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Astros: Club House Impact- Maldonado and Gurriel

Updated: Dec 21, 2022

I am constantly accused of never addressing the HUMAN SIDE. I usual say- I did!

Today, I am giving you what I said about Maldonado in June. It applies to Gurriel too. I modified this slightly but 90% of it is the same as in June.

The players almost universally love Maldonado and some have been extremely vocal about his value

My summary response to this is simply this

If the results do not support what is being said, I will go with the results

Now please consider.

The excuses just get less and less fact based. For this one I have applied some things I have learned about organizational psychology from 34 years in the industrial workplace.

Specifically, my experience is in the chemical industry. One devotee felt the need to point out that had no idea how a team works. Anyone that has worked in a chemical plant knows how stupid that is. If you work in a plant long enough, you will hear about the guy that the team thinks is great. Everyone loves him. The reality that guy is often taking shortcuts and is talking so much he doesn't get his work done. Let me be clear. I AM NOT SAYING THAT either Maldy or Yuli is the guy in this story. Clearly, they aren't.

What is the point? Opinions are not always the best measure of performance nor impact. In the world of baseball, unlike most of life, we have a huge advantage. Performance and impact CAN be easily measured. There is a real report card. Performance does not have to rest upon the opinions of the group.

Another data point- has anyone ever noticed certain players go to the MLB All-Star game long after they are really All-Stars? Why? Because players keep voting them in.

In the world of psychology some of these issues are in what is described as tribalism. As I began to consider this section, I wanted to get some help describing my theories here. I got some help from a PhD in Industrial/Organizational psychology in the content of this section.

The conundrum is this.

Why would a team be so adamant about protecting and pushing the value of a player who is clearly failing daily before their eyes?

1. He is the demigod of all things that cannot be measured in baseball and the team thinks they would implode without him

If this team REALLY thinks that then tear it all down. Trade them all. They have no chance of winning anything this year or any time going forward. The truth is this Clubhouse is FAR MORE resilient than any of you seem to give it credit for. Players like Bregman and Altuve have weathered seeing multiple players leave. This culture DOES NOT depend ONLY on Gurriel and Maldonado. That should be offensive to the other players.

I will tell you a little secret. I was told many times in my job we could not measure something. Guess what? I developed measurements for many of those things too. Similarly, to the last section, often times the measurement showed the conventional wisdom was wrong. Believe me, I am used to being unpopular on this front.

Impact, even the soft skill impact CAN be measured. IF Maldy is the greatest manager of pitchers in the history of baseball, WHY were pitchers just as effective pitching to Castro and Vazquez?

2, They are too close to admit to what they see.

I did a search trying to find something that would help you understand my perspective here. In this article,

In research conducted by British psychologists at the University of Lincoln, players on the BBC game show "The Weakest Link" were statistically far less likely to vote against the person standing to either side of them compared to players positioned across the stage. The study lends support to a proximity theory of human relations that suggests we're hardwired to support those closest to us -- literally.

We protect the ones we are closest to. We want to deny that there is anything wrong. You have likely seen this in your own family and with friends. We make excuses and defend situations even when they’re wrong. (Hat tip to ClintTheScout for that one.)

Here is how my new friend the PhD in Industrial/Organizational psychology stated this.

"There is a social perception theory of Warmth and Competence. We typically classify people as either being Warm (socially cooperative) and/or Competent (highly skilled). We can attribute both characteristics equally or unequally, but Warmth is most salient because it is easier to get along with someone you like even though they are a low performer as opposed to a highly skilled jackass. Using these two attributions, we can make a matrix of possible behavioral responses.

I would argue that the players defending Maldonado are engaging in Active Facilitation because they have a good relationship with one another. These types of behavioral responses are universal in psychology, we defend our tribe. Like a lot of things in life, it comes down to tribalism.

Active facilitation explicitly aims to assist the individual who is not performing for the benefit of the group. I think they want to help him and defend him as much as they can but hitting a baseball is an individual act."

The challenge with the things Maldonado is reportedly excellent at are that they are enablers to help others to perform. Clearly, the "others" appreciate that enablement and reciprocate in the active facilitation model, but that enablement does not seem to only be isolated to when he is on the field. I would argue he might be even better at enablement of others when he is not having to pick up a bat and failing four times a night.

A team without Maldy or Gurriel will destroy the chemistry

Remember how letting Cole leave was going to destroy the team?

Remember how letting Springer leave was going to destroy the team chemistry?

Remember how letting Correa leave was going to destroy the team chemistry?

If the team can allow three All-Stars to leave, you want to tell me that the team can't handle Maldonado moving to the bench or can't win without Gurriel? You cannot be serious. Again, if that IS true, trade them all.

Updated ending

Yes, Maldonado will be the key person in making this all good. I can see a McCullers not being happy, but he can pitch to Maldy to get on track as needed. Maldy MUST yield playing time for the sake of the development of Yainer Diaz and Korey Lee. HE should facilitate that.

Gurriel IS NOT a Utility Player- we showed this. I would love Gurriel to have a non-playing role with this team and I would pay him an excessive premium for him to take that role.

I think these two men are professionals and will respond accordingly if they care about the team. Gurriel's body may be done. If HE wants to play in 2023, The Astros should be extremely supportive of him finding a role on another team and preserve the relationship for the future.

If they are good the Clubhouse will be good.

Yes, I can frame the soft side of the sport as well as many of you. There is an alternate framework than the one the conventional wisdom pushes.

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1 Comment

Dr Lee
Dr Lee
Dec 22, 2022

Larry, I believe you are spot on with your look at Machete and “La Pina” and the psychology and the human side of the situation. Especially true that if the clubhouse falls apart without Maldonado and Yuli that’s a failed clubhouse culture and all must go. Well done!

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