Nationals Baseball: The right decision

Friday, July 01, 2016

The right decision

Was a decision made the right decision?

This seems straight forward but it can be a confusing question to answer because there are actually two reasonable points of evaluation where the standards for deciding if it was right are decidedly different; before the event and after the event. Before the event what is "right" is based on whether the best decision was made at that time using the information available. After the event what is "right" is based on whether or not the event went the way desired.

Also, how definitive you can be about a decision being right changes. Before the event, you are evaluating everything with the same amount of information and trying to predict what will happen. There is subjectivity to be sure, but all decisions are on a level playing field. Often, at this juncture, you can feel pretty good about saying something is THE right decision. After the event, you are evaluating the results of one decision, which is now known, versus the potential results of other decisions, which are unknown. Because of that most of the time you can really only say something is A right or wrong decision. Other decisions may have worked, or they may not have.

Really they should be two separate questions, but our minds tend not to work that way.

Often the after evaluation serves to validate the before one. You pinch hit Bryce Harper and he hits a home run. You bring in Aroldis Chapman and he gets the guy out. The decisions made before, presumably the right decisions at the time, give you the right results, making them also the right decisions after the event based on the results. Failing that, the after evaluation usually only serves as a mild rebuke to the before one. Bryce lines out. Chapman gives up a broken bat looper. While they were presumably the right decisions at the time, they weren't right decisions based on the result. However, because the results of any other decisions are unknown, you can't say definitively that the other decisions would have turned out better. In fact you can easily come up with situations where things turn out worse. Steve Lombardozzi strikes out, not even allowing the opportunity for a sac fly or error. Kirby Yates gives up an extra base hit. The decisions made were likely one of many decisions that would have ended up with the wrong result. This thinking doesn't really change what we think of the evaluation made before the event.

Yet there are so many decisions made that every once in a while the after evaluation makes you want to re-examine the before evaluation. The results are so one-sidedly positive or negative that you are forced to look again at the before decision to see if you made an error. And even if you go back and decide that no, the correct decision was made at the time, you have to concede that the results conclude that the decision made was almost definitively THE right or wrong one.

Let me give you an example.

Two-out, bottom of the ninth, bases-loaded Nats down by 3. Fireballing righty closer on the mound. You have two choices for a pinch hitter; the red-hot healthy Bryce Harper and the ice-cold gimpy Steve Lombardozzi. The right decision at this time is obvious. Bryce should pinch hit. But let's say you choose Lombardozzi and he hits a game winning grand slam. The best possible thing happened. There is no way that Bryce Harper batting could have improved on those results. Were we wrong in our before decision? In this case the re-evaluation is extremely quick. Yes, pinch-hitting with Bryce was best decision at the time. But the after evaluation is also clear. The after evaluation is that batting Steve Lombardozzi was pretty much THE right decision.

We can flip it. No-outs, bottom of the ninth, bases-loaded Nats down by 1. Fireballing righty closer on the mound. You have two choices for a pinch hitter; the red-hot healthy Bryce Harper and the ice-cold gimpy Steve Lombardozzi. The right decision at this time is the same as before. Bryce should pinch hit. But let's say you choose Bryce and he lines into a game ending triple play. The worst possible thing happened. There is no way that Lombardozzi batting could have made those results any worse. Again we were not wrong in our before decision, but the after evaluation is also clear. The after evaluation is that batting Bryce Harper was pretty much THE wrong decision.

A lot of people with time and energy invested in coming up with the best before decisions hate the fact that after evaluations exist. In part, because after evaluations that conflict with the properly made before decisions (1) will happen - it's a long season and there's a lot of luck and variability involved, (2) should not effect decisions going forward, and (3) should not effect your evaluation of the person make the before decisions*. But like I said our minds don't work that way. You put in the wrong guy and get the right result and even if it's just one event, we tend to assume you knew something we didn't and actually made the right decision at the time. You put in the right guy and he gets the wrong result, if it's not an obvious situation like Bryce vs Lombo described above, we assume you made the wrong decision at the time. It's totally not fair. But organizations tend to understand this, so it's not a work issue. It's a public issue. And with the public a lot of times these people tend to ignore the results and try to solely focus on the before decision, as if their work will somehow be invalidated by admitting that things turned out against what was assumed to be a good decision at the time. But we can't ignore results because life is not decided by hypothetically what should have happened, it's decided by what actually did happen.

I'm talking about this mostly because of the Danny Espinosa / Trea Turner situation. Specifically, the twitter exchange yesterday some Nats fans had with Keith Law about Danny Espinosa, but also some other ones along the way. Kill-Gore poked at Keith Law by re-tweeting an old tweet of his that basically called for Trea Turner to replace Danny Espinosa. It wasn't a crazy thought at all. Many Nats fans felt the same way a month ago. But it looks stupid today because Espinosa hit so well, he might end up player of the month in the NL in June. All Law, or anyone that wanted Turner to play full-time, has to do is respond by saying "Yeah, Danny has had a great month but I still like Trea Turner going forward"** This lets you keep the before evaluation you stand by, but it doesn't deny the results that have happened. Communications probably end or morph into a discussion of why you like Turner going forward. But, in Law's case, that would be taking away focus from what he clearly feels was the right decision made at the time. So instead we get a lot of defensive tweets about why the initial tweet holds up.

I guess my point is when this happens there ceases to be discussion going on. It's people talking past eachother. One side is arguing that the after evaluation shows X, the other person is arguing that the before evaluation shows Y. Both may very well be right because they aren't talking about the same thing. But we end up with just people eventually getting angry and snippy and then completely closed down. It's not constructive and it's kind of sad because I don't think most people are really obstinate jerks. Most people are willing to listen and are looking to talk things through. But twitter and comment fields, etc. is a bad place to do it because it doesn't lend itself to long thoughts that allow positions to be fully explained.

As for the past month, while it was never Bryce v Lombo clear, I still think that if the Nats ultimate goal at the time was to win the NL East this year that bringing up Trea and letting him play full-time would have been the right decision at the time. I also clearly admit in hindsight there's almost no way Turner would have been better than Danny this past month. So letting Danny continue to play shortstop ended up being the right decision based on the results. Going forward? I never had Turner as being a huge plus over Danny so at this point I'd have to say I'd like Danny going forward. I might end up being wrong. Espinosa has had plenty of terrible months of baseball. But I think as of today, with the information we have now, that continuing to play Espinosa daily for the next several weeks is the right decision. We'll see if what the results say come August 1st.


*Well if it keeps happening that the wrong results are gotten then you can question someone who seems to be making sound decisions. Like Matt Williams with the pen last year. A manager has more information that us, so his before evaluations won't always agree with ours but they should be better. If you are always bringing in the guy who gets wrong results then maybe you are not reading all that information correctly. It's only a maybe but it's something that in cases like that, must be investigated. 

**Assuming they still believe that 

34 comments:

Alex Freeman said...

In regards to Trea Turner, there's no way now that he takes the SS position this year. Rizzo is basically admitting that SS isn't the problem by putting Trea in CF. Now what about Revere? I was on the Trea over Danny side last month, clearly I can't say the same now so I'm hesitant to say Trea over Revere. What I would do is keep the platoon, on the hopes that Revere picks it up like he has his entire career, but replace MAT (the career K-machine) with TT. Thoughts?

Vdub said...

On a similar note, Desmond betting on himself may actually work out... just a year later than expected. He should be selected as an All Star. I hope he continues doing well. It looks like he is starting to get the hang of the outfield. Maybe we can make a trade to bring him back to play CF for us.

Anonymous said...

No way the Rangers let him go with how well they're playing. If the Rangers were in 4th place and in a fire sale, selling Desmond for prospects would make sense. Not with them in first in the AL

Anonymous said...

Vdub: If Desmond was hitting .285-.290, nats would not let him go. Desmond had never hit 0.290, and this season seems quite an anamoly to me. Rizzo would have kept him even if he had to overpay him. He was striking out way too much.

SS

Harper said...

AF - I don't see how you don't stick with Danny through an extended slump just to see if he comes out of it. It would have to be at least a month long by this point.

I have to know more about how Trea plays in CF. Until then I'd have to stick with Revere. Thing is with Ben - his June (.283 with no other offensive contributions) is not far off from what you'd expect from him anyway. He didn't have a hot month like Danny but I don't see how you take the role away from Ben without another long (2 weekish) cold stretch.

Vdub - Yeah - good for him not taking a low-ball multi-year deal. I probably would have. But Anon is right - Texas isn't trading him. They are going for a pennant

Bjd1207 said...

Lol yea remember that there are TWO sides that need to agree to every trade. It's not very often you see a playoff-bound team ship off their best hitter, no way they are trading Desmond

Vdub said...

Haha, I was kidding about trading for Desmond. The Nats are not the Mets. I am just glad he is doing well. Besides, if Rizzo was truely interested in upgrading CF, there is only one player to ask about and that is Andrew McCutchen. I would be willing to send a package that includes TT or Giolito to the Pirates for that kind of upgrade. Though I think it would probably take both, and the conversation would end. Even so, Rizzo just doesn't seem like the type to move his top prospects so it would never happen. But just imagine having a legitimate All-Star Caliber CF on this team... Yeah, I would never make it as a GM.

WiredHK said...

There's no way I'd bench Revere at any point this year unless he is really still injured. He hit over .300 last year and is a .290 career hitter. I strongly like his chances at coming up huge in the second half of this season, if statistics are our guide.

I could see Turner getting starts in September with expanded rosters and a desire to get regulars rest, playing well, and potentially creating interesting discussions/questions heading into the playoffs (esp if Danny slumps hard at that time). Let's also be clear, as hot as Danny is, he is still hitting .235 on the season. His power/pop cover up the low average, which is exactly what Danny has always brought to the table (along with a strong glove and some speed on the paths).

Anonymous said...

Continuing discussion on Ian Desmond, I would not rule out anything. This town and team has a very soft spot for him. He was loved by every single member and he loved in return. If he wants, they will embrace him and we have an opening. Its all on him.

Vdub said...

@ Anonymous - Getting Desmond Back would be great, but that would require giving up talent on the existing roster + prospects. First place clubs don't trade starting CF's for the type of guys Rizzo likes to deal. Now 4th place clubs like the Pirates might be a bit more reasonable...

BornInDC said...

I think another important factor in the Trea vs. Danny that has to be considered is Dusty's management of the team. As long as the Nats were winning, I just think he was going to be loathe to drop Danny for Trea. I don't think the potential upside was big enough or sure enough for Dusty to risk the effects of the disruption.

Dusty may make some head-scratching tactical decision and this may come back to haunt the Nats in the playoffs, but I really get the sense (and his history as a manager backs it up) that is is very skilled on managing a team for 162 games. Whenever he makes any decision, I get the sense that he is thinking about how this will potentially hurt/help the team over the course of the entire season. For example, note that he did not immediately drop Zimmerman in the order after the Cubs debacle when everyone, me included, was screaming that this needed to be done. Yet, over time, Zimmerman has been dropped in order. Also note who caught Gio's win last night: Ramos, not Lobaton, who helped stake Gio to an early lead.

Also, Dusty's resting the starters on a regular basis and trying to get the bench players regular playing time seems to be working really well. Will most people remember a year from now that Bryce did not play in last night's 13-4 blowout? Heisey went 2 for 5 in Bryce's place.

I know that soft factors are not measurable, that's why they are "soft factors", but it appears Dusty is a master of handing many of the soft factors that go into managing a successful baseball team, at least with respect to the position players.

DezoPenguin said...

Hey, if I'm going to play Pipe Dream GM for a minute, instead of trading for a top-flight CF from a first-place team (who aren't going to move their guy) or a team fighting for a playoff spot (who probably aren't, and anyway McCutchen is having a down year), I'd point out that there's a *last-place* team out there who just happens to have no pitching worth mentioning, a budget stuffed with horrible contracts, the worst farm system in all of baseball, and a *fairly* good center fielder that I think would be an upgrade on Revere and Taylor.

Anonymous said...

What's Danny's trade value? Any chance we try to sell high on him?

Vdub said...

Dezo you are hilarious... Trout is not for sale. But, I am being completely serious. If you are the Pirates GM, and Rizzo calls you up and says: hey Giolitto or Turner, plus... for 29yo, and as you say having a down year, McCutchen; don't you have to at least consider it, and try to negotiate for both of them or a Ross, and bandy about some possibilities? There's no way it would be an outright no, but thanks for the call.

Bjd1207 said...

@Dezo - Yea, for Pipe Dream GM you may be able to land that deal. But that CF'er also has $122M left on his contract compared to...$27M left on Cutch? God our lineup would be unstoppable though...

G Cracka X said...

Good post, Harper. I found this to be illuminating. Echoing Anon@10:16, I wonder what the future at SS holds. If Danny keeps raking all the way up to the Deadline, do you sell high? Ride him out for the rest of the season since Dusty likes vets, then trade him in the offseason? Move TT to CF to replace MAT? Trade TT for Chapman and Miller? Thor and Yo for Bryce?

Anonymous said...

In his weekly chats, Boswell has been advocating to wait until Danny gets hot and sell him off at that point for a reliever and bring Turner on board. Boswell surmised from Danny's BABIP and other stats that Danny was getting unlucky.

DezoPenguin said...

@Vdub:

Oh, yeah, if I'm Huntington I take that call, I negotiate for as much as I can get, and all the while I'm caroling over the initial offer. There's no way Rizzo *makes* the call, though, not for Giolito or Turner. Last year at this time, sure, kick the tires, but the guy's sporting a 95 wRC+ right now and (of course, in a small sample size) not playing the field well, either. (Werth has a higher fWAR than Cutch right now, even though Cutch plays a premium defensive position.)

(Obviously, I'm joking about Trout (Moreno would fire Sosh faster than he'd trade Trout)--but in all fairness, if we're talking about 10/$500M for Bryce being a fair price, then Trout's a bargain, especially since it only has four years left after this one, he'll only be 28 for that last year, and 2017 is way under market value. That's one where I'd at least get on the phone and make Eppler tell me no.)

Anonymous said...

Vdub: There is no way I am giving up either TT or LG. Those are future of this franchise. I don't care if it is McCutchen or anyone else.

Ric said...

At the game with my friend last night, it was immediately clear on both sides there'd be a lot of base runners. So friend and I each guessed "who would go 0 for 5." I picked Zimmerman, who hit a 3-run HR first AB. So I conceded the loss. EXCEPT, friend chose Espi.

It was awesome that we both were so, so wrong.

(I did tell friend that Espi was a bad choice, in that he's the most productive Nat in June.)

Ric said...

@Alex Freeman, "What I would do is keep the platoon, on the hopes that Revere picks it up like he has his entire career, but replace MAT (the career K-machine) with TT."

I get your point, that you are expecting Revere to regress back to his .300 norm. On the other hand, you are choosing TT to replace the weaker half of the platoon. Half way through the season, MAT is better than Revere in almost every metric. Even when you throw in all the Ks.

@WiredHK, "There's no way I'd bench Revere at any point this year unless he is really still injured. He hit over .300 last year and is a .290 career hitter. I strongly like his chances at coming up huge in the second half of this season, if statistics are our guide."

Whereas I mostly agree with you, I think if statistics are our guide, we also need to acknowledge that with half a season under our belt, his .217 average is becoming statistically relevant.

Here is thinking that I admit is too far outside the box: MAT and Revere have similar splits, EXCEPT, MAT is hitting .292 in day games. Even his monstrous K rate is down during the days (albeit a smallish sample size). I think I have MAT play day games, and play Revere all the night games under the assumption/home he reverts to his normal self.

Chas R said...

Harper, I have been following you and this blog for 5 years and I think this one of my favorite posts. I really like the way you breakdown decision making and outcomes (its personal thing cause of what my long toothed career in consulting type work and leadership-"management"). I get this post is about the Trea vs Danny stuff and that you have reversed your opinion a bit.

Off topic, but related to your post (not necessarily associated with baseball)- I would just like to point out one thing that you may disagree with given your analytic expertise. When you say- "... I don't think most people are really obstinate jerks. Most people are willing to listen and are looking to talk things through", it gives the impression most people are rational and reasonable and make decisions based on listening and logic. I will agree that most people will listen when you demonstrate first that you have listened to them. However, people don't really make decisions based on logic and reason. Regardless of all the available logic and data, which certainly may have influence, it is feelings that are the final determination. People make decisions based emotions regardless of how much they think it's about logic or rationalize it to be that way.

Sammy Kent said...

Hmmm, looking back at one of the opening day previews:

"Turner, the organization’s top positional prospect, got a cup of coffee last season and, after a stint in Triple A, should be up by the second half as the everyday starter who will provide speed, defense and solid hitting."

It took a while, but the prospect of losing his job to Trea I'm certain is what has turned Danny Espinosa's bat around. Two dingers last night, one from each side of the plate, a three-run shot and a grand slam in consecutive innings. I was outright giddy about 8:30 last night. Over his last 28 days he's batting .324 with 8 homers and 20 RBI. And that's while batting in front of the pitchers, so he also has 11 walks for an OBP of .440 and an OPS of 1.156.

His defense needs no defending. Anyone that has watched him for the last three plus seasons knows he's arguably the best defensive middle infielder in MLB--and I would make that argument. He's absolutely the best second baseman I've ever seen. Period. And I've seen a lot of them, from Bobby Richardson to Joe Morgan to Ryne Sandberg. Nobody has ever turned a better double play; nobody has ever had a stronger arm, and as for shortstops, only Ozzie Smith had better range. Only seven errors at shortstop at the 80 game mark. Ian Desmond routinely had seven errors in the first ten games.

I like what Dusty said about the situation yesterday, and I agree. It's better for Trea at this point for him to stay in Syracuse and play every day than to come to the show and sit or platoon or pinch-run/hit. Trea will certainly come up when rosters expand, and maybe even earlier if Rizzo does a deadline deal involving Stephen Drew. But either way, there's plenty of time, the Nats are in no hurry, Danny is playing out of his mind, and Trea is getting valuable experience and instruction at AAA.

The Nats have now backed a seven game losing streak with a five game winning streak. Let's keep it up.

Robot said...

I suspect somewhere in Danny's closet is a basketball from outer space that he used to steal Bryce's home run power.

yin yang said...

Harper:

Suggested topic for a future post: is there anything in the data that could explain Espinosa's surge? Weaker pitching? Has he changed his approach? (He says not.) Better luck? All of the above?

BxJaycobb said...

One thing that is still sort of in play is Nats bringing Desi back on multi year deal to play outfield this offseason. They desperately need to improve outfield long term, with Werth coming to end of his deal and center field simply not looking good at the moment. I personally would not shell out money for the back(ish) end of Desmond's career, and would treat this year as a bit of an aberration in a multi year downward trend that started in 2012.....it's possible that he changed his approach, but I don't think I would risk it.

Flapjack said...

In retrospect, Rizzo should have switched Desmond to CF last year rather than sit Espy on the bench when Rendon returned. Espy's first half numbers last year were not all that bad. To his credit, Rizzo probably didn't want to undercut Desmond's market value, given that the Nats were expecting a compensation pick for him in the off season. (That part of the strategy worked.) One can only imagine what goes on behind the scenes in such scenarios, but Matt Williams isn't the improvisational wiz Dusty is. I can't imagine Williams saying "hey, let's try TT in CF!"

The other part of the story is injuries, of which so far there have been remarkably few. The odds of getting through an entire season without at least one position player spending time on IR have to be pretty low.

Booyah Suckah! said...

Sammy, I confess, I don't understand the sentiment of "the prospect of losing his job to Trea I'm certain is what has turned Danny Espinosa's bat around". Is it really that easy? Oh man, this youngster is waiting for me to fail, I'd better start crushing grand slams!

In fairness, Danny has been in imminent danger of losing his job since, like, 2013. In fact, he did lose it for quite some time. If all it took to turn someone's bat around was the prospect of losing their job, I imagine he wouldn't have been a Mendoza-level hitter for the last 4 seasons or so.

Bjd1207 said...

Yea I've got to agree with Booyah. If it was really attributable to "the prospect of losing his job" then 1 of 2 scenarios is true:

Either A.) He wasn't giving maximum effort before, and the idea of losing his job lit a fire under him so he would start giving his maximum effort. Or B.) He was already giving maximum effort, and the idea of losing his job now has him "giving 110%"

The first one is not plausible because why wouldn't have been giving 100% before? The second one is not plausible because giving 110% is not a thing.

There is certainly SOME change that explains this stellar last month from Danny. But simply "Trying harder" because he's afraid of losing his job cannot be the explanation

Jay said...

The real question is - has Danny had the proverbial "light" go off and now he can hit or are we seeing MAT in spring training? If the former - then the guy is a borderline all star. If the latter - then trade him while his stock is high.

PotomacFan said...

Jay: neither. Danny is a major league player -- and a keeper -- because he is a tremendous fielder, an adequate hitter, and inexpensive. He is on a hot streak now. I think he will (mostly) revert to his career stats (that means a slump coming up), BUT, it looks like he is getting a bit better at taking bad pitches (and getting walks) and hitting breaking balls. He is a .700 - .740 OPS guy, which is a good enough for terrific shortstop. And, not to curse it, but he never gets injured.

Froggy said...

PotomacFan~ How much of Espi's streak is due to the type of pitches he is seeing hitting behind Ramos and Rendon? He is essentially the second 'cleanup' hitter in Dusty's order.

Booyah Suckah! said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Booyah Suckah! said...

Froggy, your question reminds me of the Bumgarner debate going on lately. How much of his success is because he's seeing "pitcher's pitches" and not real ones?

I'm all for outside-the-box thinking, but batting Bumgarner in a game at an AL park just seems gimmicky. If not, you're saying that a guy with a .182/.226/.307 career line is really your best option. That's not a compliment to Bumgarner. That's an indictment of your bench.

As for Espy, I think it's 10% change in approach, 20% the types of pitches he sees, and 70% crazy hot streak. Ride it till he's a burnt out husk