There are two big stories emanating from the sixth and final game of the 2020 World Series. I’ll leave the COVID/Justin Turner story for others to discuss. I’m more than happy to seize on the Blake Snell angle.
For those who weren’t watching, Blake Snell owned the Dodgers through five and a third innings of Game 6. He struck out nine, walked none, and that doesn’t even begin to describe his dominance. He then allowed a single to #9 hitter Austin Barnes, and just like that, he was gone. The Dodgers rallied from a 1-0 deficit against reliever Nick Anderson and the Rays’ pen, and emerged with a 3-1 win and their first title since 1988.
First, a little background here. I’m a former CPA whose expertise in the analytical side of the game of baseball got him his ticket into the game. I was an area scout for the Brewers, and then parlayed my stats/scouting combo meal into a decade of experience in the Brewers’ and Mariners’ front office. I know about the third time through the order penalty, intimately.
I also know that the single most valuable commodity in any single baseball contest is an elite pitcher at the top of his game. There are only a handful of pitchers who could do what Blake Snell was doing in Game 6. Only the deGroms, Verlanders, Scherzers, Bauers, Giolitos and a few others even know what it feels like to dominate a great lineup like the one the Dodgers trotted out.
I also know what my eyes are telling me. I am an analyst by training, but have plenty of scouting experience as well. Snell was at the top of his game, even in his sixth and final inning. And in the six plate appearances against the top of the Dodger order, Mookie Betts, Corey Seager and Justin Turner – three of the game’s best – none had even put the ball in play. Six up, six down, six strikeouts.
And it’s not like we, or the Rays’ decision makers, didn’t have access to data as this critical call was made. The eyes, and the numbers, agreed that Snell’s stuff was not deteriorating.
When Barnes got his base hit, was it appropriate for the Rays to have Anderson, and perhaps others, warming in the pen? Sure, the stakes couldn’t be higher, and the game could turn on a pin with those hitters coming to the plate.
But every additional out that Snell could record was precious, and one fewer that a lesser Rays’ reliever would have to be relied upon to get. Betts gets on, two on, one out, with lefty Seager at the plate? You’ve got lefty Snell with his filthy breaking ball for that matchup. If I’m the Rays, I’m in. Seager gets on? You’ve got Anderson for Turner, and a change is perfectly defensible.
I’ve seen pieces written on both sides of this decision over the last 24 hours. I’ve seen Betts’ small-sample struggles versus lefties this year used to justify keeping Snell in the game. I’ve seen third-time-through-the-order small samples of similarly dominant starters as Snell used to justify the quick hook.
Bottom line – analytics and scouting need to be seamlessly integrated for maximum positive impact. The Rays typically do this as well as any club – but they screwed up on Tuesday night.
The Dodgers are better than the Rays by almost any measure. The one area in which the Rays can match them is in dominant starting pitching. Clayton Kershaw used to be one of those guys on a regular basis. Walker Buehler has become one now. Tyler Glasnow shows flashes of becoming one, but Blake Snell, when he is on, IS one. When that guy shows up for work with his A+ game, you don’t send him to the showers until he gives you a reason to. It’s common sense.
The Rays are a collection of average to above average players with few stars. Snell is a star. Let him be one.
Now, if Snell was allowed to remain in the game, there is no guarantee the Rays would have won. Their offense is flawed, and ultimately managed only that single run. But they would have had a much better chance to get to Game 7 if the primo version of Blake Snell was able to record 20 or 21 outs instead of 16, and the pen had to record six or seven instead of 11.
Source: Forbes – Business
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