Statistical reasoning that ignores psychology

by Mr. Sheehy

From Grantland:

Cards manager Mike Matheny had a chance to do something interesting with Wainwright after those first two disastrous innings, too. After Boston’s fifth run scored, the likelihood that the Red Sox would win the game surged to 92 percent, per this win expectancy chart. Given those odds, Wainwright having thrown 60 pitches through two innings, and his command being off (although he might’ve gotten out of the first two innings down 1-0 but for better defense behind him and a couple of breaks), you could’ve made a case for pulling Wainwright.

This idea strikes me as just plain demented, particularly in its psychology. Can you imagine a manager explaining to the press afterward that after his team was down in the third, he knew they had only an 8% chance of winning, so he threw in the towel and pulled his ace? Hello? Jonah Keri might have found that to be an “interesting” move, but what a disastrous blow to the psychology of athletes, who believe against all odds that they can win, and many times such a mentality is their best weapon. Or perhaps I’m wrong and Keri is simply utilizing a kind of statistical reasoning I haven’t been willing to swallow.

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