A new book about the Houston Astros 2017 World Series run, Astroball, was recently released. The author, Ben Reiter, had written an article for Sports Illustrated in 2014 that had accurately predicted they would be champions in 2017. One of the chapters focuses on the signing of Carlos Beltran before the season and the idea of demographic fault lines in a team dynamic.
A fault line, in geological terms, is a break or fracture in the ground that occurs when the Earth’s tectonic plates move or shift and are areas where earthquakes are likely to occur. A demographic fault line would then be a difference within a group – philosophical, religious, ethnic, etc – that eventually leads to a confrontation or argument. Two academics, Kate Bezrukova and Chester Spell, witnessed a Japanese team in 2009 that had players from around the world on it, but still managed to come together to win a championship. They then directed their research towards studying Major League Baseball teams for the same thing. The pair discovered any number of things that could be a fault line within a team and the differences could lead to a focus what was dubbed a task-irrelevant cue – such as competition and/or distrust between the sub-groups vs a focus on just winning.
The researchers estimated the fault lines could lead to three extra wins or three extra losses – a six win swing. That’s on a 162 game season, so in basketball terms when the season is maybe 30 games, that’s more of a 1-2 win swing (note: that’s simply a proportional estimate, not based on a study of fault lines in basketball teams). But that’s significant in a sport where post season tournaments are one and done. One or two more wins and you win a conference title, go to the sweet 16 or win a national title.
The article goes on to talk about how Carlos Beltran had consciously or not become an expert in finding and fixing fault lines on a team. And how critical this was to the Astros’ success even though a number of critical players had never played in the World Series before.
While StatGeek can undoubtedly tell you who statistically works well together. You know the personalities on your team so think about your fault lines and how you and your team leaders may be able to fix them to make that one or two win difference this season.