Baseball Teams And Credit Unions Can Win At The Margins

Credit unions can’t match resources with their big bank competitors, but they can still be outstanding in their field.

 
 

It’s that season again, board planning sessions and playoff baseball. Both mean that this numerical illiterate finds himself buried deep in data trying to tease out an actionable insight or two. This year’s take – what’s the long play of efficiency? Is it resource husbandry or dumb luck? A competitive advantage or a hidden risk factor?

Let’s take baseball. In terms of their records, the two best teams are the Chicago Cubs in the National League and the Texas Rangers in the American League. The Cubbies have the best record and have raised hopes among the faithful that this will not turn out to have been their 108th consecutive season of “rebuilding.” They won 103 regular season games and outscored their opponents by a whopping 252 runs. When you take into consideration their 58 losses, each by a minimum of one run, the Cubs’ average margin of victory in the games they won was — at minimum — more than three runs per game.

The Rangers are a very different kettle of fish. With 95 victories, they are tied with the Washington Nationals for the second-best regular season campaign. But they only outscored their opponents by a total of eight runs. Over 162 games. Using the same math as for the Cubs would give the Rangers an average margin of victory of an impossible 8/100ths of a run.  Obviously, their average loss was greater than the minimum of one run a game.  In fact, their average losing margin had to be greater than their average margin of victory.

Of course, offense in baseball is not a finite resource. Runs are not zero sum with each team given only a limited supply. But a hundred years of data analysis suggests that batting and scoring averages do converge on a predictable range, so resource management isn’t totally irrelevant. By that measure, the Rangers have been paragons of efficiency, rarely scoring more than the minimum necessary to accomplish their ends. The Cubs? Not so much.

Over the course of the season, Chicago had 252 “spare” runs from which to fashion a winning season. And they succeeded, posting the best record this year in Major League Baseball. But in the end, they only won eight more games than the Rangers, who managed their feat with a mere eight “spare” runs to play with. And here is where there may be some parallels for credit unions.

As a movement, we are a lot more like the Rangers. We don’t have a lot of spare offense sitting around waiting to be wasted on extravagantly large victories. Like Texas, we need to figure out how to pick up as many wins as we possibly can with our limited array of resources.

If I wasn’t already a believer in this, the planning sessions I’ve been facilitating would have converted me. Board member after board member is worried about costs, competition from big banks, or both. Like the rest of us, they know that big banks are spending bazillions to put credit unions out of business and they’re not sure what to do in response. Their guts tell them that they need home runs, but their heads tell them that they can’t afford All-Star sluggers.  

Credit union volunteers and professionals are a remarkable array of troupers, always willing to push forward, even against daunting odds. And this is where baseball can be reassuring, or even inspiring. Results like the Texas Rangers have achieved this year prove that good, strong, professional play can yield outstanding results even without flashy numbers. And isn’t that the basic credit union business equation?