Friday, August 22, 2003


Nothing is so easy as to deceive one's self. What we wish for,
we readily believe -- Demosthenes

One of the most common failures of managers is MBWT (Management by Wishful Thinking). One current eye-popper hasn't happened yet, but the talk around Seattle Mariner land is that they want to turn their excellent young reliever, Rafael Soriano, into a starter.

Soriano is putting up stats as a reliever that are borderline unbelievable. Here are his last 10 appearances:

8/2 CWS W 10-0 1.0 0 0 0 0 1 3 15 -- 1.40
8/3 CWS W 8-2 2.0 1 1 1 0 5 7 34 -- 1.63
8/6 @CLE L 6-10 1.0 0 0 0 0 2 3 15 -- 1.57
8/8 @NYY L 7-9 1.2 1 0 0 0 1 5 21 -- 1.48
8/10 @NYY W 8-6 1.1 0 0 0 0 1 4 14 W(2-0) 1.42
8/12 TOR W 3-1 1.1 0 0 0 0 2 4 15 -- 1.36
8/14 TOR L 2-5 3.0 1 0 0 0 4 10 39 -- 1.25
8/17 BOS W 3-1 0.1 0 0 0 0 1 1 3 -- 1.24
8/20 @TOR L 2-5 0.2 0 0 0 0 1 3 15 -- 1.22
8/21 @TOR L 3-7 1.0 1 0 0 0 2 5 23 -- 1.18
Data Source: STATS, Inc. Copyright 2003 STATS, Inc.

In these 10 outings, he's pitched 13 1/3rd innings, given up 4 hits, walked none and struck out 20, over one-and-a-half strikeouts per inning (strikeout king Randy Johnson whiffs about one per inning). And these were good teams...except for Cleveland, these opponents were all at or above .500.

Soriano's certainly in a groove. He's composed, self-contained, and throws an incredibly difficult to see (very fast) fast ball. And he has one other pitch, a slider, that's decent. But he basically has only two pitches. Most starters have three, and for a good reason (if you know this already, skip to the next paragraph). Starters need three or more pitches because they will face the same hitter multiple times, and a decent starter needs to change the sequence each time he sees a hitter in a game (or the hitter will be able to guess what's coming -- a big advantage). Relievers don't need as many good pitches because they see a hitter once per game.

Last year, the Ms fell in love with how effective Soriano was in two outings as a reliever so they decided to make him a two-pitch starter. The logic was you can get more innings out of a starter than a reliever, so why not get more Soriano innings? Well, he was sorta adequate sometimes, and then he started getting hammered. So instead of having a great reliever, they had an ordinary, so-what starter who looked increasingly demoralized.

This year, given a very good starting rotation (better than last year) and a relief corps with some high points, but performing less well than last year (and with their marquee closer clearly not at 100%), you'd think the Mariners would be overjoyed to have Soriano in the bullpen. But they wish he was a three-pitch pitcher so they could use him as a start and get more innings out of him. It's pure Management By Wishful Thinking.

MBWT is much worse outside of baseball.

I think that's because most things in baseball are measurable, and measured. Outside of baseball, most things aren't measured. I once worked in a technical documentation group managed by a great technical writer who was a totally hopeless manager. When he had been a writer, before he got promoted, he worked very slowly and systemically. He didn't produce very many manuals, perhaps two or three a year, but when he passed them off to the editor, there were no typos or layout problems. I worked differently. I produced 13 manuals in 15 months, but I had a high tolerance for ambiguity...my proofreading skills were below average for a copyeditor (and while I'm better now, if you read this blog often, you know I still miss some typos). And for a person good at spotting cosmetic flaws, it was very quick to find and fix. Since I could produce over twice as much product as anyone else who worked for him in an environment where he struggled to fulfill all the incoming requests, a rational person might think he'd be content with high output with some easy to fix cosmetic flaws. He wasn't. He wished I could produce at the high rate but with great proofreading skills. He insisted proofreading was easy and that it wouldn't slow me down. He was practicing MBWT.

Lots of managers do this, hiring someone in an emergency situation and then imagining that person will be a cure-all for their problems. Decent managers understand that everyone has strengths and weaknesses, and that to best propel the organization, you manage people to optimize the use of their strengths, minimize the use of their weaknesses, and, to make time to see if some weaknesses can be corrected.

Less-than decent managers Manage by Wishful Thinking.

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