Wednesday Rockpile: Rockies Stricken By Lake Wobegon Effect

The Rockies -- where everybody applauds everybody else - Doug Pensinger

While the rest of the world is predicated on a culture of performance, the Rockies' organization is founded on value. Good thing then that everyone in the Rockies organization is above average.

Yesterday evening, Rockies GM Dan O'Dowd and part owner Dick Monfort were on the Dave Logan Show on 850 KOA for an extended period of time. The interview was at once very interesting and completely unsurprising. You can listen to it in full here. If you don't feel like listening to the whole thing, it really gets interesting at about the 24 minute mark.

Purple Row community member Chris Chrisman live tweeted the event -- and here's the money quote:

The quote, which appears at 25:20, says just about everything you need to know about the way the Rockies organization is run. Colorado values the draft and develop process...and they think that they've got the right people in place for that process. In fact, O'Dowd went so far as to call the scouting and player development department one of the best in baseball, bringing up the success of the 2007 team (18 out of 25 homegrown) and the potential of the last two drafts.

In those respects, he's not exactly wrong -- Colorado has had a number of lower-rated prospects perform at the big league level (think Brad Hawpe and Chris Iannetta) and the Latin American pipeline has provided the Rockies with many of their successful arms (e.g. Ubaldo Jimenez and Jhoulys Chacin). It's just that in the aggregate the organization as a whole hasn't been extremely successful in its history -- never winning the NL West for example -- and nobody ever seems to be accountable for this lack of overall success.

Often the problem with sticking to a draft and develop process like the Rockies have is that the organization will hew to that process at the expense of potential value. For instance, Colorado values its prospects and young players that it has developed to such a degree that they rarely (read: never) trade highly rated prospects for major league help before the prospects do make the big leagues. This reluctance to trade homegrown players often extends far beyond the point of their usefulness (Hawpe and Garrett Atkins come to mind), though Ubaldo (much as I'm loath to admit it given my feelings at the time of the trade) was let go at the right time.

Also revealed in the interview was that the Rockies' scouting department was all set to draft Evan Longoria in 2006 but the Monforts overruled them because Colorado had too many third baseman. Ack! Monfort also brought up the fact that very few players that are drafted work out -- but he didn't explain why Colorado taking a college reliever in Casey Weathers with the 8th pick of the 2007 draft was the Rockies' best bet to beat the odds.

I have diagnosed the struggles of the Rockies -- they are stricken by the Lake Wobegon Effect. For the uninitiated, Lake Wobegon is a place popularized by the radio program "The Prairie Home Companion" where "all the women are strong, all the men are good looking, and all the children are above average". In other words, everyone in the Colorado organization is doing a great job, despite evidence to the contrary compared to the other 29 teams in MLB. It's why nobody gets fired and new positions continually get created for those who have paid their dues in the organization.

It's a common personality bias -- thinking you are a better driver/communicator/cook than you really are. The Rockies are loyal to their people because they've seen the little successes produced by those people while failing to see the overall lack of progress (and in the case of pitching, regression) overseen by these same people. They are predisposed to think that their organization is above average at these things, so why would they fire above average employees?

As an example of this mindset, both Monfort and O'Dowd brought up their competitiveness as market differentiators -- competitiveness is to baseball front offices as customer service is to most companies. Most businesses think that their customer service sets them apart from their competitors, when in reality their performance as a whole follows a normal distribution. Some are great, some are terrible, but most are pretty average. This applies to baseball teams -- most every organization is good at drafting/developing baseball players, but some are worse and some are better. Colorado's predisposition is to think they are one of the best at this. After all, the front office looked at the 64-98 2012 team and saw a good young team that had some bad breaks.

It may be time for Colorado to realize that a draft/develop philosophy should be augmented by talent from other organizations, who are also good at drafting/developing talent. It might also be time to look outside the organization for an independent audit of the Rockies' entire system from someone with a little broader perspective.

Los Links!

Wendy Thurm at Fangraphs has details on every team's TV deals. Per Thurm, Colorado's contract with ROOT is up after 2014, meaning that a lucrative new contract is on the horizon. It also means that Colorado will have quite a bit of new revenue coming in the near future. Hopefully it will be spent, and spent wisely.

Thomas Harding writes that the Rockies will try to upgrade their pitching this off-season, though Bill Geivett seems to think the best avenue for 2013 improvement from the pitching staff is through better performance from the guys the team already has -- something I agree with wholeheartedly. The idea of acquiring a new pitcher is that it will reduce the variability (presumably in a positive manner) of performance -- we saw how that worked out with Jeremy Guthrie, but I'm open to the Rockies trying again.

Some sad news as well yesterday, as former MLBPA head Marvin Miller passed away at 95. The fact that Miller is not in the Hall of Fame at this point given his gigantic impact to baseball is lunacy. Here's Joe Posnanski on Miller.

If you missed the Dick and Dan show last night, they'll be on 104.3 FM today at 1 PM.


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