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June 29, 2007

Prospectus Matchups

The Consistency Crisis

by Jim Baker

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I come before you today to discuss a problem--no, to discuss the problem facing baseball today. This problem comes in the guise of an insidious foe, one that bedevils individuals and players alike. I must confess that I, an outsider, had observed the game for decades and not become aware of the crisis until very recently. Blissful in my ignorance, I have watched countless games and pennant races with no inkling that there was an underlying decay present in everything I saw. Fortunately, there are highly paid professionals out there who have the skills, intellect and perceptive powers to see beyond the scope of the mere layman. It was they who made me realize just how beset our national game actually is by this sinister force.

I am talking, of course, about the appalling and ongoing lack of consistency that has plagued this game since it was invented. As I said, I have been a fan a long time, and yet it never occurred to me that the fluctuations in performance I was seeing by teams and players were the function of a failure of some internal mechanism they all possess. Then, recently, I began to suppress all the white noise coming at me and focus on the most important message I was getting from big name analysts. They kept mentioning consistency as the key to success and it was though I was struck by lightning. How could I have been so stupid? How could I have looked at all those games and box scores and not seen what they were seeing? "This would explain," I said to myself, "why you might see a player on Web Gems two nights running and then not see him again for another six weeks!"

Now it was all falling into place. I felt like that guy in A Beautiful Mind who sees the messages jumping out at him from the newspapers. Suddenly, everything the analysts were saying about consistency made sense. "Why," I asked myself, "don't .333 hitters go one-for-three every night?" Exactly: because they lack consistency. How about pitchers with 4.50 ERAs? How come they don't allow three runs in six innings every time out? Why can't great players be great all the time and good ones be good all the time? Why do bad ones have great games sometimes? See the problem? Finally, this week, the great rock of meaningfulness landed on my head once and for all when I read this sequence of scores: 2-5, 9-4, 0-4, 0-11, 0-5, 1-2, 0-5, 4-1, 6-2, 13-0.

Here was the perfect illustration of what the analysts have been getting at. These are the scores of the last 10 games played by a single team. We'll call them, "Team A"--although we could also call them "Team B" and get one of their initials right in both cases. As you can see, Team A was all over the place; getting shut out, scoring a run-per-inning in one game and then topping it all off by scoring 13 runs on their opponents. Where did it get them? A 4-6 record. This, as you know, will never win a team anything.

Now, I'm not the type of person who, when confronted with a crisis-level problem, is content to sit idly by and let some other guy come up with a solution. I began toying with a practical way out of the inconsistency cycle and I believe I have discovered a foolproof method. I call it the Consistent Allocation/Suppression of Runs System (CARS). It gets at the very root of the inconsistency problem and if teams followed it, they would have more success--even when they're outscored by their opponents like this club was over a 10-game period.

Let's take that 35-to-39 run ratio Team A experienced and lay it out like this:

Game 1: 3-2
Game 2: 4-3
Game 3: 4-3
Game 4: 3-11
Game 5: 4-3
Game 6: 4-3
Game 7: 3-7
Game 8: 3-2
Game 9: 4-3
Game 10: 3-2

What do you have now? That's right: consistency. Sweet, blessed consistency. Team A goes out every night and scores three or four runs while allowing only two or three in all but two of the games. Oh, and what happened to their mediocre 4-6 record? It's now an 8-2 record, my friends. The sad fact is, apart from a couple early clubs that came close when the schedules were much shorter, no team has ever played .800 baseball for an entire season. A hundred-and-something years later, we have come to realize why: an appalling lack of consistency that has beplagued the game like a well-attached internal parasite.

CARS--and, inherently, consistency itself--is not easy to implement. If it were, someone would have thought of it and done so at some point in the course of the past 130 years. It requires restraint. It says to that player on his way to a three-homer game to stop at one or two and save those others for when they're needed most. It asks the player who is one hit short of the cycle to save that triple for five days from now when the bases are loaded and the team is down 3-1.

I have shown you how a team could double its number of wins and cut its losses by two-thirds without even reducing the number of runs it allows or increasing the number of runs it scores. It is only by achieving consistency that players and teams can self-actualize and maximize their potential no matter how limited that may be. Let's not kid ourselves: the quest for consistency is not a journey of great comfort. If it were, someone would have taken it by now. The solution requires adherence to a demanding and exacting regimen. But, if followed, it will lead players and teams out of the death spiral they've been in for all eternity.

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