Following up on my previous post, Who Is the Shane Battier of Your Faculty?: Wall Street Journal Book Review: Paul Dickson, Lone Star Turnaround (reviewing Ben Reiter, Astroball: The New Way to Win It All (2018)):
Mr. Reiter now has written a full account of the remarkable story of how one of the greatest turnarounds in modern baseball history was engineered. ... Houston had looked at the processes that Oakland A’s general manager Billy Beane had used early in the 21st century. That team’s methods—sophisticated statistical analyses and attention to “undervalued” measuring sticks (like on-base percentage)—were detailed in Michael Lewis’s Moneyball (2003), and they changed the way baseball front offices operated. But Mr. Lewis’s book also portrayed a somewhat fraught internal organization, with old-fashioned scouts in one corner and the analytic nerds in the other, often disagreeing about players and prospects and resenting one another as well.
Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow wanted to figure out how to get scouting and analytics to work together and eventually produce an internal metric that would render a decision on a player as simple as the one in blackjack: hit or stay, keep or trade, play or bench. The blackjack analogy is apt, since Mr. Luhnow’s leading partner in all of this was Sig Mejdal, a former blackjack dealer and NASA scientist who became the head of the Astros’ Nerd Cave or, as the Astros named him, “director of decision sciences.”
Under Mr. Luhnow, scouts not only made subjective judgments about a prospect’s talent but also collected unique data that they fed to the folks in the Nerd Cave. And the nerds began listening to the scouts. All of this was easier said than done, but it was done, and the team made a series of sound, even brilliant, choices as it drafted, traded and signed players. ...
[R]oster-creation, all by itself, did not bring home the championship. Building an exceptional team is one thing, but making it work as a team is another. “Fault lines” exist in all complex organizations—including baseball teams. If these lines can be bridged or eradicated, a team is likely to win more ball games. To use another bit of old-fashioned terminology, a team needs chemistry.
Carlos Beltrán, the veteran outfielder signed by the Astros after the 2016 season, immediately took on the role of chief chemist. Among other things, he created a postgame ceremony that awarded prizes for excellence in the field and instituted a postgame “court” for those who failed to attend: The fine was $500. Mr. Beltrán also had a singular ability to study opposing pitchers and determine their “tells”—gestures and small changes in behavior that signaled whether or not the next pitch would be, for example, a breaking ball or a fast ball. Finally, Mr. Beltrán had a strong desire to close the gap between the English and Spanish speakers. ...
Mr. Reiter’s superb narrative of how the team got there provides powerful insights into how organizations—not just baseball clubs—work best.
Sports Illustrated, Why Carlos Beltrán Was the Perfect Addition to Aid the Astros' Journey to the World Series:
Luhnow also felt that Beltrán could imbue a club with something else, a variable that neither Statcast nor any of Sig’s other metrics could begin to track.
July 25, 2018 in Book Club, Legal Education | Permalink
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