The Process of Leaving Cobb In | The Process Report

The Process of Leaving Cobb In

It sure felt like the Rays snatched defeat from the jaws of victory last night. In what looked like a retro-Rays win with great pitching and just enough offense as the 9th inning began resulted in a 4-3 defeat in 10 innings.

As Alex Cobb came out to begin the 9th inning, his pitch count sat at 95 pitches. That, in and of itself, was not the issue as Cobb went 105 and 111 in his previous two outings and has gone as high as 116 this season. The bigger issue was that the lineup was going to flip over for a fourth time in the final frame. Or, where TTOP raised its ugly head.

TTOP = Time Through (the) Order Penalty; it is a simple concept that states that a pitcher’s job is progressively harder the longer they stay in the game and gets even more after the pitcher turns the lineup over for a second time. Kevin Cash knows the concept well, and spoke about his thoughts on it to Fangraphs’s David Laurila at the 2015 Baseball Winter Meetings:

“I pulled them quicker than anybody and probably took a lot of heat for it. Coming into the season, we felt that was the best chance for us to win. Looking back, when it works it works, and everybody is happy. When it doesn’t work, there are people who want to ask questions, which we understand.

“Times through the order, we value that — not to the extent of maybe what is brought up, but we do value it. We also value the eye test and how our pitchers are doing in that given start. We let Chris Archer stay out there plenty of times late in ballgames, and along with [Jake] Odorizzi, had we had Alex Cobb, had we had Drew Smyly, we probably would have been talking about different situations.“

This is one of those moments where it did not work, but not because the starter was pulled too early. In this case, the decision was made not to pull Cobb before he faced Shin-Soo Choo a fourth time in the game. In the Joe Maddon era, Maddon was apt to do this but nearly always had the reliever ready and pulled the pitcher as soon as they permitted someone to reach base.

In this case, Cash had Alex Colome ready in a two-run game, but did not bring him in after Cobb allowed the leadoff double to Joey Gallo to begin the frame. A similar situation occurred in Anaheim as Cash allowed Cobb to begin the 8th inning even though it meant facing the top of the order a fourth time. He struck out Cameron Maybin but allowed a ground-rule double to Kole Calhoun in the next at bat. With a 5-run lead, Cobb was left in to face Mike Trout a fourth time and walked him at which point Cobb was removed from the game for Brad Boxberger. Last night, such a cushion did not exist yet Cash allowed Cobb to stay in there to face Choo a fourth time.

The chart below shows Cobb’s wOBA each time through the order – both his career rate as well as his 2017 numbers – against the 2017 league numbers:

Cobb’s sample size for the fourth time through the order consists of just 78 batters faced for his entire career, and Choo was the 24th time this season that Cobb has been allowed to face a batter under such circumstances. A couple of factors that could have come into play with this decision. For one, Choo has not been good throughout his career in these situations. Coming into last night, he has had 180 plate appearances within this split and owns a .228/.322/.304 slash line for his career and had not had an extra base hit in that situation in nearly 60 plate appearances. Secondly, there is some research that suggests that groundball pitchers such as Cobb suffer less from TTOP than their flyball counterparts.

Choo had seen 10 pitches from Cobb heading into that plate appearance in the 9th inning and had not swung and missed at any of them. He hit a hard liner to begin the game to Adeiny Hechevarria, and his other two batted balls did not leave the infield as both resulted in groundball outs. That said, he had not swung and missed at any one of Cobb’s offerings on the evening. The most desirable outcome of that Choo plate appearance with the lead-off man at second in a two-run game would have been a strikeout so the run could not move 90 feet closer and increase his odds of scoring and it was unlikely Cobb was going to get that result given his inability to get Choo to swing and miss in the previous three at bats.

Alex Colome was up and ready in the pen and his swinging strike rate of 12.6% is nearly twice that of Cobb’s 6.8% on the season. Colome has not been overworked as he had pitched in just three of the games on the west coast road trip and threw a total of 35 pitches while also having the previous two days off. The decision to leave him in the pen and hope for Cobb to do something with Choo he had not done all game is puzzling to say the least.

When Cash allowed Cobb to stay in the game in his last outing, it was with the luxury of a 5-run cushion where one swing of the bat could not immediately change the game. In this case, he did so when one swing could change the course of the game despite the fact all members of the A-bullpen were available.

In his rookie season, Cash received criticism for pulling pitchers too early in games and relying on a sub-optimal bullpen. Fast forward two seasons, and now we are to the point where we are rightly criticizing him for leaving his pitcher in too long when the desired relievers were available. There is a happy medium between those two scenarios and it is one Cash needs to find if the team desires to play post-season baseball this season.

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