Today is one of those off-days that seems to have been built in with advance knowledge of the season's outcome. That wasn't a great win—the blown save, the weird bullpen histrionics, another ambiguous Wainwright performance—but it was an eventful one, one that demands a day off before the Cardinals get back to the business of winning brisk, efficient ballgames.
And if they'd lost—well, perish the thought.
Franklin didn't look like he was about to allow home runs to the wrong Hairston and a pitch-hitter, of course, but he didn't look like the unhittable guy who'd won over even the most hardened sections of the young pitchers contingent in April, either. In the course of fulfilling his prime directive—hit the corner, hit the corner, hit the corner—he began missing significantly off the plate, which ran the count full and forced him toward the center of the strike zone, where he turns back into Ryan Franklin. A game plan built upon filling the strike zone with borderline pitches falls apart when the command and the umpiring aren't perfectly sharp, and they weren't.
Pulling the camera back a little, Franklin was indeed the only reliever—of seven, the full complement in an average pen—to retire three batters yesterday. Like most La Russa over-managing, it fell just this side of plausibility, helped along by a series of circumstances that were especially conducive to it, particularly the especially shaky performance by McClellan and the Thurston error that turned Motte's relatively sharp turn into a one-out cameo. But in the end I have no way of justifying sending Franklin up to face—or even not face, if that walk was truly de facto intentional—Joey Votto.
I'm not of the opinion that a pitcher is thrown off by coming in with two outs in the eighth instead of the ninth, especially one who has shuffled through as many roles as Ryan Franklin has, but the very reason that the bullpen currently has eight pitchers in it is to allow for the continued employment of two whose only skill is retiring left-handed batters. If Trever Miller can't face Joey Votto when lefties stand, season to date, 2-20 against him, what's he doing on the roster? It's not just the move that doesn't make sense—it's the existence of this enormous bullpen in the face of it.
You might not have noticed it, because I think we're all inured by now to the fact that a fourth outfielder is playing second base, but Skip Schumaker's two doubles yesterday pushed his slugging percentage over .400 and his OPS comfortably above the league average. That's right—for the moment he has fulfilled the prophecy and become that offense-first second baseman you've always wanted.
Punching the latest figures into Fangraphs, that means he's now worth all of negative two million dollars.
Now, I'm not an unshakeable defender of the Schumaker experiment; in spring training I said I was glad La Russa took the experiment seriously, and would trust him to know when to pull the plug, and I've not seen enough either way to move me from that position. But while his terrible UZR numbers are bad news, they aren't conclusive—right now among the few fielders who project to be worse than Skip is Khalil Greene, and while I did not see a lot of West Coast games last season I'm relatively sure he was not a center fielder in 2008.
Right now even Schumaker's extraordinarily low numbers as an outfielder are weighting him down, but I'm not sure anybody who's not throwing the baseball from the pitcher's mound can rightfully be charged with three runs in 33 innings of play. All this is just to say that no matter how he looks, it's not yet time to stop trusting your eyes.
Play-by-play defensive statistics are without a doubt the closest we've come to quantifying defense, but they're not a game-by-game tool; you can't total up a player's bases allowed and match them to real game moments.
If Skip's still on pace to cough up three wins on defense in July—well shorter than the inventor of UZR suggested to measure true talent, but presumably enough to get an accurate account of the value he's provided this year—I'll stop waving the bloody sample size shirt. But until then I'm going to look at that gaudy left field number and wait for more data.
DAN: It's like getting an ace back just as you're about to get another ace back, all thanks to the second ace, without having to trade anybody!
AL: You know, Dan, it really is.