Bock’s Score: The Rays Go Over The Edge

The mountain was steep. It always is during the World Series. Not to worry. The geeks and nerds had their spreadsheets wide open as they happily drove the Tampa Bay Rays right over the edge.

Hooray for analytics. They take old fashioned thinking out of the game. The computer numbers tell you what to do. The mountain edge be damned.

So here we had the Rays in a must-win sixth game of the Series against the Los Angeles Dodgers with one of baseball’s premier pitchers on the mound. And Blake Snell was dealing, allowing one hit over the first five innings, striking out nine batters and protecting a 1-0 lead.

He gave up a second hit with one out in the sixth inning and here came manager Kevin Cash with the hook.

Wait. What?

Snell was working on a gem but he was about to face the top of the Dodgers lineup for the third time and analytics says that’s a bad thing. Never mind in his first two times through the top three hitters, Snell had struck out Mookie Betts, Corey Seager and Justine Turner two times each. Cash’s spreadsheet sent him scampering to the mound to lift Snell after just 73 pitches.

If you can read lips, you know what Snell thought about that decision.

So here came reliever Nick Anderson to help out the Rays’ best pitcher. Anderson was pitching on fumes having allowed at least one run in each of his last six outings. Six pitches later (one of them a wild pitch) the Dodgers had the lead. This was in line with Anderson’s recent work that included a 7.20 earned run average in his last seven postseason appearances.

And the Rays lifted Blake Snell for that?

Ah, but the analytics dictated the move. The numbers also advise teams to go into exaggerated shifts against batters. So when left-handed hitters are at bat, we put three fielders on the right side and leave the third baseman all by himself on the left side.

So in Game Five when Tampa’s Manny Margot found himself on third base and  Dodger third baseman Justin Turner was maybe 30 feet away, it was an invitation to try and steal home and Margot accepted. He was out but if Turner were near third base, Margot would not have had a big lead and probably wouldn’t have tried.

Now don’t for a moment think these missteps will change anything. Analytics are here to stay in baseball and it doesn’t matter how steep the mountain is. The spreadsheets now rule what once was a wonderful game.

And by the way, let’s start extra innings with a man on second base. That’s a swell idea, too.

 

Photo: Randy Litzinger/Icon Sportswire

About the Author

Hal Bock

Hal Bock covered sports for 40 years at The Associated Press including 30 World Series, 30 Super Bowls and 11 Olympics. He is the author of 14 books including most recently The Last Chicago Cubs Dynasty and Banned Baseball's Blacklist of All-Stars and Also-Rans. He has written scores of magazine articles and served as Journalist In Residence at Long Island University's Brooklyn campus where he also served on the selection committee for the George Polk Awards.

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