To Pull Or Not To Pull
Last night, Kevin Cash made the decision to pull Nate Karns from a game after he hung a curveball to Jose Abreu that permitted the large slugger to tie the game. Karns had sliced and diced his way through the Chicago lineup through the first 77 pitches before allowing a single to Tyler Saladino on a fastball low and away on the 78th pitch of the game. Karns had flashed one of his best curveballs of the season throughout the game, but hung the one to Abreu that he hit 400.5 feet out to dead center to tie the game.
Then, the fun began.
As the crowd and the umpiring crew were trying to figure out if Abreu had hit a clean home run, Cash came out and took the baseball from Karns. Again, Karns was at just 79 pitches and had faced his 21st batter of the game. There was plenty of Twitter discussion about the move, even after Xavier Cedeno retired Adam LaRoche because Steve Geltz gave up the lead on a long ball to the light-hitting Carlos Sanchez.
This was not the first or even the twentieth time Cash had used the hook earlier on a starting pitcher. In fact, it was the 27th time he has done so and that leads the league by quite a bit. That total does include the two games where Steve Geltz started the game before a gaggle of other relievers came in to finish the game. The math behind pulling a starting pitcher before he goes through a lineup for a third time is on Cash’s side. Batters hit for higher batting averages and slugging percentages with increased exposure to a starting pitcher.
Surprisingly, the math is also on Cash’s side in using the early hook. The Rays are the only team in the major leagues with a winning record in which they pull the starting pitcher when he faces 20 or fewer batters. Only the Rays, Astros, and Dodgers have played .500 baseball in such games (with teams that have 10 or more such games):
In 6 of the 12 losses the Rays have had in such games, the starting pitcher was pulled after the 4th inning.
April 27th: Karns was pulled after 87 pitches during the 5th inning after loading the bases with a walk to Jacoby Ellsbury. Brandon Gomes came in and walked Brett Gardner to break a scoreless game and allowed a home run in the next inning to Brian McCann that was the difference in the game.
May 3rd: Karns was pulled after just 66 pitches and five complete innings with a 2-0 lead. Brandon Gomes came in to start the 6th inning and put two of the first three runners on base. After Xavier Cedeno struck out Chris Davis, Steve Geltz came on and allowed a single to score a runner before ending the inning striking out Delmon Young. Geltz came back out for the 7th inning and allowed a leadoff single, retired the next two, and then walked Manny Machado before leaving the game. Both of those runners scored after Kevin Jepson allowed a double and a single to the first two batters he faced.
June 11th: Alex Colome was pulled from the game with one out in the 6th inning after throwing 80 pitches. Colome was pulled after allowing a one-out home run to Mike Trout. Brandon Gomes came in and completed the inning unscathed. Kevin Jepson allowed the first two runners in the 7th to reach base and Brad Boxberger permitted both to score.
June 22nd: Matt Andriese was lifted in the 6th inning after 70 pitches. His 70th pitch was a solo home run to Jose Bautista that broke a 3-3 tie. Ronald Belisario game in for relief and allowed the first four batters he faced to reach base as well as score.
June 30th: Erasmo Ramirez was lifted in the 6th inning after 84 pitches and allowing two of the first three runners to reach base that inning. Rene Rivera and Xavier Cedeno teamed up to strand both. Geltz came on with one out in the 7th and permitted two of the first three batters he faced to reach base before allowing a 3-run home run to Giovanny Urshela to give Cleveland a 4-0 lead.
July 20th: Matt Moore was lifted during the 5th inning after throwing 83 pitches. Moore was lifted after striking out the second batter of the inning bookmarking a triple by Cesar Hernandez. Alex Colome came in for relief and allowed Hernandez to score in a single, and then an error and two singles allowed another run to come home.
In those situations, the only game where one could truly be frustrated with a quick hook in the May 3rd game. Karns did not have command of his pitches in that final frame on April 27th, and pulling Colome, Andriese, and Ramirez when they were pulled is very defensible given their bad numbers with extra exposure. Finally, Matt Moore was on a pitch count in just his third start back.
In short, the quick hook is much ado about nothing. Cash has the math on his side, both in the matchup data and the outcome data. Perhaps with better talent in the bullpen, a few of the games could have gone the other way, but the results thus far speak for themselves.