Friday, October 26, 2012

Post-Season Palaver: Plutes' Pundits Pontificate Pathetically

In theory there is no difference between theory and practice.

 In practice there is.-- Yogi Berra

The Wall Street Journal this month wrote an interesting baseball-centered

article that shows off some work by Bill James. To a greater degree the work

shows off what happens in the news business when you have a deadline and a story

idea but no time to develop it properly and the journal ends up with a steaming

train-wreck of trivial trash-thinking.

Aside: I don't regularly point at the Wall Street Journal,

but not because they don't have many great writers, nor because they don't

produce interesting grist -- they do. They have been edging into sports since

they decided to be the advertising host-of-choice by competing with USA Today

to be the national read, but specifically for the tiny minority of people who

(a) make lots of money by brokering OPM (other people's money), or, more

commonly people who (b) fiercely aspire to be part of (a). It's a pitiful

readership, but they either have access to money or want to look like they do

so they'll spend it even if they don't have it, and that excites advertisers.

But the WSJ's baseball editorial, which started out very interesting, is now

done pro-forma, without the kind of editorial skepticism that makes for great


In Managers

Under the Microscope: The Perils of Postseason Play
, writer Matthew

Futterman's lede kicks us off with

One thing is certain this October: There

are going to be moments when managers will have to decide whether they should

make the move that has brought their team to the postseason, or go with their

gut and take a flyer.

Here's some hard-earned advice from folks

who have been there: Don't take the flyer.

¿Don't manage a five- or seven-game series differently than the

162-game marathon?

Is that true in Baseball, or for other managers Beyond Baseball? Interesting;


For example, Earl Weaver in his book Weaver on Strategy, has an entire chapter dedicated to things you do differently in September and after to take advantage of a different starting pitching rotation to taking advantage of specialists when every game is such a difference-maker. One of the classic blunders I've written about is Phillies manager Jim Fregosi using his closer, Mitch Williams, repeatedly in the World Series; during the regular season, Wild Thing had dug himself many a hole against  variety of (mostly weak) teams

and crawled out with few consequences, but Toronto's line-up made him pay

terribly and cost

the Phils a Series they probably could have won
if the manager had been

analyzing the situation instead of adhering to his standard operating procedure

from the 162-game marathon (What I call "Pulling

a Fregosi

Pulling a Fregosi (maybe I'll call this

Defoliating a Gardenhire in the future) is when you find yourself at a decision

juncture and are more focused on looking in the rear-view mirror (the past) than

on looking forward through the windshield (the future). Doing so guarantees a

higher level of emotional response, and a lack of attention to the possibilities

of the future.

As the article unrolls, it becomes clear Futterman is going to argue both

sides of the issue. He quotes Tony LaRussa

"It's 190 degrees different from the

regular season," said Tony La Russa, who won six league pennants and three

World Series during his 33-year managerial career. "The immediacy of it is

so much more. It's not just this game—it's this inning and this out. You don't

want to give anything away. Everything is so short-term, so focused. You're not

balancing the long-term anymore, and for that reason it's a lot more fun."

But then he uses Grady Little's 2003 one-batter-too-many application of Pedro

Martínez as a CLM (Career-Limiting Move) -- more on that for the moment, a

Futterman insight that tells more about the World View of Plutes than it does

about high-performance management. Discussing Little's October CLM Crisis


Unless, that is, you go off script—the

classic mistake Grady Little made. Little, the former Boston Red Sox manager,

infamously let a tiring Pedro Martinez continue pitching with his team fivd outs

from making it to the World Series in 2003. Martinez, who had lasted eight

innings only five times all year, coughed up the lead, and the Red Sox lost in

11 innings. The team declined to renew Little's contract despite winning 95

games. He later managed the Los Angeles Dodgers for two seasons, making the

playoffs in 2006, but hasn't held a Major League managing job since.

The reality was that Little generally protected his recently injured

starter during the season, and in this October game did not. Sportswriters

generally assumed Little overrode his in-season protocol for using Pedro, but

Baseball managers and management are a lot more subtle than reporters,

especially those who swim in the corporate universe, realize. The reality was,

Little was going back to the season and pulling out Martínez' most analogous

start...Little had a precedent for a gassed Pedro to kick it out a few more

batters, as described here.

Futterman argues both sides, contrary to his lede, but then returns to the

lede's argument.


...Baseball, as a zero-sum endeavor with much higher competition and

transparency than corporate business, where a manager will virtually every day

make a call that doesn't work out. Most often than not, the greater context of

the immediate October moment SHOULD outweigh the marathon of the 162-game


Further, the guys who build a successful overarching strategy suffer,

relatively, in the short October series (Billy Beane's quote about his crap not

working in the playoffs, the impression that Weaver's October record

underperforming relative to April-September).

In Baseball, you have to contextualize your management choice to succeed in

the moment.

But Futterman has a strong point that reinforces and describes the Plute world-view...


Because Futterman is absolutely correct in understanding that the sudden,

season-defying innovation IS a CLM. Whichever decision you make, precedent or

innovation, it may or may not work out when you are playing percentages, BUT if

you maintain the season protocol, it's harder for your own management to second

guess you. You just did what you always did. Whereas if you innovate and crash,

you will be second-guessed to death.

In the Plute world, you get to hold on to your money whether you were right

in your decisions or wrong, as long as you can argue you were just working

inside the protocol
. It's not about results/outcome. In the Plute

world, it's about accountability-sloughing. So Futterman's lesson for WSJ

readers is pretty apt (equal to the inappropriateness for managers outside the

finance world).

In your own management, it's easy to ride the best people, the best

processes, the best methods, the best technology, the best ideas, to death. In

any given situation, what is "the best" (overall) might or might not

be the best. It's tempting and pretty immune to second-guessing to stick with

"the best" when things are looking rocky. But nothing is "the

best" in every situation, every context, every moment. Skilled management

is all about knowing, or guessing well, what is, and having the courage to use

all your resources, not even your best ones, to get you to the organization's


If you're just a Plute, you can get away with making all your decisions with

your own paycheck and not

your employer's or your customers
in mind. If you're earning your pay as a

manager, you need to be willing to adapt to the context of the moment, make

decisions that work to your employer's benefit.

And remember, as LaRussa says, "It's a lot more fun".