A very good morning to you, faithful followers of the Rays and baseball in general.
I understand the disappointment of the World Series remains fresh, and the grievances over how it ended linger still. But if you’ll pardon the intrusion, I’m afraid this matter cannot wait any longer.
I am here to defend Kevin Cash.
He didn’t ask for my defense, he doesn’t need it and he’s probably better off without it. And yet I feel compelled to speak on behalf of the Rays manager because I do not believe justice is being properly served in this matter.
Now, before we go any further, let me stipulate that he is guilty.
Cash’s decision to pull Blake Snell with a 1-0 lead in the sixth inning of Game 6 against the Dodgers was a mistake. I thought it was a mistake the moment he did it, and nothing I’ve heard from him or anyone else has changed that opinion. Based on my emails, social media and the general buzz around town, most of you believe it was a mistake, too.
So why, exactly, does Cash need a public defense?
Because he was wrong, but he wasn’t negligent.
That’s an important distinction. It’s sort of the difference between a player who hits into a fielder’s choice and the one who hits into a double-play because he wasn’t hustling to first.
Cash’s decision turned out disastrous for the Rays and it should not have been made in the first place, but it was neither indefensible nor inexcusable.
First of all, this strategy was completely in line with how the Rays used Snell all season long. Whether it was because his pitch count was high, or his effectiveness waned, he rarely saw hitters for a third at-bat in games. In other words, once he went through a lineup twice — a total of 18 batters — he was always in danger of being pulled. He had averaged 20.3 batters per start since Aug. 12.
And how did he do when facing batters for a third time? Not good. Opponents hit .313 with an absurdly high .969 OPS against Snell when seeing him a third time in any game in 2020.
And it was even riskier against the Dodgers, who had the league’s most potent offense. During the World Series, Cash allowed Snell, Tyler Glasnow and Charlie Morton to face 16 Los Angeles hitters for a third time. Eight of them reached safely for a nifty .500 on-base average, including a Max Muncy home run in Game 5.
There was also evidence of Snell losing his touch quickly and dramatically just five days earlier. In Game 2, he had retired 14 of the first 16 batters he faced, giving up no hits and two walks. Yet as he approached the turning over of the order for a third time, he gave up a walk, a home run, a walk and a single in succession.
You might ask, I’m pushing all of this evidence, why do I believe Cash was guilty of a mistake?
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Because I think he overvalued the third-time-through-the-order data ahead of too many other considerations in Game 6. For instance, Snell was nearly unhittable Tuesday night. Yes, there was a danger he could collapse quickly like Game 2, but that didn’t seem likely in the moment.
Of even greater importance was ignoring all the warning signs about reliever Nick Anderson. Cash correctly pointed out that Anderson may have been the best reliever in baseball since July 2019, but he was not the same pitcher in October. It wasn’t just that he finished with an ERA of 5.52 in the postseason, it was the underlying numbers. He went from averaging 14.3 strikeouts per nine innings in the regular season to 5.5 in the postseason. That means he wasn’t just pitching in bad luck; he was clearly not as dominant as he had been.
So was it a mistake by Cash?
Yeah, I believe so. It may even turn out to be a historic mistake that will be retold every postseason when a manager is faced with a similar type of decision. But I don’t think it was an egregious or foolhardy error. Just a spur-of-the-moment mistake in judgement when Snell gave up a hit to Austin Barnes just before the order turned over again.
Here’s something else to consider:
For the past month, the baseball world has been raving about how the Rays managed to get so far with a lineup devoid of stars or big-money free agents. They were able to do it because they’re not afraid to take risks or be aggressive with unorthodox strategies.
And Cash is the guy who was pulling those strings.
If you’re going to fault his strategy for a loss in Game 6 of the World Series, you better also be praising his decision-making in all the games the Rays played to make it there.
John Romano can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @romano_tbtimes.