5 Lessons From Baseball for Business Owners

On my 50th birthday, I thought about calling it 50 Baseball Lessons for Business Owners, but let’s just stick with 5 shall we?

5  Lessons From Baseball For Business Owners

I love baseball. You may have heard the cliché, “Baseball is life.”  Well, I believe that Baseball is Business.  And, according to Dr. Art Markman in his book Smart Thinking, analogies are powerful tools we can use to reveal new insights into old problems.  With that in mind, I want to share my thoughts on Baseball and Business.  Your mileage may vary.

  1. Baseball Has No Clock

Despite the addition of Pace Of Play Rules to the sport, professional baseball does not have a clock.   A baseball game ends when all twenty-seven outs have been recorded and there is a clear winner. No winner? Play another six outs.  No clear winner?  Keep going until someone wins. No matter how long it takes.

Baseball players don’t go home until the work is done!

Running a business is the same.  Sure we have deadlines, but most of the time these are arbitrary and self-imposed.  The real deadline is more like baseball.  You can not quit until the work is done (and sometimes not even then). Erroneously, many people focus on time-management strategies, but in reality, the “Get-Things-Done” strategies have the greatest impact.  It is easy to be “busy,” but unless you finish, the game never ends.

Business, like baseball, doesn’t end until the work is done.

  1. You Strike Out A Lot

Man, I hate to fail because failing sucks.  More than that failure is shameful!  Remember how your parents reacted when you flunked a test or failed to turn in a homework assignment?  (If you’ve never had that pleasant experience please switch to another blog – I don’t know you.)  I remember and I never wanted to fail again.  Of course, that didn’t stop me from screwing up, but holy cow, for a long time I avoided failure like the plague, which ironically only seemed to make it harder to succeed.

Then I observed how baseball players step up in front of thousands of fans… every night… and strike out.  Over, and over again.   I am quite sure they don’t want to fail, but it happens and they never stop trying!  

The best hitters fail 7 out of 10 times.  I’m in awe of the kind of internal fortitude that it take to face that kind of humiliation and keep coming back for more.  With this high-level of failure, it is difficult to imagine that these guys are the best, but they are and I believe it’s because they never stop trying.

It turns out business is more like baseball than school.  Maybe that’s why no one calls school “the real world” but people call baseball “life.”  Zig Ziggler famously said most sales happen after the 7th “no.”  Think about that.  Seven failures in a row before you get to success.  Sound familiar?

In Business, like in  Baseball, you will strike out a lot, but the success comes to those who keep going until they get a hit.

  1. Winners Face the Toughest Hitters First

Competitive baseball teams put their best hitters at the front of the order.  Pitchers don’t get to ease their way into the game, they start off facing their biggest challenges.  To be a winning pitcher, they must figure out how to get those guys out.

In my business, I have learned to tackle the hard problems first.  Avoiding them, is a lot like pitching around tough batters.  And the results are usually the same.  Pitchers who walk a lot of batters don’t stay in the game very long.  Entrepreneurs who don’t face their toughest problems early often wind up working for someone else.

If you want to stay in the game, face your most difficult problems first.

  1. Your Last Hitter May Be Your MVP

One thing I have observed about playoff baseball is how often Most Valuable Players come from the bottom of the lineup.  On my son’s team, we won our first little league championship when the last batter in our lineup hit a game winning homerun.  

Why does this happen?  Because when the competition is fierce, the strengths balance each other.  This means small changes loom large and it is your weaknesses, not your strengths, that make the difference.  This is how great teams distinguish themselves: by building upon their strengths, but also working on their weaknesses.

Too many teams do one or the other.  Either they ride their best players, putting everything on them.  Or they try to shore up their weaknesses while losing sight of their strengths.  To build a winning team you have to do both.  

In Baseball and business, good teams have great players. Exceptional teams improve all of their players. Build on strengths; work on weaknesses.

  1. Success Is A Chain Made Of Execution.

There are tons of sports analogies with business, but in my experience, no competitor ever comes crashing through my front door to tackle a developer.  No one blankets my sales team so they can’t receive a lead.  In short, no one is allowed to interfere directly with my team.  My team’s success depends almost wholly upon their ability to execute, effectively and efficiently,  in a way that allows the next team member to do their job when it is their turn.

That’s the number one reason I like baseball.  While it is extremely competitive, opposing teams are not allowed to interfere with each other.  If they do, it’s a penalty (yes there are a few exceptions).  Not only can opposing players not interfere with each other, players on the same team really can’t even help each other either.  There are no double teams in baseball, no pick-and-rolls.

Success in baseball comes from talented, well-trained players doing their job then passing the ball to the next player who does the same.  A successful play is a chain of well executed individual efforts.

What a beautiful metaphor for business.   Do your job.  Do it well.  Do it to the best of your ability.  And then, most importantly, finish so the next guy can do the same.  Set your teammates up for success.  We call this execution.

Teams are only successful if each person does his job.  Success is a chain built of execution.

 

I love baseball for a myriad of reasons and I hope my simple comparisons give you a new way of looking at your business.  

Do you have a different way of mapping a sport to your company? Tell me about it in the comments. I’d love to hear from you.

5 Hard Lessons For Employees-Turned-Entrepreneurs

 

img cred: Critter for opensource.com

5 Hard Lessons For Employees-Turned-Entrepreneurs

The popularity of entrepreneurial books, podcasts, and television shows like “Shark Tank,” give the impression that everyone is starting a business. The truth is that while many people are, not everyone who does is successful.  If you are making the jump from corporate America into full-time entrepreneurship, you are likely to find that there are some hard lessons that you must learn.

The following five lessons are some of the most difficult for many business owners to master and are surely at the forefront of the reasons why employees-turned-entrepreneurs are unsuccessful in their new ventures.

Lesson One: Become a Real Negotiator

In the book Getting to Yes by Roger Fisher, William L. Ury,  and Bruce Patton, the authors clearly explain how a “hard negotiation” style will destroy a “soft negotiation” style every time.

If you have spent any time in corporate America, the chances are that you learned how to get along well with others. You use phrases and words like, “Win-Win” and “Partnership” when you think of negotiation. You want to reach a mutually beneficial agreement and you yield quickly to the demands of others to keep the peace. You are a “soft negotiator”. While this is valuable in a corporate context, most likely you were shielded from the myriad of aggressive negotiation tactics, “hard negotiations,” used externally, and in some cases internally, by your company.

The reality is that when you are first starting out as a business owner, you are playing a game whose rules are vaguely familiar. Furthermore, you are probably unaware that the game even exists in first place. Your opponents are well-equipped, and they are looking for fresh meat.  My intention is not to frighten you, but not everyone in the free-for-all that is the modern global economy is thinking about creating “win-win” situation. “Hard negotiators” are not as easily swayed and will stop at almost nothing to get what they want.

The most important (and possibly expensive) lessons you can learn are:

  • How to effectively negotiate when you no longer have the resources of a large corporation to give you leverage by understanding the various negotiation tactics.  
  • If you think you are a good negotiator and are not an attorney, you need help.

Lesson Two: Make Your Accounting Useful For YOU

I admit upfront that I hate accounting because it makes me feel unintelligent. Many of the small business owners to whom I speak say the same. There are many reasons for this but here’s what you need to know:

  • Develop a system for tracking your real cash (not just profits) that you can manage daily. Learn enough so that you can design your accounting system to be useful to you in the way that you will use it.
  • Tracking your cash must become a habit. You will be shocked at the number of people who will confidently do their job with absolutely zero understanding of your financials even when they have access to them. They are counting on you to know what is going on.

You cannot delegate having a firm grasp on your financials to anyone else. If you do, then you will not be running a business, you will be working for someone else wondering where all the money went.

Lesson Three: Create a Culture

What would your front yard look like if you never paid attention to it, never watered it, never mowed it, in short never cared about it? Can you imagine that? Can you picture it?

Now know this: Your company culture will look worse if you treat it the same way.

Any system composed of living organisms will grow and evolve, constantly. Moreover, it will do so with or without your permission. That is what they do.

Your business is a living organism. It is a system made up of people who are very different. The behaviors of those people will define its culture. Now you might get lucky, and that group of people may produce an incredible culture without much effort.  However, and this is common, they could produce a cancerous growth that kills their host. There are two lessons here:

  • Recognize that it is your responsibility to create the culture you want. When you become an employee of a company, chances are the owners or employees previously established the office culture. However, now you have to create it yourself.
  • Learn the skills necessary to establish a culture on purpose.What happens if you do not? Remember the image of your untended front yard? You will get a culture, but it will happen by default. In my experience, very few business owners are happy with the culture they get by default.

There are tools and techniques to build the culture you want. Look for them. Learn them. Use them. It is hard, but it can be the difference between feeling like you cannot wait to get to the office every morning and dreading what awaits you when you get in. Learn how to cultivate the culture you want.

Lesson Four: Master Your Marketing

Unless you are starting a marketing company, chances are you have no idea what marketing entails. Moreover, you are probably unfamiliar with what the word means. You might think you know, but you probably don’t. Why? Because the word is so overused and abused, it is hard to understand what marketing is, why it is necessary, and what to do to create an effective marketing strategy. Further, so many people want to sell you “marketing” that the real purpose and nature of it gets lost in the weeds. For example, we have deeply fixed terms like “sales and marketing” as if sales can precede marketing.

Here is the hard lesson: Marketing is lead generation.

That is it!

Those who will profit from confusing you (and many people do),  will disagree with me. I do not care!

A marketing plan is a plan to generate leads on a budget, in a given time frame.

If you do not generate leads, you will not get sales. It is that simple.

So no matter how fun it is to buy beautiful pictures or sexy ads, the hard lesson is to stay focused on what will grow your business. Leads. Leads. Leads.

Sounds too simple? OK, go ahead and try it.

Here’s a bonus lesson: Simple does not always mean easy. I had personally witnessed people waste tens-of-thousands of dollars before they learned this lesson.

Lesson Five: Making Money is Not The Same As Earning Money

This last one is the craziest lesson of all. Most employees have years of conditioning which reinforce the entrenched belief that it takes personal effort and application of skill to earn money.

It is not an unreasonable perspective for someone collecting a paycheck, but it can be a serious handicap for an entrepreneur. You will work hard. By the measure of income, the most successful business owners I know work very long hours. However, there is an enormous difference between owners who believe they are earning money and those who are working to manage systems that make money. Here’s the difference:

  • If you think you are making money, you  will focus on your business as a way to collect a paycheck. You are working x-amount of hours to earn x-amount of dollars.
  • If you are managing a system that makes money, you focus on creating a system of generating cash-flow. You become the leader those that operate the systems that run your business.

To explain further, working for a paycheck will hold you back because it constricts you in two dimensions. Focusing on the all mighty paycheck will drain precious cash that your business needs to fuel its growth. Of course, you should get paid, but you will have to determine what is the BEST use of that cash- saving or reinvesting in your business. Moreover, most detrimental to your company’s growth is that you cannot imagine working hard enough to be worth what people are willing to pay.

It sounds crazy, I know, but the salary/earning mindset can interfere with your business growth because it leads you to sell your cost instead of your value.

The truth is that most salaried employees people do not personally experience the kind of exponential income growth that a business can produce when it is marketing, sales, and operating systems are well-tuned and working together to reach a concrete goal. Typically most people can only grow their income incrementally over the course of many years. A business, on the other hand, can leap forward and double or even triple if the conditions are right. Most former employees do not have the experience to recognize that kind of jump is even possible even when they see it first hand!

The hard lesson here:  

  • Understand that your job is not to earn a paycheck
  • Know how your effort improves a scalable business model which makes money

Conclusion

Most of these lessons are not complex, but they do fly in the face of our working experience.

  • We learn to play nicely, which gives us a false sense of our negotiation prowess.
  • We rely on accounting departments, so we never learn about setting up effective financial systems.
  • We join companies whose cultures are already in place, so  we do not learn how to create a beneficial one of our own.
  • Our personal experience with the biggest brands hides the exact function of marketing, so we do not learn its real purpose.
  • The most important skill, the one that drove our career – earning a paycheck – can ironically hold us back. The career that made it possible for us to start our company can make it difficult for us to imagine systems that can generate income out of proportion to our personal effort.

Business owners can master all of these lessons of course, but they require a new perspective and a new context. To build a business, you have to transcend being an employee. You have to become something more. You need to become an Entrepreneur.

The ABC’s And Some Times D’s of Success

When I was in college my Dad told me this story. Now just because I site my source does not mean this story is not apocryphal. Apocryphal in this context means anonymous, legendary, and slightly mythical. So does that mean it is not true? Like all good stories this one bears enough truth to be worth retelling.

The real question is this, “Is the story true for you?”

Only you will know the answer to that.

abcd_of_success

My father was the first child in his family, possibly his gene pool even, to get a college degree. Growing up in Detroit in the 60’s, my father attended the one school which would not only admit him, but pay for his tuition to become an engineer; General Motor’s Institute in Flint Michigan.

Now named Kettering University, GMI was founded in 1919 as the School of Automobile Trades. It was renamed to GMI in 1926. General Motors allegedly hired 80 to 90 percent of GMI’s graduates for decades. As my father relayed the story, it was this prolonged hiring from one institution that inspired someone at GMI to ask the question, “Was there any correlation between grades and performance on the job?”

In other words, did success at school predict career success? In the book Emotional Intelligence, Daniel Goleman conveyed that “success in education only predicted success in education”. There was very little correlation between grades and life. In his book Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell discussed a similar study done by the University of Michigan Business School. The Michigan study revealed that selection criteria (high school results) did not predict B-School graduate life success. Most people took away from Outliers that you need 10,000 hours to master any skill, but I took away that the opportunity to achieve 10,000 hours of mastery is more important than the skill or the time spent getting it. If we use grades to determine who gets an opportunity to succeed, we might be missing some of our most valuable and talented people. What’s more, if you are disqualifying yourself from trying something hard because you don’t have the grades or the qualifications, you might doing yourself an enormous disservice.

Predicting human future performance is always tricky. The GMI situation however study was unique because so many people from the same school went into the same company and stayed there for so long. What’s more, they performed mostly the same job. That is an unusually high number of variables to remain constant for such a long period of time.

GMI also had one other unusual distinction, at least as far as modern day college graduates are concerned. GMI awarded degrees not only to A, B, and C students. It was also possible to receive a degree if you earned a D. That’s right, they gave degrees to people who were below average. Apparently, below average was still not failing, and therefore worthy of a degree.

It is hard to even conceive of such a thing today, and technically speaking they did not use letter grades. My father translated the old GMI point system into letter grades to make it more understandable for my sister and I. However, they definitely had four clear demarkations which could result in your earning a degree; A-Excellent, B- Above Average, C-Average, and D-Below Average.

So what did the study discover? Did grades accurately predict career success? The short answer was yes, but not the way most people would expect. Convention says the A students would be top executives, the B students would end up in middle management, and the C students would be in the rank and file, and the D’s, well surely they must be sweeping the floor or no longer employed right?

The actual results were somewhat surprising. The top performing group (by career success) did not come from the A students. The A’s were good employees, but did not prove to be exceptional in the work place. The C students proved average was average. No the top leaders came from the B’s and the D’s. What? How could that be? It seemed the A students excelled at applying proven solutions but could not seem to develop them while the B students tended to be the most socially active and therefore possessed valuable skills that were not easily captured by grades.

But what of those D’s? How could they be successful?

The answer comes from two ungraded traits they demonstrated. First, they were so creative they barely fit the constraints of a rigidly formed education. They were non-conformists. They chaffed at the rigors of school. But they did not flunk out thanks to trait number two. They were so stubborn they wouldn’t quit. Imagine someone intelligent, creative, and relentless. What kind of person barely gets by but refuses to quit? That kind of stubborn determination in the face of incredible odds proved to be exactly the ingredients GM needed to solve the kind of problems no one had ever solved before.

When you had a problem with no answer in the back of the book, you needed a problem solver who was creative, and unwilling to quit until they worked it out. Enter your ’D’s.

But is it true?

I never tried to find the study or any evidence of it, but in my own experience, the story rang true. Some of the most brilliant and successful people I have had the privilege of working with in the video game industry fit this template. Many had a GED, but never graduated from college. They are creative, intelligent, unconventional, and easily bored. But more than anything they were tenacious. They created technologies other people could barely comprehend. Perhaps most important of all they were not too proud to learn from anyone or anything. They were driven by their vision for what must be done, tirelessley committed to making it happen.

My father once told me that he got a C in high school, a B in college, and an A in life.

I would add, “the grade you give yourself is far more important than any grade handed to you by someone else”.

How to Nuke Your Career in 3 Easy Steps

CareerBondFire

How to Nuke Your Career in 3 Easy Steps

I asked a good friend of mine Jay Feitlinger about how I should handle my social media. He gave me some great advice. Thus begins this series of posts about my journey from individual contributor to industry founder. One of my all time favorite book titles was by Colin Powell titled, “It worked for me.”.

My take on this phrase is somewhat different. Call it, “This was my journey.” I hope that sharing my path helps you find your path to a future you find fulfilling.

Before you begin: Know great change comes from great pain

One of the worst pains you can feel is the pain of rejection. Perhaps it’s the rejection of your ideas, or simply the rejection of yourself personally. For most people professionally that comes in the form of being told “you can’t work here any more.” Being payed off is one lesser form of that pain. It’s not personal. It’s the company that has the problem. Sometimes this generates enough pain to motivate change, but not always. A higher form is when it’s personal. No, the company is fine, “You’re the problem.” That takes on a particularly acute flavor when you believe you were the one holding everything together. Everyone else gets to stay, but not you. You have been voted off the island.

How do you make such a thing happen? Honestly there are lots of ways, but in my experience here is a surefire 3-step formula that can set you on the path to having your future freed by the people that pay you.

Career Step 1: Get so good at what you do, you stop seeking feedback

When you work really, really hard at getting good at your professional craft, people will start to come to you for advice. This feels great. And it’s natural you want to share what you have worked so hard to learn. But somewhere along the way that advice sharing can trickle into advice giving. Especially if your experience and hard work are rewarded with managerial responsibility. You can drift from guiding people to critiquing them almost without notice. But even if you haven’t been given a managerial title with direct reports it is not hard to sail into the isolating sea of self-importance.

When you have immersed yourself in brilliantly self righteous judgment of the work that goes on around you, above you, and below you, you have mastered step one. You can proceed to step two.

Career Step 2: Believe that apologizing works all the time

I think most of us as rational human beings realize there are two major modes of communication, rational and emotional. The problem is that most of us give them equal weight. If your hard-won expertise and organizational authority have elevated your decision and judgmental skills to the point where you put an extraordinary weight on your own rational thoughts you will no doubt have experienced the feeling of surprise that comes when other people (shockingly) do not agree with you.

Inspired by the need to do “what is right” you no doubt tried to set those poor misguided souls straight (for their own benefit and the benefit of the company). Of course, occasionally some people got their feelings hurt, which you do feel bad about, so you apologize. That fixed it right?

As my father once wisely told me, you can put too many nails in a tree. Even if you pull them out, the scar tissue over time will still kill the tree. Pulling out the nail does not alleviate you of the responsibility for having pounded it in with your ego hammer in the first place.

When your apologizing starts matching your advice giving in quantity and quality, you have mastered step 2. You are prepared for step 3.

Career Step 3: Forget who you are really working for

I once told a friend, you have to know your constituents. We’ve all heard, “you can’t please everyone” but strangely they don’t tell you who you are supposed to please. Without a clear answer most people elect to try and please the group they are standing in front of at any particular moment.

A brilliant, cutthroat, and ruthless manager I once worked for told me, “you can be the kind of manager who the team despises but if you deliver the results you are okay. Or you will be okay if you are the kind of manager people love but struggles to deliver. But you can’t be a manager the team despises and can’t deliver the results.”

In my experience all three of those “ideals” are somewhat flawed (that guy got fired and that company is now bankrupt) but within that really strange advice was a key idea.  I learned that different groups inevitably drift into conflict. Remember the phrase is, “if you are not with us, you are against us.” This seems to be the rule for groups, not the exception.  Please note that the phrase “if you are not for me, you are against me” has a very different connotation.  It is either a great presidential slogan or paranoia. Or both.  The lesson?  Individuals can be crazy but groups always think they are rational.

Conclusion

I am a fairly sarcastic person by nature, but all of those blogs with formulas to success often overlook the reality that the worst mistakes you can make often arise out of your best efforts. You work really hard to get good at something, people recognize that, and you unwittingly drift into becoming an annoying know it all.

Powered by your great confidence, you start upsetting people as you try to help them. Apologizing – which worked so well as a kid – has little or no effect in the corporate work place.

Finally, in your effort to juggle complex requirements and competing interests – you repeatedly compromise to meet the constraints – something engineers and gamers do all the time to achieve their goals. Only in company politics this makes you look disloyal, flaky, or at best wishy-washy.

How can hard work and good intentions go so wrong? The good news is that the result of your hard work is often a “freed future” and some highly charged emotional energy that maybe, just maybe, might be enough to fuel the change you have been seeking all along.

Because in my experience, people that follow this formula are rarely happy and satisfied. It’s frustrating when hard work and best efforts are rewarded with emotional conflict and negative feedback. At the end of this road lies change and quite possibly fulfillment.

Follow the above 3 steps and you are almost certainly guaranteed a chance to find out what a new career will feel like. It worked for me. Share with me what has worked for you and any comments or questions you have below.

You can follow me on Twitter @scottnovis.  I also recommend following Jay at @JayFeitlinger as he always has good advice and something interesting to say.

Beating the Shift

Beating the Shift

Last night the family and I went to the Diamondbacks game. During the game we watched as time and time again, the defense made a pronounced shift to try and prevent a batter (mostly left handed hitters) from getting on base.

What is the Shift?

According to an article on MLB.com, shifting can happen almost continuously. If you read baseball books by Joe Garagiola, and even as far back as Joe Dimaggio’s seminal book Baseball for Everyone in 1941. It’s a bit hard to find, but it is a very enjoyable read, then you know that defenses shift to what the pitcher is trying pitch. They shifted Ted Williams.

What’s more there are lots, and lots of normal baseball shifts. A shift is just how you position your defense. Can draw the infield in to try and stop a run from scoring at home plate, they can do the “lefty” shift, or play at “double play” depth. Wikipedia as a pretty decent article on shifting in general.

What has changed, However, like so many things today, is the degree, frequency, and intensity of the shifts. According to mlb.com since 2010, dramatics shifts have increased over 440%, from a mere 2,400 times to over 13,000 times during the 2014 season. Probably the most dramatic, and prior to 5 years ago uncommon shift was the over-shift for pull hitters.

What is the over-shift?

With the over-shift, the third baseman moves to short stop (leaving third largely uncovered, the short stop plays right up the middle, and the second baseman moves to shallow right.

overshift

To match this, the pitcher is trying to throw the ball “inside” on the batter, increasingly the likelihood they will hit the ball into this over-shifted defense.

Why do teams shift?

Because it gives them a chance to play better defense. By looking at the unbelievable wealth of data available to managers, coaches, and players, teams now look at a batters spray chart and they position the defense to give them the best chance of getting the batter out.

spray chart
Above is an example of Justin Uptons 2011 and 2012 spray charts.

Why don’t batters hit the ball the other way?

There are a couple of reasons.

Batters hit into shifts because of training.

Batters are told to “hit the ball where it is pitched.” This goes back to little league. If the pitcher throws the ball closer to the batter’s body (inside), the batter should “turn on it” and “pull” the ball. This means a left handed batter will hit the ball toward the second baseman, and right field. A right handed batter – pitched inside – should pull the ball toward the short stop and left field.

A ball pitched away should be driven to, “the opposite field”. A ball thrown away from a left handed batter, to the “outside” part of the plate, he should try to drive “oppo” – or into left field. Right handed batters hit oppo to “right”.

Batters hit into shifts because they are trying to hit home runs.

This one is a little trickier, but as I watch the world of sports, we very often reward behaviors that hurt our long term goals. Mickey Mantle famously said he was trying to hit a home run every time he came to the plate. Later, he admitted that he probably hurt his team because he struck out trying to hit home runs where he could have helped them score more runs by simply putting the ball in play.

Over the last few years, one of the consequences of all this data, is that players have started to change the way they feel about “outs”, and out is an out they say. It does not matter how you get it. By implication, they are trying to remove the stigma of striking out. And as an example of this, Mark Reynolds, who used to play for the Diamondbacks set a major league record number of strike outs on his way to hitting more than 30 home runs.

In the last few years less than 10 players in the league hit more than 30 home runs. Strike out 250 times? Not a problem if you hit 30 over the fence. And this goes back to high school and college.

College coaches and pro scouts are looking for “tools”. They are not looking for good baseball players. In their mind, they are all “good” baseball players. They are looking for what Ron Wolforth described as “outliers”, players with such exceptional talent that they can’t be ignored. For batters this is home runs.

If you start talking to ex-baseball players, trainers, coaches, you will hear stories of plyers that hit 500 or better in high school but did not get any looks from colleges. They lowered their batting average and started hitting home runs and the offers and scholarships came. The conventional wisdom seems to be that a player who can hit 400 and put 5 over the fence is more valuable than a player who hits 600 with no home runs.

Look at any college show case, how is it structured? Players get:

  1. One 60 yard dash
  2. Five throws from their position (infield or outfield)
  3. Ten swings of the bat

Teams spend time in proportion to what they care about. Speed – a little. Throwing and defense – some. Hitting? A lot. And you better hit bombs. These showcases are designed to show tools (raw physical ability) not baseball smarts, or any other skill. As a side note, the pitcher face 5 batters – so they are encouraged to throw absolutely as hard as they can – but that is another story for another day. Let’s just say that’s not good either.

The Bottom Line

Baseball does not reward consistent productivity, they reward sporadic excitement. The possibility that a player can hit a home run every time they come to the plate is worth more than the player who consistently puts the ball in play.

Why?

Because that’s what the fans want.

We may never see another 400 hitter because no one wants that. We want more 40 home run hitters.

So back to the shift. Many fans wonder why player don’t just start poking the ball the other way?

The simple answer is that you are asking grown men who have spent thousands of hours training to do one thing, the very thing that brought them into the pros, to stop doing that and do something different.

Most of the players who can hit the other way effectively don’t make it to the pro’s. They are left behind because they don’t hit enough home runs. The system weeds them out. Grab the starting line up from any MLB game and look at the size of the player and you will see what I mean. Of the 18 starters in last nights Diamondbacks vs Rockies game only 2 players were under 6 feet tall and only 3 were under six foot 2. There were more nearly a third of the players were six foot three and there were two players six foot 4.

Baseball has become a game of BIG. Baseball of 2015 is the NFL of 1970. Why? Because big dudes can drive the ball over the fence.

Ironically, offense is universally down across the board and most people believe it’s because baseball has banned performance enhancing drugs. (PED’s). Really? It couldn’t possibly be because hitters are putting the ball in play (making contact) at the lowest rate in the history of baseball?

Will We See Small Ball At the Pro Level?

So what is the answer? In a close 4–3 game, the Diamondbacks did something I have not seen a pro team do… heck, ever. They started playing small ball. In the bottom of the 8th, the Diamondback hitters bunted three times in a row. The effect on the over shifted defense was devastating. The Diamondbacks scored 3 runs in that inning.

The capstone was Peralta who changed his approach at the plate to swing “inside/out” and fist a ball into left field successfully defeating the shift and driving in the 7th run.

Baseball is definitely changing. How it is pitched, how it is defended, and how the hitters approach the game. It seems crazy, but over and over again the sport drifts into rewarding behaviors (let’s try to hit lots of home runs) that actually produce outcomes that hurt the sport and the teams resulting in record low contact, record strike outs, hitting in shifts.

Pay Attention

The main thing as a fan is to pay attention. The sport is changing and evolving right in front of us. Even as the entire infrastructure of baseball from high school all the way through college and into the pros desperately seeks bigger and stronger power hitters, I can’t help but wonder if some clever manager is going to dig out their history book and wonder what a speedy, contact, control ball club could do against todays defenders.

The Diamondbacks gave us a glimpse last night. It could be very interesting.

Bonus

Another very recent phenomena is the explosion of “flashlights” at the game, fans lighting up their cell phones in a galaxy of twinkling lights. It looks cool, and is possibly quite distracting, but this is the first year I have seen it break out spontaneously on this scale.

Blinky Lights

Note: These are my opinions and even I don’t always agree with them.

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