Kevin Cash and Blackjack: your new opinion

We have much to discuss, you and I, so let’s skip the preamble and get right to it. Here was the situation in which Kevin Cash found himself last night that will be discussed for the rest of our baseball lives:

Elimination game, bottom of the 6th, his team in the field leading 1-0, with one out, a runner on 1st base, and the other team’s three best hitters coming up.

Kevin Cash decided to remove a very good starting pitcher who was having a very good night, and replaced him with the best reliever in baseball who was fronting one of the best bullpens in baseball.

Cash made the right move.

Everything that needs to be considered when unpacking the decision is in the two sentences above.

  • Every pitcher is dealing – until they aren’t. The concept of the “cruising pitcher” was exposed as a myth a long time ago, most recently by Russell Carelton – check his work on this topic. A pretty tall stack of empirical evidence tells us that Nick Anderson would have better success than Blake Snell in that spot – ignoring it would have been a mistake. Which leads us to…
  • Cash didn’t pull a Girardi and go to bullpen guy number 12 – he went to the best reliever in baseball in 2020. If Cash had left Snell in, and Snell was lit up with Anderson sitting in the bullpen, Cash would have been justifiably crucified.
  • The three batters due up for LAD had an average OPS+ of 145 in 2020. For those of you not into the new-fangled stats, that’s really flipping good. And I don’t believe in clutch or hot streaks, but for those of you who do, the three batters due up also had a combined 13 HR in the postseason.

And by the power of F.C. Lane’s fountain pen, I command you to stop using small sample sizes to criticize decisions. Anyone (looking at you FOX broadcast) who would take Mookie Betts’ most recent 64 PA against LHP and ignore the other 861 of his career to criticize bringing in a righty to face Betts should not be collecting a check to talk about baseball.

To be clear: Cash had a tough decision to make. I think it was 60/40 go to the bullpen, but if he stayed with Snell, I wouldn’t have had a big problem with it.

Because here is the bottom line: There is no decision or strategy in any sport that has a 100% success rate. Decisions are essentially just a game of blackjack. Sometimes you’re sitting on 16 and the dealer drops a 6 on you – stuff happens. Sometimes you’re sitting on 19 and the other guy is handed blackjack – stuff happens. It doesn’t make the decisions the wrong ones.

The Dodgers bullpen (7 and 1/3 innings, 12 K, 0 BB, 2 H) was better than the Rays bullpen last night – game, set, match – don’t overanalyze it. Speaking of which…

A very common take on social media last night after Snell’s removal was that “analytics are killing baseball” or some similar nonsense.

Reminder: In the postseason (after having the AL’s best regular season record) Tampa Bay, a team that relies heavily on analytics, beat two other teams with much larger payrolls who also rely heavily on analytics, then lost to an analytically led juggernaut with a payroll almost four times larger than the Rays in tightly played series. If you want to discuss what analytics does to the aesthetics of baseball, that’s a fair discussion. But if you think using data and facts to support baseball decisions does not win, you haven’t been paying attention for a very long time. Speaking of which…

Teams that out-homered their opponent went 35-5 this postseason. Getting guys on base and hitting the ball over the wall wins games. Getting guys on base and hitting the ball softly loses games. It’s been that way for 100 years.

Did I miss something? Let me know.


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One thought on “Kevin Cash and Blackjack: your new opinion

  1. Great argument. This is a prime example of decision making as a combination of both subjective and objective leadership. The military puts a lot of research into providing commanders with statistics to drive tactical decision at the same time they provide years of education to the same individuals teaching the the art of going with their gut feeling. You can’t be a slave to one or the other. Cash made the right call based on his prior decision making methodology. Except he didn’t. He lost. Leaders get paid to make decisions and when they win the decision was right, when they don’t the decision was wrong. The best decision isn’t always the right decision. It’s hard to be the boss and it’s admirable that Cash is accepting full responsibility, but that’s how leadership goes. Sorry Cash, history declared you the loser.

    Liked by 1 person

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