O's know score, at least on paper

THE BALTIMORE SUN

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.

Most other teams score the test using Winslow's percentage scale of one to 100, the higher the better in each trait.

The Major League Scouting Bureau, operated by the commissioner's office, has administered the test (or a prior version) to hundreds of prospects every year since 1974. Some NFL teams also use it.

Psychological testing has become a standard part of player evaluations in all sports since the pioneer days in the early 1970s when Ritterpusch gave the test to potential Orioles such as Eddie Murray.

An entire day is devoted to psychological testing at the NFL's annual scouting combine in Indianapolis.

"It's become a big thing with a lot of people," said Ravens scouting director Phil Savage.

Some teams give it greater credence than others. The Atlanta Braves and Minnesota Twins are others known to use it.

"For us, it's like a radar gun: another one of the many tools we use for evaluating prospects," said Twins general manager Terry Ryan. "And like the radar gun, it can help you make a decision, but you can't base the decision on it."

The Ravens don't use psychological testing at all and have a nearly uninterrupted string of high-performing No. 1 draft picks.

"We just moved away from it when we came here from Cleveland, and we've had success without it," Savage said.

The Orioles, conversely, have become heavily invested.

"Baltimore is definitely more committed than most of the teams we work with," said William Winslow, founder of the Winslow Research Institute.

Sticking with theory

Frank Marcos, head of the Major League Scouting Bureau, said, "As popular as [psychological testing] is, I'm not sure many teams go as in depth as Baltimore. They're at the forefront."

Why have the Orioles jumped in so deep? They believe Ritterpusch's conclusions are a breakthrough.

"The test isn't new, but the interpretation is new," Flanagan said.

Personnel executives have long believed that desire was a key to success; teams that used psychological tests did so primarily to identify that quality.

But Ritterpusch startlingly contends drive is less important than several other qualities.

"The old cliche about 'the guy who wants it the most will get it' - it's a myth," he said.

Winslow, the test's godfather, is surprised and impressed.

"Dave has taken this beyond what anyone else has done in baseball," Winslow said. "It's a step beyond conventional research. He has found specific and valid correlations between the data and why pitchers are succeeding and failing. And not just pitchers in general, but starters and relievers. He has broken it down that far.

"I have seen what he has done. It isn't a hypothesis."

Ritterpusch and Flanagan stressed that the right traits are no guarantee. Assessment of physical abilities remains the bedrock of the Orioles' scouting program.

"The test evaluates a prospect's chances of maximizing his physical potential; that's all," Ritterpusch said. "The key is still finding the right physical talent."

Tony DeMacio, the Orioles' scouting director since 1999, agreed.

"You still have to find the talent," DeMacio said. "The difference is, if we're choosing between two players of similar ability, we're going to take the guy with the better [psychological] profile.

"With the money involved now, we're all looking for kids with better makeup. It's hard to judge. Dave thinks he is on to something. We're just trying to use every angle we can."

No shortcuts

Ritterpusch has an unusual background for a baseball administrator, to say the least. The Catonsville native has a master's degree in public administration from Penn State and had a long career in the army, retiring as a colonel in 1991. He was a captain at 24, a paratrooper and an intelligence officer, and later worked as an advertising manager on the "Be All You Can Be" campaign.

In the early 1990s, he was an assistant secretary of labor in the first Bush administration, performing cost analyses of billion-dollar budgets. After that, he became a consultant and contractor, specializing in defense department communications.

But he always longed to get back into baseball.

As the Orioles' scouting director from 1973 to 1975, he used psychological testing when drafting Murray, Flanagan and Rich Dauer, and stayed friendly with them as they went on to successful careers. He also stayed in touch with Winslow, the testing guru, and occasionally asked to see the test results of various players.

"It was a real interest of mine; more than a hobby," he said.

His first discovery, made in the early 1990s, was a "failure profile" for pitchers.

"I looked at the tests of a slew of draft choices who had failed, and it was right there, as obvious as could be: They were all lacking a certain trait," he said.

Meanwhile, Flanagan had become the Orioles' pitching coach. In 1995, while struggling to find a role for talented, inconsistent Arthur Rhodes, he sought Ritterpusch's advice. He said Rhodes' psychological testing indicated he should neither start nor close, roles the Orioles wanted him to fill.

Rhodes was made into a middle reliever and setup man, and is still pitching in the major leagues today.

Flanagan and Ritterpusch began conversing regularly about pitchers as Flanagan gained faith in psychological testing.

When Flanagan was hired along with Beattie to head the Orioles' baseball office in late 2002, he recruited Ritterpusch.

"We were just so in tune," Flanagan said.

In the first four months of 2003, Ritterpusch studied the tests of thousands of position players and uncovered templates for success and failure among non-pitchers.

"Mike and Jim [Beattie] were down in Florida at spring training and I was faxing them [his study of] a new position every other day, and it was like, 'Holy mackerel!'" Ritterpusch said. "The patterns were just phenomenally clear. Successful players all have the same package of traits. It's so strong and pronounced, you can' t get over it."

Ritterpusch conceded other teams would likely be skeptical. "The industry is going to say, 'Oh, that doesn't work,'" he said. "But it works for us. We feel it gives us insight into the talent base. We feel we can reduce the unknown."

Loewen 'off the charts'

The Orioles' reliance on his findings is real. Last summer, for example, he said the team was offered "a big-name player" in a trade. "We had always said, 'What's missing with that guy?' We went back and found his profile from when he was in college, and there it was. He was severely lacking in one of the critical traits. So we didn't touch him."

Rather than waiting for the scouting bureau, he said the Orioles have tested more than 300 prospects eligible for the coming draft in June. "We need to know," Ritterpusch said. "We told our scouts, 'The owner is not going to spend money on high picks that are crapshoots when we have this predictive device.'"

The templates helped persuade Angelos to sign Loewen, who had been selected during Thrift's regime as the fourth overall pick in the 2002 draft. Given a year to agree to a contract before Loewen became a free agent again, the two sides spent 11 months dickering.

Angelos' caution was understandable; since 1999 the Orioles had given signing bonuses of $2.2 million to Beau Hale, $2.175 million to Chris Smith, $2 million to Richard Stahl and $1.7 million to Mike Paradis - all highly drafted pitchers who disappointed.

"You couldn't blame him," Ritterpusch said of Angelos. "He'd been burned by poor drafts that didn't pan out."

Loewen had taken the test before being drafted - the Major League Scouting Bureau had administered it - but his results were declared invalid. There are control questions that help detect whether prospects are giving honest answers or responding as they think teams want them to respond. Invalid tests aren't unusual, Ritterpusch said.

"I had taken something like 10 different [psychological] tests within a week [administered by different teams] and the Orioles' test was the last," Loewen said. "I was tired and didn't do a good job."

Thrift, the team's vice president of baseball operations for the first six months of the Loewen stalemate, did not bother to have Loewen take the test again.

"I don't believe [the test] was being stressed by those previously in charge," Angelos said.

Flanagan and Beattie wanted Loewen, but they knew Angelos wouldn't budge unless he could be convinced the 6-foot-6 left-hander would succeed. Thinking the psychological test might give them evidence, they flew a scout down to Loewen's junior college in Florida to re-administer the test.

This time, the results were valid and Loewen's score was "off the charts," Ritterpusch said.

Flanagan then went to Angelos with a presentation.

First, he showed the owner the profiles of some of his high picks who had disappointed. "It was clear they had the physical ability but not the makeup," Ritterpusch said.

Then Flanagan showed Angelos Loewen's test results, which ranked with those of Roger Clemens (a 5-plus) and other successful pitchers such as Mike Mussina, Josh Beckett and Barry Zito.

Angelos was swayed. "Loewen clearly has all the tools physically," the owner said. "If psychologically he is as strong as Ritterpusch suggests, he should be interesting."

Loewen said, "My agent told me the test had a lot to do with me getting signed. I bore down and really paid attention, and I guess I did well. I don't claim to understand how it works, but I can see where [the test] does a good job of evaluating where a guy is in terms of maturity."

How does Angelos feel about his team emphasizing its interpretation of the test?

"Time will tell," Angelos said. "This is not a new test. The evidence Ritterpusch presents is very interesting. Let's see if he can come up with the Mona Lisa of baseball [in Loewen]."

Winslow seems confident the Orioles will benefit.

"I'm convinced that in a few years the Orioles are going to be much more successful than in the past because of this," Winslow said. "Dave has convinced the club of the relevance of the testing, and the club is committed. If you were a betting man, you should bet on the results."

How test works

On the Winslow test, each question is is actually a statement to which the prospect must answer a) agree, b) somewhat agree, c) somewhat disagree or d) disagree.

Here are the five of the 110 statements on the test, courtesy of the Winslow Research Institute:

1. When opponents beat me, I do not mind congratulating them.

2. I obey the rules of competition to the letter.

3. When a coach calls me over, I think I did something wrong.

4. I do not believe the coach is always right.

5. When I become emiotionally upset, others are not aware of it.

How test came about

The psychological test the Orioles use traces to San Jose State University in the early 1960s, when psychologists Bruce Oglivie, Thomas Tutko and Leland Lyon put together a 190-question exam.

"They wanted to measure the mental attitudes of players to get accelerated insight," said William Winslow, founder of the Winslow Research Institute, which owns the test.

Known as the Athletic Motivation Inventory, the test eventually was used by 1,600 high schools, 800 colleges and universities and Olympic teams in the United States and Canada, baseball's Major League Scouting Bureau and pro football teams such as the San Francisco 49ers and Dallas Cowboys.

In the early 1990s, the institute boiled the test down to 110 questions and began calling it the Athletic Success Profile.

Some teams use tests made by other companies, or other pyschologists.

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