Nationals Baseball: When good decisions go bad

Monday, August 16, 2010

When good decisions go bad

For logical people, sports can sometimes be infuriating to watch. That's because good decisions and bad decisions do not necessarily produce good and bad results respectively, and sports is all about results.

If with two outs in the 9th the Nats could pinch hit a sitting Ryan Zimmerman or Livan Hernandez the right decision would be to pinch hit Zimmerman. But let's say Riggles has a feeling and he pinch hits Livan, who just the day before injured his knee, and he has to bat left handed today because of a religious holiday, and he's suffering from a Dippin-Dots induced ice cream headache. It's a terrible decision to bat Livan. Now let's say Livan gets a base hit and the Nats win. You'd find a lot of people you would argue that Riggleman made the right decision. In no way did he do that, but the results shaped the decision for these fans. The thought process behind the decision doesn't matter, neither does the odds of success created by it, only the actual outcome. Decisions are not divorced from results, as they probably should be, but inexorably tied to them.

This is certainly true in the course of an individual game, but it can even be the case over several seasons. Which brings me roundaboutly to the point of this - Jason Marquis. The Nationals needed a pitcher to stabalize the rotation. After John Lackey the pickings were rather slim. Two pitchers stood out as relatively young, relatively healthy and available. Jon Garland and Jason Marquis. Over the past 3 years their numbers were scarily similar:

Garland : age 29, 97 GS, 4.37 ERA, 104 ERA+, 1.409 WHIP, 61 HR,
Marquis : age 30, 94 GS, 4.37 ERA, 105 ERA+, 1.403, 52 HR

There was some talk that the Nats actually preferred Garland but he preferred the West Coast, so the Nats turned to Marquis and signed him to a deal. 2 years, fifteen million. It made sense. Recently Randy Wolf, maybe slightly better, certainly older, signed a 3 year 30 million dollar deal. Injury risks Carl Pavano and Brad Penny signed one year 7 million and 7.5 million dollar deals respectively. The supply was diminishing so the Nats jumped on the chance to sign someone reliable at what seemed like a market value deal. The Joel Piniero signing would only confirm that (2 years - 16 million). It was a good deal at the time. But then the market didn't go up for the remaining pitchers. It crashed. Doug Davis and Jon Garland were both forced to go cheaper than people thought they would (perhaps they forced their own hands a litte). Garland 5.3 million (well really 4.7 for 2010 but he has to make at least 5.3 total) with a mutual option for 2011. Davis 4.25 with a mutual option for 2011. The Nats didn't necessarily overpay but if they waited - they might have been able to work out a more favorable deal.

Still the Nats had their man and they had their 200 IP of average baseball that would save thier bullpen. But it didn't come from Marquis. Marquis was damaged goods and immediately pitched horribly. After three starts it was the DL for him. He had surgery, came back, and... has pitched only slightly less horribly. 5 horrible games so far for around 6 million. No the good pitching came from a guy who's line the last three years was this:

95 GS, 5.43 ERA, 81 ERA+, 1.607 WHIP, 78 HR

A guy signed at last second to help fill a hole when Ross Detwiler went down to injury. A 34 year old who was begging for work just a few months earlier, who agreed to a minor league deal. Of course you know it was Livan the Nats signed, who at 35 just might be having his best season EVER.

Some fans will now look at the Marquis signing and say that it was a bad decision. They'll look at the horrible results for Jason Marquis and how cheaply they got good results from Livan and say "SEE! BAD DECISION" But it wasn't a bad decision. At it's worst it was a completely defensible blah decision. A inning eater average pitcher for market value for 2 years. That's fine. Some may say it was a good decision and I wouldn't argue with them.

It's a shame that Marquis deal has been a total bust so far, but don't let that cloud the facts that the decision was based on at the time. Sometimes good decisions produce bad results.


Sec 204 Row H Seat 7 said...

Thank you Harper for being the voice of reason. Let us hope Marquis gets his mojo back (optimistically assuming he has mojo to get back) for one or two starts the NATS are going to give him and for next year.

Bryan said...

Harper - Those fans are idiots.

But its hardly limited to baseball. Plenty of people applaud their ability when arriving at a positive outcome entirely the result of luck.

The difference is that life is long term. Yes, the Marquis/Livan signing worked out the opposite of how you would expect. But you can't do that year after year, season after season. More often than not it will bite you. No, its not a 100% proposition, and you'll get lucky sometimes, but I'd wager its a 90% proposition.

Harper said...

Sec 204 - I'm not hopeful for Marquis this year. I'd throw him out there if he's healthy just to get him some work but I don't expect anything good.

Bryan - Life is long term, but sports really isn't, not for managers and GMs. A bad break or two and a well run front office could be kicked to the curb. Then, if you choose a new bad set, you lose the benefits of the luck evening out. It sucks but to be good long term a lot of teams need not only to hire the right guys but also have no bad luck in the early years.

Bryan said...

Harper - What you say is very true.

A team has what we will call a "natural" level. Say 80 wins is your "natural" level.

Any number of good/bad things can happen that are "luck." A player having a career year hitting. Or a historically bad year. Or getting hurt.

But the downsides are much, much worse. A guy gets hurts and suddenly, your down a player. Maybe not the end of the world, but maybe enough to fall to 75 wins.

OTOH: Very little upside can get you to 85 wins. A player hitting 300 sted of 275 probably won't do it.

And then there is pitching. Losing a pitcher can be catostrophic. Having a guy like Livan have an unexpected career year can save your bacon, but it won't really improve you above your "normal."

Deacon Drake said...

It wasn't a bad decision to sign him... though it is clearly a bad decision to keep sending him out there. Maybe this season he figures out why his pitches have less movement than John Kruk after a two day bender at Old Country Buffet, but odds are it is something he will need to work on in the offseason.

The smart play for both parties is to admit that it isn't right yet and shut it down. Yeah, the Nats really can't win when he starts, but the outcomes for Marquis are much worse. Every start he likely risks re-injury, but also drives down any value he has as a major league pitcher. A healthy Jason Marquis does help the Nats next season, but probably helps more in trade to a legit contender looking for a back end innings muncher.

Harper said...

Bryan - totally agree, bad luck will always trump good luck because bad luck includes injuries. If a good player gets injured that might be made up by a surprise return to form by someone else (this is like Livan and Marquis), or maybe a career year. If a great player gets injured, it's next to impossible to make that up. Lose Utley and not only does his fill-in have to play at replacement level but someone like Werth or Howard would suddenly have to become the best player in the game. That's just not going to happen. (lukcy for the Phils they don't need all that to win) Really a lot of the "good luck" in a season is just avoidance of bad luck.

Deacon - I have to think the team is seeing him in side sessions and he looks fine. I guess. If they think it's not a "stuff" issue but just a workload issue then I can't blame them for putting him out there. Of course, those first two games do little to make one think that.

Dave Nichols said...

what if you don't think giving $15 million over tow years to a completely average (to that point) pitcher was not a good decision?

i didn't think the Marquis signing was good at the time and certainly still don't.

Harper said...

Well I left it open at the end of the post - I can see why someone wouldn't think it was a good move, but thinking it was a bad one... that I don't get that. It's the difference between "I wouldn't have done that" and "WHY DID THEY DO THAT?!??!"

Your post seems more the former and I've got no problem with a bit of "I told you so" if you want to go that way. It is funny that the Nats might have been in roughly the same position they are now if they had made NO free agent signings last offseason.

Hoo said...

The Marquis signing was a lot less puzzling the Pudge signing. Although the Pudge made a lot more sense due to the Flores debacle.

Marquis was a good signing and it didn't work. But the good thing is that it's only a 2 year and not a organization hamstringing signing or even as head scratching as some of the other deals the Nats made in the recent past.

The Marquis signing was the big piece but a piece of the Nats step forward. Signing Livo and Olsen gave the Nats more options than say 2009 when they hoped that Olsen and Cabrera were the answer. When Marquis faltered, the Nats had some backup options. They got a bit lucky that Livo ended up being a heckuva lot better than anyone thought.

This offseason will be a whole new ball of wax. B/c I don't think Bozwell will be able to say that the Nats "have to overpay" FAs. Nats should be, correctly, seen as a team on the rise and a contender for the aging Phillies crown (although the Braves seem to be NL East team of the now/future).

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