October 13, 2016
On Tuesday, the San Francisco Giants lost their even year magic against the Chicago Cubs. While the result of the series was expected by most, it was how it happened that shocked the baseball-watching world. Up by 3 going into the 9th inning, the Giants pulled their starting pitcher Matt Moore in favor of their shaky bullpen. The Cubs poked and prodded their way to 4 runs off four Giants pitchers and clinched their spot in the NLCS.
If Chicago ends up breaking their century-plus-long curse, what transpired will undoubtedly be included in films and documentaries about their season.
Giants coach Bruce Bochy has been the gold standard for postseason managers since 2010, but this game shed light on a few things that everyone can take to heart, especially pricing professionals.
1. Situational Awareness
Baseball is a largely situational sport. At any given moment a player must be aware of the batter’s strengths, how many outs there are, who’s on base, and what rules apply in the situation (such as force out). Further, pitcher-batter match ups are crucial to postseason success. In Game 4 of the NLDS, Bochy had a starting pitcher at the peak of his abilities. Moore had been inconsistent throughout the season, but for this game he was on point.
However, by the end of the 8th inning he had reached 120 pitches, an exceptionally high number that typically marks the decline in pitch velocity and command. Going by the book, Bochy pulled Moore in favor of fresh arms.
If something has worked in the past, that doesn’t mean it will work every time. Pricing professionals often fall back on “the book” when things get tight or tense and decide to cut costs or headcount to salvage profits. These short-term fixes can backfire to an extreme degree and can be difficult to remedy down the road.
Bochy trusted traditional baseball strategy without taking recent history into account. In order to push through tough times with your pricing strategy, you have to understand where your business is at now, what has worked recently, and what has been ineffective.
2. Put Your Data into Context
To non-baseball fans, it’s a simple game. Hit the ball. Catch the ball. Throw the ball. Get a beer and a hot dog. In actuality, there are nuances to the game that come through in subtle strategies.
With these nuances come statistics. RBI. OBP. ERA. Slugging Pct. WAR. BA. Home runs and strikeouts. Walks. And these are only the ones I can name off the top of my head. They even get down to batting average or ERA against right-handed and left-handed pitchers and batters, respectively.
Here is where Bochy attempted to put his data into play, but the context was not in his favor. I already mentioned his decision to pull Moore after 120 pitches. On most nights, that is a smart move. He played the match ups that statistically were in his favor for the 9th inning. But recent history had shown these were not as solid as he’d hoped. For example, Sergio Romo had given up a home run earlier in the series and let Chicago tie the game and send it to extra innings and Moore’s command and velocity had not started to fade.
When deciding on the next wave of tactics to implement for your pricing strategy, look at your data within the context of how your company is performing currently and in the recent past. If you are satisfied with the current performance, stick it out until you notice a decline in profits. Don’t react too quickly though. The data will show you what you need to know, but only to a certain degree. It’s up to you to understand how everything fits together.
3. Trim the Fat
The Giants bullpen had a rough year, contributing to one of the league’s worst records in the second half of the season. In particular, Sergio Romo performed inconsistently. Javier Lopez had a higher ERA this year than each of the last 8 years. And Hunter Strickland has historically had trouble pitching in big moments in the postseason.
All three pitched in the disastrous 9th inning, with varying degrees of success and impact. (Strickland was the only pitcher to not give up a run in the 9th, but previous outings had shown it to be a risky move.) To be fair, Bochy only has so many roster spots once he enters the postseason, but there must be a bias for action when key positions are performing sub-optimally.
Your pricing strategy will have weak links. Some tactics will not perform to the level your stakeholders demand. These things take time, but if there is no sign of improvement, shut them down and focus on what is working. Don’t bog your strategy down with tactics that aren’t driving profits to your bottom line.
San Francisco has the pieces in place to consistently be a threat so they have time to right the ship without too much pressure from the owners. However, for your business, time is a luxury, with each decision under extreme scrutiny. If you follow the advice above, when the pressure comes, you will be ready to make the right moves.