World Series Game 1 is in the books and the Dodgers lead 1-0 behind a sterling pitching performance from Clayton Kershaw. While it might not appear so from last night’s anemic hitting performance, the Astros had led the league in batting. But as my father was want to say “Good pitching always stops good hitting.” Can the Astros retool their approach in time to be successful in Game 2 and beyond?

One of the things which intrigued me has been the steady rise of Astros star Jose Altuve, usually referred to as the shortest baseball player in the big leagues. Hopefully soon it will be simply one of the best players in baseball. Altuve has retooled his swing and approach to become a much more rounded hitter. In addition to leading the league in batting again this year, he had one thirty-day period where he hit over .500 (June 27-July 27). A rare feat accomplished in baseball. Yet his power numbers have increased dramatically from his 2014 when he won his first of three batting titles (hitting .347) when he only had seven home runs. Over the past two years he had increased his home runs to 24 each season.

The same might be said for the Astros as a team. While many point towards the Astros dog years of intentionally losing to garner high draft picks, with three seasons losing over 100 games; there is more to their story than metrics. In baseball, high draft picks do not always succeed at the Major Baseball League (MLB) level. It is more than tanking and having high draft picks, it is developing your talent. As reported by Tyler Kepner, in a New York Times (NYT) piece entitled “Astros’ Successful Recipe: Mix Power with Contact, the basis of the Astros success has been their ability to hit with punch and not simply slap at the ball. Hitting coach Dave Hudgens said, “I don’t want guys swinging at a pitch unless they can hit a homer. I don’t want guys swinging at a pitch unless they can do damage. If you go in with that mind-set, you’re not going to miss your pitch as often.””

This is all punctuated with the Astros leading the majors in slugging percentage while having the fewest strikeouts. This was indeed a rarity, as “according to the Elias Sports Bureau, only two teams since 1910 have led the majors in slugging percentage while recording the fewest strikeouts: the 1948 Yankees and the 1995 Cleveland Indians.” The real key is not simply the slugging percentage but in not having the strikeouts, which General Manager (GM) Jeff Luhnow called “rally-killing”. Putting the same concept in any manner, Luhnow said “contact is your friend, all the time, whether it’s putting pressure on defense, moving runners, scoring one run with a guy on third.”

To add to the young talent obtained through the draft and developed in their farm system, the Astros “made a decision to try to change the nature of our lineup by adding guys that made hard contact.” They replaced a group of free swingers with “veterans who more reliably make contact: Reddick, Nori Aoki, Carlos Beltran, Brian McCann and Yuli Gurriel, a rookie with a long track record in Cuba. All but Aoki have power. The Astros lead the majors in on-base plus slugging percentage from the 8 and 9 spots in the order, essentially using 12 everyday players to shuffle seamlessly in and out of the lineup.”

Today’s lesson from the world of sports informs our discussion of compliance and the risk management process; consisting of forecasting, risk assessment and risk management as a way to retool the focus of your compliance program. By starting with forecasting, a compliance function utilizes risk assessment to consider issues which forecasting did not predict for or issues which the forecasting model raised as a potential outcome which warranted a deeper dive. If you are moving into a new product or sales area and are required to use third-party sales agents, a risk assessment would provide information that a company could use to ameliorate the risks.

Risk-based monitoring follows on from the issues that your risk assessment identified as your highest risks. Ben Locwin, Director of Global R&D at BioGen and an operational strategist in pharma and healthcare, said, “Risk-based monitoring tends to look at things on an ongoing basis, and the models that are behind the risk-based modeling, risk-based monitoring models, they’re continuously refined based on incoming data.”

All of these three tools tie back into process management and process improvement. Locwin has stated, “There’s always this balance between what’s actually important for our business or for proper execution, versus what’s actually going on in the whole process. If you’re not measuring at a high enough resolution, you’re not capturing a lot of the environmental, market force, external factors that probably are of high leverage to your operations in business that you just don’t know about.”

In other words, it comes down to execution. This means you must use the risk management tools available to you and when a situation arises, you remediate when required. This is not only where the rubber hits the road but the information and data you garner in the execution phase should be fed back into a feedback loop. From this, you will develop continuous feedback and continuous improvement for your compliance program.

Former Department of Justice (DOJ) compliance counsel Hui Chen, in her interview by Matt Kelly on his Radical Compliance podcast, said the the root cause analysis component was added into the Evaluation of Corporate Compliance Programs to help build a picture of risk and how to management it. When an event does occur, whether it be a Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) violation or simply an internal policy violation, “it is really important that companies begin by looking at what happened.” It comes down to working to obtain the relevant information and then using in your compliance program going forward.

The Astros seem to have put all of this to use, at least up until the first game of the World Series. Yet GM Luhnow remains hopeful, “It’s not as if I taught strikeouts one year and I’m not teaching strikeouts this year. But the style of offense that has developed here has been a perfect blend.” All-Star second baseman Jose Altuve added, ““I guess not striking out is one of the reasons we’re in first place, but I’m not against strikeouts,” Altuve said. “I don’t like people going up there and trying to not strike out. That’s not the right approach. The right approach is going up there and trying to drive the ball.” Kepner summed it up nicely, “Contact, indeed, is their friend. The Astros hoard it for themselves, and the relationship is serious.” We in Houston can only hope they seriously get back into that relationship, sooner rather than later.


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© Thomas R. Fox, 2017