Sunday, October 10, 2004

The Twins Know Defoliating a
Victory Gardenhire Sure Works
Up An Appetite  

This week in the playoffs, Minnesota Twins manager Ron Gardenhire pulled what I call "a Fregosi". If you read this and internalize the lesson, you have a chance to protect yourself from the equivalent in your own non-baseball management arena.

Pulling a Fregosi (maybe I'll call this Defoliating a Gardenhire in the future) is when you find yourself at a decision juncture and are more focused on looking in the rear-view mirror (the past) than on looking forward through the windshield (the future). Doing so guarantees a higher level of emotional response, and a lack of attention to the possibilities of the future.

Gardenhire defoliated himself in this week's Game #2 between his Twins & the Yankees, turning a potential coup de grace into a turning point that buried his team.

This is a five-game series, so you are never in a position of being able to finesse one game (take a loss) to preserve or increase your chances to win a later one.

Play by play is here.

Tied at 5, bottom of the 10th, vast advantage to home team (Yankees). Twins skipper Gardenhire brings in his best reliever, Joe Nathan, at the start of the inning to protect the team's chances. He's already used two of his lesser relievers. Nathan had pitched an inning the night before.

Nathan's perfect in the 10th. The Twins can't score in their half of the 11th.

He comes back for the 11th. He's perfect again.

The Twins score a lone run in the top of the 12th on Torii Hunter's homer.

Gardenhire has a decision point here. On the side of taking his pitcher out, Nathan's not pitched more than two innings in relief this season, plus he'd pitched a (short uneventful) inning the night before. In favor of rolling him out again, Nathan's started in previous seasons. And the following day is a sorta-day off, a travel day, so he can get some recharge. And he's been pitching well this night.

Gardenhire rolls him out. This, imnsho, is a questionable decision but not a bad decision. His alternatives are relievers he'd prefer not to use and bottom-of-the-rotation starters he planned on not using to start in this series

Here's what follows:

-J Olerud struck out swinging.
-M Cairo walked.
{OWW-OOH-GUH. WARNING WILL ROBINSON. Cairo is not a guy you pitch around, and you certainly don't wanna put the winning run at the plate. Nathan is clearly shaky. Time to probably take a chance on a fresher arm even if it's one with lower normal potential. Gardenhire stands by his toast}
-D Jeter walked, M Cairo to second.
{DOH. Okay, dude, winning run on first, tying run in scoring position. Time to act. Really. No slack left. He doesn't}
-A Rodriguez hit a ground rule double to deep center, M Cairo scored, D Jeter to third.
-G Sheffield intentionally walked.
-J Romero relieved J Nathan.
-H Matsui hit sacrifice fly to right, D Jeter scored.
2 runs, 1 hit, 0 errors
Minnesota 6, NY Yankees 7

Game over, series probabalistically over.

The point is not, as some have argued over the last few days, that Nathan shouldn't have come out to start the 12th, his 3rd, inning. The point is, once Nathan had proven he didn't have enough control left to throw strikes to the Yankee line-up's weakest batter, you didn't need to let him throw to the top of their order, that is, Mr. October Junior, The $200 Million Eddie Haskell, and then the best hitter on the team, all with one out and the tying run at the plate. There's no amount of confidence in Nathan, no level of commitment expressed by this act, no warm-fuzzies towards his reliever (who, true, is a big reason the Twins are a successful a team as they are) that's going to get Nathan out of his Own Private Idaho here.

He's toast, a crispy critter, moundkill. At this point even a bottom-of-the-rotation starter you hoped you wouldn't have to use, even possibly Terry "Last Good Season Was In The Last Century" Mulholland (just kidding...I wouldn't bring in a lefty to face Jeter, A-Rod & Sheffield), but definitely any right-handed pitcher who could fog a mirror (perhaps Kyle Lohse, as bad as he'd been recently), would be at least as good as Nathan to the subsequent hitters and you'd be saving some of Nathan's fuel for the next time you needed him with every logical presumption that'd he do better than he was at this moment..


Gardenhire's error was looking at the past, not the future. Nathan had been a veritable St. Christopher, getting a save in 44 of the Twins' 92 victories, "blowing" only three of those save chances. He had appeared in 73 games, allowed a run in only 7 of those 73, and had struck out over 11 batters for each 9 innings.

But that's the past. Now matter how confident you are about someone's abilities, you have to let the present (2-1/3 innings of relief which is not how Nathan had accumulated his accomplishments I mentioned in the previous paragraph) shape the future. As Alvin Dark, a notoriously tart-tongued manager said, you should never go out to the mound to remove a pitcher, you should always go out to put a new pitcher in.

What he meant was you shouldn't be angry about the pitcher's current troubles, and if you honestly think the incumbent has the best chance among your options of stifling the next batter, you shouldn't remove that pitcher. The obverse, though, is you can't let the good emotions around that player's past heroics nor your own fear of seeming to be indecisive by not sticking with your status quo stand in the way of a move for a change. Neither, in a life-or-death moment like a playoff game, can you let your concern for whether the pitcher's feelings will be hurt cast a (Don) pall on the chances your whole team has to succeed.

Obviously, you can make an occasional decision to leave a hurler in as an experimental move during the season if it doesn't matter much, or if you need to line up your pitching for several subsequent games. I suggest that a five-game series against a very tough team is not the time for that.


In my consulting, I've seen too many managers pull a Fregosi by not paying close enough attention to the future by marinating in the past.

I worked as a regional operations manager for an intercity bus company that took passengers around the country. The head man was very passionate about his business, but he had certain routes that had been good for his business over the years. His ridership had evolved, so some of those old routes weren't the winners they once were and some others begged out for a little marketing and yet other possiiblities lay fallow, untried. His unwillingness to face the present wasn't an actual problem for a long time -- his cash flow and margins were both quite good.

But a significant portion of his fleet got old at the same time and he had some bad luck with some of his newer buses. He just didn't have the rolling stock to service all his routes and it was decision time. He needed to borrow to buy more buses, but it was a recession and his lenders wouldn't lend him money. So he needed to trim routes or level of service on each. He chose to trim routes, but pulled a Fregosi, and instead of optimizing his choices based on where the growth was and in which cities he had good maintenance facilities, it was all based on historical profitability. He was unrelentingly loyal to the towns and people and schedule that had made the company rich. The company was gone after about 18 months, and while he walked off with a decent retirement, it was a pittance compared to what the outfit was worth if he'd been paying attention to the future.

I want to be clear; loyalty is a wonderful thing. You can occasionally take a performance hit either out of loyalty to some past contribution or, equally, to give a young contributor experience.

But when a big game or project or product or effort is on the line, focus on the future, not the past. Don't defoliate a Gardenhire.

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