MLB Postseason Pitch Counts Continue to Decline Amid Strategy Changes: Data Viz

Barry M. Bloom and Lev Akabas
·2 min read

ARLINGTON, Tex. – When Tampa Bay Rays manager Kevin Cash let starter Tyler Glasnow throw a postseason high 112 pitches in Tuesday night’s Game 1 World Series, 8-3, loss to the Los Angeles Dodgers, it was against the norm for their ballclub.

Glasnow lasted into the fifth and when he walked the first two Dodgers of the inning, maybe it was time to go. Yet, Cash let Glasnow remain for three more batters as the Dodgers scored five runs and the game got out of hand.

Take note that in the last two games of a National League Championship Series, which the Rays won despite a furious comeback from a 3-0 deficit by the Houston Astros, Cash did the same thing with varying results.

In Game 7, he yanked Charlie Morton at 66 pitches with two on and two out in the sixth, the Rays leading, 3-0, and Michael Brantley coming to the plate. Two relievers held on for a series-deciding, 4-2 win.

In Game 6, Cash pulled Blake Snell at 82 pitches after allowing the first two runners to reach base in the fifth inning and the Rays leading, 1-0. The Rays bullpen blew that one in a 7-4 loss as the Astros scored four times in the inning after Snell left.

Snell is scheduled to start Game 2 of the World Series against the Dodgers Wednesday night at Globe Life Field.

Neither pitcher was happy to be pulled so early from their respective starts, but a shorter leash for starters has been the trend in the MLB in recent years, and even more so in 2020.

Due to concerns over pitcher fatigue and hitters becoming familiar with pitchers over the course of a game, starters are throwing dramatically fewer pitches than they did just a decade ago. In 2010, 49.7% of starts were 100-pitch outings. This season, just 14.0% of starters hit a triple digit pitch count.

Additionally, there has been a consistent strategy by managers over that time span to rely more on their bullpens in the playoffs.

“Without getting too in depth, it was the third time through,” Cash said after the game on Saturday night in San Diego. “We value that. We value our process. Michael Brantley is as talented a hitter as there is in Major League Baseball. If you give him too many looks he’s going to get you. The leverage in the game might not have been any higher with first and third. We had all the confidence in the world that him not seeing Nick [Anderson] the first two times was a better matchup.

“It’s no discredit to anybody. It’s just what we do. We believe in our process and we’re going to continue doing that.”

Sometimes these moves work. Three times in the past four games for Cash they didn’t.

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