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Monday, March 19, 2012

Socrateams

Today I want to talk about the internal philosophies of individual sports franchises.  Hang with me, folks... there will be a payoff.  In ancient Greece there were many great philosphers, and one of the most famous is Socrates.  Socrates was credited with the creation of the somewhat eponymously-named "Socratic Method."

When you really boil it down, the socratic method is a series of questions and answers that help a person or group of people to narrow down what they truly believe and what is really important to them.  This sort of questioning must be very thoughtful to be of value, and great organizations engage in it all of the time.  Even sports teams.

The teams that jump immediately to mind are the Minnesota Twins and the Pittsburgh Steelers.  I feel like these are just a couple of organizations that have genuinely questioned their goals and tactics over time to determine their focus and chart a path forward.

First the Twins.  When you think of Twins hitters what do you think of?  Batting titles.  Rod Carew.  Kirby Puckett.  Joe Mauer.  There is an internal philosophy in the Twin Cities that has been developed internally over time, intentionally.  They knowingly and purposefully suppress their own players' power hitting skills in favor of spraying line drives to all fields.  It works for them.

I contend that players that are raised by the Twins routinely hit for a higher average and lower power numbers than with other teams.  One of their best power hitters was Kent Hrbek, but even he only amassed 293 home runs in 14 seasons.  His lifetime batting average?  A more than respectable .282.  What about Puckett?  207 dingers and a fantastic .318 average.  What do you think would have happen to these guys if they spent their careers as White Sox or Rangers?  I suspect that if Hrbek had been a southsider for 14 years he would have been right around 500 homers with a lifetime batting average down around .260 or so.  Heck, that would have made him a borderline hall of famer.

But let's bring it to the current day.  What should you expect from Joe Mauer, coming back (once again) from injury?  My prediction:  7 home runs and a .325 average.

What can we expect from someone like Michael Cuddyer?  Here's the payoff...  Cuddyer came to the Twins as a very high draft pick with tons of potential.  We saw a glimpse of his power potential in 2009 when he smacked 32 homers, but in over 4,000 MLB at bats he only has 141.  My guess is that his lifetime average of .272 will drop sharply but his home runs-to-at bat ratio will go up dramatically in Colorado.  How about 38 homers and a .252 average?  If he does that he's a great value on draft day.

Further evidence of this reality is the career of J.J. Hardy.  In Milwaukee he hit for power.  When he went to Minnesota he was instructed to hit line drives the opposite way.  When he got to Baltimore in 2011 he was doing his Minnesota Twins line drive thing in spring training when the hitting instructor asked him to cut that stuff out and start driving the ball for power.  The result?  A career high 30 home runs.  Great value in 2011 and another value still in 2012.

Okay, I'm running long but let's say a quick word about the gridiron.  There are reasons why the Steeler defense is always a good bet.  Even when you think they may be aging or ready for a down year, they always have guys step up.  It's hard to get this defense as a draft day value, but you can usually grab them with confidence that they will deliver.

I would encourage you to think critically about whether there are any guiding principles that direct a given team internally.  This can especially affect how free agents act or react coming from the organization or beginning their time within the organization.  There are value opportunities there for you.