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Over the last few days, the Yankee fanbase has been embroiled in debate over the decision-making of Joe Girardi. His handling of the bullpen has been the primary subject of discussion, as Joe has been resting relievers based upon a particular usage framework that he and his coaches have devised. Finding myself defending Joe during these debates, I constantly noted that we do not have all of the information needed to judge the Yankee skipper in this instance, as he is significantly more familiar with the health and durability of each pitcher on his staff. As such, it seems reckless to attack him for moves that are based directly upon the very information that we do not have. While I still believe in this argument, I do think it skirts close to one fallacy that needs to be avoided, and that is the appeal to authority mistake.
The appeal to authority fallacy occurs when something is claimed to be true or correct not due to inherent objective correctness, but due to the expertise of an authority who claims it to be true. Put simply, it is the claim that something is right because Expert A says it is right. While Expert A’s opinion is valuable and certainly lends credibility to the taken position, it does not necessarily mean that the position is correct. A debate about a question or process that has an objectively correct answer should never end with “because so-and-so said so.”
This fallacy comes up all the time in the context of baseball and managerial decisions. Often, when someone like me criticizes managerial decisions, someone will pipe up with some variant of, “He is an MLB manager with years of experience, while you are just some dude with a computer. I think he knows what he is doing.” The problem with this appeal to authority is that it assumes that all managers are perfect decision-makers who always know the right thing to do. As we have seen on many occasions, even the best managers make plenty of mistakes, as I am sure most of them would admit. While I think it is fair to look closely at each decision and question our own assumptions due to the relative expertise of the managers, it is a mistake to assume that the manager is always, or even usually, correct simply by dint of his having spent a lot of time in the sport.
Returning to the Girardi issue, I think it is important to distinguish between a lack of information and an appeal to authority. When we do not have information that is vital to the decision-maker, it is not an appeal to authority to suggest that we are not qualified to judge the choices made. However, to state that Joe knows how much rest his pitchers need and therefore must be right in how he is apportioning bullpen time is no different than saying he was right to bunt with Curtis Granderson in the 9th inning on Monday because he is the manager and the manager knows best. Just because Joe has the necessary information to make a decision does not mean that he made the correct choices.
So what can we say with any confidence? We can conclude that our lack of information puts us at a disadvantage in judging the bullpen moves based on usage limits that Joe has made in recent days. This does not mean that he was right to be careful with Joba and Robertson on Monday while allowing Wood and Logan to pitch again last night, just that as outsiders we cannot make an informed judgment on the issue. We are left to choose whether or not we trust Joe to do what is best for his guys based on the information that he has. Being that he has done fantastic work with his bullpens over the last 3 seasons, I believe in his ability to balance team need and player health and trust him to make the best moves for the long-term strength of the team. Your opinion may vary.
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