Let’s start with a tip of my hat to Jim McLennan, who inspired this article with his roundtable questions, “Who’s responsible for this mess?” and, “What, if anything, can be done to get out of it?”
The visible challenge: This season, too many injuries happened to above-average Diamondback players. The injuries had a huge negative impact. The cause could be failed injury prevention. The Giants are older and this season had far fewer injuries. The Padres and the Rockies are sharing injury data (after it is anonymized) to give a bigger sample size in hopes of better use of data in injury prevention. Could the Diamondbacks work with the Giants, or the Padres/Rockies to reduce future injuries? In any case injuries can’t be eliminated, so what is the underlying challenge?
The root challenge: The team’s depth is shallow, meaning that there is usually only one top choice to play each specific position. Perhaps because of shallow depth, the Diamondbacks have asked players to play in different positions and different pitching roles. Although that gives an illusion of more depth, instead it is a tradeoff. To illustrate let’s look at center field. When Ketel Marte played center field instead of his natural position of second base, the tradeoff was that second base went from a potential All-Star performance to near last in the Majors. My view is that the in-game strategy of shifting players between positions does not eliminate the need for depth.
The contributing challenge: For several years, the Diamondbacks built the farm toward achieving their goal of a team that can sustainably compete every year. When that point is reached, they will confidently call up Majors-ready players when injuries happen. That point has not yet been reached.
Two subsequent challenges caused by the losing streak:
Trust is a challenge: Torey Lovullo said, “Trust is a big word in our organization.” He seemed to mean trust the data, and trust that success will happen. Trust could take a hit for two reasons: the losing streak and budget cuts.
- The long losing streak caused me to doubt that the Diamondbacks will reach my projected 80 wins. Nevertheless, as I wrote in last week’s roundtable, “my mind is open to possibilities.” My view is that long losing streaks cause fans to doubt that success will happen, weakening trust. Does this same idea apply to players?
- Many years ago, a survey was done in my organization. More than half the employees did not trust the top management. Prior to the survey, over several years, management continuously reduced the number of employees and reduced their operating budgets. (In case you were curious, I continued to enthusiastically work for them!) Similarly, it appears (I don’t have inside information and could be wrong) that the Diamondbacks have cut salaries, jobs, and operating budgets because of COVID impacts. Have these actions weakened trust?
Motivation is a challenge: Can the Diamondbacks continue to stay motivated? Although I like to think most Diamondbacks have mental strength, resilience, and agility to stay motivated no matter what, a long losing streak is a huge mental challenge.
To acquire insights on motivation, I read a bunch of internet articles about organizations bouncing back from failure. I felt like screaming, “Yech!” and, “Aaaaa!” Undaunted, eventually I found an article that provided insights, two of which I applied to a long losing streak. The insights follow:
Failure (aka a long losing streak) distorts your perception of the task and of the team. The task seems more difficult and the team seems less capable of winning. These changes can reduce motivation. The article suggested remembering past successes and recharging motivation by reconnecting to the reasons why you must succeed.
My view would suggest, “Be bold!” For me, that means to emotionally exert an extra effort to succeed assuming the task is more difficult (although it is probably not). Also, that could mean exert the effort to excel on the less capable team (although they are probably more capable than it seems).
During the season, baseball games happen nearly every day, so only a short time is available to restore any lost motivation. Therefore, having a tried-and-true go-to method to quickly restore motivation would a great advantage.
Positive thinking makes a difference. Think about the failure as a single incident in a specific situation that may not happen again. This type of thinking can be about the player or about the team.
Player: The article suggested focusing on causes that the player can change, such as was my plan deficient in some manner, was my preparation poor, and was my effort insufficient? The upside is that the player can impact what happens next time.
Team: My view is that each loss in the streak was because a different reason. For example, batting was inconsistent with runners in scoring position, a single play had a huge impact on win probability, the starting pitcher’s game score was low, relievers allowed too many runs, and the D-backs scored at least 5 runs but the other team scored more. Therefore instead of a long losing streak, it was a collection of losses for different reasons. Those reasons may not apply to the next game, so the streak is less intimidating.
Let’s end with some wisdom that applies to the five challenges.
“It’s all interconnected. Everything we do is interconnected.” — Joe Maddon, 3 April 2021