Monday, January 10, 2011

The Appeal Of "New"

One stat I think about often is one from Bill James that some absurd percentage of World Series Champions (I think it's around 50%) were won with managers in their first three years with that team. Baseball, more than any other team sport, is a marathon-like grind, and you can see how something can be said for "new" over "better". That is, even a really good manager might grow old rather quickly on a team, and an inferior manager could have better results with a similar group the following year just based on being something different.

I think the "new" effect goes beyond managers to players as well. At least impact players. There is always going to be an excitement and energy surrounding new star players in any sport. I think this is particularly true in baseball because of how often star players move, and what a key part of the game it is. The baseball offseason is by far the most celebrated of major American sports, and that is because no sport sees more power shifts that are so based on star player movement (as opposed to other phenomenons). In conjunction with the length of the season, it is just more exciting in baseball to have new players that you are going to watch almost every day for six or more months.

I think the players really feel this "new" element as well. Again, I would guess that this has a lot to do with the length of the season. Baseball is a long season to do the same thing with the same players a few years in a row. When you add a new star piece, that can really energize the rest of the team. It can also energize the new star player himself, as in most cases he has left something more familiar for new surroundings. I think this "new" element can produce better results in the short-term, until it is no longer new. I am reminded of a comment TimC had a while back, probably some time last winter about how repeating is the sign of a truly great team, and how tough it is to do that. I think a lot of how tough it is to do, and how infrequently we see it in baseball - we haven't had a team successfully defend a title in 11 years - has to do with how tough it is to keep a baseball team from getting stale. It's not the only factor, but I think it is a major contributing one.

The 2009 Yankees are only one example - and a small sample size - but I think they are a good one. An already good roster got a major injection of two elite players. The result was everyone seeming to play better. They won it in year one, but after that it just gets tougher. Now there are expectations - the bar being set is a major element of this "new" theory - to be matched and exceeded, and there isn't the buzz and motivation of having never done it as a group. It gets tougher to do it each and every year, both as individual players and as a team.

I don't think that this buzz and motivation should be underestimated. The 2009 Yankees were not a perfect team. I mean, they used three starters the entire playoffs. But that entire season it was like they were on a mission. 17 of their 57 home wins were on walk-offs! I have no way to prove if this was related to the "newness" on that team, but this is just one example of this team having an extra energy. Winning that many close games in the last at-bat could be all talent and coincidence, but there is likely a little something else involved, just getting it done when it counts. To be clear, I'm not suggesting that this matters more than talent. The "new" players have to be good in addition to new. And how good they are matters far more than the fact that they are new. This is an anti-statistical argument, but then again I'm a believer there is more than stats involved in sports, just as is the case with the stat about the managers in the first sentence of this post. There is a human element, and I think that being excited about something new and good is a really basic one. I'm simply suggesting situations like this can supplement and perhaps propel collective talent.

For that reason, you have to like the 2011 Boston Red Sox. When pre-season predictions start rolling around you are going to hear a lot of people picking them. Some are going to tell you they are an uber-team that is complete top to bottom, which is of course inaccurate over-excitement. This team has questions, both regarding the depth of the rotation and the back of the bullpen. Others are going to tell you that they might just happen to have more talent on their roster than everybody else, which may very well be true. And again, this is the most important thing. But what I'm more interested in is that they have an existing core (Lester, Youkilis, Pedroia) that have won something but are hungry because that is who they are that is being added to in the form of two prime-aged impact players (Gonzalez, Crawford) that are hungry to finally win something. And they have the new factor as champions of the offseason, something everyone from the fans to the players are going to be excited about entering Spring Training. Sounds a lot like the 2009 Yankees to me.

11 comments:

The GM said...

Pat,

I remember reading a book (I think it was Rico Petrocelli and Chaz Scoggins's about the 1967 Red Sox) that mentioned managerial turnover and how success comes in that situation. Hall of Famer Dick Williams, who was the Red Sox' manager in that year, was actually a rookie manager for the team, and he was attributed in the book as saying that after a very short while, a major league manager gets stale. Especially, he said, a fiery one like himself.

This is true - you look at his stats and he won all four pennants and both World Series within the first three years of his managerial tenure of his respective teams.

While I know what you mean by a de facto culture change with the Red Sox as there's an injection of a lot of guys who are inspired to win and the reintroduction of veterans who want to win again, I feel like a lot of the dislikable 2009 Red Sox attitude is still very much present in that clubhouse.

Papelbon will be there sulking. Drew will be there counting down days to his retirement. 46 will continue to pout due to his ribs, front AND back. And Okajima even became a baby during the second half of last year. I'm not prepared to yet say Lackey is in the whiner category, but he's certainly on notice.

After the major changes that the Patriots went through this year, I've become a fan of the Felger theory of getting rid of the "turd in the punch bowl." In order for widespread change to happen and for this team to really feel "new," there are quite a few turds to take out of the punch bowl.

Patrick said...

i obviously hope you're right dv, and that remaining culture or something else detracts from the new excitement surrounding this team. that was one thing the 2009 yankees really didn't have - they had gotten rid of all players with any sort of negative energy surrounding them.

but as an outside observer you could see a lot of those things changing. some artificially perhaps, but as long as it helps count in the win column how exactly it gets qualified is unimportant. for example, papelbon is in a contract year. you could see him having a big year just to make sure he gets paid. you also have a lot of up and down guys, like beckett, who were down last year so maybe they'll be up this year.

to that point, the red sox are not a team full of consistent career performers. they do not have a lot of guys who have shown up every year for their entire careers and just gotten the job done. what they have is a lot of guys that can be really good. it's easier for these types of guys to play well when they are in a downhill winning environment. the red sox don't have a lot of guys (non-lester, youkilis, pedroia...and i'm assuming gonzalez and crawford too) who are going to be the ones to stand up and be the ones to change momentum when things are going bad. but they are full of guys that when things are going well have tons of talent and can just pile on when the spotlight isn't on. i think the excitement generated and the attention that will be given to these new guys could really help these kinds of players have on years as opposed to lackluster years. this is probably one of the most important points that can be made on this topic. if the josh beckett's, jd drew's, jacoby ellsbury's of the world go from 60% capacity to even 80% capacity across the board the red sox become a much, much more dangerous team.

Anonymous said...

DV

Ellsbury, Drew and Papelbon were all on the 2007 World Series team. I'm not too worried about their attitudes pulling the team down.

Instead, I'm more concerned about their production (or lack thereof) being the issue. Even with that in mind, there is insurance for Papelbon (Jenks, Bard, and Wheeler are all capable relievers) as well as Ellsbury and Drew--with Cameron (presumably healthy) available and Crawford playing everyday, that's three guys for two spots which puts the Sox in a position where if Ellsbury and/or Drew get hot, then great, they can ride out the streak. If not, Cameron can take up their at-bats (especially against lefties). Ryan Kalish is also out there as a potential outfielder and he impressed to an extent last year as well.

--the Gunn

the gm at work said...

PF,

First of all, nice timestamp. I would disagree with you in the effect that the 2009 Yankees had Arod. I was going to say Burnett as well, but as much as he might be a) a pussy and b) a headcase, you can't say the guy doesn't want to win. But largely you are correct in your observations about the 09 Yankees.

Your argument about "can be really good" is not as strong, because it sounds like your boy Eric Ortiz from NESN. You don't want to make the assumption that Papelbon will reverse the trend of the last three years just because he wants to get paid. You don't want to assume that JD will play well because he sees the light at the end of the tunnel of his baseball career. You CERTAINLY don't want to assume that Josh Beckett is going to do anything short of sucking again this year, because we're almost at the point that we can design a flow chart of how bad Beckett will be:

Question 1: Is it October 2003?
(Yes -> he won't suck; No -> continue)
Question 2: Is it 2007?
(Yes -> he won't suck; No -> he will suck.

Patrick said...

gunn -

i agree with you that the production of those guys is more important than their attitude. but in baseball years, 2007 was a long time ago. attitude, general disposition, team/fan perception, distractions, teams like that impact a season to some degree. and in those regards things have changed for those players. drew was in his first year, and certainly had more of a pass and less boston-baggage than he has now. ellsbury was a major league unknown as few as two months prior to that point, and was in the middle of taking boston by storm with dynamite play. he has done barely a thing on the field since and had a controversial 2010 season where he was questioned by teammates and fans alike. papelbon was at the end of one of the more dominant two year runs we've seen from a reliever in recent memory, and had shown nothing but a bulldog attitude breeding an on-field focus. he's been whining about his contract almost ever since in conjunction with a decline in production. i'm not suggesting that any of this is going to have an impact on 2011. i'm just pointing out that the fact that certain things weren't a factor four years ago doesn't mean that they won't be now. those three players, along with varitek, ortiz, and beckett in particular, have had a busy few years putting them in very different positions today than they were at that time.

gm -

i'm not making any assumptions that bouncebacks are going to happen, i'm just pointing out that they are possible. i'm also suggesting that a better overall environment is likely more conducive to this happening. think about it. it's not easy to go out and turn in a big performance when the team is in 3rd place, the team has lost 5 of 7, and there have been a lot of negative/controversial storylines surrounding the team on a near daily basis all season. performing well in that spot often goes beyond talent. it takes real character and an extra gear to be catalyst. when the team is in 1st, has won 5 of 7, and there is a lot of positive energy surrounding the team? it's a lot easier to go out there and have a big day. this is true for any team. but if you're a team that in particular has a lot of these kinds of players in the middle - a lot of talent but they don't maximize it every year on their own no matter what - then the greater team culture can pay especially huge dividends. i think this is the case for the 2011 red sox.

TimC said...

More on the topic of 'new' and thus off the road a bit with these comments, I think one huge factor of 'new' is the element of competition that comes into play. Managers that come into a team and create an atmosphere of competition bring out the best in everyone. Starters cannot get complacent, reserves sense a fresh chance, and everyone performs as well as they can to try and earn playing time. I am not accusing certain managers of 'playing favorites' but it does happen and I think that is when things can get stale. The successful long-term guys are not just great motivators and strategists. They are unbiased, making the 25 men on the roster believe they can win a spot on merit, not salary or reputation or last year's lineup. If a manager can do this, he should stay and the three-year rule or whatnot is moot. If not, though, that's when things must change.

The most glaring example to me, perhaps, is with international soccer and four-year world cup cycles. Managers almost never go twice because it seems universally understood that after four years managers tend to stick to their guys. Italy's cup-winning side of '06 remained largely unchanged in '10 under the same manager and they crashed out in the group stage. And the USA, under Arena in '06, collapsed in the group stage using most of the same guys from their '02 quarterfinal run. Countless examples across all sports but to me the almost 100% of world cup coaches after their first four-year cycle says a lot about this newness idea.

Anonymous said...

The 2011 Red Sox will be interesting and I am certainly compelled to watch. For me, the big difference between the Sox and the Yanks of 2009 is that those Yankees added C.C. Sabathia. Yes he is fat, yes PF does overexagerate his overall athleticism (As far as fat professional athletes go, people like Big Baby and Vince Wilfork are better all around athletes in my opinion), but he's also one of the best pitchers in the game. The Sox didn't make that type of addition on the pitching side - We'll see how it works out.

Pat- do you think Carmelo would sign with the Nets if a trade occured?

Patrick said...

timc -

if i remember correctly, a big part of the "three year manager" analysis was that they get overly loyal to their guys, even if it is to the detriment of the team. can't have it in baseball, just like you can't have it in soccer or any other sport. your other points about the benefits of "new" are all well-taken. again, i think it's particularly true in baseball because of the nature of the season. these guys spend an incredible amount of time together and sometimes change for the sake of change can do a lot of good in terms of freshening things up.

bandi -

while the impact of cc on the 2009 yankees was one of the most important factors in their success, i'm not sure hat's necessarily a difference between those yankees and these red sox. and that's because the sox already have jon lester. now the yankees did already have andy pettitte that they were adding cc too in terms of ability to really get it done in big spots, so i would say it is now on one or more of buchholz, lackey, or beckett to step up and consistently be to lester what pettitte was to sabathia. this is in addition to lester continuing to develop into a wall-to-wall stopper that can really dominate for a full season, and he's pretty close if not already there.

i think the only way the nets (or any team) is going to agree to a trade is if carmelo has already signed the extension.

Anonymous said...

Fair point on CC, however you were the one to point out in a previous post/comment (can't remember which) that the Sox problem last year wasn't scoring, it was pitching, and they did not address that.

Regarding Carmelo- yes that's true, but he's not going to sign an extension unless he approves of where he would be going. So it would essentially require the Nets to convice Carmelo to sign an agreement prior to the deal being done. Usually in a situation like this a team like the Nuggets would agree to let a potential trade partner like the nets negotiate a contract prior to the deal being done. Do you think Carmelo would settle for NJ? Obviously this is just conjecture.

the gm at work said...

Gunn,

Lugo was on that team, too. What's your point?

Pat,

It's just something about "coulds" that I try to ignore when making preseason projectsions. Coco Crisp COULD hit .350 with 90 stolen bases and 40 home runs. We gotta start talking about what will probably happen in our opinions. My opinion is that Papelbon, Beckett, Drew, Okajima, probably Jenks, and 46 will suck next year. They COULD all be Cy Young candidates, and you can use that to formulate an argument if you're Eric Ortiz and had too much Four Loko on New Year's Eve.

Gunn/Bandi/Tim,

A few more things to say about the "new" argument, which I enjoyed quite a bit today. Joe Torre, Bernie Williams, Scott Proctor, Tom Gordon, Paul Quantrill, Tanyon Sturtze. Terry Francona, Mike Timlin, Jason Varitek.

Y'all have a good snow day.

Anonymous said...

DV

Lugo being on that team underscores my point. Not everyone on the team needs to be great to win a title. You need to be talented and deep in general. This years team is that. Are they the greatest team ever? No. They aren't even as good as the 2004 team. But you don't need to be a 98 win team or a once-in-four-generations team to win a World Series. Just ask the 2010 Giants.

PF

JD Drew may have gotten some leeway from Sox fans till about May 15th in 2007. After that he started to receive more abuse than any player I can remember as long as I've been a fan. Just because it hasn't stopped doesn't mean it's gotten worse.

--the Gunn