The Great Momentum Debate, Round 7
Of Shoes, and Ships, and Halladay, and Ron Artest, and Wings
An eloquent and thoughtful response, Jay. A Sage you are indeed.
For my repost, I will start with the motivation issue. Certainly itís true that baseball players are human and are affected by a whole variety of emotions. But it is equally true that baseball players are professionals. In any profession, the people who are the most successful are the ones who are the most dedicated and consistently motivated. The individuals you would find at the top of every profession, whether it is finance, law, journalism, medicine, music, politics, engineering, etc.., are the ones who go to work every day knowing that they simply have to perform to nothing short of their utmost. The same is true of athletesóand major league ballplayers are the ones at the very top of their profession. They are the cream of the crop of the cream of the crop. Sheer talent isnít enough to make it to, and stick in, the big leagues. What it takes is superior talent along with equally superior competitiveness and motivation. These guys are just wired differently than your ordinary Joe. So although they are not robots, there is a vast difference between the mindset you and I might have playing casual softball, and the mindset of a successful major leaguer in the middle of a pennant race.
Regarding the question of whether it is winning a title or earning money which motivates big leaguers moreówell I would say itís a bit of both. But neither of those helps your cause at all. If itís winning that athletes care about, then they will go out there for every at-bat or start and give their best to try and win, as long as winning a title is even remotely possible. If itís money, then they will always try their hardest. As for your Clippers example, that actually makes my point. The real problem of teams like the Clippers isnít a lack of effort; itís a lack of talent. The Clippers are simply a poorly-constructed franchise. On losing teams like that, guys are selfish and try to pad their own stats (to cash in on them down the line) rather than playing a team game. And on the other end, they donít play defenseóbut defense doesnít really show up in the stats, so it doesnít cost them on an individual basis. The classic example of this is Ricky Davis shooting on his own basket just so he could get a rebound he needed for a triple double. Overall, though, I would say your analogy is mostly irrelevant because we all agree that momentum does have a significant place in basketball.
Your other basketball analogy is more illustrative in this case. When a player blocks a shot on one end and finishes with an emphatic score (usually a dunk) on the other end, there is a very real reason for it. Itís because after the block there is usually a scramble for the ball and the player who got the block is able to run out in transition unguarded and get an easy dunk. After that, the other team will be more conscious of the player as a shot-blocker and will be hesitant to drive into the paint, thus reducing their offensive efficiency. This is an example of how in basketball one event has a causal connection to another, and how one play can set off a whole chain of events. I agree, thatís momentum. In baseball, there is nothing similar. If I see the guy in front of me reach on a hustle infield single, that really doesnít enhance my ability to reach base at all.
Consider the Roy Halladay storyóletís imagine a comparable situation in basketball. Say youíre a slashing Small Forward, and youíre about to face the Houston Rockets, and be guarded by Ron Artest. If youíre weak-minded, you might take a negative view of the situation and play tentatively against Artest. When you get the ball, you dribble, dribble, take a step inside, see some help defense, step out and settle for a bad jumper. But if youíre tough youíll say ďIím taking Artest to the hole,Ē take a hard first step and draw contact. Thatís an example of how in basketball you actually behave differently and achieve different results depending on your attitude. But how would this work against Roy Halladay? Does not being afraid of Halladay make you better equipped to hit his fastball? Does it speed up your swing? Does it give you a better eye, or better hand-eye coordination? I really donít see it. The reality is you canít all of sudden become better at hitting a baseball just because you want to be. If desire could make you better, Iíd be the best player in the world. The putrid Jeff Francoeur probably wants to succeed more than anyone in the world, but itís his batting approach that makes him fail. He can leg out infield singles 20 times in a row, and watch Brian McCann and Chipper Jones reach base ahead of him every time. But when he comes to the plate on the 21st time, he will not be any better a hitter unless he learns to lay off the slider in the dirt and the shoulder-high fastball, and will not be any more likely to get a hit than he was before all the infield singles. So while you claim that being afraid or not afraid of Roy Halladay makes the difference between 25% or 30%, I fail to see where the 5% difference really comes from.
Ultimately, though, Jay, you are the one who sticks the fatal sword in your own gut. At first you admit that you donít expect to see any evidence of a systematic trend of momentum among pitchers, but then you claim that winning breeds more winning.
But if ďwinning breeds more winningĒ, then we MUST see a quantifiable effect somewhereóotherwise itís all just a hypothetical with no connection to what really happens in Major League Baseball.
As to your concluding argumentó- players say all sorts of things. This is tautological, and really isnít evidence at all. Journalists put players on the spot and players are forced to say something for fear of sounding dumb, so they respond with some clichť. Besides, when players are asked about their goals for a season or game or their careers, theyíll often say something like ďIím going to go out there and give everything I haveĒóa statement that would seem to dispute your construction of momentum.