Saturday, January 31, 2004
That last entry about Willie Mays attracted a lot of interesting posts at Baseball Primer, as well as some insightful e-mail, many of which asked the question, "So when do you retire yourself or push the decison on someone else who seems to be overstaying his contributions?"
I encourage you to take the path of John Smoltz, who is neither going gentle in that good night nor hanging on as a merely a fan favorite with nothing to offer.
After eleven consecutive years as a net-positive starting pitcher for the Atlanta Braves, he suffered an injury that limited the number of innings he could throw. The Braves' management caluclated a way to use what innings Smoltz could pitch in a way they considered his appearances would be highly leveraged: They made him their closer.
In the last three seasons he's been the Braves' primary closer & he's been as successful as before (if not a little moreso), in this late career shift:
W L G GS SV
IP H R HR BB SO _ERA __*lgERA ERA+
2001 3 3 36 5 10 59.0 53 24 7 _10 57 3.36 4.41 131
2002 3 2 75 0 55 80.3 59 30 4 24 85 3.25 4.11 127
2003 0 2 62 0 45 64.3 48 9 2 8 73 1.12 4.16 371
It's fascinating that an individual can make this transition and be just as good. The mental aptitude set you need to be consistently-good starter is very different from those required to be a successful high-pressure relief pitcher. The chess-game aspect of the game is different, the mental and emotional cues you need to use as a starter or reliver are nearly opposites. Yes, the physical game is similar (not identical), and many of the strategic overlays and fundamentals are the same, but they really are quite different.
Don't undermestimate the emotional shift required, too. As with many American people outside baseball, one's job becomes one's key identity for interacting with the the world (as in the near-universal-stranger-at-a-party opener, So what do you do?). Giving up that identity (and if you do it really well and people recognize you do it really well, that bit of orgone, too) is a monster challenge, tougher than getting Strom Thurmond in any of his last 24 years in the Senate to recognize what the topic being discussed was.
I think the trick of knowing when to change positions or retire is this: (A) Have some perspective on your life that extends beyond the tunnel-vision world of work, and (B) Have a vision that's concrete and not based on numbers outside your control, and (C) Make sure those measures don't involve what other people think of you or what you should accomplish, but match your own view of yourself.
That's exactly the Cosmic Wisdom Smoltz has.
Given Smoltz's psyche, which is dominated by a spiritual desire to be the best that he can be as a way to inspire others, he has more important things to worry about in baseball. Such as doing whatever it takes to help the Braves win a second world championship after flopping for much of their 12-year playoff run.
This is the stuff of great competitors. Great competitors prosper no matter what, and despite Smoltz spending most of his career battling injuries and hitters, he still manages to prosper. Great competitors also can tell you how they often dreamed as a youth of starring in the seventh game of the World Series along the way to sprinting into Cooperstown.
"My dreams strictly involved the seventh game of the World Series, and I never even thought about the Hall of Fame," said Smoltz, 37, recalling his days as a prolific athlete in his native Lansing, Mich. "In my back yard, all I did was pitch hundreds of games of the seventh game of the World Series. I made sure that I lost one of them, just to make sure that I would get some kind of reality." [snip]
A couple of questions, though: How long can Smoltz continue to ignore his aches and pains? He says he's healthy now after his elbow problems near the end of last season, but what about next season, and those after that? "I will retire before I even think about playing an extra year or two that might get me over the [Hall of Fame] hump," Smoltz said. "I will not hang on. I will not pitch beyond my year of competitiveness or even competence, just to get into the Hall of Fame. That's just the truth."
In your organization, how many managers and executives have their eye on some external recognition or mark of success (the Ferrari Testarossa, the trophy spouse, the dollar bonus or wealth accumulation target)? Too many, I'll guess.
For Smoltz, it's not the Hall of Fame (out of his control, external recognition). It's "being the best he can be" and pitching as long as he can be competitive. Thos are guildelines you can use yourself, and if you are struggling with someone in a key position who won't change jobs or retire, you can apply these guielines by trying to get that person to outline their goals and examine them to see if they're healthy.
I've had some success using guidelines close to these Smoltz ones to talk a frozen person though their thinking. And in some cases, people can awaken enough to overcome their fear of change. I said, "some". People, especially Americans, have a hard time differentiating their real identity and self from the way others see them (and the way they see themselves) through their work.
I won't guarantee you the Cosmic Wisdom of John Smoltz will save someone swirling the bowl too long, but it's the best construct I know for waking up the person plaquing up an organizationw ith their suspended animation.
Friday, January 30, 2004
One of the classic saws in baseball is about Willie Mays, he of one of the top ten careers of all time, "just played too long". Some people feel like he sullied his career by lingering too long and building up a silt of mediocrity over his great accomplishments. That feeling is just a flat-out illusion.
But it's an illusion with lots of staying power. If you doubt it, or you never heard this saw, go to a search engine, say Dogpile or Google, and enter the search terms "Willie Mays" "too long" (don't forget the quote marks). Not all the articles will claim Mays played too long, but you'll see lots. The truth has been forgotten under the story.
Mays' career trajectory was in parallel with others who lasted into their late 30s, except he started at such a high level that even deep in his tail off, he still contributed a lot more than most players. Here's the tail end of his career. The key offensive number is at the end of the row: OPS+, that is, his overall offensive contribution as a ratio of the league average player's.
Year Ag PA ...BA *lgBA .OBP *lgOBP
SLG *lgSLG OPS *lgOPS*OPS+
1968 37 573 | .289 .252| .372 .310| .488 .355| .860 .665| 157
1969 38 459 | .283 .257| .362 .327| .437 .381| .798 .708| 125
1970 39 566 | .291 .266| .390 .338| .506 .406| .897 .744| 140
1971 40 537 | .271 .257| .425 .323| .482 .377| .907 .700| 160
1972 41 309 | .250 .254| .400 .322| .402 .375| .802 .697| 131
1973 42 239 | .211 .260| .303 .329| .344 .387| .647 .716| 81
In 1972 at age 41, Mays was still producing an OPS+ of 131, that is, 131% (31% more) than an average batter's offensive production.
His single sub-standard year was at age 42, when he was a back-up for the 1973 Mets. And his bat, at 81% of average, was certainly sub-standard, but it was fewer than half a season's appearances. How many ballplayers, or people you've worked with in your own organization, stayed in a job for years and years after they had no contribution to make any more. Mays simply took a role as a sub for a final tour, and made some small contributions while not clogging up his team's accomplishments. The 1973 Mets got to, and then lost in the last game of, the World Series.
Those aren't great numbers he had, but they aren't out of line for fifth outfielders, and for teams that like a defensive gem rather than an offensive contributor on the bench, he might not even be out of line for a fourth OF. The big negative is that manager Yogi Berra chose to use him for 239 plate appearances when his offensive capabilities probably merited no more than 150, but that's having perfect 20-20 hindsight that no-one except Strat-O-Matic and APBA card set buyers get in distributing game time. The appearances he got cost Don Hahn (OPS+=62)and Jim Beauchamp (extra credit if you know how to pronounce his last name)(OPS+=89) some extra work, and it wasn't exactly a block to their careers.
And Mays wasn't even roster plaque that year. He still made defensive contributions. Here's his stat line for that final season.
Year Ag Tm Lg Pos G.. PO A E DP FP .lgFP RnF. lgRnF
1973 42 NYM NL OF 45 103 2 1 0 .991 .977 2.33 1.96
...............1B 17 143 4 3 9 .980 .992 8.65 8.40
lgFP .= League Average Fielding Percentage
RnF.. = Range Factor
lgRnF = League Average Range Factor at that position
At age 42, his range factor (how many balls did he get to per 9 innings) was 2.33 versus the league average 1.96 (about 18% better than the average center-fielder, a top 10-percentile effort). We can choose to dismiss that his fielding average was markedly higher than the league average's (991 to 977) because official scorers can control for that, and esteemed heroes like Mays can get a break in that category. He filled in at first base for 17 games and acquitted himself at a position not his own (he wasn't great, but he was well within the range of a sub).
Moreover, in 1973, Mays' team The New York Mets, went to the World Series, and in the playoffs and the Series, Mays hit 3-for-10 (all three just singles) with a couple of RBI. Not star quality, but not very costly. In his sole game appearance in the playoffs, with the series knotted at 2-2, Mays pinch hit and knocked in what proved to be the winning run that won the pennant..
The worst you can say about Mays' end-game is...pretty much nothing. He left the way most of us would want to; a long very successful career ending with an easy year of special projects in which he contributed to a winning team.
Beyond baseball, there are a lot of fine managers (and execs and line staff) who overstay their welcome, who don't have the good sense Willie Mays had. Succession planning is a nightmare, even for competent H.R. departments, especially if the one who doesn't know it's time retire is the head man (think Jack Welch, who plaqued-up his company's succession way beyond the time he had anything new to add and whose simplistic strategy was wonderfully effective at maximizing corporate returns, but like any corporate management strategy, has a point of failure when the shift to the next thing comes too late).
So what do you do about it? Think Willie Mays. Find a spot where the skilled but needs a change or to retire manager can contribute some given his or her current talents, a position that makes some difference and where a good effort will add value. If you can't find that in a big organization, you're not looking hard enough. Every team needs a fourth and fifth outfielder.
And what if the person is not at retirement age and has successes in the past, but has been lingering in the same position in a vortex of mediocrity for too long?
Then it's time to assess the aptitudes and skills they have and find them a new position whether they're going to cooperate or not. A new position can awaken the latent talent within. Sometimes that won't work. Sometimes the person is depressed (and sometimes that's for reasons outside of work). If the person has been or can be a contributor, you owe the effort to try to help. In big organizations, HR departments frequently have Employee Assistance Programs to provide for people with life problems, though my experirence with people in depressions for a long time is that part of the condition is to deny they have a problem.
I've worked with a depressed marketing manager who insisted on denying and trying to ride it out while taking down her entire department forever (she was fired, department outsourced). I consulted at a shop where the depressed person was a key contributor (not a manager) and she chose to get some help, and once she got some equilibrium, had the perspective to realize the job was making her nuts, and she changed positions within the agency, becaoming a key contributor again.
Willie Mays stayed just the right amount of time. With a little observation and management, you can make sure most people do.
Monday, January 26, 2004
We idealize the closed, competitive system of baseball and many of us see in it a pure laboratory for testing competing theories for winning. Since the beginning of the game, though, winning has not always been the primary focus of team owners. Sometimes it's been the (financial) bottom line.
Winning just isn't the only prime motivator. Before anyone figured out that having an owner operate two teams was a loser idea (he could load one up with two teams' worth of talent, let the other implode like a remanufactured whoopie-cushion under a sumo wrestler, making more money than he could with two middling teams), 19th century baseball allowed this practice. In the 1950s, the New York Yankees used the Kansas City Athletics as a farm club. At the time it all looked very suspicious, with very good players going from the As to the Yanks and roster plaque going the other way generally. Later documentation indicated the Athletics owner had been patially financed by the Yankees' money, making them, functionally, a part owner that had Kansas City's losing represent a small advantage.
In the 70s, when the Mets board member M. Donald Grant, basically an accountant with some job experience as a stockbroker, took the lead in managing the club's business afffairs, he calculated the incremental value (to the financial bottom line) of wins over about 70 were worth far less than the wins under that number, so he made decisions that would slash expenses and while resulting in more losses on the field, wouldn't affect income to the magnitude of the savings. He even traded the team's marquee player, Tom Seaver, still in excellent form, to the Reds in 1977 for a souvenir ashtray, two pieces of string cheese and a prayer to be said later, just to keep payroll costs down. Grant was fired the next season.
Closer to the present, we have teams that don't have winning as job #1.
The Milwaukee Brewers appear to have taken a step a year ago towards aiming at winning, but for the ten of the last eleven seasons, they've had losing records (in 1996, they were essentially a .500 club), and they've kept their payroll very low, which, while it isn't a deal-breaker, is a partial factor in success. But they've made money during that time anyway, though several other means. For one thing, they have a new stadium for which they didn't pay the tab. For another, they are the recipient of Major League revenue sharing money, skimming bucks off more profitable teams to subsidize their efforts. The Brewer startegy has been very bottom-line, not about excellence. in anything but clever accounting.
The Detroit Tigers have had ten losing records in a row, the last four declining each season. Last year they lost 119 games, and it had never been their intent to win a 2003 pennant. They did, however, have a different excuse. They were rolling out a lot of very raw players to give them high-level experience, and young players keep the payroll low because their negotiation options are very limited. The Tigers were more investing in the future than they were just playing bookkeeper tricks.
If you believe the newspaper reports in their home region, the Seattle Mariners' ownership were just straight out viewing their bottom line as earnings and not as winning. Howard Lincoln, the man who represents the interests of the largest shareholder, has gone on the record saying that winning the division is not significantly better than winning the wild card, and that winning in any one year is not as importnat as just putting a competitive product on the field every year. Insiders I know who are friends with several of the smaller shareholders tell me the owners are primarily (not exclusively) focused on the financial bottom line, showing a profit. Your odds of showing a profit in a fiscal quarter or annum or season are higher if you make that your focus.
As an observer, I'm not critical of that approach, but the odds of winning when your measure is the bottom line when you're competing with others who are pursuing excellence are very low. The Mariners haven't made the kind of popular late-July team-boosting acquisitions that rivals have. The last two years, they have flagged as the flag was in sight. And ownership is fine with that, to the degree it hasn't yet affected the financial bottom line.
And most (not all) of the players who are the kind of players who can help you win are the kind want to play for a winner if they can.
Beyond baseball, the measure of success as financial bottom line is just as sure to corrode excellence unless that financial measure is simply a metric and not a goal. I generally won't take clients whose mission statement is "Increase Shareholder Value" or "Maximize Net". Not because those are not valid or hateful or stupid. It's just that that approach guarantees mediocre product. Because M. Donald Grant was right in his own demented Bookkeeper From Hell way: It is more expensive to outlay for excellence than for mediocrity.
Cost-cutting and tight resource management as a means is necessary part of any success. Endemic cost-cutting as a primary goal in business and government creates laboratories for the invention of long-term mediocrity. All human systems tend to be self-amplifying. The pursuit of mediocrity in output tends to push out those who care deeply about excellence and tend to attract those who have comfort with less-than excellence, so over time, this selects for the talent that is comfortable with the strategy, making it ever less likely (without a big purge) that the mediocrity can be overcome.
There are plenty of organizations that thrive while selling mediocrity, usually to other organizations that themselves are similarly focused. A kula ring of crap. Maybe a fifth of the Fortune 500 are in this zone.
Have you ever worked in an organization that had it's primary mission to maximize shareholder value or earnings? Did it work as a long-term strategy or did the management blow itself out? How long did it take before they failed? How long did it take for them to be held accountable?
Sunday, January 25, 2004
SUMMARY OF LAST ENTRY
Back in in late October, a couple of high-level Cuban ballplayers defected, 24-year old Sancti Spíritus starter Maels Rodriguez and 31-year old second baseman Yobal Dueñas, with the intent of playing in the majors. Because the system has some built-in edges for teams that sign Cuban defectors, front offices have been eyeing the merchandise.
But in a wierd way that's an lesson in limited thinking that's illustrative for decisionmakers beyond baseball.
Why total interest in Rodriguez, none of note in Dueñas?
The previous entry talked about their specific attributes, and it's clear Rodriguez is the more attractive of the two. But Dueñas has had years of consistent, all-star caliber success and is a rare commodity, a power-hitting middle infielder with good wheels.
I'm pretty sure this asymmetry of interest is resulting from something we see in business and government all the time: the unwillingness (or inability) to process two things at once.
In big organizations, most managers are more afraid of making a mistake than they are of missing an opportunity.
Angus' First Law of Organizational Behavior: "Almost all human systems are self-amplifying". Meaning that in an organization where fear-based decisions are more prevalent than opportunity-based ones are, fear-based decisionmakers are more likely to get promotions, and since more people tend to hire people like themselves, more fear-based decisionamkers get hired than opportunity-based ones. And more fear-based managers are likely to get promoted, an intensification cycle, and one of the key reasons big businesses and big charities and big government agencies all tend towards inefficiency in the same way.
One of the most common co-factors in fear-based decisionmaking is the elimination of options. These kinds of managers only want to look at one, most-likely, option, and then grind themselves into a tizzy worrying about it. Adding X options, in the cognitive map of most fear-based decisionmakers just multiplies the anxiety X-fold.
I was helping a dot-com company choose an ad agency a couple of years back. He had four scheduled to come in. The head-man, a primo example of fear-based frenzy, was terrible about the process and the decision. His company had very marginal finances...not smoke and mirrors, but not very well capitalised. He needed something outrageous to give the company a very noticeable image that was, at the same time, true to his (truly fine) vision. But he agonized over the inclusion of every candidate. He wanted a specific type of agency: an internationally-known mainstream ad agency that had been around since at least 1930. But those kind were expensive, not interested in his tiny business, and too straight-ahead (or in a couple of cases, downright stodgy) to do him any good given his goals. I burned up a couple of favors and got a couple big old agencies into the process.
The first presentation was pretty good.
Fear-Frenzy Man insisted we stop right there and give them the account. No comparisons, no bidding, no digesting of what they'd said. No negotiation. An archetypal event in the life of the fear-based manager.
[There are, of course, managers at the other extreme: those who see only the options and either use it as an excuse to exercise none of them or to hump the leg of each opportunity like a household poodle on puppy uppers. These are just as problematic, but tend not to inhabit for long the fear-based organization's management cadre.]
I believe front offices aren't interested in what Dueñas has to offer, at almost any price, simply because they are interested in the services (not competitive with Dueñas' services) Rodriguez opportunity. This happens at the tactical level, too. In Lou Piniella's last couple of years managing the Seattle Mariners, he appeared to do this a lot late in games. He'd focus on the bullpen and ignore his team at the plate, not making obvious moves he normally knew needed to be made, like leaving in a hitter with virtually no on-base percentage when he had a decent potential pinch-hitter on the bench. Or, if he made the lineup move late in a game, he wouldn't make bullpen moves, leaving in a guy who was getting shelled long after the manager should have stuck a fork in him. It was as though he only had enough attention to give to half the game at a time.
Do you know any managers who do that? Has your organization ever suffered as a result? What do you do to try and "fix" them?
In your organization, is there a Dueñas hidden in plain sight? A perfectly wonderful contributor who isn't noticed because another is better or has better star quality presence? If you work in a big organization, I'd bet All-Star game tickets on it.
Friday, January 23, 2004
this text appeared in posts I made at Baseball Primer. If you
those already, I wanted to prepare you so you could scan though that quickly.
Back in in late October, a couple of high-level Cuban ballplayers defected, 24-year old Sancti Spíritus starter Maels Rodriguez and 31-year old second baseman Yobal Dueñas, with the intent of playing in the majors. Because the system has some built-in edges for teams that sign Cuban defectors, front offices have been eyeing the merchandise.
But in a wierd way that's an lesson in limited thinking that's illustrative for decisionmakers beyond baseball.
According to the fairly studious Baseball America:
Rodriguez, a 24-year-old righthander, would be the best big league prospect to defect from Cuba were it not for recent rumors of back and arm injuries. Rodriguez, whose fastball regularly reached 100 mph in the past, set the single-season strikeout record in Cuba, fanning 263 batters in 178 innings three years ago. In the 2001-02 season, he struck out 219 in 148-1/3 innings, going 14-3, 2.13 ERA. [snip]
Rodriguez, listed at 5-foot-11, 176 pounds during the 2000 Olympics, has had a strong international career as well, striking out 22 in 13 scoreless innings during the Olympics. One pro scout in Sydney rated Rodriguez' fastball an 8 on the scouting 2-to-8 scale, "because you can't go higher". [snip]
Dueñas, a 6-foot-2, 187-pound second baseman from Pinar del Rio, is a five-tool player and former Cuban stolen base champ who, at 31, is on the down side of a career that saw him debut in the Cuban national league at 17.
So there are two all-stars who played in the same league. Two possibilities, a young starting pitcher with an excellent record against inconsistent opposition, and a slightly-past-his peak slugging second baseman with baserunning speed. In an "efficient market" a group of teams would be pursuing each, with a few more probably pursuing Rodriguez because his upside is higher, meaning he should command more money, but a fair number pursuing Dueñas, because this type is fairly rare. But it appears according to this more recent USA Today article that, essentially, Rodriguez is lighting up a ton of interest, Dueñas is chopped liver. Let's do a quick overview of values and risks for each. I have more data on Dueñas' career, so that'll be a little more detailed.
Rodriguez: Young, at 24, so lots of career left if he can pitch at major league level. Extraordinary numbers (strikeouts per 9 innings rate at remarkable levels, earned over many innings, "measured" at 100 m.p.h., pro scout rates his most important pitch at or beyond the top of the scale). But two injuries, to back and to pitching arm, after which he lost 15 m.p.h. off his fastball (close to fatal if he can't get it back). Cuban league pitchers of his peak accomplishment have succeeded in the majors, been ordinary, and been useless. High potential reward, high risk, and because of high interest, high cost.
Dueñas: At 31, a year or three past his prime. Players of his skill-set (Roberto Alomar, Toby Harrah) tend to shear off around age 33, sometimes later, so one to three years of high-level use if he can play at a major league level.
In the most recent championship season in Cuban baseball, Dueñas played for Pinar Del Rio, the team that finished with the best record in the league (64-26, .711). Dueñas led his team in BA (.348, missed BA champion's .408 by a wide mark, and was 16th in the league this stat), though on the positive side, his team led the league in BA, so being the leading BA person on a team that overall leads is a little accomplishment. League BA was .293.
His 90 game regular season line was:
256 AB 49R 89H 18 D 2 T 10 HR 48 RBI 16 BB 18 K.
League SLG was .426, Dueñas' was .551
League ISO was .133, Dueñas' was .203
League OBA was .356, Dueñas' was .386
League AB/(2b+3b) was 18, Dueñas' was 13
League AB/HR was 44, Dueñas' was 26
ISO is isolated power, a generalized stat for measuring extra-base hit ability that by putting together doubles, triples and homers, measures an overall "power" type hitter.
Far more doubles, homers, batting average than league average batters. Doesn't walk or strike out a lot. His defense is questionable.
Cuban teams are regional and are not allowed to make trades to balance an excess at one position against a void in another, so some people, to avoid being stuck forever behind someone, end up moving to a position they're not so good at. I saw Dueñas play a single game in which he looked average, but his reputation among the Pinar fans we heard from is that he's not better-than-average with the leather.
Here's the most interesting thing about him to a decisionmaker, though. While many high level Cuban pitchers have tried to make the majors, Dueñas is the most accomplished Cuban hitter to have a chance to play in the majors since the anti-Cuba embargo started. His offensive abilities are diverse, severely lacking only in walks, but better than average in contact, BA, extra base hits, and dingers. Presuming he's not emotionally wasted by his recent life experiences, Dueñas should be an interesting data point to judge the potential quality of the better Cuban hitters to compete as individuals in the majors.
The upside is a few years of that valuable-because-too-rare commodity, a power-speed hitting middle infielder. The downside is probably he can be very competitive in AAA but not in the majors.
According to the USA Today article, he's a lightly regarded utility player.
Strange he's so lightly-regarded. Clearly past his prime years, but to this age the second baseman has had the equivalent of Toby Harrah's bat and glove in a somewhat competitive league. This last season he played for the championship team, and was their leading hitter in several rate categories.
Since his value lies in a combo of isolated power plus batting average, not the attributes that tend to vaporize first, and because sometimes players find an uptick in power after age 30, I think some team that needs offensive pop at 2nd base and can afford a sub-par fielder should take a look at him. Todd Walker has a job at the same age with an apparently weaker bat and the same kind of leather.
Rodriguez could be another Mark Prior. Dueñas could be the good-not-great Roberto Alomar for a couple of years or maybe more.
Why total interest in Rodriguez, none of note in Dueñas?
The answer is a management decisionmaking lesson, and I'll explain in my next entry.
Tuesday, January 20, 2004
When you start a management position in a new company or in a group that doesnt know you well, there will be many staffers who dont want it to be too easy for you. One or two of them might have been angling for your job themselves.
There are many males who compete by a zero-sum equation; like frat boys hazing rituals, they believe you have to earn their compliance. There are many females who manage their environment by manipulation, testing your resolve and determination.
Youre going to have to learn to establish a reputation that has a full spectrum of possibilities, because different people are best managed with different incentives and approaches. If youre a natural hard-ass, youre going to need to learn to establish a reputation as a cooperator. If youre a nice guy, youll need to show your assertiveness. And once established, youll need to reinforce your reputation with consistent marketing, that is, presenting yourself a certain way, but you equally may need to alter your reputation in response to group needs or events.
Dick Williams was hired by Charlie O. Finley to take the Oakland As to a new level. The team had built a roster very wisely in the late 1960s and had two second place finishes in a row, In 1969 and 1970 with aloof, businesslike managers Hank Bauer and John McNamara. Finley understood that a different style can frequently bring out new strengths while holding on to strengths already internalized.
Williams was more a one-of-the-guys manager, but when he got to the As, they were already swaggering, feeling like champs, and, according to Williams, he had three clubhouse leaders. There was Reggie Jackson, the vocal one, Sal Bando, the quiet clubhouse emissary, and Catfish Hunter, the ace pitcher and campus clown who kept everyone loose. As Williams said in his book No More Mr. Nice Guy:
Ill let players lead themselves, particularly veterans like Catfish, as long as they recognize and respect the ultimate authority. Me.
We had opened that first As season by losing four of our first six games I was a little worried about a pitching staff that had allowed 40 runs in those games. Then I became more worried after Charlie called me and pitching coach Bill Posedel to his apartment and asked what the hell I was going to do about it .
By the time the plane landed in Milwaukee to begin the trip, I had advanced from worried to angry.
His players were loose, but in a bad, unproductive way, and not listening to their manager. Williams knew he needed to change the established shape of the manager-player relationship in a way that asserted his dominance, but not in some hysterical Captain Queeg out-of-context rant. Fate handed him an opportunity right that minute in Milwaukee.
The players got off the plane an boarded their bus. A flight attendant from the plane came running out to the bus, jumped on it and explained that someone had stolen a megaphone from the plane at they had to return it. I sucked in my breath, Williams said, It was time to stop staring in awe at my Athletics and start shoving them.
He stood up in the aisle and announced he was going to stand there until they coughed up megaphone. Silence, jostling and nudging, snickers. He turned red.
I dont know if you guys know this, but we arent exactly burning up the damn league. More silence, more snickers.
I know some of you think you can be assholes well I can be the biggest asshole of them all. And if you have a problem with that, just call Charlie but he aint her now and I am, and youd better learn to live with-
Clunk. The megaphone had been returned.
It turned out it was ace pitcher Catfish Hunter whod stolen the megaphone. I knew and the team knew but I never did anything about it. As it turned out, I should have given him a bonus for feeding me the slow curve that enabled this team to feel my swing.
I was never told how they reacted to it, but then I didnt need to be told, I saw. We won 12 of our next 13 games. Six days after my meltdown we went into first place and were never caught.
Beyond baseball sometimes (rarely) a tantrum is just whats needed for a relatively-new manager to cement his authority. Usually its something else. But you have to wait for the right opportunity, because if its too out of context or feels staged, it will actually degrade your authority.
My wife works in an organization that has an affirmative action program for hiring older people who had been career military. A few men who came in this way got into positions of hiring power and started hiring a lot more retired military men until the organization had a strong strain of this particular style of management. It's a style that doesn't work well in most non-military settings.
The ones that succeeded in the new role were the ones who established early on that their management style was different. They did this by demonstrating an almost over-the-top "warm fuzziness", very explicitly differentiating themselves from the expected pattern. The ones who failed to set a tone early were likely to waste time struggling against the reputation of the retired military archetype.
Set a tone, establish who you are early & clearly. Maybe you'll be a legendary success like Dick Williams.
Saturday, January 17, 2004
When Roger Clemens came out of a retirement the length of some pop singer's recent marriage to sign with the Houston Astros, he did it, apparently, for the environment.
The environment should be beneficial to extending the career of an aging player. The deal was set up so the Texan wouldn't have to travel as much as a normal player, not going on road series where he would not be starting. This would give him a small, partial step into retirement that would afford him a physically easier summer (the man is a work-out demon, but he is getting to that age where slowing down is something that tends to happen to you, not something you choose). And the Astros have stated he wouldn't pitch every fifth start, but get a little easier schedule.
He would get to stay home with his family, enjoy his well-earned money, and the team is counting on his noteworthy work ethic and competitiveness to keep him sharp enough in this part-time role. Both the team's vision and Clemens' vision are clever. It could work. But it's an experiment with a lot of unknowns, and a handful of knowns that can work against its success. In all cases, the environment, which played a part in Clemens' decision to unretire, is also a factor that could hammer him into mediocrity.
The first unknowable factor is this half-retirement lifestyle. Most managers don't have the privilege of half-retirement, but executives frequently do in public companies and family-owned for-profits. The drive that makes an executive seem successful to the outside world, a relentless quest for more, mirrors the major league player's intensity for better. People who get to these rarified positions almost always have that relentless, focused desire for that one thing they pursue. The ones that don't have this imblanaced perception fo the world rarey acheive, in observers' eyes, at the same level. Readers of Michael Lewis' Moneyball know Oakland GM Billy Beane was, as a player, considered to have all the necessary tools to play at a very high level. And he did play in the majors. While that is a very high level, a remarkable achievement (yes it's remarkable...about 1 in 100,000 people, the top .001 percentile, who aspires to play major league baseball ever do), he would not be said to have had a successful baseball career. Because, in the end, he didn't have the ability to ignore everything else in his life. The same happens beyond baseball. The half-retired exec makes mistakes he wouldn't make if he worked full time. Emotionally, it can be difficult watching others make decisions he wouldn't and not interfere. He's not marinating in the day-to-day minutaie that color decisionmaking.
Clemens could be (unknowable, but the pattern is there) in the same situation. He's been doing this intense job for 20 years in the majors, building up regular routines and regimens. Maybe he doesn't have the Mike Hargrove before every pitch rituals, but he's got it down from his food to his exercise and stretching to his pre-game scouting. And the routine of being with the guys and horsing around and the ballplayer-on-the-road socializing, which is every bit as much habitual as the game preparation part. These human factors are now-ingrained habits as well.
And the very intensity of purpose, hyperfocus, that allows a player or exec to get to that level, can disable his ability to refocus or kick back in a half-retirement.
And what if he does relax a little, and redistribute his focus? Will a 41 year old guy whose very fuel is intensity be able to pull a Tom Seaver and use his intellectual capacity to find a zen-like balance point? I don't know Clemens personally, but nothing I've seen or read him saying leads me to believe his intellect is a major talent in his quiver.
Either way, the environment of half-retirement, while looking good on the physical side, is an unknowable factor that can affect the outcome of this experiment in many ways, mostly to the detriment of his pitching performance.
Houston's home park, Enron Field, is not a typical environment, and this will play a more important role in Clemens' performance than it would for an average Astro hurler, because they're going to use him more at home than on the road (if they stick with the plan). It promotes offense for both right-handed and, especially, left-handed hitters. [snip here -- there was a false assertion here I made because I mis-read my print outs. I was corrected by "Jeff" on Baseball Primer; Thanks Jeff].
Clemens' home-road splits were really pronounced last year, too. (ERA = 5.22 at Yankee, 2.53 away; his three-year ERA splits were not very different, so perhaps that was just an artifact of a relatively small sample). But if his age 40 season indicated some actual changes/evolution in his pitching, that could bode very poorly for him, too, because Yankee Stadium, like Enron, rewards left-handed home run hitting, and that pushes a pitcher to modify in some cases his pitch selection. I'm suggesting he might find himself making the same adjustments to his choices that lead to his relatively poorer performance in Yankee Stadium last year.
NATIONAL LEAGUE: VICTIMIZE AT YOUR OWN RISK
In the American League environment he's always played in, Clemens doesn't have to hit. Meaning if he intimidates batters by throwing inside or plunking them or just glaring at them, he's unlikely to be the recipient of physiocal-style revenge. In the National, as a batter, he isn't protected. I'm not convinced this will be a major factor, but many observers do. Jayson Stark for example suggests:
Health will be one issue. One long-time Clemens watcher predicts he will pull a quad muscle running down to first base some night. But the bigger question will be how Clemens' high-and-tight style will play out in a league where he has to bring his bat to the plate 60 to 70 times a year.
"He's already issued a challenge by saying it's not going to change his style," says one NL scout. "And I know that's part of his greatness. But he'd better expect some consequences. When guys with his control pitch that way, everybody knows it's intentional. I can see him getting knocked on his butt. And him being the competitor he is, I don't know what the reaction will be. It'll be fun to watch. I know that."
Environmentally, Clemens is pushed into a position where he's at marginally-greater physical risk, and he'll need to adjust his mental and emotional settings accordingly. Another environmental challenge with unknowable results.
This is not doom and gloom. Many execs retire from, for example, a hard-hitting business career and make the transtition to a part-time position in a non-profit organization. But most fail.
Is this a new beginning for Clemens, or the Rocket's Red Flame out?
Thursday, January 15, 2004
The California Angels this weekend signed the marquee free agent of the year, outfielder Vladimir Guerrero, a fine pickup. But they already had four should-be front line outfielders in Garret Anderson, Darin Erstad, Jose Guillen and Tim Salmon, as well as contributing back-up Jeff DaVanon. The opportunity for the team's fairly new owner to make a big splash with the acquisition of an exciting and fine player was just too succulent for the organization to pass up.
To make this work, they've planned on making the steady but slow Salmon their designated hitter, leaving only one outfielder too many, and still no real first baseman. Most non-baseball organizations facing this kind of situation (more skilled people than they need in one position, none in another they also needed) might think of moving the least-effective person in the glut position over to the empty position, or laying off one of their glut position people and hiring someone for the empty one.
The Angels aren't doing that.
They're taking Darin Erstad, their most effective outfielder and moving him to first base. Erstad of the many spectacular highlight-reel diving catches and take-no-prisoners crashing around to come up the the ball at all costs. Erstad's not just the Angels' best jardinero, and their only real center-fielder (outfielder with enough range and assertiveness and judgement to cover the corner outfielders) he's arguably one of the best outfield gloves in the entire American League. And he's barely a league average hitter over his career. And first base is usually a position where you try to squeeze in the best available hitter because if he's barely adequate with the glove & not particularly mobile, that's the place on the field a non-fielder will hurt you least.
Erstad had one very good offensive season in his career, 2000, and since then has been pretty sorry with the bat, 10% to 25% below average in offensive value. He's stayed in the lineup because the Angels paid him a lot of money in a multi-year contract, and because he really is a great outfielder.
EQUAL & OPPOSITE REACTION
It's not surprising that there's been a firestorm of reaction. The Angels' rationale is based on a chain of logic. Erstad missed over the half the season last year because of injuries. Before that, he played through injuries. Those injuries sapped his offensive numbers. If he wasn't playing outfield, he wouldn't be splattering himself against walls and the ground so often, making him less likely to be injured making him offensively more effective.
Here's the essence of what one informed commentator, Rob Neyer, had to say on the plan:
5. Uh, right. This argument -- that Erstad will suddenly become a good hitter because he's not playing center field any more -- strikes me as fairly ridiculous. It's certainly possible, but we're talking about a player who's been a good hitter in exactly one season out of the last four. Does he really have a 776 career OPS because he's been all beat up from playing center field? Or does he have a 776 career OPS because that's how good he really is?
Taking this further, I think we might reasonably argue that the Angels are worse off if Erstad is healthy. As Joe Sheehan observed in his column on Tuesday, if Erstad's playing first base he really doesn't have any value at all, because most of his value rests in his brilliant defense in center field. Take him out of center field but keep him in the lineup, and all of sudden you're spending $8 million per season on a whole lot of nothin'.
Basically, I agree. The chain of logic seems to be based on MBWT (Management By Wishful Thinking), and the benefits to Erstad's offense not very likely to come about. And no matter if they do, the Angels have removed the single outfielder who glues the other guys together and replaced him with someone below average with the leather at a key position. All true...
But while it's unlikely the shift might help Erstad's offense blossom, it's not impossible. And the Angels are not likely to be able to trade Erstad's batch of skills without shelling out a lot of money to go along with it because his value is so specialised and his $8 million contract so high in the market of this minute. And if Erstad doesn't come around offensively at some point, his value really will tank even more sharply, as his now-30 year old body ages, isn't likely to retain its extraordinary skill at the fielding part of the game.
It's an amazing piece of risk-taking, more likely to fail than succeed, but it might succeed, and if Erstad comes back offensively (again, possible though not probable), they get the value of his offense along with that of the other outfielders and his trade value goes up so they might actually be able to deal him, even with that contract. Many observers think, based on past history, that this year's depressed-relative-to-recent contract prices will spring back, making a one-year solution to Erstad's value/price asymmetry something the team might be able to live with..
This is a lovely illustration of the kind of moment it could well be worth taking a big risk in your own management environment. Let's go over the condition for this kind of lower-probability decision: It's a situation with no obvious fix at hand, so it calls for an experiment.
I had a client, a specialty architectural consultant, that had good sales and earnings terrible cash-flow problems. The kinds of bids they made cost them a lot to make, and they were generally conservative, not choosing to bid on smaller jobs that weren't very likely to win. But after struggling with cash flow asphyxia for a couple of hard-working years, they just decided to start bidding on everything. They took a couple of their most competent high-billing consultants off billable hours and moved them to business development to come up with a lot of proposal responses and while they were doing that, develop a model to make the bid processes cheaper by cutting corners. Because they weren't real business development people, they weren't attached to the old model, and because they normally worked in the field, they had a pretty good understanding of what things on proposal responses were just pro forma and not likely to be part of jobs and thus, sometimes less-examined in repsonses.
I thought they wouldn't succeed in the effort, but I helped them build some systems for reusing content and collecting knowledge about competitors and customers that would help in the bid process. They did the opposite of one of my general rules, which is to get people who are good at what they do to spend more of their time doing that high-output work while trimming their efforts at what they don't do well. And I was surprised, but they were successful doing it just this way, going against the probabilities.
This kind of experiment can be worth a try, but don't bet the farm on it on it. When you do this in your own organization, have a contingency plan or three in place before you fully commit to a risky experiment like this. Pick a stop-loss point, a clear, measurable set of conditions and deadlines that if you're not making sufficient progress, you pull the plug and move to the fallback, less risky, position. Be cold-blooded, not emotional (neither exuberant nor nervous-nelly), about monitoring progress.
With Erstad, where he's moving from is something he does really well. The Angels are moving him to where they need something he doesn't normally give. It's risky, but it might just "work". And let's hope they know what we do; if they're at game 50 and have a prayer at winning the division, and Erstad's producing a 775 OPS as a first baseman, they'll move on to their fall-back plan and put Erstad back where he should produce what he can produce for his team.
Tuesday, January 13, 2004
In the last entry I briefly discussed Andy Pettitte's reputation as a big game pitcher and Thomas Ayers' analysis of the lefty's playoff and World Series performances. There's a good management lesson in using analysis to look past reputation because, as I stated:
In measuring performance, lazy management will frequently let a story with truth behind it or just good personal marketing overshadow the reality. Sometimes, the reputation was earned hundreds of events ago, with no comparable success since. Outside of baseball, this is very destructive. Unlike a lot of the bad metrics and bad interpretation of metrics and poor application of metrics discussions on this weblog over the last few months, this is the polar opposite: not allowing actual facts get in the way of good folklore.
Because a fair number of the letters that come in from this weblog are asking about how to develop metrics and analyze the data, I've already suggested you look at Ayers' analysis (I don't agree with all of it, but he's laid it out in a way that gives you a panoramic view of his very rational process and logic), and I'll show you the way I would look at his data to try and discern Pettitte's post-season performance for myself. I hope for those who have asked for how-to details, you'll be able to get an idea of both his pattern in this case and mine. It's less a technical manual (One, do this. Two, do that) than patterns you can try out. If you're no good at patterns and need a technical manual, you're going to probably struggle with practical metrics, though that doesn't mean you shouldn't try. People who don't have a "knack" for it can combine their efforts with someone else who does and add a lot to the mix.
THE OCTOBER PETTITTE
Is Andy Pettitte a good Playoff/World Series (PWS) starting pitcher? If you looked at Ayers' data, you can see roll-ups that indicate his consolidated output/statistics are essentially no different PWS than in the regular season. Since he's pitching against a subset of teams that qualified for PWS, and since few teams that make it to PWS have below-average offenses, I suggest the average opponent Pettitte faced in PWS was better than the average opponent he faced in the regular season. This is somewhat negated by the fact that the Yankees spend more on opponent scouting than any other team, so Pettitte and his catchers have been armed with great business intelligence, better than they would have had available during the regular season.
The conclusion that Pettitte is a better PWS pitcher than regular season pitcher is hard to reach. He's started 30 games and thrown 187 innings (just about a season's worth of starts) in the nine years he's pitched for Gotham in the PWS, so sample size is on the bubble, neither nailed nor silly to talk about.
HIS TEAM WHEN HE DIDN'T PITCH
His won-loss record in those 30 games is 16-5. Very cool. I'd like that. But what did his team do in gamkes he wasn't pitching in? The Yankees were 70-34 total in the PWS series in which Pettitte pitched. So we'll contrast games-he-got-a-decision-in against the rest of the Yankee games. Subtract 16-5 from the total 70-34, and the Yanks were 54-29 in games Pettitte didn't get a decision in. The Yanks performed at a very high level whether he was starting or not, but they performed better in games he started. Beyond baseball, this is a good way to start isolating individual performance: ask the question, "do we do better when X is in the project/group/task/effort than when she's not?".
How about the games Pettitte started and didn't get a decision in? What did the Yankees do in those? Back to the table.
I sorted the table by whether Pettitte Won or lost or had no decision, so we can isolate those games. First question:: Did the Yanks win or lose. Based on the kind of performance he put up in the No Decision (ND) games. The Yanks were 6-1 in games Pettitte started and got no decision in. Intuitively, this suggests he pitched decently enough (in the games he got no decision) to allow his team to win.
HIS TEAM WHEN HE DIDN'T GET THE DECISION
Let's take one more look at those games, because teams don't score the same number of runs every day. Sometimes they create an easy environment for a pitcher (even one having an off day) because they put up 11 runs, and sometimes they're as listless as a Faulkner character on a muggy summer day in Mississippi. Just as in your organization, many times a team's performance will cover up or hide an individual's performance.
I sorted these games by Ayers' Modified Game Score number (50 is average, higher is better). With Bill James' Game Scores (the metric Ayers modifed) I sometimes use my own thumbnail quickie standard: A score above 54 should be a win, below 46 should be a loss, and anything in-between is a toss-up. For the moment, I'm going to pretend Ayers' Modified Game Scores work the same way as James' (if I was doing this for a client, I'd run James' numbers, which I have a feel for, and use those rather than trust what I haven't mastered). The game scores in the no decision games are: 55, 49, 45, 44, 36, 23, 21. One "should have won", 1 toss-up, four "should have lost".
So those seven games in which Pettitte got no decision, and in which the Yankees went 6-1, were games Petittte generally didn't pitch well. They (offiense, relief pitching) saved his bacon by winning games he probably "shouldn't" have.
His set of performances here was masked to some degree by context, by what the rest of the team did. This figure, in part, tunes the 16-5 win-loss. If we chose to, we could add the 1-4 "should haves" to Pettitte's 16-5, which would give us 17-9, still awfully good. Now let's re-apply the games-in-which-he-didn't-start thumbnail: Subtract 17-9 from the total 70-34, and the Yanks were 53-25 in the non-Pettitte games. The Yanks essentially were as likely to win in games Pettitte didn't start as the ones he did.
This doesn't mean Pettitte is not a very fine pitcher in PWS (you have to be to beat the higher concentration of good opposition). It just means it appears to me Andy Pettitte is not significantly better than the other Yankee picthers in the measure of PWS performer.
The Reputation is Not the Guy.
In the next entry, I'll discuss reputation using Pettitte's example, and try to point out why he has the reputation as opposed to anyone else on the Yanks.
Sunday, January 11, 2004
When the Houston Astros signed free-agent starting pitcher Andy Pettitte recently, a lot of the fan talk about it revolved around his reputation as a big-game pitcher. Yankee fans bemoaned his shabby treatment and most who talked about it expressed the feeling that the Yanks would suffer from the loss of his monster playoff and World Series performances. Astro fans expressed the feeling that his playoff clutchness would rub off on the younger pitchers, adding even more mojo than his individual performances. But...
THE REPUTATION IS NOT THE GUY -- LEN BARKER
In measuring performance, lazy management will frequently let a story with truth behind it or just good personal marketing overshadow the reality. Sometimes, the reputation was earned hundreds of events ago, with no comparable success since. Outside of baseball, this is very destructive. Unlike a lot of the bad metrics and bad interpretation of metrics and poor application of metrics discussions on this weblog over the last few months, this is the polar opposite: not allowing actual facts get in the way of good folklore. This Post-Modern Alfred E. Neuman approach I call "What, Me Measure?".
Here's a perfect baseball example; because the player's career is over, it, and his reputation is frozen, like a fly in amber. Many people old enough to remember the perfect game Len Barker, the Cleveland Indian workhorse, threw in 1981 against the Blue Jays, have a hard time remembering his career lingered on for another six years during which he was 40-51 with an ERA (a thin measure by itself, but somewhat indicative) 8% worse than the leagues-average performance for pitchers.
His reputation: workhorse (a guy who can be counted on to pitch a lot of innings of adequate or better performance) and a perfect game. In the rest of his career, he had one workhorse year, 1982, and he never again threw a no-hitter or one-hitter or two-hitter; he did have a handful of three-hitters and some perfectly fine performances, but basically he was a C-minus starting pitcher without a lot of durability. Len Barker and his reputation bore little resemblance to each other for the rest of his career. Broadcasters, fans, even some front office guys never let that stand in the way of their impressions.
A CURRENT EXAMPLE WITH DEEPER RESEARCH
Andy Pettitte's career reputation is more fluid because he's still playing. Right now, his reputation as the playoff clutch performer hold the field, but he probably has several years left, so there's time for more folklore and fact. His reputation will be changed as a not-Yankee, especially since he's moved to a different league. In moving to Houston, he'll be playing in Enron Field, a place that boosts offense some, though it slightly favored left-handed pitchers (like Pettitte) last year. Also, the Houston club is a pretty good team, while the Yankees have consistently been better than that (about 12 wins a year better over the last three years). A lot of things can happen.
But Thomas Ayers of the Ballpark Analysis site has compiled complete data on Pettitte's playoff and World Series pitching performances to help us judge whether the Louisianan's reputation is deserved, exaggerated or off-the-wall. The piece, Practically Awesome or Awesomely Practical, goes through a whole set of statistical comparisons between Pettitte's regular season and his post-season ones. The general indication is that his actual performance taken as a composite whole (remember my earlier warning about the average not being the guy) is very similar between the two.
Ayers' did very thorough tabulation and made interesting comments, but he didn't summarize with a package of stated conclusions. I think I can safely suggest heis belief at the end of his analysis is that Pettitte is no better in playoffs and World Series games than he is during the regular season, and perhaps his performances are slightly less good in the most crucial games. While his thinking approach is interesting, I don't exactly agree with some of his methods. He altered Bill James' Game Score, which is a TOGN (The One Great Number) that is useful if not cosmic. And he used his own judgement to decide which of the post-season games Pettitte pitched in were Most and Least Crucial. I don't take issue with his choices, only that any game is "more" or "less" crucial in a seven- or five game series.
Ayers ran multiple tables to contrast Pettitte's performance. So I can use Ayers' tables to posit simpler, broader conclusions. Here's his biggest table, listing every Pettitte career playoff or World Series start (I trimmed a few columns to simplify it, then resorted it based on whether Pettitte got a Win, had no decision, or a Loss).
In my next entry, I'll walk through some of my conclusions and my thinking in getting there.
But no matter what conclusions Ayers comes to, or I come to, it will be a more informed set of conclusions that anyone can get by simply rejecting the data and waving around the guy's reputation. As a manager, it's important you not allow yourself to be fooled by legends, sagas, or other folkloric performance data that corrode organizational vitality as surely as the intentional lies of the annual litany of Soviet "record-breaking yields" and the just plain lazy parroting of things one hasn't bothered to examine or analyze.
Let's hope for the Astros' sake, they signed Pettitte for what they actually knew about him beyond his regional connection and his reputation, and that it wasn't just Astro-logy.
The reputation is not the guy.
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