Sunday, May 30, 2004

The New York Mets Confront
the Diseconomies of Scale  

As an organization grows arithmetically in number of employees or functions it has, the diseconomies of scale attack them. As they grow, the diseconomies' symptoms grow at a rate significantly higher. This is why in truly competitive systems, small businesses, school classes with small numbers of students, small government agencies & small military units tend to outproduce their bigger analogues. One of the key diseconomies is the increasing centrifugal force that acts against any one person holding enough knowledge to optimize decisions.

Baseball has some good examples of the challenge of knowledge management in a complex organization.

Over time, functions tend to get specialised, and cooking up multi-functional or multi-disciplinary teams (the kind of groups that tend to produce bigger innovations or important observations), becomes much harder. Ask the New York Mets.

According to a throwaway line by the baseball columnist in one of today's New York dailies,

The Mets are putting so much stock into pitching coach Rick Peterson's opinion
they are actually having him look at tapes of potential draft choices.

They actually are? Jeez, what a revolutionary idea.

It's about time. Peterson was hired during the off-season, replacing former Tiger & Astro swingman Vern Ruhle. The inference from the report is that Ruhle wasn't consulted on potential draft choices.The story doesn't explain, nor do I know why, Ruhle was uninvolved, whether he was uninterested, or too busy, or the Mets thought the big club's pitching coach wouldn't have anything useful to say, or if the Mets just didn't respect Ruhle's opinion in this area. (If it was a disrespect for Ruhle's opinion, I suggest the he shouldn't have been the big club's pitching coach in the first place -- the organization should have hired someone who could have added a useful opinion.

It's pretty obvious there's no-one better positioned to observe micro- and macro trends in major league hitting and pitching than the big club's pitching coach. He doesn't have to distribute his attention to the myriad of occupations the manager does, has half the personalities (just the pitchers and catchers) to deal with, and is more an observer than a decisionmaker on in-game decisions. The pitching coach's rôle leaves more energy to devote to basic observation & applied research.

And, of course, while engaging the pitching coach in scouting decisions may be new to the Mets organization, it's not unusual in baseball. The middle 1950s Paul Richards Baltimore Orioles and their two decades of pitching prospect dominance were built on multi-functional teams, cross pollination of observations and feedback loops designed to get the knowledge of what was going on in the big club's ballparks into a medium that the scouts and minor league coaching staffs could absorb and make actionable.


Beyond baseball, the model the New York Mets just replaced is the more typical one.

When the whole organization fits into a pair of connected rooms, (most always) everyone knows everything important that everyone else knows. It's an extraordinary small organization that doesn't. As you add people, office space, more specialized job descriptions, this starts to come apart quaquaversally. The natural reaction is to throw meetings or memos at it, both of which, even when they work, attache a ton of overhead to that which was effortless at a more appropiate scale.

In the practice of knowledge management we try to address these problems by throwing procedures and sometimes technology at them, and if the organization is both willing and capable of being healthy, we can achieve significant gains, though never (yet) with the magical overhead-less smoothness of the small organization. One of the things you can always do is cross pollinate knowledge formally and let everyone know this is intentional.

If you have problems, consider this recent New York Mets' initiative, and use it as a pattern:

  1. Pick out your most irritating problems.
  2. Checkmark the ones most amplified by lack of uniform knowledge across departments or the whole organization.
  3. Build a cross-disciplinary connection between what's really going on (operational people; in the Mets' case, the pitching coach), and the strategic or other upstream departments (in the Mets' case, the scouting/drafting function).
  4. Give them incentive to succeed.

This approach, if you execute it properly (which is going to be different in each individual organization), will always have some returns. It won't solve every problem, but it will put it in a spot where you can better define its roots and, therefore, have a better chance to attack it successfully.

The Mets are in a great position -- with the New York market to tap into if they succeed they have tons of incentive to be successful, and they have a poor recent track record. Given that combination, it's harder for entrenched specialists to stand in the way of an initiative like this. But even if you have entrenched opposition, it's time to channel Sal "The Barber" Maglie or his kinder/gentler descendant Pedro Martinez, and throw the brush-back pitch, and reclaim home plate.

Saturday, May 29, 2004

Kauffman Stadium, Not Wall St.,
Shows the True Nature of Markets  

The religious fervor for market-anchored analysis has slipped a little since the beginning of the 2000 stock market hiccup and the 2001 recession, but while society as a whole has eased off on this particular faith quite a bit, in managerial circles and in organizations where finance dominates managerial cognates, lazy adherence to markets is too common. Baseball illustrates both where market faith works but also where it causes the knee-jerk marketeers to implode with as much mess as a Wilbur Wood-sized jellyfish on Jupiter.

Market-based thinking -- assuming mass-markets "know" something any individual organism doesn't while also assuming an individual can get ahead of the market by inside information or quicker reaction to trends -- can be very useful in all forms of strategic and operation decision-making. But not in Las Vegas, it appears, and not when people are trying to gauge ballpark effects.


It is possible as a manager to follow the money to some essential wisdom. I used market-based thinking, for example, when I founded the InfoWorld Test Center. I was installed to do a myriad of things but one of them was to establish a testing system that would kick the ax of the better-funded market leader, PC Magazine. PC Mag's Lab was run by very smart, very educated, very ignorant of real world computer use guys (I mean guys...I don't think they had ever had a single female working there when I started the Test Center). They measured computer execution speeds in 1/100ths of seconds, sometimes even 1/1000ths of seconds -- and not a set of operations chained together, but a big process, like repaginating a 100-page word processing document, and they would intone portentously that word processing program "A" was "faster" at 9.17 seconds at this task program "B" at 9.24.

They had human beings with stopwatches trying their darndest to time these things. They failed every time -- it was a foolish model, substituting insignificant digits for thought-out analysis. The reality is, the market proved that that "Men With Stopwatches" model could only measure accurately to the nearest 1/5th of a second. And I knew this because of markets: The highest-value money application for "Men With Stopwatches" was thoroughbred horseracing, where very bit of information that a bettor or bookie can harvest is something they'll apply to the billion-dollar endeavor. But in horseracing, human-stopwatch times had a 1/5th second increment...even with millions riding on a single race, and both bettors and the house looking for edges, the market knew human accuracy operating a stopwatch was not 1/1000th of a second or even 1/100th of a second or even 1/10th of a second, but 1/5th of a second (0.2 seconds).

Clearly, the PC Mag guys knew nothing about horse-racing. Clearly they knew nothing about end-user computing either, because perhaps one in five hundred end users would ever care about .07 seconds lost in re-paginating a 100-page document in their Wordstar 2000. They had not only gotten the wrong answer, they'd asked the wrong questions.

In the InfoWorld Test Center case, those of us who worked in the lab got together and immediately started a research project to use automatic timing devices (those PC clocks measured in 1/18ths of seconds), aiming to remove the human error factor, and we started reporting no closer than 15ths of seconds (the human perception interval).

In that case, the market based approach -- assuming the largest application of money based on human operation of stopwatches -- worked. But it's not automatically useful.


Baseball Primer cited an article in the Las Vegas Sun's regular sports gambling feature about park factors (the way a stadium affects offensive events), which I've discussed in this weblog before, most recently here. Of course, sports bettors and bookies are most interested in park factors because the way a ballpark promotes or deflates offense affects the "over/under" line, a bet based on how many runs a pair of teams will score combined. The bookie picks a sum and bettors gamble on whether the actual teams' combined scores will be more or less than the over/under number.

Because gambling is such a big industry in the U.S., I'm suggesting the biggest market application for park factor information is Las Vegas sports bookies. On the surface, it appears the bookies are using a classic business intelligence approach, gathering data to shape strategy. As story author Jeff Haney notes

Whenever a new baseball stadium opens -- this year there are two of them, Petco and Philadelphia's Citizens Bank Park -- bettors scramble to determine whether it favors pitchers or hitters, overs or unders.

While Padres fans -- and even some San Diego players -- have focused on the daunting 411-foot power alley in right-center field at Petco, from a betting perspective the new park is close to the league average one-quarter of the way through the season.

In 22 games at Petco, 11 have gone over the posted total; 10 have gone under; and there was one push. And those totals have not been freakishly low. The average over/under at Petco so far is 8.09 runs. In four of the past six games there, the total has been set at 8 1/2 runs, a typical number for the National League.

"It looks like 8 or 8 1/2 will be a pretty good figure for this ballpark," White said.

Petco's perception as a pitchers' park could stem from early-season slumps that plagued several of the team's high-profile hitters, White said.

"Some of the big Padres bats are left-handed," and those players have had to adjust to Petco's wide-open spaces in right field, White said. Left fielder Ryan Klesko, for instance, has only one home run this season, and right fielder Brian Giles managed only five hits in his first 45 at-bats.

Games at Citizens Bank Park, meanwhile, are 13-5 in favor of the over, with a couple of pushes.

In April it was common to see totals of 7 1/2 in games at Citizens Bank Park. More recently they have been in the range of 9 to 10 runs, and White expects those totals to continue rising as a hot, sticky summer begins to smother South Philadelphia.

"We'll see some more 10 1/2's as soon as the weather gets better there," White said.

Sensible enough. But to be efficient, bookies need to find an effective sum to set as the middle so they can balance their risk. If they make a habit of setting games set in a park too high or too low, they make it too easy for a smart bettor to bet the easy side and the bookie won't have enough margin from the favored side to make a profit or simply even break even.

And it's clear that most of Las Vegas is flushing its resources away faster than a retiree pouring quarters into a one-armed bandit. The article cites some venues where over/unders are not balanced but out of whack and costing bookies big money:

Snapshot: Baseball over/unders

Stadiums where "overs" have ruled in 2004 ...

1. Citizens Bank Park,.13 overs to 5 unders

2. Oriole Park at Camden Yards, .15 overs to 7 unders

3. Metrodome, .13 overs to 7 unders

4. SBC Park, .13 overs to 8 unders

... and leading "under" parks so far:

1. Kauffman Stadium, .5 overs to 12 unders

2. SkyDome, .8 overs to 14 unders

3. Wrigley Field, .8 overs to 13 unders

4. Turner Field, .7 overs to 11 unders

The snapshot numbers indicate two common business intelligence problems: The Citizens' Bank Park Problem and the Kauffman Stadium Problem.

The Kauffman Stadium Problem I sometimes call the "What is Past is Prologue" problem, a lazy belief that whatever .happened in the past is likely to keep on going, and that trends will continue in the same direction. Kauffman Stadium has been a blisteringly offensive park for a couple of years. So bookies seeing games scheduled in that park have overestimated the number of combined runs for games there 12 times out of 17 games. The Royals fiddled around with the park's configuration in the off-season (reported on widely) to reduce the extreme nature of the offensive boost, so the environment of the park has changed. Bookies' set points didn't though. Facing the unknown, the bookies found it easier to do nothing than try to steer their center point to a new place.

This happens all over baseball (Steve Nelson at Mariners' Wheelhouse weblog wrote about how this effect undermines management in building a squad -- back in late February, he suggested the Mariners would be disappointing this year because of the Ms' front office's inability to get beyond their Kauffman Stadium Problem, a prediction that, so far, looks hauntingly true). It happens outside baseball as well. I used to work as a journalist at a weekly newspaper, and we'd get free "analyst" reports. The analysts hoped we would quote them, making them better-known, convincing potential buyers of analysis that it was worth a ton of money to buy their reading of sheeps' entrails. And, of course, editors liked the reporters to use this slop because it looked important, and it was cheaper and easier than having to do independent research. But more often than not, analyst numbers are laughable. I read one study that took a three-year trend line of early sales of home computers, and just made a straight line out of it. By the year 2003, there should have been 3.4 home computers being used per person in the U.S. Anyone but an analyst would have figured out the infeasibility of that, but it was eay to just assume things would stay the same, and no one in the chain of command bothered to look at the numbers for sense, because the line looked so...cute.

The Citizens' Bank Park Problem is a little different. It's solidifying a solution based on a little scattering of early data. Very early on, that park was favoring pitchers. Whether it was the weather or the wind or whatever, scores were lower than they have been more recently in the season. And the bookies have been setting the line too low.

Las Vegas author and handicapper Andy Iskoe, who keeps close tabs on baseball totals, said he likes to wait until later in the season before reaching a verdict on new stadiums.

"There's always a rush to be the first to make a conclusion on what kind of biases a stadium may have," Iskoe said. "Probably, statistically, you have to wait several seasons to make a determination.

"But no one wants to wait several seasons. No one wants to wait even several weeks. ... But when you're looking at only one-quarter of a team's home schedule, that's an awfully small database."

While the Phillies have allowed an average of 4.65 runs per game at home and 3.91 runs on the road, they have scored 5.32 runs per game on the road, compared with just 5.15 at home.


The market screams to pay attention, but the data is to scant to read. As Iskoe notes, in the rush to "know" bookies and bettors are driven by the market to ineffective decisions. Bettors probably shouldn't be trying to guess over/under numbers for new parks most of the time. And when you combine this Citizens' Park Problem -- deciding on scanty data -- with the Kauffman Stadium Problem -- finding it hard to change an opinion once made -- you get instant organizational suicide: Premature matriculation followed by unyielding adherence to the distortion.

In our culture, the religious fervor for market-based faith drives people to market-based analyses sometimes without a lot of close, skeptical questioning. Like a great hitter, sometimes the market is safe, and sometimes it whiffs. But I've noticed in my practice that frequently, the more money there is riding on a decision, the more temptation there is to rush to judgement with scanty data. It happens in baseball, in Las Vegas, and it may be happening in your organization.

Tuesday, May 25, 2004

The Toronto Blue Jays' Flexible Staffing Blueprint  

Baseball has a lot to teach most organizations when it comes to staffing, division of work, elaborating job descriptions and breaking up job descriptions and re-designing them to meet evolving needs.

Most non-baseball organizations are slower and stickier than pine tar in an Alaskan Winter League when it comes to their ability to re-align jobs to squeeze more advantage out of the staff they have. In your own organization, do you ever have a hard time staffing the most important urgent projects while finding yourself with excess capacity in flat areas? Well, then examine the parallel case of baseball's Toronto Blue Jays.

In the off season, they signed eccentric intellectual, published novelist & poet Miguel Batista to be their #3 or #2 starting pitcher in a three-year deal. The team's farm system is loaded with pitchers they believe will be fine or better in the future, so Batista was seen as a bridge to get them to the time the minor leaguers could surface. That plan was based on the Jays' front office's assumption that their bullpen would be okay this year.

The pen wasn't, struggling so far and leaving the Jays about 9-½ games back as of this morning. So maniacal Toronto beat writer Richard Griffin has come up with a very insightful flexible staffing idea, based on his assumption the team is toast this year. Now I don't agree they're toast, but this is a rebuilding team with lots of young talent that was strongly considered not in the running for this year but aimed at the future. A quick start might have put them into contention, at least psychologically, but this .400 (18-27) Spring makes that look very unlikely. And in Batista's 10 starts, the team is 4-6, with his last four starts alternating good and bad.

Griffin's proposal, and I wouldn't be surprised if the Jays hadn't already thought of it, is later in the season to move Batista into the bullpen, where he's been used in his career before, and effectively, and bring up the young arms to take his starts. Griffin didn't throw any hard data at the thought, but I will. Here are Batista's consolidated performances as starter and reliever from 2001-2003, courtesy ESPN, w/the exception of the RAT column (ratio of baserunners per 9 innings), which I added:














As Starter













As Reliever













Statistically, he's a little better as a reliever, with a lower RAT () and yielding a lower batting average and a lower ratio of home runs. Batista is also a class "team guy", suggesting in the Griffin article he'll gladly do whatever will help his team. Griffin's suggestion that they prep Batista at the end of this season and then have him take over the closer's role next year.

It's hard to swallow because Griffin is one of those snarly sportswriters who likes to intentionally rile up readers and fans with hyper-aggresive assertions. It sells papers and scares small pets. But his position in this case has much virtue; he's seen something that skilled front offices see and act on all the time, though bad ones don't. Bad front offices never look under the label, assuming because when they acquired a player, and they labeled him a shortstop or a starter or a middle-of-the-lineup batter, that to shift him to a different role would cost them "face".

For a weak front office, the label becomes the player, and the player himself disappears, objectified, frozen like a fly in amber, rpeserved int he viewer's perception and dead as a frelling doornail.

In baseball's strong front office's, players are individuals, taken as they are with all their actual history, potentialities and ability to change and grow.


Outside of baseball, frankly, almost all management teams are like the weak baseball front offices. "Flexible staffing" usually means laying off a third of the workforce and shipping half of what's left to a Communist China prison-labor camp. The skill of tweaking job descriptions or shifting roles based on knowing each staffers' strengths and experiences, and in response to shifting priorities and opportunities, is pretty rare among managers outside of baseball.

But the Blue Jays' situtation is a fecund analogy.

If you have contributors who are achievement-oriented, why not shift them around to take advantage of opportunities? And if you have "contributors" who are not achievement-oriented, or managers who won't get beyond job titles or pre-conceived designs for getting work done well, why are you letting them plaque up your organization?

Sunday, May 23, 2004

Administrivia -- Comments enabled  

I'm doing an experiment, enabling comments for the next fortnight.

Saturday, May 22, 2004

Baseball Intelligence Guides Business Intelligence:
From Fenway Park to Phillies Phield  

Facts are stubborn, but statistics are more pliable -- Mark Twain

In almost every organization, there's a powerful need to perform business intelligence (BI), the gathering and synthesis of information followed by structured analysis. Organizations that are good at BI have Mark McGwire home run-sized advantages in a dozen areas, including marketing analysis to inventory control to sales-force optimization to quality control.

Of course, that's just the need. The reality is that most organizations would rather not invest in serious BI; they'd rather play seat-of-the-pants guesstimation games that impersonate BI with about as much chance of success as The Rock's drag impersonation of the Olsen Twins.

Baseball is way ahead of business organizations in this realm. The least BI-oriented baseball team is way ahead of the average billion-dollar corporation in BI acumen. It's become popular in the broader sabermetric community to ridicule certain teams that reject wholesale adoption of sabermetric analysis. Deserved or not (I'd say "element of truth, but overstated"), it's important to note the lowest common denominator major league team has a wealth of statistical information and people on staff whose job consists, to a large degree in analysing data for the purposes of gauging prospective talent, taking advantage of opponents' weaknesses and tactical tendencies.

The challenges come in putting the data in context to create "intelligence", and that requires a human skill that is not widely available. Beyond baseball, lazy organizations, faced with a shortage of skilled analysts, will either pimp the process and buy cheap (usually ineffective) talent, or pretend it's not worth doing. Baseball is at a bit of an advantage in this respect, because even though baseball offer big paydays to BI analysts, there are tons of numerate people willing to take less money to work in the National Pastime They Love than they would doing the same jobs for a brake-lining manufacturer or trash-hauling service.


One of the most controversial data sets in the numerate baseball community is the numbers and techniques analysts use to analyse "ballpark effects", that is, the way that specific stadia affect individual performances. It's necessary for team managers to have some appreciation of it, because a stadium creates a playing environment that will affect, for example, whether the long fly ball a left-handed hitter pulls down the line becomes a long out or a four-bagger. Incrementally, over a long set of events in the same environment, certain players will outperform others that in a different environment, they would lag behind. So baseball managers incorporate a bit of this knowledge in a decision on who to play in a given day and how to construct their lineup.

A baseball general manager would use a bit of this information to assign priorities in judging potential trades (a right-handed batter who has little batter who hits a ton of homers but not many doubles in the Cubs' home park will likely amp up doubles and lose some homers playing the Brewers' home field) and in thinking about the kinds of tweener players (not first and second rounders, but still of some interest) a team might draft.

The challenges of most park data is a park affects different players to different degrees (important non-baseball comparison later). Right-handed hitters, in general, are affected by a stadium differently from left-handed ones. Two right-handed sluggers with the same homer frequency can be affected differently from each other if one hits mostly line-drives while the other gets more loft on hits as a rule. And by the time you chop it up into clearly differentiated slices, most of the sample sizes will be so small as to be only marginally useful. And there are a lot of non-talent-related factors: weather patterns that vary year to year, time of day games start, and other things.

As a result, park factor analysis is pretty controversial. It's not the idea the parks don't affect results (there is a small cluster of individuals who argue the contrary. They are the same MBWT flat-earthers who point to a small number of valid data points to argue there's no global warming occurring in the face of a tidal wave of contrary evidence), it's that it's hard to know exactly why in any given case, and then how to use the numbers to inform better decisions.

Take this year's Park Factor data (courtesy of ESPN). I've trimmed a few columns, like walks (too indirect) and triples (too rare an event to be meaningful). There are still several things "wrong" with this table that a numerate person wouldn't have allowed to seep through, but let's take a quick look at the data because it's fun to consider.

The way to read the table is to understand the numbers are "normalized" to 1.000. In the league average stadium, the numbers would read 1.000 straight across. Lower numbers mean lower instances. So in Angel Stadium, runs occur at .768 of the league average (about 77% of the league average, about 23% lower than average). In Arlington, there are about 42.5% more doubles than in the average stadium.

2004 Park Factors

Park Name Runs HR H 2B
Angel Stadium .768 .960 .870 .730
Arlington 1.599 1.438 1.284 1.425
Bank One Ballpark 1.021 1.307 1.064 1.068
Busch Stadium 1.110 .920 1.075 1.105
Camden Yards 1.134 .856 1.051 1.136
Phillies Phield 1.030 1.404 .907 .617
Comerica Park .834 .816 .962 .851
Coors Field 1.450 1.092 1.211 1.193
Dodger Stadium .884 .865 1.032 .817
Fenway Park 1.229 1.474 1.087 1.215
Great American .813 1.057 .807 .817
Jacobs Field .949 .882 .941 .895
Kauffman Stadium .759 .602 .991 .825
Metrodome 1.040 .804 1.068 .909
Miller Park 1.087 .783 1.042 1.544
Enron Field .904 .952 1.002 .959
Network Coliseum 1.084 .908 1.031 1.061
Olympic Stadium / Bithorn* .872 .699 .992 1.012
PETCO Park .870 .659 .888 .801
PNC Park .903 .926 .926 1.012
Park Name Runs HR H 2B
Pro Player Stadium .833 .757 1.019 1.059
Safeco .765 1.050 .854 1.012
Giants' Park 1.224 1.251 1.136 1.287
Shea Stadium .888 .647 .961 1.217
SkyDome .837 .933 .870 .967
Tropicana Field / Tokyo Dome* 1.051 1.150 1.009 .972
Turner Field .826 1.390 .903 .784
U.S. Cellular Field 1.146 1.361 1.111 1.159
Wrigley Field 1.188 1.416 1.050 .868
Yankee Stadium 1.061 1.050 .931 1.116
Park Factor compares the rate of stats at home vs. the rate of stats on the road.
A rate higher than 1.000 favors the hitter. Below 1.000 favors the pitcher.
PF = ((homeRS + homeRA)/(homeG)) / ((roadRS + roadRA)/(roadG))
* Teams with home games in multiple stadiums list aggregate Park Factors.

It's a blast to walk through these numbers, in spite of manufactured flaws and small sample size. Remember, this season is about 40 games old for most teams, so that's roughly 20 games at each stadium, a pretty small pile of numbers that could change pretty seriously with just two or three upcoming games in a park going very differently than the few played already.

Some of the interesting data points:

  • Fenway Park was long an offensive park. After a redesign of the upper deck some years back, it became a balanced park that actually favored most pitchers a little. It took years for the perception to catch up with the reality. But in the last couple of years, it's drifted back apparently to being a hitter's park. The perception, though is still sticking to the previous offensive-suppression environment.
  • Kansas City's Kauffman Stadium was an offensive pressure-cooker the last couple of years, last year especially. The team made what they planned to be small tweaks to tone it down a little, but this year so far, it's playing as the most run-suppressing stadium in the majors.
  • Houston's Enron Field, thought of as an offensive bandbox, is also so far this year playing as a pitcher-friendly place, if the numbers hold water. I wonder if this means Enron's stock price is a good value...perhaps not.
  • The San Francisco Giants' stadium, since its recent construction has been an extreme pitchers' park (well, for everyone but one guy, but he's just "seven sigma") and this year has been pretty marked in the other direction and in all the categories. Perhaps it's because this year they sold the naming rights to the park to Seattle's Best Coffee and the pitchers are getting free macchiatos between innings.


When you look at numbers, you should always be suspicious when you get certain artifacts that tell you the person putting the data together doesn't really have a knack for analysis. There are some indicators here that make me suspicious.

  1. There are insignificant numbers in the charts. In the example I used before, Angel Stadium's run factor, the table runs the number .768. The trailing 8 is insigificant and the thousandths (third decimla place) in every one of the numbers ought to be gone, with some rounding scheme applied so they all appear as two digits. When people throw insignificant digits at you, especially in data allegedly being presented to inform, its one of three things: they're trying to hide a number or two in the pile by making the set harder to read; they're ignorant of the significance of the numbers they're showing you (not just statistically, but ignorant in every respect); they know better but they're lazy. But the whole chart would be a better analysis if the maker had rounded down to two digits.
  2. There's a line for Olympic Stadium/Bithorn I put in italics because these numbers already, as I mentioned, suffer from small sample size, but Les Expos Pauvres have to play in two different home stadia, and mingling the two very dissimilar stadia together removes every value but one from the line (trying to judge how individual Expo players' accumulated stats miught be affected by being an Expo and playing in those home stadia). That line really shouldn't appear, even with triple the data it's not going to be meaningful.
  3. The inclusion of a pair of games played in Tokyo in the data set. I let the asterisked Tropicana Field/Tokyo pair through because the Devil Rays played but two home games there this year. But really, the Rays and the Yankees' data for those games just should appear anywhere in the data set because it affects each of those teams' apparent performance and affects the league averages by being dumped in there (when no other teams will be playing home or road games there).


Beyond baseball, you can use BI to increase the chances for future performance imporvement, but you need to use real analysts (these should be either professionally trained or even just people with very good skills, but not merely cheap leftovers you scrape up off the sidewalk like no-hit good-glove utility infielders).

Look at numbers, analyse numbers, but remember that context is everything. And, don't forget the numbers may only be as good as the analysis theat wen into them...as Mark Twain also said: Figures don’t lie, but liars can figure.

Thursday, May 20, 2004

Spittin' Bill Doak: Why Tool-Users Are
the Most Innovative Tool-Makers (Part I)  

Early baseball is a great lens through which to view the process of innovation. Because baseball is open and recorded, and combined with a tradition of story-telling and archival history, it's a fantastic lens through which to see, and learn, conscious evolution (what I call prevolution).

Prevolution differs from evolution because it's pre-meditated, studied, intentional, while evolution in nature is random and without forethought, apparently functioning because it's accidental. Sometimes research scientists and design pros and expensive consultants come up with the most valuable tools, but frequently, the best inventors are right under your nose -- your own staff. Being immersed in the process can make them blind to the subtle observations required to innovate, or it might give them the necessary platform from which to innovate through experimentation.

Early baseball was one experiment after another -- differing numbers of balls and strikes, official balls that were juiced and deadened (well, recent baseball shares that one), equipment made out of rapidly-prevolving materials in mutating shapes and configurations. As with most experimentation, most of the ideas didn't work. Some were downright failures, and I don't mean Mickey Brantley type failures, but more like 1899 Cleveland Spiders failures.

The most consistently putrid artifact, though, were the burnt-toast gloves fielders used. Once fielders' gloves became the norm (early baseballists, like cricketers past and present, went bare-handed, the last noteworthy hold-out being the legendary Bid McPhee) they held on to their basic configuration for about three decades, emulating what we think of today as non-baseball gloves, with unconnected fingers, flat surfaces without a pocket, uniform material thickness everywhere. Market theory fails to explain why they were stuck in this configuration. Players wanted better mousetraps and there was money in providing them with better mousetraps. Sporting goods manufacturers were constrained, it appears, by the word "glove".

The Einstein who shattered the paradigm was not a scientist nor a leather-worker nor an industrial designer nor a sporting goods magnate. It was Spittin' Bill Doak, a polymathic pitcher of the Teens and Twenties. As a player, he had specific ideas about what was needed, including a more convex shape (like a slightly cupped hand) and a pocket with webbing. According to Rawlings:

In 1920, Bill Doak, a journeyman pitcher for the St. Louis Cardinals, approached Rawlings with an idea for improving the baseball glove from a mere protective device to a genuine aid in fielding. The "Bill Doak" model was so revolutionary that it stayed in Rawlings' line until 1953. Its key feature was a multi-thong web laced into the first finger and thumb, which created for the first time in baseball's young life, a natural pocket.

According to SABR member and Doak biographer Steve Steinberg, the glove was the foundation of Rawlings' glove design for about 30 years, and that Doak made up to $25,000 a year in royalties from it (which would have clearly exceeded his feudal-ownership era baseball salary).

According to Steinberg, Doak was also responsible for other innovations, including a campaign that made an important alteration in the trajectory of the rules. In 1920, the leagues were interested in boosting offense, and decided to ban trick pitches and deliveries; they came up with a plan to ban the spitball, but many pitchers like Doak relied totally on (a) the effect of their spitball, and (b) the disconcerting effect that throwing a pitch that might be a spitball had on batters (spitballers would frequently pretend to load up the ball even on a pitch that wasn't going to be a spitter, just to mess with the batter's mind). Doak campaigned to have all active spitballers "register" and be grandfathered by name in the rule, which allowed the select group to continue throwing the banned pitch through their careers. It didn't help Doak very much much, but guys like Jack "The Mighty Eskimo" Quinn thrived. Quinn loaded phlegm onto horsehide effectively in the majors until he was 48 years old.

If the the history of the spitball intrigues you, Steinberg's own site has a lovely, informative and entertaining section on it here.


If you're not enlisting your own staff to gen up ideas, innovate process designs, experiment with tools (conceptual and physical), you're missing out on the kind of magic Spittin' Bill Doak created. They are immersed in the quotidian actions. They know things you (and all the outsiders) don't. That doesn't mean all their ideas will be useful (in fact, most won't). But some of the best and easiest ideas to implement are sitting in staffers' heads, waiting to happen.

Joe Ely's writing about Lean Manufacturing Systems (I'm not going to explain it here, read his stuff; Joe is smart, knows what he doesn't know, and has the perfect attitude about learning, meaning he's exceptionally observant and therefore, useful to read) is filled with examples of prevolution and innovation. My favorite one, and a great example of Toyota encouraging line staff to innovate aggressively, is here.

It doesn't matter if you're managing outside of manufacturing. The example holds perfectly by analogy. The tools in Ely's case are physical, but paper forms are tools, work processes are tools, the way you connect processes together are tools. The examples are powerful regardless of what your organization does.

If you're not recruiting and mining and rewarding the prevolutionary ideas of your line staff, you're unnecessarily limiting your success, like standing out in the field with a piece of burnt toast on your hand, when you could instead have a useful innovation, like a Bill Doak model glove with webbing and a pocket.

Tuesday, May 18, 2004

The Yanks' Management By Wishful Thinking:
When 2nd Place Is Cherry-Pie Time  

I've written about Management by Wishful Thinking (MBWT) before, even recently. I've never explicitly stated it, but MBWT is usually the stomping grounds of intellectually lazy or -challenged organizations (for example, the Tampa Bay Devil Rays), the resource-constrained-so-they-don't-have-many-alternatives organizations (for example, the Montreal/San Juan Expos), and the resource-ultra-rich-but-still-trying-to-figure-out-how-to-squeeze-more-juice-out (for example, the Seattle Mariners).

But according to Stephen Goldman (my favorite regular columnist who covers a single team), the Yankees off-season was powered by MBWT, a very specific kind. It's hard, on the surface, to criticize the Yanks' pre-season plan: they replaced a fine, if overrated, Andy Pettitte and aging, the-said-he-wanted-to-retire Roger Clemens with the two best available pitchers. Kevin Brown, (second best hurler in the Majors) and Javier Vazquez (merely excellent, though not featuring a long track record). They acquired the best player in baseball whose first name isn't Barry (more on A-Rod in a sec, because he's part of the issue).

On the surface, it's hard to believe they could have had MBWT -- after all, they fit none of the aforementioned categories of organizations most subject to the disorder. They have tons of resources and tons of willingness to spend those resources, combined with a smart front office. Moreover, they are in 1st place in their division this morning at 22-15, projecting out to a 97-win season. It's not time for second-line dancing in Gotham.


But there are subtle indications the team is not as good as Yankee fans had believed. Their Pythagorean winning percentage (a formula introduced by Bill James that projects what a team should winprobabilisticallyy based on the number of runs they score and the number they allow) is only .514 this morning, which is more like 19-18, which would put them in 3rd place, 3 games behind Boston and chasing Baltimore. Now Pythagorean projections are just soft indicators in themselves -- it's one of those stats that works beautifully in the general, consolidated case, but has hordes of exceptions in the individual cases -- but it's a strong (though not absolute) indication of future success. This is believed to be because luck tends to balance out and that if you're significantly overperforming or significantly underperforming your Pythagorean won-lost record, the next set of events is likely to draw you towards your Pythagorean. So since the Yanks are in 1st place, it's partially because of luck, and because luck tends to even out in the end, the Yanks are "due" to regress to their Pythagorean winning percentage.


The biggest single reason, I believe, the Yanks got in this position was their focus on, & success in, signing Alex Rodriguez. They already had a very potent team and added the pitching. But the lure of The Single Big Solution is a lure in baseball and outside of it as well. Intellectually lazy management will try to attack problems or shortcomings with a single great solution, a coup de grace. It's simple...you attack one thing persistently. In simple systems, it works pretty well. In this case, the Yanks signed the best offensive player in the American League, and he's more than adequate at his key defensive position (though he's not playing it at the moment, but that's a different issue).

But A-Rod has been like the hundred-billion dollar investment over the last twenty years that Republican and Democratic administrations have poured into the Star Wars Missile Defense System - flushed down the toilet to no resulting gain. While we were pouring a vast percentage of our wealth and military research into a The Single Big Solution, our enemies have innovated a gaggle of low-cost ways of killing The Single Big Solution can't and won't address.

It happens in business as well as military organizations. A marketing department falls in love with a specific kind of promotion and beats it to death by seeing it as the only thing they need to do. Auto-makers see demand for urban assault vehicles and other lard-ass cars, and make new offerings bigger every year as the solution to their doldrums when the gasoline demand the trend fuels creates upward price pressure on gasoline, constraining their initiative's success.

While the Yanks brought in A-Rod as The Single Big Solution (the piece that would put them over the top), the team was basing it's assumed success in other areas on MBWT. Here's Goldman's list of MBWT items the Yanks started the season with:

Going into this season, the Yankees made a number of wagers:

We can throw together a starting rotation.

Jose Contreras is a major league starter.

We can get by with no outfield depth.

None of our old players will act their ages.

No one will get hurt.

We can buy a better bullpen.

We can do without second-line depth of any kind.

Enrique Wilson is an everyday player.

Jason Giambi can play first every day.

A DH rotation involving Bernie Williams and Kenny Lofton will be more about "hitter" than "designated."

As has been reported virtually everywhere except Freshwater Fisherman's Quarterly, the leadership spent a lot of money backing up these wagers. The results have been mixed.

The key bet was the one about second-line depth, because it meant that the Yankees have very little in the way of Plan B at any position. Last year's performance showed that Contreras was a weak gamble at best. Donovan Osborne, the latest in a long line of failed Joe Torre Cardinals retreads, was an extreme long shot. Even when healthy, Jorge DePaula did not scream Walter Johnson to anybody. On offense, Ruben Sierra's comeback has been a stroke of pure luck, not genius, and it remains to see if it will last. Wilson was just a dream. Miguel Cairo may continue to .802 OPS in a Mariano Duncan '96 sort of way, but it's extremely doubtful.

Of course, the team's lack of alternatives could not have been solved in just one winter. It's a problem that has been building for years, and it's only going to get worse. The only escape is to get the farm system out of mothballs and start running a productive draft (which won't happen this year regardless, because the talent is supposedly quite thin). It is cheaper, in the long run, to buy 10 college pitchers for the price of one Jose Contreras and school them yourself rather than having to guess how a middle-aged pitcher is going to perform once he escapes from despotism. (emphasis mine)

Goldman rightly points out that the problems are not from this off-season's moves, but collected over time and improbable to solve in one off-season, especially by a team that went to the World Series (success makes change more difficult for an organization).

The Yanks have done the improbable, though. They have made MBWT by an intelligent, resource-rich organization something that seems possible to me. Do you have any other examples of it?

Sunday, May 16, 2004

When What is Past is Prologue.
And the Book & the Epilogue, Too.  

An interesting interview in today's New York Daily News (courtesy of Baseball Primer) is a clear indication of why Major League Baseball has such a persistently difficult time evolving without making a mess of it. The (clearly) well-intentioned man at the top, commissioner Bud Selig, is firmly attached to the past. That's not a bad thing in itself, especially in an "institution" like baseball that has megatons of emotional investment in its fans nostalgic memories and traditions. It's a weakness in a manager or executive when that attachment to the rear-view mirror unbalances the necessary focus on the future and the present's shaping of the future.

For the dozen years Selig has been acting as commissioner, I've had a lot of concern for his "leadership". It was not until I read today's interview that it became clear to me the precise pattern that has made his tenure so gratuitously rocky. Selig's good intentions are constrained by his lusty passion for the past paired with a lack of aptitude for understanding the present and how that present affects the future.


I almost never talk about "leadership" because it's mostly vaporous hogwash, sometimes sweet-smelling, sometimes sulfurous. With only one exception I can think of, people who write about or research "leadership" are puffing up something that's neither measurable, definable, nor actionable (that is, whatever "leadership" as defined is, an intelligent person can't re-create a pattern and follow it to get success).

I'm not confident "leadership" exists outside of fire/rescue and military environments where the manager may be required to make decisions about his employees' life and death and the employees are required on request to commit to actions that may be their last. If it exists at all, it is the combination of inductive reasoning to recognize future possibilities with reasonable accuracy and to have high enough "emotional intelligence" and communication skill to inspire reports to follow an actionable vision based around those possibilities.


It's clear from the interview that Mr. Selig loves the past and doesn't have a sophisticated view of the future. For example:

Q: What's the last movie you saw?

A: I just never get to go to the movies. I'll sit at home, by the way, watching movies. Old movies. My favorites? Gone With the Wind, Casablanca. Pride of the Yankees - I can watch "The Natural" over and over.

He's not steeping himself in popular culture, a necessity in an endeavor that is, at its core, an entertainment that sells itself to an evolving population. The past is comforting to him. I can watch The Natural over and over myself, but not to the exclusion of important ethnographic work about today's teens and young-twenty-somethings such as Dude, Where's My Car & Matrix, Reloaded. Selig, I think, recognizes things are changing and need to, he doesn't try to freeze the game in the past, he's open to change, he just has a tin ear for what that change should be. His changes, because they are out of context with the environment (you get something caught in your throat and cough violently, he says "god bless you"), grate on people and can even create controversy he didn't foresee or even understand as likely because his ear is tin.

Q: Were you surprised at the reaction to the Spider-Man promotion?

A: Yeah, I guess I was. Just remember at Ebbets field when you hit the old Abe Stark clothier sign, you got a free suit. You had the Chesterfield sign in the Polo Grounds emitting smoke. People can say, "But it's different on the bases." Well, No. 1, (the ads) are very small. No. 2, we had ribbons on them Mother's Day to fight breast cancer, and we're going to have blue ribbons on Father's Day for prostate cancer. There are some people who are going to resist every change, no matter what.

But the single thing I have always used as the milestone of MLB's executive lack was the 2002 All-Star Game. As you probably remember, it went extra innings and ended in a tie because there was no contingency plan for an extra-inning game. When one of the teams ran out of pitchers, execs held a hasty meeting and decided to call the game. A frightful, unforgivable managerial performance, not because I think there's anything sacred about the All-Star game (if there ever was, there certainly hasn't been since 1957, and if there's a venue for pure tacky experimentation, it's got to be this flextravaganza), but because they didn't have a plan already in place for a contingency that is so probable. A little over 8% of games go into extra innings, a little more frequently than one game in 13, with that probability meaning about one game per day during the season.


Every individual team in the majors has grounds rules for how long a game can continue as a tie and what happens when the game reaches that trigger point. All 30 team front offices have that nailed. The rule book has specifics of how to handle a regular season game that extends beyond the time the teams can continue to play for whatever reason. Every workgroup of umpires in both leagues have that down.

The commissioner's office didn't think of it in advance.

Q: In 2002 you had the All-Star game in your home town, in the new stadium you pushed to build. Then it ended in a tie and you were ridiculed. What was that like for you?

A: It hurt a lot. That was one of the most uncomfortable nights and days afterwards. It was really heartbreaking. I thought quickly of my options - there were no options.

That's the essence of it right there. This well-meaning, perfectly-intelligent man thought quickly of his options which he shouldn't have been thinking about in that moment because he should have had a contingency plan in place for such an eventuality years previously so if it ever came up, it wouldn't have required quick thinking. We're talking about planning for an occurrencee that happens about 200 times during a regular season.


Selig, sadly, is not extraordinary, just more exposed because baseball is televised and very public. In non-baseball organizations, you see this all the time, especially in the corporate world. It's amazing to me how many $250 million or bigger companies have a man, or (rarely) a woman, at the helm who believes what is past is not only prologue, but the whole book and the epilogue as well. With a manager who knows they have a tin ear and behaves accordingly (delegates this to someone good who does have the aptitude and the power to make things happen), a head person can finesse their disability. But too frequently, the man with his eyes glued to the rear-view mirror does what most of us do -- value the things we do well, and tend to undervalue what we don't.

Yes, the past is important, more important in an endeavor like baseball. But understanding the present, its reality and trajectory, blended with the knowledge of moments and trajectories in the past, is the foundation for planning for change, for the future. If you don't have that aptitude, and Mr. Selig doesn't seem to have even the smallest soupçon of it, you can't manage change.

And if like Selig, and like an overwhelming number of managers and executives, you don't have that ability, you should absolutely not be the woman or man at the very top of an organization.

Thursday, May 13, 2004

Follow-Up: Change, Problem-Solving
and the Long Parade of Bums  

I got an unusual amount of mail on yesterday's post making assertions the authors thought were in opposition to what I had said. Almost all of them were in agreement with my direction.

This means I wasn't clear enough in the entry. Here's the essence of what I was trying to get at.

1) The Dodgers used 42 different players as their main 3rd baseman over 73 seasons: used-up vets, mediocre young guys, never-was utility guys, guys being played temporarily out of position, guys they wanted on the team but didn't know where to put. Then after a successful ten-year stint with a home-brewed prospect who was a solid, legit solution, they immediately regressed, throwing 12 different main third basefolk at the position over the next 15 seasons.

2) Problem-solving has certain costs associated with it, especially if you have limited resources, so you want to invest your problem-solving resources generally in dealing with solutions that will have the highest impact. Not finding at least a Jersey Jor Stripp or a Billy Cox, mediocre-but-adequate guys you could throw at the spot and leave there for 5+ years chronically used up decision-making resources that could have been better invested that they were in finding the next stop-gap.

3) That gratuitous churn exposed a weakness in organizational perception.

I want to restate one thing I said in the entry...that is, I'm not opposed to change. If the Dodgers had brought up good young players, used them for a year or two, and let them go free agent or trade them for other value, I wouldn't argue it was a trail of tears as I did. Yes, there is a cost in churn, but it's possible the benefit/cost of changing every year could be positive if the player you were throwing out there every year was average or better, that is, you were prevolving consciously, planning for success, succeeding, planning for your next success, succeeding, and so on.

The Dodgers in no way did this. They were just flailing, throwing one body after another at the position in the hopes that a better solution would come along later or having hopes (sometimes justified, more frequently not) that a solution was at hand and then crashing with it.

The mean offensive performance at the position was below average for the first 73 years, and the mean defensive performance appears to be below-average, too. (Defensive stats can be misleading, but indicative). The Dodgers were not a stupid organization at all, just suffering from a blind spot at this position that prevented them for investing enough concern to fix it or from seeing what they needed to see in this isolated area.

A total lack of change (trying a guy, having him be sub-mediocre, riding him to a long & pointlessJim "Termites" Presley-like or Ed Sprague-like career while pretending he's good, is just as bad if the stasis is done out of laziness, lack of concern or wishful thinking.

It wasn't that they shouldn't have tried changes, they should have invested enough in the process to acquire a third baseman who would be adequate or better for a while. They didn't.

Wednesday, May 12, 2004

The Dodgers' 73-Year 3rd Base Drought
& The Holes In Your Roster  

In my last real entry I talked about chronic supply-side staffing problems. There's little most organizations can do about that since the killer factors are usually cultural (example: most senior nurses have as many valuable skills as senior physicians, but get paid less; if you wanted to address the nurse shortage by paying what the skills were actually worth, you'd have to internalise those costs and that would make it harder to compete).

The demand side is something you can address if you're willing to face your organization's limitations squarely and aggressively. Most organizations have hiring blind spots, and since hiring decisions are by far the most important category of decision you'll make, shortcomings here are the worst, sometimes even fatal.

There are a bunch of hiring blind spots. If an organization has an H.R. department, they start getting constrained by standards, which are usually designed not to get the best candidate, but to avoid hiring the worst. If they don't have a dedicated or empowered H.R. group and they're doing it seat of the pants, they tend to miss opportunities such as auditions, simulations of the actual kind of work a hire will do. And seat of the pants hiring managers tend to be in a hurry, rushing the process for what seem to be good reasons, but rushing can lead someone to overlook the right candidate or not investgate fully any of them.

There's another blind spot, harder to explain or to fix. Most organizations have constellations of unexamined behaviors that together, when they have a chance to hire for a certain position, lead them to either make the same hiring mistake over and over again, or to make a crazy, reactive pinball path through every mistake you can make. Baseball organizations are notorious for this and they make great examples.


The Brooklyn and then Los Angeles Dodgers had a 73-year history of disability in the hiring of effective third basemen. If you know a lot about early baseball history, skip the rest of this paragraph. In the 19th century and very early 20th century, there were times when the ball was very dead and there was a lot of bunting even when the ball was lively, because the league would juice the ball once seasons and then deflate its resiliency another as a way of managing player salaries and fan interest. A lot of balls stayed in the infield, and bunting or pulling the ball down the third base line was a reasonable strategy because the third baseman, of all the infielders, has on the average the longest throw to first. So fielding was relatively important for third basefolk, especially compared to now. And as a manager, that meant you would be willing to give up a little offense to get that defense (the way it was with shortstops in the 70s and 80s and until the advent of the Alex Rodriguez / Derek Jeter /Nomar Garciaparra models whose hitting seems to justify their lesser defense).

So for much of baseball history, the "talent" pool of third basemen tended to be a toxic waste dump with a few gems floating on top. The Dodgers seemed to have decided early on to resign themselves to that, and rather than rage against the situation, to just accept it. Their roster of third basemen from 1900 to 1972 is a trail of tears, a long parade to the graveyard, a bad 1950s teen death song. In those 73 seasons, 42 different players were the Bums' main third sacker for a year. By "main", I mean the person who played the most games at that position for the team that year.

With two exceptions, the mediocre but beloved by fans Jersey Joe Stripp (1932-37, sort of a Joey Cora of his time) and the mediocre but beloved by fans Billy Cox (1948-53), no player was the main third baseman for the Dodgers for five or more years. Remarkably, there were 27 players who were the team's main third baseman for just one year. Here's the breakdown.

Main Dodger
3rd Baseman
# of
1 27
2 8
3 3
4 2
5 1
6 2

Ugly, because there are so many decisions that end up being just short-term ones, and, as you'll see later, just about none of them rendered good results. Change is not a bad thing, but overall, you don't want to make extra decisions if you can avoid them. Having an acceptable player sit in a position for six years, like a Stripp or a Cox, leaves you problem-solving resources to attack big problems. There will always be big problems and always be a limited amount of research resources to throw at them, so churning mediocrities bleeds off resources that could yield higher returns if aimed elsewhere.

But Dodger Demand Side Staffing Challenge #1 was conscious. The organization, like many others, didn't value the position very highly, so tended to make decisions as though the outcomes wouldn't matter much, so tended to end up with players who wouldn't matter much.

Dodger Demand Side Staffing Challenge #2 was a limitation. The Dodgers didn't tend to acquire strong 3rd basemen when incoming players, pre-farm system, were a free-for-all. And once there was a farm system, they didn't tend to produce 3rd basemen from their minor leagues.

The table below lists the main Dodger third basemen from 1900 through 1972. I show it because you can see the different kinds of decisions the Dodgers thought they were making to stabilize the position. RPRO is my own offensive index, where 100 is the league average; Apps is approximate plate appearances, Roba is the batter's on-base percentage as a ratio of the leagues that year (higher is better), and Rslg is the batter's slugging percentage as a ratio of the leagues that year (higher is better).

Year First LastName Apps RPRO Roba RSlg
1900 LAVE CROSS 486 101 100 102
1901 CHARLIE IRWIN 256 83 87 81
1902 CHARLIE IRWIN 497 107 113 99
1903 SAMMY STRANG 583 106 116 95
1904 MIKE McCORMICK 390 81 93 68
1905 EMIL BATCH 594 98 92 106
1906 DOC CASEY 623 97 101 93
1907 DOC CASEY 561 91 94 90
1908 TOMMY SHEEHAN 521 94 103 85
1909 ED LENNOX 482 111 111 114
1910 ED LENNOX 403 103 103 105
1911 EDDIE ZIMMERMAN 451 75 76 74
1912 RED SMITH 540 107 108 106
1913 RED SMITH 585 117 112 124
1914 RED SMITH 360 103 100 107
1915 GUS GETZ 485 92 91 94
1916 MIKE MOWREY 545 102 108 95
1917 MIKE MOWREY 300 92 98 86
1918 OLLIE O'MARA 457 76 79 73
1919 LEW MALONE 168 81 78 84
1920 JIMMY JOHNSTON 678 103 106 101
1921 JIMMY JOHNSTON 669 112 111 115
1922 ANDY HIGH 638 100 102 97
1923 ANDY HIGH 473 100 102 98
1924 MILT STOCK 587 78 83 74
1925 JIMMY JOHNSTON 476 96 107 85
1926 WILLIAM MARRIOTT 377 94 91 97
1927 BOB BARRETT 369 86 87 88
1928 HARVEY HENDRICK 479 117 116 120
1929 WALLY GILBERT 611 96 101 91
1930 WALLY GILBERT 670 90 96 84
1931 WALLY GILBERT 591 92 97 86
1932 JOE STRIPP 570 109 108 110
1933 JOE STRIPP 563 97 99 95
1934 JOE STRIPP 406 104 107 102
1935 JOE STRIPP 395 102 105 100
1936 JOE STRIPP 461 104 106 103
1937 JOE STRIPP 320 84 89 78
1938 COOKIE LAVAGETTO 555 109 112 107
1939 COOKIE LAVAGETTO 665 111 116 107
1940 COOKIE LAVAGETTO 518 102 112 91
1941 COOKIE LAVAGETTO 521 111 120 102
1942 ARKY VAUGHAN 546 105 110 99
1943 ARKY VAUGHAN 670 117 115 119
1944 FRENCHY BORDAGARAY 537 104 102 106
1945 FRENCHY BORDAGARAY 302 99 100 97
1946 COOKIE LAVAGETTO 280 97 105 89
1947 SPIDER JORGENSEN 499 105 107 105
1948 BILLY COX 275 100 107 93
1949 BILLY COX 420 88 88 90
1950 BILLY COX 486 91 93 89
1951 BILLY COX 492 103 103 105
1952 BILLY COX 480 91 94 90
1953 BILLY COX 364 107 109 107
1954 DON HOAK 286 96 96 97
1955 JACKIE ROBINSON 378 104 117 89
1956 RANDY JACKSON 335 108 106 111
1957 PEEWEE REESE 369 80 96 62
1958 DICK GRAY 216 107 101 116
1959 JIM GILLIAM 649 104 120 86
1960 JIM GILLIAM 653 98 114 81
1961 JIM GILLIAM 518 98 110 84
1962 DARYL SPENCER 189 98 113 81
1963 KEN McMULLEN 253 97 100 93
1964 JIM GILLIAM 376 91 104 76
1965 JOHN KENNEDY 113 72 82 61
1966 JOHN KENNEDY 284 76 79 73
1967 JIM LEFEBVRE 538 103 106 100
1968 BOB BAILEY 360 103 105 102
1969 BILL SUDAKIS 502 96 92 103
1970 BILLY GRABARKEWITZ 624 119 123 115
1971 DICK ALLEN 642 126 126 127
1972 STEVE GARVEY 313 107 100 115

It really is a long parade to the graveyard. There are guys who were once great but at the tail end of their careers (like Lave Cross in 1900, Dick Allen in 1971), guys the Bums wanted in their line-up but needed to squeeze them in at third because they had prospects in their old position (Jimmy Johnston in 1920-21, Jackie Robinson in 1955 and Pee Wee Reese in 1957), versatile guys they kept on the roster would could be plugged in at third when all else failed (Jim Gilliam), a guy who was a great hitter, but couldn't play the more challenging position of shortstop in their opinion (Arky Vaughan in 1942-43) and guys who just couldn't field the position but hit enough to be moved to another (like Steve Garvey, 1972).

There are some great nicknames on this list. Emil "Escape Hatch" Batch, Frenchy, Cookie, Junior, Pee Wee, Spider, Gink, Eggie, Doc, and The Dixie Thrush. And that's all, from an organizational view, that was great. In the last seven years of this stretch, it looks like they were aiming for offense, but they plugged a different player in every year. No one could hold onto the position. It was a bloodbath. In '23 - '29, it was the same thing; seven players in seven years. In seven different years during that run, there were so many different players who played third, the guy who played it the most had 300 or fewer plate appearances (I'm omitting 1946, a year distorted by post-WWII business environment, and 1965, because while Kennedy played in more games that year at third than Gilliam, Gilliam had more at bats).

The Dodgers just combined a lack of intense concern with an inability to come up with young players who were good enough to make a career of the position. They threw half-axed ideas at the position, repeating their pattern of futility generation after generation with less forward motion than a Philip Glass musical score.

The end of this run, btw, was the arrival of Ron "Penguin" Cey, a clearly above-the-line offensive player who was also a clearly above the line gloveman at third. Cey lasted ten years there, a comfort to the front office, though not one they seem to have taken to heart. Because when they they traded the 34-year old Penguin for a couple of prospects in 1982, they immediately reverted to their old form. Look at this trail of tears:

Year First LastName Apps RPRO Roba RSlg
1983 PEDRO GUERRERO 656 127 116 141
1984 GERMAN RIVERA 248 99 102 96
1985 DAVE ANDERSON 256 87 98 75
1986 BILL MADLOCK 409 105 105 106
1987 MICKEY HATCHER 307 103 101 106
1988 JEFF HAMILTON 319 92 88 97
1989 JEFF HAMILTON 568 93 87 103
1990 MIKE SHARPERSON 403 108 117 97
1991 LENNY HARRIS 466 102 111 93
1992 DAVE HANSEN 375 86 92 81
1993 DAVE HANSEN 126 135 143 126
1994 TIM WALLACH 460 113 107 121
1995 TIM WALLACH 354 101 99 104
1996 MIKE BLOWERS 354 100 104 96
1997 TODD ZEILE 660 109 109 111

1983, a great-hitting butcher moved from the outfield. 1984, a young failure. 1985, a utility man getting a chance, 1986, a has-been singles hitter who couldn't field the position particularly well when he was fresh. 1987, a utility man getting a chance. 1988-90, toxic waste, and so on. Shifting what model they threw at the position, but never getting traction.

In 1998, they changed away from their pattern again. They brought in a 19-year old, Adrián Beltré , and have stuck with him since. So far, he's been a Jersey Joe Stripp...a couple of better than average years at the plate, but mostly below, a couple of better than average years with the glove, but mostly average. This year, he's doing brilliantly so far, with 10 home runs and an OPS of 1.07 in the 31 games he's appeared in. It might be a Gink Hendrick 1928 season, a little shoot of hope peeking its head temporarily above the miasma, or it might indicate a sea change in his performance and Dodger third base accomplishment.


Back to the two Dodger Demand Side Staffing Challenges: the conscious undervaluing of the position or its complexity, resulting in desultory care, and the blind spot inability to recognize quality in a specific position.

Most organizations, in and out of baseball, only need one of these to fail. The Bums managed to combine them both, and over multiple generations. Are there specific roles or jobs or positions in your organization that never seem to get filled with the right person, with the organization bouncing from mediocrity to failure and back to mediocrity without even the luck to stumble into the right person?

It happens all the time, and the bigger the organization, the more likely it is that the habit of hiring the wrong person for a specific job over and over will be welded into the organization as part of it's way of being. For that habit, let's grant each one of them the Gustave "Gee-Gee" Getz Memorial Gratuitous Alliteration Award.

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