Exploiting inefficiencies has been all the rage the last decade, starting with Billy Beane's prioritization of OBP and continuing with Andrew Friedman's success emphasizing defense. You could argue that Neil Huntington has tried to exploit opportunity in the amateur draft over the last several years, with the results still TBD.
Over at Baseball Prospectus, Ben Lindberg argues today that the next inefficiency could be in-game management, which he estimates could make a difference of up to 3 wins per year. Imagine Dan Fox sitting next to Clint Hurdle in the dugout and telling him that the statistically prudent move would be to have Pedro Alvarez lay down a suicide-squeeze bunt with Rod Barajas on third.
Whether in-game management is an inefficiency worth 3 games a year, I'm not sure. But I think it raises two questions: 1) What are the next inefficiencies in baseball? 2) Are those inefficiencies significant enough to make a demonstrable difference in wins?
I raise this because it's imperative for small-to-mid-market teams like the Pirates to unearth innovative and sound strategies for generating wins, and the opportunities to significantly and consistently impact the standings may be dwindling. Several writers/experts have suggested that the new wave of smart GMs around baseball will reduce the effectiveness of inefficiency exploitation, which Lindberg summarizes nicely:
We’ve established that teams are getting smarter. It’s becoming increasingly difficult for them to discover something their competitors don't already know. And as I wrote in December, “the less variation there is among GMs, the stronger the correlation between spending and winning will become.”
We'll see a MLB team in Wheeling, WV, before we see a salary cap, so how do the small-market teams like the Pirates consistently find a way to compete with the large-market clubs? Exemplary drafts on an annual basis? Acting like a wealthy team and signing big-ticket free agents? Increased reliance on specialization? More post-game concerts by Styx? Luck?
The general question may be rhetorical: The best inefficiencies are ones that haven't gone mainstream, so we'll be hard pressed as fans to come up with the answer. But it will be interesting to see if Huntington and Co. are smart enough to produce new solutions in an increasingly difficult landscape.