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Monday, October 23, 2006

LaRussa's Perceptive Pitcher Ploy -- Lauding Wainwright  

In yesterday's World Series game #2, the Detroit Tigers took down the rival St. Louis Cardinals, but the small management coup was notched by Cardinal skipper Tony LaRussa. It's something to pay attention to, something you can use in your own handling of staff.

For eight innings, the hometown Tigers were cruising behind a remarkable starting pitching performance by Kenny Rogers and took a 3-0 lead into the bottom of the eighth. The cardinals rolled out their fifth pitcher of the evening, Brad Thompson who, despite looking young enough to play Pony League, threw six strikes over the eight pitches he tossed to the first two batters and retired both.

At that point, an ordinary manager would have left him in to get the last out.

LaRussa pulled a nifty ploy: He brought in his closer in a non-save situation.

His closer for now is rookie Adam Wainwright, who inherited the job from the Cards' veteran closer Jason "The Brighton Babaloo" Isringhausen in September when the latter injured himself. Wainwright has been critical in the Cards' NL playoff success (6 games, 0 runs, 10 strikeouts, 1 base on balls) and for the Redbirds to take home the Series trophy, they need him to be very good.

LaRussa pulled off an analogue to the standard baseball practice of breaking in someone easy...though I've never seen it done in October. With two outs in the 9th inning, he brought in Wainwright to get his chance to pitch in the Series in a low-stress situation. But he was in the exact, last-reliever spot he is going to be pitching the rest of the Series in, which may add to his comfort.

Further, there were two subtle advantages for this pre-meditated move that weren't obvious when Wainwright stepped on the mound. The Tiger lead was only three runs...if the Cards were able to get back into the game by tying or taking a lead, they'd not only have a relatively fresh Wainwright already warmed up and already having gotten any butterflies released, but because the game was played in Detroit, ergo with designated hitter batting for the pitcher, LaRussa was taking zero chance his reliever would have to come up to bat or be pinch-hit for.

It took Tiger closer seven batters to get the side out and left the tying run on second base and the potential go-ahead Cardinal run on first base. It almost came to be that Wainwright would be pitching in extra innings, though the Tigers closed it down before that happened..

Very cool. As little downside as any managerial decision can ever have, and pre-meditated, designed and executed as carefully as you'll ever see an aggressive manager ever get.

BEYOND BASEBALL
Outside of baseball, it still surprises me how common it is for bonehead managers to throw inexperienced (or just staff with whom they personally have little experience) into high-leverage critical situations when there are less-critical situations one could throw them at..

If you have inexperienced talent on your staff, people who still need experience to be their most effective, or those you just don't know well enough to know how well they perform in general or under pressure, look for less-critical spots on which to try them out. It's safer for your organization, plus you get to learn how they work, plus it's less stress for the staffer.

And, this is big...think, in advance, about tasks you've never thrown each staffer at but ones you hope or need or just think they might be good at, and then when a less-critical moment comes up, try them out, give each the chance to be competent and confident and to make you more effective.

LaRussa gets it. ┬┐Do the managers in your organization get it?


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