Before we get into this week’s Cash Considerations, a word about leverage index, which we’ll use a lot here. LI is an attempt to quantify the pressure of any given baseball situation, or how “on the line” a game is. That’s why it’s a good manager-second-guessing guide: we want to know about his decisions when the game matters.
If you want a deeper dive into the Tom Tango version we use, go here or here. But all you really need to know is 1.0 an average LI, and they generally get grouped into three buckets: Low 0-0.85; Medium 0.85-2.0; and High 2.0+. And yes, it can get considerably higher than 2.0 in very stressful situations.
End of school. On to the games.
This was a fairly easy game to manage. The down and dirty:
Early Hook for Cobb
When Alex Cobb was pulled in the sixth after giving up two-out single to Matt Holliday, he was only at 92 pitches. He was still in low leverage territory for Ellsbury (0.77), and the Rays’ Win Expectancy had hardly budged, dropping from 91% to 89.8%. He had plenty left in the tank. Was it too hasty?
No, it was not.
Different pitchers can and should be handled differently. Cobb is not Archer right now. It’s good to get him out on high note. Plus, he had labored more noticeable from the stretch throughout the game. And to paraphrase Cash from his postgame presser (since I didn’t write it down), it’s not just the pitch count, it’s how you get there. Cobb pitched a good game, and it’s perfectly fine to pat him on the butt and get him out while the gettin’ is good.
Verdict: Good job
Red Light/Green Light
Back in the olden days when I was a boy, managers took more control of the running game. Now? For better or worse, not so much. There’s good and bad to this. And as fun as it was watching the second inning, when Mallex swiped second, and then Derek Norris (?!?!) did the same, it was less fun when Kevin Kiermaier got nabbed trying to steal, taking the bat out of Evan Longoria’s hands. (For a great discussion on the break-even point on this decision, check out the comments between JT Morgan and Brian Andersbot in this post.)
You’d like to think the manager has talks with his players about being smart, and I’m sure ours does regularly. But you also know that KK gonna KK. The overboogie is part of the package that comes with those dreamy green eyes and those otherworldly catches and throws.
As for Derek Norris running? Yeah, that was totally on his own too. Said Cash after the game: “I don’t know what he was doing, but I’m glad it worked.”
Some things are out of the manager’s hands. Players are gonna play, and it’s probably a good thing they have at least some freedom to do so. That said, you can bet there is quite a bit of behind the scenes talks about not being stupid about it that we’ll never be privy to. And that’s also very okay.
April 6: Rays 2, Blue Jays 5
Nothing fun happened on the managerial second-guessing front. Cash did send Blake Snell out for the seventh inning when he was at 90 pitches and struggling, but this was the right move. We were down 4-0 (and would fall behind 5-0 in Snell’s final frame), and Stroman was rolling. Save the bullpen bullets for another day.
April 7: Rays 10, Blue Jays 8
After a couple “meh” games, we get our first Cash Considerationpalooza! This game could not have been fun have to manage. There were times I felt sorry for Kevin. But this is why he is paid the big-relative-to-you-and-me-but-peanuts-relative-to-other-managers bucks. So let’s get our fan on!
Another Weak Lineup vs LHP
KK still in the 2-hole. Daniel Robertson at DH again. Peter Bourjos with another start in left. Man. Don’t we have any better -- I’m sorry, what? We scored five in the first, and Liriano only recorded one out while giving up three hits and four walks? Huh. That’s odd.
Oh, but did you see who he got out? Kevin Kiermaier. Because of course he did. Fire Cash!
But seriously. This lineup still isn’t good against lefties, but sometimes good stuff happens anyway because baseball. Don’t get me wrong; I do love me some Rickie Weeks Jr., and it was cool to see D-Rob get his first big league hit.
But don’t be fooled. This was mostly about Francisco Liriano being bad, and it will be nice when Rasmus, Duffy, and Ramos get healthy.
Verdict: Broken Clock Fallacy
A Word of Caution
Before we get into the suspect bullpen moves, some that worked out and some that did not, take a look at this win probability chart:
That’s the picture of a sloppy, ugly baseball game.
Yeah, it was pretty fun to watch, especially since the good guys won, but it’s also one that will drive a manager to Tums. So as you gleefully dog pile on Kevin, try to remember that while he’s managing ugly games, the skipper has to balance winning this one with figuring out how to we’re going to survive the next one.
Verdict: Sometimes, you make the suboptimal play in April.
Pushing Matt Andriese
All that said, I didn’t like sending Matty Ace back out for the fifth. After getting roughed up in the first, he settled in before hitting another bad patch in the fourth. He looked kinda done. But then there he was, in platform double-suede, out to pitch the top of the fifth.
Yes, he was only at 79 pitches to start the fifth, but some of the previous innings had been pretty stressful, especially the 1.58 LI strikeout of Devon Travis to get out of a first and second situation in the fourth. And in a game like this, you already know you’re going to use your pen a lot. Plus, let’s remember who he is: the five starter. He’s not a cornerstone of this rotation; he’s a swingman.
So maybe just go with Pruitt to start the fifth with the bases empty? Maybe give the rookie the wiggle room of a three run lead, instead of the stressed out one run lead he’d have when AP came on for the sixth? Maybe?
Cash did make the right call in getting Jumbo Diaz into the game after two hitters and one run had come across, and Jumbo did a solid job. And it’s true that the defense let both pitchers down this inning (Souza’s dropped fly and Norris giving up a passed ball). But the thought process didn’t put them in the best position to succeed, and the Rays were lucky to come out of this with a 6-5 lead intact.
Verdict: Less Than Good
The Austin Pruitt Gambit - Part Deux
Hey, remember how I kept saying that the usage of Austin Pruitt was fine on opening day? Yeah, well, this time? Not so much.
Look, you’re going to burn up a lot of your pen this game, which means you’re probably going to be using Pruitt at some point. But the odds of a sloppy game like this staying 6-5 was pretty slim. So I’d really prefer you not use him in one run situation. Wait until we’re up four or down four, because one of those is probably coming if you just wait an inning or two. Maybe both! See, Kevin, just because you missed the chance to make the better Pruitt play in the fourth, doesn’t mean you should try to sneak him past us now. Let someone else do the heavy lifting. Xavier Cedeno, say, with the bases empty to start an inning. That would have been cool.
The leverage the young Mr. Pruitt faced in the sixth? A solid mid-leverage 1.45 for the Saltalamacchia single, a high-lev 2.45 on the Kevin Pillar flyout, 1.95 during the Devon Travis walk (that one really hurt), a high-lev 3.29 for the Josh Donaldson walk to load the bases, and an intense 4.34 when he K’d Joey Bats (huge!).
I like Pruitt. He wasn’t as bad as his line, and his manager did him no favors. But he hasn’t proven himself enough to be thrust into these situations yet.
The bad Pruitt play also led to Cedeno being used in a tough spot, with the bases juiced instead of with a clean slate. Which also meant you were probably only going to get one out from him in a game where our relievers were going to be stretched thin anyway.
Oh, and in case you forgot, Xavier Cedeno throws bendy things. He literally doesn’t throw a fastball. And he depends on teams to chase pitches. Which the Blue Jays generally don’t.
This -- this could be bad guys!
Two high leverage walks later, and yep, it was bad! The lead was gone.
Verdict: Somebody Done Somebody Wrong Song
Stretching Farq & Colome
Thankfully, the Rays rallied and put Cedeno in line for the win, because pitcher wins are the best stat in baseball. My initial thought from there was that we’d see Danny Farquhar, Tommy Hunter, and Alex Colome for an inning each to try and close it out. Cash went a different route, sending Farq back after a successful seventh to face the top of the order in the eighth.
And yeah, Danny Boy gave up a loud solo shot to Donaldson to start the eighth. But this was really fine. Tommy Hunter is perfectly capable of giving up the same solo dinger. Farq got back at it, and he pitched well — the one bomb notwithstanding — before Colome came on for the four-out save.
These two moves are maybe not the best way to go about winning this particular game. It’s not how you’d manage a game is September or October. But this is April. There are a lot of games to play. This sets us up better for Game 2 of the series. It keeps Ramirez and Hunter fresh, and they would be needed given how stretched out everybody else was.
Verdict: Context Matters, People
April 8: Rays 3, Jays 2, Cash 0
This was a tight game, and Cash didn’t make a lot of mistakes. But the ones he made could have been very costly.
Mallex picks the baseball gods’ pocket
We are not big fans of the sacrifice bunt as a rule. In fact, we’re pretty big proponents of the “Don’t bunt, hit a dinger” school of baseball. But with Derek Norris and Mallex Smith on first and second, none out, and Tim Beckham at the plate in the sixth inning of a 0-0 pitchers’ duel, we were ready for some small ball. Especially with Corey Dickerson up next. Was it a no-brainer? No. But TBex had been struggling with the bat all year, and there was a decent chance him swinging away was not going to end well.
And it almost didn’t, when Bex rolled over one and hit a medium-speed grounder to Donaldson at third.
Thankfully, Mallex Smith is not medium speed, and made one of the better legal and legit double play breakups you’ll ever see, forcing Travis to throw awkwardly and allowing Beckham to beat the throw to first.
Yay Mallex! Norris would score on a Dickerson single to center, so all was forgiven. However, the astute manager critic will note that a successful bunt would have made that a two run single instead of just one.
Counterpoint: Did you see Bex bunt in the ninth? It was...well, it was less than stellar. And while he did drop down a pretty one in the eleventh, I think it’s fair to say that bunting is not Timmy’s forte, which is something Cash would be more familiar with than you and me.
But still! Even if it’s a 50/50 shot at getting it down and advancing the runners, I like those odds better than the chances of Beckham driving in the runs himself right now. Which is kind of sad to admit.
Verdict: Not quite a slam dunk, but come on!
Cash hangs Archer out to dry
Chris Archer was phenomenal for six innings. In fact, the biggest worry us armchair managers were faced with up to that point was whether Cash would let him finish off his CGSO masterpiece.
Then the seventh came, and things got dicey. But our ace got out of it, and things were gonna be okay. It was still a tie game. He gave us the length we needed. Hunter and Erasmo were rested, Colome could go an inning probably, and maybe Cedeno for a couple hitters if necessary. It was gonna be tight, but with Archie pushing 100 pitches and well into the third time through the order, not to mention that was losing some of his command if not stuff, it was time to hand it over to the pen.
But for the eighth inning, there he was, like disco lemonade, out on the hill again. And I can’t even.
He got ahead of Martin 0-2, only to walk him. Then, after a mound visit, Justin Smoak singled to right in a 2.89 LI at bat, sending Martin to third.
And still Archer stayed in.
Yes, our ace responded like an ace, getting Pillar to foul out to Norris, and striking out Travis is a big 4.13 hi-lev at bat. But when he faced Donaldson for the fourth time, the baseball gods decided they had had enough of Cash’s shenanigans. Donaldson’s single to center put the Jays up and finally chased Archer for Tommy Hunter.
And then it gets stranger. Hunter K’d Joey Bats on three pitches...and then he hit the showers, despite the fact that the Rays tied up the game in the bottom of the inning and reset the game situation to exactly as it was in the top of the inning prior.
Now, at risk of going all Martin Fennelly on y’all:
Tommy Hunter pitched to one batter.
He added no length to the pen, which is the only sensible reason for Cash to hold him in reserve In the first place.
So he could have started the inning.
Or come in at any point.
And nothing changes going forward.
So what exactly was Cash saving him for?
Just to bail out Archer when he finally gave up the lead?
Verdict: Wait. We won this one? Are you sure?
That Bex popped up the bunt in the 9th with Mallex on first and nobody out wasn’t Cash’s fault. In general, bunting in that situation is the ultimate 50/50/90 play. So yeah, that it didn’t work wasn’t surprising, but it also wasn’t really the problem. The decision was just...odd? I mean, why not just let him steal?
Now, the decision to bunt with Mallex on second and no outs in the eleventh? That was a little outside the box, and in a good way. Getting the speedy Smith to third with less than two out, where he could score so many different ways, was a smart move. It forced Gibbons’ hand, and it set up the eventual walkoff walk by Miller.
Verdict: Kevin Cash is teasing us
April 9: Rays 7, Jays 2
After butchering the last game, it was nice to see Cash get back at it and have a great game. Proud of the way he stood up for his players in a chippy game. And giving Souza the 3-run bomb sign in the third? Pure genius. Good job.
Alex Colome is too much beast for his own good
With the Rays up 5-2 in the bottom of the eighth, Alex Colome was warming. In a vacuum, this made sense of course. He’s the closer. But I’m really thankful the Rays scored two more, because this would have been his third game in a row, and fourth in five days.
Yes, Colome is a member of the equine family. He would have taken the ball, and I’m sure everything would have been fine. But it’s only April. Let’s pace ourselves a little.
Verdict: Woah, Nellie!
April 10: Rays 1, Yankees 8
What could Kevin Cash have done to derail Michael Pineda? Well, he could have done what Martha Stewart did, only way earlier.
It's top of the seventh here at yankee stadium and the Yankees are pitching a perfect game versus the Tampa rays— Martha Stewart (@MarthaStewart) April 10, 2017
He could have written his own name on the lineup card and blocked some balls. Though honestly, that wouldn’t have helped the hitting, since he’d still be Kevin Cash.
He could have built a time machine and swapped out the April 10th version of Pineda with the one the Rays faced at the Trop last week.
Other than that? Not a damn thing. We were losing this one. So any of you whining about the following are dead wrong.
The Austin Pruitt Gambit Re-Redux
Sure, Cash could have sent a better pitcher to the mound to relieve Cobb. That just means we lose 4-1 instead of 8-1, and we miss another chance for Pruitt to prove himself (or not) as a major league pitcher.
Also, the Rays have something like 69 games in a row starting Wednesday. So why not give the good relievers an extra day’s rest going into it? We’re going to need all of them.
Verdict: You got to know when to fold ‘em
That’s it for the first full week of Cash Considerations. If you see any sketchy moves you’d like us to take a look at in a future game, tweet #CashConsiderations with a thumbnail sketch of why you think our manager is an idiot to @draysbay and we’ll see what we can do.