Friday, October 17, 2003

12th Hour Resource Management -
Grady Little Vs. Grady Little  

"Managers use relief pitchers like the good guy uses a six-shooter.
He fires it until it's empty and then he throws the gun at the bad guy" --
Dan Quisenberry

There are two things I hate worse than hearing an adult male telling me he thinks Britney Spears is great entertainment: 1) being really wrong, and 2) using the same epigram at the top of two essays.

I just used the Quisenberry quote in yesterday's entry, but it really was perfectly appropriate for today. As far as being wrong is concerned, in my last entry, I delivered a conclusion about Grady Little's resource management approach that was supported by all available evidence...and was wrong.

In last night's seventh and deciding AL Championship game, Grady Little rolled out Pedro Martínez to start the game and for six innings Pedro ripped through the Yankee line-up like a chainsaw through butter. Eighty pitches by my count. All year, the Bosox have protected Pedro's injured arm by spacing out his starts more than most pitchers', and by limiting his pitch count when he does appear. Eighty, 90, and rarely 100 pitches per start has been the pattern and his starts where he's had to labor to 100 pitches have been most of the ones where he struggled.

Where Wednesday night, Little finessed a lesser starting pitcher to get to Pedro, and cobbled together his whole staff to get through the game to a winning conclusion, in the final conclusion, it wasn't about preserving resources, it was about preserving resources until he could get Pedro, the best pitcher in the major leagues, and then letting riding that horse until that horse couldn't walk no more. Eighty strong pitches through 6 innings. A healthy but not insurmountable 4-1 lead against a talented gritty team that's tough in the playoffs.

In the seventh, the Yanks woke up and started hitting. A home run and a couple of well-hit balls on pitches that didn't hit the spots Pedro was aiming for. With less control, he was using a lot of pitches in this inning. He was clearly not the guy he was for the first six innings. And then one of those flukey plays the Yanks black magic works on opposing defenses, a bad hop the first baseman actually got to but then tripped on his way to a (once-fielded) easy out. Still, he was lucky enough to face the overrated Alfonso Soriano, and whiffed him to end the inning. Red Sox 4-2, and a nice way to exit the game.

Little rolled him out for the eighth. The horse broke down, having exceeded the distance he normally goes and having shown all signs he was in the midst of breaking down, and Little allowed him to let the Yanks back in. It doesn't matter that Pedro is the best pitcher in the world, because Pedro after the 7th inning wasn't Pedro. He was tired, throwing pitches that were good to hit, and getting worked by the hitters that knew how to wait for a good pitch to hit (that is, not Soriano). Little had everyone in his bullpen and a couple of good starters (Wakefield) to protect the lead, and most of them would have respresented, at that moment in that game, a higher-performance probability, but once he got on this horse, he was gonna ride it to the end. And he did. His team's season ended last night. The Yankees won.

What I interpreted as a resources conservation model was just a Blind Faith in Totem model -- if Little could just get to Pedro, that was all he wanted to do. I was wrong.

In your own management, it's easy to ride the best people, the best processes, the best methods, the best technology, the best ideas, to death. In any given situation, what is "the best" (overall) might or might not be the best. It's tempting and pretty immune to second-guessing to stick with "the best" when things are looking rocky. But nothing is "the best" in every situation, context, moment. Management is all about knowing, or guessing well, what is, and having the courage to use all your resources, not even your best ones, to get you to the organization's goals. That's what Grady Little had done Wednesday evening.

In college, I knew a guy who brushed his teeth at least a dozen times every day. He girlfriend was a friend of mine, and when he stayed over at her house, he'd brush his teeth there five, six, seven times. She kept running out of toothpaste and she'd complain about it (even to me). I'm a notorious Scot...squeezing value out of stuff before I throw it away, using paper grocery bags until they look like they'd been through the Tienamien Square Massacre before I recycle them. But she was so desperate and freaked out about her toothpaste situation, her neurotic solution was to take the squeezed out tubes, cut them open with a scissors, use a toothpick to scrape out toothpaste residue and paint her toothbrush with it. This isn't Scots behavior, this is Grady Little Using Pedro on Thursday Night Behavior, and it has nothing to do with the acumen he'd displayed the night before.

Crud, I hate being wrong

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