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June 28, 2009

Prospectus Idol Entry

LaRussa's Choices

by Brian Cartwright

Can a manager cost his team a game? It's hard to tell, as the players throw the balls and swing the bats, leaving the managers to fill out the lineup cards, give the steal sign, pinch hit, and bring in numerous relievers. We don't get to mark down a home run or a strike out for the manager, as the best we can do is see what did happen when he made a choice, and surmise what might have happened with the opposite choice.

Last Thursday the Mets were playing host to the Central Division leading Cardinals. Both teams had former Cy Young award winners on the mound, Chris Carpenter (2005) for the Cardinals and Johan Santana (2004 and 2006) for the Mets. The Cardinals entered the game with a 40-33 record, in first place one game ahead of the Cubs, while the 36-34 Mets trailed the Phillies by one game in the East.

The Cards jumped out to a 1-0 lead in the top of the first inning when Yadier Molina singled in Skip Schumacher, but the Mets went up 3-1 in the bottom of the fourth when Nick Evans lined a two-run double to right field, a pitch Carpenter described as his only mistake of the game. Santana allowed a run and stranded five over the first two innings, but had been on a roll since.

Rick Ankiel, one of three left handed batters in the starting lineup against the lefty throwing Santana, led off the top of the sixth inning with a double over the head of right fielder Ryan Church. Khalil Greene followed with a ground ball to third baseman David Wright, who held Ankiel at second while throwing to first for the out. That brought Cards starting pitcher Chris Carpenter to the plate. Mets television announcer Ralph Kiner observed that "before the game, Carpenter was not a very good hitter". Despite getting a single and a walk in his first two plate appearances, Carpenter stilled owned a career batting average of .091.

Before the sixth inning, it's virtually a given that the starting pitcher will get to hit in almost any game situation - the manager will have to grin and bear it. After the sixth, there's not much time left to win the game and the bullpen is ready, so the pinch hitter is almost automatic. It was here that Cardinals manager Tony LaRussa had a choice - with the Mets' ace starter on the mound, and the tying run at the plate with one out in the sixth inning, do you let Chris Carpenter, a bad hitter even compared to other pitchers, swing away, or do you pinch hit? Despite allowing three runs in the fourth, Carpenter had only thrown 63 pitches through five innings and had a season ERA of just 1.78, so clearly he had good innings left in his arm.

Over the years LaRussa has been famous for constantly changing relief pitchers to gain the platoon advantage against same handed batters. To accommodate this, the Cardinals currently are carrying 13 pitchers on the 25 man roster, five starters and eight relievers, leaving only four batters on the bench. The choice of having so many pitchers leaves so few reserve bats that it restricts LaRussa's options, especially early in the game. With only four players available to pinch hit, who did LaRussa have to choose from?

For Johan Santana, it really doesn't matter which side of the plate the batter stands. From 2006 to now, right handed batters have hit 222/268/365 off him, while left handers hit 235/288/405.

There are some announcers that might ignore small sample size and point out that LaRue was hitting .333 against left handers, but that's in only 12 at bats. From 2006 to 2008, over 524 total at bats, LaRue had a .197 batting average against lefties, .180 versus righties - most days he probably couldn't hit an Eric Seidman fastball!

Then there is rookie outfielder Colby Rasmus. One of the Cardinals' best young hitters, this year the lefty swinger has only five hits in 44 at bats against left handed pitching, so obviously he can't hit Santana, right? Well, in the minor leagues Rasmus was a career 278/364/496 batter versus right handers, and 275/371/455 against left handers. Other than a decline in power, those are virtually identical numbers.

So far this year fellow left handed hitting outfielder Chris Duncan has a .242 batting average against left handed pitching, but only .202 since 2006, compared to .278 against right handers.

The last guy on the LaRussa's bench was rookie reserve infielder Tyler Greene, with a .274 batting average in 84 major league at bats. As a minor leaguer, Greene had career numbers of 263/334/413 against left handers.

Any of the four would be a better batter against Johan Santana, but Chris Carpenter got his at bat in the sixth inning, grounding out to second base. Joe Thurston followed with a single, driving in Ankiel and making the score 3-2. Despite threatening in the eighth and ninth innings, that was the final as Francisco Rodriguez closed out the game to get the save for the Mets.

Each of the four players on the Cardinals bench would eventually get into the game. LaRue did pinch hit for Carpenter in an identical situation, one out and a runner at second, but in the eighth inning, and lined out. Greene singled for Ankiel against the left hander Pedro Feliciano in the eighth, Duncan struck out in the ninth, and Rasmus replaced Ankiel on defense.

I would have let Rasmus bat for Carpenter in the sixth inning. The tying run was at the plate, Johan Santana has no advantage over left handed batters, and Rasmus' minor league numbers show he does fine against left handed pitching and shouldn't be judged unqualified by 44 major league at bats. Tyler Greene doesn't have as good of an on-base percentage as Rasmus, but he also would have also been an acceptable choice in that situation.

Even though the Cardinals did score one run in the inning, they clearly lost an opportunity to add more. What did LaRussa gain by letting Carpenter remain in the game? Carpenter was able to pitch scoreless innings in the sixth and seventh before being pinch hit for in the eighth. Out of the eight pitchers in the bullpen, is there no one that LaRussa would also trust to pitch two scoreless innings?

Of the four relievers that did appear in the game, none pitched more than a third of an inning, and the last three threw no more than seven pitches each. The advantage LaRussa tries to gain by using his relievers a batter at a time limits his options elsewhere in the game.

Neither the Cardinal nor Mets announcers made any comments that the career .091 hitting Carpenter shouldn't be batting in that situation, but reading the game summaries, for me that was the single event that stuck out among all five afternoon games - LaRussa had squandered a chance to tie the game against Santana. Maybe I'm the one who's out in left field, but that's what is so great about baseball, we can all have our opinion of what should have been done.

29 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

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amazin_mess

To me, this articles shines out among a week's worth of junk.

Great job.

Jun 28, 2009 08:59 AM
rating: 0
 
Adam Madison

Why was this rated so poorly?

Jun 28, 2009 13:11 PM
rating: 0
 
strupp

Not sure that it shines out, but I agree this was a really poor week, and am willing to blame the topic rather than the writers.

It gets a thumbs up from me, I guess, because it was well written and seemed JUST the right length to keep my interest from wandering.

A couple of grammar/spelling errors, though, almost dinged you down. Just something to lookout for the next time.

Jun 28, 2009 09:44 AM
rating: -2
 
molnar
(170)

look out is two words.

Jun 28, 2009 11:33 AM
rating: 4
 
strupp

Irony can be so ironic sometimes.

Jun 28, 2009 13:03 PM
rating: 4
 
Dr. Dave

I thought the big takeaway was that La Russa has 'built' a bench with absolutely nobody who has any prayer of hitting (say) Eric O'Flaherty, should the other team have such a player. But I guess that's outside the scope of this one game, and the given topic.

Decent hook, and (unlike some entries) not a tedious play-by-play rehash. I would have hammered more on the "if you're going to carry 13 pitchers, shouldn't you be willing to use them?" point, but maybe that's just me.

Jun 28, 2009 10:22 AM
rating: 4
 
daiheide

The Cubs haven't been in second place in a long, long time.

Jun 28, 2009 10:23 AM
rating: 0
 
Richard Bergstrom

The writing style actually worked pretty well for me. It wasn't dry and had a better flow and pace than some of Brian's other pieces. The analysis, though, at times seemed a bit... lacking? Summarized? Stilted? I was curious why there was no discussion of the possibility of having Carpenter bunt, since that is one area of the game where a manager can make a difference. I would've liked an expanded discussion of the difference between Carpenter being pinch hit for in the 6th versus the 8th. Perhaps a discussion of opportunity cost or some kind of analytical drilldown to whether having a 13th picther comes into play more often than having an extra hitter. It seemed a good chunk of the article was spent on roster construction but the conclusion was based on the in-game management itself. The conclusion also had a differet "tone" to it but changing voices can come with practice.

Also, there's a minor nitpick in introducing Jason LaRue using only his last name... but overall, the piece was

Brian's writing has been getting better and I think he did a great job with his writing style, tone, and editing on such a short deadline. But is something getting sacrificed along the way?

Jun 28, 2009 10:52 AM
rating: -2
 
Brian Cartwright

On LaRue, I cut an earlier section that introduced him as Jason LaRue, but failed to then edit the second reference into what became the first

Jun 28, 2009 17:50 PM
rating: 1
 
Richard Bergstrom

That makes sense that you edited out a section since each other player you introduced you included their first and last name.

Got my thumbs up.

Jun 28, 2009 20:49 PM
rating: -2
 
jtrichey

Kind of leaves me feeling...meh.

Jun 28, 2009 11:57 AM
rating: -2
 
jimnabby

For me, this is the first Cartwright article where writing style and structure issues haven't gotten in the way. That said, I wholeheartedly agree with Will on this one (something else that hasn't been common during this competition). First of all, I wouldn't have pulled Carpenter in that situation after pitching only 5 innings, so I needed to see a decent argument for it. I didn't see that. And as it turned out, the Cardinals did score a run in the inning AND Carpenter pitched two more scoreless innings AND when he was pinch-hit for, the pinch-hitter failed. I know this is results-based analysis, but the way it played out makes it even more incumbent that Brian make a strong argument. Even now, I can't imagine that the difference between pinch-hitting or not in that situation had an impact on the likely outcome of the game that can be discerned from noise.

Jun 28, 2009 14:17 PM
rating: 1
 
R.A.Wagman

Similar to the last comment, the writing was better that I had expected, but the analysis was fairly weak. Cartwright examined the value of the given at bat, but never looked at the other side of the coin. What about managing for the full 162 games and not using end-game strategies for one game this early, especially not with the a pitcher who should reasonably be expected to pitch deeper in games (if he can pitch at all). May have been a more compelling argument had Carpenter already pitched 6 innings. Generally, only AL managers pitching in NL parks during inter-league season make the mistake of removing their stater that early for a pinch hitter.

Jun 28, 2009 15:03 PM
rating: 1
 
John Carter

The first two entries I came across this week were the two La Russa articles. I have to give the edge to Tim.

What really kills it for Brian C. is that this stumbles badly out of the gate. Of course a manager can cost his team a game. The rest of the paragraph was annoying rhetoric. Tim blows away Brian at drawing the reader into his story.

However, I did enjoy the drama over the key decision here. Brian did a terrific job of describing La Russa's pinch hitting alternatives.

Then I have to agree with most of the comments that the conclusion fell flat. Tim was actually more thorough in his analysis, though Brian's concluding rhetoric was pleasantly digestible. Sort of ironic, don't you think?

Jun 28, 2009 20:08 PM
rating: 1
 
Mountainhawk

Not a fan of this article. Mainly because I think it's way to easy to say 'this is what they should have done' after the game is over.

Plus, I actually agree with LaRussa here. The Cardinals bullpen is pretty good, but Carpenter is your ace, and only getting 5 innings from your ace sets you up for problems, especially when 2 of your last 3 starters failed to get out of the 6th.

There are times when managers do make choices that are clearly inferior. I don't think this is one of them at all.

Jun 29, 2009 05:40 AM
rating: 0
 
Mike M

Mountainhawk (and a little further down, Pomerantz) make good points that Brian should have considered: the relative performance of Carpenter vs. other Cards starters; and the line-up he'd be facing in the next inning. Of course, both points work against his conclusion, but that just reinforces that it wasn't all that well reasoned a point of view.

Jun 29, 2009 15:36 PM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Eric Seidman
BP staff

I threw 81 mph my junior year of high school but went all Ankiel and was relegated to 1B duty... haven't thrown in a while but would love to face LaRue.

Jun 29, 2009 09:54 AM
 
Dave Pomerantz

I liked this article a lot more than I expected to. I figured this would be a tough week for Mr. Cartwright, who's strength is pretty clearly in heavy statistical analysis, something that there was not time for this week.

However, I agree with Will about Brian's opinion vs. Tony LaRussa's. I think Brian might have missed a few things. For example, he says LaRussa pinch hit for Carpenter in the "exact same situation" in the 8th inning. Not quite. In the bottom of the 6th, Carpenter saw David Wright (.919 OPS), Ryan Church (.699), and Fernando Tatis (.684), and retired all 3. In the bottom of the 8th, the first 3 hitters were Daniel Murphy pinch hitting for the pitcher (.675 OPS), Alex Cora (.673) and Luis Castillo (.705). It seems that you'd want your ace on the mound much more in the 6th, than in the 8th.

Jun 29, 2009 09:59 AM
rating: 0
 
Richard Bergstrom

In prior weeks, it seemed that the tight deadlines didn't affect the analysis and statistics as much as the writing/editing and the tone of the piece. Whatever he did for this week, or maybe it's just the practice, worked better in those regards.

Jun 29, 2009 11:24 AM
rating: -1
 
Jason Wojciechowski

I disagree with Will -- I thought the whole article was leading up to the point where Brian gives us his opinion. Whether we agree with it or not, I don't think it's a fair reading of the piece to say that Brian just gave his opinion without any support. The analysis of the options TLR had before him wasn't incredibly deep, but it does exist.

Jul 01, 2009 15:28 PM
rating: 0
 
blynch

Perhaps I'm missing something - I'm sure someone will let me know if I am - but Carpenter could have bunted, right? Guy on second, one out, ace pitcher who can't hit but has plenty of gas left. You don't gain that much moving up a runner who's already at second, but you do gain something. And none of the pinch hitters are what you would call good bets to do well against the Mighty Johan.

It just seems to me that the choices were not limited, as Brian suggests, to "swing away" or "pinch-hit." Given the possibility of a bunt here, even if you ultimately dismiss that option, I think at minimum you need a paragraph addressing it: is Carpenter a terrible bunter? Is "runner at 3d w/ 2 outs + Carpenter stays in game" really so much less valuable than "Rasmus/Greene gets to face Santana and the Cardinals go to the pen early"?

Jun 29, 2009 10:38 AM
rating: 0
 
Brian Cartwright

When you are down two in the 6th, and on the road, playing for one run against the other team's ace isn't really a winning strategy either. It would be different if Ankiel was the tying run at 3rd with one out, but Carpenter made the 2nd out. When it came Carpenter's time to bat, the Cardinals only had 11 outs remaining, down two runs. It's hard for me to stomach just conceding that out. Mitchel Lichtman has often voiced his opinion that if trailing, the pitcher should never hit after the 5th.

Jun 29, 2009 12:21 PM
rating: 3
 
Richard Bergstrom
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I haven't heard of Michael Lichtman so I don't know what opinion he has often voiced... but the mainstream media/average broadcaster/average fan would discuss/consider the idea of bunting especially with the lack of a decent STL bench. Seems only proper to mention the idea, even if it is a bad one, just to state why it doesn't apply.

Jun 29, 2009 12:37 PM
rating: -4
 
Richard Bergstrom

Er to rephrase, I haven't seen the logic Lichtman used to arrive at that conclusion.

Jun 29, 2009 12:38 PM
rating: -2
 
CRP13

I still see Brian as one of the strongest writers in the bunch, but the tense-changes in this article and jumping around just killed its readability.

Jun 29, 2009 13:31 PM
rating: 1
 
greensox

Very good; interesting article and within the spirit of the assignment

Jun 29, 2009 19:23 PM
rating: 0
 
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