One of the pillars in the ages-old debate of stats vs. instincts in baseball is the argument over when it’s okay to take a starting pitcher out of a baseball games. In the old days, before the Oakland Athletics changed baseball by winning 103 games on a shoestring budget in 2002 and inspiring a best-selling book to be written about them, baseball managers used to allow their starting pitchers to stay on the mound as long as they kept the team in the game.
More recently, front offices and managers have put more and more stock into statistics that show how a pitcher’s usefulness decreases each time he passes through the lineup. Specifically, the third time through a batting order can be a danger area for many starting pitchers. Of course, baseball doesn’t always play out this way or we never would see a complete game, but there’s no denying that in general, a pitcher is more vulnerable on his third pass through a given lineup.
That’s the science that Kevin Cash was relying on when he pulled Blake Snell out of the sixth game of the World Series last night with one out in the sixth inning. The issue that I and most baseball fans had with that decision was that Snell looked very much like he was about to carry the Rays to a series-tying victory. His fastball was popping and his curveball was falling-off-the-table nasty. In his first five innings, Snell struck out nine Dodgers with zero walks and just one hit allowed on 69 pitches.
Either Cash didn’t think Snell was convincing enough to take a chance on him for a third trip through the order, or the skipper’s mind was changed when Austin Barnes hit a line-drive single with one out in the sixth. I’m not sure which explanation was worse. All we know is that Tampa Bay’s 1-0 lead disappeared as soon as Snell did. Mookie Betts hit a double off of new Rays pitcher Nick Anderson to put runners on second and third. Both runs scored during Corey Seager’s at-bat thanks to a wild pitch and Betts scoring from third on a ground ball to first base. Betts added a solo home run in the eighth and the Dodgers clinched their first World Series title since 1988.Continue reading