(Non-sports folk can skip to the first ‘*****’, I’ll try and time the break there.)
One of the fascinating baseball stories of the last month or so has been the Boston Red Sox. The Atlanta Braves could also be in there, but they don’t benefit from overpowering media coverage (even in this day and age), or a market that only has New York as it’s rival in terms of size and reach.
For those unaware of the story, the Red Sox (and the Braves) had a large lead on a playoff spot in the American League at the beginning of September. It would have been nearly impossible for anyone to catch them. And, sure enough, the Rays did- culminating in a final day of the season that was, to put it mildly, historic for several teams involved.
The aftermath has been unimaginable- the Red Sox have changed their manager and their GM, and columnists, bloggers, and analysts, are going through the season with a fine tooth comb looking for answers. And with the result having been the Sox not making the playoffs, what happened is getting taken apart.
As a Blue Jays fan, I can’t help but be delighted by the chaos. This can only be good for my team. As a fan of baseball- and someone whose fandom has taken a lean towards statistical analysis- it’s hard for me to be happy at what I saw. It was a 162 game season. If the Red Sox win TWO more games- or perhaps even one- this might have been avoided. Does that mean that all the supposed “problems” with the Sox didn’t exist? If they make the playoffs, do the manager and the GM still have their jobs?
Let’s swing it off sports for a while.
My statistical thinking in baseball has taken a broader tack, as it may on occasion: the ideas of good process, and good results, and how one doesn’t necessarily equate to the other. At least, in baseball.
But let’s apply it generally, with a couple of important questions, at least for me:
1) If we have a result that we wanted, does that mean our process to get the result was good?
2) If we have a result we DON’T want, does that mean our process was bad?
There are obvious examples of where a seemingly good result doesn’t reward the process that gave it. If we were dishonest in achieving our goal, then it typically comes collapsing down like a house of cards once there’s any kind of review of that. I’ve had the debate with people, who asked if we lied to convert someone to the Christian faith, and THEIR faith was true, would that be something we should do? And my (seemingly pat) answer was that if we had a God who values honesty, he wouldn’t allow someone to have a faith that was based on dishonesty.
I’m someone who questions my own processes a lot, especially when the results aren’t what I expected.
I have a job that I didn’t think I’d have, and am advancing mostly because I’m intelligent and capable enough. It’s not a result I expected. I’m making the process up as I go along, essentially. I don’t really have a career plan (shhh, don’t tell my boss). But I’m there. And if you told me five years ago I’d be here, I’d have chuckled mirthfully, shook my head, and walked back to my computer to go play some more Out Of The Park baseball.
It’s a GOOD result. But not a repeatable process, or one I’d recommend to anyone.
I’ve been on a couple of dating sites the last year, after admitting to at least partial defeat on my own aptitude in finding women. Though that’s a rant in itself- I’m not going to date anyone at work, I’m not someone who’s going to go out and pick someone up, and my other circles are mostly lacking in available candidates. But there was one where I liked the process. It was thorough, thoughtful, and reasoned in how it “matched up” people.
I liked the process, though. I even met a couple of gals there, over coffee or drinks or whatever standards we’d set up. It didn’t work out, as evidenced by my continued griping on the subject. So we’re trying something different. But the lack of results there made me wonder if the process was good.
Baseball has moved in a direction where statistical analysis is as important or more important than a manager’s feel of a particular situation, and for the most part, that’s good. Sounder decisions are being made in the game, and people are learning a lot more about it. But there is value in knowing that for all the stats in baseball, it IS played by people- and that makes it unpredictable. Much like life itself.
They say that insanity is trying the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result, but I don’t know if that’s always true. In a universe where people, places, and expectations are constantly shifting, trying a good process in a different spot might well get you a different result.