As many of you–if not all of you–know by now, I’m an English teacher in real life. Teaching is all about adjusting a process in the hopes of better results. Sure, I use the same general formats and texts for my lessons year over year, but every year, my coteacher and I have to tweak them to better suit the kids in front of us. And while we have certain tools, tricks, techniques, and tactics to deploy, none will guarantee perfect results every time. Such is the nature of teaching. Baseball, similarly, features a similar interplay of process and results: they don’t always match up.
You can sting the ball perfectly…and it’ll go right to someone; you can call on the right guy at the right time…and he gets lit up. Conversely, you can squib a ball in front of the plate and wind up on base; you can throw a hanger and the batter could whiff. It’s a part of the game we’ve all come to accept and embrace, both on the field and off. Yesterday, Yankees GM Brian Cashman spoke about process, results, and how those things fit into the team’s organizational philosophy:
While there are a lot of words in there–Cashman spoke for nearly two minutes–I found the response to be lacking. In fact, I found it to kind of be a bit of a rambling word salad. He sounded like one of my students who knows the basic facts of something, knows the general form his answer is supposed to take, but has trouble going beyond the surface and actually analyzing or interpreting said facts.
What I say beyond this comes with an obvious caveat. I’m not inside the Yankees’ organization and don’t know what the internal workings look like there. But that applies to pretty much everything I and we say about baseball. If we’re going to limit comments on things because we don’t have inside access, we may as well not comment at all beyond watching the games and rooting for the teams.
The Yankees have been a good team for a long, long time. The entirety of Brian Cashman’s run as GM has seen them make the playoffs in all but four years. That is a remarkable streak of success, especially in the face of a game that has changed a lot in that twentysomething year span. Certainly, that’s evidence of adaptability in the face of a game that’s much harder to win now than then. But are they good enough at it? While we can’t see inside and say that for sure, look at what keeps happening. Every year, the Yankees are bounced from the playoffs by the same teams and every game and every series feel exactly the same. It’s the same disappointing result over and over again.
Since the Yankees last made and won the World Series in 2009, they’ve watched their chief rival win two championships while remaking the team multiple times. They’ve seen their other big rival win one championship and make it to four of the last six. They’ve seen another club become a regular season juggernaut and win one championship and make it to two others.
In missing out on the World Series beyond 2009, the Yankees have the company of about half the league. That’s obviously not a small number, but none of the teams can boast of the year over year success the Yankees have, which makes their failure to reach the fall classic even once a little more acute.
Winning a World Series is incredibly hard and only one team gets to do it every year. And in baseball, things just happen differently than they do in other sports. It’s subject to more variance, more randomness and more than the other sports, good process doesn’t guarantee good results. However, when the lack of a championship is explained the same way every year–‘we had good process, things just didn’t break our way’–fans are likely to be frustrated and less likely to keep trusting that process. A process can be good and yield less than desirable results, but if the process keeps spitting out less than desirable results, might it be time to change that process?
Whatever process the Yankees are using, it’s yielding generally good results. Like I said, they make the playoffs virtually every year. But all their actions off the field and their execution on it smacks of ‘good enough.’ For a team that espouses a championship or bust mentality, good enough is not good enough.
You want to be a good team and compete every year? Go for it. That’s what every team should strive for and what every fanbase should want. But if what’s going to keep happening is the same thing that’s been happening for the last decade plus, then stop blowing smoke with the ‘championship or bust’ mentality. It doesn’t seem like the process speaks to that stated goal. As for the results? Well, it’s the lack thereof that does all the talking.