When In Doubt, Go to the Data!

Yesterday, the Seattle Mariners called up Mike Zunino from AAA-Tacoma just a year after he was drafted. Tonight, he will be making his major league debut, starting at catcher and batting sixth for the Mariners. To say this decision has been criticized might be an understatement. It’s been analyzed from almost every angle and has been universally panned by the blogging community. I won’t add my voice to the cacophony but I do want to examine this move as a case study in decision-making. As a project manager, I regularly give input into decisions that I hope are based on sound, rational data. It seems like throwing Mike Zunino into the major leagues was a decision made based in emotional and personal sentiment.

The most critical voices are interpreting this as desperation from Jack Zduriencik, the General Manager of the Seattle Mariners. Zduriencik is four and a half years into his five year contract and has almost nothing to show for it. His prized prospects—Dustin Ackley, Justin Smoak, and Jesus Montero—have all been disappointing to various degrees and his rebuilding plan has been started and restarted every passing year.

As fans, the other bloggers around the internet and I don’t claim to have any insight into the decision-making process the Mariners go through. All we can do is analyze the decision from afar. Scott Weber from Lookout Landing wrote,

What is the difference between 70 and 75 wins? It looks like Jack Zduriencik (and Eric Wedge) think it’s their jobs, and they have to do everything they can to show the franchise is improving. So Mike Zunino becomes the pawn in a game where the people in charge only worry about today and not tomorrow. Survive and advance at any cost for the M’s brass – even at the expense of their team’s future.

Dave Cameron from USS Mariner took an even more critical position,

This is what bad organizations do. The chain of events that led to this decision is just littered with poor decision making leading to obvious failures. This move, and the reasons why the team is making this move, is a prime example of why the Mariners need new leadership.

Geoff Baker from the Seattle Times attempted to provide a voice of reason during this firestorm.

You can build nice farm systems, get yourself some fancy rankings in the prospects game and try to sell hope for as many years as your fanbase will buy into it, but ultimately, it comes down to wins and losses and your ability to sell tickets and TV market share in the business that is Major League Baseball. So, in that respect, yes, winning games will help both Zduriencik and Wedge. But I don’t buy into the theory that this was a desperation move strictly to save their jobs… All Zduriencik and Wedge are doing right now is their job — of giving this team its best possible chance to succeed on any given night.

So, a significant portion of the blogosphere believes Jack Zduriencik is trying to save his job by showing that he is able to develop successful prospects. There are others who understand the lack of information we possess but still fall on the “bad process” side of the discussion. Even if we never learn the actual reasons behind promoting Zunino, the implications of such a poor process are scary.

At the heart of this argument is the question, “when making decisions, should my emotional connection affect the outcome?” A decision made out of self-preservation is a decision made out of fear, not based on rational data. If Zduriencik made this decision with the intention of trying to save his job, then we have to question his interest in the well-being of the entire organization. The gambit he’s making could significantly affect Mike Zunino’s future as a professional baseball player and the future of the entire Mariners ball club.

One of the most important things I’ve learned while working at Logos has been the importance of sound decision-making processes. I’ve devoted a significant amount of my time at work to develop systems that give us hard data so that decisions can be made rationally, with evidence supporting us every step of the way. What would happen if the decisions we were making as a department were made out of fear? We’d be making mistakes and ultimately we would loose the game we’re playing. The jury is still out on Jack Zduriencik, but this situation serves as an excellent cautionary tale for us. When in doubt, go to the data!

2 thoughts on “When In Doubt, Go to the Data!

  1. Pingback: The Seahawks and Moneyball | Knowledge: Boats

  2. Pingback: 3 Lessons I Learned from a Year of Blogging | Knowledge: Boats

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