Friday, January 08, 2010

Winning or Losing Cultures?

One of the thoughts that has percolated in the brain all winter long was Milton Bradley's comment about the Cubs' culture. Obviously, Bradley didn't make himself any friends with the comment, especially on his own team. The timing of the thing was obviously stupid as Bradley was in the midst of a season with those same Cubs. It is also obvious that Bradley was treated harshly by the media and by the fans during his sure tenure with the organization. So why then has his comments stuck so long in the Fan's subconsciousness? Could Bradley have been at least partically correct? Do some clubs have "winning cultures" and "losing cultures"?

The Fan supposes that the answer to the question relies on how broadly you define "culture." If you are talking about culture as a group of players that are tougher fighters than the next team, you know...guttier, grittier, determined, battle tested and all of those time worn expressions, then you are probably buying into someone's propaganda. For every gritty Paul O'Neal reference to the late 90's Yankees, the Fan could give you a statistic on why the Yankees won. So that definition of culture doesn't thrill this writer.

If you broaden the definition to include the quality of leadership in the dugout and front office, the leadership of ownership, serious committment to player development and evaluation and a long term expectation of excellence, than you might be on to something.

Thanks to wonderful data collectors like, we have access to information at our fingertips. Sometimes you have to do a bit of spreadsheet work to use it, but no problem there. The Fan has included some data that seems to show teams that have good cultures, teams that have bad ones and those that settle on mediocrity (defined as .500).

Some teams have cultures that have remained consistent over long periods of time. The Rockies, as the data shows, have always been around the .474 mark for its entire history. Sure they have an up and down here and there, but overall, their long term results remain the same. Other teams seem to change their culture for the better. The White Sox, Twins, Angels, Athletics, Phillies and Athletics are all examples of teams that have fared better in the last ten and twenty year timesets than historically.

Other teams' cultures seem to take dramatic downshifts. The Pirates are one of the successful franchises historically. Their historic winning percentage is over .500. Many of us can remember when the Pirates were a force to be reckoned with. But the last twenty years have been painful, particularly the last ten years. The Royals have taken a bad culture to the maximum. Their last twenty years have been awful. But the Orioles and Nationals aren't too far behind those two.

Then you have a culture of what the Fan calls, "Small Man Syndrome." These teams like the Indians, Blue Jays, Tigers and others seem to behave like they can succeed once in a while, but it all gets torn down until they rise again once or twice a decade. You can see this in the fluxuation of their data. Up and down, up and down.

Then you have long-term elite teams. These teams have historic success and success over the last twenty years and the last decade. These teams may fall off now and then, but the fall is never that far and the successes come in more clusters and more often. The Cardinals, Yankees, Dodgers, Giants and for the last twenty years, the Red Sox. Sure money may be a part of that "culture," but it has to go beyond that. The Orioles have spent a lot of money as have the Mets without significant benefit to the culture.

The Fan isn't a math wiz. So others may be able to see patterns in the data that are missing from this text. But it's all interesting. Click on the enclosed charts to see them better.

1 comment:

rufuswashere said...

Nice analysis.

Another point is that these teams that win a lot have tremendous fan support -- Cardinals, Yankees, Dodgers, Giants, Red Sox all hail from "baseball towns." Winning breeds that.