Friday, January 18, 2013

Baker's Docent: Dusty Out-Manages 99.97% of World's CEOs -- Part I  

I've proven many times in previous articles the natural superiority of baseball managers over corporate, military, government & non-profit management. I could actually prove it every day of the season, but rarely does a single game embody so clearly that two-orders of magnitude difference between a median major-league Baseball manager and a billion-dollar company C-Level hack.

Baseball's relentless accountability, manic transparency and unrelenting meritocracy that exposes winners and loser every single day (something no billion-dollar company exec could survive).

In the first game of one of 2012's National League Division Series between the Cincinnati
Reds and San Francisco Giants
, Reds skipper Dusty Baker got a jolt that
would have brought 490 of the Fortune 500s to the sponsored wet bar for some
high-proof therapy. On the cusp of an all-or-nothing for survival moment, his
lead dog for his biggest asset started the game and had to leave after a single
batter, out for the series.

Reds starting pitcher Johnny Cueto, on a pitch following the television announcer intoning the hurler was a likely candidate for his league's Cy Young (most successful pitcher of the season) award, executed  the pitching windup a legendary sportswriter called "Call the Chiropractor" and hunched over in pain and with a shot oblique muscle.

In that moment, half of the thousands of micro-tasks in the complex compound winner take all playoff changed, hundreds of them radically. Dusty Baker, unremarkable as a baseball manager according to pundits, proceeded to remake his team's strategic and tactical plans in 67 seconds, and deliver solid, high-performance results. In 67 seconds.

Angus' First Law of Talent suggests that 5% of Fortune 500 CEOs (that is, about 25 of 'em) could have thought their way out of this at all. But Baker and his squad, even (literally) disarmed, went on to win the game. On the road. Against a favored opponent's best starting pitcher.

There are seven powerful Baseball lessons to learn from this one incident that should improve the skills of  managers in any endeavor, and in this Part I, I'll let Dusty be your docent for the first half of them.

The entire idea of deciding is to be decisive. Too many managers outside of Baseball are indecisive in the moment a situation demands a decision, and chance takes over, presenting the manager with a decision she or he didn't make but just happened. A decision to not choose IS a decision, just a decision to
abrogate authority.

From the moment Cueto stepped away from his follow through in obviously pain to the moment Baker had his bullpen coach call for Sam LeCure as the next pitcher was all of 67 seconds. One of his better starters, Mat Latos, was in the bullpen asking to get the ball, but he by-passed that option among many. SIXTY-SEVEN SECONDS from catastrophe in a zero-sum endeavour to a major, necessarily strategy-busting, disruptive decision when he's being watched & second-guessed by millions.

Why all the adverbs? Because it's a damned if you do and damned if you don't set-up. If you already know about a ton of pitching decisions, you can just skim this, but if you don't, you could find the variables in Dusty's equation interesting (perhaps shocking).

So one of the challenges to a decision that's sustainable is balancing the immediate present results against the effects that decision will have on the chances for success in the future. Corporate management, especially in publicly-traded companies  is particularly  horrendous at this. In part that's because the executives aren't owners to the degree they behave as though they were, and in companies that are not "too big to fail" tend to optimize the present, discount the future to near zero, and work at jumping ship before the consequences of the decisions come home to roost.

Baseball, wall-to-wall has a culture that opposes imbalance in the present v. future competitiveness. You will see problems of decisions made that don't work out and expose those failures (overuse of a young pitcher that crashes his career, a trade that doesn't pay know intended to, but not achieving, an uptick in the future, etc.). But these decisions are usually the result of flawed analysis or good analysis that just didn't work out, not a parasitic move.

Back to Dusty to see a Baseball decision. If he plans on using up his bullpen, it's a major blow to planning for the series. The Reds' pitchers have at least 7-2/3rds innings to get through just to finish this odds-against game (remember? Giants best pitcher, in the Giants' home stadium). To get through that many bull-pen innings means using up many guys he won't have tomorrow (a game that's closer to winnable because it'll start from scratch). Without his bull-pen ready, whoever starts tomorrow won't necessarily be able to be
removed at the optimal time; he may have to stay in because the best optimal relief pitcher to replace him will have been burned up in Game #1. Still it's a possibility you can't throw away until you examine the alternative, use a starting pitcher.

OTOH, if he uses a starter, which one will it be? His next game starter is sort of an "option" because then he keeps every starter in the series in sequence. But in that case, they'd all be pitching on shorter rest than they had been training/prepping/planning for.

How about his left-over starter? He has one (on paper at least) because during the regular season the rotation is longer by 1-2 starters than it is in the playoffs. So he does have the opportunity to pick his card off the bottom of his deck and use the starter who would not get a start.

In favor of that is it is the default standard practice. Dusty is going to get 2nd-guessed no matter what he does here (remember, unlike a CEO, he's completely accountable and can't hide behind GAAP-crap, Collateralized Debt Obligations and VIEs), but if he goes to the immediate twitch response, there are fewer observers who will rage at him.

Further, a starter is cognitively and body-condition capable of eating up quote a few innings, saving the bullpen. And starters, typically, are capable of getting out batters they face more than once in a game, while that is not an aptitude relievers are selected for (typical reliever performance is higher in a 1st chance in a game against a hitter, but degrades rapidly after the 1st face-off).

But on the Other other hand, starting pitchers need longer to prepare for a game. Both have expectations and routines, but starters, unlike relievers, used to possibly having a rĂ´le every day until their use-pattern situation is past, always plan to start a game with several days to prepare and with a quotidian routine of specific training efforts and a briefing the morning of the game.

So it's logical to think a reliever is naturally going to be more ready for the quick-change fill-in. But Dusty's best remaining starter, Mat Latos, was campaigning to take the darned ball, and there's a certain amount
of political capital required to overlook a key contributor's volunteering. This is not so different from facing adversity in your Beyond Baseball endeavors; it's just that most managers Beyond Baseball don't take the initiative to re-form teams on the fly this way.

Few decisions exist in a vacuum. Most everything is connected to many other things. Any decision in a competitive system is almost certain to have consequences. You need to think through the connections, and if possible see if these can benefit you, like Dusty did in that critical October game.

In the end, Dusty split the difference, going against the standard operating procedure. He used a general-purpose (not key or specialist) relief pitcher, LeCure, to handle the next 27 pitches (very close to his normal workload for the season, median of 23 pitches/game played. So that worked out, and he lifted LeCure for a pinch-hitter with the next pitcher being...Latos, the high-level starter for 4 innings. And it being only the top of the 3rd inning in a tie game, Dusty didn't use up a key pinch-hitter off his bench to hit for LeCure;
this was an at bat he had not planned to dedicate a pinch-hitter for (a one-shot deal and he's out of the game); Dusty went to...the spare starting pitcher one might think would be the next guy to pitch in the standard operating procedure, Homer Bailey.

This was a great piece of short-lived cognitive leger-de-main, because the minute Bailey, a pitcher, is announced to replace LeCure, the pitcher, the opposing coaching staff has to consider the possibility Bailey is going to be the pitcher.

A baseball manager does make far more decisions than most managers outside logistics make. There are roughly 200-300 a game, depending on whether you believe Gene Mauch or Mike Scioscia. So Baseball managers have a fundamentally tougher time doing this than you or your own managers do, and yet they still manage to work it. In this case, by sending extra starter Bailey to the plate as pinch-hitter, he opened up the possibility, however remote, that as a manager, Dusty had chosen the standard operating procedure. And that forced the opposition coaching staff to invest energy in planning what to do if they were going to face Homer Bailey for the next few innings. And that was energy they would, therefore, not be investing in other tactical thinking.

Giving Homer Bailey a chance to pinch-hit, giving Mat Latos a chance to deliver a long-relief appearance in relatively low-difference-between-decisions moments is another Baseball stand-by that most organizations Beyond Baseball would be revolutionized by. Each gets to taste a new set of conditions with the possibility of learning or internalising something that will increase their ability to succeed later.

Again, you have to balance the present against the future (#2, previously). You wouldn't let a weak-hitting pitcher pinch-hit with the game on the line in late innings unless you had no one else in your portfolio. But the act of using a weak-hitting pitcher in this low-impact situation makes it mroe likely you'll still have a real pinch-hitter for a higher-impact/differential situation later.

There are more important Dusty lessons from this game for managers Beyond Baseball, in fact, a veritable cornucopia. I'll give you more in the next entry.

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