I haven’t watched a Red Sox game for over a month now; more on that soon. I do check on the game results however, and observed with interest that Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine, currently being dressed for the guillotine by New England sportswriters who want him punished for a miserable season in which his own work has been outstanding, is being criticized today in a textbook example of hindsight bias at work. I am flagging it for any of you who might want to explain the phenomenon to the next jerk who criticizes you for a reasonable choice you made not knowing how it would turn out, based on the jerk’s knowledge of how it in fact did turn out.
My least favorite personal run-in with hindsight bias was the time I lost a poker hand—and a lot of money– in Vegas despite having four of a kind in a game of seven card stud. The old man sitting next to me looking pathetic also had four of a kind, and in a higher denomination, the odds of two four of a kind hands appearing in the same deal in a non-wild card game being approximately six-gazillion to one. Naturally, I was betting the limit until the old man called my hand—he said later that he felt sorry for me. When he revealed that he had my four sevens beat with his four %$#@%$*& tens, it caused a genuine uproar in the casino, and the dealer said that he had never seen the like in eight years on the job.
“You should have known he had you beat,” said the ass sitting on my right. That’s hindsight bias. And so is this.
The Red Sox were locked in a scoreless game yesterday against the Blue Jays entering the 7th inning. Since all the Red Sox players who could hit are either injured, out for the year or were traded away when the team decided to pronounce 2012 a total loss, scoring runs has become a chore. The team is also looking at young players, among them a shortstop named Iglesias who has a magic glove but a hole in his bat. With two outs in the inning, Pedro Ciriaco, now playing third base in place of the injured Will Middlebrooks, singled. Iglesias, who is not hitting his weight, came to bat, and had worked the count to 2-and-2 when Ciriaco stole second. In an unconventional tactic, Valentine lifted Iglesias for pinch-hitter Daniel Nava, who is beyond any question more likely to get a hit than Iglesias. He quickly made an out anyway.
In the bottom of that inning the Jays scored, and that was the ballgame. Later, reporters grilled Valentine on the move. Isn’t it humiliating to a young player to lift him mid-at bat? (Answer: There was a chance to score a run and take the lead late in the game.) What are the chances that Nava could get a hit with only one strike left? (Answer: Better than Iglesias’s chances.) Why didn’t the manager just pinch-hit for Iglesias immediately? (Answer: In a 0-0 game his glove could be a deciding factor, but when the situation changed and only one single might win the game, the manager took the step that had the best chance of making that single happen.) The real problem with Valentine’s move is that it didn’t happen to work. If Nava had hit a double off the Wall and the Sox had gone on to win, nobody would have dared question Valentine’s move. Genius!
Hindsight bias is the close relative of consequentialism, in which the rightness or wrongness of an act is determined after the fact, based on the results. Consequentialism, in turn, leads to extreme utilitarianism, better known as “the ends justify the means.”
Hindsight bias is unfair, not to mention infuriating (I “should have known…” Grrrrr!) . The way to analyze the wisdom of a decision is to look at what the conditions were when it was made. Was the chance of scoring a run in that situation improved by Valentine’s pinch-hitting move? Beyond any question, it was.
End of argument.
Graphic: Bob Report