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The Baseball 5% Theory
There’s 145 more days until baseball’s Opening Day and we still have the GM meetings, Winter Meetings, and one or two blockbuster trades to look forward to. The NBA season is just underway and the Lakers 0-3 start almost broke Sports Talk Radio. Meanwhile, over at grantland.com, there’s a wonderful piece about The 5 Percent Theory. The basic idea behind the theory is that teams with a realistic shot at winning an NBA championship in a given year need to do everything they can to try to win that year. “If you’ve got even a 5 percent chance to win the title — and that group includes a very small number of teams every year — you’ve gotta be focused all on winning the title,” says Houston Rockets GM Daryl Morey. It’s true. Going into the 2012-2013 season, there’s maybe 5 teams that have a chance to win the title: Lakers, Heat, Thunder, Clippers (maybe) and Spurs (maybe maybe). Everyone else is already relegated to “also-ran” status and should just wait out the LeBron era.
You wanna know the baseball 5 percent theory? It’s pretty simple: Every team, every year thinks they have a shot at winning the title if the pieces fall together correctly and they catch a break. There are only 5% of teams in the league right now who are not confident in their 2013 outlook (I don’t want to name names, but some small bears and some stars come to mind). Every General Manager and executives office is trying to make their team better heading into 2013. That said, the conversations between general managers in both sports looks entirely different.
Consider that when basketball’s biggest star (Lebron) switched teams before the 2010 season, his new team was an instant title contender and his old team was left to clean up the posters of their guy. The old team (Cavs) set a record for consecutive losses, while the new team (Heat) lost in the championship game. The parrallel in baseball did not follow the same basic guidelines. When the game’s best player (Albert Pujols) switched teams, his new team became an instant title contender with an ensemble of players talented, but unproven and with questions as to how they might fit into a coherent roster. His old team was left with a void it hoped to fill with a combination of a guy nicknamed “Fat Elvis” and a guy who had just filed his first year playing over half his teams’ games in 3 years. The old team won 7 postseason games and the new team failed to make the playoffs.
It’s that lack of a superstar transcending the field, that drives the 95% of baseball executives to make their team better every winter. The Cardinals just pushed the World Series champs to a Game 7 with Allen Craig as their cleanup hitter. Allen Craig.
Some saw the trade of James Harden from the Thunder as a forfeit of their Championship hopes for the next two years. Others saw it as a concession of the Heat’s superiority while doing the correct “basketball decision” with economics in mind. I see it as an effort to build a continuously competitive roster around one of the best scoring threats of the century. A baseball parallel seems like the Dan Uggla to the Braves trade before the 2011 season. The Marlins were unable to agree to a long term deal with Uggla and were able to get an everyday second baseman (that not everyone knows) and a reliever (that nobody knew). The move is seen as a selling of team assets, but receiving comprable talent in return makes the move understandable.
In basketball, with superior talent at a premium and 5 guys on the court at any given time, trading a household name is never advised.
Take the 2012 Oakland A’s as an example. They weren’t really supposed to compete this year and may have even been part of that 5% who didn’t have a chance in 2012, but they won the AL West and had a chance in the playoffs. Those things don’t happen in basketball. You either have the talent or you don’t. Bad teams rarely beat good teams. Good teams rarely turn into the 2012 Red Sox.
Basically, what I’m getting at is 2 fold:
- Baseball is great because everyone is trying to make their team better in both the long term and in fielding a competitive Major League squad
- Most basketball teams don’t have a shot this year, no matter how optimistic their coach pretends to be in the first weeks of the season.
Prediction of the Day: Josh Hamilton signs this winter for $128 Million over 6 years.