Hack Attack

Jeff · October 5, 2005 at 12:20 pm · Filed Under General baseball 

People tend to hold overly favorable views of their abilities. This is a truism. And since there is a study for everything these days, there’s hard scientific research proving it from Justin Kruger and David Dunning of Cornell University in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

The idea is that dull thinking skills lead to overconfidence. In extreme cases, this can cause misguided faith in one’s ill-held ideas. An extreme example from the study: a sad fellow who was shocked to be arrested for the bank robberies he’d committed, having been under the mistaken impression that rubbing lemon juice on one’s face obscured his appearance to the security cameras.

From the abstract:

[P]eople who are unskilled … suffer a dual burden: Not only do these people reach erroneous conclusions and make unfortunate choices, but their incompetence robs them of the metacognitive ability to realize it. Across four studies, the authors found that participants [whose] … test scores put them in the 12th percentile … estimated themselves to be in the 62nd.

This calls to mind the old Socratic canard that the only thing worth knowing is how little you really know, or the Robert Burns poem about being able to see ourselves as others see us. It also calls to mind L.A. Times sportswriter Bill Plaschke.

To Plaschke, Dodgers GM Paul DePodesta’s failure to bring back manager Jim Tracy is an unforgivable betrayal of a baseball man by a man blinded by his book-learning.

Potshots between old and new schools are nothing new, and Plaschke grinding his dull butterknife (too dull to call it an axe) isn’t exactly stop-the-presses material either. This, though, is the rich part, and the part that inspires this post:

But love of the Dodgers no longer matters here. It’s all about loving DePodesta, who has polarized the Dodger community like few others.

Plaschke saying DePodesta has polarized the Dodger community is a bit like Mrs. O’Leary’s cow complaining about the heat in the barn. Why, oh why, would this vile man and his nefarious spreadsheet set Dodger fans against each other in this way? It isn’t like there was anything fanning the flames from the very beginning.

Let’s leave aside the merits or demerits of the Tracy firing. Indeed, let’s forget even the substance of this particular beef and think a bit broader.

Reasonable people can disagree about the way baseball teams go about business. To claim that a failure to stand in lockstep with a columnist’s dogma constitutes a lack of “love” isn’t just wrong, it’s a bit pathological.

My knee isn’t going to jerk defending either DePodesta or his methods. The man has come in for much criticism here over the last year. The danger of Plaschke’s pathology, though, is that it eliminates open-mindedness, stifling the ability to acknowledge that we all have a lot to learn, and often from the people we least expect to learn from.

At times, the old ways are the best. A certain criminal might have been better off with the time-honored tradition of pantyhose or a ski mask. We’re all better off, though, when we consider that new thoughts are worth a look.

Otherwise, you end up being — like Plaschke — the one with lemon juice on your face.


35 Responses to “Hack Attack”

  1. msb on October 5th, 2005 12:41 pm

    Why, oh why, would this vile man and his nefarious spreadsheet set Dodger fans against each other in this way? It isn’t like there was anything fanning the flames from the very beginning.

    ahem. Dodger blues.

  2. Todd on October 5th, 2005 12:56 pm

    Plaschke is a truly terrible writer. What is really sad is that so many newspaper sports columnists emulate this type of style. Marriotti (sp?) is another example. The awful, mind-dulling writing by “major” columnists is the main reason why I read sports pages for beat reporting only. I can get much better analysis and commentary from blogs and websites.

  3. cm on October 5th, 2005 1:05 pm

    I’ve had the opportunity to travel down to LA every week for the last 15 months, and as a result have been privy to many opinions from the local fans. More often than not, they have a tendancy to be in line with Plaschke’s rhetoric. I’ll leave it to others to decide whether Plaschke is merely giving voice to the local populace, or leading them.

  4. moira on October 5th, 2005 1:12 pm

    Off subject here, but Macha’s leaving Oakland. Any speculation on where he might end up?

  5. Shoeless Jose on October 5th, 2005 1:19 pm

    And in an opinion piece on SI, Mohr claims that the Dodgers’ performance proves that “Moneyball” might work for smaller-market teams but doesn’t work for big market teams like the Dodgers (nevermind that DePodesta hasn’t been following the Moneyball approach all that closely — as very examples Mohr uses show — or that one would think a team would want to use all tools available and maximize its ROI regardless of its budget).

  6. msb on October 5th, 2005 1:27 pm

    re: Macha , I think we need a separate GM/manager/coach merry-go-round thread. after all, where else does fascinating news such as Fred Kendall’s magnet-pull towards Buddy Bell belong?

  7. msb on October 5th, 2005 1:29 pm

    #4– Macha is rumored for Pittsburgh, as a homeboy and former draftee

  8. slump on October 5th, 2005 1:35 pm

    Assuming Plaschke falls within the scope of the study ,should we expect him to run for president in ’08?

  9. rockymariner on October 5th, 2005 1:47 pm

    Nice one slump! When I read “The idea is that dull thinking skills lead to overconfidence” I immediately thought of our current fearless president.

  10. Todd on October 5th, 2005 1:49 pm

    I think that all participants on “Around the Horn” were included in that study, along with personalities from “Cold Pizza,” “Quite Frankly,” and “The Best Damn Sports Show Period.”

  11. Evan on October 5th, 2005 1:49 pm

    Ddin’t Beane choose Macha specifically because he would take orders well?

    And thanks, Jeff. I just spent almost an hour of my workday carefully reading that research article. I think the first part of their study was flawed (different people find different things funny, though I did like the rain joke), but the rest looked pretty good.

    However, parts 2-4 were all testing similar things. Logic and grammar are both heavily rules-based. I would have liked the study more if they’d evaluated some area of expertise at which I believe myself to be inadequate (judging other people’s reactions, taking hints, pretty much any social skill).

  12. bookbook on October 5th, 2005 2:04 pm

    Get yourself diagnosed with Augsberger’s. There’s big money in it.

  13. tede on October 5th, 2005 2:18 pm

    #1 Man,I love “Dodger Blues”. What a great site and what funny reading in the “fan forums”. Too bad it is about a team I care nothing about.

    Here was their daily poll:

    “The Dodgers Should Celebrate The Upcoming End To Darren Dreifort’s Contract By…..
    A. Having a Parade
    B. Beheading Kevin Malone Before A Game
    C. Turing Off Dreifort’s I.V.
    D. Signing Scott Erickson To A 5-Year Deal”

    Also referring to JD Drew as “DL Drew”. (I can’t repeat McCourt’s “name”)

  14. Evan on October 5th, 2005 2:19 pm

    I’m going to go look that up, because I’m entirely unfamiliar with it.

  15. drjeff on October 5th, 2005 2:24 pm

    12 – You must be thinking of Asperger’s.

    I test IQ for a living. I thought I’d just throw in some numbers to make that percentile comparison a little more easily understood. A 12th-percentile IQ translates to an IQ score of 82 (on a scale where 100 represents an average IQ). 12th percentile means that in a room with 100 randomly-selected people of that age group, you’re smarter than 11 of those people. A 62nd-percentile IQ would translate to an IQ score of about 105, pretty much dead average.

    An IQ of 82 would be considered to be in the low end of the Low Average range, functional but not real good with difficult tasks such as abstraction of concepts or tricky memory tasks. Vocabulary at that range is relatively simplistic, thinking is concrete.

    105… Average range and all that Average implies.

    This is, of course, apropos of nothing, but I wanted to prove to myself that I didn’t do all of that grad school for nuttin’.

  16. Evan on October 5th, 2005 2:28 pm

    Asperger’s Syndrome

    Clinical Features:

    a: paucity of empathy;
    b: naive, inappropriate, one-sided social interaction, little ability to form friendships and consequent social isolation;
    c: pedantic and monotonic speech;
    d: poor nonverbal communication;
    e: intense absorption in circumscribed topics such as the weather, facts about TV stations, railway tables or maps, which are learned in rote fashion and reflect poor understanding, conveying the impression of eccentricity; and
    f: clumsy and ill-coordinated movements and odd posture.

    I’m not sure that could have described me better. Creepy.

  17. Dave in Palo Alto on October 5th, 2005 2:29 pm

    Asperger’s Syndrome is not a joke.

    Just for the record.

  18. drjeff on October 5th, 2005 2:30 pm

    16 – Not to take this too far off-topic, but a lot of people self-diagnose with Asperger’s, and for a lot of them the problem is sub-clinical.

    Kind of like just getting pissed off a lot as opposed to having Intermittent Explosive Disorder. Or getting tired once in a while but not having Chronic Fatigue Syndrome.

  19. Ralph Malph on October 5th, 2005 2:38 pm

    Not to be pedantic and monotonic, but isn’t an IQ of 100, by definition, average, meaning 105 is not “pretty much dead average”, but rather slightly above average?

  20. drjeff on October 5th, 2005 2:38 pm

    Okay, last comment… Evan, I don’t mean to imply that you DON’T have Asperger’s or some Autism-spectrum disorder. I just wanted to say that you probably shouldn’t be alarmed when you match a list of criteria like that. The only way to truly diagnose a disorder like Asperger’s is to have a professional evaluation.

    Whew. Okay. Done.

  21. drjeff on October 5th, 2005 2:39 pm

    19 – The variance between 100 and 105 would be barely noticeable in terms of someone’s behavior or thinking. That’s what I mean… the Average range goes from 90-110.

    But, yes, I should have spoken more carefully, for sure.

  22. Evan on October 5th, 2005 2:55 pm

    You had no chance to offend me there, Dr. Jeff. I don’t draw inferences.

    I’m not sure what the point of a professional evaluation would be. I really like me. I wish more people were like me. If some expert tells me I exhibit Asperger’s Syndrome… so what? Nothing changes.

  23. Rusty on October 5th, 2005 2:55 pm

    Or as Anais Nin says… “We don’t see things as they are, we see them as we are.”

  24. Adam on October 5th, 2005 2:57 pm

    Dodger Blues rules! I visit there almost every day. Mainly for the Wilson Alvarez fat jokes and the A-hole of the moment. Great stuff. Even Mike Blowers gets some (negative) pub from time to time.

    As for Dodger’s “Moneyball”…if the Dodgers were using this full on approach they wouldn’t have signed JD Drew, Derek Lowe, Jeff Kent, etc. However, they do show some of the traits by giving players like Saenz (former A) significant playing time.

  25. Rusty on October 5th, 2005 3:03 pm

    If the primary qualification of managing the Oakland A’s is the ability to take orders from Billy Beane, I’m guessing they’ll have no problem replacing Macha. There are plenty of “yes” men and women in the world.

    I will be fascinated to see a 3rd data point in the whole Billy Beane era. They did well with Art Howe. They did well with Macha. If they do well with #3, then I’m more and more sold on the USSM Authors’ viewpoint that the skills of the on field Manager to influence wins are overrated.

  26. Evan on October 5th, 2005 3:11 pm

    Derek Lowe was arguably a defensible signing if the Dodgers had maintained 2004’s excellent infield defense.

    Signing Lowe and Kent seems somehow mutually exclusive.

  27. Russ on October 5th, 2005 3:15 pm

    Dodger Blues may be a funny blog however the cursing and photos are not exactly work friendly, at least for me and I don’t work in a church.

    This makes me appreciate the USS Mariner all the more.

    Thanks again to each of you for a first class, highly intelligent conversation that many times exceeds my average ability to understand.

  28. Michael Roper on October 5th, 2005 3:30 pm

    Jeff, you’ve probably heard it many times, but you’re an excellent writer. I really enjoyed the craft of this entry.

  29. Jason on October 5th, 2005 5:48 pm

    Brilliant introduction.

    Bringing it back around to Plaschke, as someone above alluded to, the analogy to the study breaks a little bit when Plaschke creates the strife that he claims exists. Most unskilled people just live in a fantasy world. The lucky few unskilled people who get jobs at major media outlets actually get to create their fantasy worlds.

    The problem with using the A’s managers as evidence that managers don’t matter is that perhaps Beane et al. are just good at hiring managers that work well for that team. Sure, it’s sort of unlikely, and Art Howe’s performance really undermines any other hypothesis, but it’s still possible.

  30. Bela Txadux on October 5th, 2005 8:19 pm

    I had read the results of some social psychology studies several years ago similar to the one you mention, Jeff, and their conclusions were essentially the same: a distinguishing characteristic of individuals who were demonstrably incompetent at certain tasks was an inability to accurately assess their own performance, predicated upon an inability to accurately assess the task to be performed: consistently, the worst rated themselves as ‘average’ or a little better. This finally and perfectly explained to me the behavior of several monstrously incompetent individuals with whom I’ve had dealings through the years. They were stoneblind to their failings because usually blind to the nature of the task itself.

    This says everything about the problems of the sportswriter’s article you mention: he has no idea of what a GMs job really is, so he can’t really assess whether that job is or is not being performed competently. He just can’t.

  31. Rusty on October 5th, 2005 10:09 pm

    The Macha thing is intriguing. Before negotiations started Macha said he wanted to remain in Oakland and Beane said they wanted to retain him. But the negotiations seemingly lasted little more than a day or two and were abruptly ended, despite no time clock really ticking on this transaction.

    We’ll probably hear more later, but for now it would seem that Beane had a number that he was sitting on, Macha and his agent balked at that number, and that was all the effort Beane was going to put into his attempt to retain Macha.

    I doubt Macha was truly lowballed, but I’m guessing he had a little higher expectation than Billy was willing to grant. Again, this is all speculation on my part, but I’m guessing that the shortness of the negotiations stemmed from an idea that Billy might hold that effective managers are easily replaceable, especially with a competent GM behind them.

  32. Jim Thomsen on October 5th, 2005 10:47 pm

    I’m a diagnosed “Aspie.”

  33. mark from Oly. wa. on October 6th, 2005 1:58 am

    wow. there really are some guys here that know something besides baseball. Truly it was great to see other people point out the APA.

    Very well written, Jeff.

  34. Whiffle on October 6th, 2005 8:22 am

    Plascke is very representative of an all-too-familiar type in that business… Man, do they do research? Do they read? Are they open to new ideas? If I have to hear one more time about “manufacturing runs” and the supreme value of “moving runners over” one more time… And I don’t know if I can blame the columnists because, in spite of all the fine research, the culture of baseball is still so wrapped up in multiple high fives for that guy who hits the weak ground ball to second that moves a runner to third base… Sometimes, it seems as if it’s actually a sin to hit a line drive single to left in that situation. Man, it was 1964 when Earnshaw Cook wrote “Percentage Baseball” and still nobody is listening… thanks for letting me vent, guys

  35. JI on October 29th, 2005 8:10 pm

    I think Depo’s 2004 deadline moves were great. The Drew deal was a bit of a head scratcher, Drew is a fantasic player, but I cannot see how they could justify that type of money with no injury out clause.

    The whole Kent/Bradley thing was overplayed and overblown by the media (which had a personal vendetta against him from the start). The *real* reason the Dodgers failed? Injuries, plain and simple, they had over half the lineup on the DL for an extended period, plus Eric Gagne. I don’t know how anyone could expect the, to complete with half their lineup and their closer on the DL.

    I don’t think he is the greatest Gm, but he’s far from the worst. He’ll learn from his mistake he made in LA. I’d be thrilled if the M’s fired Bavasi and hired him.