June 2010

Note of the night/Stat of the day, June 6

Note of the night: When Brewers reliever Zach Braddock walked Albert Pujols in the ninth inning on Sunday night, it looked for all the world like the old unintentional-intentional walk. My read was that the Brewers had chosen to pitch around Pujols in order to face Matt Holliday, which to my mind was a fairly absurd decision — putting the game-ending run in scoring position with two outs and a lifetime 318/387/541 hitter coming to the plate.

It turns out that my read was wrong. Braddock was not, in fact, pitching around Pujols. He told my friend and colleague Adam McCalvy that it was actually more like the opposite. He was so jacked up to try to get the superstar out, that he just missed the strike zone.
“If anything I was trying to be a little more aggressive,” Braddock said. “There was a little more excitement. He’s up there to battle for his team in that situation and I wanted to come in and battle for our team. I ended up walking him, but it ended up working out. I had to go right after Holliday.”
Still, it led to an extended conversation with several people on Twitter (I’m at @MatthewHLeach, come on down if you want) about facing Holliday with runners in scoring position. And it seems that a lot of people still are judging Holliday — not expressing frustration, but actually judging the player he is — based on 31 at-bats in April.
I ask of you, look at the bigger picture. Whether it’s Holliday or any number of other topics, when you’re talking about baseball, look at the bigger picture. Holliday has nearly 1,000 ABs that say he’s a good hitter with RISP. He even has 35 since the start of May that say he’s pretty decent.
This is not a positive-negative thing. I feel the same way about people writing Jaime Garcia in for Rookie of the Year, or justifying the Aaron Miles signing because he started a key rally on Saturday. 
Moreover, it’s not that you don’t have the right to be frustrated — of COURSE you do. It’s not that Holliday has delivered in big situations the way the Cardinals hoped he would — frankly, I think he’d admit that overall, he hasn’t.
These things are true. Holliday is not above criticism, nor should he be. You want to yell and scream, hey, be my guest. That’s part of being a fan. But be very, very careful about making that leap from “I’m SO frustrated that Matt Holliday didn’t drive in that run” to “Matt Holliday is a CHOKER and that’s a TERRIBLE DEAL.” 
More and more, I read tweets and emails and I hear people talking in the park or on the radio or wherever, and it’s just those kinds of black-and-white assessments based on tiny samples. “Holliday’s a choker.” “It’s a terrible contract.” Etc etc etc.
Folks, this is just silly. No 30 at-bats — or 50 at-bats or 150 at-bats — tell you what a baseball player really is. They’re a snapshot. Whether a guy is torrid or icy-cold, if you make up your mind based on that few games and at-bats, you’re probably going to make a mistake.
This is a long-view game. It has to be, or you’ll drive yourself crazy.
Stat of the day: Colby Rasmus ranks fifth in the National League in slugging percentage (.569), sixth in on-base percentage (.405) and third in OPS (.974). 
Stat of the day, 2: Rasmus has grounded into one double play all year. 
Stat of the day, 3: Jaime Garcia ranks third in the National League in ground out/air out ratio at 2.94, behind only Tim Hudson and Derek Lowe.

Fun with double situational splits: In night games on the road, Yadier Molina is batting .345 with a .415 on-base percentage and a .414 slugging percentage.
And, finally, the playlist:
I was given a little grief by a club employee recently for complaining about the music at Busch Stadium. So, in the name of fairness, here are some good tunes that have been played here recently, or are played here regularly:
Cheap Trick, “Surrender”
The Police, “Message In A Bottle”
Pearl Jam, “The Fixer”
Outkast, “Hey Ya”
Beastie Boys, “Brass Monkey”
-M.

Rasmus removed with calf tightness

Colby Rasmus was removed from the Cardinals’ game against the Brewers on Sunday night as a result of what the club is calling “left calf tightness.”
Rasmus drew a two-out walk in the bottom of the sixth, then was forced at second base on David Freese’s grounder to short. When the seventh inning began, new acquisition Randy Winn took his place in center field and the No. 7 spot in the Cardinals batting order. It was the first appearance in the field for Winn since he signed with St. Louis on Saturday.
Rasmus, 23, is off to an excellent start to the season and has been torrid lately. He hit his 10th home run earlier on Saturday night and is batting .293 with a .974 OPS (on-base percentage plus slugging percentage) through Sunday.
-M.

Note of the night/Stat of the day, June 2

Note of the night: If you bring up patience or drawing walks or even on-base percentage to Tony La Russa, there’s a decent chance you’re going to get a somewhat dismissive answer. It’s not that he devalues OBP — though he values it less than, say, I do. It’s that he feels that in at least some cases, an emphasis on patience and walks can put hitters in a bad spot.

He doesn’t want hitters going up thinking “walk” any more than he wants them going up thinking “home run.” I think his reaction to the idea is overly strong, but I see where he’s coming from.
Instead, the manager’s mantra is a simple one: swing at strikes. He wants his hitters to have a good strike zone, to lay off pitches out of the zone and be aggressive with good, hittable strikes.
For once, that’s what the Cardinals did on Wednesday. The outcome may not have reflected it, as four runs is not a total that jumps off the page. But if you watched the game, you saw hitters laying off pitches out of the zone, forcing Sam LeCure to come over the plate and taking good swings when he did.
As far as the approach, and the swings, and the contact it was one of the better games I’ve seen this team have this year. And it came in a situation that sometimes befuddles the Cards: facing a rookie with only one previous Major League game.
You may look at a box score, see four runs, and be unimpressed. But I think that’s misleading.
“We did a nice job, but he [LeCure] did a good job,” La Russa said. “He really made a lot of pitches behind in the count that were quality. … He did a good job. The catcher worked him really well. So we didn’t get much from him, three runs. He did a good job. But we were working.”
Stat of the day: Albert Pujols has reached base at least twice in each of the last four games, and 13 times total in those four games, bringing his on-base percentage up from .409 to .431.
Fun with double situational splits: Both of Felipe Lopez’s home runs this year have come at home against left-handed pitchers.

And, finally, the playlist:
Sleigh Bells, “Kids”
LCD Soundsystem, “Disco Infiltrator”
Bloc Party, “Helicopter”
Tame Impala, “Solitude Is Bliss”
M.I.A., “Born Free”

-M. 

Chess Match: One more from the big man

The situation: Top of the eighth, Cardinals lead, 4-1. 8-9-1 spots in the Reds order coming up. Chris Carpenter has thrown 104 pitches, 34 of them in his previous inning, in chich he hit a batter and allowed three hits but escaped with one run.
The decision: TLR and Dave Duncan go for one more inning with their ace.
The outcome: Carpenter pitches a tidy 1-2-3 eighth on eight pitches. Kyle McClellan pitches the ninth in similar fashion to finish off the win.
The analysis: In general, at least in recent years, the Cardinals work to protect their starters — especially early in the year. The seventh was truly a slog for Carpenter, who was saved in a big way when Jay Bruce’s hot shot hit Scott Rolen as Rolen was running from first to second. Even the outs were difficult, with one long at-bat after another.
The factor at play in this case was the bullpen, though that’s not what TLR pointed to after the game. He spoke as though it was all about Carpenter, but with a fully fresh and rested bullpen, it’s just hard to imagine that Carpenter would have pitched the eighth.
In this case, though, Ryan Franklin wasn’t fully available. He was in prefer-not-to-use mode after pitching two innings the night before (a separate question, it must be noted). They likewise preferred to be hands-off with Mitchell Boggs, who had pitched two in a row and five out of seven, and Blake Hawksworth is probably not the choice in a close game in the late innings right now.
So they had McClellan and Jason Motte, and ideally, that was it. Carpenter was a factor, and La Russa essentially said he believed that Carpenter would straighten things back out for the eighth. But I really have to believe that if Franklin and McClellan were both fully available, it would have been a different story.
Moreover, and don’t discount this factor, Carpenter and Adam Wainwright really need to be eating innings for this team right now. With Kyle Lohse and Brad Penny both out, the Cardinals will be hoping to get seven, eight or nine from their two aces every time one of them takes the mound. A push they might not make with a fully healthy rotation, they may well make right now.
The comment: “If this had been our first year with [Carpenter], we probably would have [taken him out]. But once you know, he comes in that dugout and he’s thinking about what was wrong there and he’s not real happy. So he’s going to go out there and fix something. So he gets three outs. Carp, as long as he was physically OK, he’s earned those outs.” — TLR
My verdict: This one made me a little nervous. It seems to me that in June, Carpenter should still be in handle-carefully mode. But riding him through the eighth is an indication of the value they placed on this game. Series-deciding game, ace had pitched seven strong, something of a statement game in some ways.
I’d have gotten Carpenter out, I think, and found someone like Motte or even one of the lefties to face 8-9-1. I think it’s more consistent with what they’ve done thus far, and consistent with a long-term view that sees the starting rotation as the biggest key to this team’s October hopes. 
It’s not a travesty by any means, and I see the thought process. But my inclination is still to protect Carpenter at this point in the year, if you can.
-M.

Wednesday lineups

Cardinals:

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

Chess Match: Playing for the win

The situation: Runner on first base, no outs, bottom of the ninth inning. Cardinals trail by one. Francisco Cordero pitching and Jon Jay at the plate.


The decision: TLR lets Jay swing away, rather than bunting.

The outcome: Jay hits into a double play, pinch-hitter Ryan Ludwick flies out and the game is over.

The analysis:
For TLR, this came down to a strategic decision, not a tactical one. The question was, whether he should play for one run and the tie, or two runs and the win. He elected to play for the win.
His reasoning was that with P.J. Walters having only pitched four innings and the bullpen having been stretched thin, he was much better off trying to end the game right away. 
Using Ryan Franklin for the eighth and ninth, despite a deficit, was a pretty good indicator that TLR had no interest in using Kyle McClellan or Jason Motte unless he could absolutely avoid it, so it’s clear that he was managing by this philosophy throughout the late innings. 
So the question is whether you buy the philosophy. Because if you agree strategically, then the tactics are sound. If you don’t buy the underlying principle, then you’re going to argue vociferously for a bunt — or at the very least, some kind of motion to avoid the double play.

The comment: “Well, we don’t have the deepest situation, do we? I mean we don’t really have any other pitchers we wanted to use, so we are going to try and win the game. Left-handers are hitting .300 against [Cordero]. Jay was having a heck of a day and he is tough to double. I mean, I don’t even think it’s a tough call.
“I think playing for a tie would be a really dumb idea with what we’ve got. I mean, who’s going to pitch the tenth? If we had tied it in some way, then we would have got Kyle [McClellan] out there or somebody. But I think you have to play for the win.”

My verdict: As you likely know by know, my general strategic bent is in the Earl Weaver vein: pitching, defense and the three-run homer. I hate giving away outs, I hate playing for one run unless the situation absolutely demands it, and I hate giving a pitcher his first out. We’ve been over this ground, probably ad nauseam for some of you.
But at the time, I thought the bunt was really a slam-dunk. You play for the tie at home, and with Ludwick available to pinch-hit, you would seem to have a good chance of getting that runner home. 
Still, the more I think of it, the more I can at least see the strategy. They’re pretty clearly worried about keeping McClellan from being overused. It’s come up a few times this year. And Motte has pitched a great deal lately, so being careful with him one time is not a bad idea either.
They really got into the tight position by getting a total of one inning out of Dennys Reyes and Blake Hawksworth. If Reyes could have gotten through the seventh, and Hawksworth the eighth and maybe more, then it’s less of an issue. But if he was really, truly committed to saving those two relievers — an understandable goal — then it’s a defensible decision.
-M.

Note of the night/Stat of the day, June 1

Note of the night: You may have noticed that the bulk of the damage done against Cardinals pitching on Tuesday night came at the hands of a familiar hitter: Scott Rolen. The former Cardinal hit two home runs and a double to spearhead the Reds’ attack against P.J. Walters and the St. Louis bullpen.

Asked after the game about Rolen, La Russa had a comment that could be taken a couple of different ways. 
“He’s healthy and we have seen that,” La Russa said. “He’s an outstanding player when he’s healthy. He’s playing outstanding for them. 
“Probably their manager’s getting more out of him than I did. I know people are going to speculate that and it’s probably true. I’m sure it’s true. When he’s healthy — and he’s healthy – he’s an outstanding player.”
Now, you can take that as a really direct shot across Rolen’s bow, essentially accusing him of dogging it. Or you can take it as an attempt at the sort of self-deprecation that TLR does sometimes.
My read on it was that he did not intend the more sinister suggestion. Other people I asked in the press box disagreed. I’m sure some of you saw it on TV, so I’d be curious what you thought.
Stat of the day: The Cardinals lost for only the third time all year in a game where Colby Rasmus scored a run. They’re 19-3 when Rasmus scores. By contrast, they’re 18-6 when Albert Pujols scores, and 17-6 when Matt Holliday scores.
Fun with double situational splits: David Freese is batting .409 and slugging .667 against right-handers at home this year.
And, finally, the playlist:
This is an exact five-song sequence that came up on my iPhone this afternoon. Good stuff.
The Hold Steady, “The Weekenders”
Drive-By Truckers, “Home Field Advantage”
Guns N’ Roses, “Used To Love Her”
U2, “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” (live, off “Rattle & Hum”)
Blur, “There’s No Other Way”
-M.

Miles up, Craig down

The Cardinals purchased the contract of infielder Aaron Miles on Tuesday, optioning outfielder Allen Craig to Triple-A Memphis. Miles had been playing at Double-A Springfield.

Miles, 33, was a member of the Cardinals from 2006-2008 and enjoyed his best Major League seasons in St. Louis. He was a part of the ’06 World Series title team, and in ’08 he batted .317 with a .355 on-base percentage for the Redbirds.
He signed as a free agent with the Cubs before the ’09 season and has had a tough time since, being traded twice before the Reds released him this spring. Miles signed a Minor League deal with the Cardinals on April 27.
He was called up to add versatility to the Cardinals bench. Miles plays three positions and is a switch-hitter. Additionally, the club would like for Craig to play regularly and get frequent at-bats.
-M.
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