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— Where BTF's Members Investigate the Grand Old Game
Wednesday, April 04, 2001
The Eternal Mystery of Brooks Kieschnick
Voros tries to create hope for ballplayers who don’t fit the perfect profile.
With the 10th pick in the first round of the 1993 Amateur Draft, the Chicago Cubs selected OF/DH/P, Brooks Kieschnick. At the time, the pick was considered surprising and drew criticism from some scouting circles. Indeed Kieschnick was very well known as he would win the College Player of the Year Award that year, but Baseball America called the pick ?the biggest surprise of the first round? and commented on Kieschnick?s ?defensive shortcomings.?
To be blunt, the problem many scouts had with Kieschnick was that he was considered to be slow and fat and that generally those traits are thought to be very damaging in the transition from the amateur to professional leagues. In any event, then GM of the Cubs, Larry Himes, liked big college hitting stars, having had success across town with his picks of Robin Ventura and Frank Thomas. Himes felt that Kieschnick?s potential to hit for power from the left side outweighed any deficiencies he had in the other areas.
Anyway, to speed up the story a bit, the early returns seemed to favor Himes? evaluation as Kieschnick had a good season in 1994 in AA, and a very good season in AAA in 1995 leading the American Association in Home Runs and finishing 9th in hitting. However, Himes was no longer around as GM to see his pick thrive. Instead, a new regime, headed by Andy McPhail, had been installed after the strike and this regime seemed to feel that Kieschnick?s shortcomings were still a serious hindrance to him succeeding at the highest level. Under this regime, Kieschnick never really established himself in the majors with only 119 at bats for the Cubs through 1997, at which point he was lost in the expansion draft. He soon after suffered an injury, and his career as a major league prospect was officially over.
Now before anybody gets ahead of me here, let me assure you that I?m not going to argue the merits of Brooks Kieschnick as a prospect circa 1995.? Which evaluation of Kieschnick was ?more accurate? is not the purpose of the article. Frankly, I have no idea. That is the purpose of the article.
Often people believe things simply because they haven?t ever received any information to the contrary. In everyday life, the attitude is fairly effective.? I don?t believe the Hunan Wok across the street is purposefully poisoning my food because I?ve yet to encounter any information that they might be.
On the other hand, the lack of evidence existing that a belief is false is not de facto proof that it is true. The problem of hidden information (the lack of relevant information because it either hasn?t been provided or isn?t possible to determine) often plagues the evaluation of decision making processes.
For example, let?s say the scouts of Major League Baseball generally believe that players 5?9?? or shorter almost never become decent major league players. Then, after they adjust their decisions for signing players accordingly, you see very few players 5?9? and under in the majors ten years later. That doesn?t necessarily mean their initial belief is correct. Thomas Gilovich refers to this phenomenon as a ?seemingly-fulfilled prophecy.? He writes, ?Seemingly-fulfilled prophecies? refer to expectations that alter another person?s world, or limit another?s responses, in such a way that it was difficult or impossible for the expectations to be disconfirmed (author?s emphasis).?
In the example of Brooks Kieschnick above, once a group who did not expect him to be successful in the major leagues took over his team, Kieschnick was in a situation where it would be very difficult to prove them wrong. It?s a simple four-step process in reinforcing their belief:
1. They believe Brooks Kieschnick will not succeed
at the major league level.
To the Cubs, their evaluation has proven to be correct. The problem is that we are missing extremely relevant information on the subject. We need to know whether Kieschnick would have succeeded on the major league level had the Cubs acted in a manner opposite of their beliefs. Unfortunately, it is information we just don?t have, and therefore we don?t know for certain whose evaluation (Himes? or McPhail?s) was more accurate. You often hear people claim that the scouts ?find almost everybody who can play Major League Baseball.? What you?ve heard is the seemingly-fulfilled prophecy. Since the scouts are the major determinants of who receives opportunities to play Major League Baseball, those judged as unable to play in the majors will never receive the chance to prove the assessment wrong, even if the assessment actually was wrong. It may seem unlikely at first, but consider that the career of a certain Hall of Famer in Mike Piazza was almost entirely due to accident and the good fortune of having an influential acquaintance. The scouts missed Piazza, so it leaves one to wonder what happens to others not quite as fortunate.
But this isn?t an indictment of scouting. The hidden information problem is the basic obstacle of scouting and the source of most of the mistakes that happen. Scouting is an extremely difficult job, made more difficult by the vastness of the pool of players to evaluate. You can imagine how difficult it is for a handful of scouts to sort through 10,000 players and get accurate info on each. Often scouts need to use tactics that limit the pool of available talent (like the 5?9? example above or, as in the case of Kieschnick, players ?past prospect age?). They do this not so much because they believe that nobody in the excluded pool can succeed in the majors, but rather because they believe the rewards of getting the pool of players down to a manageable number outweigh the risks of missing a player here and there. In fact, this could very well be the most effective method available to them, and yet it would still lead to hidden information problems.
So keep this in mind during the upcoming season when you hear things like ?Keith Foulke wouldn?t be a good starting pitcher? or ?Roberto Petagine can?t hit major league pitching.?? The belief in these statements, regardless of their accuracy, is based mostly on the fact that it hasn?t yet been proven wrong. What needs to be understood is that the opportunities to prove it wrong have been very limited.
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