Cardinals news from a Sabermetric point of view

With trade, both Cardinals and Red Sox may have relied on availability heuristic

As the Red Sox arrive in town for a three-game series, let’s take another look at the deadline trade involving John Lackey, Corey Littrell, Allen Craig and Joe Kelly. What made the teams’ respective GMs pull the trigger on this particular package of players?

Back when the Cardinals signed Ty Wigginton two years ago, we attempted to comprehend the logic by proffering the excuse that the Cardinals suffered from the availability heuristic. To refresh your memory, this heuristic, as Wikipedia defines it, is

a mental shortcut that occurs when people make judgments about the probability of events by the ease with which examples come to mind.

The Red Sox and Cardinals are generally strangers to each other — that is, except for a little season-ending get-together called the World Series last October. What better way to create some long-lasting mental shortcuts than on the sport’s biggest stage and with the entire offseason to literally and figuratively replay the series. Is it possible that the two teams sought players who made good impressions on them during the Fall Classic?

Let’s check the numbers. According to the theory, the player would have performed better in the small sample witnessed by his prospective team than his career norms. That is to say, his new team made a judgment about the probability of his future success based on the examples that come to mind. Was that the case for the three major-leaguers in the deal?

Allen Craig OBP SLG
2014 World Series .412 .438
Career .343 .460
Joe Kelly ERA K/BB
2014 World Series 3.38 2.00
Career 3.25 1.99
John Lackey ERA K/BB
2014 World Series 2.57 3.67
Career 4.02 2.72

Kelly was essentially the same pitcher in the series as he has been in his career. But both Lackey and Craig significantly outperformed their normal rates. Craig in particular stood out not only because he was better than usual, but because he was pretty much the only Cardinal who did much of anything with the bat. And Lackey had a hand in two victories, including winning the clinching Game 6 with a workmanlike effort — just the kind of reliable starter profile they’ve been needing.

If the Cardinals and Red Sox, respectively, based their opinions on what they saw during the series, they would think they’re getting much better players than they are (albeit unknowingly). This would be a rare case in which both teams fall prey to the availability heuristic, though of course any advantage is nullified because it affects them both equally (or so it would seem in this case). It certainly wasn’t the only reason the teams sought the players they did. But it’s possible that the teams were particularly motivated (and in the aftermath, more satisfied) because of the mental shortcuts that developed last fall.

3 Responses to “With trade, both Cardinals and Red Sox may have relied on availability heuristic”

  1. Brandon Says:

    Hey! Your comments are working again!

    I forget the actual term, but I think the shortcut they might be using is the one where you over/undervalue something because it fits a “type”. Lackey is an “ace” or a “proven winner”, even though he hasn’t had an elite season since his Anaheim days. But he’s got 150 wins and closed out two World Series, so…….

    The Red Sox saw Craig as a “buy low candidate” who seems very likely to bounce back and reach his career norms, which might not have been so “normal” at all, given that they’re basically two years of performance.

    I actually liked the trade in that I don’t have a particularly optimistic view of Kelly, I think Craig is probably done being an elite hitter, and the deal clears the decks financially and in establishing an organizational plan going forward. But I think both sides may ultimately be disappointed in what they get out of it.

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