Those of you who follow me on Twitter know that I frequently defend the decisions made by Joe Girardi. In fact, it has reached the point where some seem to regard me as the resident protector of the Yankee skipper, and send me emails and tweets whenever they encounter some angry criticism of him in order to goad me into a response (This often succeeds). I think I need to take a paragraph or two to clarify where I stand on Joe and on criticizing managerial decisions in general.
The internet provides a fantastic forum for the discussion of baseball. It has fostered tremendous growth in the knowledge and understanding of the common fan, and is clearly an overwhelmingly positive development in terms of growing the sport. That said, one problem that it has caused is that it has lead to the growth of a “smartest guys in the room” syndrome amongst intelligent fans. We assume that we have perfect information, and then speak without equivocation where ambiguity exists. Although there may be a range of reasonable decisions, we glom onto one as the “right” one, and any decision-maker who disagrees is deemed “wrong” and, too often, incompetent.
This brings me to managing. We throw around big words like leverage and run expectancy, assume that we know everything that factors into a decision, and then reach a black and white conclusion. Twitter, in particular, leads to this sort of analysis, because the 140 characters we are afforded leave little room for shades of grey. But strategic moments in a game can often be dealt with using a variety of “correct” solutions, something that gets lost when we deal in the absolutes of right and wrong.
Whether we like it or not, the manager does have more information than us, in terms of being able to interact with his players during the game, knowing how they are feeling, and knowing what they are comfortable doing. The manager has coaches who can provide him with real time scouting, such as “Pitcher A’s arm slot is dropping,” so that he can make decisions based on more than pure results, which are often illusory. He also is more likely to be considering the long-term ramifications of a decision, whereas we sometimes get caught up in the heat of the moment. This does not mean that the manager is necessarily right, but it does suggest that he might, from time to time, have justifications for a decision that seems to be a mistake on its face.
Just to provide an illustration, consider a situation where one decision leads to a change of .50 in run expectancy, and the alternative leads to a .35 change, it might be fair to assume that picking the latter path is within the range of acceptability that the manager’s informational advantage provides. Too often, we lock onto one decision as being the right one and neglect to consider the possible explanations and rationales that might make the manager’s decision a reasonable one.
Which leads me to Girardi. I think he is an adequate in-game strategist, about average amongst MLB managers. But the amount of vitriol that he faces practically every time he makes a move is well out of line with the quality of his decision-making. I frequently hear words such as unacceptable and indefensible regarding decisions that are neither of those things, that are in fact nestled comfortably on the spectrum of acceptable moves. Would I make the same moves? Often not, but that is besides the point. I defend those decisions because although I disagree with them, I understand them and recognize that they are usually backed by reason and sound strategic thinking. To rip decisions that are within reason simply because the manager does not share your subjective philosophies about certain elements of the game is folly. Hopefully, we can all set aside our collective belief that we almost always know better than the manager and give credence to reasonable ideas that do not perfectly conform to our own.