World Series Recap: Spend money, Chris.

Game 6: Rays 1, Dodgers 3. LA wins the World Series 4-2

After their conservative approach to game 2, the Dodgers rested their best arms and threw everything at the Rays for games 3-5. Outside of a catastrophic 9th inning meltdown in game 4, the Dodgers were able to secure an advantage in the series 3-2. They won games 3 and 5 after clutch pitching performances from Walker Buehler and Clayton Kershaw. 

Going into game 6, the Dodgers faced an identical matchup to game 2: Tony Gonsolin vs. Blake Snell. Snell dominated in game 2, surrendering only a 2-run home run to Chris Taylor as the Rays went on to win 6-4. In game 6, Snell picked up right where he left off; he carved through the Dodgers’ lineup, striking out five of the first six batters.

The Rays’ Randy Arozarena broke the scoring open in the first inning, taking a slider to the opposite field for a single-postseason record 10th home run. The Dodgers’ game plan was to have Gonsolin function as a regular starter. That plan quickly fell apart as his pitch count elevated and he struggled to throw strikes. Gonsolin exited having thrown just 48 pitches in 1.2 innings. 

Everything changed in the 6th inning for the Dodgers. Battling with a one run deficit, the offense finally arrived. Austin Barnes led off the 6th inning with a single up the middle off Blake Snell. It was just the second hit given up by Snell at that point, on only 73 pitches. With one out and one on in the 6th, Rays manager Kevin Cash pulled Snell and went to the bullpen. 

The Rays turned to reliever Nick Anderson. After missing in location with the first few pitches, he gave up a double down the line to Mookie Betts. With Austin Barnes at third and Mookie at second, Anderson spiked a slider that got away from Mike Zunino and the game was tied. With Corey Seager batting next, he weakly grounded to first and similarly to game 1, Mookie made a phenomenal jump and beat out the throw to score a critical run.

The former MVP came up huge for the Dodgers. (photo by Alexandra Simon)

With this appearance, Anderson had given up a run in his 7th consecutive postseason appearance, breaking the previously held record by José Paniagua with the 2000-2001 Seattle Mariners. As Cash’s plan imploded, so did the Rays’ season. This begs the question, did Kevin Cash cost the Rays a championship? The obvious answer seems to be yes. My answer? No, but he is not free from blame. More on that later.

Mookie again proved why he is worth every penny of his 12-year $365 million extension. He homered in the 8th, extending the Dodgers’ lead to 3-1 and sealing victory for a long-awaited championship in Los Angeles.

In a similar fashion to game 7 of the NLCS, Julio Urías entered the game and pitched 2.1 perfect innings to close out the World Series. The Dodgers bullpen went on to do everything asked of them and Dave Roberts played his matchups perfectly. They threw 7.1 scoreless innings, striking out 12 batters and giving up just 2 singles. The Dodgers won the 2020 World Series and ended a 32-year title drought.

Kevin Cash’s management was less than perfect, but analytics are not to blame.

It seems easy to bash the decision to remove Blake Snell. It prompted an onslaught of anti-analytics rhetoric and how it “ruins the game.” Here’s the breakdown by the numbers.

Removing Blake Snell was the correct analytical decision. Snell last completed 6 innings of work in July of 2019. After hitting the upper 90s with his fastball for most of the night, the last fastball Snell threw was his slowest of the night, registering at 94.3 mph. This season, including the postseason, here are Blake Snell’s splits each time through the batting order entering game 6.

Snell 2020 SplitsBatters FacedOpponent AVGOpponent OPSStrikeout %
1st time144.137.48433.3
2nd time125.295.92528.0
3rd time34.303.96023.5
An-Snell-ytics

It is no question Snell’s effectiveness decreases the longer he stays in the game, and with more appearances the opponents’ power jumps off the charts. With former MVP Mookie Betts stepping to the plate for a third time and a lefty/righty matchup, it was the correct decision to end the night for Snell and move to the bullpen. Kevin Cash’s choice of Nick Anderson is where he made a fatal mistake.

Nick Anderson had been dominant in the 2020 regular season posting a 0.55 ERA, a strikeout rate of 44.8% and posting an even 1.0 WAR. The postseason was a different story, however. Entering game 6, he had given up a run in 7 of his 9 postseason appearances, with 6 of those runs allowed coming in consecutive appearances. He posted an ERA of 5.11, had given up 15 hits, 4 walks, 3 home runs and collected just 9 strikeouts in 14.1 innings. To put it simply, he was bad.

Peter Fairbanks or Diego Castillo were better options to face Betts. Cash’s trust in an underperforming Anderson in the biggest moment blew up in his face, and the Rays lost the World Series. This was not an analytical decision. This was a mistake.

This may raise the question, “You argued in favor of Brandon Lowe last article about sticking with the best players in the biggest spots. Doesn’t this contradict the argument?”

It is a little complicated, but the argument is different for two reasons. First, the Rays do not have many offensive weapons, as the previous article stated. They ranked in the lower half of the league in most offensive categories. Demoting Lowe in the batting order or replacing him entirely likely would not yield different results. Sticking with Lowe in the two hole gave the Rays critical home runs that provided them victories in game 2 and 4. He had proven himself to stay in his role, delivering in the clutch to keep the Rays’ season alive. The second reason is the Rays are known for their arsenal of relief arms. They can plug many different talented relievers in different situations to find success. The difference here is Anderson’s performances had presented no recent signs of success, and his failure cost them the World Series. The Rays had more reliable options to turn to that they failed to use.

So, analytics are not to blame, Kevin Cash royally screwed up and the Rays lost. The blame goes to Kevin Cash, right? Well, again, it’s not so simple.

The Rays have managed baseball games in this style for years, and it rewarded them with an AL pennant, coming up just 2 victories short of a championship. The way the Rays play baseball was a massive success. There was no reason for them to abandon their philosophy with their season on the line. The failure lies within their choice of replacement, not the removal of Snell itself. Cash can be blamed for his mistake, but the holes in the Rays roster that were repeatedly exposed by the Dodgers were out of his control.

Andrew Friedman is a genius and Rays owner Stuart Sternberg cost them the World Series.

Friedman, President of Baseball Operations for the Dodgers, previously made a name for himself with the Tampa Bay Rays. As Friedman and Sternberg shared a love for the analytics, they began to mold the former expansion franchise into what it is today. Friedman started his career in their front office in 2004 and became the club’s General Manager in 2005. In 2008, the Rays reached their first World Series. The Rays continued to field successful teams despite coming up against their big money counterparts within the AL East.

In 2014, Friedman left the Rays for the Dodgers, bringing along his analytical model and marrying it with the Dodgers’ big spending ways. Since 2014, the Dodgers have been the most successful team in baseball and show no signs of slowing down soon. 

The problem with Sternberg’s analytical model is his refusal to invest money into the product on the field. Smart spending correlates with winning. Check out this article from GHF in 2019: https://glasshalffulmer.com/2019/09/30/spend-money/ 

The Tampa Bay Rays were third to last in baseball with a 2020 payroll of $28.3 million. The biggest trick of the league is owners making us believe there are “small markets” and “big markets.” The reality is there are just big markets and bigger markets. The Dodgers had a payroll of $107.9mil, second behind only the Yankees. When one takes into consideration the value of these franchises, the Rays are still not proportionately spending as much on their roster as the Dodgers. They might not be able to afford players like Mookie Betts or Clayton Kershaw however, they can easily afford some free agent upgrades to improve their roster. The highest paid player on the Rays was Charlie Morton at $15 million before pro-rated for the shortened 2020 season. He is one on a very short list of free agents for Tampa Bay.

The Rays offense sputtered in the World Series. Their inability to score runs ultimately led to their demise. The Rays were forced to rely on inadequate offensive options in the face of one of the greatest teams ever constructed. It is a remarkable achievement and a testament to the players and coaching staff that they only fell 2 games short of a title.

The blame for the Rays failure resides with Stuart Sternberg, who refused to invest into his product. With a few offensive upgrades, the current Rays roster likely turns the tide against LA and probably doesn’t end up in the situation of preserving a 1-0 lead to save their season. No manager is perfect. Cash’s mistake was his own doing. Without a lineup to provide any cushion, though, Sternberg created the situation for his manager to fail.

Where do the Tigers end up in all this?

This World Series is a lesson to all that a lack of investment is not enough to win. Against their toughest challenge, the Rays’ formula crumbled. It was not solely because of analytics; it was not solely because of Kevin Cash. It is because they refuse to spend money at the rate of their competition.

What’s next for Al Avila and the Tigers? (photo by Alexandra Simon)

The Dodgers are truly MLB’s model franchise. Their commitment to analytics and a payroll of All-Stars won them a championship. Tigers owner Chris Ilitch is a multi-billionaire. With the Tigers’ commitment to analytics, they are taking the right steps toward success. Since they started their rebuild in earnest in 2017, they have consistently avoided spending money and produced subpar results. This rewarded them with top prospects Casey Mize, Riley Greene and Spencer Torkelson through the draft. 

Unfortunately, these players won’t be enough to bring a championship to Detroit. As the Tigers emerge from the rebuild, it is time to spend and spend big. Through the Ilitch family, the Tigers have the power to establish themselves as leaders of the new school, marrying the analytical approach with a large payroll. Will they seize the opportunity? Or will greed hinder their opportunities in their franchise’s most important moments? Only time will tell.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s