Tuesday, November 18, 2003

The Buzz: Busby, & Pitch Counts:
Chris & Dave & Long-Term Returns  

Reversing my normal direction, first the management tip, then the connection.

The act of coaching or training automatically provides the trainer a learning opportunity almost as great as that the trainee receives.

In normal organizations (that is, the norm, the average...normal doesn't mean healthy), managers don't like to spend time training their staff. Most would rather get their immediate work done. Because training is aimed at gaining long term, repetitive advantages in exchange for an investment that draws from the present, the immediate-gratification approach of managers undermines willingness to invest in training and education. The reasonable excuse, that the managers and executives above the managers-who-are-expected-to-train expect just as much work now whether the manager is investing in training or not, is a good excuse to erode the future in exchange for a little easier present..

And as Angus' First Law of Human Systems states: All human systems are self-amplifying.

Here's why: in the future the lesser-trained employees' flatter performance growth eats away at the manager's time, keeping her incentive up to keep grinding in the here-&-now and not investing in training. The more a manager ignores tending to performance growth potential, the more he's tied down trying to make up for it and the less likely he is to correct his past behavior. Death Spiral. (There are a lot of other applications for the First Law of Human Systems, but I'll leave those for other times).

I have seen many organizations eat themselves alive this way, a cell or two at a time.

┬┐Where's the Baseball?

Organizations that want to succeed invest in participants' potential. Baseball organizations are stellar examples of personnel development, with plans (some teams are prescribed, some ultra-rigorous, but all have development plans). Baseball is a better nurturer of talent, and a better trimmer of low-potential than large non-baseball organizations are. If a minor leaguer gets to a certain age without mastering some measurablee skills (usually off a checklist), they let him go. More investment, more winnowing, more effectiveness. I'm not arguing, btw, that baseball organizations don't mess up all the time, trying to promote someone who ends up never succeeding, or refusing to promote someone who's performing but is chronologically older than the checklist allows.

The event that brought this to mind was yesterday's e-mail exchange with Chris Hand. When he sent me the Steve Busby pitching lines he'd found on Retrosheet after I'd already invested time on that site but couldn't find any, I asked him if he'd be willing to explain what path he'd taken to get there. Like most effective researchers, he knows how he got there, but doesn't automatically have a number-list of steps in his immediate memory. So out of the spirit of collaboration, he went back to document it for me, and while stepping through his research path, was writing it down for me (not reprinted here) and bo and lehold! when he did, he found an additional path he hadn't considered...in his words:

I could've also gone from the team page to the roster page to Busby's page. And now in redoing it, I completely forgot about:
http://www.retrosheet.org/boxesetc/PX_busbs101.htm which lists his "Top Performances." And upon looking closer I got one 200 pitch game tracked down that I completely missed the first time around, because I was only looking at 73 & 74.

Kansas City Royals    IP     H  HR   R  ER  BB   K BFP
Busby W(11-5)         12    12   0   2   1   3   6  50!

The act of documenting for me (training) slowed him down (turned him away from research/exploration, and put him in a descriptive, precise zone). Once there, he found a path he'd forgotten about. And we both benefited, because he increased his own craft (remembering), increased mine (with the training I received), and added to the content with a game that's more certain than the others to have gotten to the now-probably-not-apocryphal 200 pitch Busby game alluded to by Bill James in raking Jack McKeon.

And how do I know this game has a great chance of having gotten to 200 pitches? Because someone else wanted to teach me something. Dave, who is the modest operator of the Baseball Graphs site I go to to look up Win Shares (Bill James latest measure -- about which I'm still agnostic -- but in which I'm very interested), had seen Chris' game lines and wrote to me to point out TangoTiger's page on pitch estimators (warning: for my less math-oriented readers, you probably don't want to go there), which I had forgotten about. TangoTiger's basic pitch count estimator (he has another, more involved one I don't have the data at my fingertips to apply) estimates Busby would have thrown 203 pitches in that Trail of Tears. So it's about as likely as not that McKeon left Busby in a 1975 game to throw 200 pitches.

Now Baseball Graphs Dave hasn't gotten anything out of this yet, unlike Chris and (especially) me. Let's hope he does. Maybe he gets to work for one of those abnormal (that is, healthy) organizations that will invest in training now to get continual small (or bigger) returns in the future.

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