O's know score, at least on paper

Psychology: The Orioles think they've found a successful method for evaluating talent: Certain minds win alike.

Orioles Spring Training

February 22, 2004|By John Eisenberg | John Eisenberg,SUN STAFF

Weary of paying million-dollar bonuses to high draft choices who failed to develop, Orioles owner Peter G. Angelos was ready to let Adam Loewen slip through the team's fingers.

But as a yearlong window for signing Loewen, the team's No. 1 pick in the 2002 draft, was about to close in May, the front office used Loewen's high score on a psychological test to help persuade Angelos to sign him.

Loewen, a 19-year-old pitcher, signed a $4 million contract and is now one of the jewels of the Orioles' farm system.

Angelos "would not have let us sign him without that test result," said Dave Ritterpusch, the Orioles' director of baseball information systems. Angelos confirmed that, calling Loewen's test score "helpful."

Psychological evaluations have become a critical component of the Orioles' personnel decision-making since Mike Flanagan and Jim Beattie took over for Syd Thrift, who was fired after the 2002 season.

The team often relies on test scores such as Loewen's before acquiring players via the draft, trades or free agency.

"It's an important part of everything we do," said Flanagan, the team's vice president of baseball operations.

The team isn't so dependent that it is basing all acquisitions on the test scores; in some cases, the scores aren't deemed as important as players' physical attributes, the team's needs or doing what is needed to complete a trade.

But there is a much greater emphasis on psychological evaluations. That is due mostly to the presence of Ritterpusch, 62, whose odd job title and low public profile fail to reflect his considerable influence.

An ally of Flanagan's, he was the Orioles' director of scouting for three years in the 1970s. At that time, he was among the first in baseball personnel to believe in psychological testing, and retained the interest during a varied career in the military and government.

Since returning to the Orioles in January 2003, he has worked with an assistant across the hall from Flanagan and Beattie, studying the results of almost 10,000 psychological tests. (Most players are tested once when they are eligible for the draft.) The Orioles purchased a majority of the results from the California company that administers the test, enabling Ritterpusch to analyze players' scores and performances over a 30-year span.

His labor was fruitful. He said he has "cracked the code" for identifying psychological profiles of prospects likely to blossom as well as those destined to fail. Distinct patterns exist for starting pitchers, closers and position players.

"The game rewards certain psychological traits," Ritterpusch said, "and we know what they are."

Neither Ritterpusch nor Flanagan would reveal the traits they are seeking - and avoiding.

"It took 30 years to compile this, and we're not going to give it away," Flanagan said.

Whatever the traits are, the Orioles have made them a cornerstone of their personnel decision-making.

"I'm more than confident in this. I'm extremely confident in it," Flanagan said. "When you go through the evidence, it's hard not to believe in it."

Putting results to work

Ritterpusch had made conclusions about pitchers before rejoining the Orioles last year, and he reached conclusions about position players last spring after studying the 10,000 tests.

At that point, the Orioles began trying to acquire as many players as possible with high scores in the traits Ritterpusch's research deems essential.

Before trading Sidney Ponson to the Giants in July and Jeff Conine to the Marlins in August, Flanagan and Beattie asked Ritterpusch to look for the desired traits among players in the two organizations. As a result, they acquired pitchers Kurt Ainsworth and Ryan Hannaman from the Giants and Don Levinski from the Marlins.

On a scale the Orioles devised to gauge test results - which goes from one on the low end and five or five-plus on the high end - Ainsworth, Hannaman and Levinski each scored five or five-plus. The Orioles have yet to adapt results for players such as Denny Bautista, also acquired from the Marlins, who are tested in Spanish.

Chris Ray, the team's 2003 third-round draft pick, also scored five, as did Loewen.

"Since the [2003] draft we have added close to 10 pitchers who both throw hard and are either five or five-plus," Ritterpusch said.

Other players in the Orioles' system who have scored five or five-plus are pitchers John Parrish and John Maine, and outfielder Nick Markakis, the team's No. 1 pick in 2003.

Parrish, who had been languishing in the minor leagues, is now held in higher regard. The test "awakened us to his potential," Ritterpusch said.

The test the Orioles use is the Athletic Success Profile, overseen by the Winslow Research Institute of Antioch, Calif. It asks 110 questions intended to measure 11 attributes: drive, aggressiveness, endurance, leadership, self-confidence, emotional control, mental toughness, coachability, conscientiousness, responsibility and trust.

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