The Snell Hook and the Cash Bash: How Sabermetrics ruined by World Series

“I’m not dispelling analytics.  I think it’s a great tool… but it shouldn’t be the script.”

Former MLB pitcher, AL Leiter

You already know where this (bitter, cranky, what-in-the-world-was-he-thinking) post is going, i.e., the inexplicable, premature pulling of Blake Snell in Game Six of the 2020 World Series… so let’s get to it.

This will be one of a thousand different articles that will prompt Rays fans to stew over Kevin Cash’s decision to yank his Cy Young Award winner with the season on the line but, to recap… deep breath… here’s how it all went down.  Discuss amongst yourselves.

Rays ace Blake Snell was in full Blake Snell mode.  For the second straight game, he had been blanking the heavily-favored Dodgers in mechanical fashion.  Four games and five nights earlier, he had no-hit the Dodgers through four and two-thirds innings before allowing a two-run homer in a game that the Rays led handily.  Five innings, nine strikeouts, zero walks and 73 pitches into Game Six, Snell allowed a fisted single to centerfield by Dodgers catcher Austin Barnes. 

Without hesitation, Manager Kevin Cash walked to the mound while signaling his bullpen.  That meant Snell was done for the night.  It was only the second hit he had given up all game, the fourth all series after ten combined innings of work. Snell shook his head as he walked off the mound.  He didn’t even get the chance to plead his case.  He had seven strikeouts in the first four innings of a World Series game, the first pitcher to do so… since Sandy Koufax in 1963!!!

(I swear the more I look into this, the more I question what the hell Cash was thinking.  I’m not alone.)

Snell was replaced with struggling reliever Nick Anderson, who had allowed a run or more in six straight relief outings.  Anderson immediately allowed a hard-hit double to Mookie Betts that moved Barnes to third.  The nightmare continued when an Anderson wild pitch allowed Barnes to score, moving the speedy Betts to third.  A chopper to first base by Corey Seager allowed Betts to score.

It all happened in the blink of a tearful eye.  The Rays went from forcing Game Seven to losing Game Six and made every… single… person… watching… wonder what Cash was thinking.  Within minutes, a 1-0 Rays lead had evaporated; it was 2-1 Dodgers.  L.A. would go on to win not only the game but the World Series.

And this is why so many people hate sabermetrics.

After allowing, again, only his second hit of the night, analytics told the Rays powers-that-be (powers above Cash?) that Snell be lifted before facing the top of the Dodgers line-up a third time.  The top of that line-up, a combined 0-6 (six strikeouts) against Snell on the evening, sighed a collective “whew” as they saw Cash walk to the mound with his arm raised.

Snell had been unhittable and was probably only beginning to tap into his adrenaline, an adrenaline that surfaced post-game when he, and other Rays players, openly second-guessed their skipper’s decision. 

I’m not sure this is a fire-able offense.  Cash did get his team two wins away from a World Series title on a dollar store budget but pulling Snell has to rank as one of the more indefensible managerial decisions in recent history.  Certainly, a manager of Cash’s grit would not have made that decision on his own, which is also a problem. 

Twitter went haywire with nary a measure of support for the decision to remove Snell.  But the Tweet of the day went to Mets starter Noah Syndergaard.

In other words, you let the guy finish what he started and you live with that decision, not what a spreadsheet tells you.

One loyal SportsChump reader likened it to Super Bowl XLIX when Seattle head coach Pete Carroll opted to pass the ball on the Patriots goal line when his Seahawks were clearly, as Croshere put it, “in beast mode territory.”  Another all-time top-ten gaffe in the “what were they thinking” category.

Game Four of this series featured as bizarre a game as baseball fans had ever seen, drawing comparisons to the 1986 series between Boston and New York where a ball rolled through Bill Buckner’s legs.  Before that ball made history, however, another long-forgotten decision was made.  Red Sox manager John McNamara lifted Roger Clemens for reliever Calvin Schiraldi and left Buckner in to play first base instead of the more defensively reliable Dave Stapleton.  The Red Sox lost the series.

They had done it that way all season, was the reply.  The same goes for Snell in this modern age of pitching.  Snell does not have a complete game in his career but let’s be honest, how many starters in today’s game do?  Although complete games are a thing of the past, old school thinkers are left asking why not ride the horse that got you here?

And so, the decision to lift Snell will go down in infamy.

I’m not going to entirely throw Cash under the bus.  (Wait, is that what I’m doing?)  For seasons, he’s done more with less.  But Tuesday night’s decision shifted the momentum of the game and undoubtedly cost the Rays a chance at winning this series.

Pulling Snell for a guy that only nights ago threw ten straight balls to enter a game is like knowingly trading in a Lamborghini for a Ford Fiesta.  Even Dodgers players laughed at the exchange, rallying within their dugout as soon as it happened.

Old school baseball purists mourn the loss of instinct but not as much as Rays fans mourn what could have been.  ESPN’s resident baseball geek Tim Kurkjian, normally a proponent of Sabermetrics, said it best: “We’ve lost our faith in players; all our faith is in computers.”  Rays fans will soon be burning their DVD copies of “Moneyball.”

Analytics built these Rays.  They brought them to the World Series on one-third the budget of the team that beat them.  However, relying too heavily on analytics instead of instinct may have cost them their place in history, or at a minimum earned them a far more questionable one.  What’s potentially more concerning is that it may eventually cost them re-signing a Cy Young award winner.  When the big boys come calling at the end of his contract, why wouldn’t a guy like Snell leave Tampa for a franchise that would show him more faith, and pay him more money while doing so? 

Cash opted for metrics over merit.  It was the wrong call.

Ultimately, the loss didn’t mean as much to the Rays as the win did to the Dodgers, a franchise that hadn’t won a World Series since the eighties.  It should be noted that L.A. still might have won the game had Snell stayed in.  We’ll never know.  That does not change the fact that this decision will haunt Cash until he gets the chance to do it again.

Hopefully next time he’ll close the laptop and make the right call. 

14 thoughts on “The Snell Hook and the Cash Bash: How Sabermetrics ruined by World Series

  1. I TOTALLY Agree with you. That was painful and we will never know what might have been. But what we DO know is that coach is a jerk and he not only removed a great pitcher but demoralized the team in doing so. They lost their mo-jo. You could feel it. We need to cash-out Cash and send HIM packing.

  2. Evidentally Cash watched Moneyball but missed For Love of The Game.

    I for one am thankful he did.

    But I feel your pain….Dave Roberts did the same with Kershaw and Jansen blew it a couple games ago. He’s had several analytical mishaps over the years…Fortunately it finally paid off. Sorry it had to come at your teams expense.

  3. I haven’t watched baseball in a decade, but I sure do remember the days when a hot pitcher stayed in until his opponents got at least 2 hits against him in the same inning.

    By the way, I never thought I’d see instant replay in baseball!!
    Pjd

  4. While I get your point, I don’t think that it’s sabermetrics at work here. After all, it’s not just that he pulled Snell, but also put in Anderson. And the stats say that Anderson was breaking records for his horribleness, allowing runs in seven straight postseason games. The real problem is that Cash opted for Anderson’s regular-season stats instead of the abysmal postseason ones. He picked the wrong metrics.

  5. In my opinion, Cash showed less respect for his offense than he did for Snell. With a slow footed catcher on first and no threat to steal all he had to do is let his ace deal. If the Dodgers started a rally then pull him. One or two runs and the Rays are still in the game. Chances are that would not have happened. One thing is for sure, it sent the wrong message to a team that deserved better.

  6. I always hate to be THAT guy, but I’m glad it happened that way.

    My dad is a huge baseball fan. I’m sure I’ve told that story before…but anyway, one of my favorite traditions of the year is watching the World Series with my old man, something I remember doing as far back as I can remember. A couple of years ago, dad said he was done with baseball. After more than 50 years watching at least one major league or mexican league game every other day, dad got tired of the “sabermetrics” and “analytics” movement. I think the moment he broke was when they pulled a pitcher who was throwing a perfect game after 5 or 6 innings. He couldn’t believe it.

    “Baseball has lost its soul, son” I remember he told me.

    Now I don’t watch the Series with my old man, because he honestly doesn’t care anymore. After 50+ years!! Go figure…

  7. MoS….

    Calling him a jerk might be a bit excessive, lol.

    I’m also not so sure this is a fire-able offense… but certainly one he can learn from.

    Again, they’re not getting rid of the guy. Remember, for the longest time, people (present company included) were wondering whether Jon Cooper was the right guy for the Lightning job. That turned out pretty well.

    Cash isn’t going anywhere. At least not any time soon. I just can’t help but wonder whether too much of a reliance on analytics is healthy as it certainly wasn’t in this case.

  8. Bleed…

    Look, we’ve been waiting for the longest time to see what this team on a budget could do. They finally put it all together.

    I just think the Dodgers had a little more firepower. That plus they had been burned a little too much before in the recent past. I’m not sure you could necessarily say they underachieved but no titles for that team in the last however definitely left them with a little more want to, a little more at stake. Adding Betts certainly didn’t hurt either.

    The Rays will be back. The only question is how many of these guys they’ll be able to keep come contract time when, as I suggested in the post, the big boys come calling with open arms and open wallets.

  9. PJD…

    Major League Baseball had a stat they measure that’s called a “quality start.” It’s actually been around longer than we think, since the 80s or so I believe.

    A “quality start” is defined as a starting pitcher going six full innings and allowing three or less earned runs.

    In other words, the days of complete game shutouts are long gone to the point where leaving a pitcher in the game when he’s staring down a shut out isn’t even an option.

    Here’s another telling statistic as to how the game has changed over the years.

    Cy Young is the all-time leader in innings pitched with 7356. Clearly that’s a record that will never be broken.

    Do you know who’s the active leader in innings pitched? It’s Justin Verlander with 2988. That’s good for… wait for it… 149th all time.

    The arm is one of professional sports most prized possessions. Clubs just don’t let pitchers go that long any more for fear of losing it.

  10. Unc…

    Anderson was one of those pitchers that you put in and immediately cringe.

    I’m not sure why the hell, of all people, he was put in the game. When i saw him throw ten straight balls outside the strike zone earlier in the post-season, I figured he’d seen his last effort.

    Guess I was wrong.

    And what? No love for the old school Dave Stapleton reference?

  11. Teej…

    Thanks for posting that here.

    On the flipside, this was probably the first time I’d watched a post-season intently in ages.

    I’d lost interest in the game, opting for the instant gratification of sports I’d simply enjoyed more (basketball, football, hockey) and this is after having grown up watching nothing but baseball.

    I guess seeing the home team finally do something drew my interest. I’m curious as to whether or not it will carry over into next year.

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