I’m a big baseball fan, and I love watching the playoffs. The trend recently has been towards bullpen use, with more managers using their bullpens earlier and sometimes even to start the game. Managers are much more likely to go to their bullpen early.
Aaron Boone got hammered in the New York media for losing games 3 and 4 while leaving his starting pitchers in for too long. After being aggressive with Luis Severino, his #1 starter, in the Wild Card game and taking him out before he gave up a run, he left him in too long in game 3 and where he ended up getting charged with 6 runs.
It made me think about something very important in any sport – to prepare for the unexpected. I have to think that the reason Boone left Severino in too long in game 3, after pulling him early in the first playoff game, was because his outing in game 3 was very unexpected. He had thrown the ball pretty well in the Wild Card game. The Yanks were coming off a big win in Fenway Park. They were feeling good and they had the momentum.
Boone was completely prepared to take his ace out early in the first playoff game. It was a do-or-die game, and there was a lot of speculation over who should pitch the game for the Yankees. But in game 3 he never thought he’d see him get shelled. He continued to hold out hope that he’d get things straightened out.
Basketball coaches face similar challenges. When you know you are in a tough battle against a very good team, or one that is even better than you, you understand you have to keep things close. When the other team goes on a run, you don’t hesitate to call timeout.
But when you get hit with something unexpected, sometimes it takes you a little while to believe what is really happening. When you are playing against a team you think you should beat, or you are in control of a game for a significant period of time and the other team goes on the run, sometimes it’s a lot harder to pull the trigger. You feel confident about the way things are going and you always feel like you are going to be okay. You don’t really expect what is happening, so you aren’t as prepared for it.
Very often after games I’ll regret the fact that I didn’t use a timeout, or at least didn’t call it earlier. I’ll look back at a big spot, when momentum was changing and we were struggling, and feel like I should have used a timeout to stem the time. It’s a lot more rare when I get to the end of the game and I feel like I called a timeout when I really shouldn’t have. Granted, there are times where you run out of timeouts late and wish you had one. But I’d say I’m a lot more likely to look back and wish I had called a timeout, rather than regret having called one.
So much of that really has to do with expectations. How you expect the game to go can affect the way you manage it. Aaron Boone fully expected his best pitcher to give him a quality start, and he wanted to give him every chance to make that happen.
Think about what you are going to do if the game doesn’t go your way. Prepare for the unexpected. You don’t want to find yourself in a spot where you reach too late because the flow of the game surprised you.