In late August 2021, as the world settled into the bottom half of the Covid pandemic, the sale of a 1952 Topps Mickey Mantle baseball card in near-perfect condition grabbed headlines when it sold for a staggering $12,600,000.00, making it the largest amount ever paid for a piece of sports memorabilia. In my last article, Why Invest in Land, I made the comparison that due to the finite nature and subjective qualities of ranch properties, an investment in land can behave like investing in fine art, classic cars, or sports memorabilia. These assets all appreciate over long timelines due to their rarity, high barriers to entry, and limited transaction opportunities. In the case of the 1952 Mickey Mantle, known as the Rosen Find, it was discovered in 1985 and last traded in 1991 for $50,000.00. In addition to the card being prized for its vintage moniker and mug, its condition played a significant role in achieving the eight-figure sum. The card's face has four crisp corners, an image that is perfectly centered, and otherwise free from any detectable defects, giving the 2-5/8" by 3-3/4" piece of cardboard a SGC Mint+ 9.5 grade. Of course, ranch land values benefit from superior aesthetics as well, but when it comes to a ranch's investment performance, the stats on the back of a ranch's "card" may be where the real investment opportunity lies.

In Michael Lewis' 2003 book, Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game, Lewis tells the story of how professional baseball was upended when the Oakland Athletics began to focus their team management on unusual performance indicators, turning the traditional major league management philosophy on its head. The story goes that the Athletics, plagued in the late nineties with a multi-season rout, was under new ownership that was determined to run the team like a business. As a result, the new owners refused to subsidize the team's payroll budget to compete with better-funded ball clubs that often threw money at the necessary talent to win. The Athletics' unconventional solution, under the general management of the now infamous Billy Beane, was to abandon traditional subjective scouting methods, instead relying on the then esoteric field of sabermetrics— the empirical analysis of baseball statistics to analyze the objective performance of every player. Analyzing a player's objective performance rather than his subjective traits promised better indicators of a candidate's true potential to be developed into a major league player. As a result, the Athletics were able to identify and snatch up unrecognized and undervalued prospects within budget, stacking their bench with effective base hitters with slugging potential.

Many working ranches today face a similar dilemma as the A's did in the late nineties. Hobbled by old paradigms, western ranches often find their land trapped in a system of diminishing returns, creating a slow-motion doom loop of ecological and financial underperformance. Fortunately, like what sabermetrics has done for professional baseball, analyzing the performance statistics of ranch land is now commonly used by an ever-growing community of ranch owners and managers to identify underperforming ground and often underappreciated opportunities to pull these ranches back into top performance.