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October 21, 2011

The BP Broadside

In Defense of Tony LaRussa

by Steven Goldman

As those pundits who reflexively criticize we sabermetric types like to remind us, baseball is not a tabletop game. As Bill James pointed out on more than one occasion, you can actually learn a lot about baseball from running through a few hundred simulated games, but leave that aside for now. The key here is the one thing you cannot get out of two-dimensional player-cards: an insight into their current ability to perform, an instinct, a feeling. The card is always ready to go, but the actual player the card represents is not nearly so dependable. He might have a cold, or a mild groin strain, or a bitter divorce, or a hundred other things that aren’t visible from the press box or your living room sofa.

No baseball simulation that I know of has an option for randomized “not that into it today” diminishment of a player’s abilities, or “severely distracted,” or “slightly out of whack.” In games, they are what they are. In real life, they vary from day to day. We must concede this, as we always have conceded it. Further, we must concede that one of the people in a better position to know these things about St. Louis Cardinals players in particular is Tony LaRussa. His information is more complete than ours. That doesn’t mean he or any manager will always be correct or wise or even lucky, it just means that he’s operating on perhaps one more level than we are.

The foregoing is a preamble to a defense of LaRussa’s decision to yank Jason Motte in the top of the ninth inning of World Series Game Two, a move that was attacked as over-managing the moment that it happened. The difficult thing about being a manager is that you’re damned if you do, damned if you don’t. Back on September 23, I took LaRussa to task for being too passive with Jason Motte in a key game against the Mets. The Cardinals took a 6-2 lead into the top of the ninth at St. Louis, and LaRussa brought Motte in to finish things out:

Motte didn’t allow a hit to the Mets, but he walked leadoff man Willie Harris, saw Nick Evans reach first base on a Rafael Furcal error that aborted a potential double play, and walked Jason Pridie. The bases loaded, Motte capped a memorable afternoon by walking pinch-hitter Justin Turner to force in a run. At that point, quick-draw LaRussa, who had not been as quick as one might have expected in this series, finally brought the hook, but neither Fernando Salas nor Marc Rzepcynski could stem the tide that had now been unleashed. The flood was exacerbated by some shaky defense from the Cardinals, not only Furcal’s error but also bad positioning on the part of left fielder Shane Robinson, who had come into the game for Allen Craig and was caught playing shallow on a drive to left field by Ruben Tejada that went for a double and tied the game. … When a pitcher like Motte, with good control, starts walking the ballpark, the manager’s radar should be set off by the uncharacteristic behavior. Leo Durocher used to say, “I wasn’t nailed to the bench,” meaning that when the game was in jeopardy he was free to act. LaRussa was nailed to the bench.

Motte wasn’t nearly as bad on Thursday night. Ian Kinsler popped a ball just past Rafael Furcal into no-man’s land to lead off the inning, then Furcal—barely—stole second base. Elvis Andrus followed by turning a fat off-speed pitch into a sharp liner to right-center that moved Kinsler to third base, Andrus taking second when the throw-in either wasn’t properly cut off or was off line, depending on how you saw the play. This brought left-hander Josh Hamilton to the plate and LaRussa out of the dugout to go for 1,000-year-old situational lefty Arthur Rhodes. That’s where the first-guessing begins.

The move didn’t work out, of course. Hamilton hit a run-scoring sacrifice fly that also moved Andrus to third. LaRussa replaced Rhodes with Lance Lynn, but Michael Young hit the second sacrifice of the inning to give the Rangers a 2-1 lead. Neftali Feliz made it stand up in the bottom of the frame.

Just because a move doesn’t work out doesn’t mean it was the wrong move. Sometimes a manager pushes the right button and gets the wrong result. In this sense, the argument for a move, the soundness of the thinking behind it, is in many ways more important than the outcome of the move itself. A manager can’t control outcomes, but he can utilize his players as best he can so that the chances of a good outcome increase. As the Hall of Fame manager Miller Huggins once said, “After all, managing is not so difficult. You just figure out the things of which your players are capable and then try to get them to do those things.”

Standing on the mound in the ninth inning last night, LaRussa thought that Motte was not capable. Keep in mind, the Cardinals were in deep trouble no matter what decision LaRussa did—keeping a one-run lead when you’re facing runners on second and third and no outs is a difficult stunt no matter who is pitching. After the game, the manager gave several reasons for making the change, including his feeling that Hamilton, strong against fastballs, would have a harder time against Rhodes's geezer-southpaw stuff. No doubt he felt this way despite the groin injury that constrains Hamilton’s swing. He’s aware of it just as much, if not more so, than you are.

He’s also more aware of Motte. In that game back on September 22, he had kept his faith in Motte and paid for it with a loss that could have dropped the Cards right out of the pennant race. LaRussa isn’t going to tell the media this, but I strongly suspect that, in this case, once bitten equals twice shy. Even if that wasn’t his reason, he has been watching Motte for four seasons now, and I’m willing to give him the benefit of the doubt as to the pitcher’s capabilities, particularly when Motte hadn’t been sharp.

Think about it: Motte came to the majors in September of 2008. He has all the stuff in the world. The incumbent closer in that time was Ryan Franklin, who wasn’t exactly Mariano Rivera even before he pitched his way out of the majors back in June. Any manager with a pulse would think about letting Motte close given those conditions, and yet Motte has exactly 12 regular-season saves. Either we have to accept that LaRussa is a complete idiot and is blind to Motte’s capabilities, or we have to at least allow for the possibility that LaRussa has reasons for believing that Motte should not be his day-in day-out closer.

If after the game you caught the postgame show on the MLB network, you saw Mitch Williams arguing that LaRussa had now irreparably shattered Motte’s confidence for the rest of the postseason. Williams has certainly been in the position to know, but even if he is correct as to the condition of Motte’s psyche, what would he have had LaRussa do if he believed that keeping Motte in the game would lead to a loss? Chalk up a World Series game to experience because it might hurt someone’s feelings? If Motte stayed in to fall apart as he did against the Mets, or even simply allowed the tying and the winning runs to score via his own inability to execute, would that not damage his confidence as well?

Perhaps in a regular-season game there is room for a manager to gamble on a pitcher’s confidence, but this is the World Series, Motte is 29 years old, and if he doesn’t know where he stands by now, he’s not going to know. LaRussa had his conviction about Motte’s chances against Hamilton at that moment, and neither you, nor I, nor Mitch Williams will ever know what would have happened had Motte stayed in the game. We can only know, and accept, that he had his reasons and they cannot be comprehensively argued with.

Prior to the game, LaRussa had predicted this kind of second-guessing: “It comes down to you make a move, and if it works, 'Hey, what a good move.' If it doesn't work, 'What was he thinking?' That's just the name of the game.” As long as there have been managers, there have been first-guessers and second-guessers, and since most managers are no smarter than the rest of us, quite often the doubters have had a good case. This isn’t one of those times; it isn’t even close to being one of those times. Save your ammo for when someone does something worth arguing about.

Steven Goldman is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Steven's other articles. You can contact Steven by clicking here

Related Content:  The Who,  Tony Larussa,  Managers Of The Year

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

BP Comment Quick Links

evo34

I'm just stunned that Rhodes is on a World Series roster right now -- regardless of the actual outcome of this game. Tony: step away from the 42-year-old, 89-mph-fastball, 5.90 FIP reliever. However bad LaRussa projected Motte to be vs. Hamilton, I fail to see how that projection could be worse than that of Rhodes pitching. Oh, and calling his heater 89 mph is being very charitable when you look at http://www.fangraphs.com/pitchfxo.aspx?playerid=1097&position=P&pitch=FA. He was in massive decline this year and was throwing about 86 mph by the end of the season -- unheard of for even the softest of LOOGY relief pitchers.

Oct 21, 2011 00:44 AM
rating: -1
 
ddrezner

A small correction, but you meant to say that "keeping a one-run lead when you have runners on SECOND and third with no one out..."

Also, while I don't think that this would have been a great idea, what about intentionally walking Hamilton to let Motte face Young?

Oct 21, 2011 04:57 AM
rating: 2
 
harderj

Joe Maddon would have done it...

Oct 21, 2011 08:23 AM
rating: 0
 
marshaja

I disagree. I think it was a poor move no matter what. It's not like Hamilton is Ryan Howard and Rhodes is a vintage Billy Wagner.

Motte is a better pitcher and Hamilton has a slight platoon split, but still slugs over .500 against lefties.

The situation was pretty much a no-win anyway, but your goals in that situation are.

1) Strikeout or pop-up
2) Preventing at least the guy at 2nd from scoring. Getting out of the situation tied would be considered a good thing given the run expectancy.

I'd rather have my fastball pumping closer up there than an ancient lefty with a strikeout rate below 6K/9 any day regardless of confidence.

This is expanded by keeping in mind even if you get Hamilton you then have to get out at least 2 right handed hitters after him. If there are two outs, this would be defensible. With none out and the heart (all righties) of the order left to contend with, La Russa put them in the worst position possible and necessitated another pitching change after Hamilton PA no matter what.

As a Cubs fan though, I approve of this move.

Oct 21, 2011 05:53 AM
rating: 3
 
harderj

I like your prioritization of what you want in this situation.

One interesting point is that Motte's K/9 drops and BB/9 increases (as does FIP and xFIP) in high leverage situations...maybe something TLR knows...at the same time his batting average allowed drops to .119! Strange... nibbling?

His K/9 vs. lhp on the season is slightly better than Rhodes', but I couldn't find that breakdown by degree of leverage.

He's much more likely to induce an infield pop up against a lefty (10.7%) than Rhodes is (4.2%), though in high leverage situations that drops to 6.3% (Rhodes was at 0.0%).

Furthermore, in high leverage situations, Rhodes allowed 70% fly balls in 2011, including a whopping 21.4% that left the park. Motte was under 40% with none of them leaving the yard.

For his part, Hamilton thrives in high leverage situations, with more walks, fewer strikeouts, a higher OBP, and higher slugging percent, and a 50% fly ball rate, with his standard 19% or so turning into home runs.

He did, however, hit his most infield pop ups in high leverage moments (a whopping 18.8%, as part of 4.6% on the season; a small numbers issue with only 7 in total).

The final piece is that Motte had thrown 12 pitches, 8 of them for strikes, 10 with 7 strikes in the first game.

This was nowhere near taxing for him, based on his usage during the regular season when he averaged 14 pitches per outing and appeared two days in a row 21 times (three days in a row twice).

On the season, his ERA dropped in 19 of those consecutive appearances, including nine of ten when he threw 13-20 pitches, and went up in 4 with pitch counts of 15, 26, 27, and 29.

If this *were* a Strato game (as someone else alluded to), these would be the match-ups (using John LaManna's 2011 projections, no ballpark dimensions taken into account):

Hamilton vs. Motte: 27 hits, 32.5 on base, 50 total bases (counting walks), 2.5 ballpark HR chances, and 1.6 straight HR (out of 108 total chances).

Hamilton vs. Rhodes: 15 hits, 24.5 on base, 52.5 total bases (worse), 8 ballpark HR chances (much worse), and 6.7 straight home runs (also much worse).

Young vs. Motte (assuming he stayed in and got a "cold out" against Hamilton or semi- or intentionally walked him): 19 hits, 22.5 on base, 30 total bases, 0.0 ballpark HRs, 0.95 straight home runs.

Beltre vs. Motte (assuming he got Hamilton and walked Young): 13 hits, 14.5 on base, 23.5 total bases, 4 ballpark HR chances, and 1.85 straight home runs.

Young vs. Lynn (almost as good as Motte): 21.5 hits, 25.5 on base, 35 total bases, 0.5 bp HR, 1.0 straight HR.

Oct 21, 2011 11:00 AM
rating: 0
 
evo34

Where did you show that past high-leverage performance is predictive of future high-leverage performance? Especially specific outcomes of high-leverage PAs. A certain pitcher induces more flyballs in high-leverage situations over a single season (tiny, tiny sample), and he should be expected to continue to do so? I don't think so.

Oct 23, 2011 13:48 PM
rating: -1
 
harderj

Well, I was just playing around, trying to find reasons either for or against the change from Motte to Rhodes and adding a little Strat-O spice.

Wasn't really trying to say anything about predictive power, but this is part of the debate. Are there meaningful metrics that should inform decision making, or should it be manager hunches?

LaRussa made the move based on whatever he did, we can debate whether it was the right move or not, but don't have full access, and the Rangers ended up winning that game, whether TLR made the right moves or not.

Oct 23, 2011 18:44 PM
rating: 0
 
lesmash

Were I given the option, I think I would have left in Motte to pitch to Hamilton and go for the K. If I get it, then I walk Young and try to get a DP out of Adrian Beltre.

Historically, Beltre grounds into more than his share of DPs. A quick glance at BR says he's hit into 57 DPs over the past 3 seasons, and he missed a decent amount of time in two of those three seasons. He's also not particularly patient, so less likely to hurt you with a walk with the sacks full.

All of this said, I have no issue with TLR's decisions. I agree that he knows his players better than any of us, and my analysis is more from a replay standpoint where it is simply about playing percentages.

Oct 21, 2011 06:00 AM
rating: 3
 
Tarakas

I think the move would make more sense if Rhodes was not so bad. I wrote a piece on a blog arguing that Rhodes should not even be on the roster, as he is not good at getting hitters from either side of the plate out anymore. I mean, Jake Westbrook, for one, had more success against left handed batters this year.

I don't always trust LaRussa's opinion on players. He too often favors experience over ability beyond any evidence in performance, and Rhodes (and previously Ryan Franklin and Miguel Batista) will be trotted out to honor their years of experience despite their current lack of performance.

Oct 21, 2011 06:10 AM
rating: 3
 
JoeSky60

There's a reason, why the Rangers were only too happy to pay the bulk of his salary, and let St Louis take Rhodes this year. It's unfortunate for Rhodes, who has had a nice career, that his skills have eroded this far. Then again, this is why LOOGY's tend to have long careers. My son is already mentally preparing his son(who is only 2), to throw left-handed, only half in jest.

Oct 21, 2011 08:04 AM
rating: 0
 
lesmash

I love how this whole second-guessing became possible only because Albert Pujols did not properly cut off the throw from the outfield, and that allowed Elvis Andrus to advance to second base with nobody out. It's a bit ironic that blame is now being placed on TLR or certain relief pitchers when, in fact, shoddy defense played a huge role in the outcome of that inning.

I can understand people wanting to give Pujols a pass on a lot of things, but I'm guessing if the 1B was Carlos Pena then he'd be under a bus right about now.

Oct 21, 2011 06:10 AM
rating: 6
 
69wildcat

It is easier to excuse, if that is the correct term, physical errors, by players because they are caught up in the moment, trying to make play(s) on the field. It isn't as if Pujols, in this case, had time to think about what he needed/wanted to do and then made a bad decision. Instead he just missed the ball, perhaps because he stole a glance towards third base to see if Kinsler was being held up or was going home. In LaRussa's case he had time (not a lot of time to be sure) to think about what he wanted to do and then made that decision; in this case it didn't work out the way he wanted.

Personally I would have left Motte in to try and strike Hamilton out. Unless Motte was injured I think that would have been the Cardinals' best bet. Then if he struck Hamilton out I would have walked Beltre and hoped for the double play. A lot of ifs to be sure and no guarantee of success, but more likely than Rhodes and Lynn being able to retire the side without the ball being put in play.

LaRussa has had a long and successful career and will deservedly go into the Hall of Fame once he retires. He is not the first nor will he be the last HOF manager to have a decision back fire on him in a crucial game situation.

Oct 21, 2011 06:49 AM
rating: 3
 
BrianGunn
(439)

I think Pujols IS under the bus right now. I've read and heard many, many criticisms of Pujols, from both the local St. Louis media and nationally, for his shoddy defensive play in the 9th.

Oct 21, 2011 07:52 AM
rating: 0
 
JoeSky60

Not to deflect criticism from Pujols, but I think 69wildcat had it right, that he stole a glance at 3rd, saw that Kinsler had well-rounded the bag, and let the weak, off-line throw go though, to prevent the run. Unfortunately, this allowed Andrus to, narrowly, take second. McCarver, in his infinite wisdom, went on & on about Pujols deflecting the throw, when replays showed he never touched it. Again, it all goes back to the all-seeing eyes of the 1st & 2nd guessers.

Oct 21, 2011 08:13 AM
rating: 1
 
harderj

Interesting scenario if Pujols had successfully cut it off. It looked to me like Jay's throw was a bit high and up the third base line, though.

The situation would have been Andrus at first, Kinsler at third, Motte on the hill against Hamilton.

Steal situation, certainly, but with Yadi behind the plate? And with Kinsler at third, do the Cards' even throw for him? Do the Rangers try to "antler" a steal of home (or is it the other one)?

How's Motte at holding guys? John LaManna projects him as a +3 hold, Rhodes a -1 (on his inter-league card, -5 with Texas).

So TLR may have made the move to Rhodes v. Hamilton even if Andrus were still at first, to try to foil a steal.

Would have been fun to see.

Oct 21, 2011 08:20 AM
rating: 0
 
Vince Galloro

Jay's throw was badly tailing away from Pujols. I think the blame for not cutting it off has to be at least 50-50 between Jay and Pujols. (Also, is Tim McCarver the only person who saw the play and the numerous replays who believes that Pujols' mitt nicked the ball and that's what sent it off line?)

I was texting with a Cardinals-supporting friend last night, and after the game, I said that the headline will be "Motte blows lead" rather than "Cardinals offense fails to support fine overall pitching effort." Some defensive plays didn't get made in the ninth, to be sure, but let's not lose sight of the lack of offense by the Cardinals either.

Oct 21, 2011 08:40 AM
rating: 3
 
cstewart72

Same thing for Ron Washington in game 1. LaRussa went to the lefty Scrabble, Wash sent up his best two pinch hitters against lefties -- Gentry and German -- who both feebly struck out. It was the right move and it didn't work. Credit LaRussa and Rzepczynski, blame Gentry & German, but not Wash's fault.

Oct 21, 2011 06:38 AM
rating: 3
 
vockins

Can I get a paragraph explaining why LaRussa used Gerald Laird as a pinch runner?

Oct 21, 2011 07:19 AM
rating: 2
 
BillJohnson

Simple, actually: he runs better than Molina (which isn't a very high bar...) and is the only backup catcher the Cardinals are carrying.

Oct 21, 2011 08:11 AM
rating: 0
 
harderj

And, I just read something in the NYT that TLR tries to get all his players into a World Series box score somehow, so this was a good opportunity (unless Laird had already appeared in game one).

It's kind of a nice touch, actually.

Oct 21, 2011 08:23 AM
rating: 0
 
vockins

I understand the "put in a better runner than Molina" part. It just seems to me the best option to be that runner was Ryan Theriot. Is he hurt?

Oct 21, 2011 08:26 AM
rating: 1
 
Vince Galloro

Laird and Theriot also were the last position players on the bench, so if LaRussa burns Theriot as a pinch runner and the game goes to extras, Laird has to enter, leaving the Cardinals without any pinch hitters either.

Actually, wouldn't the best move, if you want to avoid burning all of your bench players, be to put in a starting pitcher who runs decently? Not all starting pitchers have great instincts for running the bases, of course.

Oct 21, 2011 08:43 AM
rating: 1
 
vockins

Well, he certainly managed to avoid using all his bench players, didn't he.

Whatever, I'm done thinking about it, serenity now.

Oct 21, 2011 08:55 AM
rating: 1
 
John Douglass

LaRussa has used Lohse as pinch runner in the past, and he would have been a fine baserunning sub for Molina. Jackson could have run the bases for Molina as well, adding speed and not burning a player who might be needed should the game go extra innings.

I can't agree with removing Motte for Rhodes. Motte is more likely to record a K against Hamilton, putting me at 1 out with runners on 2nd/3rd and completely removing the possibility that two deep sac flies beat me. It's not that Motte is overwhelmingly likely to strike someone out, but it's enough that I'll take it over Rhodes and consider it a reasonable risk/reward rate.

TLR pulled his best bullpen pitcher for one of his worst because the handedness matched up and he got beat.

Oct 21, 2011 09:09 AM
rating: 1
 
BrianGunn
(439)

Laird runs well for a catcher, average for most position players, and has pretty decent speed scores, so not the worst choice. But I'm wondering why TLR didn't use Lohse to pinch run, as he'd done many times during the season. He's a fine runner, and that way you don't burn Molina's bat and glove if the Cards tie. (Lohse is starting Game 3, though, and it was cold out there, so maybe TLR thought it too big an injury risk? Not difficult to picture nasty collisions, strained quads, etc. in that situation.)

Oct 21, 2011 09:12 AM
rating: 0
 
BrianGunn
(439)

Sorry, John, I doubled up on your point!

Oct 21, 2011 09:13 AM
rating: 0
 
BillJohnson

I must admit that I was wondering that too, but the temperature must be the answer. You really don't want Lohse pulling a hamstring in that situation.

Oct 21, 2011 09:22 AM
rating: 0
 
John Douglass

You would make a choice in a close World Series game based on the 0.0002% chance that a player pulls a hamstring based on weather?

Oct 21, 2011 09:40 AM
rating: 0
 
BillJohnson

If it was only a 0.0002% chance, probably not. But one, I'd be stunned if the chance was that small, and two, TLR has a better idea of Lohse's susceptibility to cold weather than we do.

Oct 21, 2011 12:53 PM
rating: 1
 
apbadogs

"He's a fine runner, and that way you don't burn Molina's bat and glove if the Cards tie."
***
Am I missing something? If Lohse runs for Molina isn't Molina's bat and glove "burnt"? There aren't courtesy runners in MLB last I checked.

Oct 21, 2011 10:42 AM
rating: 1
 
BrianGunn
(439)

Woops. Very stupid oversight on my part.

Oct 21, 2011 10:53 AM
rating: 0
 
69wildcat

If the Cardinals tied the game Laird was going to be in the game regardless, as he is the only other catcher St. Louis has active. He is a perfectly reasonable choice to run for Molina, absent anyone with blazing speed on the bench.

Oct 21, 2011 12:02 PM
rating: 1
 
lesmash

I can only repeat what I heard on television, which is that TLR would not want to use up both Theriot and Laird from his bench on the one move of using a better runner.

Oct 21, 2011 08:39 AM
rating: 0
 
APer930

I'm ok with the move, better chance of the Series going 7 games which is all I want.
Plus, in all reality, if Pujols makes the cut off, we're playing extra innings!

Oct 21, 2011 08:52 AM
rating: 0
 
ScottyB

TLR's been very successful with his very active aproach to bullpen management, so far be it for me to criticize.

However, I always looked at bringing in a new pitcher as a bit of a crapshoot- you never know if that NEXT guy you bring in is not going to have it that day (like hitting on a 13 in blackjack, you may get an 8, but you may get a 10). As a result, I would go with fewer relief pitchers for longer outings each instead of flipping through my entire bullpen for every little platoon advantage. Thoughts?

Oct 21, 2011 09:19 AM
rating: 3
 
tweicheld

I don't see why everyone is burying Rhodes for giving up a routine fly ball. I'm sure BP has the stats for what the probability of Kinsler scoring in that situation was. TLR has pushed all the right buttons so far, and the Cards have been very resilient for weeks now (and I admire it, in spite of being a very bummed Phillies fan). I don't think this loss kills them, but it really stings for sure. Of what I watched of Motte, he can be wild, and that looked to be the case last night, so maybe that's why he got hooked. Give the Rangers credit, the top and middle of their lineup came through.

Oct 21, 2011 09:33 AM
rating: 1
 
oskinner

I'm sure you meant "Kinsler--barely--stole second base", as Furcal was still wearing a glove and holding the ball....

Oct 21, 2011 09:36 AM
rating: 0
 
pepper

My strategic second-guessing was in the bottom of the 9th. After Feliz walked Molina without showing a lot of command, and with Feliz having some extra time off, why make Punto bunt? Punto isn't exactly a good hitter, but he could have made Feliz work instead of lamely going after two balls out of the strike zone on bunt attempts and then swinging at a pitch well off the plate.

Oct 21, 2011 09:37 AM
rating: 4
 
Tarakas

This game was not lost due to Pujols's defense or failures of the pitching staff or LaRussa's use of it. If you told me before the series started that we'd hold Texas to 2 runs in game 2, I would have been ecstatic. The Cardinals scored 1 run. It is hard to win when you only score one run.

Oct 21, 2011 09:57 AM
rating: 1
 
Tim Lowell

I really hate that this series is becoming a forum on the managing skills of Anthony La Russa, Jr. Esq. There are 50 guys playing baseball. Let's pay some attention to them, shall we?

Oct 21, 2011 09:57 AM
rating: 1
 
John Douglass

I think it's VERY important to discuss, if for no other reason than the Cardinals making it this far already vindicates LaRussa in the eyes of the media and some fans. I don't know how many times I've heard a broadcaster say "The Cardinals don't make it this far without the Colby Rasmus trade."

It's important to examine what he does as a manager and how much of his team's success has nothing to do with him and everything to do with the extraordinary amount of hitting talent he has. There's been a lot of praise heaped on his bullpen management recently, and his "making all the right moves" down the stretch. But that neglects that he started the season with Franklin, Batista, Augenstein, Tallet, Miller in his bullpen working high-leverage situations, while Salas, Sanchez, Lynn were in AAA. His bullpen/roster management early in the year is what led to the team needing a late-September gift from Atlanta to be where they are now. He really hasn't changed. He's just rode a hot streak. I'm glad BP is a place where an alternate look, beyond the oversimplified "The Rasmus trade got the team here" view that broadcasters and the mainstream media are delivering.

Oct 21, 2011 11:02 AM
rating: 1
 
BillJohnson

Speaking of "oversimplified," it's worth noting that "with Franklin, Batista, Augenstein, Tallet, Miller in his bullpen working high-leverage situations," the TLR bullpen was actually doing quite well. Franklin (whose adventures as closer led Cardinals fans to call him "Franklinhausen") had (and blew) his last high-leverage appearance on June 1, at which time the Cardinals had a 33-24 record and were in first place in their division. They were still only half a game out of first at the time of Batista's final appearance wearing the birds on the bat, three weeks later. Already by mid-April, TLR and Duncan had figured out that Salas and Sanchez were going to be useful (to put it mildly), and they were racking up scoreless innings galore by the end of the month. Indeed, Sanchez's _last_ appearance until the final week of the season was the thing that coincided eerily well with the Cardinals losing their grip on first place, on June 12. Meanwhile, Augenstein was already on the DL by the time Salas made his first fire-breathing appearance; his roster slot was the one Salas filled.

The narrative about TLR over-relying on decrepit old players may be emotionally satisfying. That doesn't make it correct -- in this particular case. If you want to cast aspersions on his roster management, look to the abomination he was running out there as a middle infield for the first half of the year, not the bullpen, where he didn't really do nearly as badly as he was accused of, and would have done quite well indeed if Sanchez and Lynn hadn't got hurt.

Oct 21, 2011 12:31 PM
rating: 5
 
BrianGunn
(439)

I agree. And I find John's post very strange. His original point - about re-examining the media narrative of TLR as a genius - is a good one. But then he seems to throw out his own case for complexity by saying of TLR "he just rode a hot streak." I mean, that seems pretty contrary to the point of Steven Goldman's excellent piece. Almost any managerial critique has to start with the premise that there's always much that we just don't know. (And along those lines, Bernie Miklasz - by no means a kneejerk La Russa apologist - has a very insightful article in today's Post-Dispatch about why La Russa might've chosen to yank Motte in last night's game.)

Oct 21, 2011 14:22 PM
rating: 1
 
moehk21

Fantastic article Steven, couldn't agree more. The retroactive view of managerial moves is generally negligent by the Media and fans especially. Very well done!

Oct 21, 2011 10:10 AM
rating: 0
 
jhardman

First time I've seen John Lamanna mentioned in a BP comments section. He also has Gerald Laird as an * runner for a catcher but he gets picked off on a 9. In that instance, no wonder LaRussa ran Laird. Then again, maybe he just wanted Laird to see the field against his former team, while saying "They have Napoli and I have Laird - I'll show them." Next I'll expect to see Adam Morris mentioned with a Laird love-in comment.

Look - bashing the Cardinals and LaRussa is sort of pointless in my opinion. I think the national media should turn their binoculars the other direction - to the daring (and excellent) baserunning that kept the Rangers from going back to Arlington down 2 games to none. Kinsler had the most narrow of windows to steal that base against one of the better catchers at stopping the running game, and just barely did so. Elvis Andrus is one of the best baserunners and the league,a nd it showed last night. Elvis forced the most minor of mistakes by taking second base, and it won the game for Texas. give credit where it is due, and stop bashing LaRussa.

Sometimes, that's just the way baseball go.

Oct 21, 2011 10:18 AM
rating: 1
 
JoeSky60

Sorry, to all the TLR apologists, but yesterday, it was a forum on Ron Washington's managerial skills. The manager always takes the heat in a loss. LaRussa's a big boy, and used to it, as is Washington, despite the disparity in their managerial experience.

Oct 21, 2011 10:27 AM
rating: 0
 
amazin_mess

I'm rooting for Texas in no small part because I don't want to continue hearing how smart Tony LaRussa is. Yes, he's the guy smart enough to fall asleep at a red light while driving drunk.

He's a great manager, but he's no Einstein.

Oct 21, 2011 11:10 AM
rating: 3
 
jrfukudome

He's not smart enough to fall asleep drunk at the wheel; he's gutsy enough.

Oct 21, 2011 18:37 PM
rating: 2
 
Sharky

Steven, kudos to you for being even-handed (you criticized TLR earlier, yet explain now that he has better info than we have). Of course, he probably also had better info in the earlier situation too no?

BTW, I'm fairly confident it should read "criticize US sabermetric types" not "criticize WE sabermetric types."

Oct 21, 2011 11:16 AM
rating: 0
 
Richie

Tony took out his best reliever, after two batters, for his worst reliever, in order to get the platoon advantage. Against a hitter who doesn't have a big platoon split.

Yes, it was a blunder. And I'm a TLR fan.

Oh, and of course he should've pinch-run Theriot. You need 1 run to tie or otherwise lose, you put your best runner in there. I'm a TLR fan, and he made two blunders last night. In a game he projects to lose anyway, even making the right moves.

Oct 21, 2011 11:32 AM
rating: 1
 
PaddyE

"No baseball simulation that I know of has an option for randomized 'not that into it today' diminishment of a player’s abilities, or 'severely distracted,' or 'slightly out of whack.'"

It's been awhile since I last re-read it, but didn't J Henry Waugh's game had something along these lines?

As for the 9th last night, assigning blame to any individual for that inning is an angels on pinheads exercise.

Oct 21, 2011 11:33 AM
rating: 1
 
harderj

Under the rules of the Universal Baseball Association, players were categorized as Rookies, Regulars, Stars, and Ace pitchers, and could move among those categories year to year based on performance in the league, but on a re-skim of the book just now I didn’t find reference to day-by-day random effects.

In fact, early in the book there’s this passage: “No, somehow, he [J. Henry Waugh] had to get him out of there! He sought for some excuse. Something Bancroft saw in the way the kid was exercising the bat as he moved toward home plate? A kind of slump or twitch in his pitching shoulder? Why not? Look close, Barney!”

There’s a reference late in the book to Waugh finding “one pretense or another – personal problems, minor illnesses, obscenity on the field – shaken up the Knick lineup…” in hopes that they would lose their games, but that was the proprietor’s imagination, not a roll of the dice.

And when he finally introduces his friend Lou to the game, he’s benched the Knicks’ only 4-star hitter (Bran Maverly), because he had “been in a slump” (though it’s clear that was another subjective move to encourage the Knicks to lose).

Oct 21, 2011 14:30 PM
rating: 0
 
harderj

Ah, found one.

Statis-Pro Baseball has the following for pitchers in the advanced rules section:

"Good and Bad 'Stuff' for Pitchers...this rule is meant to simulate days when certain pitchers are unhittable (as Len Barker was when he pitched his perfect game in May, for example) and others when they can't get a man out."

Based on a random turn of a Fast Action Card before a pitcher starts (or enters as a reliever), he has Great, Good, Normal, Bad, or Terrible stuff, which adds to or subtracts from the play number result derived from a combination of his PB ("control factor") and the batter's ratings.

Relievers can only achieve Goodness, not Greatness.

Pitchers don't vary in their propensity for one or another daily effect (could use Ron Shandler's DOM/DIS to introduce that concept), but good pitchers start with a higher PB that then gets adjusted, so maybe that's good enough.

Also, both players would know a priori what the situation was, which doesn't necessarily replicate that one manager would likely have more insider knowledge.

And for batters, every day is Groundhog Day.

Oct 22, 2011 02:57 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Steven Goldman
BP staff

I played about two seasons of games in Statis-Pro altogether and somehow I don't remember that. I remember the general platoon factor you were supposed to use and a few other quirky rules, but not that one...

Oct 22, 2011 16:59 PM
 
harderj

I never played it all that much, but dug out all my games (after re-reading Coover) to see if I could find an example of day-by-day variances (or even within game).

Statis-Pro, Extra Innings, Gil Hodges' Pennant Fever, Strat, Calcu-Ball, and Cadaco All-Star Baseball (as well as MicroLeague and Tony LaRussa Baseball for the PC) are the ones I have, and only Statis-Pro (c. 1982) has this feature.

Don't know about APBA, Big League Manager, Pursue the Pennant/Dynasty, Sports Illustrated Superstar Baseball, Replay, Out of the Park, Ball Park Baseball, Sherco, or Negamco, but nothing I've found online about these, which I haven't played, suggests any have this innovation.

It's interesting, too, that in Waugh's game ratings for the next season were based on how a player did *in the simulation* during one season, not like in "our" games, where it's actual MLB performance that determines the "cards."

Oct 23, 2011 02:15 AM
rating: 0
 
Richie

And regarding 'saving' Theriot for later, if he were all that useful a hitter, he'd have been in the game already. Running is probably the one thing he does best now as a baseball player.

Oct 21, 2011 11:57 AM
rating: -1
 
BillJohnson

That is an utterly damning assessment.

Oct 21, 2011 12:35 PM
rating: 0
 
UtahDave

I don't care for Tony LaRussa, but even I would not blame the 9th inning on him over managing.

Oct 21, 2011 13:05 PM
rating: 3
 
amazin_mess

Nor would I. It was simply a good team coming back on a good team. Not a big deal.

Oct 21, 2011 13:35 PM
rating: 3
 
therealn0d

The problem with Tony isn't that he overmanages...he's a fine Strat-O-Manager. The problem is the pieces he chooses to manage with. If he could season his own meat instead of picking over others beef jerky, he might have more rings.

Oct 21, 2011 18:51 PM
rating: -1
 
JoeSky60

Sorry, disagree. TLR has always shown a preference for "gamers", as opposed to talent, when given the option. David Eckstein, anyone? I can't imagine that TLR hasn't had significant input as to the talent that his GMs have pursued over the years.

Oct 22, 2011 08:00 AM
rating: 0
 
evo34

61 comments later...is there anyone here who would put Arthur Rhodes into a close World Series game -- for any reason? If so, would love to hear why. About half the people here (incl. Goldman) defend LaRussa, but no one has made even a shred of case that he is a major league caliber pitcher, much less a guy you would look to in a close post-season game.

This is not Monday morning QBing. In the game in question, Rhodes' performance was actually pretty neutral -- i.e., the odds of winning were roughly the same when entered as when he left. It's more a question of expected results going forward.

Oct 24, 2011 00:03 AM
rating: -1
 
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