Talent vs Winning - reductio ad absurdum cases


=== Simple Research of Your Own ===

Almost all of the 20 most talented ballclubs of all time were the 1923-32 Yankees and the 1970-78 Reds.  That is, 17 of the top 19 teams ever were Ruth/Gehrig or Rose/Bench teams.

You can investigate team chemistry fairly easily yourself.  Just go to baseball-reference.com and look up the 1925 Yankees, one of the most talented teams ever built, and figure out why they were -14 below .500.

1920, 1921, 1922, 1923, 1924, the Ruth Yankees were great.  1926, 1927, 1928, the Ruth Yankees were great.  In 1925, using the same players, they were below .500.  

I mean, why?  :shrug:

Google "Bellyache Heard Round the World."  Babe Ruth got real sick in April, and played badly early on.  Miller Huggins, sensing a chink in his ego'ed star's armor, picked this moment to humiliate Ruth.  He suspended him for a curfew violation and forced him to grovel in the clubhouse to get his job back.  "Before you play again, you're going to apologize and apologize plenty."  

Huggins wallowed in Ruth's humiliation, and a 99-win roster won 69 games.  That's a -30 game underperformance.

Either you are going to tell me that it's a coincidence that the Ruth-Huggins Smackdown occurred in 1925, or you're going to put your prejudices about "no chemistry" in the dust bin where they belong.  One of the two, take your pick.


Consider the 1925 Yankees and ou'll learn a lot about chemistry and bull hockey.  Here's this huge register of 100-win Yankee teams, and right in the middle of it there's this terrible loser, with the same players.

After you're done examining that, you will never again be cowed by neo-sabermetricians who scoff at the concept of intangibles and chemistry.

... you might still believe that you cannot control intangibles, but you will never again be deceived that it does not exist.


A cherry on the banana split, okay?  Consider the 1976-1980 Yankees with Catfish and Guidry, Reggie and Munson.  Every team in that 5-year span won 100+ games.  Except the 1979 Yankees, who finished 4th.  Google "Thurman Munson Plane Crash."


Or go ask why some 1970's Reds teams won and some played poorly.  I hadn't realized that all of the 1970-1978 Cincinnati teams were almost equally talented, but they were.  

It was exciting.  I've been a fan of the 1970's Reds all my life, and I always assumed that the 1971 and 1974 and 1977 Reds simply had some injuries, or bad pitching, or something.  All of a sudden I had the truth.  All of those teams were great.  It's just that Sparky Anderson fouled half of them up, as he did many of his Tigers teams.

Go look up the 1971 Reds, and find out why they were below .500.  Sparky Anderson was truly one of the worst (long-lived) managers of all time.  Walk up and down the halls of the 1970's National League and you'll see some curious sights.

These are extreme examples.  Sure.  It is often in the reductio ad absurdum cases that it is easiest to see the truth.


Anyway.  With this method, you can prove to the reasonable man that intangibles and chemistry exist.  Summarizing the rest of Bill's articles:  teams can underperform by 20-30 games and they can overperform by 15-20.


=== Dr's R/X ===

In Seattle, we have become far too ready to believe that the Strat-O-Matic 2012 projection is the "rational" projection.  A "rational" view of the 2012 Rangers says that they will (not might) win 94+ games.  A "rational" view of the 2012 Mariners says that they will (not might) lose 85+ games.  This "rational" assessment causes us to walk up, kneel down, and place our necks in the guillotine.

Supposing the other guys are more talented?  So what?  The more talented team doesn't always win - even over the course of a whole season.  Many dozens of teams, in 1900-2010, played better or worse than their talent.  By 20 or 30 games.  It happens all the time.

General managers have always believed that you have to play the games first.  They've been right all along.


Dr D


ghost's picture

Sparky did things as the Tigers' manager that made me...as an ELEVEN YEAR OLD....wince.  I knew nothing about baseball compared to Sparky Anderson and his peers, but he used to fine his guys for little infractions and they'd slump for three weeks.  He used to run his starters way way WAY too long just to make a point.  He was waaaaaayyyyy too much of a hard head...some years this might get him a little more out of certain players...players who could take that kind of abuse...but most of the time...it just made his teams miserable.


What does that say about a potential Fielder signing?
Would such a deal enhance or inhibit M's chemistry?
I think I see a quasi-Dodger situation occuring here in Seattle.  You have a bunch of young guys, who kind of come up or arrive at the same time, and who get to know and trust one another.  I like that a lot.
Does Fielder have any impact on that?  Does any star acquisition?


About Wedge?  2 good teams, 3 average-mediocre teams, 2 bad with the Indians.  Most years were the same; good offense, 1 ace and otherwise average pitching.  Were they overperforming for the 93+ win seasons, or were they underperforming for the 80 win seasons?  They probably deserve a pass for 2003, when there wasn't much on the roster, and maybe for 2009 when what was left was either traded or hurt.

ghost's picture

...he was capricious and bizarre with his bullpen changes and impatient in the extreme even i Detroit...but then he'd do things like leave a guy in who'd given up 8 runs in one inning just to let him know that has was expected to give the team innings even when they had nothing.
I think his biggest problem was emotional control.

ghost's picture

I'd say that Wedge is an average manager.  His Indians never really had great bullpens and he never seemed to get shockingly good performance out of his guys...but the two really bad years were not his fault.  So...I thnk he's basically average other than, perhaps, finding new talent, which he seems to be pretty god at.

Anonymous's picture

What do you all think of Tim Tebow?  Here is a guy that doesn't, on paper, look to have ANY QB talent.  All of the experts said things about him like, "embarassing", "will never make", "can't throw", "should be converted to tight end", "will never win a game" (then when he did), "will never consistently start" (then when he did), "will never make the playoffs" (then when he did) "will never WIN a playoff game" (then when he did)... you get the point.  
And yet here we are, Tim Tebow is heading to the divisional round of the playoffs because of what?  Poise?  Moxie?  Leadership ability?  Character?  Unquie Physcial Gifts?  Devine intervention?
Tim Tebow took over a despondant 1-4 team, looking at who to draft in the top 3 choices to...  having a punchers chance at winning a championship!!!
If all your examples above are not enough, then Tim Tebow is the final nail in the coffin.  If he doesn't convince you that sports transcends just merely the collection of a teams assembled physical talents and stats, then nothing will!
Doc, what do you think of the Tebow saga this season?  Who can be the Mariners Tim Tebow?  Is is Ackley?  Is it Felix and he just needed a bit more talent to lead?  Is it Prince that comes in and stirs the drink?

OBF's picture

I guess I forgot to login in when I wrote the above post.  That was me :)

benihana's picture

A view from Denver:  Tim Tebow causes people to lose their minds.
Those for him consider him divine.  Those against him consider him to be the worst QB ever.  From my perspective neither of these reductions are anywhere close to accurate.
And because of this level of hyperbole (from both sides) his success is inevitably chalked up to intangibles (or god-like intervention) rather than some quantifiable and observable factors.
The Broncos have succeeded with Tebow as quarterback because they have been playing sound football.  Fewer offensive turnovers, better field position, and the #1 rushing offense in the league.  They play conservative behind their running game, their defense, and excellent kicking game.  They put themselves in the position to win in the 4th quarter by keeping the game close and they've been tremendously lucky.
In the initial 5-1 stretch with Tebow as starter he turned the ball over twice, one interception and one fumble lost (on 5 fumbles - not sustainable).  In the final five games thereafter? 10 turnovers, 5 ints, 5 fumbles lost. 
Tim Tebow didn't make Marion Barber run out of bounds, nor did he cause his own team to recover an onside kick against the Dolphins, nor was he the reason that Christian Ponder threw a horrible interception late in the game with Minnesota, nor cause Nick Novak to miss a 53 yard field goal for San Diego, nor cause Matt Sanchez to throw a pick-six for the Jets. 
In their wins the Broncos kept the games close, and Tebow managed to control the game intelligently, not turning the ball over, winning the field position game, and his superior fitness allowed him to take advantage of some tired defenses late in the game.  It's a winning strategy - Baltimore rode it all the way to the super bowl with Trent Dilfer. 
Tim Tebow is not transcendent. Nor is he the worst QB ever.  So please, stop with the hyperbole.
Though baseball writer Chris Crawford's tweet I think is quite accurate:

CrawfordChrisV Christopher Crawford 


The more I think about it, the more I believe that completion percentage is the ERA of football stats.

When people complain about Tebow it's often because of his "inaccuracy" or low completion percentage.  Despite the fact that he's clearly being coached to avoid turn-overs and risky throws and that often the smarter play is to throw the ball away.
It's been a great run, I hope it continues against Evil Bill and the hated Patriots.  With defense, ball control, and a good ground game.
- Ben.


What do you think of the way that Tebow's option-fakes, followed by dropbacks, buy him so much time?
Never seen anything like it.  Defenses pay so much attention to his option that they have trouble being aggressive against anything else.
Crawford's twitter is dubious, IMHO.  Brees and Rodgers seem to be able to push their %'s higher and higher, but there have been a lot of Elway-, Namath-style quarterbacks who emphasize the big play, and stretching the field vertically.

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