I can think of fewer situations more similar than a manager making in game decisions and black jack player deciding his next move. In both cases, the likelihood of success or failure are clearly defined, yet even playing the odds is no guarantee of success.
So, while watching Casino for the umpteenth time, I started thinking "what kind of black jack player would Mike Scioscia be?" There’s definitely a difference between the MIT guys who win millions, the majority of suckers who lose a little bit, and the whales who keep the casino doors open. Typically, those lines are determined by a few key factors.
Knowing the Objective
Ask the average tourist what the goal of black jack is, and they will say "get as close to 21 as possible without going over." They would, of course, be absolutely wrong. The goal in black jack is to beat the dealer, whether that is by getting closer to 21 or letting him bust. The most important card on the table doesn’t sit in front of the player, it sits in front of the dealer.
How does this relate to Mike? He consistently talks about "focusing on what we do" and "playing our own game." Mike is concerned solely with setting up his bullpen for their defined roles, completely unaware and/or uncaring about who the other team has in their bullpen or available to pinch hit. He either doesn’t know or doesn’t care how the other team’s players match up against his own. In short, he doesn’t know the odds of the dealer busting.
Knowing the Odds of Success Of The Next Move
Once a good player or manager assesses the opposition, the next step is to decide what to do with their own hand. This type of data is readily available in most dugouts, typically in binders and tablets. But not Mike. No, he picks and chooses his cards based on his gut.
A cursory look at the above table will show that somebody holding a pair of 9s will lose 77% of the time if he asks for another card. But that type of number crunching is for nerdy front office types, not former MLB catchers. I think evidence of this can be seen in setting relievers up at major split disadvantages ("he’s our 8th inning guy") but also in his bunt happy approach to the playoffs. As you can see, the odds of a run scoring actually decreases a bit after a sacrifice bunt. Yet, Mike continues to employ the strategy, even with his best hitter on deck.
Reliance on Luck
Let’s face it, sometimes guys get lucky. I’ve seen a dealer pull out a five card 21, and sometimes an opposing pitcher just shuts down an opposing offense. Playing the odds doesn’t always work, it just works most of the time. However, hitting on 17 because you just feel a small card is coming, then busting, isn’t bad luck. Continuing to hit on 17 because you are sure it will be different this time isn’t bad luck either. Those are bad moves. Like letting Jepsen pitch to lefties time and again, or penciling in a declining vet.
So, who is Mike Sicoscia when he walks into a casino to play a few hands of blackjack?