Sunday, October 30, 2005

Management Lessons From DePodesta's Firing:
#1 = Creating Change Causes Corporate Crises  

It's a losing proposition, and one they should refuse. It's the
Politics of Politics. It's the Slim-Fast Blues. -- Glenn Frey

Los Angeles Dodger G.M. Paul DePodesta got fired yesterday after two seasons of a five year contract. He's been a lightning rod for the Bitgod contingent (Back in the Good Old Days) of baseball execs and reporters who pine for the social structures of the past, and for two reasons. One, he wasn't perceived as having "paid his dues". Two, he was featured heavily & praised in Michael Lewis' book Moneyball which the Bitgods found offensive.

There are key management lessons in this event. This is the first one.

Creating Change Causes Corporate Crises, Especially in a Political Environment DePodesta is a manager with a strong bias for change and a great skill at conceiving it. As he said in his now-no-longer available corporate lecture on management, to successfully manage and push change, you have to change the changes you deploy, even as you're concurrently fighting to install them in the first place. One of the reasons the Oakland A's team DePodesta came from before getting the Dodger job has been consistently strong relative to their player budget is that they never fell into the trap of a rigid plan. Moneyball showed a moment, a frame in the moving picture of their plan, a frame that both the Bitgod side and some Beaniacs debate, each from their own side...still. Even though the A's passed that frame a couple of reels back.

DePodesta really understands Change, something I wrote about in a four part series starting with this one. But while you can make amazing things happen by driving change, in almost every organization, baseball or not, you will trigger immune responses:

  • people who either fear specific changes that undermine them, or
  • fear change in general, or
  • people who are made uncomfortable by having to change.

In a complex, compound organization, change causes personal crises -- at least if it's going to work it has to. And interest groups, both ad hoc and departmental, will firm up "political" opposition. You can count on it. The more unhealthy or in-flux the organization is, the higher the political resistance.

In the Dodger case, the resistance is centered around Tom Lasorda, the ultimate Bitgod. For him, the fight is not so much ideological as it is personal. Sure, he favors the model that he cut his teeth on and managed in; that's perfectly natural if not always functional. But his own political power base within the Dodgers is in the process and people who were paramount in the old pre-DePodesta model the young G.M. was committed to change.

BEYOND BASEBALL You will always face this resistance in a large organization. The larger the organization is, the less accountability there is -- it's easier for the manager who favors politics over the mission to "hide out" or lurk without great results of one's own to point to. As an organization grows, not only can such people hide from their lack on contribution more easily, but they are more likely to get their way in hiring decisions, replicating their cognitive DNA.

The solution to pursue is what I call accountability-glueing...designing and enforcing vigorously, every day, the attachment of accountability to all decisions and pushing for hiring decisions that prevent them replicating themselves. Both undermine the politicals and discomfit them, not only making it somewhat less likely they'll succeed in any given campaign, but also makes them somewhat more likely to move to an organization that has an environment that's more appealing to them.

If there's a complete breakdown, the worst decision you can make is to do nothing. The 2005 Dodgers were not that case. The 2005 Dodgers were a team that followed the 2004 model that made the playoffs, one that sputtered and struggled with a lot of young players growing up on the job.

In the absence of a complete breakdown, the worst decision you can make in the middle of a change initiative is to dump it...reboot and start from scratch before you've given the change initiative a chance to deliver feedback on whether it's likely to succeed. Every one has its own necessary length. For a couponing or discount program, it might be ten days; for the Dodgers re-design, the front office team needed four to six years. The 2004 data point (getting into the playoffs) could have been seen as a positive (hmm, progress made already) or neutral (nice season, but too early to tell). But neurotically, it has somehow been turned into a negative, a weapon used against the change team ("we're looking at failure"). .Just as the 2004 success story built on the previous front office leadership of Dan Evans, the 2006 Dodger team benefits from being built on this 2005 experience. The new G.M. coming in can continue the change (with the possibility of adjustments or fine-tuning) which makes it pretty goofy to have fired DePodesta), or the new G.M. can throw away the blueprint and start over with a new one (which resets the building process back a year or two while decisions re-shape the organization, which undermines the very need for immediate gratification the owners were seeking in firing DePodesta).

Having committed to a hire like DePodesta in early 2004, an office purge in response to internal politics is a losing proposition, and one the owners should have refused. It was hard for them for reasons I'll discuss as the next management lesson in this firing.

UPDATE: I just read Jon Wiesman's super-perceptive description of the Dodger models during their time in Los Angeles. I strongly recommend it, not just for the extraordinarily informative insight it provides, but because it'll add value to the other lessons I'll be writing about.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Book Review: Mind Game
How Management Designed the Red Sox' Victory  

The Baseball Prospectus team delivered their most recent book last month, a 350+ page collection of essays on the Boston Red Sox' drive to the 2005 World Series trophy and supporting statistical tables. It's a truly enjoyable read for existing BP fans and Sox fans who would like a wonky and detailed history of the team built to put The Curse in a hearse. It's called Mind Game: How the Boston Red Sox Got Smart, Won a World Series and Created a New Blueprint for Winning (Workman Publishing: New York, $13.95).

The short of it: It's a very worthwhile book you'll definitely want to own, but it probably won't find a place on your permanent shelf.

Assembled out of permutations of 19 authors and an author/editor, Steven "Double Duty" Goldman, Mind Game delivers 25+ chapters that cover various aspects of the Bosox' 2005 season, roughly chronologically. The crew takes on specific subjects from background history, to individual people on the roster (with chapters on Pedro Martínez, Nomar Garciaparra and David Ortiz, for example), statistical analysis of various aspects of the game and how the Sox ranked, and how the front office assembled the team, why it assembled it this way, and how they tried to make adjustments as the season progressed.

In doing that, they provide the most detailed examination of the management decisionmaking that developed the strategy, the roster built on that strategy and the decisions they had to make as a result of change. From an MBB perspective, while the authors don't pay any special attention to drawing out lessons for us to apply in our non-baseball endeavors, some little pieces surface anyway.

The challenge of assembling such a populous team spread over a continent and knitting together the content is a challenging one, much like Diderot faced in assembling the Encyclopedia, though Diderot took 30 years, and in 1780, which was even before Julio Franco was playing, they had no e-mail. But Goldman still deserves laurels for assembling and editing this volume.

I do have a quibble: the book bears conceptual sprawl. In several sections it looks like the work was designed to be a novice's introduction to sabermetric principles using the 2005 Bosox campaign as a backdrop. That would have been a great idea and it works when they do it. At other times it looks like a way to promote BP's special sauce, the core set of signature stats they use such as VORP and MLVr and WXRL, the ones the community identifies as theirs. That would have been an interesting idea, and it generally works when they do that, although some of the explanations will be over the heads of readers who haven't marinated themselves in statistical analysis before. There are other essays that fit neither model. The work's varying foundations don't undo its value, but it seems like an opportunity lost, an opportunity to pick out one of those approaches and make a work that would be an all-time classic.

The chapters include some total jewels, brain candy of the first order:

  • Goldman's chapter on the history of the Red Sox between the Series wins, The Banality of Incompetence 1919-2002, is a superb short history, written with the author's usual incomparable style and original insight.
  • The chapter on relief pitching, contrasting the Sox' pen with the Yankees' is both solid writing and interesting research, as penned by Derek Zumsteg, and it's brightly complemented by Dave Pease's long sidebar on Calvin Schiraldi and one-year reliever fluke seasons.
  • Deconstructing Pedro, Jay Jaffe's lively recounting of the Boston ace's mano-a-tetes with the Yankees (or was that Don Zimmer's steel plate?) documents the reality that can so easily get buried in feature-writers' tsunami of vapidity.
  • Will Carroll's gristly explication on the medical condition that brought Curt Schilling down and the experimental procedure that brought him back for a little is great writing of Stephen Jay Gould quality: it explains things we don't know and probably never imagined wanting to know about in minute detail and is completely gripping.

The lessons for managers outside baseball are not made explicit (that's not the BP guys' mission). There are two chapters that are dense with lessons, the Goldman chapter on the Sox' history, and Shopping for Winners, a solid Jonah Keri & Chris Kahrl exploration of how the Sox and Yanks put their teams together. There are many small pieces loosely joined across the book you might synthesize into ideas of your own. But there's not one single place where they put together all the elements the front office used to craft this blueprint for winning the way they focus a chapter on defense or relief pitching.

I think if you either like data analysis or you want to like it, you'll find Mind Game an absorbing & stimulating read. It the numbers turn you off, there are significant parts of the book you'll enjoy anyway for the personality and Red Sox history. Along with the goofy book about Tony LaRussa, Three Nights in August, this is one of the two most informative baseball books of the last year. Like the Sox, it's a winner.

It's available from booksellers.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Frank Robinson Gunned Down at Third:
When What Made You Great Makes You Hate  

Third Base in the MBB Model is self-awareness, part of which is coming to grips with the emotional settings we have but don't always know about consciously. They affect decisions sometimes in little ways (not taking seriously a job candidate who's wearing a tie that may have been fashionable two years ago but not now, presuming someone with a Southern accent is a Gomer, for example). Sometimes, it's in a big way. Sometimes a manager can incinerate his team's chances to make the playoffs because he can't control his emotional settings. Sometimes that manager is Frank Robinson.

Reader Doug Chapin pointed out to me and then documented how Frank Robinson, who managed this year's Washington Nationals (nee Montréal Expos) into wild card contention after years of adversity imploded his team's chances. Robinson has suffered in his managerial career from several small bigotries that have undermined his performance.

A little background: Robinson was one of the finest players ever to make the majors. He won a Rookie of the Year award (1956, for Cincinnati), a Gold Glove (1958, Cincinnati), Most Valuable Player awards in both leagues (Cincinnati in 1961, Baltimore in 1966). In 1966, he also became one of just 15 players in history to win the Triple Crown (led the league in batting average, homers and RBIs), and was MVP of the World Series too.

In short, he was an all-around player. He was born with great natural talents, and worked very hard to sharpen them. But until 2002, when he took over the Expos, he was a poor manager. Rico Carty, one of the better players on Robinson's 1975 and 1976 Cleveland teams, once told me that Robinson was really tough in his expectations of players. Robby was a five-tool all-star who found it hard to believe that if his players weren’t as good as he had been, they just weren’t trying hard enough. Robinson was one of the best 20 players in the history of the game. Using himself as the metre bar against which to measure skill was guaranteed to marinate Robinson in disappointment and his contributors in grief. Robbie was bigoted against the 99% of major league ballplayers who weren’t as good as he was. It’s a small bigotry in the big scheme, but one guaranteed to corrode both manager and staff.

This is typical among non-baseball managers who have a strong history of accomplishment. Their normal pattern is to see each fresh face as a savior, only to be disappointed when they discover the youngster can’t do everything they themselves can do. But organizational rosters, like most MLB rosters, will usually have a very few five-tool players mingled with role-players who excel at one or two of the many things they need to do. The Frank Robinson pattern may increase your ability to find the flaws in each player's game, but it brutally limits what you can and will do to help your organization help the player succeed within his limits and learn to exceed them.

It may have been age or special learning experiences or the just the fact that the Expos had such an eviscerated roster, but when Robinson inherited the Expos in in 2002, he was successful with them both in that year and the next. Were his expectations so low that he had to overcome his natural tendencies, or had he grown as a person and manager? I’d wanted to think it was the latter.

Thanks to a bizarre MLB ownership scheme intentionally designed to make the Expos dead meat and drive their fans to existential panic, the team was asphyxiated by an unrealistic budget, forced to travel on a maniacal schedule that incorporated two home parks 1,917 miles apart, in Canada and Puerto Rico, and had a really bad costumed mascot. Guaranteed to be awful, Robinson’s team collapsed in 2004, and in the off-season fled to Washington, D.C. With low expectations for 2005, the renamed Nationals started outperforming expectations, played steady ball, and owned the N.L. East’s best record (51-34) on July 7.

Then a different small bigotry showed itself. Frank Robinson hates pitchers. Or maybe he just acts that way. The very bigotry that made him a remarkable player (focusing lots of malicious analysis on those bustards who pitched to him) undermines him as a manager. After three bad outings, Claudio Vargas was waived. Waiving means you get nothing back, and Vargas was respectable enough to give Arizona, which picked him up, 100 adequate innings over the rest of the season.

Then Robinson feuded with Tomo Ohka, one of his better starters. That culminated in an incident where Robinson came out to the mound to remove Ohka and the pitcher committed gross public disrespect by turning his back on the manager as he approached. Management traded Ohka to Milwaukee on June 11, just a week Vargas's departure. The players became polarized by Robinson’s behavior. Some approved, some opposed, but the team was still performing. Then the team’s most promising young pitcher, Zach Day, was nailed for “insubordination.” Management banished him to Colorado (for pitchers, the equivalent of that creepy island in the TV show “Lost”).

And in early August the team waived pitcher “Sunny” Kim, again receiving nothing and again witnessing the banished pitcher putting decent numbers up for another team.

Okay, you think to yourself, the Nats had promising young starting arms in the farm system or got pitchers back in the transactions or picked up nice resources off other teams' waiver mistakes. None of the frelling above. As the penultimate skipper to lead a Chisox team to World Series Al Lopez knew, you never give up on a player until you know who you’re going to replace him with. Lopez knew that, you know it, but Robinson who knows it too chose to allow his bigotry against pitchers outweigh his respect of Lopez’ Law. Like a town after a Stalinist purge with no one left to teach school or make shoes or run the fire department, the roster didn’t have enough starters left. The Nats closed out the season with a 12-17 run that included Robinson kludging multiple relievers together as a stand-in for the fresh single starters he didn’t have on his roster because he had sent them all to the Pitcher Gulag.

Bigotry is a widespread reality. I know perfectly intelligent people who believe everyone on the planet is a bigot. It doesn’t matter here if they’re right or wrong — if you have bigotry about pitchers or ethnic groups or faiths or height or gender, just be aware of them and don’t allow yourself to act on them if they will undermine your pennant drive. And if you see it in other managers in your organization, point it out to them. The emotional setting you have may make you good. The way you use them to your advantage might make you great -- but a manager can't afford to let those gauze over his abilities to make the best use of his reources to achieve the organization's goals.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Part II: In Scioscia's Words:
People Who Think They Know All The A.s
Haven't Asked the Right Questions  

All men dream: but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds
wake in the day to find that it was vanity:
but the dreamers of the days are dangerous men, for they may act
their dream with open eyes, to make it possible. This I did. -- T.E.Lawrence

Last week I wrote about the that fact that while the Los Angeles Angels' offense operated in a way contrary to a numerically strongly-supported sabermetric approach, their operation is very numbers-driven. It just happens to be based on different numbers than the community usually works with or sees as particularly valuable.

One of the reasons the community that shares the big sabermetric tent doesn't examine some of the numbers the Angels use is they're not widely available (for each batter, the number of opportunities to go from 1st to 3rd on a single, for example). That's a shame, of course -- while it works to the Halos comparative advantage from a business intelligence (BI) perspective to have the numbers and for them to be relatively low-diffusion, as researchers it's not easy for us to marinate in them long enough to verify, reject, refine or just have a wholeheckofalotoffun with 'em. The team's data provider needs to make money like the rest of the world -- it doesn't spray them around the media, and media isn't demanding to pay for them.

Anyway, I have an entire philosophical essay in me on the nature of sabermetric revolutions, evolutionary processes, Counter-Reformations, the Thirty Years War, Punctuated Equilibrium, the persistence of Taylorism, and Toad Ramsey, triggered by the Baseball Think Factory discussion thread on Part I of this topic. That will come in a Part III some day (I'm on deadline for a book, and need to empty a backlog of client work). For now though...

I mentioned I would excerpt some of the potentially interesting pieces from the transcript of the discussion with the interesting Angels skipper, Mike Scioscia. The tape was unintelligible in some places when the background noise overwhelmed the technology. I put the expressions in where his words were missing; those words are my paraphrasing of what he said, and those are in italic -- his expressions, my words.

JA: You won a WS, you manage a team w/a very unusual profile for a SUCCESSFUL team. I want to learn about it. Who were your mentors?

MS: First of all you never go through your childhood and you never dream of being a manager or managing in the 7th game of a World Series. You don’t fantasize about that. You fantasize about playing the game and that’s what this game is about. I’ve been very fortunate to play it at a high level and be part of World Championship teams. & anything in this profession that I accomplish will be secondary to that. That’s the thrill, the good or bad, that’s what it’s about. There’s a little bit of a drop off when you stop playing the game, a little void that’ll never be filled. And I think once you come to grips with that, you’re going to be a much better coach or manager.

Just thinking back, there are a few things that really influenced me. I was very fortunate to be in the Dodger organization with some great baseball minds. Roseboro, Campanella, I can never thank those guys enough. Roy would take me out on the field and he’d just say a few things and I always learned something from him. Walter Alston, Tom Lasorda, John Roseboro.

And Tommy had a bench coach, Monty Basgall. And when Tom was moving around, he just sat there calm and still. It was his job to think the game. It’s important to remove the emotion from the consideration of what to do. When something goes bad, you have to be the anchor. As a manager, you have to separate your emotions from your decisionmaking process.

JA: Any other influences?

MS: Yes, my parents. My mother was a schoolteacher and my dad sold beer. He taught me that the foundation of dealing with other people had to be respect and humor. Respect for people, for institutions, for what you’re doing (working at).

He also taught me that people who think they know everything haven’t asked the right question.

JA: So Lasorda had this complementary bench coach, Monty Basgall, who would think the game. How about you…you are already thinking the game, what do you look for in a bench coach?

I’m looking for a bench coach who can think the game., too. We have specialized coaches for other things {snip}. But Joe Maddon is shadowing my decisions. I thinking the game and he is, too.

JA: That’s like having two managers.

MS: (laughs). Yes.

JA: So many managers played catcher...

MS: When you play catcher, the most important part of the game is to channel the flow of the game. That's what a manager does,too. And the relationship between the pitcher and catcher is a key to the game.

There’s a lot of talk about fundamentals. People will say about fundamentals, ‘Oh, it’s how the pitcher covers first on an grounder to the 1st baseman'. But that play may happen only once a game. The decision your catcher and pitcher will work out happens 150 times a game. That’s going to have more effect on the game. So that's the fundamental aspect of the game on the field.


At this point we talked about walks and runners in motion, Scioscia's own lack of speed during his career, Joe Torre's affection for carrying a catcher who can't hit and what that may say about Torre's psyche, and BeanebalL The tape was useless during that stretch.

JA: So you’re saying you don’t necessary choose the game, you manage the game to the roster you have.

MS: Yes that’s it. We manage with the roster we have.

I do think running the bases aggressively is something that should be the tendency in every team. I do. I think the Yankees do a great job. That aggressiveness is part of baseball whether you believe in waiting for the 3-run homer or not. You’re going to get a hell of a lot of singles with a guy on first. No matter which team, you’re going to get a lot more singles than home runs. If you can get that guy to third instead of to second that’s a lot better statistical position to be in. If you can create more of those situations, you’re going to have more runs on the bottom line.

That has to be part of our program no matter who it is. Bengie Molina. He’s not a fast runner. If there are only ten balls a year he needs to get from 1st to 3rd on, he’d better be on third base on ten of them. You have to apply yourself that way. And I think that’s important in our organization when you talk about our development, that’s lot of the {garbled} in our development. And when you see a player come up here, that seed’s been planted.

The results, the game we play, are going to be based on what the player can do. If we get a guy like Dallas MacPherson coming up who has the potential to hit 40 HRs, we’re not going to play that game as much in front of him as far as the hit and run. The straight steal is different. Putting guys in motion.

But if you don't put our guys in motion, we’re not going to get runs. We’re not going to create the situations we should.

JA: So you said 'create'. You're not waiting to find opportunities, you're looking for ways to create them.

MS: We can’t manufacture on base, so we can’t afford to have any wither on the vine. Last year, we went from 1st to 3rd {base} 99 times; we were thrown out six times. Conversely, the Oakland Athletics who play a very passive running game because they don’t want to run into outs went {from}1st to 3rd, I believe it was 31 times...you can get those numbers...and they got thrown out 4 times.

JA: That’s like your stealing. Angel stealing is not just prolific, but high-percentage.

MS: It has to be, as I said, our on base is like .325, so how can we compete with a team that has on base of 350, because they’re going to pressure you every inning, they’re going to be out there. We’ve got to do it by maximizing the on base percentage we do have. We can’t let on base percentage die on the vine. Some of those teams that have on base of .350 or .360, they can let on base die on the vine because it’s going to be there again. Ours is only going to be there .325 and you’d better grasp the opportunity when you can or there’s going to be stagnation. We hit few home runs, our slugging percentage is down near the bottom of the league.

I could have conversed with him for a long time, but he'd given me more time than he could spare already. We never touched on pitching, of which he'd have had a lot more to say and have been interesting about it, too. Very generous person, opinionated, a quick mind, a gentleman, knows how to have a real conversation. Leonard Koppett would have found him fascinating and original.

1. He is a patient teacher, and I think he learned that from his mother who was a teacher. I think there are advanatges in and beyond baseball in having a manager who has that skill set. Certainly, since the Angels are working this set of tactics up and down the organization, systemically, then having a teacher at the top to reinforce lessons is a very high-return choice.

2. His skeptical (in the Greek sense) observation model is of great use to a manager in any competitive endeavor. He is set up not to take any givens as eternally given.

3. He, as he says, "thinks the game". He uses numbers to validate progress. Very "left-brained", constantly measuring, balancing, looking for an edge. Again, beyond baseball, this is a super code of conduct in most management positions.

4. He has what appears to be a perfectly-balanced ego. He didn't look for a Lasorda to be his bench coach, someone he could delgate the emotional stuff to. He got another thinker to tap into, a potential "competitor" to those with less self-awareness, but a net addition to the in-game decisionmaking and observation needed to be sharp. The theory they use on offense absolutely requires close attention all the time because there's not going to be a lot of margin in most of their victory opportunities (if you doubt me, ask Josh Paul).

Again, I thank the Angels media relations staff for their cheerful, professional attitude and efficient delivery, and Scioscia for his time and thoughts. With luck, I'll get to have that pitching conversation with him some time.

Monday, October 10, 2005

Bobby Cox & Phil Garner: Joe Ely's Take
On When the Six-Shooters Are Empty  

A manager uses a relief pitcher like a six-shooter.
He fires it until it's empty and then takes the gun
and throws it at the bad guy -- Dan Quisenberry

Yesterday's final playoff match between the Atlanta Braves and the Houston Astros really was two games in one.

For one thing, it literally was two games worth of innings, decided in the bottom of the 18th. But managing a game through the first seven innings and how you finish out a close game require different mind sets and decisions. The parallels are like they are in my buddy Martin Marshall's favorite management toy, chess. For example, chess' "end game" is considered quite a different set of skills from openings.

In an extended extra-inning game such as this classic, tactics shift (I'll elaborate farther down on that for those who want a refresher). Marshalling limited resources is almost a universal, quotidian issue, but when the manager is in a situation that has normal fluctuations, most days fall into a predictable range. Every once in a while, everything goes sproing at work and the manager has to figure out a way to keep the line running or improvise for the rare, you-know-you'll-get-it-sooner-or-later-but-not-often deviation day. But the biggest difference is it's one of those situations that in or out of baseball a manager (a) has to keep a set of skills in her toolbox for but (b) needs to use rarely. For a baseball manager, there might be one game in 30 where the skipper is knows he's running on fumes, so has to pick his moments to burn up a pinch hitter, use up a reliever to gain a platoon advantage or apply the defensive replacement.

Joe Ely writes one of my favorite weblogs, Learning About Lean, and this morning he published a super Management By Baseball lesson about the Braves-Astros game. Joe's work is manufacturing, lean manufacturing specifically, and when it comes to the First Base set of skills in the MBB Model, operational management, and managing and driving Change, Home Plate, he regularly has tons of valuable insights.

...is the the title of today's entry. I urge you to read it, but here's a taste.

In such a long game, each manager made numerous substitutions to try to win, both in the late innings of regulation and then in each extra inning. Relief pitchers, pinch hitters, pinch runners. Since baseball requires players to leave the game once they are substituted for, the choices got more complex as they used up available players. The managers of both teams faced and made key decisions.

They ran out of options. Players were in positions they didn't normally play. Roger Clemens, the great 43-year old veteran pitcher, was a pinch-hitter. The Braves had Julio Franco, the living fossil, playing first base. At age 47 (we think), Franco is older than 8 current major league managers. The Astros had a rookie shortstop, Eric Bruntlett, in right field.

They didn't whine. At least not about the rules. They played the game and made the best of the situation.

They balanced the "now" with the "future". Bobby Cox and Phil Garner had to weigh out each decision and balance its affect on the current situation (often one at-bat at a time) with the impact it would have on the lineup for the remainder of the game. And, in choosing to use Clemens as a relief pitcher, with how even the next game might set up.

If you'v ever worked on a factory floor, you can see Joe's filter here. The lesson works a little differently in other endeavors, although I urge my clients to take lessons from manufacturing because it's very accountable. Go check out Joe Ely's insight on this, and if you want some stimulating grist for thought, check out his archives.

I didn't watch the entire game; I was working and listening some on the radio. But the baseball skill set you need to manage the you-know-you'll-get-it-sooner-or-later-but-not-often deviation is an game that goes beyond 10 or 11 innings. Especially with the Tony LaRussa-inspired method for application of bullpen (prescribed rôles for set individuals, appearing in a constrained range of innings and order), and the tendency to carry one fewer bat off the bench than in the old days, it fierce. Roll in that it's the National League so the pitcher bats, setting off another opportunity around the sixth inning on for a manager to choose to use up a batter to hit for a pitcher in certain situations. That makes it more resource-intensive. And then make it a playoff, where every game is a life-and-death moment and you're unlikely to "finesse" (sacrifice a porting of your chance in this particular game to give yourself a better chance in multiple future games) by trying to preserve an arm or an injured player's body.

Once you get to the 9th inning of a tied game, the roles polarize much more heavily between Home and Away teams. The away team has to play for the lead, but if it's tied going into the bottom of the inning, you can take all kinds of chances. Every batter can (doesn't necessarily, but can) swing for the fences to end the game quickly. The consequence of failure is low -- you play another inning, a generally neutral outcome. The away team doesn't have that advantage, and the home team wins more often.

In competitive endeavors outside baseball you'll see two sides go head to head. Two big engineering firms bid against each other on an RFP. Each knows what the other is likely to bring to the table, one selling based on price, the other on deeper specific experience. Two manufacturers of body armor are going head to head for a military contract. One has superior performance, the other has a VP of Sales who used to work for the buyer. Two soda bottlers are trying to snare the same shelf space at grocery store chain's stores. One has better demand, the other is willing to pay more dollars up front as to "buy" the space.

Predictable, flexible rôles each with guidelines and parameters, but variations. Booby Cox and Phil Garner, tangling in a tango from which neither can release until it's over. Cool moments.

A couple of quick observations. Garner was more aggressive about burning up his resources, while Cox chose to preserve his, leaking them out more gradually. In part, that goes along with the home/away tactical guideliens. But after the three changes in the 9th didn't close the deal and a lot of scrambling through the 13th, Garner was pretty much spent. He emptied his six-shooter and then thrown the Colt .45 at the opponent, retaining his advantage of the high ground (playing at home). Cox still had a reserve or two to play with. But I suggest Garner chose to be more aggressive in applying resources even taking into consideration the home/away duality. Not that Garner wasn't having fun being involved, in fact if you talked to these two, Cox would be laconic about the situation, while I'll wage a nickel Garner has spent way more time than he needed to thinking about what he'd do in the 15th inning of a playoff game. He had a blast....catchers playing first base, double- and triple switches. To read one enthusastic Astro fan's play by play, try Lisa Grey's.

Keep in mind as a manager outside of baseball, there are skill sets you know you'll need sooner or later, just not often or when. You shouldn't spend as much time polishing those, but you do want to invest some mind time in playing out the what- ifs. You never know when you'll get a game that runs more than 11 innings, where the guidelines change and constraints magiify to the point where they seem like almost the entire set of challenges you have to deal with

Thursday, October 06, 2005

The Sabermetrically-Challenged L.A. Angels
Are All About Numbers  

My sentence is for open war: of wiles more expert,
I boast not -- John Milton, "Paradise Lost"

If there's a consistently acceptable team that appears to spit in the eye of every one of us red-blooded sabermetric enthusiasts, it's gotta be the L.A. Angels. And that, compañeros, holds a great lesson or five for those who care about strategy in endeavors beyond baseball. The Angels are a great example of an organization finding its own model for success based on metrics and designs of its own.

The Angels are as good a team as the New York Yankees. They won the same number of games during the regular season, (95, each with 67 losses). The Angels' Pythagorean W/L number (.569) was about two games better than the Yanks' (.558), a wash. As of today, the Halos are knotted 1-1 with the Yankees in their playoff series. It would be difficult to find two teams with outcomes so close to each other. But the Yankees follow informed baseball wisdom, while the Angels violate it, at least on the offense side.

The truth is not well known. Perhaps I should say I didn't know it before I was given a generous chunk of time with their skipper, Mike Scioscia. Scioscia, in case you doubted it, has little love for sabermetrics types. He's very courteous about it, but he's equally opinionated. It's not that the Angels reject the numbers -- far from it. They use numbers few others do, to their competitive advantage. Before I get into the numbers they DO use, let's briefly explore three stats that are strong indicators to those of us who adhere to the sabermetric faith.

Walks are good. But the Angels don't walk, ranking 12th of 14 teams in the AL in non-intentional walks (UBB), trailed only by the floppy, boneless Tampa Bay Devil Rays and the chronically underperforming Detroit Tigers.

American League teams, 2005 regular season, ranked by UBB.






Boston 1036 645 34 611
NY Yankees 982 635 41 594
Oakland 812 536 22 514
Texas 1100 494 20 474
Cleveland 1086 499 33 466
Toronto 951 483 18 465
Minnesota 973 484 49 435
Seattle 978 466 50 416
Baltimore 893 444 31 413
Chicago Sox 996 433 27 406
Kansas City 1001 423 23 400
LA Angels 846 440 51 389
Tampa Bay 985 409 25 384
Detroit 1026 382 24 358

Teams with .500 or better records have the creamsicle-coloured highlight, teams with losing records have the white background. The eyeball correlation is pretty good for this year, like most. The Angels get the fewest walks for any team with a winning record. The Angels belie the natural trend of low-walks --> losing teams. What's interesting is that their manager, Mike Scioscia was a walks guy. In the sweet spot of his career, he had really solid on-base percentages relative to his league, combining better than mean walk rates and much lower than average strikeout rates.

Year Ag Tm   G   AB    R    H   2B 3B  HR  SB CS BB  SO   BA   OBP   SLG   TB   SH  SF IBB HBP
1984 25 LAD  114  341  29   93  18  0   5  2  1  52  26  .273  .367  .370  126   1   4  10   1
1985 26 LAD  141  429  47  127  26  3   7  3  3  77  21  .296  .407  .420  180  11   3   9   5
1986 27 LAD  122  374  36   94  18  1   5  3  3  62  23  .251  .359  .345  129   6   4   4   3
from Baseball-Reference.Com

Scioscia, as it turns out, loves on-base percentage. It's just that he doesn't have it on his roster. The Angels don't reject on-base average as something valuable. They just don't have an abundance of it, and therefore try to distill and preserve every iota of value out of the amount they do have of it. The theory being that if you can get a runner on first in any manner, get the runner into scoring position in any manner, optimal or not. Get runners moving with run-and-hit, steal bases, shake up the defense.

I'll get to Scioscia's words in Part II, after presenting the other Angel attributes that usually accompany losing teams. Like stolen bases. In post-1992 baseball, stolen bases are usually the bailiwick of losers.

American League teams, 2005 regular season, ranked by SBs






LA Angels 159 56 0.74 47
Tampa Bay 151 48 0.76 55
Chicago Sox 137 66 0.67 5
Seattle 102 47 0.68 8
Minnesota 101 44 0.7 13
NY Yankees 84 27 0.76 30
Baltimore 82 37 0.69 8
Toronto 70 34 0.67 2
Texas 66 15 0.81 36
Detroit 66 28 0.7 10
Cleveland 62 36 0.63 -10
Kansas City 53 32 0.62 -11
Boston 45 12 0.79 21
Oakland 31 22 0.58 -13

The Angels lead the league in stolen bases, in post-1992 baseball usually the sign of a lame team. BUT...they are effective with the tactic. I've color-coded four clusters, and the Angels share the high-volume, high-success cluster with only the strugglish Rays. The Chisox have a lock on the high-volume, low-reward "cluster". The Yankees and Texas take on the mantle of high-quality without high-volume that's probably the most comfortable for generic sabermetric thinking. And Oakland, Cleveland and Kansas City are both low-volume and high-cost in their approach.

A number of the Angel stolen bases occur when the manager has called a run-and-hit play where the batter either didn't make contact or allowed the ball to go by based on the belief the runner had the base stolen. I can't tell you how many, but trust me, the Angels know the number and success rate.

The numbers the Angel management are passionate about, and which may be the factor that provides them an affordance for success in lieu of on-base, are batting w/runners in scoring position (RISP) and batting with runners in scoring position with 2 out (RISP2). In these, they excel, compared to the American League and compared to the Yankees. And they especially excel against the way the produce at the plate relative to their other at bats.

From Stats, Inc., here the AL composite team batting profile (the average):

AL Composite
               AVG   AB   R    H  2B 3B  HR RBI  SB  CS TBB   SO  OBP  SLG
Total         .268 5586                                      983 .330 .424
None on/out   .272 1396 ---  380  73  8  47  47   0   0 100  230 .326 .437
Scoring Posn  .272 1485 ---  404  78  8  46 582  23   5 179  269 .347 .428
ScPos/2 Out   .248  644 ---  160  33  3  19 213   9   1  84  123 .342 .398
Close & Late  .254  867 ---  220  40  4  22 112  14   4  86  175 .325 .385
And here are the numbers from a good offensive team, the Yankees.
               AVG   AB   R    H  2B 3B  HR RBI  SB  CS TBB   SO  OBP  SLG
Total         .276 5624 886 1552 259 16 229 847  85  27 637  989 .355 .450
None on/out   .288 1356 ---  390  66  5  57  57   0   0 134  230 .359 .470
Scoring Posn  .272 1490 ---  406  63  6  67 623  31   8 203  288 .360 .458
ScPos/2 Out   .233  679 ---  158  24  2  23 216  10   1 107  138 .344 .376
Close & Late  .260  734 ---  191  35  3  25 121  10   0 107  142 .357 .418

And here are analogous figures from the Cherubim:

               AVG   AB   R    H  2B 3B  HR RBI  SB  CS TBB   SO  OBP  SLG
Total         .270 5624 761 1520 278 30 147 726 161  57 447  848 .325 .409
None on/out   .263 1402 ---  369  74  6  41  41   0   0  97  201 .315 .412
Scoring Posn  .296 1400 ---  414  70  7  37 566  39  13 159  198 .361 .435
ScPos/2 Out   .279  663 ---  185  35  3  14 232  25   5  85  103 .364 .404
Close & Late  .270  923 ---  249  36  3  22 115  30   3  88  154 .336 .387

They also track data on individual runners taking extra bases (going from 1st to 3rd or 2nd to home on a single, from 1st to home on a double). Opportunities, successes, times thrown out. They value, as they do in base stealing, both quantity and quality.

In spite of their 1960s offense, the L.A. Angels focus on RISP and RISP2 in their coaching. They follow the numbers and keep updated reports on hand. The part of their offense that really ticks is their keeping runners in motion (opponent defenses, to their detriment in the general case, in motion) and their batting with runners in scoring position.

While they don't bat as well, in general, as A.L. averages, they are comparable in RISP and RISP2. Their consistent contact means fewer strikeouts, and not-striking-out is an advantage with RISP and even more with RISP2. The relative value of the walks they're missing have lower incremental value than those walks would have in other situations. Their putting the ball into play and successfully getting hits with runners in scoring position in RISP2 situations results in an offense that while less effective overall, produces a higher rate of two-out runs relative to the league average and a better offensive team such as the Yankees.

If you buy into the morale theory of rallies (that two-out rallies can suck the wind out of an opponent) opponent morale would also be a contributing factor in the Angels' success. But this is a team that focuses on RISP and RISP2, very aggressive baserunning (beyond just base stealing), preaches it to their prospects and rosters, and gets it fom them. I'm not sure it's the most durable approach, but I'm sure it's working.

As long as the team's pitching stays solid and the defense remains a bit above average, the Angels' success with keeping their running efficient and keeping batters delivering in RISP2 and RISP situations, they are a team that can compete with any in the American League. That's in spite of playing against known advantages.

This won't be a popular thing to say, but the Angel approach on the batting side is pure Moneyball. That is, the economics side of the argument, not the specific attributes the Athletics front office found undervalued. If multiple mid-budget teams are pursuing high-OB guys and steering away from the speedy contact hitters, there will develop an overlay in speedy contact hitters. There will develop and overlay in talent who aren't so speedy but are trainable.

Any organization in a competitive situation can watch the demand for specific kinds of resources correct and scoop up overlays, BUT...

But, it's all about execution. The Angels don't aim for just anyone with this pattern, they look for individuals that fit into the overall pattern. They train them in the minors to focus on the specific skills the team is looking for, they keep repeating the objectives on the big club. Bengie Molina (slower than an glacier in winter) has to be as alert about taking the extra base as Chone Figgins. Everybody is on board, everybody knows the mission and gets the resources they need to execute on it.

The Angels approach can work in any organization.

  • Pick a viable strategy not everyone is following.
  • Create a thorough plan to optimize the potential success of that strategy.
  • Train everyone top to bottom.
  • Focus on what you can do, and don't pretend you can do what you don't have the skills and resources to do.
  • Keep the messages clear and omnipresent.
  • Track events and follow trends.
  • Give constant & consistent feedback to individuals, both positive and negative.
  • Give everyone the resources they need to succeed.
  • Never stop preaching the content of the plan.
  • Never stop preaching the content of the plan.
  • Never stop preaching the content of the plan.

While the strategy doesn't have to be optimal, it does have to be viable. But the difference between success and failure is more a function of structuring design and execution and following up with the right training and monitoring than it is a function of the strategy being the best. And please note, I highlighted content of the plan. Preaching rah-rah exhortations is very cool, but it's the content of the strategy and its execution that's key. In most large organizations, management preaches motivation insetad of content because (i) it's easier -- they don't even really have to come to understand the content themselves, and (ii) they underestimate their staff's ability to understand. If they hire the right staff, and refine the explanation well enough, and come to understand it themselves, staff will understand and internalize it -- ultimately better, because they will be the ones carrying it out.

The Angels prove you don't need the best strategy to get into the playoffs (or win a World Series), just a viable one with great execution and delivery.

In my next entry, I'll run some of the transcript of the interview with Scioscia, so you can hear what he says in his own words. I need to thank the Angel media relations staff for being exceptionally helpful and to Scioscia for being so generous with his time and thoughts.

Saturday, October 01, 2005

Corrective Feedback Ray Miller Style:
Indirect Percussion at Camden Yards  

To get better performance from most of your contributors, you will have to provide negative feedback sometimes. A small minority of people who are capable of being high-performers just need to be kicked in the rear repeatedly, but most people with that personality quirk usually don't provide a lot of torque in the workplace.

Others fear being confronted with their lack of perfection. A good friend of mine has as his key junior business partner a woman who is ultra-defensive. Perhaps "Rafaelia" had a hypercritical parent, but she exudes this small toxic death zone around herself that seems designed to make it massively punishing to offer any feedback that's not positive, so that those around her will not give any. The personal equivalent of Mohammar Ghaddafi's Line of Death. The problem here isn't just unpleasantness in the immediate moment -- it makes it expensive to even make non-negative corrections. Every conversation becomes larded up with the overhead of having to step carefully around her potential buried anti-personnel mines or, just wading in and wasting energy sniping back and forth. A small but guaranteed cost in every interaction.

Most people, even the ones who are not as hyper-defensive as Rafaelia have responses that have an emotional component, and depending on the person, that emotion (shame, fear, remorse, sorrow, anger, and others) can distract the recipient from being able to fully internalize the corrective information. If you want corrective information to correct as opposed to punish (any they are mutually exclusive) you want total focus on the content of your feedback. Ironically, many bosses jump to sharp anger as the first approach for corrective feedback, usually because their own dominant parent proffered them corrective feedback that way. This approach will, for most recipients, be a guaranteed loser.

Giving feedback is an essential part of Second Base in the MBB Model, and sometimes that feedback is going to be corrective. Since there is no single technique that works for everyone, it can be a booger. Here's one I find very interesting from a person I find really interesting. It should work for most contributors who don't require being beaten over the head and shamed whenever they fall short or make a mistake (it won't work for them at all). I call it Ray Miller's Reprimand by Indirect Percussion.

Miller has a perspective unique in post-WWII baseball for the strength of his job experience moving back and forth between being a pitching coach and a major league manager. His coaching career took him through the Baltimore Oriole system during the Paul Richards era. Those Orioles revolutionized baseball process by combining making methods uniform throughout a minor and major league system with an investment in human factors. The Orioles were very early in attending to psychology as part of the overall coaching/training effort.

Miller was a highly-honored pitching coach for some of the great Oriole teams (1978-84), became a manager in Minnesota (1985-86) and headed the turnaround in Minnesota's systems and methods that led to their first-ever World Series winning team (1987) which he was not there to share in. He chose to go back to being a pitching coach (Pittsburgh, 1987-96, Baltimore, 1997) and then a manager again (1998-99). He came out of retirement last season when Oriole GM Mike Flanagan, a product of Miller's (and of other O's coaches of that era) coaching craft asked Miller to be the pitching coach. Flanagan had won the Cy Young Award in 1979 and hoped that Miller could do for Flanagan's young pitching staff what he'd done for the young Oriole pitching staff when Flanagan was coming up. He runs a small business, too, so he has a business perspective about people management, as well.

The other unusual combination trait Miller has is he's got enough self-confidence to take a "demotion", that is from manager to pitching coach, a position that reports to a manager. Most people don't have the huevos to do that, but he is extraordinary and very sure of himself.

Miller's immediate effect on being brought on in the middle of the 2004 season was sharp. Orioles starter ERA was 5.94 in the part of the season before Miller was there, and 4.44 after he arrived, a full 1.50 difference, part or much of which has to be ascribed to his techniques. He's a winner, and we have many lessons to learn from his craft. Here's one for the frequently tricky moment of negative feedback.

Miller invites the manager to yell at him publicly when a pitcher has earned a reprimand for sloppy fundamentals or bad concentration. The manager turns to Miller and describes, in whatever loud language he chooses, what the failure was and why it was bad.

"The manager can jump around and yell at me, and the pitchers can all see that. Then they look to see if I jump the guy when he comes off the field, and I never say anything. Conversely, sometimes the guy is pitching a great game and makes a bad situation pitch, and the manager's screaming, and I'll touch the manager on the arm in front of the pitcher and say, 'I told him to throw that pitch'. The manager will shut up and go sit down."

By doing this, Ray preserves respect for the pitcher, and the pitcher sees a vivid example of his coach standing up for him. More importantly, the pitcher and all the other pitchers get to hear from the manager exactly what he did wrong without having it directed at him. Corrective criticism, but not colored by the shame or being chewed out publicly, as I said, emotions that can distract the pitcher from focusing on the mental aspects of the error and fixing it, which is truly the purpose of the corrective feedback.

Emulate Miller if you have your superior's respect, and your superior knows enough about the craft to criticize meaningfully and you have an agreement with him to play this scene when needed. It buys successfully imparted wisdom, an easier reprimand for the contributor to internalize and long-term loyalty from the contributor to you.

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