Someone the other day jokingly said to me how they thought the turning point of Game 6 of the 2020 World Series on Tuesday showed how traditional thinking trumps progressivism.
If you’re a political conservative, you love that.
But in baseball, tradition has always been a big part of the sport. That’s changing, though, and one could make a valid point that the growing trend toward analytics is doing the game a disservice.
Tampa Bay Rays pitcher Blake Snell allowed a one-out hit to the Los Angeles Dodgers’ No. 9 hitter, Austin Barnes, in the sixth inning with the Rays holding a one-run lead. Snell had nine strikeouts and thrown just 73 pitches. But Rays manager Kevin Cash removed Snell in favor of Nick Anderson, who gave up a single and a double, threw a wild pitch and got an out that allowed a run to score.
Los Angeles scored twice, took the lead and eventually won 3-1, claiming the World Series crown. It overjoyed Dodger nation, which hadn’t achieved this in 32 years despite multiple frustratingly close calls.
Afterward, Cash said the obvious in that he regretted the decision because it didn’t work out. But he defended the “process.”
The “process” isn’t so much a seeing-eye, gut reaction anymore that’s so much a part of America’s pastime. It’s a bunch of sometimes obscure stuff— beyond how a certain hitter has hit against a pitcher — and it trumped any instincts the manager might have had, even after hearing out his pitcher, who was, let’s just say in a way suitable for family newspapers, unhappy about getting pulled.
It was all about facing LA’s stud lineup a third time around. Analytics’ new version of three strikes and you’re out.
“The only motive was that the lineup the Dodgers feature is as potent as any team in the league,” Cash said, per MLB.com. “I felt Blake had done his job and then some. Mookie (Betts) coming around the third time through, I value that. I totally respect and understand the questions that come with (the decision). Blake gave us every opportunity to win. He was outstanding. These are not easy decisions. ... I felt it was best after the guy got on base — Barnes hit the single — I didn’t want Mookie or (Corey) Seager seeing Blake a third time through.
“As much as people think that sometimes, there’s no set plan. This organization’s tremendous about giving the staff the trust to make in-game decisions to give us the best chance to win. I respect what unfolded today was pretty tough.”
Staff. We may be talking about manager and pitching coach, in a traditional sense. But today’s specialty coach may have a co-coach for the same task that specializes in data while the former works with all the mechanics.
Amid it all, Betts looked back at his manager, Dave Roberts, and smiled as the change happened. Blood in the water.
Connors State coach Perry Keith watched the decision unfold. His career has transcended both disciplines, although as he pointed out, “Analytics has always been part of the game at some level. There’s the situations where you know how someone throws against left-handed or right-handed hitters.”
But now, it’s what Cash used — the third time around the order. Analytics said to go one way, the pitcher’s performance to that point put up a grand argument.
I asked Keith what he would have done in that spot.
“I’m big that if you got a starting pitcher that is hot, you ride him,” he said. “People say, ‘how do you know.” You know about what kind of swings the Dodgers would be taking if he was losing his stuff and then you rely on your catcher. You’re still wrong sometimes, but who knows. Analytics goes both ways. What if those guys aren’t having a good day?”
I’ve scoured the net and if the quote is out there and turns into a snake, I’m bitten. But it doesn’t seem Mike Zunino, the Rays’ catcher, had anything to say to reporters. Snell did.
“I get it. It’s the third time through the lineup, but I think I’m gonna make the adjustments I need to make as I see them a third time,” Snell said. “I don’t know, man. I just believe in me. I believe in my stuff. I believe in what I was doing.”
That would have been enough for Keith.
“I’ve gone out a lot of times in my career to take someone out, and just by their demeanor and hearing them say they’re fine, and they’ve been guys who I knew and trusted and had fought their — off so far, I’d walk off,” he said. “There’s also been plenty of times I’d walk to the mound and I’d meet the catcher 10-20 feet before I got there.”
Keith sees the value in some of the data, but thinks there’s situations where it overtakes the essence of the game. Data can’t the heart of an athlete.
There’s combine functions where outfielders’ arm speed are measured just like that of a pitcher.
“I can go and see a kid in that situation and what I want to see is if the ball will carry on a line,” Keith said.
But more and more, what the eyes see and judge is taking a back seat.
“You have managers who aren’t the ones making the lineup now,” Keith said. “That’s coming from analytics. I don’t know. It’s a different deal.”
It’s easy to second-guess a failed move. Most other coaches I communicated with were with the majority nationwide on that, save for Fort Gibson’s Gary Edwards, whose blue blood had something to do with his viewpoint.
“I’m a Dodger fan so I would have absolutely pulled Snell,” he said, laughing. “I thought it was an excellent decision.”
Muskogee’s Johnny Hutchens seemed to concur, and would have done the same thing had he been in Arlington.
“It just didn’t work out that night,” he said. “(But) I don’t think analytics is ruining baseball. It has changed baseball. The Rays made it to the sixth game of the World Series and they are an analytical team. It’s part of baseball now.”
To that, Edwards offered this.
“Being an analytical team, the likelihood was this decision was made for him before the night started,” he said. “But the irony of being an analytical team is at the end, he’s the one having to go out before people and answer for it.”
Others chimed in with a pretty consistent tune on what they’d do.
“Snell wouldn’t pitch again for literally months and was pitching great and on adrenaline,” said Hilldale coach Nathan Frisby. “Analytics have their place, but so does trusting the player and manager. I would have left him in.”
Mike Whitten, coach of the area’s American Legion team, the Three Rivers Bandits, said Snell would have stayed in with him managing.
“You have to have your best on the mound in that situation,” he said. “Too much analytics. Some is helpful, but it is relied on way too much today.”
Ditto for Checotah’s Tom Butler.
In the playoffs, you got to go with your gut,” he said. If I’m looking at it, that guy is hot. Stick with him.”
I remember Butler facing that situation in a state semifinal game. His pitcher that day going into the seventh and a couple runs up had been solid all game. He hit the first batter. No panic yet. He hit a second batter, and Butler went to the bullpen. No analytical assistant was standing next to him in the dugout.
The bullpen didn’t hold up though, and the Wildcats lost. But, in that situation, it was a combination of gut instinct and the players giving it what they had, and it just not being enough.
It’s a game played by people, and that’s how you should lose — or win.