Lefty Blake Snell was cruising. In a game the Tampa Bay Rays had to win, he was dominating the Los Angeles Dodgers and trying to pitch the Rays to Game 7 of the World Series.
Then, in a span of just four pitches in the sixth inning, he was out of the game. He had not given up a run, his team had a 1-0 lead, the hitters coming up had not touched him that night. He had swing-and-miss stuff, but he was gone.
Soon after, so was the Rays’ lead. Los Angeles moved ahead 2-1 against the Rays bullpen and went on to win 3-1 to take the World Series, four games to two. It was the first World Series win for the Dodgers since 1988. The Rays are now 0-2 in the World Series.
Now the Rays are left with a winter and offseason to wonder about the removal of Snell and whether the result would be different had he stayed in the game. Could they have won Game 6 and then also Game 7? They already had won two decisive games this October - beating the Yankees in a Game 5 and the Astros in a Game 7.
An inherited run was charged to Snell’s record, and so his final line showed two hits and one run allowed over 5 1/3 innings with no walks and nine strikeouts. He threw 73 pitches, 48 for strikes. The Dodgers swung at 34 pitches and whiffed at 16, including on eight of 15 four-seamers and four of eight sliders.
Keep in mind Snell did not pitch six full innings in any of his starts this year - not in 11 starts during the 2020 regular season or in any of his seven playoff starts.
The Rays were concerned about letting him face a lineup the third time through the order. But his stats for the 2020 regular season show he was great the first time through but very hittable in both his second and third times through an opponent’s batting order.
* Against Snell the first time through - .140/.253/.209 and .462 OPS.
* Against Snell the second time through - .307/.350/.627 and .977 OPS.
* Against Snell the third time through - .304/.304/.609 and .913 OPS.
Also keep these stats in mind: Snell allowed an OPS against of .880 on pitches 51 through 75 and .739 on pitches 76-100. But on this night, he was not allowed to get to pitch No. 76.
On Tuesday night, the Dodgers went 1-for-9 against Snell the first time through and 1-for-9 the second time through the order. He gave up a one-out single to No. 9 hitter Austin Barnes in the last of the sixth and he was pulled for right-hander Nick Anderson. Mookie Betts doubled to put runners on second and third and Los Angeles turned that into two runs to take the lead.
No doubt the Los Angeles dugout had to get a lift just seeing Snell walk off the field. He made two starts in the World Series and pitched 10 combined innings, allowing four hits and three runs with four walks and 18 strikeouts. Los Angeles batted .118 (4-for-34) against Snell, but the Rays took him out. In a game they had to win. In a game he was dominating.
Was Rays manager Kevin Cash guilty of not believing his own eyes and rather going with a pre-determined script? One to get Snell out of there before the lineup turned over a third time? Sure seems so, and Cash in his postgame comments mentioned the third time through as a factor in his decision to remove Snell when he did.
While managing to the analytics and data and knowing your own players very well has worked in a big way for the Rays over years and years, on this night it didn’t. A smart baseball man watched one of his best pitchers dominate a strong lineup on a night his team had to win and still yanked him. It was a bad move, and one that Rays fans will debate forever, probably.
This FanGraphs.com article points out that Snell’s fastball averaged 96 mph for the game but he threw one in the sixth inning (one of his four pitches that frame) at 94.3 mph, his lowest velocity of the night, by the way. He threw a breaking ball two miles per hour slower than he had been as well.
Should that have been a red flag that also led to Cash’s decision? It could have been, but I don’t think he noted that in his postgame comments. Also, the guy threw just four pitches in the sixth inning. For a pitcher dominating as he was, a few pitches with a lower velocity would not be enough for me to hook him. Not with the season on the line. I would like to first see the other team, you know, get runs and hits off him.
This is why some fans and media criticize managers for running games according to basically a pre-determined script. You have to have nights when you deviate from the plan. Especially when you are sitting in the dugout and watching a pitcher throwing what could be a game for the ages. The three hitters that were coming up - Betts, Corey Seager and Justin Turner - to that point were 0-for-6 with six strikeouts against Snell.
The guy should not have been taken out. Sure, you can show me the third-time stats and you can show me the velocity readings. But I would tell you I can see with my own two eyes what is happening. And what is happening is that the Dodgers couldn’t hit Snell. So taking him out would benefit Los Angeles more than Tampa Bay. Yikes, what a bad move.
It seems that the smart, cutting-edge, almost-always-ahead-of-the-curve Rays may have been done in by a move that screamed in every way to not be made.
Let’s also point out that the Rays scored one run on five hits. They went 0-for-4 with runners in scoring position, and that was in the first two innings. Their offense was dormant on the biggest night. This was not just only about the Snell decision.
Here’s hoping that teams in the future - including the one in Baltimore - make smart decisions and sometimes go heavily with the analytics and data to help them win. Let’s also hope some nights they put the book and data down and just watch excellence when it is right in front of their faces.