Friday, May 06, 2005

The Scholarly Rigor of Carlos Delgado:
Learning Channels & the Delgado Codex  

While baseball oozes workplace wisdom, there's not, as a rule, as much to harvest from contemporary players as managers and G.M.s. As a sub-culture, the players tend away from erudition. Since mild hazing for sport is a universal feature among teams, players who aren't seeking extra hassles hide their books, speak in monosyllables and with grammar inferior to that of the sixth-graders who hang out at Mall of America. Few players have the courage to be different, especially if it might look "egghead". It's not that all ballplayers are ill-educated -- the ones that aren't, more often than not, choose to act that way.

But then there's Carlos Delgado and the infamous Delgado Codex.

There's a solid workplace lesson from the Marlin slugger. According to the lead in this week's story from Mike Berardino (thanks to Baseball Primer for the find):

Some guys make an out, come back to the dugout and sit there staring into space.

Others take out their frustrations on the bat rack or race back to the clubhouse video monitor.

Carlos Delgado? He writes.

By now you have probably caught this ritual on television. It happened again Tuesday night in Atlanta after a home run off Mike Hampton. Perhaps you have wondered what the Marlins' first baseman was doing. Compiling a grocery list? Composing poetry? Dashing off a note to his parents? Scrawling "I hate pitchers!" over and over?

Oh, he's plotting against pitchers all right, but in a far more constructive way. Soon after each trip to the plate, Delgado, the thinking man's slugger, fills his ever-present composition book with intricate data.

What sort of data? "I can't tell you that," he jokes. "Top secret." Then he relents and lays it all out for a nosy reporter.

Turns out Delgado records the date of the game, the name of the pitcher, the exact sequence of pitches, the progression of the count and the result of each confrontation. If he gets a single, he doesn't just write "single," but puts down precisely where and how he hit the ball.

He'll detail the quality of each pitch, the approximate velocity and movement and anything else about the duel that sticks in his mind. He can fit about three years' worth of data in each lined notebook -- four games per page, one line per plate appearance.

For a little more than the first half of pro baseball's history, almost no-one compiled pitch-by-pitch events. Connie Mack tracked where each opponent's batted balls landed. Branch Rickey's Dodgers owned the services of statistician Allan Roth and he tracked batter, pitcher and other team outcomes (not at the pitch level). Earl Weaver and other Orioles system field managers tracked these personally.

But for at least a decade, most teams, now all of them, compile every pitch on video for replay and subsequent visual analysis by the player and by the coaching staff. [There's some fine documentation of who and how in the St. Louis Cardinals' case in Buzz Bissinger's book Three Nights in August]. Most players take advantage of the video and many benefit.

But Delgado, like a medieval Benedictine at Monte Cassino, personally scribes his knowledge.

If you do not have a photographic memory, you should consider Delgado's approach. He gets results with it (he'd better; in the player subculture, it marks him as an outsider; only the highest-accomplishment individuals can silence the hazing to a bearable whisper). Delgado is most excellent. He's been a regular since 1996, and (numbers courtesy John "Slovakia's Finest All-Natural Slugger" Pastier) here are some of his numbers among batters from 1996-2004.

1    Garret Anderson             350
2    Jeff Kent                   347
3    Craig Biggio                343
4    Carlos Delgado              338
5    Manny Ramirez               332
6    Todd Helton                 328
7    Jeff Bagwell                326
8    Luis Gonzalez               317
9    Shawn Green                 315
10   Edgar Martinez              311

HOMERUNS                        HR
1    Sammy Sosa                  443
2    Barry Bonds                 411
3    Alex Rodriguez              376
4    Jim Thome                   368
5    Rafael Palmeiro             357
6    Manny Ramirez               340
7    Jeff Bagwell                333
8    Carlos Delgado              324
9    Ken Griffey Jr.             312
10   Mark McGwire                306

OPS (3000+ plate appearances)    OPS
1    Barry Bonds               1.188
2    Mark McGwire              1.111
3    Todd Helton               1.048
4    Larry Walker              1.048
5    Manny Ramirez             1.029
6    Jim Thome                 1.004
7    Lance Berkman              .980
8    Vladimir Guerrero          .979
9    Gary Sheffield             .979
10   Jeff Bagwell               .970
11   Alex Rodriguez             .967
12   Sammy Sosa                 .967
13   Frank Thomas               .963
14   Carlos Delgado             .961

RBI                             RBI
1    Sammy Sosa                 1107
2    Manny Ramirez              1098
3    Alex Rodriguez             1075
4    Rafael Palmeiro            1069
5    Jeff Bagwell               1041
6    Carlos Delgado             1023
7    Jim Thome                   995
8    Barry Bonds                 979
9    Chipper Jones               953
10   Jeff Kent                   944

RCAA                           RCAA
1    Barry Bonds                 969
2    Manny Ramirez               529
3    Jim Thome                   507
4    Gary Sheffield              493
5    Jeff Bagwell                464
6    Alex Rodriguez              448
7    Jason Giambi                438
8    Edgar Martinez              427
9    Chipper Jones               421
10   Carlos Delgado              402

RCAA = Lee Sinins' Runs Created Above Average. It suggests Delgado's batting added about 402 runs to the offense of teams he played on. Over 9 seasons, this averages close to 45 runs a year.

This works for Delgado. He's one of the top batters in the game and he wasn't a flash in the pan, but has been persistently above average.

It's not that video doesn't work and this does. Each of us learns through three sensory channels: visual (seeing), auditory (hearing), kinesthetic (doing). Most of us have a dominant channel, a medium through which we learn best, and each of the three is the dominant channel for roughly a third of the population. Learning channel theory posits that there is no one way for everyone to get information best -- though if you know a person's most effective channel, you can design a way to maximize her knowledge acquisition.

Aside: One of the reasons computers in the workplace haven't generally made people more productive is because the products tend to be strongly oriented towards the third of the population who are visual learners. They do tend to be productive, because the tool was designed with them in mind. Pointing devices such as the mouse help kinesthetic learners remember where menu items are through small muscle memory. Auditory folk are generally left out of the designers' and manufacturers' play books. Over time -- Angus' Eighth Law -- gravtational fields draw visuals towards computers and tend to push the others away -- people who then become interested enough in computers to design their hardware and software are predominantly visual learners and the cycle gets amplified.

Some people, sadly, have no functional channel to learn no matter how excellent the input or how hard the teacher tries. These people are called "Ben Davis".

Dlegado's tracking technique works for him because with his kinesthetic learning strength, it's a better medium for him to remember. The act of physically writing it down cements additional details in his mind. Because he's rigorous and (the story added) determined to recognize patterns in his data, this approach dovetails with his intellect and delivers what he needs. The fact the he's self-aware (Third Base in the MBB Model) is a cool exception to the general population and to most managers.

I have reasons to believe Carlos Delgado's skill set would make him a strong manager in or outside baseball.

If you don't remember everyhting that goes on in meetings, or if your mind tends to wander, use the Delgado Discipline and take structured notes. Even if you're a visual or auditory learner, in more of the population than not, it'll help cement the events in your mind, force one to pay a little more attention, give you the possibility of an "aha" later.

Brain researchers are executing a lot of studies now on writing's effects on the brain and how different parts of the brain process sensory input, mostly among learning-disabled people -- because that's how you can get funding more easily -- but the insights they harvest are just as useful to more "average" learners. Here's an article. Here's another article for further background.

Not all information is useful, but all information is potentially useful. Acquire as much as you can and if you're in the category of people who are capable of applying pattern recognition to work issues, sift through your notes, even of meetings in the distant past, to refresh your insights. A small investment might yield big Carlos Delgado-sized hits.

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