Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Part III - Turnaround in Tampa Bay:
¿How Much Pressure to Perform?  

This is the last installment of the interview I did with Tampa Bay's then-rookie manager Joe Maddon about his approach to turning around the historically struggling Devil Rays franchise. Maddon's piece of the task is with players and field staff, and establishing a culture of excellence in an organization that has been so far from excellence it has been color-blind to it.

In organizations beyond baseball, most failed turnaround efforts fail because of a shortfall in a single Second Base practice: applying the right amount of pressure. Managers in a turnaround situation need to show sufficient urgency, serious determination to change to indicate to surviving staff that change will happen with or without them, and that it's going to start pronto. If management doesn't execute that, staff can come to believe they'll be relieved of the burdens of change, or that management is just talking about transformation and not serious about execution. Equally, though, management can instill a fire-drill mentality, intimidating and exhausting even engaged staff.

Few managers beyond baseball understand this. Maddon clearly does.

Jeff Angus (JA): I sent you about sixty questions I thought we should talk about some time. But the one I had thought was the big question really was framed in the game last night (August 7?).

You want to be encouraging, you want to be supportive. You want to win. You want to keep the pressure enough that people feel like you care, but you can’t be Lou Piniella and give up on a AA pitcher who had to come up because of a roster move or injury or disciplinary and then comes in and makes some ignorant mistake.

Joe Maddon (JM): The great point you just made there, that’s the key. It’s applying just enough pressure to let them know that you care.

JA: That’s got to be one of your big challenges.

JM: It is. That’s huge. You just described what’s I’ve been feeling, and I hadn’t been able to put it into words.

And there are times I just want to relax, but I see if I do that, I may not be showing enough caring. I want them to just go out and do it – I know it’s the players who go out and win the games, so I try to stay out of the way, but there are times if you stay out of the way too much, will they get the perception that I don’t care enough about winning?

The first and most important lesson: you have to deliver a homeostatic level of pressure -- enough to show you care, but not so much pressure that you destroy focus or concentration. In a turnaround, there have been performance issues and it's unrealistic to think your staff can go (in practice, in psychology, in team coherence) from clearly inadequate to excellent in one smooth hyperjump.

JM: But I think when you’ve got the kind of team that allows you to stay out of the way, truly allows you to stay out of the way and just let them just play, that’s when you truly do win. That’ the fine line to be balanced. That’ what happened in Anaheim – we finally arrived at that point where I knew and I’d encourage the (coaching team), “Let them just play, let’s just stay out of the way.”

It happened one time this year…We got to a brief period this year where everybody got healthy and it was going along nice and I told Andrew (G.M. Andrew Friedman), “it’s a good moment. It’s everyone’s job to stay out of their way.” I did not want to try to influence the game by asking them to do a whole bunch of different things.

JA: Was the green light on?

JM: Yes. There green light was on and there were no red lights. We’d already covered what’s a good time to run and not.

JA: But you recognized they were at the right moment to do that, yes? It wasn’t a random experiment, correct?

JM: True. It is truly a tricky thing to be able to do I show you care enough and still be able to stay out of the way.

The next lesson: there's a time to control fiercely, a time to have loose guidelines and a time to let staff experiment by riffing off your baseline  This may be the most difficult practice to handle deftly because no matter how well you choose your times for loosening the reins, staff will have some poor outcomes (that's the nature of testing/experimentation of new practices and methods). If your own management has a tin ear for turnaround (and let's face, the likelihood is they do -- which is why things need turning around, eh?), you can be in the position of being criticized for the mistakes that result from necessary experiments. Ugly but true. Maddon is a little luckier than you are here...his executives are committted to change and, for now anyway, resigned to investing the cale ndar time to make it happen.

JA: So do you handle someone who you every reason to assume they’ll succeed and they struggle for quite a while. And is it different for a young player than a vet?

For example, you have Jonny Gomes and he was Mr. April and then tailed off in May, and not doing so well since and striking out about 25% of his plate appearances.

You have pitchers like that are high variance guys – the ways they succeed and lose are very different game to game (like if I use QMAX to chart their outings), unlike a guy like Jamie Moyer whose starts cluster in a couple of spots – his good starts all look pretty much the same and his bad ones have a commonality, too. But then you have Seth McClung. I’m an outsider, I haven’t actually seen him pitch much, but the numbers indicate he’s all over the place.

How do you handle it when you have a guy like McClung who can pitch at a major league level but you just don’t know when he’s going to?

JM: He’s in the bullpen now. He’s come out of the bullpen three times since he’s come back. And he’s done well three times.

JA: How many pitches does he use?

JM: Mainly fast ball. And slider, but fast ball primarily, and his curve ball a little bit. We wanted to really limit the number of things he’s trying to do.

JA: So far it’s working?

JM: Yes. He was three weeks in AAA. Walked two, struck out 26. Sixteen hits in 16 innings, batting average about one-something against him, and converted all his save opportunities.

JA: And who thought of this?

JM: We’ve been talking about it. Comes up here. And I told him the first plan is to put him in the 7th or the 8th inning. He went 1-1/3rd, 1-1/3rd, and then 1 inning. And I was going to close him in the game last night – flip-flop (Brian) Meadows with him. I kept Meadows apprised of this, but I did not tell McClung last night he was going to close.

You’re right on. He totally deserves to be here, but he was totally ineffective.

With Jonny Gomes, it’s different. I used something like this with Kazmir. I used paradox. He was having a problem hanging his slider. So I went up to Kazmir and said “the next time you go out to pitch, every time you’re going to throw the slider, I want you to say to yourself, ‘I’m going to hang this thing I’m going to hang this slider, and they’re going to crush it’ “

So I went up to Jonny, and I said, “A little paradoxical intent. I want you to strike out. I want you to swing and miss every pitch. He hit a double.

JA: That’s interesting…that wouldn’t work for everybody.

JM: Everybody wants to not strike out.

The third lesson is how you loosen the reins and how you show the right" level of concern is going to be different for each staffer. You need to have an overall message that's consistent, but when you get to implementation, it has to be customized to each talent's tendency.

And in a turnaround, one way to show determination to change is through staff turnover. You want to keep your good performers, but some may be good and not fit into the new practices. Some may be good, but have attitudes that blunt effective turnaround. When you bring new talent into a turnaround organization (in or out of baseball), you'll need to choose carefully.

JA: In the balance between “team” and a star…a franchise player, or in the case of the current what you call expansion stage Devil Rays, the player most likely to be your All-Star team choice, how do you handle that balance? In the next few years you’re going to be close enough to striking distance that the front office will load up some vets pre- or mid-season. And if you’re successful, you have this highly cohesive group of players that have matured together. It sounds to me that when y’all choose vets, you’ll need to be as careful on the human side as on the abilities side.

JM: Yes. you really have to be careful who in your locker room carries the biggest stick. If this person is going to have the sense of humor…if he’s sarcastic or cynical, that it can drag down a group of young people…that impacts everybody. Right down to the ticket-takers and the parking lot attendants and the first base coach and the first base coach’s wife, and anybody else who shows up for the game.

I really am aware of that. When I talk about clubhouse chemistry, about getting that room right, about shaping that culture, that impacts so many people. Ray fans want to watch the game and listen to the game and read the newspaper and see that the Rays are on top. And they want to see positive things coming out of the Rays. Well, when you permit a situation or a group of people within your group who you know are taking your people the wrong way, it’s your fault, it’s not their fault, for allowing it to happen.

As a decision-maker in the Angels organization…when I had to hire minor league coaches, if I knew within a month or two that I was wrong and that we’d have to get rid of this person, it was my fault for doing a poor job of selection in the first place. We always try to give the person a year or two and try to flip them and be very honest give them information and say “Listen, this has got to change” but if they did not change, we obviously had to do something because that one person could have a negative effect on so many people. I don’t even know what the multiplier effect of that is. It’s incredible to me that so many people don’t consider that…I do consider all of it. IT ALL MATTERS.

Right now, here, our coaching staff here is tremendous, and I know that the positive and complementary impact they have on that room is wonderful and it’s probably at it’s at it’s highest point right now, though I think it can get better. That group in there really influences our group in such a good way daily. Major league people sometimes miss that point when they choose their coaching staff. For years the coaching staff was viewed this group of people who just throw batting practice, hit fungoes and then go out and have a beer with the manager after the game. That’s farthest from the truth of what you need. What you have to be able to do is communicate and I think as a major league coach the most important skill that’s required is listening. If you lack listening skill, you truly cannot be a good major league coach.

These are the things I see as being important. For example, last night you watched the Rays play, it was very impressive, I thought even though they lost, it was impressive. But the reason the Rays played so well was because all these little things are starting to come together and promote the camaraderie and the good play and the support that makes those possible. And we’re not looking for that to happen over a few days or a one or two years; we’re looking to build a tradition of excellence here. That needs to be nurtured through relationships.

JA: When I look at your roster, I see the 1974 Royals. Not a great team, but a young team with more young players right underneath them that pushed the guys already on the roster. And a few older guys, role players who performed better than any outsider would have thought they could. In your case I’m thinking about (Greg) Norton, for example.

JM: And how about (Ty) Wigginton? Wiggy is having the year of his life. Travis Lee is having a little bit of a comeback; even though his offensive numbers a re not good, he’s having a bit of a renaissance right now. But Norton’s a prime example.

JA: His performance, age 33, seems out of the blue. When I saw his name on your roster, I thought it might be a different person with the same name.

JM: He’s been wonderful. He’s a big part of our club now.

JA: One last question. Bench Coach. When I talked with Mike Scioscia, he told me where he got his model, Monty Basgall. And he said Monty was the thinker and Tommy Lasorda was the feeler. And I said to him, so since you are the thinker, is your bench coach the feeler for you? And he said “no, he thinks the game right along with me”.

So you have a bench coach – are you more interested in him being complementary or is he a shadow (like how Scioscia used you)?

JM: What I was looking for was someone with a lot of baseball experience, someone who’d managed a lot because the biggest thing I wanted was the managing instinct to draw from. Bill (Evers) has had many years as a minor league manager, and he’s constantly on top of the game. And I’m getting all that I had expected. I knew he would not be as computer-savvy as I am, and he’s been learning, so I hope next year we can turn it all over to him and let him do all this other stuff (sweeping his hand at a pile of reports he’d produced).
It’s the manager’s job to intellectualize the data. The bench coach’s job is to allow that to happen by doing all the other work I shouldn’t be doing so that I can use my time to think, to talk with the players and with people like you. Truly my significant contributions are I can think and talk. Make sure everything stays on task.

I was speaking with the GM here (Mariners) GM Billy Bavasi, and he likes to say, and it’s true, “You know you’ve done a good job if you feel like you walk in the door and you feel like to have nothing urgent to do.” That truly is the essence of delivering good leadership in the organization. So when I walk in and I feel like everything is under control, that I’ve done a decent job.

JA: That involves a lot of delegation, which I’d like to talk about with you the next time you’re here.

The Devil Rays don't get back to Seattle until September, by which time some of the turnaround developments and how well it's going should be more obvious. Maddon is a blast, and a great role model for managers beyond baseball.

I can't wait.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Part II - Insight Man Joe Maddon on 1st Steps in Tampa Bay's Turnaround  

The practice of turnaround is a specialty among the practices in general management within and beyond baseball. Turning around an established organization that's failing requires skills from quotidian management methods, but some additional ones that if missing (and most managers are missing several of them) just about doom the turnaround to fail or under-perform critically. 

When the new ownership of the Tampa Bay Devil Rays and its new upper management team recruited a field manager, they recognized they needed someone as capable on the field as predecessor Lou Piniella, but someone who could either not get in the way of the turnaround they had in mind, or better yet, someone who would actually add torque to their drive towards a new model. For that key role, they chose Joe Maddon, who is, based on my experience in a lot of turnaround initiatives, perfectly suited to the task.

Listen to him carefully - there are few practitioners as perceptive as Maddon, and almost none willing to share their processes.

In this second part of the interview (there's more for another entry) I'm going to cover most of the talk we had about turnaround practice, how it affects the product on the field now and in the future. I've changed the order of the sections as they appear because I was not as structured in the conversation as I could have been -- we were having a good time, and I wandered off course a few times.

This is an important aside. A lot of people have judged the Rays' post-Naimoli reality, their front office, field management and coaching, against the putrid record they finished with last year. While their judgment might conceivably prove true someday, I think it's nonsense to take on this stance at this point. The team made decisions to trade away present to get future back; on July 12, the team sent their presumptive "best" player, Aubrey Huff, for minor leaguers, and within the next six weeks, they'd trade Julio Lugo for a top Dodger prospect, Joel Guzman and another minor leaguer, as well as trading Russell Branyan for a minor leaguer. At July 12, they were 39-50 (.438, projecting out over a season to about 71-91), not great but 11 wins better than the 2005 squad was at that date. Some ticket-buying fans would rather see a 2006 win than a 2008 win (or even three of 'em), and I can sympathize. But the front office decided to sell off a face-saving -- if inevitably futile -- 2006 by choosing to peddle marketable, proven, if not stellar veterans in exchange for young players who might prove to be stellar. After July 12, the team went 22-51, a .301 "clip".
     There's an important duality among sports fans and front offices. Some strongly prefer being continually, consistently competitive, while others prefer highs and lows because you win more pennants that way (and struggle more, too). Both theories can bring "success" over time, though the environment  in which a team plays affects the comparative level of the success one is likely to achieve relative to the other. The Devil Rays, battling in the zero-sum crucible in the AL East against two of the best-funded and best-run organizations in baseball, can make a rational argument that it makes more sense to be really bad and lose 100 games a couple of years and win 100 games a couple of years than it is to win 85 games in each of those years. In the NL West, it makes more sense to tilt the other way. If I paid for D-Rays tix and if I'd lived through the Naimoli era, I might feel differently, but as an outside analyst who doesn't and didn't, I think their plan is more likely to work than what they might have achieved if they'd kept the vets.

So here are a mess 'o Lessons from Maddon & The Rays on Turnaround.

When you inherit the mantle in a turnaround initiative, departmental or the whole organization, it pays to think of it as an expansion team. You have the "right", perhaps even the mandate to build everything from scratch. In a turnaround, you have residual plaque...process, habits, technologies, staff. You should ask yourself, "what would I do if I was starting from scratch?", and "which of these existing pieces fit or can be remolded to that ideal?". As Paul DePodesta has said, you have to ask the naïve question, and don't take on the assumptions of your predecessors (after all, if the predecessors' assumptions were all correct, this wouldn't be a turnaround situation. Picking up the interview from where we left off last time...

Joe Maddon (JM): Absolutely. And for me that is my primary goal right now…that the clubhouse is good, the interaction and communication are good. When I came, my #1 goal was to change the culture in the clubhouse and this group.

Jeff (JA): I want to hear more about that. I want to hear about changes and about what you’ve deliberately set out to do. How much study were you able to do before Spring Training or did it start then. Did you get reports? Because this is classic turnaround practice and this has so much value to people outside of baseball. As I said earlier, people don’t get to see the guts of turnaround practice in other fields. 

So the team is about seven or eight wins ahead of where they were on this date a year ago. And it’s not like your predecessor was any kind of a bum…

JM: His agenda was different from mine. I think if you analyze a manager’s approach, you have to first establish what the person’s agenda is. 

My agenda from the start was to come in here with the new group of people…young people… I saw the developmental situation as a challenge. I always thought for if I was going to leave the Angels, the best way to do it would be in an expansion situation. Which is what I consider this group to be.

I’m very competitive. You build up this competitive nature against these other teams that have existed for many years. Whereas the Tampa Bay Devil Rays have only existed eight years. I’ve not built up any negative feelings towards this group (as a result of the competitive nature). SO I can come in here and it’s like it’s all new. 

I feel like this is the Devil Rays’ first year. So you lock into that and the first thing you have to do coming in is to listen to people; ask the question “What is it that has been wrong around here”. Because from the outside, you can make assumptions…perhaps it’s incompetent people, there’s been no organization, there’s been no communication, there have been competing agendas. From the outside, those are the assumptions you’ll make seeing a group doing poorly.

But then I met the people who were in the front office – they were highly competent. Yes, there were some new people, but the ones who were left over were tremendous. Hard working, I thought, cared about winning. So I saw this wonderful group of people, bright, creative, so what’s gone wrong here?

Once your take on Maddon's insight that Turnaround is like starting an expansion franchise, it frees you from making assumptions about the past (good and bad). That end is mandatory if you're going to make the required changes, and Expansion Team is a nice technique to put you into that mandatory frame of mind.

I've never met a totally raw manager who is good at turnaround. Conceptually, it should be entirely possible. A very bright, well-trained by the book, untainted by office politics talent should be able to ask those naive questions and come up with right answers. But I've never seen it work in the field (btw: have any of you? I would love to hear of such cases and in what contexts it worked).

Anyone who ever planned on being a manager should have been keeping index cards or a thick mental filing cabinet of ideas and proactices...bith successful ones to follow and failures to be avoided. A rookie manager shouldn't automatically follow those cues...context changes the benefit/cost of everything, but it's a great list to start with (and usually better than the list the people who hired you to manage can put together -- if their skill sets were tuned to fixing the existing mess, it likely would have been addressed successfully already).

I think Maddon's tack is a close to perfect as I can imagine anyone executes.

JM: I went to Spring Training and met the players and the coaches. There were things I liked and things I didn’t, but one has to ask questions. I did not want to try to do too much too soon, to come in and just open my mouth and all of sudden say “what you guys have done for years is wrong and this is the right thing to do”. That would have been the biggest single mistake I could have made.

I got all that under my belt. But at the same time, I wanted to start getting out some of the concepts that I thought needed to be out there. The things I had had success with in the past, especially those that are always successful, wherever you do them within baseball. Whether it’s offensive concepts or defensive ones or pitching. Teaching the fundamental aspects. There were certain things I wanted to throw out there and have them done in a certain way – boom, right from Jump Street and I wanted to make sure that people understood the biggest part is made up of the little things. That it was important that everyone know not to overlook something as “insignificant”. In the end, nothing is insignificant when it comes right down to it. That is all part of the culture I wanted to change. We went about it with meetings and making things a little different for them. Let me jump ahead a little. I thought the <unintelligible> of the coaching staff was vital.

JA: You worked under a lot of different skippers.

JM: Yes.

JA: And when I looked back your record, I was surprised to see you had been “interim manager” more games than maybe anyone else in modern baseball.

JM: About 70 games. Yes, a significant number. And you’re right. I worked for so many different people and I really try to draw from the best and from their worst, too.. The people who you thought did things poorly…you don’t want to replicate that either. So it’s always important to learn from the people you think don’t do things well.

JA: Yes, there’s a section in the book called “Management By Taking Exception”, about Paul Richards.

JM: Yes, I read that.

JA: Richards started with the list of those, because of his personality. He was a bitter guy, but it made him good.

JM: I work more from the other end, things I want to do, but I certainly keep those in the back of my mind. My prior minor league managing experience was helpful, too, especially this year in regard to staying with the plan, realizing there were going to times that it would be horrible. Even in Spring Training, I told the guys, “there is going to be some point that we stink. And the major accomplishment out of that moment is that we’ll stick together, that we don’t point fingers, and that we do support one another. Those are the kinds of things that have to be in place before the hit-and-run, hitting the cutoff man, making the pitches n the 2-2 count. That’s where I think sports people get confused some times. You’re always looking for a physical, mechanical answer, and it could be the farthest thing from the actual solution. The physical/mechanical answer eventually shows up when everything else is in place in a functional, healthy way.

A quick side-observation: In Maddon's opinion, mental/emotional attitude is a foundation on which you build fundamentals. Personally, I see it as a loop -- that you can start on either, and each shapes the other. His insight, though, is food for thought. I might need to redesign my take.

This is not the science of hitting the Rocket's heater, it's more like hitting a Kevin Jarvis spinner, but I've never met another consultant who will tell you this. The single most common missing management ingredient in bad departments is feedback. Managerial feedback to staff, as long as it's true and reasonably polite, always is a general benefit. It can be verbal or written, it should cover positives and negatives and questionables, it should be prompt (and if you're sure the feedback is correct or needed, then it should be immediate).

JM: But then I met the people who were in the front office – they were highly competent. Yes, there were some new people, but the ones who were left over were tremendous. Hard working, I thought, cared about winning. So I saw this wonderful group of people, bright, creative, so what’s gone wrong here?

They had never been recognized before. They were doing their work on a daily basis, but there’s was no one saying, “Hey, nice going, nice job, I appreciate it, thank you and all the other stuff people need to hear if they’re going to continue to do a good job. So I found out that group was a lot better than I’d thought, because from a distance you think maybe they don’t have a good infrastructure in the front office, but they did.

The previous era was a disaster in every respect, on and off the field, exceeded in wall-to-wall incompetence only by the Wal*Martified Kansas City Royals the Glass family has foisted on the Midwest.

So it's no surprise that the awful management team gave either no feedback or (next most common in weak management teams) feedback that is only given in the most extreme of circumstances and then only on the negative. An under-30 Bill Gates III once said in a brainstorming meeting, "That's the single stupidest thing I've ever heard anyone say, ever." The mid-1980s Microsoft was a beacon of the weak no-feedback-except negative model.

I have at least one more chunk of Maddon interview worth sharing. But in some ways, this is the most important section, not just for the chance to hear a natural turnaround practitioner's insights, but for observers of the Devil Rays, filling in some flip pages of the comb-bound Cosmic Triptik of their planned journey to the top of the American League East.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Interview with Insight Man -- Part I: Tampa Bay's
Joe Maddon Balances Data & Human Factors  

About a year ago, the never-successful Tampa Bay Devil Rays got new ownership. After scanning the personnel and practices of the staff for value, they cleverly kept most of the line staff and put in place a front-office team that had as its core mission remaking the culture and attitudes of the young team. One of the keystones of the makeover was to hire then-Los Angeles Angels of The O.C. bench coach Joe Maddon to be the skipper.

Maddon is, to my experience, close to unique in baseball. He's relentlessly intellectual, a self-made, self-service info-surfer, while at the same time being a serious lifelong "baseball man" who's respected as a baseball man by baseball men who are neither relentlessly analytical nor intellectual nor who openly give respect to either analysis or intellectual pursuits. 

Further, he's the most quotable manager in the majors. 

Further, he's a blast -- his exhilarating combo of inside wisdom, engagement in learning and acting on what he learns and high emotional intelligence has made him a favorite among the baseball press.

I'd sent him a copy of the Management by Baseball book when it came out and he e-mailed me that he was reading it -- quite flattering to know he chose to invest time in it... given he is not just a baseball team manager (busier, as Ty Cobb said, than a one-armed paperhanger), but managing a new team with extraordinarily ambitious goals and objectives both on and off the field. Last August when the D-Rays were in town, thanks to the D-Rays excellent media staff, especially Chris and Jason, we were able to talk.

This is Part I of the results of that conversation, his thoughts on the application of data and it's place on a contemporary baseball team. As any good conversation will, it raised as many topics for next time as we were able to cover in this talk.

Jeff Angus (JA): Mike Scioscia told me that when you were the Angels’ bench coach, you were responsible for manipulating stats, creating reports and shared responsibility for analysis.

What analysis are you doing here… anything different?

Joe Maddon (JM): I get a lot of stuff printed out for me prior to a series. When I want to augment it and there’s something specific that I want that I know I’m not going to get, I just go on line and look for it.

JA: So is that batter-vs-pitcher match ups or versus right/versus left splits?

JM: Everything. All of it. Like last night we walked Ibanez earlier in the game and pitched to Sexson based on his average batting with two outs and runners in scoring position. Ibanez’ numbers were so much better than Sexson’s. We did it because of the numbers. So later in the game Ibanez comes up with two outs and hits a home run. 

There was a runner on first base at that time. Normally in that situation if first base is open you walk him and if first base isn’t, you normally don’t. But in that situation it doesn’t really make a big difference.

JA: So the last walk that (M’s reliever JJ) Putz issued last night, runners on 2nd and 3rd…

JM: It was not an intentional walk. (Devil Ray DH Jonny) Gomes had a good at bat. He laid off of his splitter in the dirt…very nicely…and then Putz came up to Zobrist.

JA: Cantu swung at somebody’s splitter in the dirt.

JM: Yeah, that ended the 8th. We left 14 runners on base last night. And on the surface it looks terrible. But if you look at our at bats with runners in scoring position, they were good at bats, it wasn’t like sometimes when you have horrible at bats and you leave 14 runners on. Then you had a bad night.

Last night we left 14 runners on and after the game we didn’t even focus on that. It was not even something worth noting because the quality of the at bats were so good. Sometimes these numbers are taken only at face value, and really, they can’t be. Because we created this number in the first place, it might have been in a unique situation. Last night it was one of those unique situations – I thought the at bats were good even though we left 14 runners on base.

JA: You worked (M’s pitcher Jamie) Moyer for a lot of pitches last night…Beyond the number of hitters, you worked him deep in the count a lot…

JM: …exactly…

JA: And usually he doesn’t tire out that quickly. Your team seemed to really have an effect on him.

JM: Yes, and once we got people on base he had to be concerned with the running game also.

That’s what I’m talking about. When you get back to the people who are into Moneyball, they’re going to talk about not stealing bases, and not bunting, and the other tactics…when you don’t do those things, the pitcher has and the defense has a chance to relax a little, and just focus on the hitter; you don’t have to worry about the possibility of those things possibly happening. Just by having to worry about these possibly happening can create better pitches for the hitter, the pitcher burning more energy, missing a part of the zone than he would otherwise hit because if he could just focus on that one spot…there are all of these different issues and sometimes I just want to giggle when some people want to just reduce it to such a basic set of factors.

If that was the case, everybody could do that, everybody would be successful, and the team that’s been most prominent talking about it…Oakland…is one of the worst offensive teams in baseball. The confusion out there is that they have basically done what they have through great pitching, and great scouting of pitching, and great concepts within their pitching staff. But most of the attention has been given to these particular players who get on base well.

If they did not have the pitchers that they had, that would not matter.

JA: I think Beane & DePodesta understood their advantage would be transitory – that as soon as other people got what they were doing, getting Matt Stairs over and over would get harder – how much Matt Stairs can you get on a team? How much Jeremy Giambi? And there’s only so much you can find that’s cheap and available…until it’s not anymore. They knew they were going to be doing something else by the time the book came out. And that was liberating for them in being so open about their strategy.

Many of the people who read the book drank the Kool-Aid the A’s front office wanted them to. Bill James didn’t – the public face of Sabermetrics – never would have assumed it was a strategy that could be enduring…he knows baseball is change incarnate.

JM: I believe that the Red Sox have taken building around on-base percentage to the appropriate level. But then again, there are two freaks in the middle of that batting order that totally skew that situation. They’ve done some nice stuff; I’m not denigrating them; I’m a big fan of what they’ve done, but without Ortiz, they are not what they are. He totally sets them apart.

JA: And perhaps off the field, too.

JM: He’s a unique individual, so that’s a unique situation.

JA: Ramirez, who I respect the heck out of for his hitting…in the field, he’s worse than miserable. They played a game in Seattle last month where Beltre hit a hard shot off the top of the fence that rebounded hard between Ramirez and Coco Crisp. It landed about six feet from Ramirez and about 25 or 30 from Crisp and Ramirez just looked at Crisp and pointed to it. Crisp had to chase it down and Ramirez turned a probable double into an inside-the-park home run.

JM: I saw the tape.

JA: It’s humiliating. That was a game tied late and they ended up losing it, though not on that run, but it affected the outcome..

JM: Yes. He is a great offensive force. And it is annoying at times if you’re a purist. Then again, you could say the same things about Papi because he doesn’t play defense, he’s DH-ing.

JA: He works in the clubhouse

JM: Absolutely. And for me that is my primary goal right now…that the clubhouse is good, the interaction and communication are good. When I came, my #1 goal was to change the culture in the clubhouse and this group.

There was a lot in the conversation about organizational culture, but that'll be in a separate essay.

Maddon is a superb model for managers beyond baseball to emulate. Maddon's strength as a data analyst is that he hasn't specialized yet. He's wide open to new things (more on that below). And he blends professional sources with his own, original efforts and then hands-on synthesis. He's not just a consumer of data, he gets his hands dirty. I think (don't know) that except for Tony LaRussa and Steve Boros, no manager in the major leagues has done this. Art Howe certainly has the background, but I've had no report that he did. Of course, it may be more common than I have discovered, except, as in most lines of work, practices that are generally shunned become hidden and most enthusiasts will hide their attachment to them.

He doesn't just use others' data; he works it himself. It's not enough to just use others' data. In order to get viable information that you can adapt to context, it's essential, mandatory, indispensable (¿get the drift?) to touch the data, massage it. Managers who use others' data without immersing themselves in the raw stuff are begging to be what Ken Lay claimed -- out of the loop when being in the loop would have made all the difference. Delegate some massaging, sure, but don't lose sight of the raw numbers or let someone else decide what you should see and what you shouldn't because there are no rigid rules that work well over time.

He understands not all trends/functions are straight line. To him, hitting outliers like Ramirez and Ortiz aren't just additive to the lineup, when together they transform the Red Sox lineup into something that does more than reflect their personal contributions. In your own analysis, remember the way systems work together is almost never strictly additive, and that most people who analyse data think, incorrectly, that it is additive. The more strctly numeric or financially-oriented the analyst is, the more likely the analyst will fall into the trap.

He knows the standard numbers don't always measure progress towards goals. As he notes in the August 7 game, the team played well and seem to be advancing towards their goal of competitive behaviors -- they still lost the game itself. Too many managers are ready to act on immediate outcomes-as-measured-by-the usual-metrics without measuring if these actions were actually reinforcing the correct behaviors.

He knows human factors affect the numbers radically. Context is partially external (in baseball, factors like ball park effects, weather, a humidor or not) but it's vastly internal (human players as individuals and as part of the team and their individual quirks and personal strengths and weaknesses

He knows the numbers only take you so far and that you have to go farther than that to achieve excellence. Maddon doesn't lose sight of the vast pool of non-numeric data out there...that goes into his pool from which to draw, and you should follow his example if you're not already

In the next entry, we'll delve into a little more of Joe Maddon's use of information and the lessons for managers beyond baseball in his clever practices.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Fast Company's "Best Business Books of 2006
Management by Baseball Makes the List  

Fast Company published a list "Best Business Books of 2006", 12 pretty diverse titles. I'm tickled (perhaps flattered) that the sixth of the "Best Business Books" is my book, Management by Baseball. Here's how Fast Company's author described it:

America's pastime is an apt metaphor for the skills required of today's leaders -- processing a mountain of data quickly in a rapidly changing environment, anticipating and preparing for what's going to happen in a given situation, and constantly reinventing yourself. You can learn a lot more from baseball than who's on first. Read our Q&A with Angus here.

There doesn't seem to be a narrative introduction that ties it all together or explains what their criteria are. And surprisingly, they overlooked my own personal favorite, Hard Facts, Dangerous Half-Truths And Total Nonsense: Profiting From Evidence-Based Management by Jeffrey Pfeffer & Robert Sutton. But one aspect I particularly appreciate is that the list is peppered with novels, because fiction holds the potential to give us some ideas and enlightenment and tools we can use that we couldn't easily get from non-fiction..

Here's Fast Company's Best Business Books of 2006 list:

Some cool titles and a couple I didn't know about that I will end up reading as a result of this list.

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