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Tuesday, January 5, 2016

With Relief Pitchers, Stats DO Lie

"Statistics are like bikinis," said my late, great college history professor Hans Trefousse. "What they reveal is interesting, but what they conceal, is essential!"

These days, with eggshell-skull ninnies running the asylums we call higher education and, increasingly, corporate America, a comment like Trefousse's might get him to lose tenure or fired. But he is smack on whether we are talking about government statistics or the merits of candidates for the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Particularly with relief pitchers.

The very role of relief pitcher evolved in the 1960s and 1970s. Typically, you needed a pitcher who could work his way out of a jam and keep inherited runners from scoring -- and then finish up the game!

Those were the days of the eight or nine-man pitching staff. Total. Starters and relievers. Today, some entire clubs have an eight man bullpen!

The role of the reliever was different. The relief pitcher was not a "closer." He was a "fireman" who would have a speciality of pitching and excelling in precisely high stress situations and preventing opposing runners on base from scoring.

Think Rollie Fingers, Goose Gossage, Tug McGraw and Sparky Lyle. (Each pitched in several postseasons in their 60s-70s era.)

Those firemen often were called I whenever the starter got into trouble. And that could be the fifth inning or even earlier! It was not uncommon for these firemen to have the game-is-on-the-line moment in the seventh inning. And the firemen would carry the rest of the game.

This is in wide contrast to today's relievers whose roles seem hyperspecialized based on the inning and not the situation. (This is an explicit criticism of today's by-the-book managers who are using the wrong book!) Hence, we have a sixth inning guy, a seventh inning guy, an eighth inning guy and then your closer.

To me, and maybe to you, there's a recipe for using your third best option in your most dangerous crisis.

Is that any way to run your company? Is that any way to manage a crisis? Is that any way to win a negotiation?

Conversely, your best reliever might be facing the easiest three outs in the ninth. That leads to ridiculous save totals from some relative newcomers who can chuck the ball 95 miles an hour but who cannot necessarily put out a fire.

Some of the very best relievers were the ones mentioned above -- only Gossage was a fastball pitcher -- and they did their job with guile and guts. Men like split-finger pitcher Bruce Sutter, the submarine pitcher Dan Quisenberry, sidearmer Kent Tekulve and more recently, the slider/change-up artist John Franco.

This I believe: none of the aforementioned pitchers blow three saves in five games in the World Series. Because those pitchers were the best options on their clubs and were brought in at the most crucial crises.

And not only based upon what inning of the game.

Is that any way to manage your team?

Is that any way to win?

Whether it's your lawyer or your late inning reliever, when you see fire, you need a fireman.

Because you use your talent to fulfill the role you need, the role that the crisis demands.

In baseball, as in business, misunderstanding the real role of your talent is a sure fire way to underutilize your talent and to risk being caught using less than your best.

And don't we all deserve the best?

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