The White Sox and the Disposition Effect

In Wednesday’s game against the Royals, Robin Ventura continued to fill out his dismal managerial resume with a number of questionable (read: bad) moves including but not limited to: intentionally walking Alcides Escobar, owner of a .587 OPS and .228(!) TAV, with two outs, intentionally walking Escobar again later in the game also with two outs, and bringing in reliever Matt Albers when better, or at least more intriguing and younger, options were readily available. I’ve already written about Robin’s ineptitude before, and, *shockingly,* he’s not improving upon his issues since I wrote that.

That’s a huge issue in its own right, but there’s no need to beat a dead horse. What I would like to bring to light is the White Sox inability as an organization to move on from the toxic assets that plague their team. Whether it’s their players, their coaches, or their front office staff, they White Sox refuse to shake up their organization and move in a new direction until it’s too late. The White Sox are a living and breathing embodiment of the disposition effect.

The disposition effect comes from the field of behavioral economics. Essentially the disposition effect refers to the backwards behavior that is observed when investors have some assets increase in value and other assets that fall in value. Investors are much less willing to sell assets that have gone down in value but they are more likely to sell assets that have increased in value.

A great deal of investors fail to understand that the future performance of an asset is unrelated to its purchase price. In turn, they believe that an asset that has gone down in value will eventually come back up, and that an asset that has increased in value may come back down, when in reality, the complete opposite is often true. An asset that has gone down in value has likely decreased in value for a concrete reason, and vice versa. Some new information about the company/product/service/etc. has come to light and as a result, the market has shifted to adjust to this new information. The asset has been revealed to be inferior to what prior estimates believed and it’s unlikely the asset ever returns to its original purchase price.

While baseball players and coaches are undoubtedly not stocks and bonds, the same general principle should be applied. For example, Avisail Garcia was a decently-touted prospect who had the raw power that could possibly translate to 30 home runs in a major league season. There was a chance he’d be a valuable player! However, as he played more and more in the major leagues, new information was revealed about him. He was horrible defensively and he had an ugly swing path that led to far too many ground balls for him to ever realize that raw power. After nearly 1100 plate appearances (which is really too many already) Garcia had made it clear that he was a toxic asset that would likely poison the White Sox chances at a playoff berth should they continue to play him. The White Sox chose to ignore the new information and rely on years-old prospect shine, and, utterly predictably, Garcia once again has ended up as a replacement-level player that dampened the White Sox chances to end their playoff drought.*

If giving Garcia so many chances to prove himself while completely failing was an isolated incident, maybe you could give the White Sox organization the benefit of the doubt. However, this is much more of a systemic issue that continues to torpedo the team. Just looking back the past five or six years, the White Sox continue to fall into the familiar trap. The most glaring example of this was the Ozzie Guillen saga that plagued the team in 2010 and 2011. The White Sox’ relationship had turned extremely toxic with Ozzie starting in the Winter of 2009 when he told Jim Thome there wouldn’t be playing time for him in 2010.

Ozzie wanted a rotating DH so he vetoed Kenny Williams’ decision to retain Thome in favor of Mark Kotsay (Side note: ugh that’s a painful memory). The feud worsened throughout the year, eventually culminating in Ozzie going off the rails after being directly questioned about Thome and Ozzie’s son Oney going on Twitter rants calling Kenny Williams a pig. The team, which was now more of a sideshow than a team, would finish 2010 with 88 wins and this was enough to prompt the White Sox to retain Ozzie throughout the entire 2011 season. Predictably, the results were disastrous. The team went “all-in” pushing their payroll to its highest point ever and, the White Sox proceeded to finish under .500 and well out of playoff contention.

Now, again rather predictably, the White Sox have held on to Robin Ventura well past his usefulness as a manager. The White Sox have long known about Ventura’s shortcomings, or incompetence, as an in-game tactician, which have hampered the White Sox ever since he took over in 2012, but they always cited the familiar refrain that he was a stabilizing presence in the clubhouse. That’s been, quite clearly I might add, disproven this season with the Spring Training Drake LaRoche debacle and then the Christopher Scissorhands incident more recently where face-of-the-franchise pitcher Chris Sale directly called out Robin Ventura for not being an advocate for the players. Robin’s in-game decisions have always stacked the deck against the White Sox, but if he can’t even control the clubhouse why is he even here?

Obviously, this trend doesn’t only apply to beloved former players-turned-managers. The White Sox have a strong history of giving playing time to washed-up veterans and failed prospects. I’ve already talked about Garcia. Dayan Viciedo was given 1800 plate appearances to prove that he was as useless as a push-lawnmower on a 20-acre farm. Jimmy Rollins’ corpse was given two months earlier this year to prove he was completed cooked. He’s now a TV studio analyst. Matt Albers, who has failed to hold hitters to an OPS below .884 in any month since April, has been trotted out in high-leverage situations. With the season lost, the White Sox continue to play Dioner Navarro and his putrid pitch framing and ~.600 OPS instead of moving on to other players. And the only thing that prevented the White Sox from desperately trying to squeeze value out of a 36-year-old Adam LaRoche was the fact that he retired before the year started.

The White Sox are stuck in a rut. They’re too obsessed with recouping value from their bad investments that they fail to realize when they’re making the situation completely worse. The front office’s refusal to replace Garcia or even Robin Ventura himself before the year and subsequently, with the season already lost, Robin continuing to play Navarro over young catcher Omar Navarez, or bringing in Albers to Wednesday’s loss instead of a younger pitcher, who also happens to be the team’s top prospect, with the game on the line epitomizes the problem. The organization knows they have the equivalent of Enron stock all over the place, but they continue to willfully delude themselves into thinking these players will rebound or turn into better versions of themselves. No one, especially the organization, benefits from this.

The best thing the team could have done is try to shake things up just to see if that works. Everyone should know by now that Navarro and Albers are awful players and Robin is a poor manager. These individuals represent no value to the organization’s future. Why not try to learn something new about someone else? When the White Sox fell flat early in the year, they could have replaced Robin to see if that would spark the team. Or maybe they could have given Jason Coats regular at-bats over Garcia to see if Coats would be any kind of an asset moving forward. These things would likely not have mattered in the grand scheme of things, but there’s a greater chance that these maneuvers would have produced better results than the status quo, which was virtually guaranteed to fail.

Sometimes little moves like that really work out and help an organization. Look no further than the 2015 White Sox team which gave playing time to Trayce Thompson down the stretch. Or maybe look outside the organization to a team like Houston who gave non-prospect Dallas Keuchel a chance to be a major league starter a few years back when the team was awful. Sometimes these long shot players pan out– look at Colombian baseball deity Jose Quintana! But the important thing is that teams would never know about these players unless they gave them a chance. They didn’t block these players behind veterans that were lost causes.

Instead, we have the White Sox, who’ve continued to try the same thing over and over, clinging to bad investments like their lives depended on them and hoping for a bounce back that’s never coming. They’ve seen the benefits of exploring new young players, yet don’t pursue this when it would benefit them most. It’s almost a perfect fit to the colloquial definition of insanity! I don’t know how much worse it needs to get for things to change, but eight consecutive seasons of missing the playoffs and four-straight losing seasons is well beyond what I would deem acceptable. I hope the White Sox can cut bait from their current approach to their future, instead of hoping that rebounds, too.

*Please don’t think I’m pinning the failure of the 2016 season all on Avisail Garcia. He’s simply one black hole of many that the front office refused to address.


Lead Image Credit: John Rieger // USA Today Sports Images

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2 comments on “The White Sox and the Disposition Effect”


Great stuff. The idea of the Sox sticking with bad assets is nothing new but it’s interesting to see it framed in a non baseball perspective.

I would have to agree that the white sox have no clue on how to fix the problem. My advise clean house from the top to the bottom.the names of people that should go for better of the organization are Ken Williams robin Ventura and general manager Rick hon and all the scouts in the minor league and Mr owner. Start by being loyal to your fans the last time I looked that’s who pays to come and watch that garbage you call a team I personally am on strike I don’t even watch your team on tv any more . I have been a sox fan since 1959 and I had enough sincerly Paul

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