GMs Are Not Idiots

By Mark Smith

There are these times when I kind of forget that I know things. I had to run some errands the other day–birthday gift for sister-in-law, birthday card to go with gift, and a few random things from Kroger. My sister-in-law wanted the Game of Thrones books for her birthday (I recommend these by the way; I’m one and a half in, and they’re pretty good, not LOTR good but good), so I headed to a nearby Borders. When I arrived there, I realized that it had been closed, so I decided I would go to a Books-A-Million not too far away. Now, I had this all planned before I left–go to Borders, swing back to Kroger to get both the card and other items, and go a back way home to miss traffic–but that had just been wrecked. My new plan was Books-A-Million and a Kroger and Hallmark near there for card and other items.
So I went to the Books-A-Million, and I spent entirely too much time in there. It happens. I like books, and I end up walking around for 45 minutes looking for nothing in particular and already having found what I came for 40 minutes earlier (of course, I walk around with the books in my hand the entire time despite the fact that there were plenty of them, and I could have left them there and come back after I was done wandering). Finally deciding to leave and buy the books, I walk up to the cash register, go through the rigmarole of various advantages I can get by getting this card, tell him no, and buy the books without saving the three dollars. I get in the car, and I realize that going back to the first Kroger would be out of my way. I get kind of frustrated before I realize that there’s this other Kroger on my way home on a different route, and it has a Hallmark next to it to get the card. I feel very clever until I realize that I had figured this out an hour ago. Ugh.
The same thing happens with me and baseball sometimes. I don’t know how many times I have to remind myself that GMs aren’t stupid, and that we don’t know what they do. I figured this out a few years ago, but every trade deadline/off-season, I fall back into the habit of criticizing GMs based off of information I don’t really have. It’s really easy to do. Everyone’s doing it, and we have this habit of evaluating everything immediately even though it can’t really be judged for a few years. But let’s all remind ourselves, considering the time of year we are in, that GMs are not morons, and we don’t have all the information.

Let’s start with that first proposition. GMs are not stupid. I imagine this is the one we might have the most problem with, but it’s probably the worst criticism we have. How many people want to be in baseball? How many people work in baseball? How many people become GMs? Yeah. Now, yes there are varying degrees of intelligence (I certainly wouldn’t put Jim Hendry on the same level of Andrew Friedman/Alex Anthopolous), but they are all intelligent human beings. To get to that point in your career, you have to know what you are doing.
So how do we arrive at bad decisions? Other information. One, owners can be idiots when it comes to baseball. They’ve made their money and are probably excellent businessmen, but they didn’t usually make their money in baseball. Some of them are a bit more involved than they should be, and they demand things from their GMs against their GM’s better judgment. As an employee, you pretty much have to do what the boss says if the boss puts his foot down. GMs face other pressures than just trying to make the best team according to their vision.
Two, we don’t have the same information that teams do. We have all this research courtesy of great websites, blogs, etc. that we think we know the same things teams do, but we don’t. They have their own metrics for offense, defense, and pitching, and they have their own valuation tools for wins, prospects, etc. They have medical reports, and their scouting reports are based on scouts who see them quite often. Considering they also have actual access to financial records and a fleet of statisticians, they might have better information than we do. More importantly, they might have different information than we do, and remembering that the use of UZR or +/- can swing a guy’s value by 1-2 wins at times, the different information can be significant.
Three, teams evaluate players differently. Most of them use statistics and scouts, but they favor them differently. Is this good or bad? I’m not sure. But I do know that GMs utilize both, and until we find some way to figure out which is best when, it’s fairly subjective. And I’m guessing that GMs talk all of this out with several different people with tons of first-hand information before making any decisions. Most of the time, I write a post by myself, and as the saying goes, two heads are better than one.
Four, we aren’t in the room when stuff goes down. The wealth of information extends to the rumors started on Twitter, MLBTradeRumors, etc. Those are all great tools, and I love that we have them. But we have to remember that all of that information is second-hand, with the chance of being much farther removed than that. When one of the major reporters tells us that the Twins want to trade Denard Span for Drew Storen, we should always remember the information isn’t coming from the GMs or assistant GMs. That might have been the framework of a deal or two names discussed, but that doesn’t mean Bill Smith actually considered trading them one-for-one. Before we start criticizing them, can we at least wait for actual information from the horse’s mouth first?
Five, judging moves is kind of difficult. GMs make decisions, and we can really only guess why they did it because front offices don’t often reveal privileged information. Then, we have to remember that we can’t really evaluate a deal until a few years down the road, but when we do, we have to judge it by what the GM knew at the time. But because we don’t know what the GM knew, how can we evaluate it properly? See how this can get difficult?
Now, I’m not saying we shouldn’t try to evaluate GMs and their moves, but we do need to be more careful. We have a wealth of information at our disposal, and it’s excellent information. But we can’t act like GMs make their decisions based off of that same information. I know it’s all we have to go off of and that GMs will never tell us the real information, but we just have to deal with that. Criticize the deal if you want, but leave the person out of it unless it’s judging something he actually said. Otherwise, you’re just guessing that he’s an idiot. Again, please evaluate moves based on information that you have at your disposal, but don’t criticize the GM until you know all the information and circumstances behind the move made.

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