’t work in the play-offs, he says — that’s down to luck.

Beane uses more colorful language, but the point is that Beane is aware that, for all his ingenuity in winning an unfair game, luck or randomness is an inescapable factor in all walks of life — even in baseball.

And luck played a part in the A’s story in more ways than one. Moneyball is often portrayed as a triumph of data analytics, but that is not sufficient to explain the success of the A’s, because data on players and the techniques for crunching it had been publicly available for decades. What helped swing things Beane’s way was his rivals’ tendency to reach too soon for luck as an explanation…

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