Sunday, October 15, 2006

Tigers to World Series: “It’s all about management.”  

A quick follow-up of the previous MBB post, "A Detroit Tiger Lesson in Competitive Aikido," that asserted that in competitive endeavors, the more clearly your outfit is viewed as following a certain tactical path, the more potential for discombobulatin' your competitors by taking an opposite approach.

The estimable Rob McMillin posted it over at Baseball Think Factory, which led to a discussion, much of which seemed to dispute baseball teams being able to perform a makeover of their tactics for a single game or series or if an observer could suppose intent from a few innings of data given the small sample size.

Well, that was the point of the brave critics who asserted actual points. One amusingly passive poster, reclining in his Jabba The Hutt autograph-model Barcalounger, merely raised his pinkie and pleaded for someone else to make an (undefined) oppositional point, he or she being way too patrician to actually engage in dialogue, but like a Roman plutocrat, looking for a chance to flip a thumbs down safely from the Coliseum's luxury boxes, far enough away to avoid the Passion of the Christ-level blood-spray she or he hoped would ensue. ¿Vomitorium, anyone?

The conversation stalled, but for those who who are interested in analysis that adds to the wonderful things we find out through math & social science statistics, there was a nifty section in Murray Chass' New York Times column today.

Tigers Threw Strikes Early

{SNIP}The Yankees lost to the Tigers [last week in the playoffs] not because [Yankee manager Joe] Torre suddenly forgot how to manage when the calendar turned to October, but because the Tigers used an excellent pitching strategy to thwart the league’s highest-scoring team.

Detroit pitchers attacked the Yankee hitters, an approach teams did not take during the season. The Yankees, who thrived on building up pitch counts, were used to seeing pitches off the plate because pitchers were afraid to attack them.

Instead of going 1-0 or 2-0, the Tigers threw their first pitches for strikes and got ahead in the count. That approach gave them the upper hand and enabled them to pitch more effectively against the Yankees’ good hitters.

According to Elias Sports Bureau statistics, Detroit pitchers threw first-pitch strikes to 95 of 145 Yankee batters, or 65.5 percent, above the 57.2 percent by Yankee opponents during the season and the Tigers’ 58.6 percent. The major league average was 58.7 percent. [emphasis mine]

The Tigers pitching staff led the American League in ERA, partially though a home park that disadvantages batters, but partially because they were darned good. Here, I'll argue (Jabba, get ready to call for help) that a staff that leads the league in ERA is likelier to be a good staff with a decent or better defense than a team that's average in ERA or near the bottom of the dregs. If you want smarter numbers, Hardball Times' fielding-independent pitching stat, FIP, indicates the Tigers had the league' 3rd best staff out of 14 team.

I'll also argue that a good staff is more likely to get the outcomes its trying to achieve than an average or bad staff is.

So here's the crux. from a competitive intelligence point of view, it's clear that while the Tigers staff were league average in their ability/choice/tendency to throw first pitch strikes during the regular season, and while Chass' assertion about the Elias stats says during the season the Yankees saw slightly fewer first pitch strikes than average because pitchers/teams were afraid of them, the Tigers shot their normal pattern and attacked Yankee hitters with 1st pitch strikes, 66% instead of 59%.

One of the critics, MGL, drew what seems to me a distinction between the will of individual players and teams-as-a-whole. I know we agree that individual players make adjustments every day for every environment and pitcher and plate appearance and count (hey -- wouldn't you love it if all your staffers -- as an implicit way-of-being -- adjusted to changing contexts every day? If you follow baseball principles at work, they can), but I believe he thinks that a coaching staff won't bring the team together to execute a group strategy -- or perhaps they might try, but the outcome wouldn't reflect the intent. I think that's where our views diverge.

So as a great piece from the New York Times' Jack Curry quoted a Tiger fan saying today. “It’s all about management”.

"All" is undoubtedly an exaggeration, but in competitive intelligence and analysis, it's absurd to overlook management intent, even though intent doesn't exactly line up with the outcome. When the Tiger batters made an exxxxxtreme & uniform (12 out of 12) change in their pattern by NOT swinging at first pitches, that indicates organized intent (management). And when the Tiger pitchers earlier threw more strikes to the Yankees on first pitches, a lot more than their season norm, that indicates a strong possibility of organized intent (management).

Any decent baseball advance scout would suggest management appears to be playing a role in it, and not that it's a random factor. That's what management does in baseball and beyond: design intent and then attempts to achieve outcomes and then goes back to the drawing board before competitors catch on.

For those who can't believe that a manager can tell staff to lay off first pitches or make an extra special effort to throw strikes on first pitches with the staff conforming and with outcomes, therefore, shifting, do me a favor and stay out of management. There are too many managers out there already, too many people with authority, who believe outcomes are random and who therefore give themselves and their organizations over to entropy.

Baseball doesn't do that. Baseball has serious management.

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