Let the predictions begin! As we move into the latter part of January and going into February, we transition into the season of predictions. Oddsmakers, both the professionals and those within baseball, give their prognostications on how well each team will do in the coming season. And in the vast majority of cases, everyone gets it wrong.
Sure, there is a value to this work, outside of the industry itself and the increasing number of people placing bets. The reports that fill the papers and TV can offer a hint of a team’s ability. They can be one of many sources that will offer information about your team. Just don’t go by their reports alone.
But you know what? In all honesty, I tune these reports out. I refuse to read the articles. I stick my fingers in my ears and go “la, la, la, la, laaaa” loudly when they come on TV. Call part of it superstition, part not wanting to adopt that mindset, but call the other part a failure to include the non-measurable aspects. The intangibles. Just as important – and maybe even more at times – as the skills you can quantify.
How else to explain their importance than the story of a general over 250 years ago who took a team of ragtag non-professional soldiers and managed to defeat a country with the best army and navy in the world. The same principles also help explain the Amazin’ Mets, the ’87 Twins and also the ’11 Red Sox, but for different reasons.
We always talk about how a team looks “on paper.” You see the player’s historical performance. You look at his stats from last year. For more, you dig into the sabermetrics/analytics to get a better understanding of how a player ranks against his direct competition, his efficiency and his strengths and weaknesses.
All quantifiable factors based upon physical skills. Stuff that is black and white and easy upon which to hang your hat. Stuff you can understand. Easy stuff.
But there are few teams, if any, who win it solely because of the physical talent. The winning teams have more. They have aligned their physical strengths with their mental ones. Something Theo Epstein knows a thing or two about.
The teams that win consistently have their you-know-what together. They go beyond the roster and reinforce the organization from top to bottom in order to turbo-charge their team’s performance.
It starts with a good foundation within the organization. Developing a defined winning culture and instilling it in everyone. It means bringing in real leaders with a clear message and getting everyone to buy into what they are saying. Motivational people. People who inspire players to listen to them and to perform at their highest levels – and consistently.
It also means developing a big tool bag of goodies that help you stay one step ahead of the competition. Software programs, analytic departments, specialized coaches, top medical and training staff, sports psychologists, nutritionists, mentors and more.
And then you’ve got the supporting staff – the owner, GM, Front Office, Scouting and all the departments that have a say on who gets to go on the field now and down the road. And in the clubhouse, it’s about getting the right mix of people and personalities. People who will complement and support each other. At least of handful of them with the highest levels of mental fortitude to keep the team focused and effective.
As we’ve seen recently, your team can be unanimously selected by oddsmakers to win the World Series because you have the greatest amount of talent out of any team. But that team spends the entire year out of first place and ends the year with a pitcher choking the team’s star player in the dugout.
It’s only later that we learn it was a dysfunctional clubhouse with clashing personalities and an ineffective rookie manager. And a team with too many health concerns that don’t get resolved.
But a year later, this team has a much happier ending because the owner stepped up and spent more time addressing the intangibles. Problem players traded, a manager traded in for an experienced skipper, a complete overhaul of the coaching staff and an entirely new medical and training department. And this time, they played into October.
So when the predictions start to come out, listen to them if you must. And if you do, take them with a grain of salt. But if you want a real measure of how your team will perform, dig beneath the surface if you can. Have changes been made within the organization? Is there a new way of doing business? Is there a new attitude?
Theo Epstein went into 2 organizations known for having the 2 longest World Series droughts and making them winners. People familiar with both the Cubs and the Red Sox all said he completely “changed the culture” and focus of each organization.
The question now to consider is whether other organizations will understand and implement the importance of addressing the intangibles.