Friday, July 30, 2004

Repoz-itioning The Big Unit: A
Reminder the Average Is Not the Guy  

In the last entry, I discussed allegations of Randy Johnson's current immaturity and I cited his 1998 behavior. The Bugged Unit's contract was in its final year, and by the time the season started, he knew his current team, the Seattle Mariners, weren't going to make a market offer. He had an extraordinarily poor overall half-season with the Ms, got traded at the end of July to Houston, and had as good a two-month run as any pitcher in recent history has achieved.

There has been some debate in sabermetric circles about Johnson's 1998 pre-trade record, and fortunately Repoz over at Baseball Primer reminded me, whacked me upside the head actually, with the specifics of Johnson's game-by-game data.


There's a key lesson about both employee evaluation & the application of metrics here. If you just look at Randy's record and split it between the four months as an M and the two months as an Astro, it looks unarguable that The Unit could have been sandbagging:











The reality is a lot more complicated. For one thing, Seattle's home park was pretty neutral that year, favoring neither batters nor pitchers, while Houston's depressed offense by about 4%. And items like wins and losses are very team-specific (someone who's performing at B+ pitching for the Expos this year is likely to have a far worse won-lost record than someone pitching D+ for the Yankees). But that ERA difference is something one can't argue away, right? The argument he was sandbagging to guarantee a trade and then showed his real talent in Houston is supported by the numbers.

Not for sure.

Because Johnson's game-by game performances indicate he had three different 1998 seasons for Seattle. Here are his game lines (excuse the imperfect table alignment...bad tool I gotta replace) courtesy of Retrosheet.

..#. Opponent .IP BFP H BB K HR R W L ERA
3-31- VS CLE A 5.2 29 11 2
. 7 1 6 0 0 7.94
4- 5- VS BOS A 6
..28. 6 4 10 1 7 0 1 9.26
4-10- AT BOS A 8
..32. 2 3 15 1 2 0 0 6.41
4-15- AT CLE A 2.1
.9 .1 1 .4 1 1 0 0 6.14
4-20- VS KC A
.3.1 20. 8 3. 3 1 6 0 0 7.46
4-28- AT KC A
.7 ..30. 5 4. 9 0 1 1 0 6.12
5- 3- VS DET A 7
..34 .8 5 11 0 6 1 0 6.41

5- 8- VS TOR A 6
..26 .7 3 .7 1 3 1 0 6.15
5-14- AT CHI A 7
..30 .7 2 .7 2 5 0 1 6.19
5-19- AT TEX A 3
..16 .5 1 .2 1 6 0 1 6.83
5-24- VS TB
.A 9.. 36. 7 2 15 0 1 1 0 6.02
5-29- AT TB A
.8 ..29. 3 2 10 0 2 1 0 5.47
6- 3- VS ANA A 6.2 32
. 9 3 .5 1 6 0 1 5.58
6- 8- AT SF N
.7 ..30. 6 3 10 1 4 0 1 5.34
6-13- AT OAK A 7
..33. 8 6 .7 1 7 0 1 5.61

6-19- VS OAK A 8
..35 .8 2 12 0 1 1 0 5.17
6-24- AT SD N
.9 ..35. 6 0 12 1 1 1 0 4.83
6-30- VS COL N 8
..35 10 1 12 1 6 0 1 4.81
7- 5- AT TEX A 8
..35 .9 2 12 3 8 0 1 5.07
7-11- VS ANA A 9
..34 .5 2 15 0 0 1 0 4.73
7-16- VS MIN A 9
..31. 1 3 11 0 0 1 0 4.44
7-22- AT TB A
.7 ..30 10 0 .5 0 7 0 1 4.35

We can divide his performance in three sections. A clearly awful first seven starts, an erratic and inconsistent eight game slalom, an eight game conclusion leading up to the tradewhere he was his dominating Mr. Snappy-on-Speed self.

The average of Johnson's 1998 Seattle line, what the summary says, is he lost roughly as much as he won, and w/a roughly league average ERA -- that after some years of transcendant brilliance, he became league average. So the argument, if you use the average, is that he was dogging it. The individual numbers look much different and give you fodder to examine it with an alternate viewpoint. If you graphed the quality of his starts into the three chunks, and made the Houston run a fourth chunk, you could argue the trajectory makes sense. It'd be the same if you created a four-game rolling average. You could argue he started cold and just picked up steam all season long.

The counter-argument is, The Bugged Unit went into the season knowing his agent hadn't received a market-level offer from his team, he knew he would be gone next year, a situation that hits many players with small or no effect. But for him, the sting of not being wanted or perhaps not getting what he wanted made him act out or undermined his ability to perform during the first seven starts. After a while, he internalized his situation, and while it upset him, he was resolving his situation in his mind and was able on some days to show his Randy-ness. Finally he realized the team would trade him and his odds of going to a good team with a chance to make the playoffs would improve if his performance did, so he locked in and had that fine eight game exit run. That counter-argument is a long way to suggest he allowed his immaturity to interfere with his work performance.

Either way, the average is not the guy. The summary doesn't fully describe the reality, it's merely a frequently-useful artifact of it.


In your own personnel evaluation, you may or may not use hard measures. It's better when you can, but even when you do, it's important to remember that numbers have context that affect what they mean (like the home stadium differences tending to help Johnson's numbers after he moved to Houston). And summaries of those numbers may mask internal trends and streaks that, if you paid attention to them, would affect the amount of reality you were able to observe.

And when people have low self-awareness (Third Base in the MBB Model), it can cause them to tank at work, intentionally or unintentionally. There are lots of baseball examples of this (I'll save those for another time). Managing someone in that zone is a major challenge.

But there is a valuable & easy thing to do: Remember to pick apart performance measures and don't let the summary or average or highest or lowest point dictate what you can understand about the numbers. Keep looking for the reality in the artifacts. And thanks, Repoz, for that great reminder.

Wednesday, July 28, 2004

The Big Unit, The Medium Unit, or
Immaturity vs. Dignity  

Frequently in an organization, a key contributor is both a high-performer who makes the team better and an eccentric who can make his teammates wonder what planet he just beamed in from.

Case in point: Randy Johnson, former Montréal Expo, former Seattle Mariner, former Houston Astro, and now, possibly, soon-to-be former Arizona Diamondback. Super-talented (5 Cy Young awards..both leagues, 8 strikeout titles...both leagues, 9 time All-Star selection). Super-immature.

Counterpoint, in case: My acquaintance, TJ, The Medium Unit. I'll get back to Johnson in a little, but more often than not, the individuals that add quotidian value to their workplaces get overlooked and bypassed for praise, promotions and public recognition simply because they don't actively demand it.


The Medium Unit, known to his buddies as TJ, is a classic case, a mid-30s techie generalist who works for a large high-tech organization. He's quiet, very modest, intelligent, easygoing, presentably good looking (not so remarkable as to intimidate other males), knows how to talk with both males and females, well-educated and less-than-well-educated people, believes in hard work and does it.

He came in as an entry-level rookie and soon proved himself, got promoted a few times and then got stuck. A generalist seeking new challenges, he became too valuable in his current niche position and got welded to the spot. He actually had transferred away when his boss came to him and asked him, "what would you think about moving back to your previous post? They could really use you right now". TJ replied, "I'd rather stay here". "Uh, {insert long uncomfortable pause here} well, I already agreed The decision has been made, and you're going back," replied his incompetent boss. ASIDE: High-tech companies are filled with managers who are this grossly incompetent; you already know never to offer someone a choice you're unwilling or unable to give them. Well, all kinds of companies, actually, have these Tom Runnells quality botch-boys, but high-tech draws a lot of poorly-socialised individuals because the core work is more involved with inanimate objects than it is w/people, so many people without good human skills gravitate to it, and because all human system tend to be self-amplifying, over time, a disproportionate number of people w/o human skills become managers in such shops.

So TJ got transferred back, and because he doesn't make waves and is a good citizen he's stuck, perhaps as long as he's at this company. It's not a tragedy or a meltdown, but it is a waste of human talent because by letting him lie fallow, his organization is losing torque force. Many enthusiasts for the free-agent nation will argue it's his "fault" because he's not standing up for himself. This, btw, is a total crock and counter-productive to the company; if you ever hear someone assert this point, it's a great indicator that he's functionally a workplace sociopath who should be ignored. Can you imagine someone suggesting David Ortíz should bat 9th and not in the middle of the Red Sox line-up because he didn't campaign to bat 3rd or clean-up? It's management's job to make use of the resources at hand, and faulting someone productive for not agitating reflects the neuroses of the faulter.


Randy Johnson, on the other hand, will agitate in his self-interest. Incomparably talented, incompletely-matured, Johnson will be able to get what he wants for himself, while his team's management and teammates pay varying prices.

With the interlague trade deadline approaching, pressure to make deals is high. It's more a cognitive barrier than an actual one -- teams can trade after the deadline but the adminsitrative overhead goes up a little. It's become a Stonehenge-style Druid ritual that lots of trades happen the last half o July because of this, most especially with teams no longer in playoff contention trading current value to contenders for future value or financial advantage.

Johnson, because he's an outstanding, marvelous, world-beating starter and because he's on a team-way-way-out of contention, was an object of discussion. At first, he didn't want to be traded, because he lives in Arizona, he likes living there, he only has a few years left for his career, the living is easy and the cotton is high because of water subsidized by the taxpayers in some perverse form of socialism that guarantees degradation of the environment in exchange for some expensive cotton for which demand is uneven.

Then he said he was willing to be traded to help the team, but was happy to stay. Then, apparently, cognitive dissonance set in to The Big Unit's primitive consciousness.

According to this story linked from Baseball Primer, Johnson now is being Mr. Pouty because the Snakes aren't trading him fast enough.

"If you don't trade him to the Yankees, you're going to have one unhappy player," Meister said.

"And how would I tell the difference?" Garagiola responded.

{SNIP} Johnson has been extremely ornery around his teammates in recent weeks, going so far as to shove popular team leader Luis Gonzalez against a water cooler, and although his mood lightened over the weekend, some believe he's been attempting to force his way off the team with his behavior. Unhappy he wasn't getting a contract extension from the Mariners in 1998, Johnson began fighting with teammates in the days before the club traded him that season.

Johnson, as a 99th percentile athletic achiever, has probably been given a free pass, even rewarded, most of his life for acting out. In '98 he apparently sandbagged his team, the Mariners with inconsistent, unremarkable usually adequate performances after five years of excellence, performing at about 8% better than league average. Traded at the end of July to the Houston Astros, he blistered the National League for 11 starts, exceeding even his past excellence with some super-human über-excellence worthy of a Leni Riefenstahl short-subject. It may be The Bugged Unit, being bothered by his contract status was just too emotionally fragile to pitch his usual transcendant games, or it could be he was punishing his parents for not giving him what he wanted.

Every time Johnson gets rewarded for his behavior, of course, it reinforces his internal programming and management/parents undermine the will of fellow players/siblings to act in ways that are mutually-beneficial.


Yes, it's true that all organizations need to make some exceptions for the exceptional contributors. Smart management will be able to figure out ways to do this without setting a ridiculous example. But there are more The Medium Units available to give your organization good torque force than there are The Big Units.

How many TJs are there in your organization being under-appreciated and under-used and reinforcing in fellow-players' minds the idea that management doesn't know the difference or doesn't care? And how much does that knowledge undermine performance a little (or more) over a wide swath of staff?

Monday, July 26, 2004

Art Howe & The Mets: Nobody Expects
the Spanish Inquisition  

If you're trying to deliver a major change, people will resist.
If people think you may be trying to make a major change, people will resist.
If you're trying to deliver a minor change, people will resist.
and in a sick enough environment, if people think you may be trying to make a minor change, people will resist.

In the theory & practice of change management we have a few core commandments, the key one being that people fear change. And while some people fear change, and some of those fearful will actively try to oppose it, I don't believe that fear is as big a problem as most do. I think pure vicious greed-eyed politics looms a lot larger as a factor.


Every reform triggers a counter-reformation. And every counter-reformation has atrocities. When the Roman Catholic system was battling the range of Protestant theologies in Europe, there were some people who committed atrocities because they believed God spoke through their actions. But there were far more who believed in using the Inquisition and other methods to get in on the action and used an expression of faith as an excuse. There are some people who will burn you at the stake because they think it's good for you, but far more who will do it because they like to hear you scream in pain as the flames lick at your extremities.

This latter type is prevalent among the New York region's sports press.

Last Thursday, New York Met starter Tom Glavine pitched through 7 innings against Montreal and left with the game locked in a 1-1 tie. Manager Art Howe brought in John Franco, his veteran left-handed reliever, to face the Expos lineup. The first two hitters, Brad Wilkerson and Endometriosis Chavez were both left-handed and Franco and his fielders got both out. With one out, Jose "In" Vidro singled. Man on first, two outs, and Tony Batista up.

Batista is right-handed, generically a potential edge against the left-handed Franco. But:

  1. Batista isn't hitting any better against lefties this year than righties (.225/260/410 against left, .235/260/385 against right).
  2. Batista this year can't hit Major League pitching any better than a randomly-chosen member of the Royal Shakespeare Company.
  3. In his career, Batista has hit right-handed pitching 17% better than left-handed. (in 2001-03, he had an OPS of .630 against lefties and .740 against lefties).
  4. In four previous career appearances against Franco, Batista is 0-for 4.

Howe leaves Franco in. Batista hits a homer, the Mets continue their futility at the plate, and the Batista coup proves to be the winning margin.


So if Howe brings in the righty, he's open to criticism because Batista hits righties better. And because he left in the portsider, he gets piled on by David "Get The Comfy Chair" Waldstein of the Star-Ledger. While I don't know Waldstein's work, I think he's the kind of writer who would blame the Red Cross for the Abu Ghraib prison torture, contending they didn't succeed in stopping it soon enough.

Here's the way Torquemada spins it:

NEW YORK -- John Franco and the Mets' struggling bullpen will get the blame for this one. And when you gift wrap a home run ball the way Franco did, you deserve it.

But manager Art Howe should not avoid scrutiny either, since it was his decision yesterday to allow the struggling lefty with the 2-7 record to face right-handed hitting Tony Batista, who belted a two-run home run in the eighth inning to break a tie and lead the Montreal Expos to a 4-1 victory at Shea Stadium.

[snip]Howe spoke after the game about his hitters' lack of discipline at the plate and said he was "disappointed with the offense." But he would take no blame for leaving Franco, who took the loss Tuesday night after pitching poorly against the Marlins, in an untenable situation, especially when right-hander Orber Moreno was warming up in the bullpen and appeared ready to pitch.

"Johnny was the guy we wanted there," said Howe, who pointed out Batista was 0-for-4 lifetime against Franco. "It was a good fit for Johnny. What can you say? The home run ball got us today."

Batista is also 0-for-3 off right-hander Mike DeJean, who didn't pitch Wednesday after a scoreless inning in his Mets debut Tuesday.

The Mets, whose heavy reliance on complex statistical data and sophisticated scouting reports has served them well, may have been let down by them yesterday. More than one player said even though Howe was disappointed in them, they were equally disappointed in him.. [emphasis mine]

"The manager lost this game today," said one player, who refused to be identified.


Baseball management, as it is in every non-baseball endeavor, is about percentages not certainty. Howe was let go by the Oakland A's because allegedly he wasn't statistically-oriented enough. In Gotham, he's getting dinged for letting the historical record shape his decisions. The baseball counter-reformation wants to get back to the good old days before 1950 when Branch Rickey hired a statistician full-time to start tracking game data to look for trends for the Brooklyn Dodgers. There aren't many who actually believe you can do it better without some simple data, but there are those who would use a perfectly rational data-based decision to attack the decision-maker. In this case, Howe isn't even being particularly sabermetric. He's just using tools commonly used by a vast majority of managers since about 1970.

Beyond baseball, you will always find those with an agenda to oppose you. If you're using standard operating procedure, they'll argue you shouldn't have. If you innovate, they'll argue you should have used s.o.p. Even your own players will snipe at you if they have an agenda (who is that unnamed player in Waldstein's piece? And what's this about "refused to be identified"? Waldstein knows who he is, I suspect, since he covers the team on imagines he would recognize him by face or ask another player who dude is. They must not have editors who can fog a mirror at the Star-Ledger).

You can't let the Torquemadas stop you.

It doesn't pay to ignore them, either. Sadly, you can't just take the high road & let them have their say without response, because if you leave it unargued the Waldstein stories become part of the organization's folklore, the details disappear over time because they don't really support he slander, and then the core slander, that you caused the loss, stay as residue. You have to fight back. Preferably you fight fair (the counter to the Counter-Reformation included the Defenestrations of Prague where Hussites tossed selected Catholics out the windows of The Castle, perhaps necessary at the time, perhaps excessive).

No matter what, though, you don't ever reward the Torquemadas' sadism by ignoring it. Whether you use P.R. in favor of what you did, indirect promotion (change the subject, create a better story about an actual accomplishment that's more important), or engage in an effort to discredit your Torquemada, you plan and implement a way to push back.

Every useful strategy will have opposition. Even when you're not trying to implement change, some particularly political scum will try to undermine you just because, like watching you barbecue at the stake, they find it fun. Don't dwell on it, but be prepared and be ready to act. Change, even just your career, won't succeed without it.

Friday, July 23, 2004

LaMar's Devilry & a Stake Through the Hart:
Doubling a Good Idea Can Be Bad  

Foolishness is redoubling your efforts when you have forgotten your aim
-- paraphrasing George "The Madrid Masher" Santayana

In late June I wrote about adaptive mid-range planning and used the Cleveland Indians front office of the late 1980s and early 1990s as the beacon of good sense in this facet of management .

I pointed out that one of their competitive advantages was their successful approach itself was a barrier to imitation because:

  • It was long term, which meant
  • Some would never start, and that
  • Many who tried would run out of patience.


What I never mentioned in that entry was another barrier that was so obvious I neglected to mention it. But a recent Baseball Prospectus article whapped me upside my head like a squirmy 50 lb halibut, and I realize I should have explored it. This ultimate barrier was: Human Foolishness. That is, even if a competitor decides to try to imitate you and even if they're patient and determined and persistent, they can screw the pooch by doing what I call a Nixon Bombing Haiphong (an NBH).

An NBH is when you take an idea, fall in love with it, and think, when it finally fails, that if you just do it harder, it'll work. When Kissinger and Nixon decided during the war on Vietnam to slow the flow of supplies through North Vietnam to the South, their chosen technique was to bomb & plant mines in a primary harbor. Simply put, the bombing/mining had little effect on the throughput. So they intensified the bombing. Which had little effect on the throughput. So they increased the bombing. Which...you get the drift. There were other approaches they could have pursued, but Kissinger's arrogance and Nixon's reliance on his advisor almost guaranteed they would just redouble their efforts.

At its core, NBH is: If some of X was good, intensifying X must be better.

Inventors can pull an NBH, and sometimes do. Imitators are more prone to it. Because they have not gone through the invention design process but are merely trying to copy it, they have some intrinsic advantages and disadvantages. Advantages because a person coming later can skip some of the unsuccessful iterative refinement attempts required to get an idea into action, and disadvantage because an imitator might not "get" the subtle context of key aspects of the idea. Intensification is an easy, primitive approach to try to feed off others' success. Any Communist Chinese prison factory can crank out copycat DVD players; it doesn't mean they know anything about their end users' requirements, which controls should be in which positions, how to document their equipment's features. (One human rights observer who toured prison factories there told me-- perhaps apocryphally -- that the some of the knockoff electronics designs copied the originals so closely that there were features they built in without knowing they even existed, so they went undocumented).

A fool can take a great idea and imitate it exactly and fail, or try to "improve" on it by intensifying the design. If the imitator tries to innovate by merely intensifying another, successful innovation, the imitator can fail.


According to Baseball Prospectus, Chuck LaMar, the general manager of Tampa Bay's Devil Rays is thinking about doing exactly this and pulling a major NBH.

  • Ah, to Be Young, Untested and Signed through 2013...: In the baseball world, bad ideas coming out of Tampa are about as shocking as a Rush Limbaugh divorce proceeding--easily anticipated and no longer novel. But this latest one hints at new levels of irresponsibility.

    Shortstop B.J. Upton started the season ranked a lofty eighth on our 2004 Top 50 Prospect List. And although he's slated to be called up on August 1 and, hence, may exhaust his prospect status before next year, there's a reasonable chance he could top our list next year. There's no doubting that he's lavishly gifted prospect; the second overall pick of the 2002 draft is hitting .311/.416/.541 at Triple-A Durham (good for the third-best EqA in the International League) at the unthinkable age of 19. It's also worth noting that since Upton is a U.S. prep product, there's no questioning the legitimacy of his age.

    Still, would you sign a player who's yet to play a day in the majors to a nine-year contract? Of course not; it's a silly idea. But according to a recent report in the St. Petersburg Times, that's precisely what Rays GM Chuck LaMar is considering. LaMar met with Upton's agent, Larry Reynolds, on July 19 and acknowledged that talks are underway on what could be an eight- or nine-year deal. [emphasis mine]

    Upton's potential is unassailable, but to lock a player in to a guaranteed contract that will run almost a decade before he's even made an appearance at the highest level is folly. Sure, erstwhile Cleveland GM John Hart was on to something when he bought out the arbitration and, in some instances, free agent years of some his young Indians charges. But that was after they'd shown they could handle major league competition.

    It's possible that such a gambit could pay off for LaMar if, in fact, he's in possession of the next Alex Rodriguez, but it's an incredibly risky endeavor for a franchise that's supposedly so blighted.

Now LaMar might just be suggesting this as a possibility as part of a negotiating gambit. The report could be false (yes, sportswriters sometimes get it wrong and sometimes make stuff up). But he's made some whoppers in the past, and an attempt to get double the benefit of the Cleveland strategy by doubling the stakes is the kind of bold NBH of which he might be capable.

Doubling a tactic doesn't guarantee doubling its benefits (nor does it guarantee failure). But because it's not the embodiment of a systemic design, apparently merely an attempt to intensify without the context of a mid- or long-range plan, it looks like LaMar might accidentally bomb his own harbor.

Tuesday, July 20, 2004

Cognitive High Cheese: Dick Allen,
Organizational Transformation & Counter-Reformations  

If I have hit the ball farther than other men, it is by
standing upon the shoulders of The Giants.--Sir Isaac Newton

"Tradition" is a powerful attribute for workgroups, for organizations, for entire lines of business, for whole societies. Traditions are options that people follow as rules, and these were generally, at least at one time, functional...which is how they transcended their status as options to become traditions.


The richer an endeavor is in traditions, the more effortlessly important information passes from veteran to newbie, the less overhead spent on reinventing the wheel, the more net ergs left for creating something new and different.

Sometimes traditions have to be thrown away because they've become grossly ineffective. Sometimes traditions have to be thrown away because social realities pass them by and leave them, like a tide pool at low tide, all by themselves, obvious and disconnected. When we succeed in throwing away the ineffectual, most frequently those at the forefront of moving that dead-weight aside are forgotten or are remembered the way the change-resisters painted them, and not for what they really achieved.

One of baseball's classic cases of this vilification sticking long after the reason for the vilification vaporized like an R. Dean Taylor Fan Club was addressed a little today as Dick Allen, perhaps the finest 20th century major league ballplayer who will never get to the Hall of Fame, was inducted into The Baseball Reliquary's Shrine of the Eternals. I'll get back to Allen in a little, but first to explain the good part of tradition.

Large organizations, naturally less efficient at sharing knowledge, get the greatest benefits out of traditions, and can be the ones most loath to change them. The same ossification that binds big bureaucracies, corporate, military, governmental, to their traditions makes it harder for them to face necessary changes to them gracefully. Even in an organization that eventually runs with an innovator's necessary tradition-busting it's really common that the aggressive promoter of tradition change will be shot down and shipped out long before he sees the innovation come to pass. It's almost standard operating procedure. The sacrifice of the point-woman has to be internalised before the change can start. This seems to be especially true when the tradition-busting becomes necessary because of external social changes.


Billy Mitchell was the U.S. military's first strong advocate for air power, specifically the need to dominate the air with a polycultural approach. He was ridiculed and sacrificed, but eventually others, having only to repeat arguments already made and refine them. The emotional need for tradition-alists to push back and destroy an innovator seems to get used up. The follower who comes along later, or the wing-man who asserts the same case but has the cover to argue he's not like that wild-man over there (like the not well-known Navy equivalent of Mitchell, Admiral Sims), has an easier time because the innovator is catching all the ack-ack.

The idea that women should be allowed to vote was not even discussable by the major parties at the turn of the century. Eugene Debs, the Socialist Party's candidate, ran on a platform of Women's suffrage, treated like Mitchell, and like Mitchell, opened up some cover for others to make the argument, an argument that ultimately won the field. It was a fight that Debs never could have won, and a fight that never would have been won without Debs or another person taking his noisy stand.

Pull-Top Patrick is a pseudonym for a warehouse manager who was a classic example of this effect in a corporate setting. Back in the mid-1980s there was a work process organization idea that was somewhat popular: Pull-through. At a production site where things were manufactured, finished and shipped, it was previously common practice to have the beginning of the process work as fast as it could, moving things down the line without regard to the situation downstream. Faster and slower production at the beginning creates accordion-like rushes and lulls downstream (if you've ever seen I Love Lucy Episode #39, with Lucy trying to keep up with the conveyor belt to wrap chocolates, you know the exact problem). Since crud rolls downhill, the farther down the supply chain you go, the uglier it gets. So the idea (oversimplified here) behind pull-though was that the loading dock would set the pace, with each step previous tuning itself to match the pace of its downstream partner(s). Pull-Top saw the biggest problem in customer service was the very problem pull-though was designed to fix, and after executive management refused to support his survey of customers to see if they agreed it was a major problem, he funded a survey himself, found they agreed, and started campaigning. Pull-through fought against every tradition the company had. Instead of a pair of highly-paid plant managers dictating pace, a handful of roughnecks on the loading docks would. It was anti-hierarchical, unprecedented, and felt backwards to everyone upstairs. When Patrick wouldn't back off he was let go in a blaze of recrimination and vilification. His replacement, an outsider with a decent track record wholly in the old model, continued the tradition, but looked at Patrick's work as an outsider might, with fresher eyes. When he campaigned for a pull-through experiment, his days were numbered -- he was let go after a few months, but sent to every member of the Board of Directors a polite, thorough memo describing the model and its virtues specifically to the company's configuration. The next warehouse manager was hired because he had worked in a plant that had used (and discarded) the pull-through model. After about nine months, he ended up instituting the pull-through model with virtually no resistance, won a fat bonus and a significant promotion. He lectured to trade groups about how to do a conversion and was a "hero". And it would have never happened without him, but it wouldn't have happened without Patrick's passion and the successor's rational exit memo, either.

Dick Allen is arguably the finest baseball player who will never be in the Hall of Fame. In a 15 year career, he was a rookie of the year, a most valuable player, a seven-time all-star, led the majors in batting three times (as measured by OPS). He lead the league in triples once and homers twice, and I suspect he was the last seasonal triples leader who was also a seasonal homers leader (the two each require a strong, but very different in the modern game, skill set). NOTE: Mike Molloy points out over at Baseball Primer that two players have actually done that since...Jim Rice & Ryne Sandberg. If you never saw him, he was a very good baserunner, a fearsome slugger, and the kind of cool professional average-plus-power hitter with a beautiful swing you would see in the last few years in Rafael Palmeiro or Edgar Martinez.

He still carries around a lot of other people's baggage, the perception that he was unpleasant because he could be unpleasant to reporters. He may have been. I never met him, but I did see him play and he was extraordinary.

Allen was lashed to cultural expectations of African American people in general, and of African-American ballplayers, more specifically. He was in the 4th "generation" of African-American ballplayers, and arrived on the scene in 1964, a high profile year for the civil rights movement in the South, the first year after the church bombing, the year of freedom riders and the murders featured in the movie "Mississippi Burning". Having won legal rights, Black Americans were pushing ever harder against the de facto barriers to their ability to exercise those rights, and this made some tradition-bound people uncomfortable. Allen was "normal" for 21-year old African-American males of 1964, except he played baseball at a high-level. He didn't have mentors inside the system to help him navigate media relations, relations with management and culturally different peers any more than most ambitious 21-year old African-American males had in 1964. So he did what innovators usually do when faced with the unknown -- he flailed a little and tried to carve out a niche for himself that worked for his employer and himself.

The results were predictable. Lots of misunderstanding. Old white guys who had liked the previous "generations" of black ballplayers they were on teams with (quiet, stoic-behaving guys, or ultra-loose guys, the kind management felt safe embedding on their rosters), freaked out when confronted with a self-confident, quietly cocky young Dick Allen. And when "race relations" in the non-baseball world turned incendiary, it created a petri dish for petulance, perturbation & precautionating.

Dick Allen, like Pull-Top Patrick, started embodying everything that seemed out of whack with the world. All the scary meta-meaning of external change that made everything so uncomfortable for Patrick's executives, for General Mitchell's superiors, for Debs' rivals, discomfited Allen's management as well. And having excoriated him for everything that made them uncomfortable, they were able to move on, to mature, and to find it easier to accept the culturally-similar ballplayers who followed him. The next cohort took fewer hits, the following one even fewer. By 1974, any player who behaved the Allen had wasn't seen as very eccentric, and certainly any player with skills comparable to those Allen had had in his prime (true, not many on-field comparables of any cultural background) wouldn't have generated as much friction.

Today, Allen's behavior set would be perceived as well within the norm for athlete behavior, perhaps even unremarkable. The constellation of normal behaviors of post-Civil-Rights movement young African-American males is now knitted into the cultural fabric of sports teams. New behaviors stretch the comfort of the status quo. But of course that wouldn't have been the case unless Allen or some other pathfinder hadn't taken those arrows first.

But the rap on Allen persists, and you have to chip away at it to see the factual playing record beneath. Just as sad, no one, as far as I know, ever invited Pull-Top Patrick or his ethical successor to an awards dinner. Baseball's just a little more evolved than corporations; baseball has a Baseball Reliquary and its extraordinary organizers, and there seem to be no equivalent institutions to celebrate the Pull-Tops of the world. I'm sure that if Dick Allen had met Pull-Top, he'd have shared today's honor with him, brother to brother.

Sunday, July 18, 2004

Kintetsu Buffaloes: Japan's P.L. Co-Doormat
Could Be a Vanguard for New Business Model  

Like many North American industries, Japanese professional baseball is melting down under the pressures of the current mutant model for globalization.

The league has lost some of its marquee players to the U.S., as well as some other talent. That's diluted some of the on-field talent concentration.

In this very nationalistic country, the emotional effect has eroded a little loyalty to their baseball. Many of these migrated monsters (such as Godzilla) prove only that Japan's very best are not the very best on the world stage. Godzilla's PRO+ is currently about 115, meaning offensively, Japan's current very best slugger is about 15% better than the average hitter in the American League, about 8% better than the average outfielder, and as of today, the 36th best batter in MLB according to OPS rankings. Good, but not all-star caliber. Godzilla is still adapting, and as an intelligent player, we can guess he will continue to improve as he learns more, but if Barry Bonds started playing in a league, say the Cuban league, and they pitched to him and he hit .285 with 22 home runs, it would cast a smudge on our sense of ourselves in the same way.

That effect is magnified I think because Japan as an economy has taken a back seat to many others in their region, making the loss of this other source of pride (once) more painful.

ASIDE: I don't think Japan's leagues are suffering, because one of their teams is named for Warriors Who Fight Ham. While I have cut back on my ham consumption because of the nitrates and fat, I like the stuff, and cannot imagine feeling so adversarial towards it that I would actually want to initiate an active conflict with it. Any society that chooses to fight ham probably has less attention left over for more important things.

Japan's baseball leagues seem to be in a fallow period, with a couple of teams that are hemorrhaging money, the Orix Blue Wave and the Kintetsu Buffaloes talking about merging to try to have one of the two co-doormats survive. (the Buffaloes, by the way, have a Pythagorean runs-scored/runs-allowed ratio that indicates they're playing roughly .500 baseball, though their record is about 5 games under that.

Thanks to Baseball Primer, I read this story on the National Post's site about the internet entrepreneur who wants to buy the Buffaloes to try to save them as a franchise. The entrepreneur, Takafumi Horie, wants to experiment with a lot of changes:

"Baseball is by far the most popular sport in Japan," the 31-year-old Horie said in a recent interview. "You have to find ways to tap into that popularity and I'm confident I can do that."

With escalating player salaries and lagging attendance, the Osaka-based Buffaloes were losing $36 million US a year. On June 13, they announced a plan to merge with the Orix BlueWave, another Pacific League team struggling at the gate and with the bottom line.

Japan's 10-year economic slowdown and the steady trickle of marquee players like Hideki Matsui to the major leagues has also contributed to the financial woes of many teams, but Horie thinks he can turn the Buffaloes around. Horie is not intimidated by the sorry state of Kintetsu's finances and points out that some teams, like the defending Japan Series champion Daiei Hawks, are able to draw large crowds to their home stadium.

"It's like any other venture business," said Horie. "You need strong cost performance analysis, more creative marketing strategies and doing things like offering stock options to players and fans." [emphasis mine]

More creative marketing is almost always a winner, especially in an industry that's ossified and more especially in an industry that's lost its confidence, as Japanese baseball seems to have.

But the crown jewel of the Horie proposals is player and fan ownership. In MLB, active player ownership interest in any team is explicitly banned. It's odd, because businesses with significant employee ownership perform 2 - 3% better than parallel business without employee ownership, and that companies with both employee ownership and participative management (the employee owners are encouraged to behave like owners) perform about 11% better on average than their peers. The National Center for Employee Ownership site has a lot of study data on this powerful phenomenon. You can go to this link to read the full text of what I excerpt below:

ESOPs and Corporate Growth

A 2000 study by Joseph Blasi and Douglas Kruse at Rutgers University found that ESOP companies grow 2.3% to 2.4% faster than would have been expected without an ESOP for sales, employment, and sales per employee. The study looked at all ESOP plans set up between 1988 and 1994 for which data was available. A 1987 NCEO study of 45 ESOP and 225 non-ESOP companies found that companies that combine employee ownership with a participative management style grow 8% to 11% per year faster than they would otherwise have been expected to grow based on how they had performed before these plans. Subsequent studies by the General Accounting Office and by academics in Washington State and New York found the same relationship. A 1999 study for Hewitt Associates by Hamid Mehran of Northwestern University found that the returns on assets for 382 publicly traded ESOP companies was 2.7% per year greater than what a model of their predicted performance would have been.

Studies on participative management alone find a small positive impact on performance, but not nearly enough to explain the synergy between ownership and participation these other studies have found.


You don't need an economist to tell you why this works, but if you have any doubts about it, think through some baseball examples. If the players had ownership stakes in their team, would happen if/when:

  • A manager tried to over-use a pitcher in a way that could threaten his career?
  • A teammate used an injury to sandbag?
  • A teammate tried to come back from an injury too soon?

Owners treat assets to balance the needs of current success and long-term returns. Employee ownership stake and employee management participation are engines that energize the magic of capitalism.

Free marketeers and other anti-capitalist cynics can create a straw-man out of this model -- players voting on every in-game or front-office move, major league players refusing to let minor leaguers come up because they can protect their own positions through ownership rights, but that would be false and worse, naive. These factors potentially exist in corporate organizations, too, and these realities are very rare.

Beyond baseball, this model works wonders. I've seen it myself, and the data support the conclusions my experiences drove me to. The gravitational field that makes it work wonders is universal, though the results aren't. If you have the wrong employees, either with life experiences that make them me-firsters or just immature, it can create more friction than the status quo corporate model. But you can always experiment with profit sharing as a halfway measure; you will quickly find out who is inspired by the responsibilities of ownership and who just takes it as a licence to try to bully others or act like a trust-fund kid. Those latter employees, by the way, tend not to be of great use in any corporate model.

Eleven percent better returns -- that's like 8 more wins a season for a Major League team, enough to make the difference for some between third place and first place.

What can you do to take advantage of this energizing principle? Why not start thinking about it now?

Friday, July 16, 2004

The Seattle Mariners Encounter the Event Horizon -- Why No Trend is a Straight Line  

People, even the highest paid analysts, have a heck of a time being able to describe the future because the future results in part from things that happen in its past, and at the same time is independent of the past in ways that mean you cannot project the past & have any reasonable hope of knowing the future.

It's a booger. To be decent at trends analysis, you have to fully understand the relationships and links between the metrics and the factors that made up the historical record. You have to be able to pull out factors-that-looked-important-to-the-result-but-weren't. You have to recognize dependecies that are likely to happen again. At the same time, you have to re-examine every presumption because it could have based on a fluke, on an ephemeral set of events that won't happen again.

It gives most managers headaches. So most managers just project the past into the future, providing themselves and their own managers a sense of stability, and they pretend that's going to work and if it doesn't work, they have the fallback CYA credo "How could I have known?". Worse, that thinking can be colored by the need to tell executive management something the C-level dudes demand to hear, Management By Wishful Thinking (MBWT).

"No-one" could have foreseen the black hole into which the Mariners slipped into this year. Well, except Bill James in early 1978, but back to that in a little bit.

The Mariners recent history has been chock-a-block with winning. With a big budget, good cash flow, and a team that combined players in their prime with a few older guys who were real anchors and the acquisition of some rôle players, the recipe was good enough to make them very successful during the regular season. In 2001, they had the second most successful regular season since "modern baseball" (since 1901) started, trailing only the 1906 Chicago Cubs in full-season win percent.

What was surprising was the Mariners were a pretty old team in 2001, with a mean average age for starters of 30.9 years old. Lots of studies have indicated strongly that baseball players peak at age 27 or 28 or 26. Bill James in the late 1970s described a model to analyse rosters by creating three clumps: young, prime and old. He found that most successful teams, especially one that sustained their winning ways, had a big pile of players in their prime years, and small ones balanced between young and old. The teams that started to age remediated that problem by purging older players and replacing them with younger ones. I'm lucky this week. I was looking for the Bill James text on it and it turns out that Rich Lederer at Rich's Weekend Baseball Beat is summarizing Bill James' Baseball Abstracts one by one. Here's a short summary of James' essay on the California Angels that year:

California Angels: When you acquire any player over 28, you are getting about 40% of a career--and that on the downhill slide. You can do that, perhaps, to fill a hole. But what happens when you try to build a whole team that way? Your replacement-rate goes out of sight. If you've got eight players on a downhill slide, two of them are going to slip and fall-either that, or you're defying the law of averages.

The 2001 Mariners were an extraordinarily old team for a team that successful. The 2002 M's needed to get younger; they almost did; they moved their average age to 30.3 (not bad because since everyone who stays on the roster is going to age a year during the year, that a total lack of action would have taken the roster to 31.9). That team got tired after July and had a solid season that wasn't good enough to make the playoffs. The alarm bells should have gone off to the front office. Time was passing this team by, and it was time to either shoot the moon or rebuild. The team did neither, which doesn't guarantee failure, but doesn't help chances for success, either. The 2003 Mariners' average age was 31.9, meaning they aged 1.6 years during that year. They amplified their challenge; like David Bowie they were "putting out the fire with gasoline", or trying anyway. In 2003, the Mariners again got tired after July and had a solid season that didn't get them into the playoffs.


Second year in a row the old team seemed fatigued. Third year in a row, they did nothing to get younger. They moved sideways. They had a few simple problems that could have been fixed (an aging left-handed 1st baseman who had lost his ability to hit for power and could no longer hit left-handed pitchers needed a right-handed platoon partner, for example) and addressed only one of them. In 2004, they have fallen off a cliff. Like a Clydesdale snorfling oats out of a feedbag, they weren't looking ahead, they were just in the moment, eyes focused on the end of their nose, not observing the event horizon they were about to fall below.

An event horizon is the precise term that describes it. Because all the pundits are acting like this meltdown "couldn't have been foreseen". In the the sense that (1) the exact degree to which it might happen was unknown, and (2) they might have had a solid season while pouring gasoline on the fire, the odds were that for a team that old, getting older wasn't likely to help and probabalistically, was likely to hurt their chances.


Very few trends are linear. Bake a yellow cake (not the kind the Iraqis weren't importing from Niger), for example. Follow the recipe, see results. Follow the recipe, but add an extra egg, see results. Repeat with two extra eggs, and so on. The one extra egg version is likely to be richer, yellower, and just as fluffy. The two-extra-egg version is going to to be even richer, yellower, and perhaps a little less fluffy. The three-extra egg version doesn't resemble a cake to a degree any greater than Kenny G resembles musical talent (and, I have to admit, failed to impress the really beautiful woman I had baked it for, although she was polite about it, that is, she tried to chew on the slab of baked-good that had the consistency of an Louis XIV-era Gummi-Bear). Their results are not linear -- like most effects, there's no straight-line return on eggness.

Small-minded people, especially those who are high-ranking executives, refuse to realize this inconvenient truth. I did some work once for a marketing-driven company about to go public. Their president wanted to enrich the earnings by cutting expenses, particularly cutting back on the company's large promotional/marketing budget (which was what drove sales). He cut by 10%, sales went down about 2%. So he cut another 20% and sales went down about 3%. So he made them cut another 20%, and sales dropped almost 22%.

The return wasn't a smooth line as he had learned in business school. Life doesn't throw us many purely linear trends. The past, while prologue, is almost never a roadmap to the present. When management is passive, things don't go South smoothly in a way that allows for a gentle adjustment.

More often, it's like the event horizon the Mariners fell into this year. Change, which is inevitable, requires pre-planning, paying attention to feedback, absorbing the lessons of the past while being prepared for variation.

The price of passivity is a quick drop below the event horizon, an "E" ticket ride like that taken by the 2004 Seattle Mariners.

Wednesday, July 14, 2004

A Forum Happens on the Way to a Funny Thing  

There's now a formal discussion forum on Management By Baseball over at MLBCenter.com.

Mike Flatt (the honcho over there) and I are trying this as an experiment for a month. The one I had set up here had a very poor signal-to-noise ratio; this one has the chance to synthesize the large crowd of people who use MLB Center for the myriad of things baseball they do in with MBB's more regular readership. I think it could be interesting.

To post to the MBB forum, you need to register here (no charge, very easy by internet site registration standards.

Take a look at what's over there by nosing around the site. There's quite a wide range of baseball topics.

Tuesday, July 13, 2004

Predictive Metrics: Using Baseball's Model to Devise Your Own
to Scare Small Children & the Minnesota Twins  

Baseball is a feast of metrics, and with all the new forms of measurement sabermetricians are applying to the game, it's no surprise that some of these numbers are models you can apply in your own non-baseball organization.

Here's one of my favorites: Pythagorean Won-Loss Records.

While the actual won-loss standings establish who ranks where at the end of the season, during the season, chance, luck and the Yankees can deflect the actual field accomplishments of a team to give them a record better (or worse) than how they are playing. That shouldn't surprise you. Even with a long 162-game season, some teams are going to lose or win more than their fair share of closely contested games. That's the way it should be.

Back in the early 1980s, Bill James, the most well-known sabermetrician of that era found that in general you could predict how many games a team would win and lose over the season by knowing how many runs they scored and how many they surrendered. By running these through a simple (though requiring a calculator) formula, you could guess within two games for most teams how many wins a squad would have by the end of the season. The method is called Pythagorean Won-Loss Records, a.k.a. Expected Won-Loss Records.

But who cares, some might ask? The only thing that matters in getting to the playoffs is how many games you did win, now how many you should have won.

True, but the slick thing about the Pythagorean metric is it has strong predictive abilities. Because nature and the tug of probabilities tends to draw most things towards the mean average, luck tends to even out over a long season. So it turns out a team that 30 games or so into the season is way underperforming or way over-performing the wins they could be expected to have based on their Runs Scored (RS) and Runs Allowed (RA) is very likely to move in the direction of their Pythagorean. And that they will win games in the future part of the season at the rate more closely to their Pythagorean won-lost record than their actual-to-date record.

Alan Schwarz wrote a piece the Contra Costa (Calif.) Times published July 4th about this very metric. He explains the formula and some of the teams that appear ready to slide and those that appear ready to make a strong move, based on their Pythagorean numbers at the All-Star break. It's a well done newspaper article, though the on-line version would benefit from a Standings table that illustrated every team's actual and Pythagorean won-loss records.

TUESDAY EVENING ADD Studes, the Stats Stud from Baseball Graphs, pointed out that they have an unusual graphic representation of RS and RA, with Pythagorean notations. I looked and found it very informative -- it's less numeric but more visual. Take a look at this if you're interested.

Baseball Prospectus runs a daily chart that does this, though before you go there, it does too many other things too, leaving no tern unstoned in an effort to rationalize in one place everything from The Unified Field Theory to why the majority of people in an ice cream parlor that sells over twenty flavors will still choose vanilla to Tony Batista's batting stance to why people still use Microsoft's Internet Explorer when a thousand deranged orcs spend half their waking hours obsessively writing code that turns it into a death trap for its owners.

The part of the Baseball Prospectus chart to look at includes the first seven columns (feel free to ignore the rest unless you like clever numbers, which the rest are). Those seven columns are: Team W L RS RA W1 L1.

The RS and RA I explained already, and the W1 and L1 are the wins and losses the Pythagorean calculation projects the team should expect based on their RS and RA. Here's Baseball Prospectus' standings table. The short look: Teams one should expect to see improved performances from in the second half: The Red Sox, Blue Jays, Tigers, Mariners & Pirates. Teams one should expect to see erode a little in the second half: The Yankees, Reds, Giants and Twins. Of course trades and violent strategy shifts in reaction to the real standings can change the probabilities for teams in the second half, though Schwarz' article suggests some teams do observe Pythagorean metrics to tune their second half behavior.

The Reds' (director of baseball operations Brad) Kullman has the ultimate challenge: His club, hanging tough at 42-37, has been outscored by 30 runs and is probably due for a fall. "It's tough to say, 'Let's trade for the stretch drive and mortgage the future,' when realistically that might not be the best move," he said.

A week later, the Reds' Pythagorean won-loss measure was 40-48 according to the Prospectus table. And some franchises (well, the Twins) seem to go against their Pythagorean tendency a lot of years. There's no good theory, even a glib one, that explains the Twins' seeming ability to do a Nijinsky and defy the laws of gravity that seem to bind other teams to this dark-hearted orb.

In spite of its many exceptions, Bill James Pythagorean projection method is a fine general metric. I love it for several reasons, all of them illustrative of things that are valuable to non-baseball organizations.


1: The Numbers Behind Success

Non-baseball organizations need to track their progress with certain numbers and, like baseball's wins and losses, these really do matter. But frequently they don't match the quality of the group's efforts. How many times have you run a project or new initiative you know was really good and well-executed but the bottom line hasn't shown equal-quality results in the short term? Too often. Sometimes your competitor does something half-axed and blows away the market. The bottom line result doesn't always reflect the quality of the decisions and effort that went into the efforts.

Quality, clarity of vision, persistence, ability to change plans adaptively on the fly tends to win over the long term, but guarantees nothing over the short term. If management knows what the constituents of successful performance are (in baseball, runs scored relative to runs allowed), they can keep track of these key components and ratios as well as the obvious surface indications of success and failure. They can use these measures to take a longer view and apply their resources more intelligently.

Tools like balanced scorecard are good starts in this direction, but that's usually something analysts apply broadly across an organization. If you think about it, you can devise tools like that to a department or workgroup with quicker results.

2: Natural Ratios

Lots of managers believe in "S" curves of product adoption. Some things actually do work out that way, though most don't. An incredible number of people believe in Bell Curve distributions even though very few things in nature actually fit a bell curve pattern, including most of the classic examples we were taught in school like "average height of adult males".

The Pythagorean ratios are actually very common in nature, not to mention algebra. It's almost like something out of The Eight or the Da Vinci Code.

You can try to discover Pythagorean ratios in your own organization's measures and use them to gauge performance. Of course, the work of Pythagoras is not alone in clarifying natural tendencies -- you might discover your own if you pull yourself away from the exlicit and implicit assumptions of standard measures.

3. Breaking the Stranglehold of the Past

By breaking measures into two parts, the actual and the expected based on performance, you're analysing things the right way instead of the traditional way othat turns it on its head. It's easier just to measure final results, but ultimately far less informative to shaping the way you are executing than measuring the constituents of success. Existentialist manager Alvin "Swamp Fox" Dark lived by this system when he managed the K.C. Rotals and Oakland A's, making sure he didn't beat himself to death for every decision that didn't work out because you have to remember not all right decisions work out, not do all wrong ones cause you to fail.

Are you doing the right things in the right proportions? How do you know? Because results and efforts are always out of synch to some degree, results can pull management to violently in some short-term direction based on a factor that was outside the effect the organization can have. This isn't an argument, btw, for inaction in the face of change, it is though an argument for not allowing panic to undermine the things you do well or allowing complacency over good results after mediocre efforts lull your organization into a sense of invulnerability.

Baseball teams have big decisions to make this time of year. Is the team good enough to compete for the rest of the year, or is it going to become a black hole from which no light escapes?

The won-loss record is indicative, but the Pythagorean metric really tells a fuller story. It can for you, too.

Saturday, July 10, 2004

PART III - The Book: Baseball's Model for
Evolving the Procedures Manual  

In the two previous posts in this series, I discussed "The Book", why baseball's model for procedures manuals was worth emulating, and how baseball makes (and you, too, if you use these tactics) the model work, diffusing knowledge about how to follow a complex set of decisions, when to vary them, and how to vary them.

Big organizations need procedures manuals to try to overcome their diseconomies of scale, to try to gain the efficiencies that do come with size. But it's very hard for big bureaucracies to update procedures meaningfully and at a speed that might outrun Dennys Reyes.

Baseball "knows" and makes it easy to see how procedures should evolve because managers pay close attention both to the immediate & to with trends they've been tracking, synthesizing them. Take a couple of well-known managers as an illustration.


Gene Mauch was a manager much beloved by owners and reporters, the former because he was easygoing with them, the latter because he was more polite than most of his peers. He was also beloved by Earl Weaver because Mauch had internalized The Book and varied off it so rarely that Weaver could play Mauch like a Stradivarius. If Weaver made a specific move in a specific situation, he knew with near-certainly what Mauch, like a chess player who only plans one move beyond the current one, would do in return. Because once Mauch decided a pair of players were platoon partners, Weaver several times made Mauch burn up a potential pinch hitter by flipping his pitcher and watching Mauch autonomically take out one player for his platoon partner. Weaver, like most attentive fans of a Mauch team, also seemed to know when Mauch would bunt.

Mauch had a great reputation. There were few individual decisions Mauch made that anyone could criticize, because they were almost always, at first glance, by "The Book". While Weaver knew The Book, he understood something about it Mauch, if he knew, didn't act on.

Weaver mastered application of "The Book" by understanding the ways it transcended a procedures manual:

  • the necessity of varying actions based on context,
  • the necessity of experimenting to gain feedback and test for systemic changes,
  • the necessity of variations to test assumptions.

A perfect Weaver example is his handling of middling left-handed hitters. He had a bunch of these over his tenure, but the one that comes to mind is Pat Kelly. Kelly had a fifteen year career, mostly as a left-handed platoon corner outfielder/DH, and his two best years both happened during the four years he played for Weaver's Oriole teams. By Kelly's 9th year in the majors, his reputation was pretty much set. Like a lot of decent left-handed hitters, he could hit righties pretty well and pretty much struggled against lefties (there's an important reason for this that's worth an entire topic of its own).

Lazy by-the book managers would look at Kelly's past, see his normal pattern and if they didn't have a platoon partner, would let him play all the time, undermining his apparent value by diluting his stats, while undermining the team with his lack of accomplishment the 3/8ths of the time they faced a left-handed starter. Weaver's model was more elaborate (and valuable) than a rigid adherence to historical stats.

  1. Observe the individual long enough to ascertain if he really has this hole in his aptitudes. He does.
  2. Make the general case that you platoon Kelly, letting him feast on the right-handed pitching he's currently good at hitting.
  3. Occasionally vary the norm by letting him in against selected lefties, especially either lefties who have no strong advantage over lefties or who Kelly's platoon partner has no history of hitting well. This increases his experience.
  4. With increased experience, it may make it possible for Kelly to improve his ability enough that he learns to hit lefties, which, if it happens, it a great leap forward for the team. If he only improves his ability a little, it still helps the team to a greater degree than his immediate uptick in offense -- it also delivers an advantage because it frees his manager from having to remove him for a platoon partner and that means additional tactical flexibility in volatile situations, the possibility of saving a key player for a higher-impact situation later in the game.
  5. Don't let small data samples distort your managerial thinking; Don't refuse to act based on the data at hand.


In the Larry Stone package I discussed in Part I, he had a sidebar, "A Peek in the Book", on ten rules from The Book and their current application, trying to see if some had changed or were just as they were "written".

Several are pretty constant because the foundation of the environment can't change very much to change the context of these decision, for example:

1. Play for a win on the road and a tie at home. Most managers still adhere to this edict, because of the huge advantage belonging to the team with the final at-bat.

7. Never make the first out or third out at third base. Perhaps more than any other tenet, this has stood the test of time. The logic is unassailable: A runner on second base is already in scoring position, so the urgency to get to third base with two outs is not strong. And with no outs, the runner can be advanced to third on a bunt or ground out and still score on a sacrifice fly.

It's the same pattern outside of baseball. There are decisions you are not going to experiment at all with, like suddenly presuming the Earth will lose its gravity field or Adam Dunn will stop striking out. The benefit of not wasting energy testing the unarguable is a real benefit when applied carefully.

Some are questioned because the environment has changed, mostly decisions that have arguments on both sides but that probalistically benefit one side over the other in a way that has drifted over time because of the juiced (to varying degrees) balls MLB has used since 1994.

8. Guard the lines late in games with a one-run lead. Managers used to move over their first and third basemen as a matter of course, until the smart ones realized they were giving up more base hits to the hole than they were preventing doubles down the line.

Guarding the lines prevents more doubles at the cost of yielding more singles, and it takes more singles to score a run than it does doubles. This one is highly contextual (the stadium, the speed of the batter and corner outfielders, etc.) so the fact that managers are varying the book on this on a case-by-case basis makes perfect sense. Beyond baseball, as a manager you should be doing the same, examining presumed actions based on context.

Finally, there are elements of The Book that bear heavy experimentation and tinkering.

5. Don't bring in your closer until the ninth inning. Herman Franks was credited by Bill James with being the first to isolate his closer, when he had Bruce Sutter with the Cubs. But Sutter was usually used for two or more innings. It was Tony La Russa's handling of Dennis Eckersley in the late 1980s — and the left-right-left-right relay leading up to him — that changed The Book.

This is the most recent tenet from the ten Stone cites, and the one that bears the most reason for skepticism. The reason it came into being is one that's very common beyond baseball: Some manager did something different; it was extremely successful in the specific context with the specific talent at hand; many imitated with different context and personnel and, even without successful feedback, continue to do it even though it yields middling or poor results in many cases.

LaRussa had great success with using Eckersley as a one-inning save-situation reliever because The Eck was great, The Eck at that stage of his career wasn't great for more than one inning, The Eck played on a team that had a ton of other good relievers so it wasn't a necessity for him to pitch all the crucial confrontations that might happen after a starter became ineffective. That's aligning a lot of unusual factors that don't appear together very often by chance, and are very hard to assemble when you're trying to do it on porpoise, as they used to say on Flipper. In baseball today, there are too many managers who contort themselves trying to align all the factors to create a ninth-inning-to-protect-a-small-lead closer when there are a dozen alternative models with as much probability of success for a lot less stress and manipulation.

Beyond baseball, it pays to examine your "The Book" whether its printed as a behemoth of blather or merely the unexamined assumptions of "the way we do things around here".


It pays to create ways to diffuse knowledge through your organization without resorting to procedures manuals, and baseball is the shining example of why to do it, how to do it, and when and how to break the mold for decisions.

Wednesday, July 07, 2004

Stat-Plaque, Fantasyland Style  

I'm in the middle of a three-part post, and while as a reader I really dislike it when someone goes off on an aside in the middle of a series, I'm about to do that. I'll get back to the series; I just had to deal with this archetypal foolishness.


ESPN ran a table in yesterday's MLB index page, which I include below. The Disney sports channel is trying to be in Frontierland (opening up the savage statistical desert and creating a settlement of civilized modern interpretation), and careening into Fantasyland with this particular effort, something they call "The Juicebox".

The idea is (I think. The table has no analysis presented, just what you see below. This is based on my induction) to use numbers to help fans figure out the on-field effects of the new MLB steroid/supplement-testing policy.

It's a clinic in how to strike out.

The Juicebox

Through Jul 6




Homers per Game




Runs per game




Doubles per game




Aggregate SLG




MLB has instituted a steroid policy for the first time this season. ESPN.com looks at 2004 power numbers compared to the last two seasons.

Strike 1: The table appears without any accompanying narrative beyond that little bit of text. No analysis, barely even enough context-setting to allow a consumer to judge what the numbers are supposed to tell you. Like a Disneyland character dressed in a Pluto suit, it has nothing to say for itself

Strike 2: They don't bother to tell you whether these numbers "per game" are "per team, per game" or "per game (both teams)". It's per team per game, by the way.

Strike 3: In an effort to impress the reader with their extra-beefy numeric ability, they include not just one, but two insignificant digits, as though if they printed "1.1" readers would think they were girly-men, but if they printed "1.0821074", readers will be impressed with their smack-umen. Look, the difference between 1.082 and 1.071, is ONE homer every 90 games, or generously, two per season per team. Not significant.

Strike 4: As though in a bad dream from Mr. Baseball, they continue to whiff by failing to deliver any conclusions. I think they did that because when the Disney-lads started this Juicebox feature, they didn't have any idea what the statistics might tell them when they "designed" this feature. Do they think it shows steroid use is down? Up? That steroids don't have any effect on statistical accomplishment? That steroids do, but that they increase the capabilities of pitchers and batters equally? Like the last 36 years of Federal drug policy through every President since Nixon, the Disney-lads don't know any of the science, they don't care about any of the science, they just want to waste oxygen by vigorously waving their arms about it.

Strike 5: They didn't normalize the data. So they're comparing the rate of numbers produced in the first three months of one season with the rate produced over entire previous seasons. Given seasonal variations in weather and production, this is a weakness (not fatal, necessarily, but why mix when you could match?).


There are some good lessons laid out here, and not all of them at the expense of ESPN.

In their defense, sports coverage is early in its transition from the old Bitgod (Back In The Good Old Days) stats model to the more informed Sabermetric model. As with any paradigm shift, there will be some adopters who shift to the new model without really understanding it, just knowing that they need to to "keep up". These early efforts in organizations wedded, well, welded, to the old model are bound to have rough spots. But it's better to shut up than to fill the universe with more verbal plaque.

And sometimes you develop an idea for a study that confirms the null hypothesis (that what you thought might indicate a trend or result instead indicates nothing significant). If you're never hitting that wall, you're probably not experimenting hard enough. Don't be worried about presenting the results of a study that did this, but explain what you think it means. Too often in our sabermetric community, people invest a lot of effort in analysing data and present their results as though they had meaning, when in reality, it was a large effort that proved almost nothing. It's okay that it proves little or nothing; one just needs to explain that.

* - When you present data on any topic, don't add a bunch of insignficant digits. 1.082 in the context of a 83-game series of events (the average # of games played this year so far) really should be 1.1 or perhaps 1.08 if you want to get Beyond The Valley of the Super-Fine. One divided by 83 is 0.012, so the last digit doesn't inform, just uses up ink or electrons.

* - Have an idea of what you're trying to indicate with data before you start running numbers. If ESPN had thought through the basis of the Juicebox, they'd know at this point that it looks like MLB's steroid/supplements policy hasn't had a sigficiant effect of statistical output so far, and they could have mentioned that.

* - Try to normalise data. Sneaky statisticians can prove almost anything by carving out samples, picking out some four month period that "proves" the economy is booming or tanking, depending on what they need. Weak statisticians can just choose odd periods unintentionally. Try to make sure your numbers don't have wierd environmental artifacts in them, like comparing Spring+early Summer with numbers from an entire year.

* - Contextualize conclusions. Always present findings in a few different ways so you can reach people with different skill sets. For example, a short narrative here could have explained that home run output was up a tiny bit so far this season, and that perhaps the new steroid policy wasn't surpressing that expression of batting power.

There are always going to be imperfections in data presentation, we can all live with that. But try not to chain together every single one of these problems the way the Fantasyland characters at ESPN did.

Monday, July 05, 2004

PART II - The Book: Baseball Proves How
Big Organizations Can Nail Procedures  

In the last entry, I discussed how baseball's "The Book", a set of agreed upon ways of doing things, works and where it came from and why it's better than the models normally deployed in big organizations (usually a binary choice between either nothing/chaos or an Raiders of the Lost Ark warehouse full of rigid procedures manuals). "Baseball" is both an industry and a large organization, broken up into many competing divisions, geographically dispersed, and at least as complex in that challenging-to-cohesiveness way as just about any multi-billion dollar endeavor.

So how does baseball do it? And how can you?


Baseball doesn't write down the book because individuals only get promoted when they've mastered the basics.

Connie Mack, who according to the roster managed the Philadelphia Athletics from 1901-1950 (and probably actually made most of the management decisions through about 1946), assembled the core of his teams from college attendees. It wasn't that other teams didn't take college attendees, and it wasn't that Mack chose players exclusively from the ranks of college graduates. It was that Mack favored players with a track record of being able to learn.

In Mack's system, according to The Bill James Guide to Baseball Managers, Athletics players were expected to make a lot of in-game calls themselves. Mack could delegate more if he could pass on training more easily. But it was more than a proven ability to receive that made Mack's design work -- it was that combined with Mack's determination to mentor. Mack worked with his players in the dugout, asking them to tell him why he was doing certain things, telling them what he was doing, teaching them "The Book" through iterative instruction in live situations, the classroom of nine innings.

Any manager can do this...narrate their decisions, solicit thoughts, provide constructive criticism in return. Essentially, this is knowledge management, a way of making the transmission of knowledge throughout the organization a by product of daily work.

Baseball, of course, is a great medium for stories, and ballplayers with management ambitions soak up the many stories baseball's famous for while sitting in the dugout or clubhouse, or in socializing with coaches and scouts away from the stadium.

Stories are an excellent medium for transmitting knowledge. IBM has set up an entire facility for studying ways to optimize the knowledge transmission of stories, a baseball technique. Their champion for this approach, David Snowden, has had success applying the technique. There's a link to their work here. I don't buy their work totally, btw, because part of their theory is that the value of stories is so high it doesn't matter if they're apocryphal and fluffed or even fabricated; the deliverable is so important, it's worth fibbing to achieve it. I believe if you enthuse people with a story and they find out it's not true, you'll have a hard time convincing them only the facts were fibs, the message is true nevertheless.

Mentoring is cheaper than producing procedures manuals, even low-cost manuals. Does your organization use this technique?


Another technique for steeping an organization in "The Book" without truckloads of manuals is to bring everyone together to work on the same things using the same methods.

Branch Rickey innovated this when he came to the Brooklyn Dodgers from the St. Louis Cardinals. He had all the minor league organizations working the same drills as the players from the big club, and for at least part of spring training, on adjacent fields and at times, mingled.

Really big organizations can't do this for days on end, but many do bring everyone physically together for a company meeting. Too often, those kinds of meetings are just to announce results or to party. Healthy organizations bring people together to learn common lessons, too. The Snowden/IBM method can work well in this kind of venue, since stories are a shorthand way of transmitting knowledge. And of course, every organization tries to do this with memos and newsletters, the minimally effective approach.

Does your outfit take advantage of the Dodger model beyond the bare minimum of memos and newsletter articles?


The Baltimore Orioles organization under Paul Richards created a model where all the managers exchanged common wisdom and produced a way of doing things, The Oriole Way, that provided that organization a comparative advantage for years. Much of this ended up being actually written down, but the essence of it was developing it at the top, refining it though the life experience of middle management, and then bringing the results of testing it back up through the system.

Big non-baseball organizations aren't systematic about this percolation style. They do tend to transmit mandates and orders from the top and push them down, but without the line managers' wisdom being infused and blended on the way down and then having the tested outcomes pushed back up the chain for incorporation to ensure evolution of The Way.

Beyond baseball it is possible to do this. It takes planning, the unusual foundation of a healthy executive team that both has a leash on its individual egos and cares about long-term results, and a relentless pursuit of continual re-examination of results.


It is possible to use all three baseball techniques to diffuse proper procedures throughout an organization with only minor effort and almost no friction. They're cheaper and more effective than the status quo. They only require understanding why the baseball model works so much better than what most big organizations do today.

In the next entry, I'll discuss baseball's "The Book", and how it evolves, and the lessons that contains for helping you see that your own organization's ways of getting things done evolve properly and don't just fester like some expensive Maginot Line that turns your strengths into weaknesses.

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