Baseball's Losers: Why Can't These Teams Win?

Joel KochSenior Analyst IOctober 19, 2010

ST. PETERSBURG, FL - SEPTEMBER 29:  Manager Buck Showalter of the Baltimore Orioles watches his team against the Tampa Bay Rays during the game at Tropicana Field on September 29, 2010 in St. Petersburg, Florida.  (Photo by J. Meric/Getty Images)
J. Meric/Getty Images

This was going to be the topic of the 10/25 Monday Mania, but after thinking about what I wanted to say during my first class today, I decided that so much information and thinking that goes into this topic that it truly deserved its own article.

Which leaves me without a topic of debate for Monday Mania, but in the wide world of sports, something always presents itself.

Anyway, "Onward and upward," as the Romans said.

Why can't the losing teams in Major League Baseball win? Why, at the end of every season, are they always the bad kids at daycare that are put in timeout in the basement?

Of course, this timeout is long-lasting: There is no escape.

Or is there?

There has to be a reason why these losing teams always lose.

Year after year, the Pirates, Orioles, Blue Jays, Nationals, Athletics, and Royals lose.

Yes, some have come out of complete purgatory, but still exist only to keep other teams from finishing last.

To understand why these teams continue to lose, we have to examine the winning teams and their strategies, along with the teams that came out of total purgatory to re-emerge as threats to the established order.

Teams always have different strategies, and these strategies always work. Sure, there will always be off years, but 99 percent of the time, these strategies produce winning pedigrees and make the manager's job look easy.

The New York Yankees are a classic example. Their strategy is simple: Spend big on top talent and spend little on gap-fillers until the farm system produces complementary players.

The Yankees took the complementary players to the next level. Never has one team produced so little impact talent themselves.

Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, Robinson Cano, Phil Hughes, and Jorge Posada have played big roles in this year's team fortune, but outside of the Homegrown Five, few homegrown players have provided innings and offense of any impact—the talent on this team came from outside of the organization.

And the strategy works.

Brian Cashman has become the master of spending a lot of money wisely. He doesn't throw money at a problem and hope it fixes the issue now. He does his due diligence following the Pav-aster and pays good players a lot of money.

And not just players, but gamers. Mark Teixeira and C.C. Sabathia mail nothing in. They are in it to win it and work their butts off to win.

Cashman has a strategy that works wonders. Sure, that strategy produced Javier Vazquez this year, but based on what the Yankees had to give to land the then-prized pitcher, it was worth the gamble. And remember, the dominant Boone Logan was a part of that deal.

I'd say the strategy produced dividends, even if it was backwards.

The Cardinals are another team that has a set strategy and doesn't falter from it. The Cardinals are dumpster-divers. They add players who have been cast away from former teams for not producing, or add pitchers who need a rebirth.

Ryan Ludwick, Joel Pineiro, Jason Marquis, Jeff Weaver, Abraham Nunez, David Eckstein, and the list goes on. Gamble on low risk, high rewards, and you usually win.

Of course, it takes an adept coaching staff to squeeze every bit of usefulness out of the players and push the players to become great, but it works. This strategy is employed and produces dividends.

These two proud organizations employ a strategy and never go away from it.

Yes, both organizations move on to a second strategy to fill out the rest of the roster. The Cardinals also like to trade for high-impact talent or sign a top-tier player to fill an organizational hole.

The Yankees sometimes take the Cardinals' route and go for low-risk, high-reward players to fill out the bench and secondary roles.

Both teams are successful. Both teams have strategies that they stick to.

The losers? They follow strategies as well.

But after one or two down years, the strategy changes. The losing teams do not stay the course as they should and switch gears after a few years.

Think about the losing teams that have recently joined the winning side of life.

The Cincinnati Reds started to pump more money into player development, while adding veterans who and are gamers know how to win. Losing doesn't sit well with the likes of Scott Rolen and Orlando Cabrera. They want to win, and with that type of attitude around a losing atmosphere, the losing vanishes.

The same can be said for the San Francisco Giants and Tampa Bay Rays.

Both teams have been losers for years and pumped a lot of money into player development and scouting. The strategy issued by both teams was: Why pay for high-priced talent when we can produce it ourselves?

The strategies worked wonders, with the Rays making a World Series run in 2008 and becoming the best team in the American League this season.

The Giants made a late push to knock the San Diego Padres out of the playoff picture and could possibly take the National League pennant this season.

Both teams built from within, producing quality talent and depth at positions.

Where the lack of depth was apparent, both teams added veterans to the mix for cheap rates (low-risk, high-reward scenario) and added winning players to swat away the losing air.

The losers need to look at the constant winners and the new winners and copy what they have done.

Yes, the Orioles are producing a lot of high-impact talent.

The Pirates have spent a ton in amateur bonuses and have added high-impact players to a deep system.

The Royals have one of the best farm systems around.

The Blue Jays have the deepest rotation around, not to mention Jose Bautista.

The Nationals have spent more money on Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper than some of the top players in the league make.

The Athletics have the best young arms around and a good, up-and-coming catcher to handle the staff.

All six teams have implemented strategies, but their strategies have holes.

The Orioles rely too heavily on their young players, expecting them all to take the next big step forward to stardom at once. When you rely on that big of a variable, you fail more times than not.

Plus, the Orioles have no winning pedigree players around the young players to help mentor, except Kevin Millwood who was unjustly relied upon to hold that title by his lonesome.

The Pirates' top talent is in the lower levels of its system, leaving the top levels and the major league level barren of impact talent for at least another four years, and that assumes that the lower-level talent will reach their potential and not become stranded.

Anyone can show talent against inferior competition. Many good hitters have fallen off of the map in the upper levels. Potential falls short when you cannot roll with the big dogs.

The Royals' top talent is several years away, so they have spent a lot of money on inferior talent to surround the few top players that have reached the majors. Add in that the Royals and other scouts have overhyped a lot of the Royals' best talent, and suddenly, the Royals aren't as good.

The Blue Jays have no offense outside of Bautista, and let us not forget that they trade top young talent for good potential talent (i.e. Brett Wallace for Anthony Gose). This leaves big gaps in depth and forces the Blue Jays to add inferior players to an all ready inferior offense.

And the excuse that "we can't outspend the Yankees and Red Sox, so we can't win" has no factual backing. The Rays were one of the best teams, even though key players took steps back. The Blue Jays can be a good team if they would spend wisely and stop creating a lack of depth at positions by dealing top-level players for low-level players.

The Nationals have no farm system outside of Harper and Strasburg, who is out until 2012. Mediocre talent reigns supreme in the Washington system.

Yes, Mike Rizzo has made strides to improve the system since taking over for the inept Jim Bowden more than one year ago, but there is still not enough talent there to cultivate and make a strong push for the playoffs.

The Athletics have a great young pitching staff but have not been able to develop any solid offensive players, except for all-or-nothing type of batters. Daric Barton is a good start, but he was drafted and developed by the Cardinals.

The Athletics' problems can be attributed to Billy Beane's shortcomings as a general manager. I have never been a big fan of "Moneyball," and the Athletics constant struggles to develop any type of high impact talent on the offensive side of the ball shows that the theory never strongly took hold.

To further prove this fact that Moneyball is a joke, look at the Blue Jays: J.P. Ricciardi was an assistant under Beane and drove the Blue Jays further back in the standings with excessive spending and his bad handling of the farm system .

Moneyball is a joke. It is not a strategy to win.

The flaws in a strategy are a by-product of underthinking.

The general manager sees one team succeed with player development and implements that strategy, instead of looking at what made the player development successful: Proper coaching of young talent. Adding a strong veteran presence to mentor the younger players and keep the clubhouse loose. And adding some kind of winning to the equation.

That could be adding veterans with a lot of playoff at-bats or bringing in a manager who has been there, done that.

The Orioles took a good step by adding Buck Showalter, but that is not enough.

The other losing teams? The Nationals have good-guy manager Jim Riggleman, but he lacks that winning pedigree, unless you count a fluke Wild Card berth with the Chicago Cubs in 1998.

The Royals have Ned Yost, another good step, but he lacks that winning pedigree as well. He learned under Bobby Cox but was fired during a Milwaukee Brewer collapse in 2008 after leading a strong charge that season.

The Athletics settled for Bob Geren, an unknown outside of Oakland who has shown how bad a hiring that was on Beane's part.

The Pirates and Blue Jays are in the midst of adding a new manager and both are searching through the totally unknown, which is never a good idea for a rebuilding team.

It is true that every manager in the league was an unknown at one point, but there is a big difference in a winning team hiring an unknown and a rebuilding team hiring an unknown.

A winning team will always be a winning team, despite their manager. A rebuilding team needs a known quantity to build the players into winners. How can a player learn to win in the major leagues when their manager doesn't know how?

And hiring a known manager who didn't win is the same as above.

John Gibbons is a perfect example.

The Pirates have Gibbons high on their managerial list, but why? Gibbons could not win with a semi-talented roster in Toronto and fought with his own players. Gibbons had a veteran-laden roster in Toronto and could not win.

In Pittsburgh? Yeah, not really veteran-laden.

Losing teams lose because they recycle and rehash losing strategies. They fully believe that they are doing things the right way, when in fact, they're only changing one factor in the big machine.

Think of it this way: A baseball team is like a car. When one part fails, the car can run for a bit, but it will ultimately fail.

Completely rebuilding the car can be expensive, tedious, and time-consuming, but it will run better when it is over.

You can't rebuild a car when you take out the bad flywheel, while ignoring the broken engine belt and the bad carburetor. And you can't start the car if you replace the two-month-old tires with a lot of tread still on them when your ignition is shot.

The Orioles, Nationals, Blue Jays, Athletics, Pirates and Royals are driving around in old junkers that die every few feet.

They were passed on the racetrack by the Reds, Rays, Giants, Padres and Rangers.

Better hire a good mechanic, because the "How To" books aren't doing a good job.


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