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Sheep Sexy: A Lesson from Tim Wakefield

I watched Tim Wakefield pitch a few weeks ago. The guy is 42-years old and his pitches can still make a seasoned hitter’s knees buckle. Wakefield is awesome for one simple reason. Here's what I learned from him...
Sheep Sexy: A Lesson from Tim Wakefield
Photo by Bill Stephan / Unsplash

I watched Tim Wakefield pitch a few weeks ago.  The guy is 42-years old and his pitches can still make a seasoned hitter’s knees buckle.  Wakefield is awesome for one simple reason: he plays at the edges.

Tim is completely different from the standard pitcher’s mold.  He is an outlier.

Knuckleball pitchers tend to be that way.  While 99% of major league pitchers dream of having a 100 mph fastball, Tim doesn’t want his fastest pitch going above 80 mph.  All of his pitches look the same – slow and easy.  Even his delivery looks lazy.  But the unpredictable movement of his pitches makes him extremely difficult to hit.  The fact that he’s just so different from everyone else is enough to make him effective.  And interestingly enough, his lazy delivery has actually enabled him to pitch longer.  The rapid wear-and-tear that comes with throwing 90+ mph can cause many career-ending injuries.  Having a slow knuckleball windup means Tim can pitch for the whole game and not even be all that sore.

Nearly every kid who becomes a pitcher will learn the tried-and-true methods: throw hard overhand (sidearm if you’re tall and/or have good junk pitches), get a nasty curveball, solid changeup, drive yourself hard off the mound, etc.

Almost no one will be taught to pitch like Tim.

Although they won’t admit this, few coaches prefer movement over velocity.  Why?  Velocity’s sexier.  Coaches are comfortable with fast because it looks good, everyone else is doing it, and, for the most part, it works.  And even when a 102 mph fastball gets rocked by a hitter who saw it coming, they can still find consolation in the sheer speed of the pitch. “He threw 102!  The hitter barely had to stick his bat out and it was gone!”

No one questions it because it seems to work, and hey, it’s pretty awesome to watch.  I’ll call this mentality “sheep sexy.”

Like these coaches, many marketers prefer sheep sexy over results.  Most industries are afraid of doing things in a new way, even if they work just as well as the current way.

A lot of companies will not be comfortable putting all of their effort into Permission Marketing.  Why?  It’s not nearly as sexy as Interruption Marketing, and there’s absolutely no doubt about that.  “Make the logo bigger, have the transitions come faster, and make that woman sexier!  We want this ad to grab our viewer’s attention, no matter what the cost!”  Interruption is a comfortable formula, one that many marketers have gotten used to.

Even when these huge, powerful advertisements don’t really work (e.g. Eva Mendes naked body next to a perfume bottle on a billboard) and there’s no way to measure their effectiveness, at least it feels like it was money well-spent.  It’s tangible and it looks just as sexy as a 102 mph fastball… alright, a lot sexier.

Most importantly, it’s what everyone else is doing.

Tim Wakefield has been pitching in the majors for 16 years (the average pitcher’s career is just a few years).  He’s not the best pitcher, but his methods are arguably superior to the standard way of pitching.  He’s less prone to injury and his stamina is inherently greater – all without sacrificing his Earned Run Average.  Anyone who can play professionally for that long must be doing something right.

He may throw really slow, but no one will ever say he’s ineffective.  His un-sexy pitches work.

Measure results, not the warm fuzzy feeling you get from sheep sexy.