Baltimore Orioles fans saw a division rival crash and burn in the World Series last night – the Tampa Rays. The sad thing is…it didn’t have to be that way. However manager Kevin Cash put his loyalty to metrics and analytics above sound baseball acumen.
Let me be clear; there’s a place in baseball for analytics. They say that stats don’t lie, and they don’t. However Kevin Cash and his Tampa Rays take it well past an extreme. I’ve said many times when they’ve been playing the Orioles that if there were a stat or a study which said that they had a better shot at recording an out on a given batter with the outfielders dressed as ballerina’s, they’d do it.
My point is this: everything in moderation. And that includes analytics. Last night in a World Series elimination game, Tampa led the LA Dodgers 1-0. (For the sake of clarity, it was an elimination game in the sense that LA needed one more win to clinch a World Series title. Had Tampa won they would have forced a game seven tonight.) Starter Blake Snell appeared to be pitching a gem. He had allowed no runs and a base hit through 5.1 innings (while striking out nine). That’s EXACTLY the type of outing you want from a pitcher in any circumstance, be it an exhibition game or an elimination game.
Snell allowed a second base hit in the last of the sixth inning. A singular base hit – he was otherwise pitching a gem, and LA was having trouble getting guys on base. And Tampa (and Snell) was winning the game. Yet out emerged Kevin Cash from the dugout to change pitchers.
The runner at first later scored on a wild pitch. Los Angeles would then take the lead on a fielder’s choice, and Mookie Betts would smack a solo homer in the eighth as an insurance run. All of that combined gave Dodger Blue it’s first World Series title since 1988.
But make no mistake, the World Series was lost from Tampa’s perspective the moment Kevin Cash left the dugout to remove Blake Snell. There’s no sound baseball logic since the beginning of time which has said you remove your starter in that situation. However apparently the metric said that Snell facing the Los Angeles order a third time (specifically Mookie Betts) around had a higher probability of securing a win than did leaving him in. That’s why the move was made.
And Tampa has a stellar bullpen. However you don’t lift a starter who’s pitching the way Snell was – REGARDLESS of what analytics say. You have to manage the game while having a feel for the game. However that’s just not the way younger managers are doing it. We saw the same thing last year in the World Series when AJ Hinch pitched to the Washington Nationals with first base open. Incidentally, Mookie Betts smacked a double in the at-bat where he otherwise would have faced Snell. The irony.
Again, analytics and metrics do play a role in the game. Odds are they always have to some degree. But to put all of your trust in a computer the way that Kevin Cash did last night, and in the way that countless others do everyday? Too much. As a manager you have to know what to do. There’s no a fan in America who thought Snell should have been pulled last night. Yet the one guy who’s opinion mattered most was the one guy who saw it as a good idea.
After the game Cash tried to defend or at least explain his actions:
We owe it to ourselves to bring it all together and try to make the best decisions. Some of the decisions I’ve made this postseason, they are gut-wrenching. You feel for Blake. What we try to do is put our team in the best position to win. I totally respect any opinion off of that.
The margin of error Blake was pitching with, I felt the different look would be beneficial.Quote Courtesy of Gabe Lacques, USA Today
Even afterwards, he evasively tried to defend the decision. “Bring it all together and try to make the best decisions,” in essence means I’m using the analytics that are at my disposal. Again, analytics should play a role in all games. But should they take the place of true baseball acumen and feel for the game? The answer to that has to be a resounding NO!
Make no mistake, this will go down as one of the biggest managerial blunders in World Series history. There’s absolutely no question in my mind. And it allows old school guys such as myself the ability to rest easy tonight knowing that these ridiculous new age-type tactics DON’T NECESSARILY WORK.