“Leadership” in sports is something that is completely unquantifiable.
In baseball, there is no formula to calculate it. There is no way to rationally judge how good a “leader” someone is, and there is no way to prove how valuable “leadership” is with regard to win totals.
Yet, professional baseball players and managers talk about the need for “leadership” in a way that makes it seem vital to success.
In fact, Phils pitchers Roy Halladay and Jonathan Papelbon believe in this theory so strongly, they made it a point to mention it yesterday in Clearwater.
“Since I’ve been here I haven’t seen any leadership,” said the Phils’ closer yesterday.
Halladay echoed that.
“The big thing for me is when I first came over, we always had such good teams that there wasn’t a real sense of urgency because they always felt like it was a matter of time before they took over the division,” Halladay told Mandy Housenick of The Morning Call on Wednesday. “Now the division’s getting better and I just think there needs to be more of a sense of urgency at the start of the year and especially in spring training. We’ve got to try and win games in spring training. It’s hard to flip the switch. We’ve had guys that have been talented enough and could always just flip the switch when they had to. That’s got to change.”
Huh. One pitcher has won a World Series and the other would cut off his own finger (actually, probably one of yours, since he needs his to pitch and all) to pitch in one. Both believe the Phils lacked leadership last year, implying that there were too many guys who just coasted, resting on the belief that their history and past performance would guarantee them a spot in the postseason. Halladay continued…
“I thought that we lost some presence,” he said. “You lose Raul [Ibanez] and Jayson Werth and [Roy] Oswalt. It’s just a different presence when you’re on and off the field. I’m most excited about Mike Young because he brings an intensity.”
“Every good team that I’ve been a part of has had a good core group of veterans and an influx of a good group of young guys and I think that’s a recipe for success,” he said. “But at the same time, that doesn’t mean we’re going to have success. In my opinion, this team has way more to lose than to prove. I think a lot of guys on this team have proved a lot. But I think this year if we don’t go out and do what we’re capable [of] and supposed to do, then we have a lot more to lose.”
But how much of last year’s failure was the result of a lack of leadership, and how much was because their three franchise players, Halladay, Chase Utley and Ryan Howard, all missed huge portions of the season due to injury?
Oh, and Chad Qualls of course.
The lack of talent on the field and a failure to execute between the lines likely has had more to do with the teams’ recent descent to mediocrity than a lack of clubhouse speeches and rah-rah tendencies.
However, maybe we shouldn’t totally rule out the effect a lack of leadership has on a baseball clubhouse. Halladay and Papelbon are, after all, veteran players who are in the clubhouse every day, and both are directly linking success to leadership in the clubhouse.
Both men talked about some guys on the team think they can just “flip a switch” and all of a sudden play winning baseball.
Perhaps, more than “leadership,” what Halladay and Papelbon are really talking about is “focus.” This is a game played by human beings, after all, and human beings sometimes need external motivation in order for them to concentrate and play better.
Or, so Papelbon and Halladay would have us think.
Still, an uptick in “leadership” couldn’t hurt, especially when times get tough. Darren Daulton is often credited with being the glue that pushed the ’93 team to the NL pennant, and in the past Chase Utley has been credited with making it impossible for others in the clubhouse to slack off or lose mental focus, merely by exhibiting his own relentless drive to succeed.
How much of that is folk lore and how much of it actually resulted in more wins is obviously up for debate.
It’s hard to know exactly what Papelbon and Halladay are looking for. And, if they need it so badly, why don’t they provide it?
This is not a criticism of the two veteran pitchers. They obviously believe something has been missing.
But what they say has been lacking is not something one can quantify, which makes it an idea that is really difficult to fully get behind.
At the end of the day, the Phils’ ability to improve their on-base percentage, score more runs, stay healthy, pitch more effectively, and play solid defense, will likely have much more to do with their playoff chances in 2013 than whether or not anyone in the clubhouse is able to step up and be a “leader.”
Unless, of course, Chase threatens to murder everyone who fails to put up a 2.0 WAR by the end of the season.