Thursday, June 05, 2008

Old way of thinking hits the wall

Normally, I like to stay away from hot-button issues (thanks in part to the soundtrack-of-your-life theme,) but after watching the Seattle Mariners waste their first round draft pick on a college reliever, I find myself hitting my head against the wall. After a few hits to the head, I naturally start thinking of politics, and the following post begins to form.

Here in Seattle, two of the biggest news items this week have been the Mariners disappointing season and the impending end to Hillary Clinton's campaign for President. There are a lot of remarkable parallels between the major disappointments, and at the heart of it is a stubborn hold to an old way of thinking.

The current M's front office and management cling to BA, ERA and W-L records, along with a faulty and immeasurable 'proven veteran' strategy as metrics for building a baseball team, ignoring a plethora of new stat-based tools for evaluating players and teams (there's even classes now in sabermetrics, so it's not like a shiny new toy). Buoyed by a mirage 88 win season, they assumed they could bring in a couple pitchers and contend, but did so leaving existing holes (1B, DH, defense) and creating more (RF, bullpen, farm system).

Similarly, the Clinton team wrongly assumed that what worked in the 90's would work now. First mistake was hiring 90's politics poster boy Mark Penn, who mistakenly steered the campaign into a general election strategy of concentrating on 'big states.' (Um... did anyone tell Penn it was a primary?) Meanwhile, the Clintons relied on the failed Democrat fundraising strategy of usual suspects - relying on big donors from Hollywood and old Democrat fat cats. The McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform act restricts how much a person can donate ($2000,) making this strategy much harder to pull off effectively. (See Time's piece on Clinton's mistakes.)

Meanwhile, Obama teamed up with Silicon Valley to build a technology-based fundraising machine which utilizes social-networking, empowering even newcomers to create their own team of fundraisers (see this month's fascinating piece in Atlantic Monthly on the subject). No longer do we have a hundred people pouring money into the pot and propping up our next nominee... instead it's hundreds of thousands, more people getting involved has to be good right? As almost an extension of that, using a 50(+)-state strategy brought Obama's machine to even more potential donors, and in turn, delegates. Numbers building numbers... decisions based on sound metrics... courage to look at things a new way... and on top of all of it, common sense.

Another parallel exists between these seemingly disparate environs is that of the blogging community. Blogs such as DailyKos and Talking Points Memo echo much of the new thinking that Obama's team has employed, holding our government's feet to the fire, while exploring ways to get sensible folks elected into government. Similarly, Mariner fans Dave Cameron and Derek Zumsteg started USSMariner to look at the team they love with a critical eye, trumpeting methodology and common sense to better the team.

Unless head-in-the-sand organizations like the Mariners, the Clintons... the music industry (see, I can still make this partially about music) and others are willing to infuse new metrics into their decision making, more and more will be left scratching their heads.

Song: "Dinosaurs" - We Are Scientists
Soon they will come and pass us by,
a shift in tone, and rise in tide.
To learn to swim, or learn to die,
Are choices I have been left with
*no offense to Josh Fields, who has a good shot at being a decent major league reliever sooner than later, it's just too high a pick for such a low ceiling position.

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