Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Four Things I Learned from an Astros Analyst Spending a Summer in the Minors

This post is about this article:

1. Even World Series champions can get better
Winning the World Series seems like a good reason to pause and stay the course. If anyone in baseball did it right last year, it was the Houston Astros so it makes sense for them to stand on their accomplishments. But, better than that, they went looking for ways to deepen the roots of what had brought them to the pinnacle. They were looking for ways to make their organization better, whether that improvement went from the top down or the bottom up. So they sent their top analyst to the bottom of the farm system, not just to teach, but maybe more to learn. Sig Mejdal didn't show up to show off a championship ring, he embedded himself and learned how the future of the franchise functioned. He didn't show up and tell anyone what to do. He found ways to make himself useful and to raise the level from within instead of from on high.

2. Stats people and coaches can learn a lot from one another
It's easy to call Mejdal a "numbers guy" and he knows that. But he also knows that we are all human beings and that we can communicate with one another. He was there to communicate and see how the relationships he built might inform what the club would do going forward. He found players and coaches hungry to learn and improve. He found that they were open to new tools and ways to look at their game if it meant making gains. Mejdal learned more about what coaches are looking at and how they are interpreting what they see, information that can help him better tailor his messages to coaches on the senior team. He was able to give coaches and players insight into how data could shape decision making and game management.

3. Running a complete organization means immersing yourself in and caring about the whole organization
When we have multiple teams in our care (high school and youth club programs), we are faced with discrepancies in how teams are trained and in how resources are allocated. The Astros are suggesting that the best answers are not to allocate resources equally across the board nor to train all teams the same. But, instead of just surveying their farm teams for short periods, they committed to sending people out for long periods so that they could deeply understand the landscape. Their solution to Ivory Tower Syndrome was obvious enough, get out of your tower. Are we as head coaches and program directors either ruling from on high, assuming that we know what it's like for every team in our care, or being laissez faire, believing that our coaches are completely aware of the big picture? The Astros are showing the value in committing people and time to learning about one another, up and down the chain.

4. Players are motivated to improve and to win. Normalizing more tools for them to improve and win helps them do exactly that.
If players on developmental teams aren't exposed to the tools that are part of daily life at the top levels then they will have difficulty assimilating those tools into how they think and train. If stats and video are staples for the top levels, how are we preparing our future top-level players to use those tools? Younger players don't necessarily have to use the tools in the same way or with the same frequency but using those tools in a modified way at appropriate times normalizes their use and allows the players to be functional with and knowledgeable about the tools that are integral to their future success.

The last two points demonstrate the importance of vertical integration at clubs or school programs. Winning a championship changes how the Astros can spend their money and how they can draft new players. There is a stronger emphasis on development and the best way to improve development is to increase integration so that development becomes a more continuous process from beginning to end. Such integration requires coaches to work together in ways that put the values of the organization ahead of their personal views and this can often pose a challenge in a world where we are conditioned to serve our egos first. This is just another expression of valuing the process over the outcome. Coaches that value learning and growth in their players generally have the same approach with themselves. Developmental coaches could just take ideas from elsewhere in the program on their own but when top coaches spend meaningful time with and solicit ideas from them as well, then we increase the buy in from those coaches while also increasing their knowledge. Mejdal and the coaches and players he worked with learned to look at the same thing together and see more of what the other people saw and use that information to make improvements. At its heart, that is what vertical integration is about.

There are many positive outcomes to integrating and collaborating in ways like the Astros are doing. The more integration there is, the better all parties understand the challenges across the program. Coaches can better prepare players for their futures and have more opportunities to change how that preparation is carried out. As coaches collaborate, they create more opportunities to problem solve in creative ways and they expand their ways of thinking. There's so much going on in front of our eyes so wouldn't it be nice to feel like we had support in seeing more of it? If you want that support then you should get busy building it in your program.

1 comment:

  1. I can't help but be impressed with Eduardo's ability to remove his personal bias, also known as 'ego', in his blog posts about coaching.
    We coaches are ALL afflicted with our own personal ego (large or extra large), and it hurts us in our profession more than we like to admit.
    Eduardo learns coaching from the best in the profession, then has the rare ability to share it through the filter of his experience without adding his own biases. This is the secret sauce that makes his blog posts more than just a vanity exercise and makes them useful and effective for the rest of us.


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