Baseball and Systems Thinking

Or “Yet another example of why baseball is more like life than any other sport.”

Matt Cain of San Francisco Giants tosses 22nd perfect game in Major League Baseball history and second of 2012 season

Just 22 perfect games in the history of baseball. How rare is that? Since 1900, there have been 353,240 (±20, not including post-season) major league baseball games played through to the end of May. That means the chances of throwing a perfect game are around 0.006%. I’m not sure, but I suspect free-range deep sea organic tuna get hit by errant golf balls more frequently than that.

The pitcher gets the credit, but the team makes it happen.

Two great catches in the outfield made the perfect game possible, something Cain clearly understood.

Left fielder Melky Cabrera chased down Chris Snyder’s one-out flyball in the sixth, scurrying back to make a leaping catch at the wall. Cain raised both arms and slapped his glove in delight when Cabrera made the play.

Then, right fielder Gregor Blanco ran into deep right-center to make a diving catch on the warning track and rob Jordan Schafer for the first out of the seventh. The 27-year-old pitcher hugged Blanco in the dugout after the inning.

And the systems thinking lessons?

Cause and Effect: To take nothing from Cain’s pitching, the effect of two of Cain’s 125 pitches (the cause) would have erase the prospects of a perfect game if the outfielders hadn’t caught the hit. The effect of the outfielders having caught those hits (cause) was a perfect game. Furthermore, the cause of one person’s activity was dependent on the effect of another person activity in order for a perfect game to be the result.

Delay: The catches occurred earlier in the game, removed from the final, game winning pitch that officially made the game perfect. When the catches were made, the prospect of participating in a perfect game was very much in doubt so there was no way for Cabrera or Blanco to know whether or not their catch would have made a difference. It appears they played as if it would.

Erosion of Goals: Slacking off is easy and seductive. Reaching goals is hard and not always possible for a vast variety of reasons. But the difference between reaching a goal and settling for an eroded goal is frequently very, very small. Consider the two catches in the Giant’s game. Yep, reaching a goal is frequently hard, but when it happens, on any level, it’s perfection.

Now…play ball!