The sports networks are all buzzing about 1) The NFL season returning and 2) The Stephen Strasburg shutdown. Except in the DC media, everyone is up in arms of how the Nationals (most of the anger goes to Senior VP and General Manager, Mike Rizzo (above)) will actually shutdown Strasburg before 180 innings because he had Tommy John surgery two years ago. The national media wants the Nationals to be “creative” of Strasburg’s innings and see him pitch in the playoffs, while Rizzo has long said that Strasburg is going to get shutdown this year. If this were the business world, Rizzo would be applauded.
What leaders do is assess the situation and look at the long-term view and stick to it. All Mike Rizzo is doing is sticking to his plan. If crap happens like the Strasburg injury, he has a plan not only for the injured player, but for the team. Tom Boswell explains it perfectly on the shutdown. What leaders also do is make a decision that is best for the organization and person that might be unpopular, but it is necessary. It’s true not only the national media, but Nationals players, even Strasburg’s father and Mike Rizzo’s father hate Rizzo’s decision, but Rizzo is sticking with the plan, which you may not like, but he’s creating a culture of transparency and accountability. As a result, the Nationals (as of now) have the best record in Major League Baseball.
I’m going off my HR seat for a minute and talk as a fan. Please national media…SHUT UP! You don’t speak to the Nationals (and DC) fans of what to think about the shutdown. We don’t like it the shutdown, but at least we understand. You have your own opinion and we respect that, but don’t talk like you’re part of us that you know everything about DC sports and how we should act. If you want to act like us, live in the D.C. area for a minimum of a year and experience being a DC fan. You’re always welcome to our bandwagon. Back to HR mode.
What Rizzo is doing is an educated guess at best, but he has a few examples to look at. The first two are Chicago Cubs pitcher, Kerry Wood and Florida (now Miami) Marlins pitcher, Josh Johnson. They both had talent, blew out their arms, showed glimpse of returning to form and then struggle. The last example is Rizzo’s first test on the innings limit: Jordan Zimmermann. Zimmermann had Tommy John Surgery in 2009, came back late in 2010, and pitch 161 1/3 innings in 2011. This season, Zimmermann has the best ERA in the National League and is projected to pitch close to 200 innings and in discussion for the NL Cy Young (best pitcher) Award. It is a small sample, but Rizzo has reviewed the data and the case studies and see if Jordan Zimmermann worked out, so can Strasburg.
Think about your Stephen Strasburg at your workplace; a talented person who might be sick, pregnant, or an life-altering moment. How would you handle your most talented worker in that situation? First, understand they’re human and assist them. Second, if the person will be out for a short or long-term, or be gone permanently, have a talent pipeline (internally, externally, or through an agency) come in and step right in. In Rizzo’s case, when Strasburg goes down, he does have a backup plan with John Lannan and Christian Garcia (who is like Stephen Strasburg, but in the bullpen). That’s why they had the number one farm system in baseball (that was before the Nationals traded four prospects for Gio Gonzalez)
Overall, Mike Rizzo’s leadership is about the basics: toughness, honesty, transparency, and accountability. However, the one aspect Rizzo sets apart from the rest is his conviction to go through the plan. People say they have a plan or an idea, but don’t follow-up. For Rizzo, he’s committed to his plan if you like it or not. The Strasburg shutdown is not a popular, but I commend Rizzo of going through the plan from his research and talking to medical experts. If that is not the best retention plan, look where the Washington Nationals were at four years ago to now. What a difference great leadership can make.