Should the Los Angeles Dodgers Have Started Clayton Kershaw on 4 Days Rest?

A few days ago, there was a bit of a hullabaloo as the Los Angeles Dodgers decided they were going to start their star pitcher, Clayton Kershaw, in Game 4 on short rest. Let me back up for a second and explain a few things. Typically, starting pitchers in MLB get 5 days between starts. Meaning, if you pitched on Monday, you wouldn’t pitch again until Saturday. As we’re now into postseason baseball, some of the typical norms aren’t followed very closely. For example, last night in the elimination game between the Rays and the Red Sox, the Rays’ manager, Joe Maddon, changed the pitcher after the first inning even though the Red Sox hadn’t scored any runs! This is highly unorthodox. The Rays went on to lose last night, but as to whether that was a result of Maddon’s strategy is a post for another. Getting back to Kershaw and the Dodgers…

The Dodgers were up 2-1 in the series against the Atlanta Braves. Game 4 was to be played in Los Angeles. If the Dodgers won, they would move onto the next round of the playoffs. If the Braves won, there would be another game in Atlanta — Game 5 — to decide which of the two teams would advance. Kershaw pitched in Game 1 of the series, October 3rd, (and won). It was now October 7th, and the Dodgers’ manager, Don Mattingly, had decided that Kershaw was going to pitch in Game 4 that night.

There were many opinions about whether this was a good idea. There’s the “we’ve always done it this way” opinion that says you shouldn’t start Kershaw on short rest because that’s not how you do things. There’s also the mathematical opinion that starting Kershaw in Game 4 increased the Dodgers chances of winning Game 4.

In thinking about this decision that faced Mattingly, I was reminded of playing baseball when I was younger and being in double elimination tournaments. When it gets down near the end of the tournament, your pitchers are tired and some rules won’t let you pitch certain players more than a certain number of innings (depending on the league you’re playing in). So, coaches are often faced with the decision of starting their best pitcher in the semi-final game (or quarter-final) game to get onto the next round, where, quite possible, they won’t have anyone left to pitch. I’ve seen the strategy employed where one pitcher is held back in the “just in case” scenario. I understand why some coaches do this, but I don’t know that it’s the optimal strategy in most cases.

Elimination games are slightly different from games where you’re not facing elimination, but similar principles are used. Mattingly chose to use Kershaw in Game 4 instead of Game 5 because he thought it gave him the best chance to win. I totally respect that and if I were in his shoes, I think it’s the right call and the call that I would have made.

As it turns out, the Dodgers went on to win Game 4, so Mattingly’s use of Kershaw was vindicated. Even if the Dodgers lost, I still think that Mattingly would have made the right call in that situation. The mathematics supported Mattingly using Kershaw in Game 4 (to increase the Dodgers’ chances of winning Game 4).

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I wanted to use this sports example as a way to pivot towards strategy and decisions in your own life — personal or professional. I want you to think about decisions that are coming up in your life. Are you holding back your “Clayton Kershaw” for the “do-or-die” situation later or are you using him/her to close the deal or make the change right now? There’s not necessarily a right or wrong way to do it, but in reading this post, I hope that you’re able to map this scenario onto your own life to identify those instances where you might not be putting your best foot forward in the here and now because you’re saving it for tomorrow.

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