The Astros lost game 7 of the World Series in the late innings and they didn’t use their best pitcher. AJ Hinch said the plan was to use Gerrit Cole with a lead so he could help the Astros win the World Series. He also wanted to bring him in to start an inning because he’s never relieved before and that would best simulate what he was used to when taking the mound.

“Everyone has a plan until they get hit in the mouth.” – Mike Tyson

I’m not trying to criticize AJ Hinch but there is a lesson here for coaches in any sport. You may have a plan for your rotation based on how you expect things to play out in a game, but what happens when they don’t play out that way?

Your best player picks up his 4th foul with 8 minutes to play, so you put him on the bench. It’s a close game and you know you are going to need him down the stretch. So you tell yourself you are going to keep him on the bench until the 4 minute mark to make sure you have him late in the game. That’s a pretty common approach, and a good idea.

The issue is what happens when those next 4 minutes don’t go the way you planned? So now the other team goes on a 5-0 run in a minute and half and takes a 7 point lead with just over 6 minutes to play. Well, you just got hit in the mouth. While it’s sound strategy on paper to try and get to the 4 minute mark before bringing him back in, you might actually lose the game before hand if you don’t do something different. Your best player isn’t going to help you much if you are down 12 with 4 minutes to play when you bring him back in. If the game is in the balance, you have to back to him, or you might get to the point where you don’t need him anyway.

I always hated looking at the box score after a loss and seeing that one or two of my key guys didn’t play the minutes I wanted them too. There are a lot of reasons why maybe they didn’t, and sometimes it’s out of your control. But you don’t ever want to lose a close game without your best available players on the floor. I did that a few times early in my career as a head coach, until I made sure I was conscious of it. I’d say it to my staff during games, “make sure we don’t lose this game with him on the bench.”

Lineups, rotations, who to have in the game late, handling foul trouble and rest – it’s the toughest challenge during a game for a coach. It’s not easy and you aren’t always going to get it right. But don’t let your pre-determined “plan” limit you from doing what is best for your team. Sometimes you have to take a different approach – and maybe a risky one – with the game in the balance.

AJ Hinch lost game 7 of the World Series without using his best pitcher. “It’s a decision I’ll have to live with for a long time.”

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