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Q&A: House on team chemistry, analytics

March 4, 2017

Tom House is more than just the trivia answer to the question of who caught Hank Aaron's 715th home run. He is an innovator who admittedly ran into obstacles along the way while trying to change the process of decision makers in baseball.Now, however, with his 71st birthday approaching, House

Tom House is more than just the trivia answer to the question of who caught Hank Aaron's 715th home run. He is an innovator who admittedly ran into obstacles along the way while trying to change the process of decision makers in baseball.
Now, however, with his 71st birthday approaching, House is enjoying watching the acceptance of analytics, and he's waiting for the new breed of baseball management to reach out and embrace the importance of chemistry.
House's insight into athletic success has allowed him to not only impact baseball, where he currently works with many of the game's top pitchers, but also to extend his efforts into college football and the NFL. 
House is the subject of this week's Q&A: How did you become so involved in the football world?
House: When we first started doing motion analysis, we captured any movement we could capture. We have Dan Marino in the computer. We have Joe Montana, Steve Beuerlein. Remember Todd Marinovich, robo quarterback? We had a bunch of elite quarterbacks captured. All the data measured, but I didn't know what we were looking at. Then obviously we threw footballs in a baseball environment when I was a coach in the Padres' system and at the big leagues with the Rangers. I got that from the trainer in San Diego, Dick Dent. He figured out you have to have proper throwing mechanics to throw a spiral. But that was taking football to baseball. Where, along the line, did you get involved in dealing with the football players?
House: Cam Cameron was the offensive coordinator with the San Diego Chargers, and I had been working with his boys in baseball. Both his sons pitched. Drew Brees was his quarterback. He said, "You know, do you think you might be able to talk to Drew?" I worked with him for about a year and a half. Then in the last game of his tenure with the Chargers, he blew his shoulder out really bad. He dislocated the right shoulder and suffered a 360-degree tear of the rotator cuff and labrum.
Dr. [James] Andrews put him back together, but didn't think Drew would ever throw a professional pass again. I got seriously involved with the rehab, and one thing leads to another. Nine months later, he signed with the Saints. And as they say, the rest is history. In sports, the word of mouth has an impact. I started with Drew, and one day another quarterback showed up, and all of a sudden I'm working with six or seven guys. Over the last four years, we've been working with 26 of the No. 1 quarterbacks in the NFL, a bunch of backups and most of the elite college quarterbacks. I guess it's that old saying about timing. You were considered the nutty professor with the Rangers back in the 1980s, but you are readily accepted in the new century in the NFL.
House: Somebody's got to take a shot at being first. I've always been looking for a better way. It's finally starting to pay off. The really cool thing is we've figured out that rotational athletes -- hitters, golfers, tennis, football, softball, baseball -- are pretty much the same animal. The preparation and the movements are all really, really close. If you can teach pitching, you can teach quarterbacking. If you can teach quarterbacking, you can teach the physical movements and the physical preparations to hit like tennis, whatever. It got kind of easy once we started looking at the analytics of outcome and moving back to the process. The process?
House: Sports are all about outcomes. You get contracts and big money if you're a pro guy because of outcomes. You get college scholarships because of outcome. The analytics out there are really good for that, but the confidence intervals and the standard deviations when you're measuring outcome aren't as good as when you're measuring process. Our confidence intervals and our standard deviations are more measurable, more quantifiable and more defendable than what the analytics guys are doing. Analytics are really good. We're just a little bit more predictable, because we're measuring process, not outcome.
We do movement analysis. We do functional strength. We do nutrition and sleep, and we do mental emotions. I was doing that with the Rangers. We've just gotten better and better and better working with the process, not the outcome. You were a pioneer in analytics.
House: I was fortunate to run across Craig Wright. We did a book, "Diamond Appraised." We actually preceded Bill James and all those guys. We really didn't know what we were doing. Timing is everything. I just happened to be sitting at the bus stop when three dimensional motion analysis showed up, wireless CMG, sleeping monitor, what muscles were doing. Then obviously I went to school and got my Ph.D. in psychology and a master's in nutrition. It was just pretty much luck of the draw. Blind squirrels find an acorn. Did it ever get frustrating that you had such a hard time being accepted with what's now commonplace?
House: It frustrated me that I wasn't a good enough communicator to make people understand the value involved with what we were doing. There were times when I had my feelings hurt, but it didn't stop me from pushing, because I knew we were doing something that was measurable and quantifiable for the first time in sport. That held me together. What about how the human element plays into it? That's one thing that people seem to lose some sight of.
House: We're genetically predisposed for affiliation and failure. We are born with overwhelming need to be affiliated with something, and we learn more from our failures than we do from our successes. Where people have trouble identifying team chemistry, it basically boils down to those two things: the affiliation process, we want to belong to something, a team, and if that affiliation returns positive, you stay affiliated. Then the failure side of the equation -- if you're with a team that doesn't embrace failure as part of the learning process, then the attachment of feelings to failure or success gets in the way of the process.
The perfect example is what the Patriots do. On their wall, when you walk in their locker room, it basically says three things: do your job, trust the process, trust your teammate. That's it. Think about this: When people go to the Patriots, who do you think reframes to be affiliated? The Belichick boys or the new guys? The new guys. When you go to the Patriots, no matter what your personality, Randy Moss or whoever.
That's what creates chemistry. Going to the Cleveland Browns right now, they really don't have a process the kids can hang their hats on, so they're going in with kind of a question mark on how affiliated they're going to be to the Cleveland Brown Way until there's either a pre-sold chemistry like Belichick has, because his process is proven to everybody it works. Unless an organization can create a process that a player wants to be affiliated with -- and unless those players can reframe performance, success or failure, around that process -- they don't have chemistry. Hal Keller used to say when he scouted amateurs he liked to see them have a bad day, because everybody fails at some point and the successful players deal with failure.
House: That's affiliation. Remember, you asked if I had my feelings hurt at the lack of acceptance 30, 40 years ago? I bought into the process I was involved with, not how it was being perceived. My value proposition was in my process, not the outcome of me being a great pitching coach or a great communicator or whatever. Eventually, if you're confident of your process and you have a belief system, your process is measurable, quantifiable and dependable, eventually it wins out. As young player, how did you get so involved in the analytics aspect?
House: I never expected to play past college. When I left USC and signed with the Braves, I figured it was going be a real good summer job while I went ahead and got my Ph.D. I was pursuing baseball, living, breathing, dying baseball. That was my passion. But as a parallel process, I was in the classroom doing academics and research. Looking back, everybody had the same goals down, but they weren't talking to each other as they were approaching that goal. If I have a value to sports right now, it's connecting dots between different disciplines and making everybody aware that we all want to win the Super Bowl and we all want to win a World Series, let's not be fractured with the process. Let's make sure we're all on the same page, so we have organizational process and team chemistry. Is that exciting for you?
House: When I first started realizing how big the disconnects were in baseball, I didn't think there was any hope that I would see this in my lifetime, but now I do. The awareness now that there's a better way is starting to change throughout the game. I'm talking from Rookie ball to the Major Leagues, from the front-office analytics guys all the way down to the clubhouse. Other sports have figured it out a little quicker. Baseball's coming along, and it's going to be just fine. I've been involved in the game 50 years, and I'd like to think I carried the torch a little bit, and the kids that are standing on my shoulders now will take it home.

Tracy Ringolsby is a columnist for