Am reading a very enjoyable and informative book, the Plateau Effect, co-authored by Bob Sullivan and Hugh Thompson. You can get a taste of the book through a YouTube video, but if you have the time and the inclination I’d highly recommend that you read the book itself. Material of this nature, part of the genre of behavioral economics, can be very dry or very witty, and this book is loaded with the latter. A case example I’d like to share with you makes its appearance early in the book, chapter one in fact. Admittedly attracted to sports as a metaphor for life, this one grabbed me because as much as I fancy myself a baseball fan – either an aficionado or addicted depending on your point of view – I had not considered Derek Jeter’s turnaround in this light.
Even if you’re not a baseball fan, Derek Jeter is well-known enough that he’s earned the one name recognition of a Madonna. In baseball circles it’s simply “Jeter”. Jimmy Rollins is not “Rollins”. He’s more like J-Lo. But more on that in a moment. You can get a flavor for the Jeter story at the 13:00 minute mark of this video:
Long story short, in 2008 at the age of 34, Jeter took it upon himself to listen to his critics and transform himself into a much better defensive shortstop with the help of a new athletic training guru. He recognized the Plateau Effect and despite having plenty of money in the bank to retire and enjoy life in St. Jetersburg, his Davis Island mansion in metro St. Pete, Jeter accepted the challenge of trying to become the best to ever play the position – a truly complete ballplayer.
Flash to Jimmy Rollins, aka J-Ro or J-Roll, and you’ll find the anti-Jeter. Only a year younger than Jeter, and without a comparable mansion, J-Roll is comfortably nestled in the Plateau Effect, with no apparent interest in spiraling out of it. He is and has always been stellar defensively, quick in moving to his left and with a strong and accurate arm to first base. Few have fielded the position any better. His approach to hitting is another story altogether, and 2008 may have signaled J-Roll’s downfall. After winning the MVP, and starring for his World Series winning Phillies, J-Roll went on auto-pilot. He adopted a very undisciplined approach at the plate, and squandered his opportunity to become a very effective leadoff hitter. Compounding his problem was a manager, Charlie Manuel, who gave J-Roll carte blanche – basically empowering him to not only Plateau at the plate, but to rapidly slide downhill on the wrong side.
So the latest buzz finds J-Roll once again the subject of trade rumors, though his ego reportedly won’t allow him to leave waive his no-trade clause because he has some team records that he wants to break. And he will establish them because, unlike Jeter, they are records now born of longevity rather than of overcoming the Plateau Effect. Nor is J-Roll the biggest albatross the aging Phillies have this year. His buddy Ryan Howard is plagued by the same Plateau Effect. Hampered by injuries and slow to make crucial changes, Howard continues to be befuddled by adjustments that pitchers have made, and his inability or unwillingness to be either more disciplined at the plate. To take pitches that he flails at on the low and outer edge of the plate the opposite way. So well ingrained have his habits become that when he does manage to put his bat on the ball it’s often into the teeth of the Howard shift. Heck, even the third base coach is tempted to move toward first base! Unlike J-Roll, Howard has the ridiculous contract cash to have built St. Howardsburg on the Belleair Shores. Chances are the two of them will spend plenty of time there patting each other on the back for the potential they had to be the greatest ever at their positions, while Jeter rides his ability to overcome the Plateau Effect all the way to Cooperstown.
I’ll be back to Spring Training this year, perhaps watching Jeter visit Clearwater on March 6 for a Yankees split squad game vs. the Phils (the longer trip for the squad is to Lakeland, vs. the shorter hop from Tampa over to C-Water). When I do, by then getting ready to be age 62 (how did that happen?) – I’ll remind myself how Sullivan and Thompson use sports as a metaphor for overcoming the Plateau effect. Will I still have the drive to overcome the Plateau Effect when I’m 64? Hope so …