Results tagged ‘ Chess Match ’

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.”

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. 


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.

Thursday chess match: Having it both ways

The situation: Runners on first and second, no outs, bottom of the eighth inning. Cardinals trail, 4-1, with the No. 9 spot in the order coming up.

The decision: Jon Jay pinch-hits for Chris Carpenter, and Jay puts down a bunt.

The outcome: Jay sacrifices the runners over to second and third. However, the next batter, Skip Schumaker, hits into a 3-2 double play, and the inning is over with no runs.

The analysis: TLR said after the game that this actually wasn’t a sacrifice attempt. Instead, it was a try at a bunt for a base hit. But he also said, essentially, that the fallback is a sacrifice — i.e., if it goes for a hit, great, but if not, it’s a sacrifice.

The idea is, if Jay gets a hit, fantastic. Bases loaded, top of the order, chance to break the inning open. If he doesn’t, you’ve moved the runners over to where a single brings in two runs. Also, and TLR said this, one advantage of a sacrifice is that it all but assures that at least one of the Cards’ thumpers will hit. The problem is that the double play eliminated that possibility.
It still seems a lot like a question of playing for one or two runs versus playing for the big inning, though.
The comment: That was a base-hit bunt. I thought it was there. Hopefully it would have ensured that one of our big boppers comes to bat with the tying run, at least. Didn’t work out that way.” — TLR
My verdict: I still don’t like it. The fact that it was an attempt at a hit dilutes some of my irritation at the play, but not all of it. Because even if it’s nominally an attempt at a hit, when you admit up front that at worstit plays as a sacrifice, you’re thinking sacrifice to some extent. With Jay hitting well, and some other candidates on the bench who might come up with a big hit, it’s clear that you’re not playing for the big inning.

And with a three-run deficit and six outs remaining, you have to play for the big inning. You have to take your chance now, to get all three of those runs in one shot. You don’t get big innings by giving away outs.
It’s a bit like the hit-and-run, which is also not one of my favorite plays — it’s an attempt to have it both ways. In this case, you want a base hit, commit to trying to get a base hit. Let Jay swing away, or call on Stavinoha or Mather. If you want a hit, try to get a hit — and leave yourself the possibility of extra bases, or the run scoring on a hit. 
If you want to sacrifice, then sacrifice. By all means, I am vehemently opposed to sacrificing there, but if that’s the goal, then do it.


Saturday Chess Match: Gone in 90 pitches (and a bonus)

The situation: End of the seventh inning. Cardinals lead, 3-1. 9-1-2 spots in Reds order coming to the plate.
The decision: TLR and Duncan elect to remove Kyle Lohse after 90 pitches and seven strong innings, going with Blake Hawksworth to start the eighth.
The outcome: It’s an adventurous eighth for the Cardinals, as they go through three pitchers and allow the Reds to tie the game. They rally in the bottom of the eighth to take the win, but what might have been a two-reliever game becomes a bit more complicated. Dennys Reyes pitched on a game when he might not have, and Ryan Franklin gets four outs (though on only 16 pitches).
The analysis: The coaching staff felt that Lohse was fading and wanted to get him out before he could get in trouble. Kyle McClellan was, ideally, not available, which complicated things a bit. Ideally that would have been a McClellan inning, and he could even have stayed in to face the lefties rather than Reyes being needed.
The Cardinals are in a stretch of 2 1/2 weeks without a day off, which means that none of the starters will get extra days’ rest any time soon, and they’ve made it clear they intend to avoid pushing the starters too hard. So it’s in line with recent thinking to err on the side of pulling Lohse early, rather than later.
The comment: “It’s a tough call when one of us disagrees. But Dave and I really felt like with a couple breaking balls he had lost a little bit of pop. He’d done a really good job. We had decided before the runs scored [in the bottom of the seventh].” — TLR
My verdict: As I mentioned, it’s consistent, which certainly increases the defensibility of the decision. The thought process is sound.
With that said, it was a close game, and to my eye, Lohse still looked strong. He struck out the last two batters of the seventh, and at least the first couple of batters of the eighth shouldn’t have been too taxing for him. The fact that McClellan was unavailable also argued against going to the ‘pen.
I think I would have stayed with Lohse, who was only at 90 pitches. But there’s a philosophy at play here, and it makes a lot of sense. This team will go as far, in the regular season and October, as the rotation takes it. So while I probably would have asked for another inning out of the starter, I definitely see the opposing argument and I definitely don’t think it was a slam dunk.
Bonus chess match:
Some of you also asked about the decision to leave Dennys Reyes in to face Scott Rolen in the 8th. I theorized that the matchup was a factor, with Rolen being 6-for-10 against Ryan Franklin. But TLR said that the plan all along was for Reyes to face three batters: lefty Joey Votto, right-hander Rolen and lefty Jay Bruce. Reyes was supposed to pitch Rolen “tough,” meaning hope he chases a bad pitch. Not quite the unintentional-intentional walk, but in that neighborhood.
Then Franklin was going to come on for Cabrera. It wasn’t a matter of the batter-vs-pitcher matchup.
The quote: “When Scott’s swinging good like he’s swinging, righty-lefty doesn’t make any difference. Then you have Bruce on deck. So [Reyes] was going to pitch Scott tough.” — TLR

Wednesday Chess Match: How long for Jaime?

Tonight’s game, from the Cardinals’ side, was pretty straightforward tactically. However, I got a few tweets (@MatthewHLeach) and some comments on the game story about removing Jaime Garcia, so that’s what we’re going with.

The situation: Cardinals lead, 6-0, with two outs and a runner on first base in the bottom of the seventh inning. Jaime Garcia has thrown 102 pitches and is coming off two breezy innings.
The decision: Tony La Russa decides to lift Garcia after seven innings, pinch-hitting for him with Nick Stavinoha and bringing in Kyle McClellan to pitch the eighth.
The outcome: Stavinoha popped up, but it wasn’t really about the pinch-hitter. Kyle McClellan and Mitchell Boggs each pitched a shutout inning as the Cardinals finished off the 6-0 win.
The analysis: It’s April, and Garcia is still 23 and only a year and a half removed from elbow surgery. The club has said all along that it wants to be cautious with him. McClellan and Boggs were both fresh, and the lead was safely in hand.
The counterargument seems to have to do with giving Garcia a chance to finish the game, but it’s April, and even if he’d been extremely efficient, you’re talking close to 120 pitches to finish it off.
The comment: “What’s the point [of leaving him in]? You know now that he comes out of the game and five days from now he’s going to feel great against Philadelphia. That’s a good thing to feel.”
My verdict: 100 percent with the skipper. As I suggested at the top, I was sincerely surprised with the number of people who viewed this as even an issue. After Garcia’s 26-pitch fifth, I believe that he needed an efficient sixth even to come out for the seventh. They’re protecting this guy, and for good reason.
This one, for me, was a very easy call.

Chess Match, Tuesday April 27

The situation: Bottom of the sixth inning, Cardinals leading, 5-2. Two outs, runners on the corners. Pitchers spot in the order.

The decision: The Cardinals remove Chris Carpenter in favor of pinch-hitter Jon Jay
The outcomes: Jay grounds out to end the inning. Reliever Blake Hawksworth gets in trouble in the top of the seventh, and the Cardinals go through four relievers before their out of the inning.
The analysis: Once again, the argument in favor is pretty simple and direct. If Jay gets a hit, the game is broken open. It becomes a four-run lead and the lineup turns over.
The argument against is that Carpenter was only at 89 pitches, and appeared to be getting stronger. Of the last six hitters to face him, four grounded out, one struck out and one reached on an infield single. 
The Cardinals went in knowing they didn’t want to use Ryan Franklin to close out the game, meaning they were down one man. However, it would have been hard to envision that being as big an issue as it turned out to be. Six relievers should be more than enough, and if Hawksworth had just gotten a little luck, it wouldn’t have taken four pitchers to finish the seventh.
The comment: “We were not feeling great about sending him out there [for the seventh]. We felt like he had really worked hard, so he was going to go out there [if his spot in the order hadn’t come up] — but go out there with a very short leash.”

My verdict: I’d have stayed with Carpenter, given the low pitch count and the fact that he seemed to be gaining steam. The strongest argument is the break-the-game-open argument, but that’s more of a factor if the pinch-hitter is a power hitter, someone who could deliver two or three runs on one swing. Jay is not that kind of hitter.

Still, there’s nothing inherently wrong with being protective of your starter, especially a starter like Carpenter who will be key to any hopes in October. Like last night’s move, I probably would have done it the other way but I can certainly see the argument for what was done.


The first blog entry of the rest of my life: Chess match

Thanks very much for the feedback on the post from last week. Got a lot of different request, but one thing that a couple of different people mentioned was tactical stuff. Also some mentions of stats, and some inside-baseball stuff.

The personal/clubhouse/off-field stuff will be tough to make a regular feature. That happens when it happens. But some of the other, we can do pretty regularly — especially tactics. So I’m going to start trying to blog postgame more often, with stats, tactics, and things like that. Please do offer feedback, let me know if this is what you want to see here.
One feature we do at in the playoffs is called “Chess Match,” and it’s a breakdown of some tactical turning points. I’m going to try to do one for each game. Here’s tonight’s. There’s more to follow.
The situation: Runners on first and second, no outs, tie game, bottom of the second inning, Yadier Molina at bat vs. Tim Hudson
The decision: TLR calls for a hit-and-run on the 1-1 pitch to Molina

The outcome: Molina swings and misses at a pitch in the dirt and Matt Holliday is easily thrown out at third base.

The analysis: The argument against this play, to me, is pretty clear: Hudson had given up three straight base hits (Albert Pujols was thrown out trying to take an extra base to end the previous inning), and I’ve made my feelings known about giving away an out when the pitcher is begging for a lifeline.
The argument in favor of it, though, is compelling too: Molina is extremely unlikely to swing-and-miss, so odds are he’s going to put the ball in play. He’s always a double-play candidate against nearly any pitcher, and doubly so against a groundball machine like Hudson, so by sending the runners you’re decreasing the chances of that bad outcome. And of course if it goes for a base hit, you’ve got the lead.
The comment: “Hudson’s a groundball pitcher. How many outs did he get on the ground? You sit around with a runner on first, [it’s likely to be a] double play. The one that I kick myself on was the reason we got into that. Yadi had no chance on that [pitch]. It was a hit-and-run. But on 3-1 [in the previous at-bat], I didn’t run Holliday. If I had run Holliday, then he’d have been standing on third and we’d have first and third, nobody out. so that was really something that I regretted.” – La Russa

My verdict: I wouldn’t have done it. But the more I rolled it around in my head, and after hearing the explanation, I at least see where TLR was coming from.