Sunday, September 25, 2005

The Territoriality is Not the Map --
Dead Angels Can Fly, But Should They?  

Large organizations are not alone in sometimes forgetting what their "mission" is, but the Diseconomies of Scale exert a stronger pull on mission-dilution as the size of the outfit grows. In baseball, while it appears individual teams are able to have a mission and keep in foremost, "the majors", as embodied in MLB are different. At least this week they are.

The news that came out this week was that Major League Baseball was suing a non-profit school. The school is for underprivileged kids in a state with the 5th highest poverty rate in the country. This is in a time where lower-income people, rather than sharing in the boom economy, have seen their incomes decline in each of the last four years. And in an economy that seems to have created more people in that lower-income category every year for the last four years. In a state that is going to get economically hammered and have the number of lower-income kids it has and its poverty rate skyrocket this yearm and in the future because it agreed to take tens of thousands of evacuees from Hurricane Katrina.

The suit is a copyright infringement action -- over the 105-pupil school's logo, which has lettering that truly looks a a fair amount like a team's logo. That team logo was last used 10 seasons back.

Slick move. Good public relations.

--The little non-profit school is The Carver Academy of San Antonio, Texas. Link here
--The logo MLB alleges they are infringing on (and they have a decent argument) is the 1993-96 California Angels' logo. View at this link, or this one.
--The Carver Academy's logo is at this link.
--The story, in case you think I made this up, is at this link. (L.A. Times, so it will disappear soon...let me know if you can't get to it & I'll try to get you to an alternative link).

As you can see, on the pure legal merits, MLB's legal department has a good argument. And while the "player's union" (MLBPA) is like 159-3 against MLB's law team, MLB is capable of winning this one against the level of legal power a non-profit school (for 105 underprivileged kids in a chronically poverty-stricken state that has been sinking into deeper poverty for the last five years) can muster.

From a p.r. point of view, MLB has managed to produce yet another remake of "The Alamo", casting the Academy as the idealistic but overpowered Jim Bowie and Davy Crockett while reserving for itself the role of General Santa Anna.

The Angels have an outstanding p.r. department, by the way, and a very savvy owner. I have to think that if it had been the Angels' legal department ruminating on this move, there would have been a smoother outcome. Say, a donation to cover the costs of designing a new logo that didn't infringe on the Angels' logo, manufacturing replacements, issuing a press release showing how cool they were and staging a small event with some ballplayers on the team's next road trip to Arlington and harvesting the mother-lode of warm-fuzzies that accrue for such acts..

But because of the Diseconomies of Scale, MLB handles this issue centrally, in a remote (from the team and from the school) professional services office disconnected from both, and from the ability to recognize a loser when they see one. I don't think they've decided to take on the non-profit school for a bunch of underprivileged kids just to have a chance to taste victory (possible, but unlikely). They have an actual case here. I just think they've lost track of The Mission, and have allowed a side business (license revenue) to overwhelm the The Mission of the core business.

You see it all the time in business and non-profits and government. The core mission is going slowly, either because that part of the economy is sagging, or Wall Street demands better results, or the core product is entering a natural decline phase, or the function of the core mission hasn't been exercised for a while.

When you see the documented subset of scary stories out of the Katrina disaster that showed individual FEMA folk struggling with their management so they could deliver on the mission (" responding to, planning for, recovering from and mitigating against disasters.") when executive management was forbidding them until all the proper forms were filled out and approved in a six-department process, you can see where the mission gets subsumed to a side business. Process exists, process needs to be respected, but not as much (in this case, more than) the mission. It also was alleged by long-time FEMA employees that when the agency got subsumed into Homeland Security, while the FEMA mission didn't change, the resources were focused away from natural disasters such as hurricanes (inevitable) and towards responding to terrorist attacks.

I don't know if that actually happened, but if so, it's a government-being-more-like-business initiative, because business is quite prone to chasing an immediate opportunity (good) while letting the core mission lie fallow (bad). You see it in business all the time.

Companies having a hard time squeezing out profits in a permafrost economy trying to make money with a currency speculation side-business. Department stores buying insurance companies. Oil companies buying fish food companies. All interesting, all difficult but not impossible to pull off, all potentially worthwhile as long as the attention management pays to the side-business doesn't let them forget what their mission is.

All of a sudden, an engineering- and design centered business like Apple Computer, facing soft results, decides that licensing their valuable intellectual property is another useful source of revenue, a side business that complements the core mission. But within a few months, the team assembled to execute that side business starts threatening lawsuits, mostly justified, against outfits they perceive as violating their patents, copyrights and trademarks. Some small additional revenues squeezed out. Goodwill trashed. Warm fuzzies cashed in for a little immediate gratification, most of which accrues to the legal department.

I'm a strong believer in intellectual property rights. I believe MLB has a legitimate concern in protecting its franchisees' imagery. Rights have to be protected because there really is a slippery slope in letting your image and property slide into the public domain. But legally bombing back into the stone age a school for 105 underprivileged kids is probably not going to pay for itself, and I'm not talking about the cash.

It runs counter to the mission.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

OT: Sabermetric Baseball Statistics
through Sept 19  

Several people who have sent me mail have asked where they can get more sabermetric data...actual results based on current players' current accomplishments, as opposed to historical info. Sean Forman & I (a lot of Sean, a little of me) crafted tables that offer that information, and they run each Tuesday in The Seattle Times' Sports section.

For those with interest, here's the link to this week's sabermetric leaders table. Each week the URL is different, but if this kind of data interests you, you should enjoy checking this one out.

Monday, September 19, 2005

Part I:
The Atlanta Braves' Leo Mazzone
Synthesizes Flexibility & Relentless Focus  

Atlanta Braves' pitching coach Leo Mazzone is one of the few celebrities in the field of pitching coaching. In a culture where most celebrities have all the talent of an apparently vacuum-skull millionaire, a man who was convicted of murdering his wife, or somebody so devoid of talent one couldn't find it with an electron microscope, I guess it's to be expected that it's Baseball, the accountability industry, that produced the exception.

Leo Mazzone is a celebrity with talent and a history of great results.

He's well-regarded for his work at reclaiming pitchers who disappointed in other franchises. He's well-regarded for his everyday tuning of established, top-tier pitchers. He's well-regarded as a human being. Jeff Merron of ESPN.com this week delivered a beautifully crafted article about Mazzone, interviewing over a dozen people he's worked with to get the story behind this remarkably consistent high-achieving coach, and there's probably an entire short book of Management by Baseball lessons therein. I'm going to write up a few of them here, starting today.

A key part of 2nd base in the MBB Model is training and mentoring your contributors. Mazzone's success rests partially on his theory of teaching, a key trait of which is to reduce overhead and focus the student on learning to do a few things really well. This he learned from his own mentor, Johnny Sain, a good pitcher who was also the best-known pitching coach of his era.

According to the Merron article, Mazzone's throwing program is unique in the majors -- instead of having starters throw once between starts, he has them throw twice, so they can reinforce their craft. To make room for that focus, he also clears out overhead activities. According to his student Greg Maddux (three Cy Young awards during his time with Mazzone) he reduces activities like running drills, and there are "no 10 different meetings talking about something that doesn't concern you. All the other stuff, you don't partake in." Maddux also indicates the coach squeezes out down time (or idle time, something common to baseball and work beyond it) in favor of working more at pitching. "You spend all your time doing what it is you have to do to get better on the mound," Maddux added. As Mazzone was quoted, "Your first priority is to get on the mound & practice your craft, without being fatigued from drills that are not going to mean near as much as you trying to make pitches"

It's not just pitching as opposed to non-pitching activities where he applies this relentless focus: it's on the pitcher's choices during a game. If a pitcher can do just one thing really well, Mazzone believes, he has a chance to succeed: that thing is being able to throw strikes that are down and away from the hitter. According to pupil Kent Mercker, "I think there is an understanding, whatever team you are on, whoever your pitching coach is, whoever is hitting, if you can go knee-high down & away on the corner, you are going to be successful. I don't think that's a mystery, but I think it's the fact that he stresses, he harps on it, he doesn't let you forget that. There is not a 10-minute period that goes by in a day where he doesn't say that to somebody."

This is something Mazzone likely picked up from his own mentor, Sain. Sain's approach is worth knowing, too, since Mazzone probably subscribes to this training practice, too. Jim Bouton, one of Sain's successful students, described the teacher's approach. "Johnny's genius was that he would make you think. He would ask: 'What do you think is your most important pitch? What's your second most important pitch? What's your third? How much time do you have to spend on keeping your pitches sharp?' With those questions, you'd realize you were spending 70 percent of your time on your least important pitch. It would just give you a different perspective about where you were spending your time, & why." Thios is an excellent way to guide first things first, focusing on what's critical and doing that really well before branching out on the second- or third most important thang.

Mazzone repeats that primary focus over and over. His teaching is not centered on a chain of mechanical issues -- it's centered on a simple (to track, not necessarily to do), measurable outcome. A pitcher might feel the mechanics were good when they're not, or vice-versa, but knee-high down and away is either there, close or not there, and that's not about feelings, so there's immediate feedback that doesn't require an internally-motivated student to seek verification.


Two lessons to take away from this.

One is that to achieve excellence, it usually helps to clear out overhead activities. You can't always do that, but in your own shop, if you can clear out the demands of extraneous meetings and seminars on the new time-card system, and trim the contributor's idle time not with busy work but with important core work or training for it, you'll have contributors who achieve near the best of their potential.

The other is to simplify training to work on a few most important things. In baseball, if a pitcher can establish the knee-high low and away pitch, then going inside works, but without establishing low and away, it usually doesn't. If you can focus your training on a few essentials that provide obvious outcomes, other good things spring from that: contributors can work on their own feedback, needing less of your time, and essentials are usually the foundation of other successful processes and methods.

Mazzone is really really good, but he's also lucky in a couple of key ways. He has the support of his immediate boss, Bobby Cox, who is a very skilled manager, and Cox' boss, G.M. John Schuerholtz is remarkably skilled, too. That's not normal. It's normalcy that made the career of Mazzone's mentor, Johnny Sain, so challenging. Sain and his struggles in being both the best pitching coach of his era and the most-fired one make for a good MBB lesson, too, that I'll cover next..

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

D-Train, Dierker & The
Inevitable Intensification of Bland  

Larry Dierker (good playing career, VERY good managing career, good columnist for the Houston Chronicle, valuable member of SABR), wrote a fun piece for the Chronicle this week that packs an important observation about non-baseball organizations, especially American ones.

It's a little tribute to Dontrelle Willis, the Florida Marlins' effervescent and effective lefty starter who is so entertaining as a pitcher and a person, you might even buy a ticket to watch him if his results were just average. If the National League had an award for MWP (Most Watchable Player), he be on about everyone's ballot for his combination of élan, a dazzling smile that exposes his total love for the game, various odd artifacts and affects in his pitching motion, and the fact that bats better than many utility infielders, and seems to run the bases more intelligently than some starting players. He's the full package deal: brains, personality and talent.

He's also having a heck of a season statistically, not just in glamourr stats like wins, but in real sabermetic stats, too. Dierker uses D-Train as a launching point to discuss the decline of quirkiness, originality, individuality in ballplayers' batting running or pitching styles.

When the Astros were playing in Milwaukee, I noticed that practically every Brewers player had the same batting stance: bent back leg, front leg slightly open with the toe facing the pitcher. The same thing happened to the Red Sox and White Sox when Walt Hriniak was their hitting coach. Every player hit off the front foot, with the top hand released at follow-through.

I'm growing weary of cookie-cutter ballplayers. Where have all the quirky guys gone? How are we supposed to come up with jazzy nicknames when every guy looks like every other guy?

He's got good self-awareness (Third Base in the MBB Model), though. He also said in the article:

I try not to romanticize the good old days. After all, the only reason we call them good is that we were younger then. But perhaps we were carefree, jaunty and more creative, too. In short, we were colorful; today we're not — at least most of us aren't.

So is Dierker wrong...is it just a Bitgod (Back In The Good Old Days) illusion that there were more quirky-looking players when he was growing up in the 1950s (and growing up and playing in the 1960s) than there are now? No, he's correct.

And it's not just in baseball. It's in most kinds of organizations. Because of a management quirk that's most pronounced in the U.S., there's an inevitable intensification of blandness, and inevitable dimunition of originality, and the larger the organization the more creeping homogenaity is hard to resist. But here's the sad bit: If you can't successfully push back against it, you are doomed to underperform. To push back, you have to know where this gravitational field comes from.

Force #1 is the Q.A. movement. Contemporary organizations, especially large ones, rely on "standards". So a typical quality assurance scheme is not set up to achieve excellence, but adequacy. More often than not, a QA implementation is meant to isolate out any units that deviate more than a certain amount from the standard. So if that variant component / piece of work deviates on the high quality side, it's seen as being as much as a problem as a low quality variant. QA aims to improve consistency, not excellence, adequacy not pennants.

As organizations grow, their ways of doing things that helped them grow tend to get diluted. With no standards, everyhting comes apart quaquaversally. So bad management, being binary (all binary management is bad, most bad managers think in overly-simplistic binary ways) goes to imposing standards. And rather than imposing standards that are guidelines, they tend to be mandates. And woe to the manager who makes a choice that veers off the mandate. And rather than imposing standards based on success in outcomes, they impose standards based on following rules. And woe to the manager who has even a successful outcome if it deviated from the rules.

Standards guarantee mediocrity. They're meant to. That's the sacrifice standards-based organizations are perfectly willing to make in exchange for limiting deviations on the failure side.

I once hired a guy I called Blitz. He was available because no QA organization would hire him -- he looked scary, he had played linebacker for his college team and while he was the best on the team, he'd refused to get a haircut so they'd released him, he chain-smoked handrolled cigarettes and smelled like an ashtray. Like D-Train, he was a performance machine, but no one wanted to take a chance on him.

Force #2 is the Truth of Angus First Law of Organizational Development,. which is "All human organizations tend to be self-amplifying". That means whatever skew an organization's personality or tendencies are, they will tend to become more pronounced over time, and that will usually lead to collapse.

One of the reasons this effect is so powerful in big organizations is that they have recruiting departments who use QA mindsets to filter out candidates who have displayed too much originality, and to filter in what seems to please executive management, like candidates from specific colleges. Over time, these candidates are more likely to climb the hierarchy in a QA organization, and since all people tend to hire people who are like themselves, they are more likely to hire mediocrities.

This doesn't mean a Dontrelle or a Blitz can't get hired in an organization with some accountability. They can -- they just have to be significantly better than any available standard, vanilla candidate to get a fair chance.

As baseball has become a bigger-money industry and the decisions become more expensive in dollar terms, baseball organizations have become more QA based. As I wrote about the Red Sox decison to hire Wade Miller back in April, if you sign someone with a motion that people presume is going to kill your career, the consequences to the signer are much worse than if that signee was a cookie-cutter athlete who wasn't as good. People who want to preserve their careers will make decisions that mmove the organization towards mediocrity, even if that saps the chances for excellence. More risk-takers are removed from the decisionmaker pool over time for failed decisions, and the large organization self-amplifies towards the mediocratic (rule by the mediocre) standard.

The people in organizations like the Florida Marlins who take the chance to hire the Dontrelles helped their team to a World Series in 2003. The people in organizations like the Boston Red Sox who take the chance to hire the wade Millers helped their team to a World Series in 2004.

Do you vet resumes for hires or inject implicit rules that filter out candidates who might be Dontrelles or Blitzes? Do you allow others to filter them out? If you do, the mediocrity of QA will eventually squash you flatter than Zack Greinke's season.

Saturday, September 10, 2005

The Cincinnati Reds, Sir Issac Newton, &
The Proper Application of Bounce-Back  

If I have seen further, it is only by standing on
the shoulders of the Giants -- Sir Issac Newton

This week, the Cincinnati Reds essentially released 35-year old middle reliever Ben Weber, whose attempt to bounce back from injury was financed for chump change by the team. In his "heyday" his funky motion and weird eyewear made him, if not a fan favorite, a very watchable player. It also made him fairly effective. His motion, all extraneous, eeriely mechanical, made him look like a Mr. Machine (image, movie) that desperately needed adjustment. All that quaquaversal indirection did him no good, however, once he lost his control -- when he lost his control, he lost everything. He turned into a pitcher that last year suddenly turned Three Mile Island: ERA of 8.00, WHIP of close to 2, more walks (close to 7 per 9 IP) than strikeouts.

According to an article in the Cincinnati Post, in the off-season, the Reds, in the words of their G.M., Dan O'Brien, signed Weber to a fairly low-price deal because Weber's previous failure in Anaheim made him affordable and his short history of useful success made him someone you could imagine might deliver some utility: What O'Brien calls a bounce-back guy.

As general manager Dan O'Brien put it, the Weber situation was just one of those things that happens in baseball.

"Every organization takes a chance on a bounce-back guy, and he was our opportunity this year," said O'Brien. "It's funny, I was just talking to (Braves GM) John Schuerholz in Atlanta - they took a chance on Brian Jordan and (Raul) Mondesi, looking for a bounce-back. It didn't happen for them and it didn't happen for us."

The Reds will move on without so much as a glance over their shoulder, and Weber hopes to do the same. He said he's exploring his options for surgery that could correct the disc problem in his neck.

2001 Ana 56 68.1 66 28 4 31 40 6 2 0 6 1 3.42
2002 Ana 63 78.0 70 25 4 22 43 7 2 7 18 4 2.54
2003 Ana 62 80.1 84 26 7 22 46 5 1 0 11 2 2.69
2004 Ana 18 22.1 37 24 4 15 11 0 2 0 2 1 8.06
2005 Cin 10 12.1 20 11 0 9 8 0 0 0 0 -- 8.03
Total -- 228 284.0 305 133 19 105 162 19 8 7 39 10 3.77
Miscellaneous Pitching
2001 1048 299 3.51 15.3 5.27 1.29 .251 .350 .691
2002 1086 312 3.48 13.9 4.96 1.96 .249 .363 .667
2003 1242 332 3.74 15.4 5.15 2.09 .275 .397 .716
2004 450 117 3.85 19.9 4.43 .73 .363 .569 1.013
2005 239 66 3.62 18.9 5.84 .89 .364 .473 .927
Total 4446 1229 3.62 15.7 5.13 1.54 .277 .396 .737

Weber did his best. He even disposed of the Mr. Machine Deliquescing delivery, trying to adjust in a way that he could still be effective. He was good enough in his A- and AA League stints, but at AAA, he got eviscerated and as you can see, on the big club he entered the Harry Smythe Zone and then got a little worse. The Bounce-Back Guy thing didn't work this year for the Reds, and when that franchise has tried it, it tends not to work out for them. They go low-risk, low-reward on their bounce-back guy approach, which is the right way to do it; tghey just haven't pulled many gold nuggets out of the placer.

The Bounce-Back Guy theory is very useful to know about beyond baseball, less for individual contributors than it is for vendors. I'll explain what I mean after I flesh out the baseball model a little as background.

But the Bounce-Back Guy thing can work for a baseball team, and it can work out for organizations beyond baseball, too.

The Atlanta Braves have a very productive history with this tactic. Like the Reds, they are good at applying the right context, and that's the way you should consider using it, too. In 2001, they picked up the 42 year old Julio Franco, who from ages 27-37 had been a rewarding contributor and then faded out, as is normal for a middle-infielder of that age. In 2001 he put up adequate numbers. And the next year they used the right-handed Franco to complement a left-handed hitting first baseman they believed couldn't hit lefties. And in 2003 and 2004, it didn't behove the Braves to get a better more expensive solution because they had promising young first-basemen in their system they were looking to promote. Even this season, at age 47, it appears Julio Franco has not yet crapped out.

And the Braves are legendary at inventing and rehabilitating the careers of older pitchers other teams have given up on.

The key to correct application of a Bounce-Back Guy is to avoid the MBWT (Management by Wishful Thinking) lure of imagining he or she can lead you to a pennant. Bounce Back Guys are bad investments when you build a team around their success. Franco was meant to be a bat off the bench and then a platoon partner; he succeeded beyond their expectations. Low risk, good reward. Weber was meant to be a middle-reliever for a borderline maybe-contending team that couldn't fill up their roster with hot minor league relief prospects. When Weber's game didn't come back at AAA, they promoted a prospect. Low risk, low loss.

The incorrect application of the Bounce Back Guy isn't that common in baseball, but the 2001 signing of Ben Grieve by the Tampa Bay Devil Rays to be their heart of the order talent is an eccentric recent example of a failure. Grieve was not exactly in the dumps (his 2000 OPS+ was 117) but he had experienced a steady three year decline and the Rays chose not to imagine what they'd do for a #3 or #5 hitter if he either continued his decline or moved sideways. They built their offense around the idea that he would bounce back, he didn't and they were frelled.

A worse application of the Bounce Back Guy tactic is when an organization buys into someone who has apparently bounced back and believes the apex of the bounce is either the beginning of a new uptick in accomplishment or a new assumed level of performance. The New York Mets took a flyer on the faded Derek Bell in 2000, and he was a fine bounce back guy for them that year, but the Pirates signed him as a free agent at the end of that campaign with the thought of him being a key contributor and he turned into expensive roster plaque.

Never hinge your strategy on the upward motion of Bounce Back Folk. Never collect more on your roster than the number, that if they all zero out, you couldn't succeed with.

On the other hand, it can make good sense to use the tactic judiciously with suppliers who have failed. I consulted to a law practice that had had a long-term, fully committed relationship with a local printer/copy-shop outfit. The shop got taken over by a bigger company, they replaced human clerks with a private label, brain-dead stored-value card system in an attempt to strip out staff, and lost most of their best staff. Quality crashed, turnaround time became glacial too often, and the savings the vendor was making from the neutron-bomb destaffing were not passed on to the customers.

The practice dumped the shop and moved to another that was less conveniently located and more expensive than the Neutroned shop had been before they went Full Basra on them. And prices started going up. It was better than their original supplier, but not a perfect solution.

When the shop fixed the stored value concept by making it optional instead of mandatory, they were able to provide better service to their business customers as well as their walk-ins, and they were able to acquire some adequate staff. A new manager asked the law practice to give her a chance to show what they could do, and the practice used the Bounce-Back concept perfectly -- they gave her low-priority jobs where quality and timing were less important.

In this particular case, it worked out like a Julio Franco. The practice was able to shift most of their business back to the old shop, though they never recommitted fully. and never committed for drop-deal deadline jobs. And that's appropriate -- there's no reason to put an organization that's been a proven failure into the critical path of a vital project.

It could have been a Ben Weber, but the risk was low enough that it would have been a worthwhile experiment. As with so many baseball practices, the approach is not based on binary simplicity. "This guy/vendor failed - we'll never play/use them again" or "oh well, too bad, but I don't want to take the time to find someone/some other vendor, so let's just see what happens".

As for Weber, he going to try to bounce back from his failed bounce back. As the Post reported in that story linked to:

"I'm a little disappointed only because I went through a lot to try to come back. I think, honestly, most people would have sat on the DL all year, without a doubt. But I didn't do that, and that's the only reason why I'm a little upset - but not a lot. {SNIP}

The Reds will move on without so much as a glance over their shoulder, and Weber hopes to do the same. He said he's exploring his options for surgery that could correct the disc problem in his neck. If he can get that corrected, he said he will go back to the herky-jerky motion that was his trademark before he abandoned it during a rehab stint this year, hoping it would cause less strain on his neck.

He turns 36 in November, but said he believes he has "four or five" good years left in him if he can stay healthy, which was never a problem for him before this season. After a career that has seen him take detours to the independent Western League for a season and Taiwan for two, it's doubtful Weber will let a setback like this drive him from the game.

"I can't go out like that," he said.

I have to say I hope he succeeds though it would take a miracle for him to get four more years out of his talent. But I love all that Mr. Machine, Newton's Third Law-violating wierdness. If I was nine years old, I'd try to imitate it in a game.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Bosox Formula:
Loose Cannonades & World Championships  

David Wells on Bud Zelig: ''I think he's an idiot, to be honest with you.
He's the commissioner, and that's that. But we don't have to like it.

Last week David "Boomer" Wells, the defending champion Boston Red Sox starting pitcher opened his mouth like Vavoom in an old Felix the Cat cartoon and created a political tangle.

It was perfectly predictable. The Bosox knew something like this would happen inevitably, just not exactly when, or over what, or how big the cleanup effort would be. There's a great lesson for non-baseball organizations in the most recent Wells brouhaha. The lesson answers the question, "Are you better off hiring people who don't make waves?". The answer is "Sometimes". I'll explain what I mean, but first a little Wellsian Shape of Things to Come for your amusement

The comments that set off the tempest in a teapot (or was that a chihuahua in a teacup?) were an extended response to a reporter's questioning Wells about the League upholding a suspension. This wasn't an ordinary suspension, this is a suspension that Wells sounded convinced he didn't deserve. Did he deserve it? I suspect not. He was accused of bumping an umpire, and in the admittedly abbreviated video, abbreviated allegedly to show the moment of impact, it looked like he didn't get near the ump. Nevertheless, the suspension was upheld, and so Wells held forth, and fifth, on an encyclopediac swath of subjects all designed to irritate the Commissioner of Baseball, Bud Zelig.

Some selections from the Boston Globe's version of the lumpy lefty's lippiness:

Wells claimed that his regular criticism of commissioner Bud Selig probably led Selig to intervene in the appeals process and tell arbitrator John McHale Jr. to ''stick it to him."

Wells went on to criticize Selig's handling of the steroid issue, claiming, ''Major League Baseball I don't think has a clue what's going on. They're just hoping that somebody screws up [and fails a test]."

Wells also said MLB waited to announce Rafael Palmeiro's steroid test until Aug. 1, a day after the Hall of Fame induction ceremony, to avoid attention. The Aug. 1 announcement followed a lengthy appeals process; the Baltimore Sun, for one, reported that Palmeiro failed his test as early as May. Palmeiro, Wells said yesterday, ''singlehandedly whipped our butts" in early July, when the Baltimore slugger knocked in nine runs in a four-game series vs. the Sox, with Boston losing three times.

{snip}Wells, of course, has criticized Selig repeatedly in the past, perhaps never more maliciously than during spring training this year. Wells, in an interview with the Hartford Courant, said Selig isn't qualified to be commissioner.''I think he's an idiot, to be honest with you," Wells said then. ''He's the commissioner, and that's that. But we don't have to like it."

{snip}Wells suggested he's not done with his criticism. ''I'm very bitter at this whole situation," Wells said. ''I'll show that more and more as it goes along, as I get more information."

I have to tell you, I've managed a lot of voluble employees over the past few decades, but Wells managed to twist his volume up to 11 on this one. In suggesting to the world his organization's CEO was "an idiot", he was not apple-polishing for his next big raise.

The official MLB public response was predictable.

Rob Manfred, MLB's executive vice president of labor relations, answered back on Selig's behalf last night, calling Wells's account of the Palmeiro case ''pure fiction."

''David Wells has once again created a distraction with a series of ill-informed and ill-conceived comments," Manfred said in a statement. ''With respect to Rafael Palmeiro, Mr. Wells has absolutely no accurate information concerning the processing of the Palmeiro case.

The behind the scenes response was just as predictable. Veiled threats at the Boston team's management, an organization that's very vulnerable right now because they are in the thick of a pennant race and a wide range of unfortunate happenings could occur to them, from assignment of certain umps to key games, to subtle rules interpretations. It rarely pays to piss off such people, unless you can depose them in the process, which neither Boomer nor the Red Sox' ownership was about to do here.

So the Red Sox apologised on Wells' behalf. Then Wells sorta apologised on his own behalf sorta about the steroids topic alone.

"I understand that I was wrong in my statements about these issues and for that I apologize," Wells said in a statement issued by the players' association after Wells met with baseball officials. "Now that I have had this opportunity to sit down and discuss the issues, I better understand the procedures that go with steroid testing."

and left the other topics, including Zelig's idiocy off the table for now. For now, that's where the incident ends. Wells has perhaps lost a chance to start a 30th game, which would lose him a small (to him) financial incentive, but the suspension also put him back to a slot in which he'll be opening a series against the rival Yankees, something he's bound to relish. Plus, and you have to see this as his personal currency, he got to call the Commissioner an idiot and he hasn't yet, apparently, apologized for that.

Wells, I suspect, is a little humbled, will probably be on good behavior for about ten days, and feels great.

The Red Sox wish they didn't have to deal with the blowback, but they knew what they were getting into when they signed him -- this is not like Late Onset Tourette's or anything. This is unreconstituted Wells, the very guy they inked to a contract last December.

Moreover, he's their second best, perhaps best start depending on the way you look at the numbers (table from The Hardball Times).












1 Wells 6 155.0 4.41 3.61 1.60 5.6 0.8 0.94 92
2 Clement 6 166.0 4.45 3.87 1.36 7.2 2.9 0.81 101
3 Arroyo -7 173.3 5.14 4.36 0.81 4.7 2.1 0.98 0
4 Wakefield -1 179.7 4.81 5.01 0.91 5.8 3.0 1.45 103

Clement has thrown more innings and given up a fraction fewer homers, while having essentially the same Runs Allowed. Wells has the better K/BB ratio (he's still walking about nobody, fewer than one per 9 innings), he's got their best groundball to flyball ratio, and his Fielding Independent pitching ability, based on a stat that aims to neutralize the vagaries of different levels of defensive support, indicates he's better. It's about even.

So the Bosox, without a dominant starter when last year they had two dominant starters, need Wells to defend their championship. They need to apologize for him to protect the team and they need to suck up the pain and not poke a stick at him to protect the team's chances.. It's not like what he said about steroids changes anything because basically noone cares what Boomer thinks about designer drugs. It's not like his calling the Commissioner an idiot is going to offend any of his teammates; the sum of the entire 40-man roster's minutes per day dedicated to thinking about Zelig is probably under one of those mid-show TV commercial breaks. And those that do think of the Commissioner are at least as likely to agree with Wells as disagree.

BEYOND BASEBALL -- When Voluble & Valuable Collide
Most organizations stay away from loose cannons, even talented ones like Wells. Here are the two reasons it happens, and why, in most cases, it's a mistake.

The most common reason it happens is because the hiring manager cares more about her comfort than her team's overall performance. Take that attitude to The Fens for a minute: You know David Wells is going to cause a scene or five sooner or later, so instead of Wells, you sign Mr. Cub Scout, Aaron Sele. Sele is the anti-Boomer, the public equivalent of one hand not clapping, a guy who tirelessly helps geriatrics perambulate across busy thoroughfares, looks unrumpled and unflappable even when opponents batted .315 off of him this year. The problem is Sele is having a bad year -- for the Bosox, giving Sele the innings they had given Wells would have cost them on the field to the tune of about 5.3 wins (using Baseball Prospectus' nifty Expected Win table). Based on today's standing, that would put them out of the AL East lead, though in the pack contending for the wild card. So in a manager, this willingness to sacrifice performance for comfort is not necessarily fatal, but will almost always surrender effectiveness. I think both of us agree it's better to be in the driver's seat for a Division flag with a guarantee of making it into the playoffs than it is in the pack contentding for the possibility of facing the team with the best record outside of my division. And when I say better, I mean both from a glory/fame point of view, but also from a potential revenue p.o.v. There are limits to what kinds of employee behavior you should be willing to tolerate, of course, including acts that are felonies in your jurisdiction and anything that nets out to undermine total performance.

The next most common reason organizations don't want to hire loose cannons is because they are rational but not intelligent enough. In these organizations, the manager is actually trying to make a rational benefit/cost decision. Loose cannon employees like Boomer come with a definite cost and those costs become quite obvious when tripped off by the tremors the talent triggers. So you can project a likely denominator, or at least an actuarial range of probable costs.

The managerial limitation, though, comes from the benefit side. Most managers are defensive, preferring to avoid mistakes than generating advantages (or believing avoiding mistakes is the one true path to generating advantages). For many simplistic managers, they put a zero as the numerator, and the benefit/cost then results in a "0", that is, no discernable benefits. For other managers of this ilk, they just throw up their hands. It becomes easier to choose Aaron Sele than to try to dissect what performance improvements result in what benefits. These are weak-minded acts, and not managerial.

The Red Sox don't do that. (1) They hire loose cannons who are talented enough that the benefits outweigh the costs, and (2) they are successful; they are defending World Champions apparently going to the playoffs again this year.

Do the math.

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