KM and Sports Part 2, Disciplined KM, Why start doing KM, Does KM pay off, Living Networks

15-May-08 Archive of Weekly KM Blog by Stan Garfield

KM Question of the Week

In a previous post, I answered the question “Can the world of sports teach us anything about knowledge management?” using an example from basketball. This was also recently featured by KnowledgeBoard in Scoring points in the knowledge game.

Here are additional examples of analysis and KM in sports.


Whiteyball is a style of playing baseball that was developed by former MLB manager Whitey Herzog. The origins of the term stem from the 1982 World Series Championship Herzog’s St. Louis Cardinals won. Shocked by the team’s success without having even one typical power hitter in the lineup, members of the press started using “Whiteyball” to describe a style of play based on speed on the base paths, excellent defense, and an emphasis on line drive base hits.

Herzog used the squeeze play often, choosing just the right count on the batter to surprise the opposition. Jim Leyland, another World Series champion manager, hates the squeeze bunt, claiming that whenever he calls for the play, it fails. His aversion to using it has left many a runner stranded on third base after arriving there with fewer than two outs. Leyland could have increased his team’s scoring by taking advantage of what others have used successfully, in this case, Herzog’s squeeze play strategy.

In 1985 World Series Game 6, Herzog suffered from a bad call by the first-base umpire. He could have survived this bad break by having made a defensive change in the ninth inning or having kept a valuable pinch hitter on his roster instead of selling the player to the opposing team. In the fateful ninth inning, the Cardinals’ Jack Clark couldn’t reel in Steve Balboni’s popup in front of the Royals’ dugout. Given a second chance, Balboni singled through the hole on the left side. Pinch-hitter Dane Iorg later looped a two-run single to right, forcing Game 7.

At first base, Herzog could have replaced Jack Clark, a good hitter but weak fielder, with Mike Jorgensen, a former Gold Glove winner. Had he done this, Jorgensen most likely would have caught Balboni’s popup. Dane Iorg was the Cardinals’ designated hitter in their 1982 World Series championship, and led the team with a .529 batting average with 9 hits in 17 at bats. In 1984 the Cardinals sold his contract to the Royals. Had the Cardinals kept him, he would not have been able to deliver the game-winning hit against them.

Gil Hodges was unusually innovative as the manager of the New York Mets. He used platoon players at every position except shortstop, left field, and center field. He used Rod Gaspar as a defensive replacement in right field every time the Mets had a late-inning lead to protect. He moved an outfielder into the infield in obvious bunting situations. He moved the third baseman to provide a fourth outfielder and shifted his infield around to the right when facing Willie McCovey.

These strategies helped the Mets win the 1969 World Series over the heavily-favored Baltimore Orioles, a team with greater talent. In the final game, Cleon Jones was hit by a pitch in the famous shoe polish incident, when manager Gil Hodges came out to argue the original call that Jones had not been hit. Hodges retrieved the ball and showed it to the umpire, who saw the polish mark, and awarded Jones first base. Donn Clendenon followed with a two-run homer, and the Mets were on their way to winning their first World Series.

Other articles

Q: Can you tell us a time when you did an analysis and expected one thing, but the numbers told you something radically different?

A: Well, it happens every day. My “debunking” of the importance of stolen bases came from extended efforts to prove the importance of stolen bases, all of which failed.

  • Moneyball Redux — Slate talks to the man who revolutionized baseball by James Surowiecki — The creation of new knowledge or new understanding does not make the people who possess that new knowledge invulnerable to old failings. I can’t predict reliably who is going to be successful in the major leagues in 2004, even if we stick with the field of players who have been in the major leagues since 2000. I can’t do that, because there are limits to my knowledge, and there are flaws in my implementation of what I know. The principle that minor league hitting stats predict major league hitting stats as well as major league hitting stats predict major league hitting stats can be perfectly true — and yet still not enable me or you to reliably predict who will be successful in the major leagues in 2004, because I still have limits to my knowledge and flaws in the way I try to implement that knowledge.
  • Baseball Fans Use Decades of Stats To Second Guess Coaching Calls by Carl Bialik — Play-by-play data going back to 1974 are available on a Web site called Retrosheet, and fans are using sophisticated home-brewed computer programs to glean new insights from the numbers. The researchers have calculated what happens, on average, for just about every scenario that could arise in a game. The numbers can help determine whether a particular decision by a baseball manager is likely to help or hinder a team’s chances for a win. It is as if you could access a database of all prior job interviews in order to decide how to answer the dreaded “What is your greatest weakness?” question, or choose whether to ask someone out on a date by examining the outcomes of every similar query in recent history. Cultural mores will have changed, and no interviewer or love interest is created the same, but such data could aid your decision by telling you what was the best decision, on average, for people facing a similar conundrum.


Most football coaches are reluctant to think for themselves. They usually go by the book, wishing to avoid being second-guessed if a bold move should fail.

Their decisions on when to attempt a two-point conversion are driven by a chart, which might appear to be an example of knowledge management. But instead, it is an example of blindly following a set of rules which are counter-intuitive. Going for two makes sense late in a game when a team is behind and has no choice but to try to catch up. Doing so earlier in a game based on the numbers in the chart ignores the fact that both teams have plenty of time to continue scoring, and that the failure to have previously scored one sure point will come back to haunt them at the end. Having failed once, the coach will then have to continue trying for two, thus compounding the error.

  • Steelers Coach Mike Tomlin Questioned for Two-Point Conversion Calls vs. Jaguars by Michael David Smith — Tomlin was right to try the two-point conversion the first time around, when the Steelers were down five. Getting to within a field goal late in a close game is huge. But once the Steelers were moved back by the holding penalty, Tomlin should have realized how much harder it is to make a conversion from 12 yards back than from two yards back, and sent in the kicker to for the extra point and bring the score to within 28–24. Obviously, it’s a lot easier to say that the next morning than it is to have your team ready to do it at the time, but good coaches need to have their teams ready for every possibility. Tomlin is a good coach, but he screwed up there, and it cost his team.
  • November 14, 1999: Arizona 23, Detroit 19 by Scott Liefer — How do you explain coach Bobby Ross deciding Sunday to go for a two-point conversion late in the fourth quarter — when logic said go for an extra point? What was he doing? I know about aggressiveness. But there is no way, when you are down 23–19 late in a game, that you don’t go for an extra point, pull within three, and hope a field goal ties it and takes you to overtime. That’s Beginner’s Coaching. Or Math 101. Instead, the Lions went for two, blew it, and sure enough, on their last possession, found themselves in Ross’s nightmare: less than two minutes left, fourth down in Arizona territory. It would have been a chip shot for kicker Jason Hanson, a 28-yarder with no wind. Instead, because they were four points down, the Lions had to go for a touchdown — and Gus Frerotte’s pass was behind Germane Crowell. End of game. Start of questions. That growling you heard was the acid in Ross’s stomach.

Punting is another area of strategic failure. When a team has worked hard to advance to the other team’s side of the field, why will it willingly give the ball away to the other team? It foregoes 25% of its chances to get a first down in return for moving the ball a short distance back.

  • It doesn’t pay to punt by Gregg Easterbrook — Bottom line? If you face fourth-and-1 four times and punt all four times, your opponent will score once more than it otherwise would have. If you go for it all four times, you will score once more than you otherwise would have.
  • The Ellsberg Paradox and 4th Down by Brian Burke — The Romer paper and other research provide fairly conclusive evidence that NFL coaches should go for it on 4th down more often than they currently do. The Ellsberg Paradox might help explain why. The Ellsberg Paradox demonstrates the difference between risk and uncertainty. Risk is measurable but uncertainty is not. People almost always prefer a known risk to an unknown uncertainty, even if the expected results are equal.

The prevent defense is another doomed strategy. If a team’s defense has been playing well, why suddenly change tactics at the end of a game? By rushing fewer players and dropping defensive backs deeper in coverage, the opposing offense, which had previously been stopped, is now able to move down the field. If any change is made, it would make more sense to blitz and put more pressure on the opposing quarterback, not less.

  • Prevent D prevents victory by Jack Salisbury — The prevent defense. It stands for the strategy of passivity in football, the counterintuitive notion of playing not to lose instead of playing to win.

On third down, many teams will throw a short dump-off pass and hope to run for several yards after the catch in order to make a first down. This seldom works. A more successful strategy is to tell the receivers to run past the first-down marker and then turn around for the catch. This is a strategy known to all backyard touch football players, but apparently eludes highly-paid NFL and college coaches. In this case, reusing the backyard play is the right strategy.

Other articles

  • The NFL passing premium revisited by Phil Birnbaum — Rockerbie argues that the effect is caused by risk aversion on the part of the coaches. Passes gain more than runs, but they are also riskier — sometimes they succeed spectacularly, and sometimes they fail badly. Rushing plays also vary, but not as much as passes.
  • Football Outsiders by Aaron Schatz — It started with a simple question. The conventional wisdom of the Boston media said that the New England Patriots were losing games because they couldn’t establish the run. It didn’t make sense to me — did winning teams really run early? I always thought winning teams padded their run totals later in games, holding onto leads.


In the 2008 first-round NHL playoff series against the Nashville Predators, Detroit Red Wings goalie Dominik Hasek repeatedly gave up two goals in rapid succession, or a goal immediately after his team had scored:

Game 2

  • 2nd Period — 2:19 and 2:30

Game 3

  • 2nd Period — 12:53 and 15:01
  • 3rd Period — 16:03 and 16:12

Game 4

  • 1st Period — 5:18 and 5:50
  • 2nd Period — Detroit scored at 6:24, and Nashville scored at 6:35

In Game 4, Red Wings coach Mike Babcock replaced Hasek with Chris Osgood. Osgood prevented further scoring in that game, has started all 10 games since then, and has won all but one. Babcock probably should have made this switch after Game 3, but he did make the change, and the Red Wings are one win away from the Stanley Cup Finals as a result. Babcock learned from his mistake and did not repeat it.

In the second round the Red Wings faced the Colorado Avalanche. In Game 1, the Avs pulled goalie Jose Theodore after he gave up four goals on 16 shots. Peter Budaj gave the Avs a chance to come back by stopping all 20 shots he faced. In Game 2, instead of starting Budaj, Avs coach Joel Quenneville started Theodore, but had to pull his goalie again. Had he stuck with Budaj, his team might have fared better against the Red Wings. Quenneville did not learn from his mistake or reuse Babcock’s proven practice of sticking with the hot goalie, and the Avs were swept in four games. Quenneville was subsequently fired.

Other articles

  • The Market for Smart: Does Hockey Need Some PhD’s? by Andrew Goodman — The state of statistical analysis in hockey is utterly maddening. Think about the key statistic in baseball: the batting average. Did you ever hear a ballplayer being judged by the absolute number of hits he gets (unless it’s a lot)? Yet in hockey, a player who plays seven minutes a game is routinely described by his “15 goal season” or “he only has six goals in the first half.” Some supposed superstars are on the ice 30 minutes a game. Shouldn’t we be looking at “points per minute played?”
  • Hockey Analytics — Devoted to the Scientific Exploration of the Game of Hockey by Alan Ryder, with research papers on topics such as Using Zone Entry Data To Separate Offensive, Neutral, And Defensive Zone Performance; A Regression-based Adjusted Plus-Minus Statistic for NHL Players; The Pythagorean Won-Loss Formula and Hockey; Inter-Arrival Times of Goals in Ice Hockey; The Impact of Puck Possession and Location on Ice Hockey Strategy; and Statistical Shot Quality Weighing


  • Basketball By The Numbers by Malcolm Gladwell — Here’s what I think the real value of the Wages of Wins system is, though. It gives us a tool to see those instances where our intuitive ratings of players may be particularly inaccurate. In my New Yorker piece, I focused on how the algorithm tells us that Allen Iverson isn’t nearly the player we think he is. But here’s a more interesting finding. The best player, by this measure, hands down, over the past five years has been Kevin Garnett. No one else comes close.
  • NBA Metrics Continued… by Malcolm Gladwell — One more point: one of the fascinating things about this argument is how similar it is to the argument currently going on in medicine about “clinical” versus “actuarial” decision-making. One study after another has demonstrated that in a number of critical diagnostic situations, the unaided judgment of most doctors is substantially inferior to a diagnosis made with the assistance of some kind of algorithm or decision-rule. Doctors don’t like to admit this. But it happens to be true. A lot of the huffing and puffing about Berri’s ideas, it strikes me, is just basketball’s version of the same defensiveness and closed-mindedness.
  • Freakonomics: Hoop Data Dreams by Stephen J. Dubner and Steven D. Levitt — What’s the most efficient shot to take besides a layup? Easy, says Zarren: a three-pointer from the corner. What’s one of the most misused, misinterpreted statistics? “Turnovers are way more expensive than people think,” Zarren says. That’s because most teams focus on the points a defense scores from the turnover but don’t correctly value the offense’s opportunity cost — that is, the points it might have scored had the turnover not occurred.

KM Thought Leader of the Week

I posed the following question to many KM thought leaders. “If you were invited to give a keynote speech on knowledge management, what words of wisdom or lessons learned would you impart?” This week’s answer is from Graham Durant-Law.

“I think the missing element in the knowledge management is the notion of discipline. Discipline is the means by which organizations do things at the right time, in the right place, to the right quality, using the right processes. There are at least five types of discipline, all of which are essential if a knowledge management initiative is to succeed.

Discipline is not about punishing people, but rather about engendering the right culture and skills, so that things are done at the right time, in the right place, to the right quality, and using the right processes, all with limited assistance. That said, management should not be afraid of holding people to account, and to discipline them appropriately if necessary. Hopefully this is a rare requirement, but it is requirement managers should not be afraid of enacting.

Following standard processes is a discipline, and requires discipline. It allows freedom of movement and decision, knowing the base is solid. It requires individual discipline and commitment to follow a process that one may not completely agree with, or to use corporately-supplied tools that may not be intuitive to some individuals. It takes individual discipline to think about the corporate need and share their knowledge in the first place.

Discipline does not mean that people are not free to criticize or to do things as they see fit — the right to criticize is one of the foundations of improvement. However, when deviation from the norm occurs, and then reasons and approval should be provided, always remembering the paradigm that it is easier to ask for forgiveness than permission. That said, when acting outside the norm, one must do so with skill and a complete understanding of why it is necessary to do things differently. To do otherwise is a mark of a lack of discipline.

Discipline does not require a hands-on approach by managers and leaders, but it does require that managers and leaders remain connected. Discipline starts at the top. It is a given that executives must maintain discipline in their own actions. Only then they can expect discipline from their staff. In this case it is a matter of ‘doing as I do.’

In short, any knowledge management journey requires people to exercise individual discipline to constantly look to the collective good. It requires group and cultural discipline to work to a common cause. It requires process discipline to follow mandated corporate requirements, and it requires technology discipline to work with what you have and not constantly seek the technological silver bullet.

I trust you find my answer to be interesting, useful and different!”

KM Blog of the Week

Why start doing knowledge management? by Marnix Catteeuw

All knowledge management initiatives should focus on any or all of these issues:

  • Reinventing the wheel — It is like buying a CD you already own; it costs money but does not add to your musical experience.
  • Knowledge walking out of the door — Imagine your friends taking home one of your CDs every time they pay you a visit.
  • The great unknown: this is the “if we only knew what we know” complaint — These are all the CDs you never listen to, because you actually forgot you once bought them, and now they sit in your collection, silently.

On each of these areas, specific actions can be taken to overcome the issues. What and how is influenced by your priorities, culture, focus, strategy, people.

KM Link of the Week

From Nick Milton in Learning to Fly

Does Knowledge Management Pay Off? by Clyde W. Holsapple and Jiming Wu

The resource-based theory of the firm attributes superior firm performance to organizational resources that are valuable, rare, irreplaceable, and not readily reproduced. Aligned with this theory, this study examines the widely expressed notion that knowledge management (KM) competencies form a critical organizational resource that contributes to firm performance. Specifically, the current study addresses the question: does KM pay off? Using the findings of an independent research company and the data from COMPUSTAT, this study empirically examines the relationship between KM performance and firm performance in terms of both profit and cost ratios. Matched Sample Comparison Group (MSCG) methodology is employed to test the research hypotheses. The results of this study suggest that firms with superior KM performance are likely to enjoy higher profitability ratios and lower cost ratios.

KM Book of the Week

Living Networks — Anniversary Edition by Ross Dawson

Living Networks has just been re-launched in an Anniversary Edition, to mark five years since its original publication by Financial Times/Prentice Hall in November 2002. Almost every aspect of the book is current and highly relevant today. Revisiting the foundations of our networked age is enormously valuable. Arguably Living Networks is even more relevant and useful today, as the last five years have seen the realization of what was originally described in the book. Our networked world is truly alive and rapidly maturing.

Table of Contents

Part 1: Evolving Networks

  • Chapter 1 The Networks Come Alive: What the Changing Flow of Information and Ideas Means For Business
  • Chapter 2 Emerging Technologies: How Standards and Integration Are Driving Business Strategy

Part 2: Evolving Organizations

  • Chapter 3 The New Organization: Leadership Across Blurring Boundaries
  • Chapter 4 Relationship Rules: Building Trust and Attention in the Tangled Web
  • Chapter 5 Distributed Innovation: Intellectual Property in a Collaborative World
  • Chapter 6 Network Presence: Harnessing the Flow of Marketing, Customer Feedback, and Knowledge

Part 3: Evolving Strategy

  • Chapter 7 The Flow Economy: Opportunities and Risks in the New Convergence
  • Chapter 8 Next Generation Content Distribution: Creating Value When Digital Products Flow Freely
  • Chapter 9 The Flow of Services: Reframing Digital and Professional Services
  • Chapter 10 Liberating Individuals: Network Strategy for Free Agents

Part 4: Future Networks

  • Chapter 11 Future Networks: The Evolution of Business

Written by

Knowledge Management Author and Speaker, Founder of SIKM Leaders Community, Community Evangelist, Knowledge Manager

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