|Team Building the Next Step||| Print ||
Written by Jonathan Leshanski (Contact & Archive) on September 25, 2003
The next wave of team building?
Basically Beane needed to look for an alternative way to build a team. So he did. He looked around at his options and found a group who specialized in baseball research, the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR). SABR is a group of baseball enthusiasts who collect stats, analyze the game, and generally research all sort of things to do with America’s pastime.
Using those numbers and SABR’s research Beane figured out how to take a different approach to team building. Since Beane was already blessed with a lot of young developing pitching he has mostly concentrated on offense. His success with this approach is well documented with four playoff appearances in the last four years. (including 2003)
However what he has done is really nothing new. The idea of turning conventional wisdom on its ear and taking a new tack was an axiom of Branch Rickey who tried to pass that lesson down to all of his protégés - and this to all General Managers of the future. Rickey was a master of taking the underrated, overlooked and under appreciated talent and turning it into champion quality teams.
The numerical research done by SABR (also called SABRmetrics) is really just another tool for identifying this talent. The Boston Red Sox definitely noticed this by signing perhaps the most famous SABR member of them all Bill James (Author of the - The New Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract a book that is something every serious fan should take some time to read), who’s talent evaluations tools have proven uncannily accurate, to an exclusive advisory contract.
Perhaps it was inadvertent that the New York Mets stumbled into a parallel of this Red Sox team. However both teams were built in much the same way, with excellent hitting, mediocre starting pitching and very strong bullpens that could earn close to half the team’s wins. Boston Red Sox general manager and special advisor Bill James did not stumble into this formula, but used it and created a contender.
They have brought the Red Sox back to the playoffs, and geared them up for another run at ending the 85-year drought of Boston World Championships.
The 2000 Mets survived by having seven .300 hitters, a mediocre starting staff, and a superior bullpen. The 2003 Red Sox are built in the same way. The Sox relievers account for more than a third of the team wins. Only two of the Red Sox starters are going to win as many as 15 games (and one might not get his 15th), and the rest of the starting staff has accounted for only 31 wins. Everything else has been the bullpen.
However what this signals, may really be a turning point in baseball. The basic premises of the game are being challenged. After all aside from the closers, relief pitchers are the least exploited, most discounted, talent in the whole game. They make a fraction of what even a mediocre starter makes, less than most average hitters, and there are tons of pitchers capable of giving 2-4 innings every 3-4 days.
Much like the specialization of the closer, it may soon turn to the point where we have a two or three inning specialist as more than just a role player but as a mainstay of pitching staffs. For the same $25 million that some teams spend on pitching they could afford several of the best relievers in the game.
This would not eliminate the great starter or ace pitcher, but it might curtail him. Pitchers would not be expected to pitch even 7 innings, and perhaps the injury rate would decrease too. The economics of the game would change with top middle relievers commanding more dollars, and the starters commanding less. It would changes the basics of the modern game.
You may think this is farfetched but I do not really feel that it is. As the game has changed starters have been asked to do less and less. This might just be the next step in the natural progression of the game.