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.

World Series Recap: What the Tigers Can Learn as Baseball’s New Era Shines on the Brightest Stage

by Travis Leonardi

It was no surprise to once again see the Los Angeles Dodgers in the World Series. With an extensive number of homegrown All-Stars, a commitment to analytics and a top ranked farm system, they have dominated the regular season for nearly a decade. Although the Dodgers have failed to secure a title, their eighth consecutive division title and third NL pennant in four years somehow feels like just the beginning for Dodgers fans.

Although they held the best record in the American League at 40-20, the Tampa Bay Rays are a different story. Branded as a “small market” team in the AL East, constantly contending with the powerhouse franchises of the Yankees and Red Sox is a difficult feat. However, in the past 3 seasons the Rays’ commitment to analytics and player development is consistently paying off. Their surplus of prospects from their top ranked farm system and bullpen of flamethrowers won them 90 games in 2018, 96 games in 2019 and a .667 win percentage in the shortened 2020 season, second in baseball to the Dodgers.

Though the Tigers became known as an “old-school” franchise that did not rely heavily on advanced analytics, the Tigers have made great strides in modernizing the organization since Al Avila took over GM duties. The franchise has installed Statcast at all their developmental facilities, created their own analytical database CAESAR, and plucked hires from the Driveline talent pool, to name a few. They now find themselves behind only the Rays as the second ranked farm system. Through consecutive top picks and an improved drafting strategy, the Tigers have quickly risen as one of the league’s most exciting groups of young talent. All signs point to following the model of the new-school franchises. As the Tigers emerge from the rebuild over the next few seasons, will this new model resemble the Dodgers, the Rays, or somewhere in-between? Can the Tigers find sustained success?

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Have Hope, Tigers Fans

Don’t stop believin’
Hold on to that feeling.
— Journey – Don’t Stop Believin’

As we speak, the Detroit Tigers — yes, those Detroit Tigers — are in contention for the eighth and final American League wild card spot. Yes, we know what you’re saying. The Tigers don’t have a chance. It’s just a pipe dream. The odds are against them. There are too many better teams ahead of them. They’ll never make it in so why bother.

Jeimer is leading the way. (photo by Alexandra Simon)

These are all justifiable positions one could take on the current state of the Detroit Tigers’ postseason hopes. Detroit Tigers fans are used to having their hopes and dreams stomped on and spit upon by the Detroit Tigers.

The sharp sting of our postseason disappointments are still fresh and painful. The fanbase is reluctant to be hopeful in a season, a year, where Murphy’s Law reins supreme. The Tigers don’t have a chance so why should I get my hopes up? Why are you enjoying this? They’ll just blow it in the end. Don’t you remember 2006-2011-2012-2013-2014-2016, etc.

Why get our hopes up? Well, why not.

Casey Mize and Tarik Skubal are headlining the youth movement in the Tigers’ rotation. Isaac Paredes, Willi Castro, Daz Cameron, and other prized position prospects are emerging from the haze of the alternate training site. The bullpen is finally — FINALLY — somewhat competent! For the first time in four years the Tigers are dancing around the edges of the wild card hunt! The Tigers’ farm system is among the top ranked systems in baseball after years of being maligned for the lack of depth. And there are even more exciting prospects on the verge.

Why shouldn’t we enjoy the ride? Who knows when the next playoff race will find its way back to Detroit? The Tigers went nearly twenty years between postseason appearances not so long ago. Are we all so jaded that a close wild card race isn’t enough to shake us from our perpetually negative, fatalistic mindset?

It’s okay to embrace things that are fun, and have hope that good things will come. Wild card races, regardless of the likely result, are fun and good. Let yourself enjoy it. Sometimes the ending point isn’t what truly matters, it’s the journey taken, the memories made along the way, and the promise of a better future just on the horizon.

How much better will the Tigers be in 2020?

On Tuesday, USA Today released their annual win predictions for the 2020 Major League Baseball season, and somewhat predictably, the Tigers were projected to be the worst team in baseball with a 54-108 record. After losing 114 games in 2019, largely thanks to one of the worst offenses in the history of baseball, the idea that Detroit will be awful is a pretty safe take.

A bright spot (Photo by Alexandra Simon)

However, historically bad teams are hard to actually build. Last year was largely the result of a perfect storm of horrible: regression by Miguel Cabrera, Josh Harrison, and Jeimer Candelario; injury issues on the part of Jordy Mercer, JaCoby Jones, Tyson Ross, Matt Moore, and Michael Fulmer; and historically bad performances by rookies like Grayson Greiner and Christin Stewart.

Two good things happened to the Tigers at the major league level last year, and their names were Matthew Boyd and Niko Goodrum.

More after this!

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Diamonds in the Rough: Highlights from a rough season on the diamond

I won’t sugarcoat it. Baseball wasn’t much fun for the Tigers or their fans in 2019. This season featured one of Detroit’s worst teams in the history of the franchise, and easily the worst team since the dreaded 2003 season. It was ugly, frustrating and seemed at times the end was nowhere in sight. Thankfully, it’s finally over. Fans can enjoy the postseason with no additional stress. Finishing with the worst record in baseball at 47-114, the Tigers secured the #1 overall pick for the second time in three years and are poised to significantly upgrade an already rising farm system. Competitive baseball is likely a few years away, but that doesn’t mean it’s all doom and gloom. Let’s dive into what the Tigers can look forward to in 2020 and beyond.

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Spend Money

At some point, someone here at Glass Half Fulmer will pen an elegy for the 2019 season. I’m pretty sure readers can predict the major beats of that story: the farm got better, the major league club was abysmal, the future will probably be better. You’re going to read that piece in varying degrees a lot this offseason.

I’m not here to write that piece. I’m here to focus on something that Tigers fans seem to know but also tend to overlook in favor of focusing on the farm system and player development.

It’s time for Chris Ililch to spend money. Continue reading

Valuing the Tigers Trade Chips at the Deadline

One of the side effects of spending way too much time on Twitter is that you find some interesting questions about baseball to write about. Today’s comes from Jerry Mackinnem, who asked a good question about valuing trade chips at the deadline. Normally for big trades, good analysis would use future projections of WAR/$ (essentially, valuing players at the going rate of $9 million per WAR they expect to put up) and compare that to prospect valuations to try to work out fair trade value. The wrinkle that Jerry adds is an interesting one: how do you value a low WAR player at the trade deadline? Obviously someone like Shane Greene isn’t going to post gigantic WAR totals, but he’s a coveted trade chip. Can we do the math to figure out what he’s actually worth?

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Looking at Players in a Potential Matthew Boyd Trade

Major League Baseball is about three weeks out from the trade deadline, and the Detroit Tigers, with one of the worst records in the league, have some assets to deal.

Will he stay or will he go? (Photo by Alexandra Simon)

Shane Greene, the All-Star closer, will almost assuredly  be traded, while a team desperate enough for offense (like, say, the Cleveland Indians) might be willing to pay for Nicholas Castellanos.

But the real prize on the Tigers’ roster is Matthew Boyd, who has broken out to the tune of a 3.56 FIP/3.34 xFIP season. Boyd has been worth 2.8 fWAR in the first half, making him the fifteenth most valuable pitcher in baseball. However, given that Boyd is under team control through 2022, the price tag is sky-high. Complicating things is that the Tigers want an elite bat in any trade package, limiting the number of teams that have the ability to acquire the new Tigers ace.

Thanks to Chris Brown (via Twitter) we know that Boyd is worth roughly $65 million in surplus value. That’s enough to return one elite prospect, in the top 10 range, or a package including a top 25 prospect and a top 100 prospect, with maybe a throw-in or two. Given that the Tigers want an elite bat, though, not ever team is going to be able to pay the specific asking price they’re interested in. Let’s try to piece together what those trades might look like from every contending club. For this exercise, I’ll be using Fangraphs’ THE BOARD!, recently updated post-draft. I’ll toss in some scouting reports here and there, but this one’s gonna be long, so they’ll mostly be for key pieces.

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JaCoby Jones: A Swing Analysis

Guest post by Travis Leonardi

(All GIFs courtesy of @domhunt18 on twitter)

Stellar defense and a bright personality made JaCoby Jones a fan favorite in Detroit since his debut in 2016. He has shown flashes of the power-speed prospect that was advertised when the Tigers traded Joakim Soria to acquire him in 2015. However, Jones’ offensive production left much to be desired in his first few years as a professional. After leading MLB in defensive runs saved in 2018, Tigers GM Al Avila stated Jones could be a future All-Star if his hitting improved.

More after the jump

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The Tigers, International Free Agents, and Top-30 Rankings

Yesterday, the Detroit Tigers signed Cuban outfielder Roberto Campos for a reported $3 million bonus, the largest international bonus in club history. The $3 million bonus comes off of last year’s signings of outfielder Jose de la Cruz and shortstop Adisino Reyes, the #15 and #19 ranked prospects on MLB.com’s Top 30 International Prospects list for 2018-2019. Those signings were complemented by the $1 million bonus given to shortstop Alvaro Gonzalez in the 2017-2018 International Free Agent class.

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