Cash’s Handling of the Starters
A few days ago, Kevin Cash pulled Nathan Karns after 66 pitches because the skipper was hesitant to let his young pitcher go through the lineup for a third time. The decision did not work out well for him. Last night must have initially felt like Groundhog Day, but the outcome was different. What changed?
That Sunday, Cash did not let Karns come out to start the 6th inning, despite the fact Karns’s pitch count was low and he had thrown 46 of his 66 pitches for strikes. Joe Maddon would frequently employ the strategy where he would let a pitcher come out to start the inning, but would pull the pitcher as soon as he permitted a baserunner. Cash differed yet again from his predecessor by deciding to give the final 12 outs to the bullpen and managed the 6th inning like it was the 8th inning despite holding a 2-0 lead. The plan worked out poorly and the Rays dropped the series.
Karns, for his part, was accepting of the strategy.
“This was a plan or approach we had coming in this game,” Karns said. “That’s a call they made, and I’m cool with it. More of a philosophy approach. We had some numbers showing the third time around, hitters usually do better against starters, so I’m assuming that was something that played into it.”
Karns is correct in that batters do better against starters the third time through, and in the case of Karns, they do much better. This season, Karns has held the opposition to a .243 wOBA the first time through a lineup, a .293 wOBA the second time through, and .385 wOBA after that. The sample sizes in all of that are not significant, but it is not surprising that a primarily two-pitch pitcher would struggle with extra exposure through a lineup.
Cash, for his part, owned up to questionable execution of the strategy.
“We factor in a lot of things, and turning over this (Orioles) lineup is extremely difficult. There are some good hitters in this lineup,” he said. “Hopefully (Karns) looks at it as a confidence boost because he did everything that was asked of him. We can probably sit and second-guess a lot of situations, and again, that’s on me. Could he have gone back out? Without a doubt he could have.”
The same situation presented itself in last night’s victory against Boston. Alex Colome needed 69 pitches to pass through the Boston lineup two times, but Cash left him in to face Mookie Betts a third time with two outs in the bottom of the fifth. Colome needed five pitches to retire Betts on a liner to Kevin Kiermaier. Cash let Colome come back out for the 6th inning at 74 pitches to face the heart of the Boston lineup, but was yanked after allowing a single to Dustin Pedroia on the fifth pitch of the at bat. Cash then managed the rest of that inning as he had Sunday, but the bullpen was able to strand Pedroia on the bases and avoided the late inning damage that plagued them on Sunday.
On the season, Cash has allowed his starters to face the second-fewest number of batters a third or a fourth time. Only Buck Showalter’s Orioles starters have faced fewer batters a third or fourth time, and that is because they’ve pitched three fewer games on the season. The long-term concern is the workload the bullpen is taking on early this season, but Jake McGee will be back soon to at least offer some workload relief, but it would not be surprising to see Silverman and Cash keep the Delta Connection shuttle between RDU and TPA a bit busy this summer.
It was refreshing to see Cash adjust his strategy after learning from the mistakes of a few days ago and not being married to a rigid process on a nightly basis. While the process of pulling pitchers on low pitch counts to avoid a third trip through the lineup may be frustrating to fans, it is tough to argue with the results. As the Rays take the field to host the Rangers, the starters have a combined 3.19 ERA to lead all of the American League. Compare that to the Baltimore starters whose staff ERA is 1.35 runs higher at 4.54.