Go Team!

I am pretty sure I have mentioned it before, but baseball is far and away my favorite sport. It was always my favorite to play and now to watch. While I am probably more fanatical about the Redskins, Tommy and Catherine can testify to the intensity with which I watch baseball games. I am pretty sure I scared Catherine while watching a game last year.

It is around this time that discussions inevitably begin on the merits of baseball as a sport. And while I think arguments about which sport is better are fairly useless, and I am certainly not a good enough writer to convince anyone, Yglesias wrote something that I feel compelled to respond to.

In this post, Matt wrote:

"In addition (and I'm not a baseball fan, so I'm open to being corrected on this point) but my sense is that this is exacerbated by the fact that baseball is the least team-ey of the major team sports in that the players don't really need to cooperate actively in the way basketball and football players do."
I think this is wrong, and he does ask to be corrected. I submit that baseball is the most "team-ey" of the major team sports. While there is a lot of cooperation that I think Matt is ignoring, I will agree that baseball players don't appear to rely on each in the way that basketball players or football players do.

The reason I believe baseball to be the most "team-ey" sport is that baseball is the sport that is the most difficult for one player to individually win a game or championship. The pitcher clearly has the best opportunity to single-handedly win a game. He is involved in roughly half of all the plays, and if he is great can shut down an opponent's offense. The problem is that he contributes nothing offensively in the American League, and virtually nothing in the National.

Say you have a great pitcher, who has an era of 2. In order to have a high winning percentage his team needs average more than two runs a game. Lets also posit that this pitcher is also a good hitter and bats .300. So he averages a hit or so a game. Even if that hit is a home run, he still needs his team to supply the rest. This is neglecting what happens when the pitcher leaves the game, and the team relies on the bullpen.

Even if you had this super-pitcher, he only plays in about 1/3-1/4 of the total number of games in the season. For his team to make the post season, the rest of the team needs to be able to win without this game-changing player on the field.

This isn't to say that a player can't dramatically improve his team, I just believe less so than other sports. Putting Barry Bonds, or Roger Clemens on a baseball team doesn't immediately make that team a championship contender in the way that Michael Jordan or Wayne Gretzky did. The case is tougher to make in football, but I think Vince Young showed the impact one player can have on a season. I think that people would have radically different expectations for the Colts if they lost Peyton Manning.


  1. I think you may be misinterpreting Yglesias' point. It's not that baseball doesn't require everyone on the team to be good in order for the team to succeed, it's that cohesion, interaction, and running a system as a team are less important than they are in other sports. Obviously a pitcher and catcher need to have a high level of communication, but the rest of the players are doing their jobs individually and mechanically. There's a single best way for each individual to play the game at any given moment -- it's very rare when the choice is debatable about where to throw the ball. It's seeing how well individuals can follow an algorithm.

    So everyone on the team still needs skill, but the way in which they interact is less important. It's like a bowling team: everybody needs to put up a big score, but each player is an island unto his or her self.

    Football is coached the same way (everybody doing their individual job the right, predetermined way), but in practice a quarterback needs to get used to his linemen and a safety needs to know his corner's habits. Basketball and hockey obviously rely on tons of split second instincts and collaboration, since plays regularly break down.

    That's the point, I think. It's never seemed like much of a team sport to me.

  2. I think the amount of interaction in a sport is difficult to measure. I think that baseball has more interaction than you or Matt are giving it credit for. It would be difficult, and boring, to describe the ways in which team members interact, react, and rely on each other in a game.

    The only example I will give is that one of the concerns with Alfonso Soriano moving from second to left field, a position he has never played professionally, is that he is going to run into other players because he doesn't know how to interact with his team from that position.