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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.

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If you told me the Cardinals would trail by two runs before Chris Carpenter even recorded an out, I’d be hard pressed to imagine a scenario in which the Cardinals were victorious. It certainly wouldn’t have looked like last night.

The Good: The offense continued hitting and ended up tying Cliff Lee’s previous career high in hits allowed (12). At Crashburn Alley,  Bill Baer argued that Lee had fallen prey to poor luck on balls in play. That is, the Cardinals twelve hits were a function of luck in that they did not seem particularly hard hit but just managed to find holes in the defense. There’s certainly some merit to this position. After all, Lee pitched well in some aspects. He was missing bats (9 K’s in 6 IP), throwing strikes (only 2 BB’s), and compiled a 1.03 FIP in the process. At one point, Bill tweeted:

The Cardinals have put 20 balls in play. Arguably two of them were well-struck.

Obviously, some of the hits were lucky (e.g. Pujols’s broken bat single, Berkman’s bloop to RF), but I can recall at least five that were hit very hard: Furcal’s triple to lead off the game, Theriot’s double down the left field line, Craig’s triple that was misjudged by Victorino, Pujols’s single to score Craig, and Berkman’s groundout that Polanco snagged and saved a run.

As a whole, the offense accounted for 23.7% of the win probability. Jon Jay lead the hitting group with a .300 WPA. In that respect, maybe the Cardinals were a little lucky since Jay’s 2 RBI’s both came on seeing eye singles that he grounded through the infield defense. So maybe a little luck was involved, but when isn’t that true of baseball?

The Bad: It seemed rather obvious that starting on three days rest did bother Chris Carpenter. He was uncharacteristically falling behind in the count and walked more batters (3) than he struck out (2). Per Joe Lefkowitz’s site, Carpenter’s velocity was down compared to the rest of 2011. I wonder if he threw fewer warm up pitches before the game in order to preserve his arm to compensate for going on short rest. He did have an efficient third inning of work and started throwing more strikes as the game progressed. Should this series reach a fifth game, I’ll look forward to seeing the real Carpenter take the mound. Unfortunately for us, he’ll probably oppose the real Roy Halladay.

The Impressive: The Cardinal bullpen only allowed one hit in six innings. The transformation of this unit has been remarkable. Azruavatar had a nice piece about it on VEB the other day. It’s no longer composed of “control” guys or “experience” guys, but players with discernible skills. Several of them can light up the radar gun and they’re missing bats in the process. Jason Motte (11.9%), Scrabble (11.7%), Fernando Salas (11.2%), and Dotel (13.4%) all induce above average swinging strike rates. Boggs has resurfaced after a baffling year of (non)use. Dotel has been incredible against right-handed batters (1.43 FIP). Add Eduardo Sanchez and Lance Lynn to this mix (possibly subtracting Dotel) and it’s easy to imagine the bullpen to mature into a veritable strength in 2012 and beyond.

As for last night, the bullpen was good for .59 WPA. Boggs entered the game at the most crucial moment, getting out of an inning that started with Scrabble hitting Utley with a pitch. The Cardinals were only leading by one run and Boggs got the first out of the inning when Pence grounded into a fielder’s choice. Motte accumulated the most win probability out of the bullpen (.235 WPA) by recording the final four outs.

And with that, the Cardinals won their first playoff game since finishing off the Tigers in the 2006 World Series. Let’s hope they make it a winning streak tomorrow night, eh?

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PHILADELPHIA, PA - SEPTEMBER 19: Roy Halladay ...

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Well, the Cardinals league-leading offense trumped the Phillies league-leading pitching staff… and they still lost game 1 of the NLDS. After surrendering a 3-run blast to Lance Berkman in the first inning, Roy Halladay morphed into a better version of himself and finished eight innings while easily disposing of his final 21 batters.

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The Good: The Cardinals jumped Roy Halladay for an early lead on Berkman’s 3-run homer in the first inning. Berkman’s blast was good for .239 WPA (win probability added) and left the Cardinals with a 78% chance of winning the game before they’d even made their second out. He lead the team with an overall .225 WPA.

Rafael Furcal alleviated fears about his game being compromised by a hamstring injury when he singled and stole a base to lead off the game. Even with Punto’s solid play (when healthy) this season, his career wOBA (.296) suggests that even a decline phase Furcal is probably the better option (.323 wOBA in 200+ plate appearances with Cardinals).

There’s no shame in scoring three runs against Roy Halladay. And when he exited the game, the Cardinals immediately resumed hitting by posting a crooked number on the board in the ninth.

The Bad: TLR replaced David Freese with Daniel Descalso in the bottom of the 7th inning when they were only trailing by 3 runs. Why? I understand it was a double-switch hoping that Scrabble could pitch more than one inning, but the Cardinals were still within striking distance of a win and Freese’s bat (.348 wOBA) is clearly superior to Descalso (.296). If TLR was intent on making a double-switch, it would have made more sense to pull Skip Schumaker (who had made the last out of the previous inning) in favor of Nick Punto.

And while we’re addressing this issue, why has it become commonplace to replace Freese with Descalso at third base anyways? Does the eye test grade Descalso to be demonstrably better than Freese with his glove at the hot corner? The metrics don’t make this argument. UZR/150 has Descalso at -6.6 while Freese is +3.9 at 3B. Total Zone also considers Descalso to be inferior to Freese with the glove. So why do we keep seeing this happen in games?

The Ugly: When the bottom of the sixth inning started, the Cardinals still had a 76.8% chance of winning the game and Lohse seemed to be cruising pretty easily. Lohse’s disastrous sixth inning resulted in a 69.1% upswing in Win Probability for the Phillies. This game lacked in suspense. Once upon a time, the Cardinals had a three-run lead with good Kyle Lohse on the mound and then they suddenly trailed by three. The Cardinals squandered an opportunity to win game one and are now left relying on TLR’s desperation gamble to pitch Carpenter on short rest in game two.

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Color me as surprised as anyone that the Cardinals made the playoffs. Although I’ve been fairly vocal about my frustrations with the organization – namely Tony LaRussa’s swelling sphere of influence – credit is undeniably deserved here. It’s October… and baseball is still being played in Saint Louis.

Here are some links to wet your appetite for game one:

  • At Birdland, Derrick Goold uses Cool Standings to sets this year’s come from behind charge to the postseason in historical perspective. The 2011 Cardinals had the 4th lowest chance of making the playoffs at any point in September (1.4% on 9/5) and the 3rd lowest chance in the last week of the season (6.8%). Even more impressive, the 2011 Rays ranked 1st in each of these categories; they had a 0.5% chance of making the playoffs on 9/3 and 3.7% chance with one week left.
  • At Beyond the Boxscore, J-Doug posted a graph that tracked the chances of both the Cardinals and Rays making the playoffs throughout September. He says: “On September 4th, the odds for either joint-outcome occurring were a dismal 1 in 100,000. Two days later, the odds of both Tampa Bay and St. Louis playing October were a mind-boggling 1 in 250,000.”
  • In Beyond the Boxscore’s NLDS Phils-Cards preview, there’s a pretty graph comparing the teams in terms of run-scoring and run-prevention. As you might guess, the Phillies dominate the Cardinals in terms of run prevention. The Cardinals are 10% below league average in RA/G while the Phillies are an astounding 17% better than league average. The Cardinals, however, lead the Phillies in every offensive category (RS/G, wOBA, OBP, SLG, BABIP, LD%, and HR/FB%). While the old mantra calls for good pitching to prevail over good hitting, the playoffs are infamously random… especially when it comes to a five game series.
  • Head over to Fungoes for insights from Bill Baer, writer at the great Phillies blog, Crashburn Alley.
  • Dave Cameron calls the Cardinals, “the biggest underdogs of round one,” at FanGraphs Staff Playoff Predictions. Of course, I think that says more about the 102-win Phillies than the suddenly formidable Cardinals. Of the 22 voters, 21 picked the Phillies to win. Cameron estimated that the Cardinals actually have a 30-35% chance of winning the series.

A couple of more notes before I park myself in front of a TV:

  • I was surprised by the Cardinals’ decision to leave Kyle McClellan off of the playoff roster. According to Mozeliak cited “deadarm” as the issue. He clearly hit a wall in September (9.37/5.63 FIP/xFIP) and struggled ever since resuming his bullpen role (5.97/4.59 FIP/xFIP overall in relief). If the decision was between McClellan and Boggs, they made the correct one (3.44/3.66 FIP/xFIP overall).
  • Also, kudos to the team for choosing Adron Chambers over Corey Patterson. Despite only having 8 total plate appearances, Chambers has always had a wOBA over .350 in minors and has walked over 10% of the time in three years split between double-A and triple-A. That suggests that he’s a better option than Corey Patterson’s career .302 wOBA. If the team was really looking for speed, however, I wish they would have chosen Tyler Greene who’s only been caught stealing in 10 of 78 triple-A attempts. Oh yeah… and he lead this year’s Cardinals in stolen bases (11) despite only amassing 121 plate appearances. He was not thrown out once this year and I think he could have handled outfield duty just fine.

Gotta run. Maybe I’ll post some game recaps with help from FanGraphs WPA charts. Go Cards!

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Special Warfare Operator 1st Class Thompson ex...

Don't do it, Mang!!! (Image via Wikipedia)

On twitter the other day, I asked for some article ideas and a friend of mine asked me to analyze the bullpen and lament all of the blown saves. After all, Franklin blew four saves in the first month of the season… take those away and the Cardinals would be right in the thick of the NL Central race, right? Well, not exactly… but it’s probably fortunate that Albert is holding the sniper rifle in the picture to the right instead of one of 3 million fans that will walk through Busch Stadium’s gates this season.

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Tony La Russa

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After viewing Tony LaRussa’s interview with Frank Cusumano yesterday, I tweeted, “TLR’s a control freak, Colby’s slightly hard-headed, and T-Raz is always sayin’ sh*t. This isn’t going to stop, is it?” Much to my dismay, it ended quicker than anticipated in a deal that seems unnecessarily expansive.

I worked today, so it’s hard to know which reporter was first to break the news, but Joe Strauss had the details at STL-Today:

The Cardinals have traded center fielder Colby Rasmus and relievers P.J. Walters, Brian Tallet and Trever Miller to the Toronto Blue Jays in a multi-player package including starting pitcher Edwin Jackson, relievers Octavio Dotel and Marc Rzepczynski and outfielder Corey Patterson.

There you have it. Fear realized. Your favorite team just traded a promising 24-year-old outfielder who was under team control through 2014 in a deal centered around Edwin Jackson, a talented pitcher who will be a free agent at the end of the season.

As I wrote Saturday, it’s not that I opposed trading Colby Rasmus. It’s just that I hoped Mozeliak would resist organizational pressure to pull the trigger on a deal unless he secured cost-controlled talent in return. It’s fair to wonder if whatever leverage Mo had in negotiations involving Rasmus was negated by LaRussa’s criticism of Colby last night. On the other hand, it’s likely that the parameters of the trade were already in place, and TLR’s knowledge of the impending trade influenced his decision to publicly air frustrations about Colby.

Either way, LaRussa’s organizational influence has become increasingly apparent in recent years. And we’re left with another transaction fueled by player personality and intangibles rather than raw talent. That’s how we ended up with Ryan Theriot booting balls all over the infield. Meanwhile, Brendan Ryan has outperformed Theriot offensively and defensively, and this decision has cost the Cardinals more than 2 WAR to date.

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Colby Rasmus

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On a Cardinals team struggling to find traction in a mediocre division, Colby Rasmus has become the vogue mid-summer discussion topic (again) as the July 31st trade deadline looms. In case you hadn’t yet reached your fill of P-D articles, sports talk radio shows, and blog posts on the subject, I thought I’d throw my two cents in the bucket as well.

In 2010, Colby was the most valuable offensive center fielder (.366 wOBA) in the league not named Carlos Gonzalez or Josh Hamilton. In 2011, he’s ranked the fourteenth most valuable offensive center fielder (.324 wOBA) in the league between the likes of Michael Brantley and Peter Bourjos. Forget the league. Rasmus is only the fourth most valuable offensive center fielder in the division behind McCutchen, Bourn, and Stubbs.

A player’s trending walk and strikeout rates can indicate whether or not someone is taking steps forward in their career. Not only has Colby maintained his walk rate (11.5%), but he’s also cut down on strikeouts by seven percent (20.3%). Surprisingly, this hasn’t coincided with improvement for Colby. Instead, his production has declined precipitously in the past two months to the extent that he’s yielded playing time to Jon Jay. So what happened? First, let’s take a look at Colby’s plate approach.

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The other day I was perusing through the stat lines of the triple-A players in Memphis and noticed that quite a few of them were getting on base frequently via the walk.

One thing that has helped the Cardinals charge their way to a league best wOBA (.344) is their propensity for drawing walks and limiting strikeouts. Check out how they are fairing in these two categories:

The Cardinals rank second in the league in walks (tied with the Pirates at 9.6%) and fourth in limiting strikeouts (tied with Athletics at 17.9%). In comparison, their 2010 rankings were eleventh in BB% (tied with the Dodgers, Brewers, and Tigers at 8.7%) and fifth in K% (18.5%).

Their increased ability to coax walks can partly be explained by the acquisition of Lance Berkman (17.4%) and the career best rates of Matt Holliday (12.2%) and Colby Rasmus (13.9%).

Now check out Memphis:

The Memphis Redbirds’ BB% (11.1) is good for third in the Pacific Coast League, though they strike out a decent amount (only five teams had a worse K rate than 18.3%). Recently promoted Matt Carpenter lead the team with a 17.6 BB%, but others displayed impressive walk rates as well: Andrew Brown (15.5%), Adron Chambers (13.3%), James Rapoport (13.2%), and Mark Hamilton (19.6%).

I don’t have much else to add, but I do hope the trend continues throughout the season… and maybe even beyond.

 

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It barely took Daniel Descalso 150 major league plate appearances to earn a nickname. Thanks to his late inning heroics (as noted in recent Joe Strauss articles at STL-Today) which include nine game-tying or go-ahead hits in the seventh inning or later, a .368 AVG and 11 RBIs with two outs and runners in scoring position, and a .367 AVG in late and close situations (when plate appearance occurs in seventh inning or later with tied score, batting team ahead by one, or having the tying run in the on deck circle), Tony La Russa has dubbed Descalso “D-Money.”

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Mitchell Boggs

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On Tuesday, Dave Duncan appeared on Bernie Miklasz’s radio show and talked about Mitchell Boggs’ surprising demotion to Memphis. Bernie summarized the conversation in his Bytes section at STL-Today:

Cardinals pitching coach Dave Duncan was a guest on my radio show Tuesday and made a lot of sense when he discussed the demotion of Mitchell Boggs. Duncan said Boggs had lost confidence in his slider, had abandoned throwing the changeup, and was overly reliant on his fastball. Duncan believes Boggs needs plenty of work to re-establish the slider and the changeup and so a tune-up visit to Memphis was the best way to go, simply because Boggs had in effect fallen behind Fernando Salas, Eduardo Sanchez and Jason Motte in the RH reliever cast.

I thought this angle on the demotion would be easy enough to investigate with pitch f/x data available at Texas Leaguers. So… has Mitchell Boggs really been throwing more fastballs?

Mitchell Boggs’ Pitch Selection
Player Fastball Slider Curveball Changeup
Career 69.6 22.3 4.3 3.3
Bullpen Only 73.6 24.6 0.5 1.2
Pre 4/27/11 76.6 22.9 0 0.5
Post 4/27/11 80.4 19.6 0 0

If Boggs abandoned his changeup, it must’ve happened in college or the minors because he’s never thrown it much in the big leagues. While he toyed around with a curveball and changeup early on in his career as a starting pitcher, he pretty much gave up on them as soon as he became a member of the bullpen. Though Boggs slightly changed his fastball/slider usage after blowing the save in Houston on April 27, it wasn’t exactly a drastic shift. It’s a curious assertion that he had lost confidence in the pitch considering that it had been his most valuable weapon this season, and even more effective than it had been last year (at least according to Fangraphs’ pitch type linear weights).

I don’t mean to question Duncan’s integrity. It’s quite possible that Boggs admitted to diminished confidence in a private conversation, but that’s a peculiar scenario given that he still threw off-speed pitches about twenty percent of the time and had been getting better results than ever before.

I’d be surprised if Boggs spent a significant amount of time in Memphis, so I won’t overreact to the move. It should be noted, however, that he leads the Cardinals’ bullpen in xFIP (2.85) and K/BB (4.75). At VEB the other day, Tom S. pointed his finger at those relievers who should’ve been on the chopping block first. It seems pretty clear that this move was made to buy time for the careers of Franklin and Batista. But if the path of least resistance is what the club desired most, why not just send Pete Kozma back to triple-A?

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