Managers like Girardi now use numbers, but not the right way
Watch any Yankee game, and you'll see a shot of manager
It's an open question, however, whether he's doing it correctly. Because while looking past RBIs and batting average and looking into matchups are first steps along the road to good decision-making, the trap that many managers fall into is not recognizing that it takes a lot of matchups, a lot of plate appearances, for information to become significant.
So when Girardi sets his ALCS rotation in any part to take advantage of
Girardi's decision to start Hughes in Game 2 made him the Yankee starter in line to get two starts in Arlington, the second of which comes Friday with the Yankee season on the line. Those 15 shutout innings, though, came against teams dramatically different than the one he'll face. On May 1, 2007, Hughes went up against
Such curious decisions have been a pattern for Girardi throughout the series. In Game 4 on Tuesday night, he let
There are other, less mathy problems to be had here. Take that Berkman/Oliver matchup. Prior to Saturday night, the last time the two had faced each other was in 2007. Berkman's last hit off Oliver was in 2003, when Berkman was at the peak of his career and Oliver was nearing the end of the starting-pitcher phase of his before reinventing himself as an effective set-up man. The two players who faced off Tuesday night at Yankee Stadium bore little resemblance to the two who created the four hits that led Girardi to allow Berkman to bat. Many, many batter/pitcher matchup decisions are based on this kind of data, where it stretches so far back as to be about completely different baseball players.
Moreover, statistics show outcomes, rather than process, and when you're talking about small samples and individual matchups, the process matters more. Without going to video, I would have no idea if those four Berkman hits off Oliver were scalded or blooped. Was he fisting 0-2 sliders into right field? Was he getting to 3-1 and squaring up cripple fastballs? "4-for-6" hides more information than it reveals; what we want to know -- does this batter hit this pitcher well? -- requires greater granularity of data: line-drive rates, contact rates, pitch counts. At this level, overall skill sets matter more than the results of a handful of matchups, and even if I wanted the latter, I would get more use out of knowing what a trained observer had seen in those plate appearances than I would from knowing "4-for-6".
Information is neutral. "Lance Berkman is 4-for-8 against Darren Oliver" is a fact. What we do with that fact, however, is most decidedly not neutral. Data-centric decision-making is only helpful if you're using the right data in the right ways, and given everything we know about the variability of baseball statistics, imbuing small samples with meaning to make important decisions is the wrong way.