I was lucky enough to be in attendance for game three. TLR has been questioned extensively for several decisions he made over the course of the loss and I wanted to spend some time sorting through all of the second guessing.
In the bottom of the 6th inning, Jaime Garcia was left in to hit for himself despite having men on first and second base. At FanGraphs, Jack Moore argued:
“…if any situation calls for Matt Holliday – he of the 154 wRC+ – it was the bottom of the sixth… When Garcia came up to the plate against Hamels, there was a leverage index of 2.51, the highest of the game to that point. By leaving Garcia in, he effectively conceded the baserunners, assuming his pitching staff could hold the Phillies down long enough for the Cardinals to start another rally.”
He goes on to explain other ways in which TLR’s decision-making process was flawed:
- The Phillies bullpen (namely, Bastardo, Worley, Lidge, and Madson) are nearly as difficult to hit as Cole Hamels. By forfeiting the inning, TLR will require his offense to start a whole new inning against pitchers nearly as talented.
- The attempt to save the bullpen was unnecessary since Cardinals’ relievers were relatively fresh despite covering six innings in game two.
- TLR’s decision to leave Jaime in to pitch suggested that he was managing in regular season mode rather than taking a win-now approach where leads are sought as immediately as possible.
Jack brings up some fine points, but I’m not sure that I completely agree. Let’s take them one at a time.
- Should TLR have pinch-hit Jaime Garcia in the bottom of the 6th inning since Matt Holliday was available? This is kind of splitting hairs, but that situation actually wasn’t the most crucial moment of the game to that point; that happened in the top of the sixth inning when Jaime induced a grounder from Ryan Howard with runners on first and second base. And overall, it only rated 7th or 8th by the time the game had ended. When Holliday did eventually pinch-hit, the leverage index was 2.29; that’s not too far off in terms of importance when compared to allowing Jaime to hit for himself. Maybe TLR kicked himself from withholding Holliday when it all played out, but he managed to use him in a potentially game-changing moment later on anyways. Offensively for the Cardinals, the most crucial moment (6.05 leverage index) occurred in the 8th inning when Allen Craig game to the plate with the bases loaded. He hit the ball about as hard as he could, but it headed right towards the sure-handed Utley, who turned the double play. What can you do? This one decision didn’t cost the Cardinals the game. I count at least seven other times when the leverage index was higher than 2.53.
- Yes, by forfeiting the inning, TLR required his offense to start a whole new rally. But guess what? They did. In fact, they did so each of the next three innings. The offense had their chances. If you have to hang the loss on somebody, pick the luck dragon, the Phillies making quality pitches, or the Cardinals hitters for failing to deliver more often.
- The suggestion that TLR was trying to save the bullpen is an assumption I’m not ready to make. I think it’s entirely possible that TLR simply wanted to leave his best pitcher in the game as long as he was dealing. Up to that point, Jaime’s pitch count was still relatively low and he had yet to allow any runs. Jaime’s had a 3.44 FIP in 2011. Other pitchers with better FIPs that were available that night included Octavio Dotel (3.23 in 54.0 IP), Jason Motte (2.48 in 68.0 IP), Scrabble (3.14 in 62.0 IP), and Fernando Salas (3.16 in 75.0 IP). Jaime Garcia pitched 194.2 innings this year with comparable results. As a general rule, you want your best players on the field as much as possible in October, right? In that regard, it’s hard for me to blame TLR. It would have been more difficult to cope with the decision to pull Jaime prematurely only to lose the game with less talented pitchers on the mound.
Others have questioned whether TLR should have opted to pitch to Carlos Ruiz rather than challenge Ben Francisco. In principle, I’m against awarding the opposition free base runners. Honestly, though, if you take a look at the win expectancy after TLR’s decision to walk Ruiz, it only dropped from 52.4% to 51.1%. Now, win expectancy assumes that the players involved are average. Intuitively, TLR knows that he has created an unnecessarily dangerous situation in which three runs could score instead of two in the worst-case scenario (the guy at-bat hits a home run), but he decided that Francisco is a considerably worse hitter than Ruiz to the extent that he was willing to take that chance. Francisco has a career .333 wOBA (approximately league-average) over 1514 plate appearances. Ruiz has a .327 wOBA over 2164 plate appearances. Neither of them have demonstrated trending platoon splits over that time, so they have each been nearly as successful at hitting lefties as righties. Their productiveness as hitters is nearly identical, and that suggests that TLR made the wrong call in pitching to Francisco over Ruiz, even if it only meant a 1% chance difference in winning the game.
Furthermore, I do take issue with TLR’s reasons for intentionally walking Ruiz:
“Well, if you follow our club with Ruiz over the years, he’s gotten as many big hits as the guys in the middle of the lineup. He just terrorizes us, and he’s already hit two balls hard. The matchup we liked, I liked. I made the decision. Francisco has had a tough time with Jaime, so it really wasn’t a tough call.“
Ruiz’s “success” against the Cardinals has come in all of 100 at-bats. As for Francisco, he had faced Jaime in all of 6 at-bats. The most frustrating part of TLR’s decision-making process is that it is often based in ridiculously small sample sizes rather than larger career arcs that provide more meaningful data. It’s disheartening to realize that the guy calling the shots for the team that we’re hanging our hopes on this October is turning to these types of numbers for spur of the moment decisions. I wouldn’t argue against TLR being a good manager. He’s won a lot of games and has taken this team further than I believed it could go. I’m appreciative of that. It’s irrational to discredit his role in the Cardinals’ resilience. But decisions are magnified in the playoffs, and I hate the thought of their season hanging in the balance of a decision resting on an inconsequential 6 at-bat sample size. The implications could be profound.
And that brings us to the last talking point: Should he have brought in Dotel to face the right-handed hitter? Here’s my logic. For TLR to walk Ruiz suggested that he had doubt in Jaime’s ability to get him out. And for all practical purposes, Ruiz and Francisco are similarly productive batters. Dotel has a career 2.92 FIP against right-handed batters and has been particularly effective lately (striking out six times as many right-handed batters than he walks). If TLR had any doubt in Jaime’s ability to retire either of these average hitters, bringing in Dotel was probably the correct play. In that sense, it’s conceivable that it would have been better for Dotel to face Francisco since Ruiz puts the ball in play more often.
All in all, this was an extremely winnable game. My concerns about TLR’s decision-making process aside, I don’t think he’s deserving of blame for this particular loss. While he had to make some tough calls, none of them were obvious transgressions in my estimation.
I was planning on writing a reaction to game four as well, but I think I might be all blogger-ed out for the night. We’ll see. Feel free to leave comments if you agree/disagree with my thoughts.
I’m downright giddy about watching Carpenter oppose Halladay tomorrow night. Hope this crazy season continues.