April 29, 2010

The Biggest Risk of All Is Not Taking One

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As my four years at Cornell draw to a close, I’ve spent some time reflecting upon what I’ve learned here. Mostly, I’ve learned that weekends begin on Thursday night and there’s never a good reason to take a class before 10:10. In all seriousness, the most important lesson I will take from my experience at Cornell is that I should never be scared to act boldly and try new things.

It sounds cliché and each one of us has probably gotten the advice more times than we care to count, but sometimes the biggest risk of all is not taking one. I am in a Social Psychology class (Psych 2800) where we are learning that people tend to regret passing up an opportunity far more than they regret making a mistake. The obvious takeaway is that when in doubt, we should resist the urge to settle for safe options.

How does this vague talk of risk-taking apply to sports? Glad you asked. MLB teams hoping to topple the Yankees and Red Sox need to stop trying to mirror the aforementioned teams and start acting boldly. Spec­ifically, small market teams need to stop employing the same strategies their wealthier competitors use and start getting creative.

Teams like Kansas City, Washington, Pittsburgh, and Baltimore use roughly the same general approaches as the majority of MLB teams, except they do so with budgets tens of millions of dollars smaller than those used by other teams. As a result, the poorer resemble the better MLB teams, only they consistently wind up near the bottom of the standings.

It doesn’t take an economist to figure out that if ten people try to build baseball teams – five with one payroll and five others with a payroll three times the size – the richer teams will tend to outperform the poorer ones. The only way the poorer teams can compete is to search for a superior strategy.

Enter risk-taking. The teams that have succeeded with relatively low payrolls have done so with tactics not utilized by other major league teams. The Oakland Athletics won multiple division titles early in the decade by arriving first at SABR revolution party. The Minnesota Twins have been the AL Central’s best team the past several years by prioritizing control over velocity in building their pitching staff. The Tampa Bay Rays finally achieved respectably by loading up on young talent throughout the last decade, accepting poor results from 2005-2007, and waiting for the investment in the future to pay off as it has in recent years.

Meanwhile, the aforementioned Royals, Nationals, Pirates, and Orioles, among others, have attempted little out of the ordinary. The results have been predictable: lots of losses. If they continue to follow the standard MLB team-building blueprint with a reduced budget, the poor results will persist. These teams can only contend via innovation.As it stands, poor squads have nowhere to go but up. Some inventive thinking could help them do just that. Some ideas to consider include a four-man rotation, a six-man rotation, a smaller bullpen that allows for a bigger bench and more opportunities to utilize platoon advantages, and a team built around defense (the Mariners are trying this).

The concept I would push if part of an MLB organization would be pitching tandems. I would look to pair a pitcher who dominates lefty hitters with one who dominates righties and then pick a position – say right field – to stash one pitcher while I used the other. That way I would always have the platoon advantage on the mound and theoretically would have a good chance to get through games using only two pitchers.

I don’t know if any of the proposed ideas would work; I simply know that the status quo isn’t getting the job done. If I were a fan of a small-market MLB team, I’d sure want that team to apply college’s best lesson and try something new.

As I wrap up my Cornell career, I want to thank everyone who helped make my time with the Sun a gratifying experience. Thank you editors, fellow writers, and everyone else on the Sun staff – you have all been awesome. Thank you coaches and athletes for taking the time to speak with me for so many articles over the years. Thank you family and friends for supporting me in everything I do. Lastly, thank you readers for making all of this possible.

Original Author: Zack Slabotsky