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This is a continuation of a discussion that I was having offline with a group of Red Sox fans. Those fans, in the face of the team’s poor start, have taken to ripping Theo Epstein for the team’s performance, blaming his emphasis on pitching and defense for helping put a mediocre team on the field. Ignoring the fact that it is very early and the Red Sox have a roster full of players underperforming at a level that is unlikely to last, it lead to an interesting question that has often come up in the context of Brian Cashman and the Yankees: How do you judge a General Manager’s moves when the process is good but the results are poor?

To elaborate on this point, I thought Epstein did a great job constructing a contending roster this offseason, finding good value and refusing to overpay for limited players. Because I found his process to be logical and well considered, I do not think it would be fair to rip him or laugh at his “run prevention” strategy. Sometimes, real life does not work out as the probabilities dictate, and there is nothing the decision maker can do about that. Simply put, I value process over results when evaluating a trade or signing, because good process will eventually lead to consistently good results.

Others, however, believe that it is all about results. They contend that even if everybody agreed with a particular move, it is a blot on the GM’s record if reality steps in and renders the move a poor one. Essentially, this argument assumes that the GM has significantly more information than outsiders regarding a decision, and therefore should be judged by his output rather than a process that we are not entirely informed about.

An example of this might come to pass should Curtis Granderson and Javier Vazquez continue to underperform. Some will suggest that what matters is that these were the right moves at the time, and that poor luck and the vagaries of real life should not reflect badly on the GM. Others will contend that the results are what matter, and that Cashman should have known that Granderson was on the decline and that Javy is not cut out for this town. I am firmly in that first camp. Where do you come down on this issue?

19 Responses to “Discussion: Judging a GM: Process vs. Results”

  1. Count me in your camp, it’s ALL about process.

    On a side-note, I think Epstein’s process this past offseason could be questioned. There were a lot of Sox fans unenthused with the Cameron signing and a lot of Yankees fans telling them that Cameron is great (because those Yanks fans wanted Cameron on the Yanks) and that the unhappy Sox fans were wrong, but I kinda thought the Sox fans had a point (although perhaps for the wrong reasons) because I thought the Sox needed another big bat in their lineup and I didn’t think Cameron’s skillset would be as valuable to them, as their roster is currently constructed, as an outfielder with a better bat but poorer defensive skills would have been. I really thought Matt Holliday would have been a perfect fit for that team, with that roster. My argument has nothing to do with results, as nobody could have seen Cameron’s injury coming and we’re not even close to the point at which we can take results and look back in hindsight and evaluate a transaction’s success or failure; it’s about the process. I wasn’t convinced, at the time, that the Sox were making the right decisions.

    So yeah, I totally agree that Sox fans can’t ding Epstein for results, since I wholeheartedly think GMs should be judged ONLY on process. But I think they CAN question the process, at least as we saw it play out this past offseason.  (Quote)

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    Moshe Mandel Reply:

    That’s a fair point. About Epstein, I simply meant that since I liked the process, I wont rip him. But yeah, I think it was fair to question the process. Same with Cashman- if you questioned the process bc you wanted Joba in the rotation and wanted to keep Damon and Matsui and saw low downside there, that is a fine critique. But liking the process and disliking the results, I dont love that.  (Quote)

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    The Honorable Congressman Mondesi Reply:

    We totally agree, but I think I’d tweak your language a bit… I have absolutely no problem with liking the process and disliking the results. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with evaluating a trade with the benefit of hindsight after some time has passed and the results are in and deciding whether the transaction was a success, failure, push, etc. The problem is when people do that and then retroactively critique the process at the time the deal was made.  (Quote)

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    Moshe Mandel Reply:

    Yeah, we agree on this, it is just a matter of my (poor) phrasing. We can look back and say a deal was a failure. It does not mean that the GM was wrong for making it.  (Quote)

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  2. Moshe, very well thought out post on Cashman, as usual!
    Cashman has had a long way to go with this organization since he took over. People forget the mess we were in with our minors and aging vets.
    With Hal running things, he has a real budget. He doesn’t have the money people say he has, to spend on anyone he may want. Heck, we got the money at the last Minuit to pay Tex, Cash had to convince Hal to give it to him.
    He is trying to bring in new people to help with some of the evaluation of players, both major and drafting. The system was in a mess, one doesn’t fix it over night. I give him two more years…maybe less!  (Quote)

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  3. I think Cashman did a good job putting this team together for this year.
    The Yankees have above to average defence at all positions this year…they didn’t last year.
    They have a few big bats in the middle of the line-up with very good supporting cast that can get on base for them to knock in.
    They have five good to very good starting pitchers, the #4 will come around. The BP is strong 7 thru 9, the rest will work itself out.
    When the bats come alive for the underachievers….Tex, A-Rod and NJ….and put Brett in CF for the rest of the year, we should be in very good shape.
    Me, I have always wanted a team built around very good pitching, defense, speed and power…in that order.
    We have that as a team, we should win it all…not taking into consideration the unthinkable…injuries!  (Quote)

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  4. A good thought Moshe. I would say the key factor is alternatives. It’s one thing for Boston media to criticize Theo because they didn’t like his moves, but what are there alternatives? Don’t sign Lackey, the consensus best pitcher available? Sign Holliday to a long-term deal? Bite the bullet and sign Holliday and Lackey even if it means you can’t afford Adrian Gonzales or Prince Fielder? As it is, it’s fine to criticize GM’s for results in my book, but only if you have some reasonable idea of what should have been done differently.  (Quote)

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  5. World history takes at least 100 years to figure out what “really” happened, I’d say that a GM’s strategy and tactics must take 8-10 years to judge. I think that a lot of fans spend too much time watching and believing what ESPN (talking out of many multi-mouthed heads) and their local sports “analysts” are bleating. And fans also must remember that the whole sports industry is big business, and they are entitled to run their businesses as they want.  (Quote)

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  6. Not a sox fan, but I have a couple of problems with what Theo was selling as run prevention. One is that their best CF was penciled in at LF and two is that that don’t have a good defensive catcher. Neither Tech or Martinez can throw anyone out anymore….not great for “run prevention”.  (Quote)

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    deadrody Reply:

    Ellsbury is hardly the best CFer on that team. He has been below average in center for them so far.

    Not a sox fan, but I have a couple of problems with what Theo was selling as run prevention.One is that their best CF was penciled in at LF and two is that that don’t have a good defensive catcher.Neither Tech or Martinez can throw anyone out anymore….not great for “run prevention”.  

      (Quote)

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  7. Granderson is on the decline ? Since when ? The man is 29 years old, he is most certainly not “in decline” and likely won’t be for 3 or 4 years.

    Anyone questioning that deal based on Granderson randomly hitting the DL and Jackson living off a BABIP over .500 in Detroit and jumping to the conclusion that somehow Granderson is suddenly “in decline” needs to get a grip on reality.  (Quote)

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  8. CAshman is terrible and always has been from day 1.He was too oyung and didn’t come up the hard way.
    HGAs made a million bad deals that were pretty obvious to many of us before he made them.
    How many of us thought JAvier Vasquez was going to flop and and said so?
    He’s older,was comming over from the NAtional league off a career season.
    The chance of him improving was nil and the chance of regression extremely high.
    What’s tragic here is , we’ll pay him 11.5 this year and we can’t even offer him arbitration after the season and he’ll be gone.So we’ll end with zilch for 3 young players, one Melky who isn’rt missed and 2 good young arms.
    Granderson?
    That was a deal where you have to tihnk you can improve Granderson and that the Stadium would lift him up.It still might but best case, now we have 2 CF’ers.Gardner is wasted in LF, he runs and catches better than Granderson, so to me that is al Cashman also and it doesn’t make that much sense right now.  (Quote)

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    Moshe Mandel Reply:

    He’s a terrible GM with multiple titles to his credit and with a ton of respect in the industry. He’s made tons of astute trades. he’s also made some mistakes, but none so bad that they totally crippled the team. To call him terrible is ridiculous. And he worked his way up through the organization, so I’m not sure what your problem is with how he got there.  (Quote)

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    Ken (OR) Reply:

    CAshman is terrible and always has been from day 1.He was too oyung and didn’t come up the hard way.
    HGAs made a million bad deals that were pretty obvious to many of us before he made them.
    How many of us thought JAvier Vasquez was going to flop and and said so?

    Cashman did come up the hard way. He started as a go-for and under knowledgeable teaching from Watson and Stick moved up to the GM spot, it wasn’t given to him, he earned it.
    Javy hasn’t been given a chance yet, it has been 4 starts, let’s wait and see if he can get himself back together…if not in a few games…then dump all one wants to, it’s fair game then.  (Quote)

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  9. You can’t win the Series every year. Epstein did the best he could with a bad hand.  (Quote)

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  10. If your goal is to logically argue with RS fans as to why they criticize thir team’s management, Good Luck!

    I follow the RS comings and goings almost as closely as my beloved Yankees, and I am continually amazed (and amused) at the constant venom in the RS posts, by RS fans at their team, after even one loss. A lot of it (not all of it) is ilogical, incredibly vicious, and sometimes even personal and mocking. Some fans always try to interject some common sense, balance, and overall viewpoints into the discussions, but the mass of illogic and meaness overwhelms many of the discussions and keeps rolling on. There are probably deep reasons in the New England psyche as to why this is so. Someone should write a book on this.

    I’ve always viewed Theo as a very smart and worthy adversary. He has made a lot of astute moves that I admire. But sometimes the baseball Gods turn against you, as they seem to be now for the Sox. It’s going to be a venomous summer in ‘ole Beantown.  (Quote)

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  11. I agree you have to value process over results, but once you have the results, you have to go back and see if they could have been predicted. The best example is Cashman and young pitching.
    Cashman new Yankee pitching was too old, so he signed Hitchcock and traded for Weaver and Vazquez. Hitchcock was low-key signing of recovering player who may or may not be good. Weaver and Vazquez turned to be among his worst and most damaging moves ever. But the intention was good, he saw probable future problem and tried to solve it.
    I don’t think you can find 10 people who have ever managed MLB team who wouldn’t jump at Vazquez trade. and the trade was great for a while. It failed only because of injury and bad pitching coach. He absolutely deserves full marks for that trade.
    Weaver is different story. Looking back, he had unsustainable HR rate, excellent BB rate and low SO rate. Even though that deal was mostly praised, there were some who wondered if Weaver would be better pitcher for Yankees than Lilly. Bringing Weaver to that defense with short right porch was looking for trouble. So, Cashman could have looked a bit deeper. Looking backwards, you can’t call it a bad move, but not good either. More of a meh move.
    So, in assessing trades, you have to include results and see if results could have been foreseen in ways that weren’t apparent at the time of trade, but you can’t judge trade soley on results.  (Quote)

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  12. Mo – It’s been ages since I’ve commented (although I read every single day).

    You can place me solidly under the “process” tent, even though Cashman and the rest of baseball is a results-oriented business. Luck, finances, environmental effects all steer the outcomes in a certain way but, more often than not, good process will yield postive results and bad process will yield negative results. It may not always be on one end of the extremes (HUGE WIN) or the other (HORRENDOUS LOSS) but even a 51-49 victory is a net gain for the proponents of process.

    Not only that, I’d also argue that when you compound bad process, you end up with a greater likelihood of negative results because you tend to be reactionary and constantly changing your strategy to fit your current dilemma. Good process, almost by definition, tends to be more consistent, even if it can also be fluid.  (Quote)

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    Moshe Mandel Reply:

    Totally agree, and glad to see you back, MJ. We missed you around here!  (Quote)

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