July 23, 2001
The Daily Prospectus
Evaluating DecisionsI know we went around the AL last Friday, and I'd planned to look at the NL today, but I'm pushing that back for a day.
I want to point out some mediocy from last night's A's/Royals game. Down 4-2 in the top of the ninth with no one out and Jeremy Giambi on first base, Jason Giambi ripped a double into right-center field. A's third-base coach Ron Washington elected to send the younger Giambi home on the play, an absolutely horrible risk considering the situation. ESPN2 had a great shot of Giambi just reaching third base as Jermaine Dye threw the ball into the infield. Under normal circumstances, it would have been a questionable send; with the A's down two runs and no one out, it was an inexplicable one.
The A's caught a break, as Luis Ordaz's relay throw to the plate was brutal, not only allowing Jeremy to score, but letting Jason move to third base. A good throw, even a decent throw, and the younger Giambi is out by a mile, Jason doesn't move to third and the A's probably don't tie the game in the inning.
Rick Sutcliffe, calling the game for ESPN2, couldn't stop praising the decision to send the runner. "It's a great play on the part of the third-base coach of the Oakland A's." Are you kidding me? Taking an unnecessary risk with a slow runner carrying an unimportant run in the ninth inning?
One of my pet peeves is this kind of "analysis," where dumb moves that work out aren't dumb moves that work out, but shining examples of genius at work. Rather than evaluate the decision on its merits, Sutcliffe gave Washington a free ride because Ordaz couldn't make the play.
And yes, I have no way of proving it, but I just know that had Giambi been gunned down--as he should have been--Sutcliffe's tune would have been completely different.
Outcome-based evaluation of decisions sucks. Repeatedly bunting with your #2 hitter in the first inning is stupid, no matter how many runs score. Trading a great shortstop prospect for a middle reliever two months removed from crappiness is stupid, even if the middle reliever subsequently pitches like Walter Johnson's older brother. Crossing a busy freeway on foot is a stupid, even if you make it safely.
I make an issue of this for two reasons: one, because it's rampant in the media, and is quite possibly the clearest example of an area that needs to be improved. Two, because over the next week, a number of trades are going to be made, and they should be evaluated not based on which veteran hitter goes nuts over the next two months, but on whether they were a good idea at the time, whether the costs and benefits are in line, and whether the players involved can really be expected to improve a team's chance at playing into October.
Joe Sheehan is an author of Baseball Prospectus. You can contact him by clicking here.