Principle #1 of the Toyota Way management system says: “Base your management decisions on a long-term philosophy, even at the expense of short-term financial goals.”
The current situation with the Washington Nationals and star pitcher Stephen Strasburg creates the perfect situation to test this choice – even thought it's baseball, not Lean manufacturing (or Lean healthcare… although there's a health-related aspect to the story.
For those of you who aren't baseball fans, Strasburg was one of the most hyped rookies when he broke into the big leagues in 2010. He struck out 14 batters in his debut and often topped 100 MPH with his fastball.
In late August of that first season, disaster struck — he required the famed “Tommy John surgery” and would miss the next 12 to 18 months, as is normal with that reconstructive procedure. After the surgery, Strasburg was out for the entire 2011 season.
Strasburg returned to the majors at the start of the 2012 season, with the team being concerned about his long-term future with the team (they have a $15 million investment in guaranteed bonuses and salary paid to him over four years).
It was well known at the start of the season that the Nationals would limit the number of innings he would pitch, to avoid undue wear on his reconstructed arm. The idea was to have him pitch in a normal rotation (interval between starts) rather than spread his innings out over the season (being better for a pitcher's arm and conditioning to be on the normal routine). The rumored limit would be 160 to 180 innings.
The big surprise is that the Nationals are, after a history of failure, in first place and have a good chance of winning it all – the World Series – this year. But, the team announced that Stasburg will be shut down on September 12 and will NOT pitch during the playoffs.
For a team based in a city not known for responsible, long-term decision making, it's really noteworthy to see what the Nationals are doing. I'm sure many of their fans would rather see the team win NOW. There are no guarantees for future seasons — Stasburg could be healthy on a mediocre or bad team.
There's going to be endless debate about this decision on sports talk radio, ESPN, and the other broadcasters during the playoffs – for as long as the Nationals are in it and even after (if) they lose. There will be second guessing if the Nationals don't win the Series without Strasburg.
- Stephen Strasburg shut down is right decision by Rizzo, Nationals (SI)
- Strasburg shutdown shows Nats' faith in franchise (MLB.com)
- Nationals making a mistake with Strasburg (Comcast)
- Shutting down Strasburg may be an monumental mistake (AP)
The short term factors (arguments for letting him pitch):
- You have to try to win NOW – you might not get another shot. Many great players retire without having had a chance to win a Series.
- Fans might get upset at the lost opportunity and cancel their season tickets next year (lost revenue for the team).
- If rested, he could still blow out his arm in the future, say next May – baseball is a funny game and pitching puts a lot of strain on the human body.
- The Nationals franchise would make a lot more money this year and in the future (based on ticket sales and TV contracts) if they win a World Series – meaning higher profits or the ability to have a higher payroll and be good for a long time.
The long term factors (arguments for shutting him down):
- It's the responsible thing to do and gives them a better chance to be good for the next 10 to 15 years if they protect Strasburg's arm
I'll give the Nationals A LOT of credit for sticking with their guns — and doing what they said they would do to protect the arm and career of their “big gun,” Strasburg. Would most businesses make that decision?
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