Tampa Bay Rays World Series showing prove analytics are overrated?

ARLINGTON, TEXAS - OCTOBER 27: Blake Snell of the Tampa Bay Rays is taken out of the game by manager Kevin Cash during the sixth inning against the Los Angeles Dodgers in Game Six of the 2020 MLB World Series. (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)
ARLINGTON, TEXAS - OCTOBER 27: Blake Snell of the Tampa Bay Rays is taken out of the game by manager Kevin Cash during the sixth inning against the Los Angeles Dodgers in Game Six of the 2020 MLB World Series. (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images) /

The Tampa Bay Rays were at the forefront of the analytic movement, but did that reliance upon statistical analysis cost them this year?

For the Tampa Bay Rays, analytics have been woven into the franchise’s DNA for quite some time. We remember the Rays as the first team to start the trend of the opener when the other 29 teams were still hitting a five-man rotation strategy hard.

In order to succeed as the “little guy” in a sea of big market teams, you need to think outside the box. People like to get on the Rays for being small-market and having one of the worst attendances in sports, but through all the noise, this low-lying franchise has done nothing but win games consistently for as long as I can remember.

Their strength has been their pitching staff. No franchise in the game can say they’ve done more with what they’ve been dealt than what the Rays can say they’ve done with as little free agency attraction as they’ve had. A pitching empire has risen up in Tampa Bay thanks to the work of Rays management, Jim Hickey when he was on board as Rays pitching coach, Kyle Snyder now as Rays pitching coach, and most notably Kevin Cash as acting manager.

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Through the work of these people mentioned along with countless others within the organization, when we think of the Rays, we automatically think of pitching. From David Price to Scott Kazmir to James Shields to Chris Archer to Alex Cobb and Jeremy Hellickson, nowadays to Blake Snell, Tyler Glasnow, Charlie Morton and their loaded bullpen, the Rays have become the place to look when we want to see where pitching comes from. Its roots run beyond the halls of Tropicana Field and into the rest of the league.

You can also thank the Rays’ scouting team for finding guys nobody else could or thought of. In the pitching department, who else was clambering for Tyler Glasnow when he was a walking machine in Pittsburgh as a young pitcher? The Pirates clearly didn’t know what they had. For position players, who else was looking at Randy Arozarena as a potential star in this league? The Cardinals certainly weren’t paying much attention to him when he was in the building.

The mark of great organizations is how they can turn the ordinary into the extraordinary. The players themselves were never not extraordinary. It just took the right environment to bring the best out of them. One team that has been doing that very well in recent years is the Dodgers. The other is the Rays. Both met in this year’s World Series and we saw two of the great analytical franchises in sports finally get their due, and before you jump in, the Dodgers used the bullpen game just as well as the Rays have en route to their victory. That and the shortened season might have bene what put them over the top.

Unfortunately, one of these teams had to lose. That was the Rays this year, but there’s no doubt in my mind they will be back soon. For those of you that remember back six plus months ago, I had both of these teams as my World Series picks from each league way back before COVID really dug in.

Maybe that plays out differently in a standard season. Maybe not. All I know is analytics work, and if you weren’t a believer before this season, now you should be. I’m not saying go all-in like the Rays did at times during this World Series. Pulling Blake Snell early on a few occasions outside of Game Six as well as Game Six itself were definite head-scratching moments. There needs to be a median ground that organizations operate on when it comes to calling the shots by what the numbers say. Any way too far in either direction is only a recipe for disaster.

We talk a lot about letting the kids play in today’s game. There is an argument to be made that sticking too closely to what the numbers tell us only poisons that river. We love to see the bat flips and strong reactions from pitchers when they get a big strikeout, but one thing that doesn’t go as seen is player reactions when numbers tell coaches to pull them from the game.

We’ve now seen Blake Snell give Kevin Cash a clear reaction on multiple occasions when he came to take him out. Granted, Snell was being handled with kid gloves after his injury last season, but there is an aspect of analytics that is bringing out the worst in some players. I don’t know about you, but all throughout my playing career, one thing I was always taught was to not show up your coach. Your coach wouldn’t show you up and you would return the favor- that was the deal. If you have a problem, don’t let it show for the whole world to see.

Personality in the sport is something we need to continue to embrace. Trevor Bauer and Marcus Stroman may be annoying, but at least they’re interesting. Bat flips and glove poundings are machismo, but all in good fun within the context of the game. Showing up your coach when he comes to take you out is something I really hope doesn’t continue to develop legs in the sport. Gearing your game plan too in the direction of managing by the numbers like the Rays just did is contributing to that.

So, for the sake of the game, we must continue to embrace analytics and all the work the nerds do to enhance the sport. We must at the same time not lose sight of feel for the game an that (believe it or not) “old school” approach.

The Rays have lived by the numbers for years. This year, they sort of died by them while the Dodgers played the numbers game better.

You can say this type of strategy doesn’t work in an elongated 162-game season plus playoffs. That’s fair. I’ll always remember how the Brewers burned out in the 2018 NLCS with how much they used their bullpen. I’ll always remember how the A’s burned out when it came time for two consecutive Wild Card Game seasons.

Maybe a shortened season is the only time for analytics to pay off for someone in a championship. Maybe someone will figure it out and perfect the practice once 162-game slates are brought back.

Next. Morton drawing plenty of interest. dark

All I know is that the game of baseball continues to grow and the nerds behind their computers are contributing to that. Kevin Cash pulling Blake Snell too early is not indicative of analytics being a bust. They only becomes moot when they are relied on too much. I have no doubt everyone in baseball will learn this before next season if they haven’t already.