I have assiduously avoided blogging about the Houston Astros during this year’s playoffs. It was not for fear of jinxing them; I was fully convinced they would win it all this year, unlike 2017 where I was living in hope but really just happy to be playing our long-time scourge, the Los Angeles Dodgers in that year’s fall classic. I practically live blogged during that series, I did not want to engage in that exercise again. But you really did not think I would completely refrain from blogging about my hometown heroes and mine this year’s World Series champions for some compliance lessons, did you? I didn’t think you did.
Today, I want to begin with the dramatic moon-shot home run by Yordan Álvarez in the bottom of the seventh inning which won the game for Houston. In the top half of the inning, the Phillies star Kyle Schwarber had silenced the Houston faithful with a solo shot to put the Phillies up 1-0. Houston got two base runners on and, more importantly, induced Phillies manager Rob Thompson to replace starting pitcher Zach Wheeler who had owned the Astros up to that time. He brought in José Alvarado, to pitch to Álvarez and on a 3-2 pitch Álvarez launched a 450-foot shot which landed 40 feet above centerfield in a restaurant. That location is so far away from home plate, no Astro had ever hit a ball there even in batting practice. The game was effectively over after that blast. (Check out the blast here.)
Yet up until that blast, Álvarez, the star of the ALDC, had been having an abysmal World Series at the plate. According to Stephanie Apstein, writing in ESPN, he “stopped seeing pitches in the strike zone, he had been hitting .119 with two-extra base hits, both doubles. He’d had two hits in the World Series. In his three meetings with Alvarado to that point, he had popped out twice and been hit by a pitch.” But earlier in the week, one of the Astros hitting coaches, “Troy Snitker, had noticed that Alvarez was shifting all his weight onto his front leg.” [Head hitting coach] Alex Cintrón worked with Álvarez in the cage to keep him more balanced.
But there was more. On the afternoon before the game, “Cintrón scoured video from June, when Álvarez hit .418 with a 1.346 OPS, and he realized that the player’s hands had dropped, making it harder for him to get to the fastball.” Apstein went on to write,
Initially, Alvarez was unsure. He believed the problem still resided in his lower half.
“Yordan, do you trust me?” Cintrón asked.
“Yes,” Alvarez said.
“Then give me five swings in the cage and see how you feel. If you don’t like it, then you change it.”
It didn’t take five swings. Alvarez felt the change immediately. Díaz and Cintrón saw it. They all knew what it meant: “Game over,” said Cintrón later, dripping with an unholy brew of Bud Heavy, Michelob Ultra and Korbel. “I was so pumped,” he said. “I told the front-office guys, the player of the game is going to be Yordan Alvarez.”
I would ask you to consider those last few lines from the compliance perspective as there is quite a bit baked into that dialogue.
First and foremost, it involves information and data. The data was found in June batting when he hit a scorching “.418 with a 1.346 OPS”. That was clearly not the case in the ALCS and World Series. That insight from data led to the visual information ascertained by Cintrón. That insight was that Álvarez had dropped his hands when swinging at the ball, “making it harder for him to get to the fastball.” In those short lines is the distillation of why data analytics can be so critical to any compliance program. Obviously, something had changed in Álvarez’ hitting approach which led to his drop off. The hitting coach went back to a time he was hitting well, as in very well, and used that information to help correct a current anomaly which was poor hitting in ALCS and World Series.
Most compliance professionals will use data analytics to help identify anomalies. Here data analytics were used to determine when things were working well. This means that you can mine data to determine what is working, not simply identify a Red Flag. It means that if one business unit or geo-region is struggling or having compliance issues, you can look at other business units or geo-regions to help find a solution.
There is another valuable lesson for the compliance professional in this story and that lesson is trust. Apstein wrote, “Initially, Alvarez was unsure. He believed the problem still resided in his lower half. “Yordan, do you trust me?” Cintrón asked. “Yes,” Alvarez said. “Then give me five swings in the cage and see how you feel. If you don’t like it, then you change it.””
Not many compliance professionals talk about trust as a part of a best practices compliance program. Trust runs the gamut from employee trust in an organization to trust that the compliance department is not the Land of No, populated by Dr. No. Getting employees, most particularly the business development folks, to trust the compliance program takes work, perseverance and patience. You have to get out and meet folks or what Louis Sapirman used to say was employing “Planes, Trains and Automobiles” to get out of the corporate office and meet folks.
The impact can be in a myriad of ways. Trust allows an employee to bring a compliant, concern or issue to you in the compliance function. Trust can also provide the situation which occurred with Álvarez; that is because he trusted his hitting coach, he was willing to accept the coaching and then experiment with the advice to achieve a spectacular result, which was hitting the game-winning and World Series clinching home run.
Join me tomorrow as I explore Trey Mancini and how a great defensive play can be as important as your bat in both baseball and compliance.