In my last post I provided a brief introduction to the concept of creative destruction and how teams and players should consider embracing the principles behind it. The plan for this post is to dig a little deeper into this notion by identifying teams and players who are already reaping the benefits from embracing this mindset as well as examples of failures for not establishing this fundamental.
Before anything else I wanted to make something very clear. The consequences that come from not creating a culture of creative destruction are not exactly the same in baseball as they are in business. More accurately these consequences are not the same for baseball teams as they are for regular businesses. If a team fails to embrace creative destruction the worst that could happen is that the team falls into an extended period of failure. The stakes are higher in business. For companies this same negligence could mean layoffs, store closings, and even bankruptcy. In that way business and individual players are similar. If a player fails to recognize his future shortcoming and does not begin to make alterations before those shortcoming set in, he could be benched, sent down, or released.
For now, I am only attempting to relate creative destruction to players and teams in a general sense. By this I mean, say a team recognizes a pattern in an opposing batters approach and alters the way they pitch him in an upcoming series. I do not believe the player should break everything down for that one series based on one teams slight alterations. However, a player should be aware enough to recognize trends within baseball and know that he could be prone to those new approaches (fielder shifts, inside pitches, etc).
I will use Mike Moustakas to help prove my point. An opposing team might prepare for Moose by looking at recent scouting reports. If Mike has been crushing inside fastballs the last three games they might not throw him inside. He should not assume that this revised plan of attack by the opposing team will be perpetual and revamp his entire approach. However, he should be more clued into the fact that teams have batted ball data and have begun to shift more which might cause problems for him being that he is a player who mostly hits the ball in one general direction.
Most likely this problem of pulling everything began to fester during his time in the minor leagues where there is less skepticism especially for players who are successful. I do not necessarily blame Moustakas for this complacency. An eighteen to twenty year old kid is typically not going to be able to recognize these possible future stumbling blocks. The Royals organization should have been responsible for understanding how Moose was producing at the lower levels not just that he was successful.
This brings me to my assertion that in order for creative destruction to work, clubs are going to have to be primarily responsible for creating this culture. Veteran players will on average have a better handle of this concept and how they can apply it. If they are mentored correctly from the beginning of their careers they could pass some of that knowledge on to new prospects.
Ok, I promised some player examples so let’s get to it. No better place to start then with arguably the games best player right now, Mike Trout. The Millville Meteor burst onto the scene a few years ago with his rare combination of elite speed and power. We have seen roughly 2.5 seasons of this version of Trout with last year (2014) being a possible transition year for the young lad. In fact, it was reported by some media outlets, including our favorite podcast Effectively Wild, that Trout had intentionally began focusing on increasing body size and strength in an attempt to add more power. As I mentioned in the intro post, Bonds did this very same thing when he allegedly started taking performance enhancing drugs to increase his power. Bonds and Trout both, knowingling or not, was and are practitioners of creative destruction.
It can be argued that Trout may have begun this metamorphosis a little too early in his career given his age. Bonds did not start his transition until approximately ten years into his playing career. My goal is not to debate the current and future athleticism of Mike Trout or whether his attempt will be successful, but simply to provide an example of someone who is potentially embracing creative destruction to extend the productive years of their career.
This method is more difficult to apply to pitchers in general, but there a few unique ways that creative destruction could be used to possibly help extend pitching careers. The three elements that come to mind are pitch velocity, type, and mechanics. There have been recent insightful studies performed – including a couple by our own Julien Assouline – on how velocity can affect a pitchers career. Pitching mechanics are also one of the first items looked at when players begin to struggle or suffer an injury.
So how could creative destruction be applied to resolve these problems? Once again, it starts with an informed and intelligent coaching staff and front office. They are the ones who should be able to recognize possible future problems with their pitchers and fix them before they are realized. A player could be seeing success using his current mechanics or throwing at his current velocity, but if these attributes prove to be risky for his health then steps should be considered to alter the player’s repertoire or even break it down and rebuild it all together. I’m not saying this will solve every pitcher’s future problems, but anything that a team can do to help minimize them could be worth the investment.
This brings me to my second player example and this time it is not a happy story. Mark Prior, former Cubs phenom, began his career in spectacular fashion only to come crashing down after a few years due to multiple injuries. Could this have been prevented by creative destruction? We will most likely never know the true answer, but based on those same studies I referenced the injuries could have possibly been pushed back.
Age is one variable that creative destruction cannot offset. With the case of Mark Prior, a complete breakdown of his repertoire might have only postponed his almost certain exit due to injury.
As far as teams that are more inclined to pursue creative destruction there is not one that necessarily stands out. Sure there are several teams who have reinvented their player analysis and development with the help of advanced statistics, but this was primarily a reactive process. Remember, creative destruction is about demolishing something that is currently working in order to stay ahead of the game and out maneuver the competition. Oakland changed the game with their use of advanced statistics leaving most other teams to catch up. Though similar, even this is not a true example of creative destruction because Oakland was not a successful team prior to their new strategy. I tend to think that when it comes to general team strategy, creative destruction cannot be practiced properly due to the lack of long-term consistency in baseball management positions.
The best example of teams accurately using creative destruction in their game plan is with player transactions. A recent instance would be the Cardinals not resigning Albert Pujols. Pujols was still a fairly productive player when he became a free agent, but the Cardinals forecasted that their resources could best be used elsewhere in the future. Generally, I think most organizations strive to make sound decisions even it means giving up a player who is still successful for a better chance of prolonged success. However, some teams do this better than others and my eWAR calculation tries to quantify this.
eWAR or economic WAR accounts for lost opportunity costs of players traded, released, or in some way removed from the team. The chart shows how each club faired in this category in the last five years.
(Click to enlarge)
The concept of creative destruction is somewhat limited in baseball due to the fact teams can’t really “go out of business” and players cannot stop father time. However, the method should be embraced by teams and players to help eliminate the complacency that could ultimately lead to prolonged losing or failure. A culture of creative destruction is one of innovation even if it means dismantling a current profitable situation. Sometimes taking a chance on something not proven can lead to a higher future payout. Baseball front offices are constantly trying to determine which options will produce these high payouts by forecasting the future of their team and players. Creative destruction is a way for teams to gain back a small amount of control and pave their own road.
(Non-baseball example of C.D.: The Indianapolis Colts used creative destruction to extend their winning ways by releasing Peyton Manning and investing in Andrew Luck.)Next post: In-Season Scouting: Matt Shoemaker
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