California 2038.12 - An arrogant Jerk's Guide to Sustained Winning, Part 5

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California 2038.12 - An arrogant Jerk's Guide to Sustained Winning, Part 5

Post by Ted » Tue May 14, 2019 12:06 am


You have to have an identity. Mine is this guy above, just angrier.

An Arrogant Jerk's Guide To Sustained Winning Part 5: Team Building Strategy/Indentity

In Part 1 we talked about make a big ol' pile of baseball value. Part 2 went into what that value is made of. Part 3 superficially discussed how to get it/grow it.
Part 4 was a pedantic diatribe about the difference between player value in a vacuum and player value in a system, while highlighting the differences between tactics (GM moves) and strategy (The idea of what your team is, the goals you set out to accomplish and the overarching plan to achieve them).

In part five we'll start talking about something that has to be a key part of any winning team's strategy. That's having an identity as a team. If you're going to play to your strengths, you need to have strengths. Pretty simple. Hopefully this is a shorter piece. I've been running a bit long.

You Can't Expect to be Good at Everything
Something you have to expect if you want to keep winning year after year is that your team won't be perfect. You likely won't have the young prospect capital to be strong everywhere. That doesn't mean you have to have holes. It just means you have to choose where to put your resources. Let's look at my team again. I think everyone knows California is pitching and defense.

I draft pitching. And more pitching. And even more pitching. Prospects get hurt. They don't develop. Pitchers more so. So I need lots of them if I'm going to keep churning them out of my minors to replace the ones that become ineffective through age, injury, or salary. I rarely trade away pitching prospects.

I supplement my pitching with strong defense. Some people think if you strike out everyone, you don't need to be as defensively strong. I doubt this is true if you want pitching to be a strength. The best pitchers strike out just under 30% of batters. More likely your team is running in the low 20% range, even if you have really good pitchers. That means lots of balls are still in play. So you need good defense if you want a run prevention team.

The cool thing about drafting pitching is you never have to pay for a bullpen. Your not good enough starters become your pen. You will have lots of them, because you drafted a boatload of pitchers to get your starters. However, this makes me weak in other places.

With all the effort I put into turning my minors into a pitching factory, I bring up very little top end offense from my minors. That means I have to relay on those 50-60 overall cost controlled players to be the majority of my offense. And I have to platoon all over the place to get as many lefty bats in as I can. Well rounded righty bats or lefty bats that don't suck against LHP are just too expensive. I can't afford to trade for them or buy them in FA. Most of those players have warts. If they didn't, they'd be 70 or 80 grade overall. I sign the occasional big bat to a short term expensive deal in FA, and trade any pitching surplus for strong offensive players.

So that summarizes my identity. I MUST continue to operate this way or I face a difficult transition that may make my team fall apart. Let me explain what I mean. I think it is probably easier to draft hitting and pay for 3/4 type starters and find an ace somewhere right now. The league just has more bats than arms at the moment. To get to this, I'd have to start drafting bats. That will kill my pitching pipeline. If I start this now, in four seasons I will not have replacement arms coming up. My bullpen will almost certainly implode. I'll suddenly be faced with the option of paying in FA for pitchers, or trading prospect capital for them. Well that prospect capital was supposed to be my new powerful offense. In all likelihood, I'll end up having to overpay some of my own players to extend them or overpay in FA to maintain wins. That will tie up my financial flexibility, and once you lose that, it gets really tough.

Now, it's possible that all the bats I drafted come in at the same time my pitching wanes, and there are vet 3/4 type starters in FA for me to pick up to complete the transition. But what are the odds of that?

You don't have to do things exactly like I do, but you do have to have a plan, and stick to it. Draft consistently. Or if you take the best player available, then trade prospects who don't fit into your system for ones that do. Don't weaken your strength to shore up your weakness. Figure out how to address your weakness while maintaining your strength.

Pick something you want to dominate at, either scoring runs or preventing them. Learn how to do that and sustain it. Then figure out how to build up the weaker part to just good enough. Baseball is a game of margins. There is literally a "tipping point" where it starts to snowball. If you look at California's history, there's a point where we went from 85-87 wins on average to 90+. That was when I figured out how to put together a "just good enough" offense to go with my elite pitching. Before that, I had elite pitching and bad offenses.

Learn how to keep either your position players or pitching staff intact in large part without overpaying for extensions. Learn how to anticipate aging and when to trade out older guys and groom replacements. Don't have a bunch of players at the same age. Always try to have a new young stud, some 25-28 year olds, and a sub 32 vet as your core. You should also have another player on the way. Make that the goal. If this sounds tough, then punt the other part of the game (either offense or pitching, whichever you didn't choose). You should be able to do this with only half your roster, and when you figure it out, you're likely a high 70 win team anyway and that means you probably have at least decent revenue, making the next part of the process easier.

When you figure out how to maintain a strength/maintain an identity, then work on addressing the weakness without damaging the strength. Don't alter your overall strategy for a "quick fix". That will have repercussions down the line. I actually tried this and got really lucky. A little over half a decade ago, I decided to take two bats in the first 3 rounds every year to try and supplement my offense. I figured my pitchers would still be around, and the extra bats make me really good in 3-4 years. It didn't work and almost screwed me. First, that wasn't enough hitting prospects to develop an offense. Too many just don't develop. I also am at a rare spot now where I don't have any young arms coming in. But Luis Gracia, Ricardo Diaz, and Cisco Morales aging gracefully saved my bacon. The fact that Brooklyn went full fire sale and made Miguel Anders available gave me my new young arm. I doubled back on the draft and went extra heaving pitching this year, and should have the next batch on the way now.

So what are some team identities? Well it really comes down to hitting versus pitching. Park effect matters, but that's probably a topic for another chapter. Nearly every top team that stays good for more than 5-6 years is always exceptional at one of the two, and if you look, they've just kind of decent at the other one. Players are too expensive to be awesome at everything unless you have a truckload of prospects come up around the same time, and usually you can only get to that point by being bad for awhile.

CAL - pitching and defense, just enough offense from lefty power bats.
JAX - Monster OBP offense with tons of power, one ace and a bunch of 3/4 types starters and one to two top bullpen arms
LV - has been both monster offense and elite pitching at times, but rarely both, and Recte transitions back and forth better than anyone I've seen, notice how Recte is now neither, and isn't as strong as he once was

If you want to look at teams that are more in the 6-7 year of goodness range
MEX - pitching and defense, high average offense to drive OBP
SFB - Monster offense similar to JAX. Once ace and warty arms everywhere else
YS - (maybe could be in the first group), Prioritizes top end talent in both the lineup and the rotation, and platoons and find roles for warty players in the rest of the positions. I have trouble describing this one. But Ron's teams really DO look the same year to year.

I'm sure I'm forgetting someone, but that last bit is the point. They feel the same every year. They have identities. Which means they've figured out how to maintain a strength through drafting, trading, and smart extensions.

Remember above we talked about punting the part you didn't pick until you figure out your strength? Well, you can't punt it forever. You have to learn how to make the warty part of your team "good enough". I don't think that's enough for another piece, and really that's more about tiral and error and leveraging your park effect. I think for the next chapter, we'll get into how to keep from losing value ... finally.
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Re: California 2038.12 - An arrogant Jerk's Guide to Sustained Winning, Part 5

Post by RonCo » Tue May 14, 2019 2:44 am

I love the idea of at least thinking about creating an identity, though I'd almost call it a brand instead. Teams that rise and fall often have an identity, but teams that chug on forever tend to have a brand. :)

Regarding our brand:

As you note, YS9 has had a bit of a top-end talent vibe here for awhile, but that's mostly due to the roster I inherited, which came with Jose Chavez, Crash LaLoosh, Angel De Castillo, Carlos Garcia, and Lucas McNeill pre-loaded due to the GM before me tanking his butt off. I wasn't stupid enough to dump them, so they became the core.

As we transition out of that era, you're seeing more easily what a Ron Collins team might be. And (in my own mind) a Ron Collins team is one that attempts to wring max value out of every roster position. I tend to grow my own players rather than trade for them, and I tend to do transitions in waves (which is part of why I draft for position). I'll occasionally buy a top end FA to be a star, but in generally I hope to develop them from within even though I draft pretty far back.

The teams themselves will have different feels/identities based on the composition of the wave, but my organization will (ideally) never be without a reasonably interesting prospect--or ideally more--at every position so I can plug an play over time. These things have been in place for several years now, but their value is easier to see now that we've been forced (a year early) to transition out of our first wave of superstars.

The brand I want to portray is one of unrelenting competition. As I've said before, I plan to win the division every year, and I honestly plan to win 95 games every year, forever--though it's baseball, so sometimes it just doesn't work out. I don't tend to mope too much if we have a bad year. :)

For example: If we win 95 games this season (StatsPlus says we're on pace to 99.9), we'll have won 95 or more games in eight of the last ten seasons, with only an 85-win 2030 (when we lost defending Nebraska winner Jose Chavez most of the year), and last year's 80-win debacle (when we lost 4 core-stars to free agency, had McNeill go to replacement, and had three of our five rotation guys injured).
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Re: California 2038.12 - An arrogant Jerk's Guide to Sustained Winning, Part 5

Post by RonCo » Tue May 14, 2019 2:54 am

YS - (maybe could be in the first group), Prioritizes top end talent in both the lineup and the rotation, and platoons and finds roles for warty players in the rest of the positions
Part of my make-up, I suppose, is that I don't consider players I end up using as warty. :) They can either do what I want them to do, or they can't. If I use good platoon players outside of a platoon, that's my fault, not theirs. Rob Thomas, for example, is a perfectly fine 2.5-3 WAR hitter at third base. But I just cannot let him play against LHP. If I pair him with a 1.5 WAR guy, then I'm getting 2+ WAR per roster spot. If I get 2+ WAR per roster spot, it adds up to 54 WAR. If 48 is the baseline for replacement level and all things even out, then Yellow Springs win 102 games.
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Re: California 2038.12 - An arrogant Jerk's Guide to Sustained Winning, Part 5

Post by Ted » Tue May 14, 2019 2:57 am

Call it what you want, but yes, the consistently good teams tend to "look" the same as they did in previous years. That's because their GM's have figured out how to do something well, and repeat it. There are lots of different models, but if you talk to any of these GMs, most have areas they say they focus on more than others, and areas they don't worry about. Most would tell you about how they use their strengths to work around or supplement their weaknesses. California's example is how drafting to always have SP's makes it so you hardly ever have to pay for, draft, or worry about bullpen. I'm sure other people other strategies that work well, but consistency is key.
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Re: California 2038.12 - An arrogant Jerk's Guide to Sustained Winning, Part 5

Post by RonCo » Tue May 14, 2019 3:01 am

True, I'm cutting semantic hairs there. :)
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Re: California 2038.12 - An arrogant Jerk's Guide to Sustained Winning, Part 5

Post by Ted » Tue May 14, 2019 3:07 am

RonCo wrote:
Tue May 14, 2019 3:01 am
True, I'm cutting semantic hairs there. :)
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Re: California 2038.12 - An arrogant Jerk's Guide to Sustained Winning, Part 5

Post by aaronweiner » Tue May 14, 2019 7:16 am

I'm just catching up on my pitching farm right now. Up until this year I would have said I had zero prospects in the minor leagues who could be starting pitchers eventually. Now it's up to four, which is a good solid base.

I understand the importance of that, too. You'll notice that (other than sort of Dempster) I have just two home grown starters, Bob Coleman and Celio Marin, and I only drafted one of those players, and I am thereby paying about $50 million for my top three starters. That catches up eventually to you no matter who you are.

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Re: California 2038.12 - An arrogant Jerk's Guide to Sustained Winning, Part 5

Post by HoosierVic » Tue May 14, 2019 4:20 pm

In some ways, Ted, I think this is the seminal piece of your series - where everything needs to start. If you don't have a plan (and my team is going to be excellent at everything! is a delusion, not a plan), how can you attack trades, free agency or the draft in any kind of intelligent fashion?

Just speaking from what I know (which is Huntsville, at this point), I think Kyle clearly had an intelligent plan (build the team to the home ballpark and try to pile up enough wins at home to overcome your weaknesses on the road) that got away from him a bit. I can dig a left-handed power hitter out of the couch cushions in the Huntsville GM's office, but there aren't enough people to get on base for them to drive in. For a team loaded with guys who can hit 40 homers a year, the Phantoms don't score nearly enough runs (they have a negative run differential, rank near the middle of the league for runs scored, and near the bottom of the league for OBP and BA).

This, I think, perfectly illustrates the point you were making in Part 4 about the parts needing to mesh together. Reading your Jon Mick example, I couldn't help but think that, essentially, guys like Rutledge, Reyes, Hall and Torres are Jon Mick stuck in a lineup that doesn't complement their strengths: with the exception of two guys, the lineup is below average at getting on base.

Envisioning a well-functioning version of this design, though, is a start at establishing a workable team identity - and that, in turn, helps inform the decisions I'll likely need to make moving forward.

So, yeah. Following this path doesn't make you immune from making bone-headed moves or incurring the scorn of the folks on the forums for getting snookered in a trade, but it does keep you from flailing away blindly.

And to my mind, at least, that's huge.

Bravo, sir.

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Re: California 2038.12 - An arrogant Jerk's Guide to Sustained Winning, Part 5

Post by ae37jr » Tue May 14, 2019 4:34 pm

I agree that having a tried and true method is the best way to dominate on a consistent basis. But doesn't that get boring?

When I first started playing OOTP leagues I did like I would if this were real life. After 5-6 seasons it got old. I don't think I could ever build a "brand" like that. Every few years I'll think about a historic MLB team or some sort of combination of styles and steer in that direction. I have 10x more fun rebuilding or even struggling then having a really good team. I couldn't even imagine how little fun it would be to win 95 games every season doing the same thing over and over.
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Re: California 2038.12 - An arrogant Jerk's Guide to Sustained Winning, Part 5

Post by Ted » Tue May 14, 2019 4:48 pm

ae37jr wrote:
Tue May 14, 2019 4:34 pm
I agree that having a tried and true method is the best way to dominate on a consistent basis. But doesn't that get boring?

When I first started playing OOTP leagues I did like I would if this were real life. After 5-6 seasons it got old. I don't think I could ever build a "brand" like that. Every few years I'll think about a historic MLB team or some sort of combination of styles and steer in that direction. I have 10x more fun rebuilding or even struggling then having a really good team. I couldn't even imagine how little fun it would be to win 95 games every season doing the same thing over and over.
And this is why this guide isn't for everyone. In the first section, I mentioned "this is how I do it". That not only applies to how to build a team, but how to enjoy having a team. I don't get bored with it, but I can see that some might. For me, the challenge of staying on top and having to plan out 5,6,7 years ahead in the face of moving parts and injuries and whatever landmines OOTP throws at me is the fun. I'm convinced I can win with any kind of team, and build any kind of team, but maybe that's hubris.

But I am bored by the numbers. If you've read some of my comments over the years, you'd see mentions of how I don't really care what big league California does. That's because it IS boring to watch them. I know they will win because I know the strategy I use is sound. They are neither surprising nor entertaining. (Playoffs are a bit different). But the Crusaders ARE the same thing every year. However, keeping them that way is a very complex and fun game to me. I probably spend just as much time managing my minors, looking for minor league FAs, looking at other teams prospects and thinking about deals, etc, as I do managing my big league team. And the majority of my "big league time" is seven day lineup entry. Before we did that, I spent maybe 2-3 minutes each sim working on the big league club, and probably 80+ percent of the time on keeping the system going. Now with 7 days lineups, I do spend a bit of time entertaining myself picking matchups, but that's about all I do on a sim to sim basis with the big league club.

But it is a grind. If it's more fun for someone to let it fall apart, and ENJOY taking their team apart very few seasons and building a new and different one, that's fun too.
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Re: California 2038.12 - An arrogant Jerk's Guide to Sustained Winning, Part 5

Post by HoosierVic » Tue May 14, 2019 5:02 pm

Not to mention, if you get bored with one brand after awhile, you could always try another. Taking an entrenched power offensive team and converting it to the go-go White Sox would not be boring ...

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Re: California 2038.12 - An arrogant Jerk's Guide to Sustained Winning, Part 5

Post by RonCo » Tue May 14, 2019 5:39 pm

Having a concept or plan in mind at any one time is good. Adjusting the plan to adapt to change is good, too.

What isn't all that good, is to not really have any plan beyond "I'm going to try to find good baseball players." This is because, as what I think Ted's point is, it can lead to teams that seem to be kind of wallowing in the Monte Carlo method of random steps. It can work occasionally, especially if you're really slick at trading in volume, but that process has a tendency to flame out too early, and it's generally kind of rugged on long term stability.

It can be fun, though, and to be honest, as long as a GM is having fun and not purposely attempting to tank, then more power to them.
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Re: California 2038.12 - An arrogant Jerk's Guide to Sustained Winning, Part 5

Post by RonCo » Tue May 14, 2019 5:47 pm

ae37jr wrote:
Tue May 14, 2019 4:34 pm
I agree that having a tried and true method is the best way to dominate on a consistent basis. But doesn't that get boring?
It would probably get boring if it were tried and true. But there isn't anything in this game that's guaranteed. How many runs have been decimated by injuries? By a crappy season from a star? By the fact that you run in to Jacksonville twice in the Landis? :(

The game moves in its ratings, and values of players shift. Rarely does it allow a team to stay together for a long time without throwing it a lot of curve balls. This latest push of the league dumping young talent into it in bucketloads changes a bunch about the development engine, for example (which changes objective evaluations of trades like the recent NSV/LBC deal, for example). So there's always lots of game theory calculus to mess with, no matter what.

That said, yes, if you get bored, you can always blow it up and do it differently the next time.
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Re: California 2038.12 - An arrogant Jerk's Guide to Sustained Winning, Part 5

Post by RonCo » Tue May 14, 2019 5:49 pm

HoosierVic wrote:
Tue May 14, 2019 5:02 pm
Not to mention, if you get bored with one brand after awhile, you could always try another. Taking an entrenched power offensive team and converting it to the go-go White Sox would not be boring ...
Interesting question #745 (?): is there a difference between an organization's identity/brand and the team's identity/brand?
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