Debate: Any defense of pulling Snell in G6?

October 28th, 2020

The decision to pull in the sixth inning of Game 6 of the World Series on Tuesday sparked outrage across Twitter. At the time, the Rays were up 1-0 and there was one out and one on. To that point, Snell had allowed just two hits, whiffed nine and looked dominant through 73 pitches. He was replaced by Nick Anderson, who had allowed runs in his previous six outings, and he promptly gave up a double to Mookie Betts, followed by a wild pitch and a fielder’s choice, and suddenly the Dodgers had a 2-1 lead they would never relinquish as they clinched their first World Series title in 32 years. We gathered analysts Mike Petriello, David Adler and Paul Casella to discuss the controversial decision.

Matt Meyers (national editor): Give me your first reaction when Snell got taken out?

Mike Petriello (analyst): "There's no way this ends well, no matter what happens."

Paul Casella (reporter): “Wow. I wouldn't think it'd surprise me, because this is what the Rays do, but still -- wow.”

David Adler (researcher): "Oh, come on. You had to do it this time, too? Can't I just watch Blake Snell deal?"

Petriello: I think there's a bigger problem than just "should you pull Snell," which is what everyone will focus on: Nick Anderson has been bad! You're not getting 'Regular Season God Nick Anderson' [2 runs allowed in 16 1/3 innings]. You're getting the guy in the postseason who happens to have a beard and is wearing an Anderson jersey [9 runs in 14 2/3 innings].

Casella: Exactly. I'm less hesitant about questioning the move if we had still been seeing "The Stable" and this was a situation where they could turn it over to three guys and feel pretty confident the game was over. Anderson has been shaky. Not to mention, he happens to pitch with his right arm -- another advantage for Betts.

[Note: Betts had a 1.061 OPS against right-handers this year, compared to .531 against lefties. However, for his career he has an .897 OPS vs. righties, and .888 vs. lefties.]

Meyers: So you're buying Betts' reverse splits this year?

Casella: I'm hesitant to "buy" anything from this 60-game season, honestly -- but in this specific instance, I'd rather stick with the lefty who seems to have his number tonight than a struggling righty.

Petriello: Betts has been good against lefties in his career. A total of 64 appearances in an abbreviated season doesn't do anything for me there.

Adler: I'm not sure if I buy the reverse splits, but I definitely am not convinced that Nick Anderson right-on-right gives you a better chance to get Mookie Betts out than Blake Snell left-on-right.

Petriello: I agree with that. Mostly, I just don’t like that Kevin Cash’s reasoning seemed to be: Because Betts was starting the third time through the order. I understand that pitchers generally get worse each time through the order, but they also don’t automatically turn into pumpkins as the lineup flips over. And Snell, for what it's worth, is worse the third time through. That's an indisputable fact. For his career, he’s allowed a .592 OPS the first time through, then .711 and .742. I don't think that's cause to pull him there, but these aren't made up numbers.

Adler: Agreed. As Mike said on Twitter: Every pitcher is dealing until he isn’t, but ... like ... the feel for what he's doing in the game has to count for something.

Petriello: Also, while Kevin Cash is going to wear this one forever, there's a zero percent chance this was entirely his call, and not something that had been discussed with the entire front office.

Meyers: The Rays are always aggressive with taking their starters out before they get hit, especially during the playoffs. Isn't there something to be said for sticking with the strategy that got you here?

Adler: Sure. But I was really enjoying how Snell has been keeping the Dodgers off balance in this series. He normally is 100% a breaking-ball chase pitcher, and suddenly in Game 2 he's dropping the curve and slider in the zone to get them out. Now in Game 6 he goes back to the chase pitches. Some of the two-strike pitches he threw today were just gorgeous. 97-98 mph fastballs that were just above the top of the zone. That curveball to strike out Seager that just dove out of the bottom of the zone. Let him spin some more of those.

Casella: Sure, there is something to be said for sticking with your plan, but as has been mentioned, I'm not sure there were many signs he was about to get hit. I mean, he didn't have a strikeout in the fifth, then gave up the hit in the sixth, but he still seemed to be in control. If he gives up a two-run homer to Betts, can anyone really blast Cash for leaving Snell out there to face the lineup for a third time?

Petriello: I really do go back to Anderson. I like this a lot more with the regular-season version. To lift Snell for a guy who's been .. just OK ... kinda bad. That I don't get.

Adler: And you can't just give the Dodgers so many chances to get to a Not-Normal Nick Anderson. At least not the best Dodgers.

Meyers: It's hard to believe that five years ago the big controversy in the World Series was Mets manager Terry Collins leaving Matt Harvey in for the ninth inning of Game 5 and blowing it, and this feels like the reverse of that. How did we get here? How should baseball fans feel about this?

Petriello: Well, in a sample size of "those two decisions," neither of them worked. That's a good reminder that there is no one right answer. I know people will say lifting a starting pitcher is bad for entertainment value, and maybe it is, but ... were you not entertained? (*Rays fans excluded)

Adler: It's tough. Me watching as a baseball fan who doesn't root for one team in particular, I love to root for the great individual feats. So I want to watch Blake Snell do it himself. Create his own memorable moment. But if you're a Rays fan, you have to understand that this is the type of innovation, strategy and commitment to that strategy that got your team to the World Series.

(Oh, and for the record: To this day I would have left Matt Harvey in, too.)

Casella: Ha, that's just it -- we'll never know the "What if?" Would anyone be surprised if Betts hit a two-run shot? Or just found his way on base, then [Corey] Seager -- the hottest hitter on the planet not named [Randy] Arozarena -- hits a three-run shot off Snell (or Anderson)? I don't think anyone would be, but we'll also never know, so now Cash goes down in infamy, fair or not. Still, for me, it's hard to swallow pulling Snell at 73 pitches. I focus more on times through the lineup than pitch count, but he looked as good as he has all season tonight and, with the season on the line, he threw his fewest pitches since Aug. 12? That one's tough.