This might be one of one posts that no one reads because the title is confusing. It might be one that no one reads because, well, no one reads this site anyway. But you never know – you might find it interesting so we’ll just put our heads down and push forward.
Anyone who knows us well knows that we have little pet theories for everything. It’s probably a futile attempt to understand and gain a modicum of control of the world around us (look, another theory) but who really knows for sure? What’s important is that the theories are there. Why not explore some of them?
Today’s theory is an attempt to discover what is most precious in various sports. Which resources – in economic terms – are those which should be prized over others? It should be noted that we were inspired by a bit in a post over at Redleg Nation:
Imagine two teams. These teams each have nine identical hitters. Team A has 9 hitters with an OPS of 1.000. Team B has 9 hitters with an OPS of 1.250.
These are awesome teams, both. But they come buy their OPS’s in very different ways.
The “hitters” on team A never get a hit. Their slugging is .000. But they walk every plate appearance. The hitters in on team B only hit homers and they hit them once every four at bats, so they bat .250 and slug 1.000.
Which team scores more runs?
The answer of course, it team A. Team B is an offensive force, good for 9 runs a game. But team A never makes an out, so desptie the lower OPS, they score an infinite number of runs.
What a fascinating (to us anyway) thought experiment! It beautifully showcases what the most valuable resource in baseball is: the out. Each team only gets 27 of them in a regulation game. No matter how clever your manager is or how talented your players are, the minute you get your 27th out, the game is over.
Looking at it from that point of view we find it hard to argue with the notion at, all things being equal, a baseball team that minimizes the number of outs it creates will be more successful than one that doesn’t. All things are not equal of course, but we would argue that the only reasonable strategy one could take in managing a ball game would be one that applies no matter how good your players are. Teams with good players can throw away outs and not be punished for it as often as a less-talented team, but make no mistake: they’re still punished.
This is all just to set up our next discussion. What is football’s version of the out? Is it a down? A possession? A play? Nice try, but no. It’s probably obvious to both of you who are still reading that in football, basketball, hockey, and most other sports the finite resource is time.
No matter how good a head coach is and how talented his players are, when the last second of the last minute of the game runs out the game is (almost always) over. So is the best team the team that runs the most plays possible, or is it the team that most efficiently uses the limited time it has?
It’s an interesting question, because unlike baseball where each team gets 27 outs, in football the two teams share the time available. This, we theorize, makes the question of resource management much more complicated. How does a team most efficiently use time? Is a team that controls the clock and has a powerful defense (like the late 80′s/early 90′s Giants) more efficient than a team that operates at breakneck speed (like Chip Kelly’s Oregon teams) and scores as quickly as it can? In college football the trend seems to be – complaints from Nick Saban and Bert Bielema notwithstanding – moving towards fast-paced, no-huddle offenses. In college basketball the average pace seems to be slowing down. Which is more efficient?
To be honest, we have no idea. But we’re very curious.