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MLB's Rays called 'bad for baseball' over bizarre pitching strategy

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Ask any video gamer what the best way to consistently win at online multiplayer is and he’ll tell you that besides skill, it’s knowing the game inside and out and finding the best ways to hack and exploit the system without outright cheating and getting banned.

And ask anyone sitting at his desk with “YOU DIED” staring at him on his computer screen after having just lost a match what he thinks, and the part you can print in a family publication after sorting out the torrent of expletives reduces to “dirty cheater.”

The Tampa Bay Rays, playing the Los Angeles Angels over the weekend, just found a new way to hack baseball like they’re playing Fortnite out there.

For over a century, big league baseball has operated on the principle that a pitcher starts the game and pitches until he’s tired, ineffective or (more recently) reaches a predetermined pitch count around the sixth or seventh inning, then at least one relief pitcher takes over and finishes the game.

Baseball’s statistics are even built on this premise; the rules governing wins, holds and saves — the three fundamental counting stats on the mound — assume a starter, a setup man and a closer.

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Tampa Bay blew that up, sending out reliever Sergio Romo to start the games Saturday and Sunday. Before the weekend, he had 588 relief appearances and no starts.

https://twitter.com/Th3BaseballLif3/status/998552955736424448

But he was not in there to work six innings and yield the ball. He yielded the ball in the second inning of each game to the “real” starter, Ryan Yarbrough on Saturday and Matt Andriese (part of a pitcher-by-committee “bullpen game”) on Sunday.

Yarbrough went six and a third and got the win, invoking the rule in which the pitcher who pitches the fifth inning when the starter is chased from the game is the winner; Yarbrough inherited a 4-0 lead in the second inning of a game the Rays won 5-3.

Do you think the Rays' strategy is "bad for baseball"?

Andriese wasn’t so fortunate; the Angels won Sunday’s contest 5-2.

All of this was made possible by a flaw in the Angels’ lineup design. Due to a combination of injury, a quirk in their talent pool and the probability inherent in human genetics, the first six hitters in LA’s lineup were right-handed.

So Tampa Bay put a flamethrowing right-hander out on the mound in the first inning to get those right-handers out and gain the side benefit that the “starter” would only have to face them twice rather than three times over the course of the game. It is a statistical truth that the more chances a hitter has to see a pitcher in a given game, the more likely he becomes to get a hit off him due to a combination of familiarity and pitcher fatigue on the third go-round and beyond.

This is even more pronounced by the fact that Yarbrough is left-handed.

The Angels were not pleased with the strategy. LA’s Zack Cozart was, in essence, that vanquished Fortnite player complaining about hacking when the tactic that beat him was within the rules.

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“It was weird … It’s bad for baseball, in my opinion,” Cozart said, according to Fabian Ardaya of The Athletic.

“It’s spring training,” he said. “That’s the best way to explain it.”

And sure, the comparison to spring training — or possibly the All-Star Game, although Tampa Bay’s patchwork lineup is hardly worthy of the game itself — is apt.

But bad for baseball? If you get beaten by an innovative tactic, do as the gamers do and “git gud.” Don’t whine about hacks.

Shaking up decades-old dinosaur strategies only makes sports better, not just baseball.

After all, the NBA pulled itself out of the Dark Ages once guys like Mike D’Antoni and Steve Kerr learned how to use the 3-pointer as a devastating offensive weapon that both increases scoring and helps to ensure that the better shooting team wins a higher percentage of the games; not for nothing are the two men facing off in the Western Conference Finals this year.

The NFL’s fourth-down tactics would be completely alien not just to Curly Lambeau and Vince Lombardi; even Bill Cowher and Barry Switzer, who coached across from each other in 1996 at Super Bowl XXX, would have to get a heck of a crash course in going-for-it math that is common knowledge in football today.

And baseball? Baseball is the sport that invented the analytics movement. They made a movie about it and cast Brad Pitt in the leading role. Now some are complaining about innovation ruining the game?

The Rays, 22-23 and just three games behind the Angels for the second wild-card, are doing whatever it takes to squeeze the best possible season out of their talent.

If they invent a whole new way to win and revolutionize baseball strategy in the process, that’s not ruining baseball; with declining fan interest and with baseball’s reputation as a stodgy, tradition-bound game, they might just save it.

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Boston born and raised, Fox has been writing about sports since 2011. He covered ESPN Friday Night Fights shows for The Boxing Tribune before shifting focus and launching Pace and Space, the home of "Smart NBA Talk for Smart NBA Fans", in 2015. He can often be found advocating for various NBA teams to pack up and move to his adopted hometown of Seattle.
Boston born and raised, Fox has been writing about sports since 2011. He covered ESPN Friday Night Fights shows for The Boxing Tribune before shifting focus and launching Pace and Space, the home of "Smart NBA Talk for Smart NBA Fans", in 2015. He can often be found advocating for various NBA teams to pack up and move to his adopted hometown of Seattle.
Birthplace
Boston, Massachusetts
Education
Bachelor of Science in Accounting from University of Nevada-Reno
Location
Seattle, Washington
Languages Spoken
English
Topics of Expertise
Sports




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