Everyday people make a series of decisions, most of them routine and do not require much thought in the moment. These choices include what to have for breakfast, what route to take on the daily commute, and which show to watch on Netflix at the end of your day. Although there are a variety of options to pick from the choices have become regular (since we make them so frequently) and the consequences for making the wrong choice are relatively small.
When it comes to bigger decisions such as what kind of lifestyle or career that someone has it is really a series of smaller choices which have been chained together over a course of time. Regardless of one’s individual profession be it a doctor, lawyer, pilot, stock broker, teacher or information technology expert there is a process of one kind or another which ultimately shapes the larger direction of both the individual and the organization that they are a part of. The baseball industry is no different when it comes to making decisions as several people are involved at various levels in the process from scouts, coaches, managers and front office personnel.
How much of any decision is based on some form of empirical data, such as eye test, statistical information and how much is intuition or what I like to call the “Gut Factor”?
As I have mentioned in the past, numbers and empirical data does not give you 100% certainty of the desired outcome occurring at that exact time. It is important to look at the information that was known at the time of the decision and not factor in the luxury of hindsight. Decisions are made in the moment. Let’s look at some player moves that worked out better then anyone could have expected at the time.
How in the world does Mike Trout get passed over by twenty-one teams in the 2009 MLB Draft? Trout played high school baseball in New Jersey, and although he showed a great deal of athleticism he did not have as much polish as other players in his draft class. It was also rumored that he was looking for a $3.5 Million signing bonus which scared some teams away at the time. The combination of coming from the Northeast region and having a high level of uncertainty around him lead to him getting drafted 24th overall. Baseball America compared Trout to outfielder Aaron Rowand prior to the draft. His career thus far has been so phenomenal that historically it compares closely to Hall of Famer Mickey Mantle. On Baseball Reference, Trout has accumulated 32 more WAR (Wins Above Replacement) then anyone else from the 2009 Draft. He has finished 1st or 2nd in American League MVP voting each of his 5 full seasons, and is a front runner for the award once again this season. It’s no question that if the draft was redone today Trout would be the top pick overall.
After the 2002 season, the Minnesota Twins released DH/1B David Ortiz who shortly after signed with the Boston Red Sox. Ortiz went on to play 14 season with the Red Sox in which he became a fan favorite as he helped them win three World Series Titles. At the time of his release Ortiz was coming off a 20-home run, 75 RBI, .272 AVG, .339 On-Base, .500 Slugging, 120 OPS+, and had a BREF War of 1.3. A solid year season but the Twins felt that they had other options who would provide more roster flexibility moving forward. The player who replaced Ortiz in the DH spot the following year was in house option Matt LeCroy who had a very similar 2003 season when compared with Ortiz’s 2002 season. LeCroy ended up hitting 17 HR, 64 RBI, .287 AVG, .342 OBP, .490 Slugging, 116 OPS+, and had a BREF War of 1.2 over 92 less plate appearances. Both Ortiz and LeCroy were born in 1975 so age thus was not factor into the decision to move on from Ortiz. The Twins did not necessarily make the wrong choice as the career paths of both players up until that point were very similar. It’s difficult to envision Ortiz having the kind of breakout and impact that he did once he joined the Red Sox. He took his game to another level upon his arrival in Boston. I’m not sure why exactly, but perhaps it was the fact he felt comfortable in his surroundings, or maybe it was the impact of learning from and watching a professional hitter like Manny Ramirez daily, or perhaps it was a result of playing half of his games at Fenway Park. The point is Ortiz likely would not have become the same player if he had remained in Minnesota.
You can look at several moves over the years and second guess them easily when re-examining them. Two that immediately come to my mind include the Jose Bautista trade to the Toronto Blue Jays and Jake Arrieta to the Chicago Cubs, both players had breakout seasons with their new clubs and at the end of the day the trades appear to be fairly one sided. The Pittsburgh Pirates received catching prospect Robinzon Diaz in exchange for Bautista, while the Baltimore Orioles ended up with catcher Steve Clevenger and pitcher Scott Feldman (the Cubs also got reliever Pedro Strop in the deal). I was at a Society of American Baseball Research event in which Cubs General Manager Jed Hoyer mentioned that the whole trade may not have happened without the inclusion of Strop, a player he was adamant be included. Hoyer also acknowledged that they never imagined Arrieta being as effective as he was, which led to him winning the 2015 National League Cy Young award.
It’s important to make the best choice that you can, with the information that is available. The numbers and statistical analysis should help you feel more confident with the decision-making process, however, you will never know with 100% certainty or be fully guaranteed of what the future holds. This is no different for Major League Baseball teams as they make roster choices that will have an effect on both the current and future direction of each organization.
As Apple co-founder and former CEO Steve Jobs once said “You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something – your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever.”
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