There is no winning the argument. Having the argument is probably the point. It’s been dominating baseball for the past 20 years. What the spreadsheets say, what baseball logic says.
Never the twain shall meet.
So the debate for the whole winter, for the next few years, for probably forever when the Rays are involved until they win a World Series, will be about Kevin Cash pulling Blake Snell with one out in the sixth inning. Cash will join names like Buckner, Bartman, Denkinger, Little, echoed by writers and broadcasters until the Rays cleanse themselves of this.
You can extrapolate this out and as deeply as you care to and never finish. On the one side, Snell was working on one of the most dominant World Series starts in recent history. He had struck out nine, walked none, and the extent of the contact he’d given up was a couple singles and one lineout. You can’t be cruising any more than he was.
On the other hand, he hadn’t finished six innings all season. Not since July of 2019. He was heading through the lineup a third time, when his numbers against do go up, though hardly critically so. And it was the second-best player in baseball up in the form of Betts.
There are two sides to every facet of this argument, which is why it can’t be won. Betts had struggled against lefties all season. But the season was two months long, and over his career he’s hit lefties just as well as he’s hit righties, which means incredibly well. Betts looked helpless in his first two ABs, just as the rest of the Dodgers lineup had. On the other, Betts has 30+ PAs against Snell lifetime and had worked him for a .304 average and an .892 OPS. Behind him was Cory Seager, only the hottest hitter in the whole Dodgers’ lineup.
Factors outside of Cash’s control magnify it only more. You could blame the Rays’ lineup for only providing Randy Arozarena’s 48th homer of the postseason or whatever it was. A two-run lead probably sees Snell get at least Betts and Seager. A three-run lead probably sees the Rays ride Snell as far as he could go.
Or maybe the decision to pull Snell isn’t the big problem, but the decision to go to Nick Anderson is. Anderson had been fading during the Series, and had given up a run in each of his previous appearances. It was his third appearance of the series, and the second look Betts would get at Anderson. If this was the critical moment of the season, and to pull Snell it had to be, is Anderson the best weapon for that?
Cash had all of that to deal with and more. They had the thinnest of margins to protect their season from going disparu. And at the tightest, most tense moment possible, all the arguments on either side add up to a complete stonewall.
“I regret the decision because it didn’t work out,” Cash said after the Dodgers won Game 6 of the World Series last nigh with a 3-1 win, their seventh in franchise history. “But you know, I feel like the thought process was right. ... If we had to do it over again, I would have the utmost confidence in Nick Anderson to get through that inning.”
Cash opted for what the Rays do. For how they run their team, have always run their team, for what they’ve relied on for years. On the slimmest of edges, it’s hardest to go with a gut or veer from what you know. The Rays got to this moment by going this way. Your convictions are most important when they’re up against the sternest test, are they not?
On the other side:
“If the rule you followed led you to this, of what use was the rule?” -Anton Chiggurh
This debate always splits between those who think analytics are ruining the game, and not those who think analytics are the only route but merely a tool. But due to the vociferousness of the former side, the latter either has to yell louder or get out in front and denounce their own side to try and prove it’s not the end-all be-all. Again, there is no answer.
In the end, the decision will be judged on one pitch. One pitch out of the hundreds that were thrown in this series. The pitch that Betts ripped down the line for a double. Snell could have easily hung a curve or left a fastball over the plate, too. Just one. Mike Zunino had blocked every pitch in the dirt all month, to the point where Joe Buck couldn’t stop talking about it. He missed one. Snell bounced some breaking pitches, too, but Zunino never missed those. Without the one he missed, allowing Betts to get to third, Seager’s soft grounder to first doesn’t bring home the winning run. It probably doesn’t even bring home a run. That’s just what happens.
“I am definitely disappointed and upset,” Snell said after the game. “I just want the ball. I felt good. I did everything I could to prove my case to stay out there, and then for us to lose, it sucks. I want to win, and I want to win the World Series, and for us to lose, it just sucks.
“I am not going to question [Cash]. He’s a helluva manager, so I am not going to question him. And I can only look forward to what I am going to accomplish this offseason. But we came up short, and the only thing I can focus on is what I can be better at next year.”
The anger from both sides of this forever-debate stems from the fact that you can’t “solve” baseball. You can’t “solve” any sport, which is why we’re here in the first place. Sometimes your striker misses a sitter, even if your tactics are spot on. Sometimes the goalie gets his glove hand up faster than he ever has before, even if you’re sure you’ve got top-shelf picked. The Warriors were pretty sure they had basketball solved with 73 wins. There is no plan for LeBron James going celestial for three games.
At the most important moment, Cash went with what had done him the most good. Due to one pitch out of thousands this season, it didn’t work. It wasn’t right. It wasn’t wrong. It just was.