06 June 2010

Mining previous drafts: Dave Ritterpusch

Yesterday an article was posted on Cardinals sensation Jaime Garcia. Garcia was an Orioles draftee, but he was unable to perform well on an Orioles test that was poorly translated into Spanish. Despite the complaints by the scout who had developed a relationship with Garcia and new draft coordinator Joe Jordan wanting to sign him, the Orioles refused and the story is . . . it was based on the results of that test.

So, that reminded me of Dave Ritterpusch. He was a scouting director for the Orioles from 1973 to 1975 under Frank Cashen. He was very much intrigued by psychoanalysis and how it was implemented in corporate America. Ritterpusch idea was to take what was known from these tests and apply them to baseball players. The approach was to take a modified version of the Winslow Success Profile exam (this version is now called the Athletic Success Profile) and determine which components were applicable for baseball.

After the jump, an explanation of the Winslow Success Profile and his reintroduction in the Orioles decision making process in during the Beattie/Flanagan tenure.

The Winslow Success Profile uses over 100 questions in order to measure 11 personality characteristics. These metrics are then regressed to determine which components and combinations are related to 'success.' The underlying assumption is that the way a person thinks and feels about short term and long term goals indicates how well prepared they are to deal with work and succeed at it. It sounds intuitive and rather obvious. Problem is that is measuring it not obvious and these tests are not very useful.


How many of you tell a future employer that you want to cash checks and do as little work as possible? How many of you admit to instances in which you had a severe lack of judgement? Even more tamer than that, how many of you sometimes block out immediate recall of moments of shame and embarrassment? These tests are self-reporting. In an job seeking setting the test taker is often consciously and unconsciously seeking favor of the test administrative entity. This severely hampers validity of the answers and, in turn, the entire test. Fail safes are often employed and take the form of questions asked in several different ways, but if you commit to a perspective, you will answer all of these questions the same way. It is a near worthless way to safeguard an answer. Still, corporations use these exams. The Federal government uses these exams (in fact, I took one a few months back and was informed that I was associated with the grouping that is destined for success . . . which is flattering, but I recognize the test as worthless). I think this test catches on though because it makes people feel they have a better understanding of the unknown. It is about as useful as a stereotype. It is comfortable to believe in them, but they are useless and will get you into trouble when you perception does not meet reality.

That said, Dave Ritterpusch championed their usage in the mid-70s. He attaches success of the method back then to the likes of Eddie Murray, Mike Flanagan, and Rich Dauer (whose autograph I still have when I was 5 and met him at a Fleet Feet). Mind you, here is the list of players during Ritterpusch tenure who had more than 5 years of MLB service: Steve Lake, Rich Dauer, Eddie Murray, and Mike Flanagan. That is not very exceptional. Anyway, Ritterpusch continued to extol the virtue of the test. He would speak often about how it was able to characterize the success driven traits embodied in Murray and Flanagan. This interest in the test and use trail blazing usage of it, he struck up a friendship with Flanagan as his living example. The Orioles were not impressed in general with his approach or with his dedication to it and he was replaced after the 1975 season by the new Hank Peters regime. Ritterpusch went into the private sector.

Flash forward to the 90s and Arthur Rhodes. Mike Flanagan was the pitching coach during this time and was working with the troubles Rhodes was having as a promising young starting pitcher. Flanagan remembered how his success as a pitcher was preordained by Ritterpusch' test and decided to contact his personal oracle. Now, I think a major issue with both men is that they identify their own worth with the test to such a degree that they seem to fail to completely acknowledge the anecdotal-based dedication to this approach. They do not use controls. They just remember moments where it appeared to work. Just like when I would eat a bacon double cheeseburger 1 hour and 15 minutes before every game I pitched in order to pitch better . . . the test also works well . . . as a superstition. Anyway, of course, the test informed as analyzed by Ritterpusch identified Rhodes as having the mental acuity to being a reliever and not a starting pitcher. And . . . it worked. Arthuhr Rhodes became an excellent relief pitcher. Now, the test may have pegged it or it may have just haphazardly figured it out. Or, someone could have easily just looked at his stat line and see how well he performed in those situations and leave it at that. It is a self-validating piece of evidence. It makes me wonder if the technique was applied to anyone else. They have ever mentioned if that was the case.

When Syd Thrift was ousted as GM in 2002, Flanagan's first flurry of moves included hiring Ritterpusch as the Director of Baseball Information Systems. Now armed with a room of servers that could data mine the personality tests and identify traits associated with success (while ignoring issues with validity of responses), the Orioles made this a major part of their scouting. It was a way to make intangibles tangible. It helped make the evaluators feel that the unknown could be known. That causes problems.

Here is a list of the players Ritterpusch mentioned as '5-plus' players, which is the highest number you could have:

Adam Loewen
Kurt Ainsworth
Ryan Hannaman
Don Levinski
Chris Ray
Daniel Cabrera
Nick Markakis
John Maine
John Parrish

From the list available in the old Sun article, it looks like there is a particular focus on pitchers in that list. I'm not sure if that is where he thought the test works best or if it is just coincidence.

How are they doing?

Loewen - one of the greatest draft prospects in the 2000s had his career derailed with arm injuries. He is showing some aptitude for hitting in the Jays' system.

Ainsworth - Promising pitcher who suffered shoulder and elbow injuries.

Hannaman - Promising pitcher whose career derailed by injuries (a common theme from the Ponson trade to the Giants . . . makeup over health).

Don Levinski - Injuries and command problems.

Chris Ray - Mediocre pitcher who gives up too many homeruns. Should be around for a while.

Daniel Cabrera - great stuff and a decent head. Command got the best of him and his arm.

Markakis - Looks they hit on a good player here.

Maine - He was able to put up a good season, but has been torn apart by injuries.

Parrish - Injuries and marginal stuff, was able to turn it into a journeyman career.

Personally, if these are the guys you ID as the ones you believe in . . . you might have made some judgment errors. I don't know. Anyway, this system was put out of its misery several months into Joe Jordan's tenure. Allegedly, the scouting department's annoyance with the test and Angelos' annoyance with Ritterpusch ended things there.

I think the Orioles were better off for it.

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