KANSAS CITY — Here’s a little lunch time quiz for you.
Red Sox Player A: Is 13 of 33 (.394) with runners in scoring position this season with a .425 in-base percentage and .606 slugging percentage. He has 15 RBIs this season.
He hit .337/.441/.483 with RISP in 2011.
Red Sox Player B: Is 9 of 29 (.310) with runners in scoring position this season with a .375 on-base percentage and a .446 slugging percentage. He has 11 RBIs this season.
He hit .316/.408/.471 with RISP in 2011.
Which is one is scrappy, passionate, ever-so-clutch Dustin Pedroia and which one is Adrian Gonzalez, the emotionless supposed choker who can’t handle Boston?
Gonzalez is Player A and Pedroia is Player B.
All of us — the media, too — are quick to pin labels on players based on what we think we see and not what is actually true. We extrapolate one important game or one week into a full narrative when it’s only a snapshot.
There’s a book out called “Thinking Fast And Slow” by Nobel-prize winning economist Daniel Kahneman that examines how we’re conditioned to make quick, emotional judgments and then place too much confidence in those judgments.
It is a great read and I’d recommend it to anybody. But I think for baseball fans it’s an especially valuable book because it’s a great reminder of the need to be logical and make decisions based on facts and not emotion.
The book is full of great examples and while Kahneman doesn’t use baseball to make any of his points, I suspect he would find Pedroia and Gonzalez a fascinating case study.
Pedroia is scruffy, he says funny things to the media and he looks like he really cares. Therefore we all assume he’s clutch and plays hard and really cares. That he is shorter than most players leads us to believe he’s a great overachiever. Terry Francona used to say all the time that Pedroia “wills” himself to be great.
Pedroia is not an overachiever. He played college baseball for a major program (Arizona State) and was a second-round draft pick. He has ridiculously quick hands, tremendous hand-eye coordination and he’s strong. He doesn’t will himself to do anything any more than any other player can. It’s an insult to his ability to suggest he’s an overachiever.
Pedroia is an excellent player because he has excellent skills and works hard to make them better, not because he’s Scrappy McScraperson. Yes, he really cares. But I don’t know that he cares any more than anybody else. You just see it on NESN more often.
Gonzalez rarely says anything memorable, plays with a well-honed poise and isn’t athletic enough to run particularly fast. If he makes an out, he holds his composure and goes back to the dugout. Because he doesn’t fling his bat, the assumption is he doesn’t have what it takes to play in Boston.
He’s not loaded up with muscles or particularly imposing. But Gonzalez succeeds because he has the discipline to study pitchers and he knows his own swing better than any player in the game. He comes from a family that cares deeply about baseball and when he was a kid would travel back and forth across the border with his father and brothers to play as often as he could.
He has probably done more with less than Pedroia has.
If you don’t want to take my word for it, take Pedroia’s because Gonzalez does not have a bigger defender in the clubhouse than his second baseman. One interesting aspect of the clubhouse dynamic this season is that they have become better friends.
Because I want to think that Pedroia’s approval means something, I’m counting that as a positive for Gonzalez. It’s an easy trap to fall into, thinking fast.
But for Gonzalez, it’s best to think slow.