No matter how advanced statistics and analytics get in Major League Baseball, they can never replace feel and common sense.
And at times, the natural has to trump the artificial intelligence when it comes making decisions, sometimes making the realization that the eye test is all that’s needed to decipher a situation.
A lack of doing so is why the Tampa Bay Rays were unable to force a Game 7 as manager Kevin Cash stuck to the numbers rather than the obvious.
His starter, Blake Snell, was absolutely dealing. In 5.1 innings of work, he had allowed just one hit while striking out nine — becoming the first pitcher since Sandy Koufax in Game 1 of the 1963 World Series to set down nine batters in his first four innings of work.
After Snell allowed a one-out single in the sixth with the Rays up 1-0, Cash made the inexplicable decision of pulling his ace after just 73 pitches. Even more puzzling when the next three batters that were due to face him were 0-for-6 on the night with six strikeouts.
“Definitely disappointed, upset. I just want the ball,” Snell said. “I felt good, I felt I did everything I could to prove my case to stay out there. For us to lose, it sucks. I don’t really know what to say. I want to win. I want to win a World Series and for us to lose, it just sucks. I’m not going to question him. He’s the manager, so I’m not going to question him. I voiced my opinion.”
Rays veteran outfielder, Kevin Kiermaier, was a little more blunt.
“It was Blake’s game,” the center fielder said. “He was dominating. I don’t really care what the numbers say. That was the best I’ve ever seen him throw the ball.”
In came reliever Nick Anderson who blew the lead within two batters and put the Rays in a hole they couldn’t come out of.
“We owe it to ourselves to bring it all together and try to make the best decisions,” Cash said. “Some of the decisions I’ve made this postseason, they are gut-wrenching. You feel for Blake. What we try to do is put our team in the best position to win. I totally respect any opinion off of that.”
But here is where the over-reliance on the numbers was at its most obvious: “The margin of error Blake was pitching with, I felt the different look would be beneficial,” he said.
With such a slim margin of error, you want your best pitcher, your ace on the mound. In year’s past, Koufax wasn’t getting pulled, Bob Gibson wasn’t getting pulled, Jack Morris wasn’t getting pulled, even Madison Bumgarner wasn’t getting pulled.
Great pitchers are made for those moments. Snell is a great pitcher, Cash robbed him of that moment and robbed us of a potential classic World Series performance on the hill.
And even before the Dodgers put those runs across, it gave them the momentum.
“[It was] huge,” Dodgers shortstop and World Series MVP Corey Seager said. “He was good all night. He made pitches, he was dominant. It almost gave us a little more confidence when he came out of the game.”
This isn’t a hit piece on analytics. Analytics and situational planning has done wonders to help advance the game and take teams to new heights while finding the best players.
The Dodgers have the largest analytics department in baseball, that played a huge role in getting them to the World Series and the sustained success they’ve had over the last decade.
But those in charge need to understand when it’s time to hit the books and when it’s time to simply trust your gut, your instincts.
Kevin Cash didn’t do that. That’s why Major League Baseball’s offseason began on Tuesday night.