Health IT

‘Moneyball’ meets medicine: DePodesta joins Topol at Scripps

After reading Dr. Eric Topol’s latest book, New York Mets executive Paul DePodesta was struck by the parallels between baseball and medicine when it comes to crunching data.

This time, “Moneyball” meets medicine for real.

Major League Baseball executive Paul DePodesta, widely known as the man who brought advanced data analytics to the sport, is joining the Scripps Translational Science Institute in La Jolla, California, as an assistant professor of bioinformatics. There, he will work with the analytics team on various research projects that are attempting to translate genetics and digital health technologies into healthcare diagnostics and treatments.

“This is a chance to really make a difference,” DePodesta said Monday. DePodesta noted that he has four young children whom he obviously wants to see grow up to be as healthy and productive as possible. Healthcare offers opportunities to change people’s lives like few other industries.

DePodesta starts his role Jan. 1, though STSI Director Dr. Eric Topol said that the baseball data whiz already has been attending meetings and getting to know the team at STSI, which is affiliated with San Diego-based Scripps Health. DePodesta will retain his position as vice president of player development and scouting for the New York Mets, who reached the World Series this year.

“He’s a brilliant guy, just a natural big thinker,” Topol said Monday. Topol actually likes the fact that DePodesta comes from outside of healthcare.

“He has no biomedical background,” Topol said. “He sees things from outside the forest.”

DePodesta also brings with him a deep list of contacts from the analytics world. “A lot of what he did in baseball was exploiting algorithms,” Topol noted. That is exactly what STSI hopes to accomplish.

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DePodesta is best known as the assistant general manager of the Oakland Athletics under GM Billy Beane in the early 2000s. In the 2011 movie, “Moneyball,” he was the inspiration for the fictional character Peter Brand, played by Jonah Hill. (DePodesta was included in Michael Lewis’ 2003 book, “Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game,” that spawned the Hollywood flick.)

“One of the things we believed in [with the Oakland A’s] was the cross-pollination of industries,” DePodesta said.

The longtime baseball exec read Topol’s “The Patient Will See You Now: The Future of Medicine is in Your Hands,” last summer, then contacted the cardiologist. “I was really struck by the parallels between the two industries,” DePodesta said. “I’ve basically spent the last 20 years of my life studying data and people.”

DePodesta also liked the fact that STSI was just a few minutes away from his offseason home in La Jolla. An hour-long lunch meeting with Topol turned into a marathon discussion of big data and healthcare, which eventually led to this appointment. In the meantime, DePodesta spoke at an STSI conference in October.

Beane, too, has spoken on healthcare analytics, notably at the 2014 Health Catalyst user’s group meeting. Now, though, DePodesta gets to apply his knowledge to healthcare for real.

For more, watch this STSI video of a discussion between Topol and DePodesta.

Photo: Scripps Health