Tuesday, May 25, 2004

The Toronto Blue Jays' Flexible Staffing Blueprint  

Baseball has a lot to teach most organizations when it comes to staffing, division of work, elaborating job descriptions and breaking up job descriptions and re-designing them to meet evolving needs.

Most non-baseball organizations are slower and stickier than pine tar in an Alaskan Winter League when it comes to their ability to re-align jobs to squeeze more advantage out of the staff they have. In your own organization, do you ever have a hard time staffing the most important urgent projects while finding yourself with excess capacity in flat areas? Well, then examine the parallel case of baseball's Toronto Blue Jays.

In the off season, they signed eccentric intellectual, published novelist & poet Miguel Batista to be their #3 or #2 starting pitcher in a three-year deal. The team's farm system is loaded with pitchers they believe will be fine or better in the future, so Batista was seen as a bridge to get them to the time the minor leaguers could surface. That plan was based on the Jays' front office's assumption that their bullpen would be okay this year.

The pen wasn't, struggling so far and leaving the Jays about 9-½ games back as of this morning. So maniacal Toronto beat writer Richard Griffin has come up with a very insightful flexible staffing idea, based on his assumption the team is toast this year. Now I don't agree they're toast, but this is a rebuilding team with lots of young talent that was strongly considered not in the running for this year but aimed at the future. A quick start might have put them into contention, at least psychologically, but this .400 (18-27) Spring makes that look very unlikely. And in Batista's 10 starts, the team is 4-6, with his last four starts alternating good and bad.

Griffin's proposal, and I wouldn't be surprised if the Jays hadn't already thought of it, is later in the season to move Batista into the bullpen, where he's been used in his career before, and effectively, and bring up the young arms to take his starts. Griffin didn't throw any hard data at the thought, but I will. Here are Batista's consolidated performances as starter and reliever from 2001-2003, courtesy ESPN, w/the exception of the RAT column (ratio of baserunners per 9 innings), which I added:














As Starter













As Reliever













Statistically, he's a little better as a reliever, with a lower RAT () and yielding a lower batting average and a lower ratio of home runs. Batista is also a class "team guy", suggesting in the Griffin article he'll gladly do whatever will help his team. Griffin's suggestion that they prep Batista at the end of this season and then have him take over the closer's role next year.

It's hard to swallow because Griffin is one of those snarly sportswriters who likes to intentionally rile up readers and fans with hyper-aggresive assertions. It sells papers and scares small pets. But his position in this case has much virtue; he's seen something that skilled front offices see and act on all the time, though bad ones don't. Bad front offices never look under the label, assuming because when they acquired a player, and they labeled him a shortstop or a starter or a middle-of-the-lineup batter, that to shift him to a different role would cost them "face".

For a weak front office, the label becomes the player, and the player himself disappears, objectified, frozen like a fly in amber, rpeserved int he viewer's perception and dead as a frelling doornail.

In baseball's strong front office's, players are individuals, taken as they are with all their actual history, potentialities and ability to change and grow.


Outside of baseball, frankly, almost all management teams are like the weak baseball front offices. "Flexible staffing" usually means laying off a third of the workforce and shipping half of what's left to a Communist China prison-labor camp. The skill of tweaking job descriptions or shifting roles based on knowing each staffers' strengths and experiences, and in response to shifting priorities and opportunities, is pretty rare among managers outside of baseball.

But the Blue Jays' situtation is a fecund analogy.

If you have contributors who are achievement-oriented, why not shift them around to take advantage of opportunities? And if you have "contributors" who are not achievement-oriented, or managers who won't get beyond job titles or pre-conceived designs for getting work done well, why are you letting them plaque up your organization?

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