Saturday, October 29, 2011

Did La Russa ‘Make a Mistake’ in Game 2 of the 2011 World Series?

The Cardinals lost game two of the world series in the last inning. Tony La Russa took his closer out, and the pitcher he brought in was tagged for the loss. In the press, La Russa’s move was widely described as a mistake. At the time, I thought that was silly, and this seems the ideal time to comment on it.

La Russa is an active manager. He makes moves. He makes decisions during that game that can greatly affect the outcome. Baseball is a game of probabilities. There’s no way to be certain what will happen on a given pitch, or a given at bat. A good tactical move is a decision that, at the moment, increases the chance of winning.

La Russa’s move in game two made sense to him. But even if he was right, and even if the chance of winning increased from say, 80% to 90%, there was always the chance that that other 10% would bite him, and it did.

La Russa made similar moves all season and throughout the playoffs, and his team won. It appears that, in general, he made good moves, and it is very hard to single some of them out as mistakes.

Let me illustrate my point another way: suppose you are trying to win a bet by rolling the same number twice on a die. You are given two dice. One is normal, but the other die has a six on four sides and a one on the other two sides. On your first roll, you are required to use the normal die, and you roll a six. For your second roll, you decide to use the special die. If you roll a one with that die, have you made a mistake?

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