Management Archives

May 28, 2004

A look inside the Orioles' heads, part 1

Anyone who has read Michael Lewis's bestselling book Moneyball knows the story of Oakland A's General Manager Billy Beane as a player. Extraordinarily gifted in virtually every physical tool a baseball player could want, Beane was one of the top prospects in the nation coming out of high school. He even had a football scholarship waiting for him at Stanford despite the fact that he had not played football for two years.

Selected in the first round of the 1980 draft by the New York Mets, Beane signed with the team and eventually made it to the majors, yet he never lived up to his athletic promise as a professional because he lacked the right mental traits to succeed. Part of his problems could be traced to a lack of motivation, confidence, and emotional control. His most visible shortcoming was that he did not handle failure well. Whenever Beane struck out, his teammates made sure to keep their distance to avoid suffering collateral damage from his vicious outbursts. His reputation for destructiveness grew to mythical levels, so even his opponents would watch his tantrums for their entertainment value.

Beane's foil in the book is Lenny Dykstra, Beane's teammate coming up through the Mets' system. While Beane carried his mistakes with him everywhere he went, Dykstra never let a little failure bother him. Dykstra was unflappable; he quickly put bad experiences behind him and was able to move on to the next inning, the next at-bat, or the next game. To Beane, Dykstra had the ideal temperament to play baseball, and that conclusion influenced him when it came to making decisions on players as a general manager.

While this little psychological study is a fascinating subplot in the book, the overarching story of Moneyball is the Athletics' ability to find undervalued players by weighting statistically meaningful measures of baseball performance over traditional, overrated metrics. Psychological traits were just one of many pieces of information that went into Oakland's decision-making.

The Baltimore shop

The Orioles' current administration bridges the old and new schools of baseball management. Their top prospect is a high-risk player touted by traditional, tools-based scouting analysis, but team officials have also publicly acknowledged the importance of on-base percentage and have entertained an unorthodox philosophy regarding bullpen usage. But while the Orioles may not be at the forefront of the sabermetric movement, they do appear to have made significant gains in the area of psychological profiling of prospects.

This past Sunday, the television program "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" featured an interview of Dave Ritterpusch, the Orioles' director of baseball information systems. On the program, Ritterpusch described the psychological profiling method that he developed to evaluate players for the Orioles, and how it figures into the Orioles' personnel decisions. This topic was previously covered in an article by John Eisenberg that appeared in the Sun on February 22. On Sunday Ritterpusch expanded on his method, although he stopped short of revealing the most critical details.

For those who are unaware of the show, "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" is a weekly half-hour program that airs on local television station WNUV 54 (Baltimore's WB affiliate) on Sunday mornings during the baseball season. It is essentially the equivalent of "Meet the Press" for the world of Orioles baseball. Like NBC's Tim Russert, local sports reporter Tom Davis conducts studio interviews of high-profile guests, but instead of grilling policymakers and heads of state, Davis talks one-on-one with Orioles players, coaches, and decision-makers present and past. The tone of the show is informal, but the long format of the program makes it possible for guests to expound in ways that are rarely seen in the mainstream, sound-bite-oriented news media. For Orioles fans seeking coverage of the team in more depth and from a different angle than is available from most news outlets—and if you're reading this, you probably are one of those people—"TMOB" is a unique and valuable resource.

Next: A look into the Ritterpusch interview.

May 29, 2004

Inside the Orioles' heads, part 2

Part One

Welcome back

First off, a little background on Dave Ritterpusch (digested from John Eisenberg's February 22 article in the Sun and a 1996 story by the venerable John Steadman): after graduating from college, serving in the military, and becoming a bank executive at Equitable Trust Co., Ritterpusch was recommended to the Orioles' management by then-minority owner Zanvyl Krieger. Ritterpusch soon became scouting director, a title he carried from 1973 to 1975 in the front office led by General Manager Frank Cashen. Back then, Ritterpusch was one of the first to adopt psychological testing for athletes. His greatest find was Eddie Murray in the third round of the 1973 draft, and that year he also selected Mike Flanagan in the seventh round. Another fruitful pick was Rich Dauer in the '74 draft.

But Ritterpusch was jettisoned when the Orioles' front office turned over in the mid-'70s, and after a failed attempt to latch onto another team, he returned to non-sports jobs. Still, he remained in touch with people in baseball and in the psychological testing community. In the 1990s, he helped Flanagan, then the Orioles' pitching coach, to review pitcher Arthur Rhodes's psychological profile and decide that the best role for Rhodes was in middle relief. When Flanagan and Jim Beattie were selected to lead the Orioles' baseball operations in late 2002, one of their first signees was Ritterpusch as director of baseball information systems.

Ritterpusch, now in his early sixties, has spent most of his life working outside of baseball. His educational record includes a finance degree from Lehigh (1963) and a master's in business administration from Penn State. His work record includes several military positions, including paratrooper and military intelligence officer; he retired from the service with the rank of colonel in 1991. He then served as an assistant secretary of labor in the first Bush administration and has also worked in the private sector for consulting and contracting firms serving the defense industry.

First impressions

Judging from his appearance on Take Me Out to the Ballgame, Ritterpusch looks like he never quite left the '70s—or the military—behind him. On the program, his dark brown, slicked hair was tautly combed and parted to the side. He had on a black suit and a powder-blue, buttoned-collar dress shirt. The knot of his splotchy necktie often disappeared beneath his jowly jawline. It was not hard to imagine that Ritterpusch once worked in military intelligence. Large, brown-tinted aviator sunglasses with gold rims obscured his eyes throughout the interview, making it tough to read his facial expressions. Often pausing to consider his thoughts before answering a question, Ritterpusch spoke in a steady tone of voice that was low-key yet confident, in a manner akin to Dick Cheney. His every utterance sounded carefully measured and vetted to demonstrate the soundness of his knowledge while providing no more detail than necessary.

Ritterpusch began by describing the Orioles' reports on Flanagan and Murray from when they were being scouted as potential draftees. He immediately gravitated to his specialty and emphasized the mental aspect of each player. Flanagan, he said, "had terrific makeup, terrific mental toughness, terrific composure." Ritterpusch added that he had checked with Baltimore doctors about a prior arm injury of Flanagan's and was reassured that it would not be a problem.

Murray is clearly the crown jewel in Ritterpusch's prospecting history, and on the 2003 Hall of Fame inductee he said: "Any of us who have seen Eddie and know Eddie well know that he is an extremely composed individual.... We had used our psychological profiles and knew he had very high drive, and we knew it was masked by something called emotional control. Now, we really didn't realize how important emotional control would be in Eddie's career, but of course that's one of the things that enabled him to be a selective hitter and hit over .400 with the bases loaded." Ritterpusch also noted with some satisfaction that while the psychological profile attracted the Orioles to Murray, other clubs did not even have Murray on their draft lists.

Continue reading "Inside the Orioles' heads, part 2" »

June 6, 2004

Inside the Orioles' heads, part 3

Part 1

Part 2

Profiles in reflection

With the amateur draft scheduled to take place Monday and Tuesday, the Orioles no doubt have compiled their list of the top eligible players. As discussed earlier, the psychological ratings of their director of baseball information systems, Dave Ritterpusch, will have a significant influence on the selection process—greater, perhaps, than for any other team. The psychological profiles help winnow the field by eliminating those who are least mentally prepared to play baseball at an elite level. They also provide a tipping factor when deciding among prospects of similar ability.

There is a danger that the Orioles could go overboard with their perceived competitive advantage in psychological profiling. The mental side of the game is important, but prospects who are mentally strong and motivated still need the physical aptitude to succeed against first-rate competition, as Ritterpusch himself acknowledges. From what I've seen, I'm not terribly confident in the Orioles' ability to go beyond typical scouting metrics like the five tools and assess the more subtle assets that show up only on the field in live competition (and in certain statistics). Does the player have the ability to pick up the nuances of the game and to make the proper adjustments when necessary? How good is a hitter's command of the strike zone? How well does a pitcher create movement on his pitches and deception in his delivery? How quickly does an outfielder pick up the ball off the bat? Ritterpusch's confidence in his findings may cause the Orioles to overrate players who have strong psychological and physical profiles but lack the "baseball intelligence" that is necessary for success in the game.

There is also the possibility that the Orioles could miss out on some very good players by discounting psychologically suboptimal prospects from their consideration. Ritterpusch indicated that an "overwhelming majority" of star players score highly in certain key traits. But just how small is that underwhelming minority of stars who are deficient in one or more of the key traits? Ten percent? Twenty? Albert Belle was a seeming exception to the rule, a highly motivated player with All-Star talent who also exhibited antisocial behavior. His frequent outbursts directed at fans and the media (and, sometimes, inanimate objects) suggest that he may have rated low on emotional control. I guess the bottom-line question is: at what point is it appropriate to allow for exceptions to the key traits?

Ritterpusch did not mention by name any players who did poorly on their psychological tests, probably because of legal repercussions—aside from the possibility of a libel suit, there are probably privacy and confidentiality protections involved. But I'd still like to know how certain players profiled. Could the troubles of Steve Blass disease sufferers—among them Steve Sax, Mackey Sasser, Chuck Knoblauch, and Rick Ankiel—have been predicted? What were the profiles of oddballs like Mark Fidrych, Jim Walewander, and Randy Myers? And a psychological contrast between Moneyballers Billy Beane and Lenny Dykstra would be interesting for its own sake. Although many players' personality traits become obvious in press reportage, it's still interesting to know what goes on inside the heads of the most unusual athletes.

What about profiles for managers and coaches? For them, leadership and responsibility would intuitively be important. The ASP, however, is not the ideal test to determine a managerial candidate's fitness for the job, since it is customized for athletes. A test designed to measure aptitude for business managers would probably be more appropriate.

And further tests for players may come if the trend continues and clubs are willing to contribute to some up-front costs. In addition to psychological questionnaires, high-profile players may need to take physicals before the draft and make them available to interested teams. Pitchers may be asked to have an MRI scan done on their pitching arm and submit pitch-count and injury histories. Technology advances are making the accumulation and dissemination of such data extremely convenient.

If all this testing sounds like overkill, it's not. It's becoming an increasingly common practice in industry. A recent AP story indicates that businesses such as the Pathmark supermarket chain are incorporating computerized screening tests (which include some personality-related questions) into their hiring processes. As long as the test methods and accuracy are sound, it makes a lot of sense. A résumé and interview can only tell so much about a person. The more relevant information that hiring managers have in hand, the better equipped they are to make decisions on the hiring and placement of personnel.

There will always be uncertainty in any process involving human beings. But as long as it exists, people will always be looking for economical ways to reduce it. And that is true in life as well as in baseball.

October 5, 2004

DeMacio's time runs out

Since taking over in 2002, the Orioles' front office leadership of Jim Beattie and Mike Flanagan has been cleaning house. Last year the club said sayonara to manager Mike Hargrove, and this year it's arrivederci to scouting director Tony DeMacio and minor-league director Doc Rodgers, whose expiring contracts will not be renewed after the season. Today we'll look at DeMacio's termination and his legacy.

From the Sun: “Orioles fire their scouting director

DeMacio's canning comes as a mild surprise, but not a shock. He was the highest-ranking baseball executive in the organization remaining from the Frank Wren administration. DeMacio's reputation as a member of successful scouting regimes in Atlanta and Cleveland helped him outlast former bosses Wren and Syd Thrift, and Beattie and Flanagan thought enough of DeMacio to keep him on for two more seasons. But in the end, the results just were not there.

Continue reading "DeMacio's time runs out" »

October 7, 2004

Farm director reaches the end of his row

The two-year relationship between the Orioles and their director of minor-league operations, Darrell "Doc" Rodgers, is to end this month. Last week, the team announced that it had decided not to renew Rodgers's contract for next season. The reasons cited by Rodgers and Jim Beattie were differences of opinion on the future direction of the system, particularly regarding staff and personnel.

From the Sun: “Rodgers is second member of front office dismissed

From “Notes: 'Doc' Rodgers dismissed

The Rodgers regime had plenty of positives. Shortly after taking the job in January of 2003, Rodgers implemented a total overhaul of the Orioles' farm system, installing new managers and coaches at every level. Rodgers and his staff emphasized professionalism and discipline, qualities that had been lacking prior to his arrival. Players responded surprisingly well to Rodgers's strict rules, which defined the parameters of a player's sartorial appearance and enforced nightly curfews. A more uniform code of instruction and training also began to pervade the system from the top down. The importance of on-base percentage, among other things, was highlighted to all hitters. Young pitchers received more careful treatment under the Rodgers administration, particularly at the lower levels.

Far from being a distant overlord, Rodgers also improved the communication between management and farmhands by having one-on-one meetings with players to monitor their progress. Under Rodgers, players were promoted based on performance, not hype; a player had to succeed at his current level to earn advancement to the next one. To avoid promoting prospects prematurely, veterans were brought in to plug holes in the upper levels. Perhaps not coincidentally, the combined winning percentage of Baltimore's minor-league affiliates rose markedly from .433 in 2002 to .486 in 2003, Rodgers's first year. The organization's talent level had not changed markedly in one year, but the players' attitude and dedication to the game had improved noticeably.

It was not a perfect two years by any means, though. Pitchers continued to suffer arm injuries—Adam Loewen was the biggest name to fall, but Ryan Hannaman and Don Levinski also were struck down this year. Such injuries happen in every organization, but perhaps better communication and monitoring could have revealed the problems sooner. Another instance hinting at inadequate communication was onetime top prospect Jack Cust's complaint about being ignored by the organization. In 2004, several prospects fell short of expectations, including Cust, and the farm system's winning percentage dropped to .458.

Rodgers leaves Baltimore with his reputation intact and probably enhanced by his work with the Orioles. The Birds' farm system was ranked among the worst in the game by Baseball America for several years before Rodgers's arrival, but it moved up closer to the middle of the pack after his first year with the team. In many ways, 2003 was a 180-degree turn for the Orioles' player development system, and Rodgers deserves the lion's share of the credit for that turnaround. Although the organization's momentum stalled a bit in 2004, Rodgers made a net positive contribution to the Orioles' minor-league system. This came after he helped execute a similar improvement in the Reds' system during six years as their assistant general manager. He should have no shortage of offers for a high-ranking position elsewhere.

Note: I have not abandoned the Greatest O's series of articles; cranking them out is just taking longer than I expected because I have been working on more timely articles like this one. The Greatest O's positional write-ups should be finished by next week.

November 10, 2004

Birds make low-risk investment in Stockstill

The Orioles appointed Dave Stockstill to be their new minor-league director last week. Stockstill, who served the farm system mostly as a roving hitting or fielding instructor for eleven years prior to his promotion, is a relative unknown outside of the Oriole community but is well regarded within it. Exec VP for Baseball Ops Jim Beattie especially liked Stockstill's experience and intimate knowledge of the team's minor-league system.

"David Stockstill brings valuable experience in minor league instruction to our front office," said Beattie. "His hiring will continue the improvement in player development." (from the Orioles' Nov. 3 press release)

"He had some very good ideas. You never know what will happen when you get a guy in a new environment, but when you have people from outside, they don't give you info about your own organization. He knows all the guys in our system, so we can just get started with our feet running." (Beattie again, from Gary Washburn's Nov. 3 story on

"We thought about going outside the organization. Given Dave's experience within the organization -- he knows the players, he knows the things that have gone well in the organization and instead of trying to change it all around again -- we decided that he was ready." (ibid.)

Continue reading "Birds make low-risk investment in Stockstill" »

October 11, 2005

Off with O's head (or half of it, anyway)

Before I get to the day's big news, the bumping of executive vice president Jim Beattie, indulge me for a few paragraphs as I ruminate on the Orioles' ruinous state.

Continue reading "Off with O's head (or half of it, anyway)" »

October 12, 2005

Sammy to return in '06

No, not that Sammy.

After resolving their front-office situation yesterday by making Mike Flanagan their top baseball administrator, today the Orioles went in-house again by bringing back Sam Perlozzo to manage the team next year. The club showed enough confidence in Perlozzo's ability to sign him to a three-year contract through the 2008 season.

Perlozzo, 54, began the season as Baltimore's bench coach and was promoted to field manager the last two months of this season after Mazzilli was sent packing. The managerial change slowed the team's ghastly mid-season slide, but failed to resurrect the startling success of the season's first two months, as Perlozzo guided the O's to an underwhelming 23–32 (.418 winning percentage) record in the season's final 55 games.

However, several unfavorable circumstances undercut Perlozzo's trial run as a big-league manager. One was the turmoil that surrounded the team because of controversies such as Rafael Palmeiro's positive steroid test and Sidney Ponson's legal issues that led to both being booted from the club in September. An injury to Sammy Sosa's right big toe dampened his production in August and sent him to the disabled list after August 25. Brian Roberts and Daniel Cabrera missed significant time due to injury as well. And the Orioles' lack of depth certainly didn't make Perlozzo's job any easier, as the fill-ins provided mostly inferior performance to the players they replaced. Because Perlozzo inherited the job under such adverse conditions—a depleted roster, a boatload of distractions—and had just two months to demonstrate his wares, it's too early to make definitive statements about his managerial ability or strategic tendencies.

Continue reading "Sammy to return in '06" »

October 23, 2005

Orioles go "ZZ" tops by hiring Mazzone

Maybe we should call it "The Return of the Killer Z's." Barely one week after locking up manager (and Marylander) Sam Perlozzo for the next three seasons, yesterday the Orioles announced the signing of Perlozzo's longtime friend, Leo Mazzone, to a three-year contract to be their pitching coach.

Coming off a remarkably successful 27 years in the Atlanta Braves' organization, the last 15½ overseeing the Braves' pitchers, Mazzone returns to the state in which he grew up and where his parents and children still live. The New York Yankees also had been courting Mazzone, but the ties of friendship and kinship proved a stronger lure than Yankee money and pinstripes. (Apparently, the Orioles' "Confederate money" wasn't a deal-breaker in this case.)

Early coverage from the media:

Continue reading "Orioles go "ZZ" tops by hiring Mazzone" »

October 24, 2005

A few words on Harry Dalton

One of the brightest lights from Orioles yesteryear has gone out. Harry Dalton, general manager of the Orioles from 1965 to 1971, died Sunday at age 77 of complications from Parkinson's disease. The Sun's Mike Klingaman has written a review of Dalton's career in baseball. has the Associated Press story. Dalton served in the Oriole organization for 18 years and also directed the California Angels from 1972 to 1977 and the Milwaukee Brewers from 1978 to 1991.

Continue reading "A few words on Harry Dalton" »

October 25, 2005

Profiler Ritterpusch sent packing

Dave Ritterpusch, who openly touted his use of psychological data to rate players as director of baseball information systems for the Orioles, is no longer with the team after being forced to resign (along with his assistant, Ed Coblentz) yesterday by executive vice president of baseball operations Mike Flanagan. The official reason given by Flanagan was that Ritterpusch's blabbiness to the media about the club's evaluation methods had become an “unnecessary distraction.... I think it really undermined his effectiveness.”

Let that be a lesson to loose-lipped leakers everywhere.

Press reports on Ritterpusch's dismissal:

Continue reading "Profiler Ritterpusch sent packing" »

March 31, 2008

Turning the page

For most people the year begins in January, but for me there's nothing like the sense of renewal that baseball's Opening Day brings. The combination of the early signs of spring—flowers blooming, birds chirping—and the return of baseball fills me with optimism and the expectation of better days to come. For me, as for Thomas Boswell and baseball devotees everywhere, time begins on Opening Day.

However, in the last few years my optimism began to fade as I realized that the Orioles were not getting better. Names and faces changed, but the team had become the epitome of baseball mediocrity, and I saw no signs of marked improvement on the horizon. My interest in the O's began to erode, and baseball fell behind in the competition for my attention. Damaging matters further were the revelations about steroid and human growth hormone use that disproportionately implicated current and former Orioles.

Bottoms up

This year, however, is different. True, on the field will be another losing team. Most rational observers think that the Orioles are going to be worse than last year, or even the last seven, with the betting market placing the over/under on the Orioles' 2008 win count at 65.5, the lowest of any MLB team.

What's changed is that there's actually some reason for optimism with the new regime led by Andy MacPhail. Having hit rock bottom after a decade of losing, the Orioles have given up trying to field even a mediocre squad this year at the big-league level. With MacPhail in charge, they have aggressively begun to prune the roster to a core of talented youngsters from which to build an eventual contender.

MacPhail has finally committed the club to all-out rebuilding, something his predecessor, Mike Flanagan, could not do in the last two years because doing so would have essentially confirmed that his work (with and without Jim Beattie) since 2003 had fallen short of the mark.

MacPhail's first offseason was telling. Instead of signing mediocre free agents to plug gaps, MacPhail traded two of the team's best players, Erik Bedard and Miguel Tejada, receiving bundles of legitimate prospects and youngish spare parts in return. He also took steps toward improving the club's international scouting efforts, long an organizational weakness. Brian Roberts, arguably the team's best and most popular remaining player, reportedly is next in line to be shipped from the Warehouse if a suitable package of prospects comes along.

Continue reading "Turning the page" »

About Management

This page contains an archive of all entries posted to The Orioles Warehouse in the Management category. They are listed from oldest to newest.

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