Robbie Ray vs. Yordan Alvarez was part of the Mariners ‘plan’, but here’s why the game was likely to backfire

The Seattle Mariners scored in the top of the first inning of Game 1 of their ALDS game against the top-seeded Houston Astros. They scored three times early in the second and held a 6-2 lead midway through the fourth. It was 7-3 going into the eighth. It was still 7-5 with two out in the ninth inning. And yet, the Mariners still lost.

They controlled the entire game until there were two outs in the ninth, even as the Astros’ stellar offense faded. The Mariners still really should have won. Just look at the win expectation chart:

It’s about as steep as you’ll ever see. From the top of a cliff, indeed.

What happened? Well, loading in the Astros offense helped. Yordan Alvarez being the second scariest hitter – after Aaron Judge – on the planet also helped. But the Mariners’ decision-making was quite suspect.

Alvarez’s home run came off Robbie Ray, a starting pitcher who was called up in relief just to face Alvarez.

So why did the Mariners make this decision? Let’s break things down.

Reasons to hire Ray

1. He is left-handed. It is more or less that. Ray, the reigning AL Cy Young Award winner, has been much tougher on lefties throughout his career and has kept them to a .212/.260/.387 line this season. He gave up just four home runs to his left-handed colleagues, although that was only on 137 at-bats.

If the Mariners really wanted the peloton advantage over Alvarez, it was Ray or Matthew Boyd. There are no other lefties on the list. All of the Mariners’ top relievers are right-handed. Ray started Game 2 of the Wild Card series against the Blue Jays and was called up again on Tuesday.

Sure, have you ever seen the Alvarez splits? It basically hits both sides equally. Here are his career slants:

vs LHP: 0.303/0.381/0.582
vs HPR: 0.292/0.386/0.594

He hit .321 against lefties this season!

If you care about head-to-head history, Alvarez was 1 of 3 with two walks against Ray before this one. It’s too small a sample to really matter, but it wasn’t like there were a whole lot of success stories for Ray entering the game.

Reasons not to bring Ray

1. He holds. Starting pitchers are used to longer, longer warm-ups. All players are creatures of habit anyway, so bringing in a relief starter is always risky. Some handle it well, but you never know until you try it. Ray has only appeared in relief four times in his entire career, including three in his rookie year in 2014 and one in 2020. That’s it.

2. He gives up a lot of home runs. Ray was second in the AL in homers allowed this season with 32. Even last year, when he won the Cy Young, he was fourth with 33 allowed. Alvarez is one of the best power hitters in baseball and exactly one play beats you: a home run.

3. He hasn’t pitched well lately. Ray has had a 5.27 ERA with eight homers allowed in 27 1/3 innings in his last five starts in the regular season. He then coughed up four runs on six hits, including two home runs, in three innings in Game 2 of the Wild Card series.

4. The Astros owned it. Ray has made three starts against the Astros this season. He allowed 23 hits and 13 earned runs in 10 2/3 innings (10.97 ERA, 2.81 WHIP). Astros hitters reduced .442/.509/.865 against him. Small sample? I suppose. Nothing is really encouraging here, however.

5. He’s a fast pitcher. Ray throws fastballs almost 40% of the time. It is his most frequent offering. Alvarez was the second most valuable hitter against fastballs this season (behind Judge, unsurprisingly), hitting .355 with a .752 hitting against the radiator. The circuit came on a sinker, but I’m just talking about the thought process to get Ray in.

On the face of it, I have five good reasons not to use Ray when there was only one – albeit flimsy – reason to use him. It was a no-brainer to avoid pulling the trigger on the move.

“We talked about it on the show,” Mariners manager Scott Servais said after the game. “We talked about it before the game today. I watched it in the seventh inning and said, ‘Hey, it could happen. So that was the current plan. In the end, you have a plan, we have yet to execute it. ”

It’s true. That was the plan and they had to execute the plan better. But it’s also pretty easy to say it was a bad plan.

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