The talent vs hard work conundrum
Working hard at the wrong things, maybe?

This is an article on Australian coaching of Olympic and world-level competitors, but I liked the quotes.

One of the first things I understood as a coach is that you can never want success more than the athletes you are working with. As an athlete I wanted that success really badly, but in the end I just didn’t have sufficient talent.

‘So you start coaching these guys – some of them were your former teammates – and you see they have this enormous amount of talent and you think “if this guy could just get his act together, he would be winning everything', and you end up very frustrated.

‘The first thing you have to do is find out the character of each of your athletes because you can never take them further than they want to go. That’s why I would probably favour the totally dedicated guy who just gets himself over the line, rather than the athlete who swans in and does half the work, does one out of every four repetitions in training seriously, and gets away with it.'

and

Tim Nielsen, of the Australian Institute of Sport/Cricket Australia Centre of Excellence, believes that despite the advent of physiological testing in schools which may favour the naturally gifted over the ‘slow learner’, most players who are good enough get a shot at making elite level.

‘In Australia the greater danger is giving players the opportunity too soon – young guys who show a spurt of potential or achieve a run of success early in their careers who are thrown into international cricket or AFL first grade and can’t cope – it hurts them and more often than not they never come back.

‘Part of our role in elite sport is to find these kids young, have an impact on them and keep them involved when they are still young and impressionable.’

The article talks about how frustrating incredibly-gifted athletes can be for coaches because they can coast through on talent for so long that once they run into equally talented players WITH a work ethic they suddenly have to learn how to apply themselves. But if you've never had to study, how good can your study habits really be?

Watching Elias succeed while other talented players fail or struggle has made me even more curious about the way the Mariners prepare minor leaguers to have major league success.

The Mariners have added a LOT of talented players in their minor leagues since Zduriencik got here, but the ones that are supremely talented but either don't have the desire to work at their craft to improve (Montero and such) or the ones who have NEVER HAD TO and so are working on the wrong things (Smoak, Ackley) have thus far been completely unable to either receive or absorb the coaching that would allow them to take the next step.

By contrast, some slightly-lesser talents have done just fine, because they are used to having to make adjustments.  Kyle Seager isn't even the most talented baseball player in his own family, has moved positions both in college and the pros, and has been responsible for his own adjustments and absorption of coaching.  He's been able to maintain transitions in ways that players like Ackley cannot.

James Jones was a pitcher in college who converted to the outfield once we drafted him.  He had a LOT to learn.  He choked up on the bat, stopped being greedy, and is still working through his learning curve as he has the last 5 years.  He's hanging in there (we'll see how long that lasts, but they're nice early returns compared to someone like Almonte for sure).

Elias had a trip to America to survive and some interesting Cuban coaching to unlearn.  He's stream-lining his arm angles and learning from every situation, sometimes making stuff up on the mound with a hitch or a drop-down at a random moment just to see what happens.  He's a sponge.  Carter Capps and Tom Wilhelmsen and Brandon Maurer are seemingly incapable of learning how to properly harness their theoretically-nuclear stuff, but Elias just does what he's told and figures out how he's being hurt.  He's a rubber-ball of bounceback and adjustment.

The maxim on superstars generally being poor coaches is there because superstars cannot explain how they perform superhuman feats - they merely do them, and when they can't do them any more they retire.  More moderately-talented coaches, however, can explain the leaps they took and the methods they used to get every scrap of talent out of their bodies, which is more useful to young players.

We have players trapped in a middle-ground: not soooo supremely talented that they can do anything on the baseball field without studying, but not so blue-collar that they have already spent their time getting a good learning and adjustment base set down.

We have the kids who are too smart for regular-ed but without the genius IQ to grasp the AP material without notes and resources - only no one has given them the resources.  I feel like we need a Talent Whisperer who can teach the Ackleys of the system not only WHAT to focus on but also HOW to learn in general.  Until we find that key, we seem better off with the Joneses and Eliases and Seagers of the world who can teach themselves.

Unfortunately, it's hard to get a superstar that way...

~G

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Comments

1

Man Gordon.  Dial down the swing a little.  There's a rule in baseball:  no showing others up.
.........
Re:  Bach ... Bob Costas had a great line on Michael Jordan:  "He's what you get when you combine superb talent with an overachiever."
..........
Hence Klinsmann leaving off Landon Donovan?
...........
My question is, can you teach "Desire."  
Not sure there is any way to transplant Chris Snelling's desire onto Dustin Ackley, any more than there is a way to draft a hacker and teach him how to draw BB's.  Billy Beane drafts guys who walk.
Or not?

2
M's Watcher's picture

John Olerud was a good example of a superstar that wasn't worth much as a coach. As a part-time HS coach, he could teach footwork around the 1B bag, but could offer little at the plate, or pitching, which he also did well through college. He just had natural talent which obviously played well in his career, but was lost to explain it to others.

3
Brent's picture

was my first thought. There's a big difference between writing a book about hitting versus having the patience and ability to coach others how to do it. Plus he couldn't manage a pitching staff at all.
But there are dozens of examples of marginal or average MLB players (especially catchers) who become good to very good coaches and managers.

4

My favorite lines:
"It wasn't just the M's "subjective eyes" that missed on those three players.....(almost) all of baseball did. The error, if there has been one, is refusing to believe the objective evaluation, the empirical evidence, that the original evaluation was wrong."
"The M's have a strange habit of seeing the hot streaks those guys put up and believing the "true" Smoak or Ackley has finally surfaced. In doing so, they close their eyes to the vast amount of evidence that suggests that isn't the case."
--- and as fans who want to believe our team is on the cusp of fulfilling our dreams, we have repeatedly done the same thing. Even now we are convinced because of Seager's recent prowess that he is finally emerging as a player who's better than just good. We are hoping that finally, after all these years, Saunders is finally ready to unleash his potential. While these both MAY be true, and here's hoping it is, past history suggests these are the kind of hot streaks that were included in their previous annual production. The trouble is they were offset by extended horrendous streaks.
"We can continue to saddle up on Smoak and Ackley because "they are just about to figure it out.""
-----------------
It's been a fun ride this year when the M's have played well, not so fun when they don't. The key, of course, will be how much of each we will see over the remainder of the year.

5

Even as we try to SABR-matize baseball evaluation, the sport's best evaluators miss WAY more than they get right.
My point is that Smoak and Ackley "appeared" to be more talented than Seager, and Montero did too. But they weren't, for reasons nobody identified. Once they were no longer being evaluated by subjective eyes and were now being evaluated by objective arms (MLB pitchers) the mis-evaluation began to become clear. They really weren't more talented, well MLB talented, and that didn't come out until we get to the MLB level. We now think we know that because of thousands (PA's) of objective evaluations. any one means next to nothing. All of them together tell a story worth heeding.
But even in light of that objective evaluation, the M's subjective eyes continued to believe in some Ackley and Smoak talent differential that wasn't there. Now, they weren't terrible wrong, just 10-15%, but that is the margin that makes all the difference.
It wasn't just the M's "subjective eyes" that missed on those three players.....(almost) all of baseball did. The error, if there has been one, is refusing to believe the objective evaluation, the empirical evidence, that the original evaluation was wrong.
That is certainly where we are with Smoak and Ackley. By now it is more than clear that we were more than likely very wrong. They are missing something. Of course there is the chance Ackley finds a stroke that works or Smoak finds another 20 feet on the balls he rips. To proceed on that chance, however, when the (bulk of) empirical evidence that comes out of the on-the-field forge indicates otherwise, is an essential error.
The M's have a strange habit of seeing the hot streaks those guys put up and believing the "true" Smoak or Ackley has finally surfaced. In doing so, they close their eyes to the vast amount of evidence that suggests that isn't the case.
And I'm not even talking about going out and buying new talent right now. There is evidence that Montero creams lefties, it exists. To pretend it doesn't because he was a butterball in ST is organizational insanity. There is MiLB evidence that Ty Kelly is Dustin Ackley's equal. In a weird bit of coincidence, as I write this, Ackley has had 1044 MiLB PA's at the AA-AAA level. Kelly has had exactly ONE more, 1045.
Ackley's line: .290-.397-.443 with 149 BB's and 131 K's
Kelley's line: .294-.403-.406 with 164 BB's and 158 K's.
Ackley gets him in the pop department, that's it. But none of those Ackley numbers have yet to appear at the MLB level on a repeatable basis. I was high on Ackley after his freshman campaign, too. Who wasn't? Since then pitchers have figured something out and he's failed to find the adjustments. But folks still point to his high minors as proof that he "must" be able to hit. That and the fact that he was Mr. Decade in college ball and a 1st round pick. Kelly was a lowly 13th round guy, so nobody speaks as highly of him.
Probably all organizations do this some degree. It is quite natural, as the investment (the lost opportunity cost of the high pick) in Ackley is greater than that in Kelly (or somebody else). Heck, even B. Beane does that. But (it seems) B. Beane is light years better than the M's in cutting his losses and in finding somebody else.
That is where this team is right now.....going forward in '14. We can compete because we have a great staff (here our evaluators got it right), but we can't get beyond competing without actually fielding guys who can hit.
We can continue to saddle up on Smoak and Ackley because "they are just about to figure it out."
Or we can try guys, already within the organization and low cost (and with decent pedigrees, I might add), to see if their talent translates to Seattle and Safeco.
We dumped Almonte, but our "investment" in him was next to nil. Moving off of Smoak to Morrison and Montero, full time, will be more difficult. We invested lots in Montero, but he doesn't look like Big Country, just Big Calorie and we're peeved. Morrison? Heck, he was given to us.
I would be more than happy if Ackley went elsewhere and learned to hit, because I don't believe he can be an effective COF for us.
We get it right sometimes, see Jones or Elias. Both were great finds, truly the diamonds in the rough. The down side is that those correct calls may convince the M's that their subjective evaluations of Smoak and Ackley were right all along, and we should stick with them. Arrrrrgh.
The minors are filled with great AAA hitters who don't/can't/won't translate to the majors on a repeating basis. The two we have are killing us.
moe

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