My first exposure to the 50/50/90 Rule came 100 years ago, when I was a wire-biter in Uncle Sam’s canoe club (Editor’s Note: He was an electrician in the Navy). For the unfamiliar, the colloquial Rule can be summed up this way: Anytime you have a 50-50 chance of getting something right, there's a 90% probability you'll guess wrong.
It’s a great warning to keep in mind if you’re a sloppy electrician like I was (don’t guess when handling something that can kill you!), but it’s also obviously wrong. It’s loaded with selection and confirmation bias. In truth, you only remember the times you get electrocuted.
Oddly, this also how we treat our managers, even though their job is considerably less life-and-death.
Look, I love a good roasting of the skipper as much as anybody. Debating and second guessing moves is second nature to baseball fans. It fill the lulls in the action, it fuels your passion, and it gives you something to do during the offseason. But usually, we only revisit a handful of moves over the course a season, because they are the only ones we remember — usually because they burned off our eyebrows.
This occasional series, Cash Considerations, is an attempt to remedy that.
We’ll be taking a look at key moves our favorite whipping boy, Kevin Cash, made during the games of a particular week.
The purpose of this series is not to defend Kevin Cash, nor is it to bury him. It’s an attempt to objectively weigh what value we actually get from the guy wearing that goofy pullover.
Two moments stood out from Opening Day: leaving in Chris Archer, and the Austin Pruitt Gambit.
Archer had been very sharp through six, having given up just two runs on a walk and four hits. And he was at only 85 pitches to start the frame, so no one should be second guessing him starting the inning. Singles to Castro and Headley to start things off complicated things, but he rebounded to strike out Aaron Judge on three pitches and induce pinch hitter Aaron Hicks to fly to right.
Problem: Archer was now over 100 pitches, and his location if not his stuff was starting to show it. Plus we were moving to the dreaded third time through the order. Was it time to pull the Rays ace? In the past, Cash had done just that, and taken some heat for it. So the decision to leave Archer in was curious.
Working in Archer’s favor: A 7-2 lead. Also, during this entire inning, even with the bases loaded, the win probability never dipped below 95% for the Rays. Had this been a closer game, Cash’s decision would have been a lot tougher. As it was, the Gardner at bat (which resulted in a non-run scoring single) had only a 0.52 leverage index and the Gary Sanchez at bat (which ended in the big bases loaded groundout to Beckham) had a leverage index of 1.16. Which is a little above average, but not considered high leverage, and wasn’t even the highest leverage Archer faced on the day. However, that out did result in the biggest drop in RE24 of any single at bat in the game, so no, you weren’t wrong that it was big out. It was effectively the nail in the coffin for the Yankees.
Because of the score, this non-move wasn’t as tough as I thought in real time. But it’s still not the move I would have made if I were manager. On Opening Day, with Gary Sanchez at the plate for the third time against Archie, I play it safe and go to a reliable pen guy. The possibility of a slam from a big power guy, no matter how remote, is enough to get me to pull the trigger.
But here’s the thing: that doesn’t make it a wrong move. It just makes it a different move. Kevin Cash has other variable to worry about besides getting this one out. He’s building the trust of his staff. He developing the confidence of his ace. And it’s long been my contention that 90% of a manager’s job has nothing to do with the moves he makes. And sometimes, even the moves are less about tactics as they are about managing people. This is a great example where a possibly less-than-optimal move was sending a message to his staff.
Verdict: This was fine.
The Austin Pruitt Gambit
Some of y’all went a little nuts on poor Austin, and I’m a lil disappointed in you. Because, come on, he came in with a five run lead in the ninth inning. If your manager doesn’t trust you with a five run lead, you don’t belong on the roster.
And as we’ve been over, he pitched just fine. A grounder the other way by Headley to beat the shift, an error by Longo on a likely double play ball, and a humpback liner that Beckham couldn’t corral. If Cedeno or Jumbo or Erasmo came in instead and gave up the same results, you’d be cursing the luck dragons, not the manager or Austin Pruitt.
And again, there was more to this move than just the results of this game. This was Pruitt’s debut, and it was Opening Day against the Yankees. If he comes in and retires the side (which seems pretty darn likely with a little better luck), his confidence is sky high.
Is that worth the risk? First, let’s be clear what we’re risking, because it certainly wasn’t what happened on Sunday, since he was fine. No, the risk was that Pruitt would melt down on the big stage. And I’d say a five run lead is an okay time to find that out. Especially when you're prepared with your closer if things start to go South, which Cash was.
Plus — and I feel like I've said this before — Pruitt didn’t melt down. He was actually fine. And we won the game. So what were you upset about?
Verdict: Good move that didn’t quite work out because baseball.
Nitpicking Game Two
Game #2 was just...well, a big #2, and there's not a lot to pick apart. But does that deter us armchair managers? No, I say!
KK in the Two-Hole
This is not a good lineup against left handed pitching right now. That doesn't mean you don't put your best foot forward, and KK in the 2-hole might not be that.
This was most evident in the 5th inning, when the Rays looked to finally get something going against Sabathia. Down 3-0 and with two outs, Peter Bourjos drew a walk and Steven Souza managed a hustling infield singled, bringing Kevin Kiermaier to the plate. At 1.83, it was the highest leverage at bat anyone would get in a fairly low leverage game.
KK had managed only groundouts to that point after falling behind in the count both times. This time, he was aggressive, pouncing on the first pitch.
This was the pitch:
And he tapped weakly back to the mound.
Would a better matchup in the two-hole have changed the game? Who the heck knows? But it certainly wouldn’t have hurt.
Counterpoint: The Rays don’t have a lot of options against lefties right now, and KK has to bat somewhere. Would you rather have Robertson batting second in his first major league game? Or Norris, who looked hopeless at the plate all day? Maybe you can make a case for Bourjos, but the day your best alternative is Peter Boojit, your case is weak.
Also, it’s early, and it’s one game. Let’s see how Kiermaier does over the long haul in this role.
Verdict: An ugly incomplete.
Unimaginative Pinch Hitting in the Eighth
We’re gonna wrap this up really quickly. With righty Jonathan Holder in to hold a 5-0 lead, Cash finally got to use the left handed bats. He sent up Dickerson for Bourjos to lead off the inning, which was fine, really, even if he did strike out.
Then some goofy stuff happened, and the Rays loaded the bases. Next thing you know, Dellin Betances is pitching with one out, with Weeks due up and Beckham in the hole, and season MVP Logan Morrison getting loose.
You can make a case for pinch hitting for either guy, and there really is no right or wrong answer. Cash felt Weeks had a decent chance at running into one, and he did have some good at bats during the game even if he had an oh-fer to show for it. So when Weeks K’d, and then Morrison hit for Beckham and tapped to first, the process made complete sense. Score one for the skipper.
But could he have been more aggressive?
Remember, you still have Mallex Smith on the bench.
No, you aren’t going to send up Smith with the bases loaded. But what if Smith pinch hits for Bourjos earlier instead of Dickerson? Let him drag a bunt and get things started. Then you have both Dickerson and Morrison available to hit for Weeks and Beckham later. Yes, you’ve depleted your bench, but it would have been a decent play. Especially since Cash was willing to give up the DH anyway.
No, it didn’t cost us the game. But it was an avenue a more aggressive and imaginative skipper might have tried.
Verdict: By the book, but boring.
And that’s it for your introduction to Cash Considerations. If you see a point in a game 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.