Buck Showalter most likely regrets his decision not to use Zach Britton in this year’s AL Wild card game. Regret, though, can be a tricky phenomenon. For instance, regret likely played a large part in Showalter’s decision to not use Britton. How so? Well, when Showalter was quoted defending his decision after the game as saying that “it’s an away game,” he was really saying that he feared using Britton only to have a lesser pitcher blow a lead in a save situation with Britton unavailable. Showalter was saying that he feared he would regret making a decision that could lead to that sequence of events.
This type of decision, one in which we make a decision in the attempt to avoid what we imagine to be the worst outcome possible (as opposed to trying to make the best decision possible), is fairly common place. How many times have you not applied for a job because you do not know if it would be any better than your current job? How many times have you not asked someone on a date that you wished you had? How many times have you not raised your hand in your class when you had a question? How many times have you decided to go back to the same restaurant instead of trying the new place? How many times at that same restaurant have you ordered the same thing? We so often choose the devil we know versus the devil we do not know, we so often choose the safety of the routine and of inaction often for no other reason than our being people—social organisms wired to fit in, wired to not do anything we might come to regret. It is therefore not surprising that even people at the top of their fields like Showalter could convince themselves into making poor decisions if only to avoid future regret.
The amazing thing about regret, though, is that it is often the decisions we make out of a desire to avoid future regret that we come to regret the most. Take a second and think about your greatest regrets. My biggest are not being a kinder person earlier in life and not embracing my inner-nerd earlier in life. Per the research, this is pretty much par for the course. The research finds that most people’s biggest regrets are regrets of things they did not do. When you talk to people about their greatest regrets you hear a lot of this: the time we did not show someone our love, the time we were not a better person, that job we did not take, that passion we did not follow. Rarely do we hear someone’s biggest regret was taking a risk or choosing to take a particular action (other than inaction).
This is to say that with hindsight, and with this understanding of regret, the right decision—using Britton—and the least regrettable decision were one in the same. This is also to say that while this seems so obvious now, we (people) are forever flawed decision makers. Would having a greater perspective about regret have helped Showalter? Probably not (he might have already known all of this). Unfortunately, understanding why we make bad decisions does not guarantee that we will be better decision makers. To make better decisions, well that is a whole ‘nother ball game. Maybe Showalter will change his decision making process. Maybe he will have his coaches provide their input on bullpen decisions. Maybe he will have them remind him of the nature of regret. Maybe he already does. Either way, my guess is that he will weigh potential regret differently the next time he is faced with a similar decision.
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