“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.