Vince Gennaro is the host of a show called “Behind the Numbers: Baseball SABR-Style” on MLB Network Radio. He’s the author of Diamond Dollars: The Economics of Winning in Baseball. He is a regular on MLB Network TV studio shows, sharing his deep, well-respected insight on the game of baseball from an analytical viewpoint. He’s the president of the Society of American Baseball Research, or SABR.
I could go on but you get the point. Gennaro is one of the most respected Sabermetrics gurus in baseball.
He started off his “Behind The Numbers” show yesterday with a take I wish every single owner would hear, because it would ripple down to every single front office, then down to the field, and bring some badly needed common sense back to decision making.
In 673 words, Gennaro totally captured everything that is wrong with baseball today. And this is coming from an analytics guy. This is coming from inside the house. Here’s what he said:
“This is a show about looking at the game through the lens of analytics. And I want to talk about the state of analytics today in the wake of World Series Game 6 and the lifting of Blake Snell from the game. Look, there’s been a lot said and a lot written about this but I wanted to add my piece to it.
First, I would say it’s quite unfair to conflate and confuse analytics with information. They’re not the same thing. Think of information as being facts, data, and statistics. Information often describes the historical reality. It’s sort of backward looking.
Analytics, on the other hand, is the processing of these facts, data, and statistics to make more effective decisions in some specific context, and in this case it’s the sixth inning of Game 6 of the World Series.
The second point I want to make is that analytics, or even information, is just one input into a complicated decision. It’s not the answer sheet. And whenever someone gives a one-dimensional answer to justify a decision in baseball, I would consider that a red flag. For example, it’s unfair to say, “I didn’t bunt because the sacrifice bunt’s a bad strategy.” Well, that ignores the context and the complexity of this situation.
So, for a minute, let’s dissect this often-espoused rule or guideline today that says we don’t have our pitchers face a lineup a third time because the hitter’s familiarity with the pitcher shifts the advantage to the hitter. So, saying we don’t do it because the data suggests it’s not effective is pure laziness.
Why are pitchers less effective the third time through? Because pitchers are being groomed to go max effort, unload their full repertoire, and be most effective the first and second time through the lineup. It is literally a development strategy of many MLB teams.
So, this notion of pulling a pitcher so he doesn’t face the lineup a third time is such a negative approach for three reasons:
Number one, it shows how lazy front offices have become to accept the numbers at face value. Where is the mindset of innovation? You know, pigeonholing a starting pitcher as capable of going through the lineup only two times is such a defeatist attitude. No one should hold the title of staff ace and not be given the chance, or viewed as being incapable of navigating a lineup a third time.
Kevin Cash said he got more out of Snell than he ever expected. Think about that. What a negative statement and a way to set low expectations for your players.
Second, it ignores the context of the moment. Snell was specifically setting up hitters and using his pitches and locations in such a way to ensure that he could show hitters something different and be successful the third time through the lineup. I mean, I could see that watching the game on television. Why wasn’t that a critical factor influencing Cash’s decision?
And then third, pitchers and players are human beings. They cannot be entirely defined by data. Ignoring what is happening in real time—in this case, Blake Snell dominating and pitching the game of his life, and as I said, implementing the plan to get hitters out for the third time—is a critical factor that needs to influence the decision.
I believe the Rays bench was totally demoralized when Snell was taken out of the game. It sends the signal that players are pawns in some front office chess match. It’s incredibly unempowering and deflating.
Challenge the talent to succeed. Show belief in your players rather than constantly reminding them what the data says they can’t do, or at least what you the manager and front office think they can’t do.
Don’t misunderstand. Baseball is doing some great analytcs work in the areas of injury assessment and prevention and pitch design, just to mention a couple.
But, the current state of in-game strategy and pitcher management is not one of our shining moments.”