Revisiting Using Pitchers on Short Rest: Long-Term Ramifications

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about the Los Angeles Dodgers’ strategy of using their best pitcher (and one of the best pitchers in baseball) on short rest to pitch in a non-elimination game. The Dodgers ended up winning that game and the series, but the debate over the strategy doesn’t end there.

In my post from a couple of weeks ago, I compared the Dodgers’ decision to my younger years when I was playing baseball in double elimination tournaments. This wasn’t a perfect comparison, but I the spirit of the decision to use your best pitcher was there in both. A few nights ago, the Los Angeles Dodgers were eliminated from the postseason. All but one of the thirty teams are eliminated, so this isn’t earth-shattering news. However, the fashion in which they lost is.

In Game 6 of the National League Championship Series, the Dodgers started Clayton Kershaw. Yes, the same one who started in Game 4 for the Dodgers in the National League Divisional Series. This time, Kershaw’s start didn’t go so well. In fact, Kershaw only pitched 4 innings before pulled by the manager, Don Mattingly, but not before Kershaw gave up 7 runs. So, the question might be warranted: did using Kershaw on short rest affect his ability in Game 6? It turns out, this was a thought that had crossed some minds before Kershaw made the start in Game 4.

As they say, hindsight is 20-20, but it does seem a bit prescient. McCarthy’s hypothesis makes sense, but it’d be hard to test. One may point to Kershaw’s start in Game 2 of the NLCS. He tossed 6 innings and allowed 1 unearned run. Shouldn’t he have unravelled in that game if he were fatigued from the short rest start in the NLDS? One could argue that, but the way that McCarthy’s argument is setup leads one to believe that the “fatigue” could happen later and later. So, if the Dodgers won Game 6 and won Game 7, would McCarthy have expected Kershaw to unravel during one of his starts in the World Series?

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Let’s see if we can apply this lesson to decisions in other arenas. The analogy I used for the other post doesn’t really hold anymore. We’d be better off thinking about a decision for a business. Using Kershaw in the way the Dodgers did was almost like using a certain machine in the factory to fill some rush orders. The machine might only be able to fill a certain number of orders per week, but because it’s the holiday season, the boss thinks that running it on overdrive is necessary. Initially, the machine churns out the widgets just the way the boss would have expected, but next week when you use the machine, the widgets aren’t as high a quality. And then the week after that, the widgets aren’t even of a high enough quality to give away. It’s clear, the machine needs a break and some recalibration. In weighing the risk, the boss thought that using the machine more than usual was worth it for it potentially shutting down.

There are other ways we can map out this scenario, but I want you to think about how you might be overdoing it. Maybe the machine you use at work is fatiguing. Maybe you are fatiguing from working too hard.

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