In any form of competition, teams are always looking for competitive advantages. It’s not only found in sports but in many other aspects of life. Take a political race for example, each candidate is looking for a way to jump ahead of their competition. They release commercial adds to either boost their platform or bash their opponent, with the hope of gaining some sort of an advantage on their opponent. If a candidate is able to attempt some sort of new tactic that turns out to boost their platform, it would be considered to be a form of a competitive advantage.
The pursuit of competitive advantages can become consuming that it leads to cheating. With everyone always looking for that next step up, sometimes people cross the line. This has been seen throughout baseball for so long in the form of steroids. When people hear the words steroids, many would instantly think about baseball. So many examples come to mind too like Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, and Alex Rodriguez. That list doesn’t even cover the big names to be involved in a steroids scandal. So many different players have been caught over the years all in pursuit of a competitive advantage. It reaches the point where it consumes the competitor because they want the advantage so bad that they’ll do almost anything to get it.
Now the game of baseball has seen a “changing of the guard” type scenario. Even though players are always looking for competitive advantages, it’s the organizations that have taken over the race. All of the new analytical research that has become available has put teams in a situation to race against each other to see who can gain the most of a competitive advantage. It wasn’t this way at first, as you can see we’ve come a long way since the Moneyball era. Now there is less and less resentment to analytics as time progresses and it’s such a huge part of the game. Teams spend millions and millions of dollars each year now on research and development to find these new competitive advantages. The players are involved in this race as well. So many players use this new data to do things like modifying their pitch usage or to tweak a part of their swing. The use of analytics has evolved and now it’s increasing at such a pace that there is less room to gain a competitive advantage.
The usage of analytics has hit a point where it’s involvement is monumental. For some, it’s a dream come true. To finally see analytical theories be put into use at the highest level of the game. For others, it makes it more difficult to find a new competitive advantage in the game of baseball. The algorithms that are available now are almost perfect at measuring a players capability. There is still room for improvement, but that narrow window is becoming smaller and smaller.
As this gap to find a new competitive advantage has become smaller, the gap between competing teams has grown. Now teams are quicker to push the rebuild button and bail out of contention. If a team doesn’t believe that they are very close to winning a championship than they quickly disassemble their roster without a second thought. Teams will continue to build and build until they finally believe that they are in a spot where they can win a world series. There are many reasons behind this type of mindset and most of them are justifiable. It may be that the organization is located in a small market which makes it difficult to take on a large contract. So they may wait until their homegrown talent has peaked to go out and get a big name player to put them over the edge. Teams with low payrolls just can’t compete with the big market franchises. This mindset by organizations won’t change soon, which is why they should be quicker to implement new competitive advantages.
In the past, teams were very resistant to implement any form of a new “strategy” that had not been seen in the game before. That resistant to change is now long gone and teams are more willing to try new tactics. However, I believe there can still be even more strategies that can be implemented.
The teams that are in the rebuilding process truly having nothing to lose, so they should be more willing to try something new. Take the Royals for example, they are a team that is not in contention so they are trying something that no one else is. They have stacked their roster with base stealers as they have constructed an 80’s style baseball team. This is something that no other team is doing as stolen bases have decreased in recent history. Analytical research does tend to be against stolen bases, but I do give the Royals credit for trying this strategy that is so different from everyone else.
A strategy that I would love to see a team implement is bullpenning, which is when teams do not use a starter and only use relief type pitchers. The ability to have a fresh arm in the game all the time is captivating and something that could be successful. Pitcher management is a part of the strategy that would be difficult but not impossible. With the right research, it could be implemented to it’s best ability.
One team that this strategy could work for is the Athletics. They even implemented this strategy last year in the wild-card game against the Yankees. It didn’t work for them that night but it probably gave them the best chance to win compared to all of their other options. They didn’t have any sort of an ace that would have been able to neutralize the powerful Yankees lineup so an all-out bullpen war was their best shot at a win. Now, in the 2019 season, the Athletics lack a strong back end of the rotation. Aaron Brooks and Frankie Montas have each had a few impressive outings this season, but I find it hard for them to sustain their early success. Aaron Brooks has already shown his lack of effectiveness with a poor start against the Astros. Regardless, both pitchers only have small sample sizes to their record so far but with a stacked bullpen behind them, I think it’s time for bullpenning.
There is another competitive advantage that comes to mind that I believe almost any team is the MLB could implement soon. That strategy is committing to bunting against the shift. The usage of the shift has grown over the years and is now embedded in the game. If you ever ask yourself, “Why don’t they just lay down a bunt against the shift?” then your not alone. Many don’t bunt against the shift because they either can’t or that they believe it would be more valuable to try and record an extra-base hit. For the bunt, some shifts eliminate the bunt by keeping the third baseman at his position and shifting the rest of the infield.
The main idea of this strategy would be where an organization commits to attempting to bunt for a hit every time there is a shift put on against them. They obviously couldn’t just implement this tomorrow, they would need to first practice and plan it out. First, they need to train all of their hitters to become masters at laying down bunts. This process would most likely take some time, but if they commit to it, then it would be achievable. The team would also need to make a strategy as to if they would still bunt with runners on base. Shift also vary once there are runners on base, but if the situation presents itself then there needs to be a pre-organized plan.
As the separation between organizations continues to grow, they should be more willing to implement a new strategy. The teams that are rebuilding have nothing to lose. So why not spend their season implementing new strategies and competitive advantages into their strategy?