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April 13, 2008

6-4-3

Adventures in Consulting, Part Two

by Gary Huckabay

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Time for a quick "Previously, on Adventures in Consulting…" (read using your best Don LaFontaine voice…)

In part one, I set the scenario: a consulting engagement with a team that pretty much knew it had little chance to be a contending, or even competitive, team during the upcoming season. What they were looking for was a method to try to genuinely outperform reasonable expectations based on their actual talent level. To that end, the consulting team laid out a proposed deliverable to their primary team contact, which consisted primarily of a grid for each member of the pitching staff. That grid had one axis consisting of the number of pitches in that pitcher's last appearance, with the other axis showing the number of days rest since that last outing. In the (x,y) cell was a measurement of that pitcher's performance in that circumstance, using data over the previous three years. The chart looked like this:

          0    1    2    3    4+
0-14     94   98  104  100
15-29    83   92  112  109
30-44         80   96   97
45-59              98  102   130
60-74                   70
75+                           78

The value in each cell was an index, where 100 equals overall average performance for the pitcher in question. (No specific metric was used; it's largely irrelevant, but you could picture ERA, or Opponent's OPS, or even VORPr, or whatever.)

You, the BP readers, were invited to comment on what you thought would happen next. This isn't just a clever work-avoidance mechanism by your friendly author; it's a way to get perspectives that I otherwise would never have considered. I originally had Part Two (of a planned two) largely done, and was planning to simply fill in the gaps with the predicted responses, and have it out for your enjoyment in a few days. I would submit that my plan and forecast turned out to be far superior to others throughout history, specifically "Computers will lead to a paperless society." Instead, what I received in the mail reflected the heavy leaning of our readership towards the law, consulting, baseball operations and scouting professions. I had intentionally left significant information out, to see what people would assume where information was scarce.

So you're pretty much up to date, so let's go to the responses from BP readers, and, where appropriate, the full e-mail exchange…

From Reader RMD:

"I'm assuming that your contact in the organization was at too low of a level for your engagement to be effective. Rarely would someone at the ultimate decision-making level allow such a broad scope to the engagement. If that's the case, they had a limited budget to work with, and wanted enough of a platform built so they could take a proposal up the chain and make a big splash."

Good call, RMD. I had expressed concerns about this from the very beginning, and accepted verbal assurances that there was not only buy-in, but active participation from the very highest levels of the organization. Rookie mistake on my part, but I was, in part, blinded by the hourly rate I was offered for the engagement. This was, if memory serves, my second job for an MLB club, and the highest hourly rate I would ever be offered. The money probably affected my judgment, and not for the better. Can you tell me what happened next? Reader SM took a shot, and did pretty well:

"I've been there, but not in baseball. Let me guess. You showed the deliverable to a middle manager type as a proof of concept, verbally warning him that the charts weren't finished, and weren't ready for a higher audience until they were fine tuned, right?"

That's correct. Please go on.

"So the middle manager takes the idea and shows it to his boss as an example of either his brilliance or his leadership skills. The manager above him looks at the presentation incredulously, and can't believe what a moron you and your liaison in the organization are. Then one of two things happens. Either he reads your liaison the riot act, and tells him to cut off the engagement immediately and burn this poop before anyone sees it, fearful that the incompetence might rub off on him, or he says nothing, and your liaison's career is on the bullet train to nowhere, given fewer assignments and projects, of lesser and lesser importance."

Both excellent guesses, but neither one quite hits the mark. Full credit for part one of your answer, though, so let's pick up from there with reader AB:

"You are so screwed. Your contact with the club probably convinced his immediate boss that these were real game changers, so to speak. They then decide that the strange intern that never goes home can create these sheets for every pitcher in the majors and minors, pretty them up, and show them to the big bosses."

Ding! Ding! Ding! Ding! We have a winner! But in fairness, the person wasn't strange, and I don't know if they were an intern.

So we end up with a not-ready-for-prime-time deliverable, copied using the original as a template and included as part of a larger presentation from an upper-middle-management type to an upper-management type. From the perspective of this humble author, I have no visibility at all into this process. My last conversation with anyone from the org is a few days ago, talking in broad terms about the limitations of this information, and how it might realistically be used on the field. Come to think of it, even that conversation lasted a grand total of about four minutes, ending with "We can talk more about this when you come south to meet with us."

In Part Three, we'll go over the ultimate outcome and how it played out, but I will leave you with a couple of pieces of information. One is the chart (slightly modified to protect the innocent) for one pitcher, which ended up being the string hanging off the sweater, and the other a particularly insightful comment from a reader who didn't leave a name. First, the chart:

          0    1    2    3    4+
0-14    111  127  103
15-29    94  112   33
30-44         70   82
45-59
60-74                       209
75+                          61

And finally, I leave you with this comment, from a reader who chose not to reveal their name:

"You might be the stupidest person on the Internet. There aren't many people who could think any of this is interesting to read on a baseball site, and none of those people would be stupid enough to think it justifies making it a two-part article. Stick to baseball, and put this kind of [stuff] in the Wall Street Journal."

Thanks for writing in, Mom!

Gary Huckabay is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Gary's other articles. You can contact Gary by clicking here

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