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


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

They controlled the entire game until there were two outs in the ninth, even if the Astros‘ stellar offense was chipping away. The Mariners still really should have won. Just look at the win expectancy chart: 

That’s about as steep as you’ll ever see it. Off a cliff, indeed. 

What happened? Well, the Astros’ offense being loaded helped. Yordan Alvarez being the second-scariest hitter — after Aaron Judge — on the planet helped, too. But he Mariners’ decision making was pretty suspect.

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

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

Reasons to bring in Ray

1. He’s left-handed. That’s about it. Ray, the reigning AL Cy Young Award winner, has been much harder on lefties throughout his career and held them to a .212/.260/.387 line this season. He only gave up four home runs to fellow lefties, though it was only in 137 at-bats. 

If the Mariners really wanted the platoon advantage on Alvarez, it was either Ray or Matthew Boyd. There are no other lefties on the roster. All the Mariners’ best relievers are right handed. Ray started Game 2 of the Wild Card Series against the Blue Jays and was still called upon Tuesday.

Of course, have you ever seen Alvarez’s splits? He basically hits both sides the same. Here are his career slash lines: 

vs. LHP: .303/.381/.582
vs. RHP: .292/.386/.594

He hit .321 against southpaws this season! 

If you care about head-to-head history, Alvarez was 1 for 3 with two walks against Ray before this one. It’s too small a sample to really matter, but it wasn’t like there was a bunch of successful history there for Ray coming into the matchup. 

Reasons to not bring in Ray

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

2. He gives up lots of home runs. Ray finished second in the AL in home runs 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 thrown well lately. Ray had a 5.27 ERA with eight home runs allowed in 27 1/3 innings in his last five regular-season starts. 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 have owned him. Ray made three starts against the Astros this season. He gave up 23 hits and 13 earned runs in 10 2/3 innings (10.97 ERA, 2.81 WHIP). Astros hitters slashed .442/.509/.865 against him. Small sample? I guess. Nothing really lines up as encouraging here, though. 

5. He’s a fastball guy. Ray throws fastballs nearly 40 percent of the time. That’s his most frequent offering. Alvarez was the second-most valuable hitter against fastballs this season (behind Judge, unsurprisingly), hitting .355 with a .752 slugging against the heater. The homer came on a sinker, but I’m just talking about the thought process to bring Ray in. 

Just on the surface, I’ve got five pretty good reasons to not use Ray when there was one reason — albeit a flimsy one — to use him. It was a no-brainer to avoid pulling the trigger on the move. 

“We talked about it coming into the series,” Mariners manager Scott Servais said after the game. “We talked about it pregame today. I looked at it in the seventh inning and said, ‘hey, this could happen.’ So that was the plan going in. End of the day, you have a plan, we still got to execute it.”  

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





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