Saturday, January 28, 2006

Earning your MBB:
Keynote Addresses, Presentations, Speaking & Workshops  

With the Harper Collins book Management by Baseball: The Official Rules for Winning Management in Any Field coming out in May, I've changed the business end of how y'all book me for presentations and workshops. I signed with Harper Collins' own Speakers Bureau. It helps organizations I work with because the Speakers Bureau can handle some of the logistics for them more cleanly than we could before. It also simplifies my life because it aligns my speaking scheduling with our efforts on the new book. Finally, a special bonus: the team (Julie & Gary) is very cool, and enchilada maximo Gary Reznick pitches the old horsehide in a semi-pro league -- so when I field the MBB team, I already have a starter recruited.

There's a Management by Baseball page at the Speakers Bureau site. In case you're interested, here are a some of the topics I can cover with you.

  • Out of the Batter's Box: Starting a new management mission. Baseball stories & secrets that deliver a great start.
  • Managing Your Sales & Marketing Team by Baseball: Baseball's secrets for getting the most out of the talent.
  • Baseball's Lessons for managing time, humans, & knowledge, from Branch Rickey to Earl Weaver.
  • The talent is the product: The national pastime's wisdom for staffing, mentoring, improving and, when you have to, cutting, employees.
  • There's no "I" in "Team", but there are an "M" & an "E". Baseball's lessons in self-awareness and the importance of overcoming emotions in managing.
  • Coping with and initiating change: Lessons from the Man Who Invented Babe Ruth.
  • Whatever Doesn't Make You Stronger Kills You and other essential baseball lessons for organizations in competitive lines of work.
  • Lessons from [pick a team]. You pick a Major League team, and I'll put together a set of management lessons that come from the history and accomplishments of that team.

To arrange for some Management by Baseball at your event or for a targeted workshop, contact the Harper Collins team at 212-207-7100, or visit their contact page.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Sutter's Mill-Stone:
Herman Franks's Fallacious Fable  

In the U.S., individuals' childhood life issues too often become pillars of their management practice. Some people are programmed to feel "it's not fair", and if they are proactive, that urge may drive them to try to right wrongs. In the more passive type personalities, that urge frequently drives them to sit on the sidelines and wait for some unfairness to happen, at which point they will point it out or complain or whine about it. Because these people believe cognitively that life is unfair/bad, when they hear info that asserts something unfair happened, they are likely to jump on it because it fits their world view. Sometimes in that particular case that view is false, unsupported by the data or other forms of reality, and since, more often than not, their complaints are supported by data, they don't even bother to check to see if the "news" is true.

This week something happened that was a perfect illustration of the "it's not fair" chorus singing off-key.

Bruce Sutter was elected to Baseball's Hall of Fame. Worse, a better candidate, Rich Gossage, wasn't, falling short again. Amplifying the it's-not-fairness of the whole situation is that at least one person with a vote suggested he's always opposed Gossage but now that Sutter was in, he'd vote for Gossage, which is akin to saying "I've always opposed the froth-at-the-mouth Talibaptist maniacs in Iran, but now that our ally in Baghdad is supporting them, I will, too".

A fair number of people have railed against the Sutter installation citing the apocryphal story spread by Cub ex-manager Herman Franks that:

  1. Franks had developed the method of using Sutter only with a lead and only for an inning.
  2. In earlier seasons, Sutter had failed in the second halves of seasons, probably from overuse, and Franks learned to reserve/preserve the reliever for fewer, more important, situations.
  3. Sutter had therefore been the precursor to the classic "Clean 9th" closer (term mine), coming into games almost exclusively in a save situation, almost exclusively at the beginning of the 9th inning.

There's at least one problem worth noting. Franks' story is false on all three counts.

That apocryphal story is believed by many for good reason. Bill James cites the story in his fine Bill James Guide to Baseball Managers. Paul Votano reinforces it in his book Late and Close: A History of Relief Pitching. In the discussion around Sutter HoF candidacy and his success, many commentators, including my own favorite, Steven Goldman of YES Network, have taken Franks' comments as frank. A small handful support Franks and therefore Sutter (perhaps that really they support Sutter and therefore Franks) while most oppose Sutter cite Franks' alleged invention as an abomination and, therefore, oppose Sutter's induction. Sutter is seen as some fragile couple-of-batters trust fund kid who had decent stuff but lucked into a cushy job.

These kind of problems occur beyond baseball all the time. People hitch their energy to a story, either to support its moral or oppose it, even when the story is a gilded telling of something untrue, or once-true-now-passé. Detaching them from that emotionally-triggered, behavior-shaping story is harder than getting a $2 microbrew at a major league ballpark.

FACT: Franks never used Sutter in a lead situation in a Clean 9th half or more of the time.

Franks managed Sutter in Chicago from 1977-1979. If this evolutionary innovation story was true, the actual pitching lines for their final year together would reflect this. It doesn't.

Here's a key indicator, a chart that shows how many innings Sutter pitched in each of his appearances in 1979:

Innings ~# of 1979 games
< 1 7
1 14
1-1/3 5
1-2/3 10
2 16
> 2 10

Franks was just as likely to use Sutter for more than an inning as an inning or less. The mode average use was 2 innings, the median 1-2/3. Sutter pitched 5 innings once. Bruce Sutter wasn't the Woman of Kleenex, (repoz...you must read that link) the foil to Goose Gossage's Man of Steel. He wasn't Gossage, but neither was he Tony Fossas.

Sutter's effectiveness and swell career stats are not a function of being coddled. In his last serious season of use, closing for Whitey Herzog's 1984 St. Louis Cardinals:

Innings ~# of 1984 games
< 1 5
1 15
1-1/3 or 1-2/3 10
2 29
2-1/3 or 2-2/3 6
3+ 6

Median and mode average for appearance length was 2 innings. If anything, it's possible that he could have had a longer successful career if Herzog hadn't gotten him into 71 games where he notched 122 innings (and I don't know how many times Herzog warmed him up without putting him in a game once warmed).

Someone with better Retrosheet tools who wanted to could build a chart like this for every season Sutter labored, but a quick glance says the others would show a pattern similar to 1979. Sutter was simply not a Clean 9th, quick-in-quick-out guy. Others invented that rôle -- not Franks with Sutter.

FACT: The stats don't indicate Sutter wore down in the second half of his seasons with Franks..except for the last season in which Franks alleged he was using him differently.

The following tables are drawn w/data from Retrosheet.

1977        G  IP     H  BFP  HR   R  BB    ERA
April       8  11.2   7   41   0   1   0   0.77
May        15  29.2  14  103   2   4   2   0.91
June       15  26.2  19  105   0   4   8   0.68
July        8  16.1   9   65   2   6   4   2.20
August      4   3.2   2   16   0   0   3   0.00
September  11  17.1  16   71   1   5   4   2.60
October     1   2     2   10   0   1   2   4.50

1978        G  IP     H  BFP  HR   R  BB    ERA
April       9  13.1  10   59   1   7   8   2.03
May        10  18     9   70   1   3   4   1.50
June       10  17    12   70   2   6   8   2.65
July       12  17    12   64   2   2   1   1.06
August     11  17    20   74   2  11   4   5.82
September  12  16.1  19   77   2  15   9   6.06

Month       G  IP     H  BFP  HR   R  BB    ERA
April       5   7.2   5   29   0   0   2   0.00
May        10  19.1  14   80   2   6   7   2.33
June       10  17     6   62   0   2   5   1.06
July       10  16     3   60   0   3   7   1.12
August     15  21    19   83   0   5   3   1.29
September  12  20.1  20   89   1  13   8   5.75

In 1977, Sutter was flat out fantastic. July and August were brilliant, and even if you pour his crappy October game into September and he still has a Baserunner/9 of 11.2 and an ERA under 3.00.

In 1978, he was truly fine in July and truly poor in both August and September. Franks didn't throw Sutter out there any less. This one season is where he flagged in August and never perked up.

In 1979, the year Franks allegedly managed him for lesser first half use to preserve the reliever, Sutter didn't show up until after the 11th game of the season. In April, Franks used him less than he had the year before (over 11 fewer games, so perhaps no different per game), in May he actually used him more inninings and the same number of games as he had in '78, and then in June, the same number of games and innings both. In the second half of 1979, he used Sutter in more games and more innings than he had in the "lesson learned" 1978.

It's clear that in terms of games, total innings, or length of appearance, Franks never markedly altered his use of Sutter. And again, Sutter was not the poster boy for the "Clean 9th" closer. Sutter has become a lightning rod for the "it's not fair" folk -- the actual career has been distorted by the untrue (probably not malicious, just not verified) claims of a manager, the fact that bullpen use has been dis-optimized by lazy managers and players seeking comfort in highly prescribed rôles, the pursuit of a univerally-accepted as goofy statistic, the save, and finally, the idea that somehow he's being held up to Rich Gossage as an either/or Ahura Mazda Less-Filling-Tastes-Great duality totem on which to beat 5/9ths time. Ridiculous.

I have a research paper on what I believe to be the actual origin of the Clean 9th closer. I'll run that in some form in a different forum later.

The same sort of story distorts non-baseball organizations regularly.

A friend of mine was working with a software company that had their main product upgraded annually, always near the beginning of each year. Technical support demand always went up temporarily as a result. The people who worked in techncial support were going nuts, because even though the company knew they were going to have this predictable demand surge every year, they wouldn't hire temps to sub for people who could do support or hire temp support agents. Morale was rock-bottom in support and in customer service (the people who got to hear the customers complain).

Management wouldn't try to hire any temp help. The "reason", actually a creation myth, was that because the software company had a contract to develop custom add-ons for their main product specifically for a customer that was a defense contractor, that everyone working in the company was required to have a security clearance, and because it routinely took about four months to get one, it was not feasible for the company to hire any temporary staff. Everyone thought this was terribly unfair, one of those insurmountable problems, like Soviet Communism or the IMF that even though everyone knew it was a terrible abusive failure, we somehow just had to learn to live with and say "it's not fair" whenever we thought about it or talked about it.

My friend was skeptical, so he started nosing around trying to find where this draconian regulation was invented. Not, certainly, but the Defense Department. I got to collaborate with my friend on searching out the citation. Here's what we found.

The human resources department had hired an expensive contractor to research what security requirements they needed to apply and to whom once they started developing for the weapons customer. The contractor had called someone at the customer's legal department. The client's paralegal stated a truth, that everyone who worked at the weapons customer had to have a clearance. The contractor took that back to our company as a requirement. They instituted it, and it sat unquestioned for four years.

There was so much instituional inertia and fear of letting this unfairness go ("what if they make the rule that we have to but we've already changed it?") that it took two more years and untold dollars and customer ill-will before they actually changed the requirement.

People who see the world through "it's not fair", if they're passive, can come close to sabotaging the very fairness they crave. The best start to changing that is examining the basis for the unfairness, never with the assumption that it's an insurmountable given, that the story of why it has to be is true, but asking the skeptical questions and following up until, like a good historian or ethnographer, you know enough of the truth to accept or spike the story.

Don't let you cognitive setting affect the way you make decisions or view others. There's plenty of unfairness out there, just not as much as people are programmed to see.

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Mets' Minaya Masters the Meat --
May Be Mutilating the Potatoes  

Discussion at MLB Center

Most decisions a manager faces are Meat & Potatoes, the big core issues and the smaller supporting ones. Today, we'll delve into the starchy world of Potatoes. You can't handle all supporting decisions the same way simply because they are relatively small, because some smaller-resource questions are easy to adjust once made and others are hard to redirect.

Most managers deal with both the same way, to their detriment and their organization's, too.

The clever and always-interesting baseball columnist Tim Marchman this week described the off-season personnel decisions of New York Mets G.M. Omar Minaya. It looks like a case study in the consequences of not distinguishing between the two kinds of Potatoes decisions.

The most important thing for the general manager of a baseball team as rich as the Mets to do is to get the big calls right. In baseball, as in life, the most important benefit of money is that it allows a margin of error. A plutocrat who loses $1,000 playing the horses quickly withdraws another $1,000 from the bank and gambles again; an everyman who does the same might not eat for a while. Much the same is true of rich and poor baseball teams. Carlos Delgado is a great player, but the Mets can afford to bet that he's not about to do a Mo Vaughn impression in a way the Cleveland Indians can't.

This being so, our plutocrat cannot afford to make a habit of wadding up cash and throwing it in the gutter for laughs. Soon enough, he'll regret the lack of cash, even if it only means that he can only afford gold hubcaps instead of platinum ones. And baseball teams cannot give away good players for no reason; they'll come to regret it.

The Mets, like all teams with serious resources, face a small handful of issues that need addressing and can be addressed. This off-season, they have an excess of starting outfielders and are looking for some serious bullpen help. The outfielder who makes the best trade-bait was Mike Cameron, a stunningly capable defender in centerfield who has sporadically put up serious offensive numbers but is recovering from vision problems that limited his plate effectiveness. The pitcher who would provide the most attractive trade-bait is Jae Seo who, in 14 starts last season, finally put up fine numbers (10 baserunners per 9 innings, 3.7-to-1 K-to-BB ratio, 8 of his 14 starts were really good and only 3 really bad). This came after a couple of years of lukewarm performance. It's not a given he'll continue to pitch he way he did in 2005, ergo his trade value is not guaranteed to ever be as high again. Both players are the kind who can light up an optimistic buyer who imagines they are getting the services of the best production each has had in their career.

Moreover, Marchman believes, "this winter, the most valuable properties on the market are outfielders and, especially, starting pitchers."

You'd think each of these talents would be good lures to swap and Minaya worked out deals for both. Marchman thinks the Mets fared poorly in the swaps.

Seo emigrated to the Dodgers for the somewhat more evolved but somewhat less promising Dodger reliever Duaner Sánchez (12 baserunners per 9 innings, 2-to-1 K-to-BB ratio, in 79 appearances). The heavy workload of 79 games is probably an asset not a fear factor, since the Mets pitching coach Rick Peterson is known as the best analyst of body stress for pitchers...the regime Sánchez is moving to is protective of his health.

The Mets yielded Cameron to San Diego for their excess outfielder/first baseman, Xavier Nady. Unlike Cameron, Nady hasn't accomplished a lot yet, but he's going to have his age-27 season in 2006 (Bill James's and others' studies indicate batters tend to peak at age 27 or 28, so the Mets potentially own both those years and while Nady has been a poor outfielder with sharp platoon splits, his stats against right-handed pitchers have improved. But the Mets had no urgent need for either an outfielder or first baseman so Marchman believes this was an unecessary distraction to their core needs.

¿So why did Minaya end up with these deals that disappointed Mets fans who'd hoped to see desireable assets traded for better fits?

Marchman thinks Minaya is one of those decisionmakers that, faced with the Potatoes, resolves them as quickly as possible. Always. Even if they're decisions that come with sticky long-term consequences. As I stated earlier, most managers resolve all Potatoes decisions the same way whether they have long-term stickiness or not. They either agonizie over every minor detail as though the Fate of Western Civilization Hangs in the Balance, or take the tack Marchman thinks Minaya is holding to (quick resolution, move on to next). As Marchman wrote:

You would think that a GM with a Gold Glove center fielder with 30-home run power and a cheap young starter coming off a season in which he rang up a 2.59 ERA would sit back, let the market come to him and fill some holes. That's not Minaya. It's clear that once he gets an idea in his head, whether it be, "I must trade Mike Cameron," or, "I must trade Jae Seo to improve the bullpen," he reaches a point at which he just wants to move on to the next order of business rather than wait until some minimal standard of acceptability is met.

This is the downside to the decisiveness everyone finds so appealing when it nets a player like Pedro Martinez, and it leads to thoughts like, "I must have Carlos Delgado, and I'm not waiting out the Marlins over some Triple-A pitcher, because another team might swoop in and grab him." Which is fine in the isolated instance - but when it leads to the team losing significant talent in every trade it makes, it becomes a problem.

A resource-rich organization like the Mets, which had already addressed its Meat issue (acquiring Carlos Delgado as their first baseman, simultaneously replacing their weakest offensive shortcoming and adding a top performer) had only these side issues to mess with. Personnel decisions like these have longer-term effects, and one can't afford to toss them off as though they are a decision to pick a manufacturer for one batch of Bat Night giveaways. Even well-endowed organizations don't have surpluses that are in demand all the time.

I'm not sure these deals will end up being losers for the Mets -- they won't be losers even if Seo pitches well or Cameron makes a comeback because, as John Schuerholtz believes, part of a deal's success is the antagonist's success -- a win-win guarantees goodwill in future dealings. And I think the Mets may find utility in a relief pitcher who can appear in half the team's games and a once-highly touted talent entering his age-27 and -28 seasons. But Marchman's observation of Minaya's giddyup is true either way and a lesson worth noting.

Do you dither over small decisions? Do you not have the interest in a little wait-and-see on the Potatoes issues that have longer-term consequences?

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