The Brilliant Play of Nick Markakis – What It Says About Decision-Making

On October 7, 2020, at the beginning of the eighth inning of the second game of the National League Division Series between the Atlanta Braves and the Miami Marlins, the Marlins’ Corey Dickerson reaches first base on an error. The next batter, Jon Berti, hits a ball to right field in front of the Braves’ right fielder, Nick Markakis. Charging hard, Markakis looks as though he would try to make a difficult catch, perhaps diving for the ball. Dickerson waits to see if the ball is caught because if it is caught he cannot advance safely to second. Then Markakis abruptly slows and lets the ball bounce in front of him, catches the ball with his bare hand, and throws to second. When he sees Markakis will not catch the ball on the fly, Dickerson sprints to second but is beaten by Markakis’ throw and is forced out as the batter, Berti, advances to first.

After the game, Braves manager, Brian Snitker, noted that if Markakis had made the difficult catch for the out of Berti, Dickerson would have been on second in scoring position. If he had failed to make the catch, Dickerson and Berti might have been on second and third. By allowing the ball to bounce in front of him and executing a difficult throw, he kept runners out of scoring position. Markakis made a brilliant decision by executing an unexpected play when he had more traditional options – that play helped preserve the Braves two-run lead that lasted for the win over the Marlins by a score of 2-0.

As Snitker observed, the average right fielder would have seen the ball hit and done everything possible to catch the ball (most of the time that is what right fielders are supposed to do). Markakis was able to see the ball come off the bat, compute that it would be a difficult catch, and then, being aware of the base runner situation, evaluate the option of not catching the ball as he was charging to the ball and looking as though he would try to catch it. As soon as the runner, Dickerson, saw that Markakis was not going for the catch, Dickerson started sprinting for second. Markakis also knew that he did not have time to catch the ball with his glove and had to bare-hand the ball to make a quicker throw to second in time for the out.

The primary factor for the excellent decision is that Markakis had the experience and capability to execute the ordinary tasks of a right fielder without having to think about it. Nick Markakis is a veteran of fifteen major league baseball seasons. Markakis is a three-time Gold Glove Award winner and was an All-Star in 2018. Markakis holds the record for consecutive games by an outfielder without making an error. This gave him the ability to perform the ordinary tasks of a right fielder while being able to focus on the other factors which might make an extraordinary play. This capability is produced not only by experience. There are hours of practice behind the development of the skills of a right fielder. The repetition of the ordinary task, especially at a high level of performance, makes it possible for perception of what might be additionally possible and enables the excellent decision.

Perhaps in his past experience, Markakis executed a throw that was late only because of the time it took to transfer the ball from his glove to his throwing hand. Catching a hit baseball with a bare hand hurts and could injure the hand, but if the ball bounces first, then much of the velocity of the hit has left the ball. Practicing fielding balls for Markakis might have included learning when to field barehanded and how to make the quicker throw. The same could be said about situations where base runners have to judge whether a fielder will catch a fly ball for an out.

What does this have to do with the excellent decision in business? How do you practice decision-making in business? The answer is that business planning is practice decision-making. Moreover, having done planning gives you the perspective to evaluate experience against what was planned and ask, “Why did it not go as planned?”

Just as Nick Markakis practices his skills and tests those skills against the experience of a game, business decision-makers should practice decision-making and test that decision-making against business experience.

The business that does not have planning will benefit from experience but not practice. The business that does planning will learn that quality decisions depend on establishing a decision-making policy and establish a decision-making group made up of knowledgeable people who are used to making decisions, analyzing them against experience, and revising the decisions to obtain excellent results. There is no question of the correlation between the quality of decision-making and business results.

The practice and experience of Nick Markakis allowed him to execute a brilliant baseball play. Business decision-makers can practice decision-making through planning and comparing the planning to experience. This practice and experience can enable the brilliant decision and provide excellent business results.