By Tony Massarotti, 98.5 The Sports Hub
Let’s do this in two parts because, frankly, that’s what the situation calls for.
First, Mookie Betts was, is and always will be a terrific player. Nobody ever said he wasn’t. And before anyone suggests otherwise, it says something that perhaps his two most memorable contributions in the 2020 World Series came on plays made with speed, instinct and skill that are rarely seen in the game anymore.
Last night, in the clinching game of the 2020 World Series – and just as he did in Game 1 – Betts effectively stole the Dodger a run with his legs. The game was tied at 1 when Betts ran on contact as Corey Seager hit a bouncer to a drawn-in infield, making the kind of play for which there are no analytics.
Watch it here – and be sure to watch the replay from the camera high above the third-base side, where you can see all of Betts’ baserunning talents on display: the ability to read the play and get a great jump, instinct, speed and a great slide.
Obviously, there aren’t many players in baseball who can make that play at all. There are even fewer who can make the play and hit for both average and power while playing terrific defense. We can debate whether Mookie is one of the greatest players of all-time and the final analysis will come in the full body of work, when his career is done. But there isn’t another guy on the Dodgers who can do all of the things he does.
Simply put, Mookie is a baseball player – a real, complete baseball player. Which brings us to …
Blake Snell, Kevin Cash and the insufferable nature of the present-day game.
Snell was brilliant last night. He is one the best pitchers in baseball. He had struck out nine Dodgers through the first five innings and had allowed one hit when No. 9 hitter and catcher Austin Barnes came to bat in the sixth. On a 1-1 pitch – and on just Snell’s 73rd offering of the night – Barnes punched a single to center.
Rays manager Kevin Cash came out of the dugout and took the ball out Snell’s hands and handed his team’s fortunes to reliever Nick Anderson, who promptly ended his Tampa Bay’s season.
Hindsight? Maybe yes. But we all know the story here. The Rays didn’t want Snell to face the Dodgers lineup for a third time, so they pulled him, which is asinine. In 2018, when Snell won the American League Cy Young Award, he pitched six or more innings on 19 occasions and the Rays went 16-3. Individually, he was 16-1, the only loss a 1-0 defeat to the Atlanta Braves. Somewhere between then and now, the Rays decided that Snell couldn’t make it a third time through any lineup because the analytics told them as much.
Snell is 27. He is the second highest-paid player on the Rays behind outfielder Kevin Kiermaier – and he is their highest-paid pitcher. The top three hitters in the Dodgers lineup – Betts, Seager and Justin Turner – were due up when Cash made the switch. To that point, those three hitters were 0-for-6 with six strikeouts against Snell. He had completely dominated them.
And then there is this: Anderson had allowed at least one run in his five previous appearances, including Games 2 and 4 of the World Series. The streak now stands at six. Apparently, those analytics didn’t mean anything to either Cash or the Rays.
In the end, here’s the conclusion: the reason we love sports is because of the confrontations that takes place on the field or in the arena. We generally don’t watch them to see how they’re managed or coached. The strategy is certainly part of the discussion, but we’ve reached a tipping point, especially in baseball, where the players just aren’t allowed to compete anymore. They’re told what to do and how to do it, which puts major restrictions and boundaries – many of them artificial – on the performers.
There were no analytics for what Mookie Betts did on third base last night. The player just played.
We’ll never know what might have happened if Blake Snell were just allowed to pitch.
You can hear Tony Massarotti weekdays from 2-6 p.m. EST on the Felger & Massarotti program. Follow him on Twitter @TonyMassarotti.