Wednesday, October 28, 2020

Final thoughts on the World Series

Not to belabor my point from Monday, but analytics may have cost the Tampa Bay Rays the World Championship.  I'm thrilled that the Dodgers won, but as a baseball fan I couldn't believe that Rays' manager Kevin Cash pulled Blake Snell after giving up a scratch base hit in the 6th inning.  He was the best pitcher on the planet on this particular night.  He had completely dominated the Dodger hitters (and that's saying something with that bunch).  

But the manager had a game plan, and all these relievers, and instead of just saying "The hell with the numbers, this guy is pitching a masterpiece, I'm going to ride him as long as I can," he pulled him for a reliever who quickly gave up two runs.  And the ballgame.  And the series.

Now I'm sure he has seventeen reasons to justify that move -- from pitch count to facing the line-up a third time, to statistics that say his bullpen matches up better, but that's all bullshit.   It's the World Series.  An elimination game if they lose.  And the best pitcher in baseball on the mound with a 1 run lead in the 6th inning.   

Look, managers are second guessed all the time.  They make moves -- sometimes they work and sometimes they backfire.  As Yankees announcer, John Sterling would say, "That's baseball, Suzyn."  My issue is that the decision was so calculated based on numbers, not the big picture.  

Take nothing away from the Dodgers.  They deserved to win the World Series.  You gave them an opportunity, they took advantage.  They were a clutch hitting team and their bullpen rose to the occasion.  They came back in the NLCS to beat the Braves after being down three games to one.  They rebounded from that crushing loss to the Rays Saturday night.   They have enormous talent and (no analytic stat for this:) heart.  But they sure got a gift.  

The celebration was somewhat marred by the announcement that Dodger third baseman, Justin Turner, tested positive for COVID.  Hope he's okay and hope he didn't spread it to too many others.  Not a lot of social distancing and masks on that field.  But it brings up a hypothetical question.  Let's say the Rays had won that game.  Both teams would be tied with three wins apiece.  Tonight would be the winner-take-all Game Seven.  But wouldn't the Dodgers have to quarantine?  That's what happened during the season when players contracted the virus.  Games were cancelled.  So would the World Series end in a tie?  Or would they come back and play one more game two weeks later (assuming no other players get it)?  The commissioner, Rob Manfred (who was roundly booed every time he spoke) caught a huge break.  

Ultimately, congratulations to the Los Angeles Dodgers.  As Vin Scully taught us fans many years ago, "it never comes easy with the Dodgers."  On the other hand, it makes it that much sweeter when they do succeed. 


goodman.dl said...

I'd imagine the decision to pull Snell came from the front office, not the manager. I'd have left him in... but two counterpoints though...

(1) Our Ace is cruising can turn into "The Manager left him in too long, and now he has a reputation as the guy who always gets crushed in the post season" in a hurry...


(2) The Rays scored 1 run. Blake Snell wasn't going to shut that lineup out for 9 innings. The Rays lost because smart as they are - they're cheap and they don't have nearly enough hitting. They've only got two guys (Arozarena & Lowe) who would even compete for spots with the Dodgers lineup.

Jeff Boice said...

I guess 6 is the new 9 as far as starting pitchers are concerned. I can't complain, because something similar happened with Houston pulling Zack Greinke in game 7 of last year's series, and the Nationals took full advantage. In Game 6 Nats manager Dave Martinez let Stephen Strasburg go EIGHT AND ONE-THIRD innings. Martinez explained the bullpen was tired and needed a extra days rest. Worked like a charm!

Congratulations to the Dodgers, and in particular to Clayton Kershaw.

Troy McClure said...

A Friday Q for you

One of my favorite character actors is Stephen Root. He can do comedy and drama, and he was terrific in the Frasier episode Detour. Have you ever worked with him?

Keith R.A. DeCandido said...

Not to put too fine a point on it, but what cost the Rays the World Series was only scoring one run. What the guys on the mound were doing, and who was there, was comparatively irrelevant given that the offense went completely cold.


The Exchange Guy said...

I was watching a replay of the game this morning at the gym, and just couldn't believe that move. Snell was completely dominating the Dodgers, a 1-hitter through 5 innings. Then, with one out in the 6th, gives up one hit and gets pulled. I immediately thought, "What is he thinking?" Then Fox showed the stat that Betts and Seager each had struck out twice thus far and I couldn't help thinking, "This is where they're going to lose it." It's very unfortunate. I feel bad for Snell.

Alan Gollom said...

I think it's just a matter of time that a pitcher will be pulled in the seventh inning even though he was pitching a perfect game, because he finally gave up a walk and the pinch-hitter coming to bat had broken up a no hitter 17 seasons ago.

MikeKPa. said...

Because of budget cuts due to no gate receipts this year and MLB reducing the number of minor league teams, a lot of scouts are being given the heave-ho and trust put in analytics. I was glad to see the Dodgers win. Thirty-two years is a long time to go without a championship. Just ask Mets fans. I would have been equally happy to have seen Tampa Bay, who my Phils beat in 2008, raise the flag. Agree with Snell. He looked like he was on last night.

iain said...

Did the Rays' manager actually make that pitching change by himself or did it come to him via text from the analytics department? Outside of a few people like Terry Francona or Joe Maddon, I doubt many current managers have control over these decisions or even their daily line-ups.

Anonymous said...

Many, if not most, people who use analytics don't understand the limitations of analytics. They are not wisdom in and of themselves One of the things about baseball is that no two situations are ever exactly the same and so the computer simply gives you a simulation of reality over time, not reality itself.
Analytics make you smarter like a calculator makes a fourth grader smarter at math.They will get more problems right, but they will get some problems wrong, some by a lot and some they won't understand how bad their error was. Give a mathematician a calculator and you will get right answers virtually always.
Analytics combined with judgment are more powerful than analytics alone.
And when to pull your dominant pitcher in an elimination game remains judgment as much as anything.
And sometimes even good managers and coaches freeze and succumb to pressure and make bad decisions. In the Seahawks/Patriots Super Bowl, Belichek, the best in the business, badly mangled his timeouts in the last two minutes. Except he was bailed out by one of the most mind-numbingly stupid play calls ever in football by Carroll. Not one of us would have called a high risk pass in the middle of a crowded field from the one yard line.
It happens to the best. analytics can help - but they can also cost you a World Series.

I will give Cash credit for one thing - guts. He had to know in the back of his mind that if pulling the guy didn't work, he would catch some big time shit - as he did. Nobody would have said too much if the pitcher instead of a reliever had given up the hits
It was the riskier move (and dumber) but he did it anyway.

T.J. said...

"Somewhat marred."
"Manfred... caught a huge break."

Those are two ways of putting it. Other ways are, it was VERY MUCH marred, and Manfred didn't catch a break; he and his cronies ignored protocol and endangered a lot of people. As I understand it, Turner had either a positive or inconclusive result by the second inning. They should have stopped the game right there.

Manfred's only goal this season was to put, by his own words, a "piece of metal" in the hands of some owner. MLB/Manfred totally botched the situation and put finishing the game/series ahead of the players' health.

Mike Barer said...

This is the first World Series that I don't remember watching a single game. No boycott or anything, it just didn't cross my mind to turn it on. I remember when it was to quote an old NBC catch phrase "must see TV".

Cowboy Surfer said...

Played on the same Little League team with Cody's dad.

Great to see him and the Dodgers win the title.

Mike Doran said...

Disclaimer: I withdrew from MLB at the turn of this century.
It just stopped being FUN to follow.
Analytics was a part of it; I loved Bill James when he wrote about the people - the human side of the game - but he did title one of his books This Time, Let's Not Eat The Bones.
By which he meant, let's not over-analyze everything.
Of course, nobody listened ...

I haven't had a chance to look at many of your MLB pieces, but I don't see the term coined by the great Thomas Boswell: MAUCHERY.
His tribute to Gene Mauch, who basically invented overmanaging with the '60s Phillies, which he subsequently turned into an art form with the Expos and Twins.
And he did it long before there was a thing called 'analytics'.
This isn't a history blog, so I can only refer those of you who have a sense of context to look up Boswell's books and see what he wrote at the time - but it's all there, if you need to see it.

I've kind of dead-ended here; my lack of knowledge of the current MLB scene hinders my view of things.
As I said above, I no longer follow MLB; I still blame Jerry Reinsdorf for taking my White Sox away from me with his high-handed way of running things.
Reinsdorf cheated me out of 2005, and I'll never forgive him for that.

Enough already.
As someone said so many times: Wait 'Til Next Year.
(Except they weren't talking about the whole damned world ...)

Elf said...

Forget robot umpires. What we have now are robot managers.

VP81955 said...

The Turner affair was an appropriate coda to this most peculiar of seasons...a 60-game schedule where neither New York nor LA's teams played on either side of least two teams (Cards and Marlins) had substantial days off due to Covid-19...the designated hitter used in both leagues (it apparently won't return to the NL in 2021)...a bizarre extra-inning rule leading in an only-in-2020 play, the two-run leadoff rules designed on the fly, including seven-inning doubleheaders (a la the Syracuse Chiefs and the International League) instituted after the season had begun and at least one conventional doubleheader had already been played...capped by a hurriedly altered, expanded postseason, resulting in a World Series played at a first-year American League venue where the NL entrant already had played 13 games there, the AL entrant none.

At least this Nationals fan notes his World Series champions played a conventional season, under conventional conditions. But congrats nevertheless to the team from the Ravine.

Mike McCann said...

I would love to hear Vin Scully or Sandy Koufax's take on Cash's decision to pull snell.

Could you imagine in 1963 or '65, Walter Alston coming out to remove Sandy (or Drysdale) because of some statistic quirk? Or game seven 1955, Alston pulling Podres out in the 7th inning (en route to a Series-ending shutout) after Howard singled because Mantle (the next man up) homered off Johnny in Game Two?

Maybe Casey's "tablet" (his probably was carved by the guy who gave them to Moses and Mel Brooks) said to remove Larsen during the 1956 perfecto because one of many Dodgers who crushed his pitchers a few days earlier were scheduled up?

There's a difference between sports and theater. One is spontaneous, the other is scripted. When the manager or director forget that, bad things are likely to occur.

estiv said...

Absolutely. People often ignore the margin of error when using statistics, but it’s crucial. And even a margin of error has its limitations. A margin of error is often calculated to a 95% degree of certainty, but that means over a long enough time it will be wrong one time out of every twenty. People who believe statistics are bullshit are foolish. People who treat statistical predictions like infallible oracles aren’t much better.

goodman.dl said...

I don't see the comparison of the Rays and last years' Nats as all that helpful. They left Strasburg in long in Game 6 because they had one of the worst bullpens in history. They only trusted 2 relievers and routinely used All-Star caliber starters for multiple inning stints.

The Rays, OTOH, have a good bullpen. Again, it's weird to see people posting after a Dodgers game saying "That pitcher got pulled too soon" after years and years of Kershaw getting blown up when he's left in one inning too long.

Ed Frizzi said...

Baseball is my favorite professional sport but I can honestly say "Thank God this bastardized joke of a season has come to an end!"

A season in which during the regular season a team saw only four teams in their fifteen team league and are still considered champions.

A season where a team saw more teams from the opposing league during the regular season than they saw in their own league.

A season where rules were changed after the season started.

A season where worthless awards will be issued within the the month that will be presented as if two months of playing limited teams equals 162 games of playing a comprehensive schedule. (Honestly, a Cy Young for a pitcher who appeared in ten games?)

A season that had all the legitimacy of an extended spring training.

And (like during the Yankee years) a season that provides its highest reward to the team with the most obscene payroll. The Yankees bought their titles in a full season. The Dodgers bought theirs in 1/3 of a season.

2020 baseball was a disgrace. Placing multi million dollar athletes' health in daily jeopardy, cardboard fans and obnoxious fake crowd noise (did you notice that Fox made the cheering louder for anything the Dodgers did? Bias?), playing with Little League rules for double headers and extra innings, having a team with a losing record come within one win of being in the World Series -- I could go on. Let's hope the powers that be actually look at the health of the nation and not the health of their wallet before they decide to place another inferior product on the field in 2021.

Kevin B said...

When Cash came out to get Snell I said out loud, "thank God!" I couldn't believe what I was seeing. And Snell's heart was broken right there in front of millions. Seemingly everyone except for Kevin Cash and whoever was in the front office pulling the strings knew this would be the opening the Dodgers needed. Unreal. Sure, if the move paid off we're not talking about it. But it didn't pay off. And we all had a hunch it wouldn't. Congratulations to the Dodgers, I just wish it had been able to take place at Dodger stadium.

blinky said...

A good example of managing and not accounting is Tommy Lasorda in the 88 World Series when he put Kurt Gibson up to bat even though the guy could hardly walk. (That pitcher they had, Orville Redenbocker, was pretty good too.)

Victor Velasco said...

Some comments from this morning on sports talk radio (paraphrasing}

'baseball took a step backwards' Duane Kuiper

'fans come to see players, not plans' Howard Bryant

'who comes to pull the manager?' Noah Syndegaard

Michael said...

So, Cash pulled a Roberts. Well, sort of. Think of the times that Roberts has made that kind of move, granting that in none of those cases were his pitchers doing so well as Snell was. And it's based on the mistaken idea that no pitcher can handle a third trip through the lineup, though Kershaw and Urias actually are far better on the third time than the second (you could look it up).

And the above reference to Lasorda reminds me of my theory that Lasorda was the worst regular-season strategist I ever saw but the best one in the post-season. In the regular season, he hewed to his belief that no left-handed hitter ever got a hit off of a left-handed pitcher. In 1988, he managed every at bat as though his life depended on it. Which is what post-season is kind of about, no?

As for Turner, since they were all in the bubble together and thus exposed, I'm less upset about the situation. Also, because I know several people who have gotten false positives. But I also know people who died from it, and they should have taken this more seriously.

Now for a word about the announcers. Since I was bad luck--I can explain it, and you will agree--I didn't watch and followed it on When I saw Urias was down to the last batter, I put it on, and Buck and Smoltz paid tribute to "fathers" and to the greatest left-hander in Dodger history, 92, for the first time just watching the Dodgers win a World Series instead of broadcasting it. And I totally lost it. My father died early this year at age 86 and was a big Dodger fan. It didn't MAR the celebratory feelings I had, but it sure hit me.

Chuck said...

FRIDAY QUESTION: I know you don't want these comments to get political, but I've just got to ask your opinion. Should the National League keep the Designated Hitter, or get rid of it?

This short season, I enjoyed not having to watch a pitcher come to bat and swing at air. I know there are those who can sometimes actually hit, like Cubs pitcher John Lester. Usually though, it's just an expected Out. For the Cubs, the DH position gave a great hitter, Wilson Contreras, a chance to bat without tiring out in his usual Catcher position.

So what do you think?

Mike Bloodworth said...

Not to take anything away from the Dodgers' victory, but it's another World Series win with an implied asterisk*.
Just like when they beat the Yankees in '81 after a strike shortened season.
I hope the next time they win a Series it's after a fill season with no outside impediments to taint the celebration.

As to people who didn't watch the game, they are not alone. Some of my neighbors were outside wondering why so many people were shooting off fireworks. I told them that the Dodgers had just won the world series. Their response was, "Oh, I forgot about that." There was a similar response on the "NEXTDOOR" social media app. People either didn't know the World Series was on, forgot or just didn't care.
Although, to be honest if the Dodgers hadn't been playing I probably wouldn't have watched it either.


P.S. Now that both the Lakers and Dodgers have won championships that puts a lot more pressure on the L.A. Rams to win the Superbowl.

Randy @ WCG Comics said...

I really don't have an opinion on analytics either way, but it sounds like it may at least have helped get the Rays to the World Series, which is something to consider. But ultimately, I get the sense that analytics is all about probability and percentages, so while it may be effective and prove itself in the long haul over time, it certainly can't predict a single game or situation -- again, in the moment, you have to rely on the percentages or your gut. Neither, of course, is 100% foolproof and, let's face it, for any single decision, you have a 50-50 chance of being right and the hero, or making the wrong call, making you the goat. Hindsight is always 20-20.

Kabe said...

Analytics or not, I think the manager/coach's ego plays a huge part. The pitcher would be the hero, not the visionary manager who ordered the relief masterfully. The same thing happened when the Seahawks called a too cute pass play on the SuperBowl versus the Pats, instead of feeding the ball to Lynch: instead of Beast Mode being the hero, the visionary, daring playcaller was gonna get the credit

Anonymous said...

The designated hitter is probably not going anywhere because of the Players Union, the most powerful union in America, but from a tactical standpoint it makes the game harder for managers, not easier. when the NL had no DH, they generally decided pitching changes in close games based on when the pitcher was due to bat. Fairly automatic. In the AL, the manager had to decide when to remove the pitcher based on performance - much harder to do, as Cash found out.

Liggie said...

I've watched a number of the Korean league games on ESPN, and with analytics either unheard of or just starting is very refreshing. Teams never shift, and yanking the starting pitcher depends primarily on his form and not individual relief pitcher-batter stats. (Granted, bullpens there tend to be subpar, but still.) It's fun to follow.

About what Seahawks fans call "the play that shall not be unseen" (credit to local sportswriter Art Thiel), some experts think New England was loading up their defensive line in a jumbo package, and there was no way Marshawn Lynch was going to break through them. Maybe so. But with perhaps the most ferociously physical running back since John Riggins, why not try it?

David said...

Well put. If the Rays had won Game 6, just as Turner's positive COVID test was revealed (how did that happen, anyway, if they were in a bubble?), what to do would have been debated forever.

Expanding on VP81955's comment, Jeff Passan of ESPN wrote about how Game 6, like the 2020 season as a whole, was bizarre, worrisome, and amazing. Good stuff.

Anonymous said...

It certainly wasn't pitch count. Snell threw just 73 pitches. This as similar to 2016 when Maddon pulled Hendrix after walking a batter with 2 outs in the 5th. The Cubs were leading 5-1 at the time. Maddon brings in Lester. He gives up a hit. There is an error putting men at 2nd & 3rd. Lester throws a wild pitch and two runs score. Hendricks had thrown just 63 pitches. Nothing like a little over managing.

Tim W. said...

Hey Ken,

I just finished watching Ted Lasso and I was shocked at how good it was. Have you seen it? I figured it would be up your alley with it being a comedy about sports. I had no interest until my wife recommended it (Apple’s track record has not been good, and the premise didn’t look interesting) and started watching with little optimism I was going to get past the first episode. But it was funny and incredibly life affirming without being preachy in the least. I finished the 10 episodes in a couple of days.

One thing I noticed is that three of the best shows this year, Schitt’s Creek, The Good Place and Ted Lasso, all have a very similar overarching themes, such as inclusiveness and positivity. Is this a trend happening to try and counterbalance what’s happening in real life?



sanford said...

To reply to Goodman. I don't think any one expected Snell to pitch nine innings. Maybe the mistake was bringing in Anderson who hadn't pitched well the last few times out. As for being cheap, the don't have the revenue that other teams get. I doubt they are going to attract a lot of high priced free agents. I doubt they would go after Betts if he was a free agent after this year instead of signing with the Dodgers. The Brewers are kind of in the same boat despite drawing way better than the Rays. The Brewers would have paid out about 100 million this year if it was a full season. Most of that money was going to Braun, Cain (who opted out after 5 games) and Yelich. They couldn't afford or didn't want to resign Grandal or Mouskakis. Grandal signed with the White Sox for four years at 18 million per year. Mouskakis signed for 60 million for four years. The las year is an option. The Red can buy out the last year for 3 million.

Kevin In Choconut Center said...

This was the first season in which I did not watch the telecast of or listen to the broadcast of even one single baseball game. From the get-go, it looked to be a very bad parody of a normal season. That said, I do congratulate the Dodgers for making the very best of a bad situation.

I live just a few blocks from where the NY Mets Double-A affiliate plays their home games. I go to as many of their games as I can, normally. It's cheaper than seeing a movie, even with getting a hot dog and a soda.

Of course, there was no minor league baseball this season, and the Rumble Ponies are on the list for contraction.

I have my own list of things I no longer care about, and major league baseball is at the top of it.

Anonymous said...

About what Seahawks fans call "the play that shall not be unseen" (credit to local sportswriter Art Thiel), some experts think New England was loading up their defensive line in a jumbo package, and there was no way Marshawn Lynch was going to break through them. Maybe so

You've got three plays and a timeout
you've got one of, if not the best, mobile quarterbacks in the game
you've got good wideouts and a good tight end (at least he was then)

You don't want to run the Beast into the New England line?
Fine, have Wilson run an RPO with a wide field to his left. Odds are he beats any defender to the corner with ease.
And if he's trapped he throws the ball away with two more plays.

Still much better than what they called.

Roger Owen Green said...

I watched not a single game during the season. but saw the Games 7 of the ALCS and NLCS and the Series. The Dodgers definitely had home field advantage. Snell's removal broke my heart. Justin Turner and the organization, should be fined heavily for that COVID lapse.

Bart G said...

The manager should have left Snell in. That said, in 2003, when Grady Little used his gut and left Pedro Martinez in the game against the yankees, and lost, he got destroyed and ultimately fired.

The manager can't win either way. That's baseball.

Bart G said...


There are actually hour-long programs on this play. I'm awaiting the 30 for 30 on it.

Here are some things I recall:
1) Pete Carroll assumed the Patriots were going to call a TO to preserve time for their drive after the score. When Bill did not take a TO, Pete panicked a little, and rushed the next call.
2) Bill *knew* what was coming, and so did the DBs. You can see Butler and other CB talk to each other a few seconds before the snap. They were 100% sure what play was coming. Butler breaks on the ball before the WR does (there's a sport science show on this part). They sold out knowing what play was coming. This was good coaching/game prep.
3) If the Seahawks ran the ball and didn't get it, they would have to take their time out if they didn't score, leaving two plays and no timeouts. This probably means that they would both be passes, which plays into Bill's hands.

Even though the Patriots knew what was coming, broke on the ball before the offense did, and were perfectly prepared, it's still luck that Butler got the INT. I think 8 times out of 10, he just breaks up the play, and it goes to 3rd down.

Anonymous said...

@ Bart
3) If the Seahawks ran the ball and didn't get it, they would have to take their time out if they didn't score, leaving two plays and no timeouts. This probably means that they would both be passes, which plays into Bill's hands.

Good analysis - except if the Seahawks run, and again that doesn't preclude an RPO which could stop the clock, and don't make it, yes they have to call timeout. The next play has to be a pass but if that doesn't work, the fourth down play after that will be the final play of the game. They can do anything on that play, including run. I'm not sure but I believe Belichek has called a run for the last play of a game. I'm sure other coaches have. And of course the most famous play in NFL history was a last play run to win the game - by Bart Starr.