Carlos Gomez & Fundamental Attribution Errors in Baseball

Although he struggled with the Brewers and Astros in 2015, Carlos Gomez still remains one of the best and most exciting players in all of baseball. What makes Gomez so exciting, however, is not simply his great athleticism and his skill for the game, but also his passion for baseball. Every time Gomez steps on the diamond it seems he has a big smile on his face. He also hustles for every ball as if it were the final play of his career. It’s that passion that makes Gomez one of the most enjoyable ball players to watch, day in and day out.

But it’s also that same passion, one might also call it flair, that has gotten Gomez into “trouble” a number of times throughout his career. Whether it was for a bat flip, staring at a home run for too long, or screaming at himself in the batter’s box, Gomez always seemed to get under the skin of many of his opponents.

Take an incident that happened just this past year. The Astros held a significant lead, beating the Yankees 9-0. Former Brewers hurler Chris Capuano then through a pitch, which Gomez popped up. As a result, the 30-year-old center fielder slammed his bat on the dirt in frustration. This unrestrained show of emotion then caused the Yankees to yell at Gomez, ultimately causing a benches-clearing incident. There was no fight and cooler heads prevailed, but the Yankees still had their feathers ruffled.

These sorts of incidences seem to happen just about every year. They are also quite ridiculous most of the time. The reasons for the other team’s anger is usually befuddling, but I think they usually happen due to faulty reasoning.

One of the reasons these incidences happen is because the opposing team — this time the Yankees — make a fundamental attribution error. This is actually a simple concept to get one’s head around. It’s “our tendency to explain someone’s behavior based on internal factors, such as personality or disposition, and to underestimate the influence that external factors, such as situational influences, have on another person’s behavior.” This is, of course, a basic definition. But, really, what one needs to understand is that it’s our tendency to attribute one’s behavior based on internal factors without taking into account external factors.

For example, if I was about to meet someone for the first time and he or she were late, I might assume that person is chronically late or that person neither really cares about my time nor meeting me. When in reality, they may simply be stuck in traffic due to an accident on the highway, or there might have been an emergency at home to which they needed to attend.

Now, another important note to remember is that I might be correct. That person might always be late. But it is important to remember that it is our tendency to make these false assumptions, and they often lead one into making false conclusions.

Back to the incident with Gomez and the Yankees. After the game, Joe Girardi said, “I just told him, ‘Play the game the right way.’ They are kicking our rear ends, show a little professionalism to the pitcher. I know you missed a pitch and you are frustrated by it. I just think it is a little too much.” The Yankees were essentially upset because Gomez showed too much emotion after his pop fly, plus the Yankees were getting shelled, so they got upset. They felt that Gomez wasn’t “playing the game the right way,” that Gomez was being disrespectful and showing them up. What they didn’t consider was that Gomez probably wasn’t trying to be disrespectful; rather, he had been struggling since joining the Astros, causing him to be extra frustrated when he missed a good pitch to hit. The Yankees, therefore, committed a fundamental attribution error, thinking Gomez was being disrespectful or, you know, “not playing the game the right way,” which caused them to be more upset than they really should have been.

These types of misjudgments will often lead players to feel as though they have been harmed. It’s the same issue with a seemingly exuberant bat flip or cadillacing a home run for too long. Most pitchers will assume a batter is showing them up. This happened all too often while Gomez played with the Milwaukee Brewers.

Another player who also often gets what I’m calling the “fundamental attribution error treatment” is Robinson Cano. Because the veteran second baseman doesn’t always run hard to first on ground balls, he often gets tagged as someone who is lazy or someone who doesn’t care. These are, of course, fundamental attribution errors. In reality, Cano is probably avoiding max exertion as a self-preservation technique. He has played in 155 or more games in every season since 2007. That doesn’t seem like someone who is lazy. The error here centers on the fact that that Cano chooses to not run out the bases because it’s a real strategy.

While constantly giving it 100 percent is great and noble, it might not be the best strategy in terms of staying healthy for a 162-game season. Just take a look at Dustin Pedroia. The Boston legend is someone who gives 100 percent on every play. He tries to run out every ground ball. Yet every season he seems to have some sort of nagging injury, and some years he has to miss numerous games due to injury.

One of the biggest external factors that seemingly generate these fundamental attribution errors seems to be the fact that most players who get chastised for playing the game the wrong way are not from the United States. Gomez, for example, is from the Dominican Republic, where it’s acceptable to flip one’s bat. It’s not seen as a sign of disrespect whatsoever. Players such as Gomez, Puig and others — who were raised in these non-American environments — grew up with bat flips and “pimping” home runs. Most pitchers don’t take that into account when they’re screaming at another Latino player for “pimping” a home run.

One of the ways, however, to counteract the fundamental attribution error seems to be to put oneself in the other player’s shoes. In other words, players should do a better job taking into account the external factors that help explain an individual’s behavior. Being mindful of Gomez’ prolonged slump or that Gomez inherently plays the game with ample emotion might help opponents better understand his behavior. He’s not trying to show anyone up. It’s the way he grew up playing the game, and he’s not going to change just to conform. Perhaps that should be celebrated, rather than chastised.

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