May 2010

Notes of the night/Stat of the day, May 18

Note of the night, Pt. 1: Now it’s Skip Schumaker who’s in a fielding slump. Just as Schumaker seems to be finding something at the plate, he seems to have a bit of a case of the fielding yips. He was charged with two errors, both entirely legitimate, in Tuesday night’s win over the Nationals.

Though TLR tried to excuse Schumaker for the second error, Schumaker was having none of it. He did see some consolation, though, in being the second Cardinals middle infielder to go through something like this in recent weeks.
“It’s happened to Brendan Ryan, who’s the best defensive player I’ve ever played with,” Schumaker said. “That’s the good thing about it. but you’ve got to move forward. Thank God it was a win.”
It’s not entirely clear what the options are if TLR wanted to give Schumaker a break, other than to start Lopez at second one night and put Brendan Ryan back in the lineup. And I’m not at all sure Anibal Sanchez is the kind of pitcher you want to bring Ryan back against.
So Schumaker will just have to work through it.
Note of the night, 2: Dave McKay has a sore back, and so he was not out at first base tonight. Joe Pettini took his place coaching first.
“Dave McKay tweaked his back yesterday,” TLR said. “He barely was getting to first base and back. He didn’t throw [batting practice] today. He’s crooked.”
Stat of the day: Ryan Franklin hasn’t issued a walk this season. Perhaps more impressively, his 3-1 count to Wil Nieves was only the sixth time all year that Franklin has gone to a three-ball count. He’s faced 69 batters in 2010.
Fun with double situational splits: Left-handed hitters, batting in night games, are 3-for-26 against Jaime Garcia this year.

And, finally, the playlist:
Pretty simple tonight, what with the re-release of Exile On Main Street. My five favorite songs from Exile, which is my favorite album of all time.
“Rocks Off”
“Torn And Frayed”
“Loving Cup”
“Let It Loose”
“Shine A Light”
-M.

Monday Chess Match: A scary moment (and a bonus)

The situation: Runners on first and second, two out, top of the seventh inning. Cardinals lead, 4-2, with Trever Miller pitching. Washington removes left-handed leadoff man Willie Harris for righty-swinging Alberto Gonzalez


The decision: TLR calls on Jason Motte to face Gonzalez, but Jim Riggleman counters with Adam Dunn.

The outcome: In a hugely entertaining at-bat, Motte gets Dunn to chase a high fastball for strike three, ending the inning.

The analysis: The Cardinals didn’t know for sure whether Dunn was available, after he was scratched from the lineup due to illness. But La Russa had to at least be aware that the possibility existed for Dunn to pinch-hit against Motte.
So, worst-case — and TLR is always aware of the worst case — you’re choosing between Miller against the very light-hitting Gonzalez, or Motte against Dunn. 
Gonzalez has two home runs in 484 Major League plate appearances. At worst, he’s a candidate to single or double and bring home one or two runs. There’s pretty much no way he gives Washington the lead.
Meanwhile, Motte’s two biggest weaknesses in his young career are his vulnerability to the home run and an enormous platoon split. Dunn is a left-handed hitting home run hitter, basically the worst possible matchup for Motte. The two most likely outcomes are strikeout and three-run homer.
Per TLR, the plan was to pitch Dunn “tough” — a concept we’ve addressed in this space before, where the idea is not to give the hitter anything over the plate but still hope you get him out. It’s a risky way to pitch.
The comment: “We just weren’t going to give him a cookie. You’re just going to pitch him tough, and Motte’s got some good stuff to try that with. You’re throwing 90-lus like that, it’s tough to center, but if there’s one guy who can, they had the right guy at bat. … 
“I didn’t know [whether Dunn was available]. but we’ve got an open base just in case.”

My verdict: It worked, and for some folks, that’s enough — if the decision works out, it was the right decision. I try to avoid that line of reasoning, because otherwise this whole feature isn’t much fun.
I think it was a very, very risky decision. Even if Gonzalez stays in the game, I just don’t think he’s the kind of hitter you play matchups against. He’s not dangerous enough. You leave Miller in, and if Gonzalez manages a single, you can still bring in Motte to face Cristian Guzman, who is a switch-hitter but quite a bit more effective against left-handed pitching. I’m pretty sure I would have stayed with Miller.

Bonus chess match: Several of you asked about the decision to bunt with Motte in the next half-inning. I defended it at the time, arguing that it’s foolish to waste a pinch-hitter on a sacrifice attempt.
I still feel it’s silly to use a pinch-hitter to sacrifice when you only have five players on the bench, but several of you brought up a third option: using a starting pitcher. They bunt quite a bit more often than the relievers. After thinking about it more, that’s what I would have done, and that’s what it sounds like TLR would have done if he’d had a second shot at it too. Here’s his comment:
“We don’t swing as relievers, but we bunt. But we don’t bunt much during the season, so it’s not really a fair challenge for him. So it’s my fault. I should have gotten a starter in there for him. I didn’t want to use up a player.”
-M.

Note of the night/Stat of the day, May 17

Note of the night: When Ryan Ludwick had a little time to think about it, catch his breath, and see how he felt, he knew he was OK. Until a moment had passed, though, Ludwick had one reaction to being hit on the left hand by a pitch from Nationals rookie Drew Storen: fear.

“I think the intial reaction is just, kind of, scared,” Ludwick said. “I’ve been hit in this wrist before. I’ve broken that, had to have surgery, by a fastball that came up and in on me. I think any time anything is around the wrist or hands, the initial reaction when it hits you is somewhat of a panic.”
Fortunately, when Ludwick did take a moment, he realized the ball had hit him on the “meat” of his hand, rather than a place where he might be in jeopardy of a fracture. He stayed in the game and, of course, made a spectacular diving catch in right field in the next half-inning.
“A little bit of bruising in there,” he said. “Not a lot.”
Stats of the day: TLR talked up the possibility of Ludwick as a Gold Glover if he keeps playing the way he has. While it’s very unlikely that Ludwick will win a Gold Glove playing right field, the numbers indicate that the manager isn’t off as far as how Ludwick is playing.

UZR (Ultimate Zone Rating) has Ludwick rated as +2.7 runs in right field so far in 2010, seventh among Major League right fielders. But John Dewan’s plus-minus system rates Ludwick as +9 (plus-minus rates by plays, not runs), which is tied with Ichiro Suzuki and Jay Bruce for the best in the Major Leagues.

As for another Cardinal whose defense gets discussed quite a bit… Skip Schumaker has a UZR of -0.9 on the year, which is to say that according to UZR he is right about one run below average defensively so far on the young season. According to the plus-minus rating, Schumaker is a +2 and has saved two runs.
Also per plus-minus, Schumaker has made a massive improvement on balls to his left. Last year, he was -16 to his left. This year, at just about the one-fourth mark, he’s -1 to his left.

(On all of those numbers, that’s entering today)
Fun with double situational splits: Ludwick is crushing right-handed pitching at home this year. He’s 21-for-51 (.412) with eight walks and 10 extra base hits for a .500 on-base percentage and a .706 slugging percentage.
And, finally, the playlist…
Tomorrow, you better believe it’ll be Stones-related, in honor of the Exile On Main Street re-release. Tonight, though, it’s a hat tip to the great “Darkwave” program that runs on Sunday nights on the Sirius/XM channel First Wave. Had it blasting for the last 3 hours of the drive home from Cincy last night. Here are five selections that got turned up especially loud:
Shriekback, “Nemesis”
Sisters of Mercy, “Lucretia My Reflection”
Jesus and Mary Chain, “April Skies”
Duran Duran, “New Religion”
Nine Inch Nails, “That’s What I Get”
-M.

Sunday Chess Match: Deploying, Or Not Deploying, Lud

The situation: Top of the fifth inning, Cardinals trailing, 4-0. Skip Schumaker and Jason LaRue reach base to open the inning, so St. Louis has runners on first and second with no outs and the eighth and ninth spots coming to bat. Ryan Ludwick is among the hitters available on the bench.

The decision: Brad Penny and Tyler Greene were both left in to hit.
The outcome: Penny singles and Greene hits into a run-scoring force play, but Colby Rasmus hits into a fielders choice and Jon Jay strikes out. The Cardinals get only one run from the inning, and Penny lasts only one more inning.
The analysis: Penny had not been sharp over the first four innings. He gave up three more runs in the fifth, and it really wasn’t a surprise. He just didn’t have a good game. So there’s a case to be made that with a chance to change the dynamic of the game, it’s time to go to Ludwick.
Another alternative was to hit Ludwick for Greene with the bases loaded. The opportunity is even bigger there, obviously, since there are three on instead of two. At the same time, it was clear that TLR didn’t want Brendan Ryan to play in this game. If you hit for Greene, you’re looking at Ryan for the next five innings, and that’s an outcome that wasn’t very desirable for the manager.
TLR’s pattern over the years has been to “save a bullet.” When he has a major weapon on his bench, someone like Ludwick, he prefers to have that player available in the eighth or ninth.
That doesn’t seem to have been the deciding factor today, though. Instead, it seems that La Russa simply had some players that he really wanted to rest or keep out of the game. By going to the bench in the fifth, he might have forfeited that chance.
The comment: “If the game had gotten away, I was going to use the other guys to give a couple guys off.”
My verdict: If TLR really prioritized the off day for his guys that highly, I can’t argue with that notion. He knows his players’ health and fitness better than I do, and if they needed the rest in the middle of a stretch of 13 days without an off day, that’s a defensible stance. I’m just not entirely sold that it would have jeopardized that off day so much. I think you could have used Ludwick as a pinch-hitter there and not wrecked the whole afternoon’s plan.

And if it was simply tactical, I definitely disagree. I would have hit for Penny, even though Penny got a hit. He was clearly scuffling, and if you’re going to ask for 3-4 innings from the bullpen, why not ask for 4-5? That’s your chance to give the game a totally different look on one swing.

Once Penny stayed in, I would not have hit for Greene. Ryan is really, really fighting it right now, and I’m all on board with giving him the full day. 

-M.

Note of the night/Stat of the day, May 16

Note of the night: There was a really cool atmosphere at Great American Ball Park all weekend. It’s clear that Cincinnati is excited about the Reds, and as a baseball fan, that’s great to see. This has, at times, been a great baseball town, and the game is IMO better when historic franchises like the Reds are good and relevant.

It was somewhat striking to me, though, that in talking to Cardinals players and staff, there was almost an air of something like “that’s so cute” about the whole thing. Nobody explicitly said that, or even came close to saying it. But it was very clear that the Cardinals perspective on the weekend was, “win this series, just like every other series.”
That’s a very La Russa mindset, and I’m not even suggesting it’s the wrong one. But it did seem to be the context of the weekend. Bronson Arroyo said as much postgame today, when he said “It’s not a big deal to them. It’s definitely a bigger deal on this side.”
Asked about the standings, here’s what a couple of Cardinals had to say.
Albert Pujols, asked if it was a big deal to fall out of first place, said:
“It’s a big deal losing a series. We came here to try to win the series, and we had a pretty good chance. That chance slipped out of our way. W don’t care about first place right now, because first place is a long way from now. You still have a long season. I think the idea is to try to win series, and that’s what we focus and concentrate on every day. 
“We were in first place until they won, and that [didn’t] guarantee us the playoffs automatically. Until the last game of the season, that’s when you want to be there. If this would have been the last game of the season and we would have fallen out of first place, it would be a big deal. but we’ve still got a lot of games against that ballclub, and we’ve still got a lot of games against great ballclubs in the Central division.”
And here’s Brad Penny, asked a very similar question:
“I’m not really concerned right now. … It’s exciting for them. Not many years they’ve been where they are now. It’s better than not being there at all. I can definitely understand their excitement. They’ve definitely got a better team this year. If their pitching holds up, they’re going to be pretty tough.”
Take it for what it’s worth, but I thought it was interesting.
Stat of the day: After allowing nine home runs in the season’s first 33 games, and at one point going 21 straight games without giving up even a single homer, Cardinals starters have now allowed a home run in five straight games.
For all the talk about how the Cardinals offense has leaned too much on the home run, the simple truth is this: teams that hit home runs win more often. If you hit a lot of them, you’re going to score runs and win. If you give up a lot of them, you’re going to allow runs and lose. The homer rate that this staff had earlier in the year was unsustainable. It will be interesting to see how the rotation fares as that number normalizes a little bit.
Fun with double situational splits: Colby Rasmus is 0-for-16 at home in May.
And, finally, the playlist:
Today, it’s culled from things we heard at GABP this weekend. This is one of the best ballparks around for music.
The Bar-Kays, “Soul Finger”
Dire Straits, “Skateaway”
The Rolling Stones, “Waiting On a Friend”
Smokey Robinson & The Miracles, “I Second That Emotion”
R.E.M., “These Days”
-M.

Sunday lineups

Cardinals

1. Rasmus CF
2. Jay RF
3. Pujols 1B
4. Holliday LF
5. Freese 3B
6. Schumaker 2B
7. LaRue C
8. Penny P
9. Greene SS
Reds
1. Cabrera SS
2. Phillips 2B
3. Votto 1B
4. Rolen 3B
5. Bruce RF
6. Gomes LF
7. Stubbs CF
8. Hanigan C
9. Arroyo P
-M.

Saturday lineups

Lineups for Saturday’s Civil Rights Game:

Cardinals
1. Rasmus CF
2. Ludwick RF
3. Pujols 1B
4. Holliday LF
5. Freese 3B
6. Molina C
7. Schumaker 2B
8. Wainwright P
9. Ryan SS
Reds
1. Cabrera SS
2. Phillips 2B
3. Votto 1B
4. Rolen 3B
5. Bruce RF
6. Gomes LF
7. Stubbs CF
8. Hernandez C
9. Leake P
-M.

Friday chess match: Protecting and extending a lead

The situation: Top of the ninth. Two outs, runner on first. Cardinals lead by two. Arthur Rhodes is pitching for the Reds. Colby Rasmus’ spot comes up in the batting order for the Cardinals.

The decision: TLR pinch-hits for Rasmus with Joe Mather
The outcome: Mather pops up to end the inning. In the bottom of the ninth, Mather has a near-miss on a shallow single to center, helping to set up the Reds near-game-tying rally.
The analysis: There are two issues at play here. One, the bigger one in my opinion, is the balance between offense and defense at this point in the game. The other is the broader and on-running question of how Rasmus is handled against left-handed pitchers.
As for the first issue, here’s the question the manager must answer. Which is a greater benefit: the potential increase in runs added from having Mather hit, or the potential decrease in runs allowed from having Rasmus stay in center. Typically, with a lead, you favor defense over offense. That’s especially true when it’s two outs and a runner on first, rather than fewer outs, or more runners on, or a runner or two in scoring position.
The second issue is the thornier one. Many fans don’t like the idea of Rasmus as a platoon player, and while I can’t say I blame them, Arthur Rhodes is not just any lefty. He’s an outstanding reliever who consistently obliterates left-handed hitters, and he’s having another excellent year this year. It’s one thing to say you’ll let Rasmus face lefties. It’s another to leave him or ANY left-handed hitter in against a pitcher like Rhodes.
The comment: (the question was, whether it was a hard call to remove Rasmus) “No, because I think Mather is an outstanding center fielder. He’s showing me more and more when I play him. The other thing is that Rasmus has had a nice day going. He got a little something going. You can walk away after Rhodes embarrasses you, and that’s what you remember.”
My verdict: Someone on Twitter (and I apologize, I’ve already forgotten who) called this the most bizarre inning of La Russa’s career. I don’t see it. Leaving Mitchell Boggs in to bunt, IMO, makes more sense than burning a pinch-hitter on a sacrifice, and then you have this move, which is at least defensible in my mind.
I’ll answer the second issue first, because it’s the one where I’m entirely with the manager. You don’t have to consider Rasmus a platoon player to get him out against Rhodes. Even at 40, Rhodes is pretty much the terminator against same-side hitters.
But the first question is trickier. To my eye, Rasmus remains pretty clearly the superior center fielder, and I just feel like you should be prioritizing defense over offense at that point in the game.
I think I’d have left Rasmus in. But I see where the manager was coming from, and I don’t view the move as being as outlandish as some of you did.
-M.

Note of the night/Stat of the day, May 14

Note of the night: I had a long and interesting chat with Chris Carpenter this afternoon about a lot of things, and Joe Strauss was there for a good bit of it as well. Some of it is covered in this story over at the main site

In that story, Carpenter relates that he thinks his results have been maybe better than people are giving him credit for, but also acknowledges that it hasn’t been easy to get those results. He had what I thought was a really interesting quote about expectations, and how he welcomes them even if they’re unreasonable.
Carpenter also talked about his health some. He said that as far as his shoulder, he’s doing better than this time last year, and feeling great about where he is. But he revealed something I found very interesting. He said that he still, routinely, feels tingling and numbness in his hand and arm as a result of the nerve issues that plagued him in 2004 and 2008.
“It’s a constant battle,” he said. “It’s a constant battle to keep it strong. It’s a constant battle to adjust the program to keep it firing properly. But as far as all last year and this year, yesterday was the best I’ve felt [pitching] for a long time. It’s an ongoing process to continue. Everybody knew coming into last season, we didn’t know what to expect or what was going on. We all chose the route that we thought was the best for me and that was not having surgery.”
Carpenter emphasized that he notices odd sensations routinely — waking up in the morning, things like that. And made a point that it doesn’t affect him at all when he pitches. By way of example, he noted that the condition isn’t really any different this year than it was last year, when he obviously pitched brilliantly all year.
Stat of the day: Cardinals starting pitchers, as a group, are averaging 14.9 pitches per inning pitched. An individual starter with that mark would rank 11th-best in the National League. Adam Wainwright ranks first in the NL, Brad Penny is second, Carpenter is 11th and Jaime Garcia is 14th. The closest team is the Marlins at 15.6.
Fun with double situational splits: Colby Rasmus has been unstoppable in night games on the road — which happens to be what Saturday’s game will be. In away night games, Rasmus is batting .432 with a .542 on-base percentage and an .811 slugging percentage.

And, finally, the playlist:
Tonight’s playlist is totally random. Put the iPod on shuffle, here are the first five songs that came up:
Depeche Mode, “Everything Counts”
Silversun Pickups, “Lazy Eye”
Guns N’ Roses, “It’s Alright”
Dead Milkmen, “Smokin’ Banana Peels”
David Baerwald, “Born for Love”
-M.

Friday lineups

Cardinals

1. Rasmus CF
2. Ludwick RF
3. Pujols 1B
4. Holliday LF
5. Freese 3B
6. Molina C
7. Schumaker 2B
8. Garcia P
9. Ryan SS
Reds
1. Cabrera SS
2. Phillips 2B
3. Votto 1B
4. Rolen 3B
5. Gomes LF
6. Bruce RF
7. Stubbs CF
8. Hanigan C
9. Harang P
-M.
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