Rays' Game 6 loss reminds Oriole fans of that night in Toronto; Fewer World Series viewers - BaltimoreBaseball.com

World Series

Rays’ Game 6 loss reminds Oriole fans of that night in Toronto; Fewer World Series viewers

Photo Credit: Joy R. Absalon

Many Oriole fans watching Blake Snell’s premature exit from Game 6 of the World Series had flashbacks. They’re still complaining, four years later, that Buck Showalter should have found a way to pitch Zack Britton in the 2016 wild-card game instead of Ubaldo Jimenez.

The situations were entirely different—except both were highly controversial and hard-to-defend moves—and neither worked out.

But there was a huge difference.

There was no debating whether the move to save Britton was Showalter’s decision. In Snell’s case, there’s ample evidence that the move was preordained.

Few people came to Showalter’s defense at the time. Orioles executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette even referred to that game in this space as “an inflection point for the organization.”

The Tampa Bay Rays scored just one run in Game 6, on Randy Arozarena’s first-inning home run against the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Snell was pitching brilliantly, and manager Kevin Cash was asking his bullpen to get him 11 outs.

The Dodgers ended up with a 3-1 win and their first World Series title since 1988. The Orioles haven’t been back in the postseason since that night in Toronto and have been entirely remade.

Cash hasn’t come under that much criticism. It’s those unnamed and unseen analytics gurus in the Tampa Bay front office.

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In the 60-game 2020 season, Snell never even finished six innings, and he’d thrown just 73 pitches. While the move wasn’t shocking, and was talked about beforehand by Joe Buck and John Smoltz on the FOX telecast, it was still stunning.

What’s more fun — watching seven pitchers combine for nine innings or stars such as Walker Buehler and Clayton Kershaw pitch seven or eight innings followed by a strong closer and an effective setup man in between?

It was certainly disconcerting watching experienced big leaguers pull cheat sheets from their caps or back pockets to see where to play hitters.

The Series again showed  Mookie Betts’ ability to steal bases and justify the 12-year, $365 million extension he signed with the Dodgers. Brett Phillips’ fun night was unforgettable for any who watched, but as MLB emphasized in their 2019 ad campaign, “Let the Kids Play.”

No one comes to the ballpark to watch the shift or multiple pitching changes. They come to watch great players. There’s nothing that can be, or should be done, to stop the creep of analytics into baseball.

The hope here is that teams recognize that going against the analytics book is sometimes more entertaining and rewarding. Just a year ago, the Washington Nationals, who still emphasize authentic scouting, won the World Series.

Much has been written about the Orioles being late to the analytics game, and if stats help players understand what they need to improve on, that’s great, but they still need to be themselves.

There were two hopeful signs that the Orioles understand this. Analytics has long frowned upon the bunt, but Cedric Mullins added some excitement to the team by bunting for base hits.

Instead of a bullpen full of pitchers who’ll throw as hard as they can for as long as they can, 35-year-old junkballer César Valdez was added to the bullpen mix for the last month of the season. Valdez was the most effective reliever and, while he’s not the long-term answer as closer, it was fun to see something different.

The low Series ratings: As Showalter was always fond of reminding the beat writers, baseball is entertainment, and watching pitchers continually removed early from games isn’t entertaining.

The Dodgers used seven pitchers, none of whom recorded more than seven outs, to win Game 6. The three-batter rule to speed up the game hasn’t worked, and a 3-1 game, even in the deciding game of the World Series, shouldn’t take 3 hours, 28 minutes.

The commercial breaks during the postseason are longer than during the regular season, and each pitching change—there were 10 relievers in all—means another long break.

World Series ratings were the worst on record, and there are many reasons for that.

Casual fans didn’t follow their teams as much as they usually do in the postseason. The stress of the Covid-19 pandemic could be a factor, and so could the games being played in neutral sites with limited crowds.

This isn’t the Super Bowl, which has always been played at a neutral site. This was MLB’s first experience, an unwanted one, at playing vital games away from home ballparks.

The bandwagon fans didn’t see crowds of fans gathering near the home ballparks, people wearing gear, mayors making bets and office buildings lit up with team colors. The excitement came from the hardcore.

Hopefully, 2021 brings a return to home ballparks with as many fans as can safely attend. Then perhaps World Series ratings will trend up again.

Question time: Next week, I’ll be answering your Orioles questions. Please leave your questions in the comment box or send them to me: [email protected]

Follow Rich Dubroff on Twitter @RichDubroffMLB

11 Comments

11 Comments

  1. CalsPals

    October 29, 2020 at 7:18 am

    If it shows is anything it shows the #s aren’t always right, that’s why you need a baseball guy with baseball IQ to make decisions, sometimes you gotta go with your gut, hoping Cash gets another shot, but the baseball gods are fickle, it may never happen again, too bad…go O’s…

  2. Bhoffman1

    October 29, 2020 at 10:24 am

    Cash is a great manager that being said removing Snell was a blunder. It was a great exciting series in my opinion David against Goliath to bad it wasn’t watched by many. Cedric Mullins could be the O’s Mookie Betts in my dreams.

  3. Bancells Moustache

    October 29, 2020 at 1:05 pm

    I, for one, was happy to see the spreadsheet mafia made foolish because of the reaction it will no doubt trigger around baseball. The trend of the “high leverage“ reliever was born in Toronto in 2016. Anyone who saw Cleveland’s use of Andrew Miller, the most unhittable pitcher not wearing Orange and Balck that year, had to see the ghost of Zack Britton coloring their decision making. And the Indians rode it all the way to the World Series. Perhaps this is the “inflection point” where the corporate risk management style of baseball is, finally, pushed back upon. Yes, it’s efficient and makes you sound really smart rattling off acronyms and decimal points. The bottom line is it’s boring. Who the hell goes to watch sports to see efficiency and risk aversion? That’s called work, it ends at 5 and at 7:05 I want something other than work. Give me double steals, hit and runs, and ace pitchers looking at the dreaded “third time through the order” in late innings and saying “let’s see what you got.” MLB and sports in general I had been sold for 150 years as the opportunity to see great athletes do amazing things, not take the safest and most Mathematically efficient route.

    • CalsPals

      October 29, 2020 at 1:38 pm

      Here, here…totally agree…go O’s & take the analytics with you….

      • Bancells Moustache

        October 29, 2020 at 2:03 pm

        Unfortunately I think we are going to watch the exact same tactics for at least the next 5 years

    • Raymo

      October 29, 2020 at 6:52 pm

      Eloquently stated BanMo! I couldn’t agree more. Get the damn accountants away from the on field decisions.

  4. Orial

    October 29, 2020 at 1:46 pm

    Old school vs new school. Cash’ decision making with his new school approach has been pretty successful thus far(I expect him to be AL Mgr of the year)so regardless of that “decision” I expect new school to win out. But yes I am the first one to bitch every time a pitcher comes out early(think I remember that happening with a Braves rookie pitcher in the NLCS) a few weeks back. Now if the Rays were able to score more than one run(like the O’s couldn’t in the Toronto game)this all may be a mute point. As for poor viewership,yes Rich the constant pitching changes lead to constant commercials–not good. That being said I do recall the recent NBA championship series had a record low viewership too. So unless it’s the cultural event known as the Super Bowl look for sports ratings to be dim in comparison to older days.

  5. willmiranda

    October 29, 2020 at 2:14 pm

    As for low viewer numbers, add the politicization of sports. Baseball isn’t as bad as the NFL, much less the NBA; but it’s in the same ballpark as TV entertainment and is affected by the halo effect.

  6. Tony Paparella

    October 29, 2020 at 4:10 pm

    What is kind of not being noted here to the extent it should is the fact that Cash’ move and Showalter’s cost the teams the game.Using analytics as a program is a great way to strategize the game but the use of common sense and past experience should be allowed into the decision making process.Otherwise what do you really need the manager for,I mean you can just call down ( better yet text) your decisions and you can pay a guy 50 Grand to carry out them out. Kind of like what Steinbrenner Tried briefly in New York. You want entertainment and part of that is wondering what the next move is going to be made by the manager.not by a computer system per se. Because after awhile it will be predictable to the fans and players and teams themselves as to what the next move will be in certain situations. At least That is my perspective on it.

  7. Phil770

    October 29, 2020 at 7:32 pm

    Rich, I too thought of Buck, Toronto and Britton when Cash removed Snell. Buck relied completely on his gut while Cash relied completely on the analytics. In today’s world, you need both. Buck should have brought in Britton and everyone knew it at the time. Cash should have left in Snell, and everyone knew it at the time. The other similarly is that Buck and Cash brought in pitchers for the most important game of the season (win or go home) and neither of the pitchers delivered. The team may have lost in either (or both) case(s), but you do it with your best – there will never be any complaints.

  8. Rob IsraOsFan

    October 30, 2020 at 8:00 pm

    Ivy League analytics doesn’t deserve the blame in this specific instance.

    I believe that Cash decided to pull Snell after just 73 pitches in Game 6 because he was very worried about Snell quickly imploding just like he did in Game 2 of the series.

    REWIND TO GAME 2:
    Snell struck out the first two batters in the bottom of the 5th and his stat line was super impressive…0 hits, 2 BBs, 9 Ks.

    That’s when things went downhill very fast. Snell walked the no. 8 hitter on just 5 pitches (pitch count reached 76). The Rays had a 5-0 cushion, so it was a no brainer for Cash to let Snell continue. However this turned out to be the wrong decision as the very next hitter (Taylor) hit a two run shot. Betts followed that up by reaching on a base-on-balls, and then a single by Seager was the last straw and Cash had seen enough and pulled Snell after throwing 88 pitches.

    Anderson (the Choker in Game 6) came in for relief, but in this Game 2 he didn’t choke…he struck out Turner to end the inning. The Rays led 5-2 after five and went on to win the game by a score of 6-4 and tied the series a game a piece.

    FFWD BACK TO GAME 6:
    I definitely think Snell deserved the chance to face Betts, but if he reaches, then without a doubt Snell is done for the night.

    However, I am quite OK with Cash’s decision to pull Snell when he did, and I don’t buy Cash’s explanation that he didn’t want Snell to face the top of the order for the third time around. Cash simply remembered what happened to Snell just a few days prior in Game 2 and didn’t want a repeat sudden implosion, especially with only a one run lead.

    To summarize, analytics had nothing to do with Cash’s decision. Cash’s memory of Game 2 had everything to do with his decision.

    And let’s not forget…without analytics the Rays most likely don’t even make the playoffs!

    Lastly, I would bet anything that if our O’s are fortunate enough to win the whole enchilada with Boy Wonder’s Ivy League analytics steering the ship, not one reader on this site will complain whatsoever! I agree with all of you that this type of game is often slow and boring as heck, but there’s a reason why the game has shifted in this direction.

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