Every year you hear a manager (or six) talking about how, this year, unlike in the past, his team is really going to be aggressive on the base paths. It’s more of a cliche than Best Shape of His Life, really. Everyone says they’re going to run more, pressure the other team more and take extra bases but once the season starts it’s the same old stuff. No one really runs anymore. Even now, in this allegedly speed-and-defense intensive era, actual base stealing is near historic lows. It’s all talk.
But at least the talk is getting more colorful! Mariners manager Scott Servais spoke with Larry Stone of the Seattle Times and characterized the Mariners’ alleged plan to run more in far more vivid terms than I can recall. The Mariners are talking about “creating some havoc,” to use Servais’ words. He said “A couple of our coaches said, ‘Let’s be uncomfortable.’ Let’s make them uncomfortable. Let’s be uncomfortable to play against.”
This reminds me of tech companies and the strategy of “disruption” or disruptive innovation. It’s an interesting concept. It’s not about innovating in some linear fashion or making things simply better or faster or cheaper. It’s about changing the game in some fundamental way which — and this is important — existing competitors can’t easily ape. Taking advantage of some previously unseen inefficiency in a market to which others simply cannot quickly adapt and which changes the competitive structure.
“Disruption,” however, is one of the most overused words in business and technology. It’s a branding strategy more than an actual business strategy. It’s a term which appears all over the social media profiles of marketing people and consultants but a concept that, in reality, is actually pretty rare in practice. The same goes for baseball and aggressive running games. Everyone talks about it all the time. Occasionally someone does it, like the Royals I suppose. But as we’ve noted here in the past, the story of the Royals isn’t so much a “disruptive” strategy as it’s “having a lot of really good baseball players.”
Which brings us back to the Mariners. I’m not sure that a team with mediocre players simply running more can be disruptive or, to use Servais’ words, “create havoc” or make the opposition “uncomfortable.” All the opposition has to do is keep an eye out for it and, using its superior personnel, stop ’em. Unlike in technology, the only way to really make baseball teams which have been in this business for 150 years “uncomfortable” is to put better players than they have on the field. The Mariners haven’t done that yet. They aren’t disrupting anything.