"Bounce," an Unfair Comparison of J-Hey and Matt Young, and Why I believe in Certain Prospects
I've recently finished reading Matthew Syed's amazing book, "Bounce: How Champions are Made." I'm recommend it to anyone; I think it's a brilliant examination of the factors that go into creating winners, which can be helpful for anyone who wants to excel at something, avoid choking in sport, or raise their kids to be brilliant.
Anyway, I'm not here to plug the book (though I'll happily admit I just have). I'm instead going to highlight some of the things that I took away from it, and look at how the lessons it preaches might be effecting some of our young Braves. I'm going to compare Jason Heyward and Matt Young, and try and pinpoint why Heyward is a darkhorse MVP candidate with a starting job at 21, and why Matt Young, despite apparently having a similar work ethic and confidence level, is fighting for his first major league role at 28.
Two things: This is in no way an article meant to hate on Matt Young. I loooove me some Matt Young. Some very smart people think that Matt Young would excel in the majors now, and might be better than Nate McClouth.
Also. I realise J-Hey is 6'4", 230 and Matt Young is 5'8", 175. That is certainly significant. J-Hey might have had it harder, and Matt Young easier, had those roles been reversed. But Pedroia tells us height isn't everything, and Matt Young could just as easily be replaced by, say, Roger Bernardina. I'm using Matt Young because he's a Brave, he's interesting, and he's not an elite player...yet.
First, the factors Syed suggests make a champion:
1) Hard work: Following Malcolm Gladwell's "Outliers," Syed gives tons of examples of how only those with 10,000 hours of intense practice go on to truly excel - in any field. He gives several examples of how, in groups destined for different levels of greatness, the only separating factor is hours practiced. His examples which argue against natural talent, as well - one of the world's fastest table tennis players having below-average reflexes, barely able to hit a tennis ball, etc. 10,000 hours of practice, by the way, usually takes about 10 years minimum (3 hours a day is about as much intense practice as the mind can handle on one thing!). The key take-away here is that prospects/kids/even major leaguers should always be evaluated on their hard work, not their "talent,"
2) The Type of Practice, and Feedback: Wait a minute, I hear you say. Surely tons of lifelong minor leaguers must have put in 10,000 hours of practice. Hell, many have probably played 10,000 hours of game baseball! How come they're not elite?
First of all, games aren't practice. Practice involves working on specific areas of weakness, whereas most good players in a game will be on "autopilot," reflexively doing things like swinging a bat (quite a complicated motion!) that they've internalized by doing a million times. Secondly, the type of practice is important - you need practice that will continually challenge and push you, feedback on exactly what is going wrong, and coaches who can set up drills that help you work on exactly that. To use Syed's example, why aren't we all amazing drivers? I'm nowhere close, but I imagine some of you reading this may have averaged a 45-hour commute both ways every day for 20 years. The reason lies in the fact that you go into "autopilot," when you drive, not consciously working on your driving, or getting feedback on how to be better (unless you always take your spouse? Well, no positive feedback, anyway). Similarly, I'd guess, life-long minor leaguers begin to just go through the motions, rarely challenging themselves with a new drill, or changing their swing (which they would need to do) because it's difficult. Which has a lot to do with...
3) Attitude: Specifically Confidence and Lack of Fear of Failure. In order to become better, you need to lose a lot and learn from it. This is very true in baseball, since 3/10 is good, but also true in things like chess, where grandmasters have always lost at least 10,000 games. But you need to be unafraid to take criticism due to your down patches, and be OK with failing if it makes you better (some of the top defenders in MLB made soooo many errors in the minors!). This also reminds me heavily of Frenchy, who was clearly always terrified of failure, so never did what he needed to to continue to improve (I'm not good at OBP? Well that can't be important!). Whereas Michael Jordan missed 26 game-winning shots and was unafraid to own up to it!
Confidence is also key, especially since books like "The Power of Positive Thinking" tell us that players who believe they'll succeed every time (and visualise it!) consistently do better: in short, you have to have some crazy beliefs. Just as Tiger "knows" he'll make every putt (and every hole in general), and Chipper "knows" he'll always bounce back strong (and here, in my mother's basement, I can kiss his ass if I feel otherwise!)
OK, enough of all that. Time for a brief comparison of the factors that effected J-Hey and Matt Young:
Hard Work - I have no doubt Young has put in the work. But there's no way he's done it as quickly and effectively as J-Hey. Young played well in High School (though not as well as Heyward), and at a decent program in New Mexico. Young's family was probably decently well off (Plano, TX is a nice place), but he likely lacked the resources provided by Heyward's parents. He's been in the Braves org, playing regularly and working hard since 2003. But it's hard to compete with someone who had probably logged his 10,000 hours by 19 years old. Hell, J-Hey's parents wouldn't even let him play other sports! And he loved it! Was he getting his "three-a-day" everyday? I suspect so.
Quality of Practice - This, I think, is where Young's height has really hurt him, as he's likely been physically and figuratively overlooked his whole career. While J-Hey was given priority coaching and plenty of feedback, Matt Young was likely recieving no more coaching than the average minor leaguer, despite his better performance. They're both in their second Major League Spring Training, despite a seven-year age difference, and by the end of this training, Heyward certainly will have played more, and received far more attention.
Fear of Failure -Heyward's struggles in the middle of the season last year are, at least in my eyes, a huge positive. We still made the playoffs, and we've now seen that Heyward can handle relative failure without making excuses, giving up or throwing Francouer-esque pity parties. Young, meanwhile, has had some issues with this, but is hopefully now over them.
Confidence - This is where Heyward really shines. Matt Young seems like a nice, humble guy, occasionally jokingly degrading his own ability. But have you ever heard Tiger doubt himself in any way? Federer? Nadal? Brady? Heyward? No, neither have I. And I suspect you never will, at least before 40 or so.
So advantage Heyward in every respect. Am I suggesting Young had the potential to be Jason Heyward? No. But do I think that, given Heyward's upbring and coaching, Matt Young would already be a Major League Regular? Absolutely.
Just a few notes on other Braves, given what we've discussed:
- The Hard, purposeful practice of Prado is what has turned him from fringe prospect to fringe star. If he could get his confidence up to Chipper/Heyward levels (and I remember reading this from coaches, though can't find an article) he'd be a star
- For similar reasons, I'm hugely excited about Jordan Schafer, and have been ever since he bought his ProBatter. Talk about purposeful practice! And now that he doesn't fear failure, I completely expect him to be our 2012 center fielder
- I was incredibly dissapointed by this report on Christian Bethancourt. To me, it means he's wasted a lot of his development time by being arrogant and not working as hard as he should. That's just a waste - even if his attitude's now improved, that's lost development time, and he's no longer top-15 for me in the system.
- This report is equally exciting, especially concerning Aroyds Vizcieno. I'm glad he's going out of his way to get better feedback, and his attitude seems to have improved since last years negative comparisons to Teheran.
- Speaking of Teheran, his pregame warm-up routine (also in report above) speaks to a lot of purposeful practice. I am so excited!
- I'm so happy Freddie Freeman has (and has had) Jason around to give him a great example of how to put the work in, be confident, absorb failure, etc.
So enough rambling; this post is far, far longer than I expected and my girlfriend is increasingly thinking I'm odd. What are your guys and gals' thoughts? Have I at least partially convinced you to not put as much weight in "the talent myth," as Syed call it? If so, what Braves players/prospects does this make you more/less excited about?