Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Another Comparison

DV asked me if I was my post tonight was going to be about the fact that there happens to be a World Series about to get started. Not happening. I'm certainly going to follow the Series, but I'm not all that interested in it. I will give a prediction though: Rangers in 7. If anyone wants to discuss the World Series in the comments at any point by all means.

DV's comparison yesterday of 2004 and 2011 Yankees got me thinking of a comparison of my own: The Yankees progression from 1996-2001 to 2002-2008 and the Red Sox progression from 2003-2008 and 2009-2011 (and counting).

Prior to their "winning" periods, both teams had gone through what could be described as funk periods. Obviously that is a relative term, as the Yankees' was a more acute two decade thing, and the Sox was a longer more generalized thing. They snapped out of it with teams that had a near idealistic balance of veteran star-power and blue-collar diamonds in the rough. Winning made those teams famous. The personalities those teams took on made them among the most well-liked teams in their organizations histories.

After winning initially, the teams continued to operate the same way. And they continued to win. But these teams were winning in a new era of financial opportunity in baseball. That lead to increased revenue on an incredible scale for these two organizations in particular, and that lead to increased spending on players. Which, it is worth pointing out, is a great thing. Both teams have had their hits and misses, and both teams' fan bases want to complain a lot about the misses. But it is important to remember that every team in baseball would rather have ownership and management swinging and hitting sometimes and missing others than not swinging at all, and would switch places with the Yankees and Red Sox in that regard.

Spend these teams did, and that brings us to the "decline" periods. Again, these teams' thought processes were in the right place. Win, make more money as a result, reinvest it in the team, win even more, and make even more money. Rinse, wash, repeat. But what these decline periods might be showing us is that it's not purely about bringing in the most talent possible. The Yankees had a lot of talent from 2002-2008, as do the Sox from 2009-present. But maybe with all of the wealth there are too many guys who have "made it" and not enough guys who are "hungry to make it". Maybe the dreaded word complacency gets brought into the equation, especially considering the ruts a long baseball season can send a player or team into.

Now, in no way am I suggesting that talent isn't the most important thing. It is. But maybe it's just not the only thing. Maybe you do need that human-element balance. Maybe you need scrappers and clubhouse guys who are going to keep things lively and help bring the most out of the stars on an everyday basis. Maybe you need the stars showing the scrappers how they prepare and approach the game and raise their level of play. We could go on forever with examples like this. These are how championship teams interact with each other and have always interacted with each other. And maybe it's particularly magnified and increasingly important with teams that have a high payroll and a lot of highly priced players. Just like you don't want a team of all scrappers (because there isn't enough talent), maybe you also don't want a team of all high-price free agents because (despite their immense talent) there might be just a little bit too much of a tendency to get complacent.

We don't really have many other teams to look at in this analysis besides the Yankees and Red Sox. The Phillies have accomplished the winning, but they haven't taken free agent spending to the extent the Yankees and Red Sox have. The Mets would actually be a better example. They don't have the winning, but a part of that is because of the way they've spent and the way they've failed to build a complete team dedicated to winning.

The Yankees were able to survive their decline period better than the Red Sox because they had a unique leadership and talent core of Jeter, Rivera, Williams, Pettitte, and Posada. The Yankees didn't hit the low the Sox are in missing the playoffs two years in a row. But they hit their own rut, and when they did - after 2008 - they really changed the model that got them into trouble. They replaced some of their high-priced free-agency with still-talented spunk and personality. That has played a big role in their return to the form they've been in from 2009-present. I know an immediate response to that will be that they also brought in Sabathia, Teixeira, and Burnett, and that had something to do with it. But the Yankees have always brought it big free agents, and nobody is suggesting they stop doing that. What we are talking about here is the quality of player brought in (both in terms of talent and character) and the team that is built around them to create balance. We've seen the Yankees go through that process. We will see how the Sox proceed from here and if they are able to continue to mirror the Yankees the way they have throughout the other parts of this comparison.

8 comments:

the gm at work said...

It has been very similar, watching two teams of entitled whiners stumble out of the gates because they thought it would be easy. You nailed it on that, Pat.

You do, however, fail to point out that the Red Sox have had veteran leadership throughout this entire process as well. Jason Varitek. He's the captain. He has a C on his jersey because it was written into his contract. He handles pitchers better than anyone else who has ever put on a mitt. He calls a great game. He provides lots of intangibles. And most of those don't come from being Josh Beckett's personal catcher. They come from leadership. What a great leader.

the gm at work said...

Another parallel is the way that the respective managers ran their courses. I don't think there was as much fiery stuff happening surrounding Torre's departure, but he's also a guy who, when brought in, brought some effective methods into the organization. He worked well with the collection of role players and semi-stars that comprised the 1996-2000 teams, just as Francona worked well with the collection of role-players and stars on the 2004 team.

But then you had the influx of "other" guys coming in - Mussina to the Clement, Wells to the Wells, Clemens to the Beckett, and Contreras to the Matsuzaka (unlike David Ortiz, I will cite the very-oblique Jay-Z reference), and there was no longer that mix. By the end, they were both situations of the inmates running the asylum. The difference was the leadership of the Yankees' old guard compared to the embarrassing lack of leadership in Boston - as you already cited.

Just as Torre should have been let go in the same fashion that Francona should have been let go, these both turned into situations where a certain management style no longer became effective. They both had a lot to do with the fact that the managers held this subjective loyalty to certain (if not, in Francona's case, all) players. That happens whenever you're in the same place for a long time. You get intrenched in it and you lose your objectivity. For better or for worse, you have to remain objective to make the best managerial decisions. Neither of these guys could do that.

Anonymous said...

PF,

Don't have much time now, but perhaps I will comment on this furhter.

Recently I gave you a hard time for your past focus on sabermetrics and claiming that I was "ahead of the curve" for sticking with more traditional power stats like HR and RBIs.

Well if I'm going to do that I have to point a critical finger at myself from time to time.

In more recent exchange, you and I went back and forth about the importance of an athlete's will power, and competitiveness, and refusing to lose. This was in relation to Derek Jeter I believe.

I believed that at the professional level, discussions of an athletes "will" and "focus" and "refusing to lose" were overstated because everyone at that level was competitive and focused and hated losing. No one that played professional sports loved losing. Talent and ability, I argued, was the main thing to watch. In that particular case, Derek Jeter's "will" was irrelevant. Whether he still had the batspeed was the issue.

Fast forwarding to the end of September, this assertion looks foolish. Jeter rebounded to have a solid year (though he had no power), and a talented Red Sox team went totally in the tank, in the process causing us all to ask how much they cared about winning.

While I would still assert that people that make it to the pros are by their very nature competitive, where a player is on their career/motivation arc is important.

Look at your roster. Is your team filled with players that are talented but also hungry, that want a big contract, that want something to prove? That want a championship?

Or is your team filled with players that may not be over the hill talent wise, but are over the hill motivation wise. They have the big deal, they think they've "made it" and it this point of their career, being treated like royalty is more important than winning.

It matters.

Lastly, I will close this comment, with a Bill Parcells quote that I heard recently, that I think is so right on. The quote goes something like this:

"If you give a man an excuse to fail, he will fail."

I'm sure DV likes that quote. And I do too. The Red Sox were a team that was full of excuses- things that didn't go right. Things they didn't like, reasons they couldn't hold a 9 game lead. A sense entitlement, a lack of hunger. And the leadership in the organization from Francona on up, did nothing to stop it.

The point is, in reality, there was no excuse for this team to finish like they finished. No excuse at all.

Anonymous said...

PF,

Don't have much time now, but perhaps I will comment on this furhter.

Recently I gave you a hard time for your past focus on sabermetrics and claiming that I was "ahead of the curve" for sticking with more traditional power stats like HR and RBIs.

Well if I'm going to do that I have to point a critical finger at myself from time to time.

In more recent exchange, you and I went back and forth about the importance of an athlete's will power, and competitiveness, and refusing to lose. This was in relation to Derek Jeter I believe.

I believed that at the professional level, discussions of an athletes "will" and "focus" and "refusing to lose" were overstated because everyone at that level was competitive and focused and hated losing. No one that played professional sports loved losing. Talent and ability, I argued, was the main thing to watch. In that particular case, Derek Jeter's "will" was irrelevant. Whether he still had the batspeed was the issue.

Fast forwarding to the end of September, this assertion looks foolish. Jeter rebounded to have a solid year (though he had no power), and a talented Red Sox team went totally in the tank, in the process causing us all to ask how much they cared about winning.

While I would still assert that people that make it to the pros are by their very nature competitive, where a player is on their career/motivation arc is important.

Look at your roster. Is your team filled with players that are talented but also hungry, that want a big contract, that want something to prove? That want a championship?

Or is your team filled with players that may not be over the hill talent wise, but are over the hill motivation wise. They have the big deal, they think they've "made it" and it this point of their career, being treated like royalty is more important than winning.

It matters.

Lastly, I will close this comment, with a Bill Parcells quote that I heard recently, that I think is so right on. The quote goes something like this:

"If you give a man an excuse to fail, he will fail."

I'm sure DV likes that quote. And I do too. The Red Sox were a team that was full of excuses- things that didn't go right. Things they didn't like, reasons they couldn't hold a 9 game lead. A sense entitlement, a lack of hunger. And the leadership in the organization from Francona on up, did nothing to stop it.

The point is, in reality, there was no excuse for this team to finish like they finished. No excuse at all.

the gm at work said...

Bandi,

I think if Bill Parcells said "DV sucks, okay?" I'd still be okay with it.

Even without your citing of the greatest coach in the history of the NFL, your post is admirable. Calling yourself out when you're right is something that I specialize in, but you go a good job of calling yourself out when you're wrong.

Similar to Yankee fans being lucky for having Steinbrenner, they should also feel lucky to have had Jeter, Rivera (and to a lesser extent) Posada and Pettitte for so long. They all were able to maintain a compete level for their entire careers. Unfortunately Carmine doesn't measure compete level. If it did, maybe JD Drew, Adrian Gonzalez, Josh Beckett, 46, and others would have been gone by now.

Just looking at mid-decade early-season woes for the Yankees and looking at the way the 2011 (and 2009) Red Sox went down, you could see that compete level indeed DOES matter in baseball.

We could probably select which Red Sox are competitive (including ownership) and which Red Sox are not. You can measure this kind of stuff without looking at a single number, instead by selling jeans.

Anonymous said...

Curious on Parcells being 'the greatest coach ever' as he bolted from his teams before dealing with the problem Torre and Francona could not overcome in the end (...in a sense)- the rebuilding of a championship team. This is, to me, the mark of pure greatness in a coach and as Parcells bounced so 'early' in his various tenures I would have a hard time agreeing that he is the greatest coach in NFL history.

TimC

Anonymous said...

GM -

Your comments are spot on, but I drew both the Torre/Francona parallel and the significance of the Yankees' leadership/Red Sox lack there of that you speak of in an entire post last Friday. You had a busy week, I know. Spot on though.

Bandi -

Great comment. And yes, our debate was in regards to Jeter, and whether a player who had a certain drive/competitiveness/refusal to fail/will to win/etc. Could fight off the decline phase of their career on account of age better than others. Jeter's overall numbers this year were good, but he hit .331/.384/.447 after coming back from injury on July 4 for the final 3 months of the season. It doesn't get discussed much, but his reverting into a catalyst at the top of the order was a HUGE part of the Yankees finishing so far out in front of the Red Sox and Rays.

And this was after nearly 1.5 years of well below average production, and hearing everybody saying he's through as an elite player. Then he gives 3 months of elite production at age 37 and helps his team blow away the field. This is now the second time Jeter has made such a resurgence in his career as age takes it's toll (2009 being the first). I can't be told that this kind of thing is purely talent driven, just like just like going 5/5 with 3000 being a homer, having his best game of the year that day, is something I don't see as purely talent driven. Some guys just want to continue to reinvent themselves and find every advantage they can to keep playing and winning at a high level. Some guys rise to the occassion, fall, and then keep coming back for more rising to the occassion again. Some guys don't. And I don't think that has to do only with talent.

PF

the gm at work said...

Pat,

Of course I had a busy week. There were Thursday night classes, Friday night classes, Tuesday morning professional commitments that made me get up a 4:30 in the morning, and Wednesday morning professional commitments. Then there's that travel schedule. Last week was probably my most physically-challenging week of my entire career. My shoulder was also sore from my surgery last winter. No seriously, I have a hard life. Oh well, the fact that my comment was somewhat redundant is just God's will.