In Which the Author Holds Forth, at Great Length, With Much Wailing and Gnashing of Teeth

Alright. First off, let's get it out of the way: I'm an angry dude this morning. And I just want to put this out there for Mr. DanUp: next time you want to wave your magic wand and magically regress one of our players, how about you don't? Just write about something else, okay? Maybe you could predict Todd Wellemeyer is clearly on track to turn into Nolan Ryan or something, rather than how he's just about due to give up a couple of long balls. We clear? Good stuff.

Now, to talk briefly about the game itself.

I've already ranted and raved once today about the deployment of the bullpen, and I'm not going to go into it again. However, I do have one thing that's really bugging me this morning, and since you are my semi-captive audience (in the sense that you're pretty much stuck with whatever I write, unless you choose to go elsewhere), I'm going to fill your digital ears with my anger.

The problem that I have is with the quality of at-bats that were taken in the ninth inning last night. Most of us were there, and I'm sure recall the situation: six runs down, the Cards load the bases of Matt Capps, then proceed to go quietly the rest of the way by flailing wildly at a bunch of junk.

Colby Rasmus led off the inning, singling on three pitches. He took a ball, fouled off a pretty good pitch, then got his base hit, nearly killing Adam LaRoche with the bathead at the same time. Joe Thurston then comes up in a pinch-hitting role and works a walk on five pitches. Outstanding plate appearance, really, as it was becoming clear that Capps, who is just coming off an injury, didn't have real solid command of his repertoire. So rather than trying to hit something that wasn't going to favour him, Thursty Joe just took what he was given, and trotted on down to first base. Good job, Joe.

And while I'm thinking about it, can I stop and bitch about something else? With Thurston at the plate, Rasmus took second base. It was classified as defensive indifference. I know it's an accepted part of the game, but I effing hate defensive indifference. Honestly, how the fuck is that even a rule? Say a team is down ten runs in the eighth, and they obviously just want to go home. So the hitters for the team that's down just go up and swing at everything, no matter where the pitch is. When a guy strikes out, does the pitcher not get credit for the strikeout due to hitter's indifference? No, he doesn't. You play the game to the end, to the 27th out. It's one of the beautiful things about baseball, the fact that you can't just run out the clock. You have to play to the end. So how in the hell is defensive indifference a thing? And I'm not just saying this because I think it's a shame that Colby won't get credit for the steal. I think it should always be a stolen base if a guy takes the base. You want to complain about it hurting your stats, catchers? Then throw him out. Otherwise, quit bitching because you just didn't feel like playing the game. Ugh.

Anyhow, back to the ninth inning. After Thurston walks, up comes Duncan. And what does Duncan do? Well, Chris did what he usually does, and put up an outstanding plate appearance. Took a ball, fouled off a couple, took a couple more to run the count to 3-2, fouled off two more pitches, and then took ball four. Outstanding job, Dunc. I know I give you a lot of shit about your histrionics in the field, but that was a beautiful at-bat. Just beautiful.

So here we have a pitcher, coming back from an injury, whose control seems a little suspect, to say the least. He has walked the bases loaded with no outs, and at the very least is looking as if he's having trouble putting hitters away.

And what do the Cardinals do with this golden opportunity? Do they make a game of it? Do they cash in a couple of those runners, turn that six run deficit into something that maybe makes the Pirates sweat it a little bit?

No. No they do not.

Instead, Tyler Greene comes to the plate and strikes out swinging on four pitches. Capps didn't throw him a single fastball in the PA; four sliders in a row. Swinging strike, foul, ball, swinging strike. Of the four, I think one was a strike. One.

So here comes Jason LaRue. Hey, he's a catcher, right? He should at least be able to look at the pitcher and see the signs of a guy who's a little off, right? LaRue, apparently eager to prove that he does not, in fact, know anything about pitchers, strikes out on three pitches. Two sliders, two swings, two fouls, and then a high fastball that LaRue can't catch up to. Swing, swing, swing. Just hopeless.

The last hope for the Cardinals is Shane Robinson, gritmeister extraordinaire. Surely he can gut out a tough at-bat, no? One of those David Eckstein specials, where he gets two strikes, then fouls off half a dozen pitches before shooting one into right field?

First pitch:  Slider, swinging strike.

Second pitch: Slider, taken for a ball.

 Third pitch: Fastball, pop fly to right field.

Game over.

 So, just to review: Matt Capps is struggling with his control, struggling to really put guys away, and the three guys who come up to bat with the bases loaded all swing at the first pitch. What's even worse, though, is this: those three hitter saw ten total pitches, eight of which went for strikes. Of those eight, how many do you think were called strikes?

The answer: zero.

That's right. Matt Capps threw ten pitches to end the game, and not one of them was called a strike. The only two pitches of those ten that weren't swung at were called balls.

Now, you could certainly argue that the hitters doing all this hacking were also terrible hitters, so maybe that's the reason, and you would have a point. Not to say they're all terrible hitters, but you've got two guys with about a week and a half of ML experience between them, and a backup catcher. Let's face it: that's not exactly a recipe for success.

But what I keep coming back to, and I'm sure you're tired of hearing about it by now, is the approach that we hear preached for hitters in those situations. We hear the mantra of aggressiveness, of swinging at the first good pitch you see, because you may not see another. La Russa, in particular, has been very vocal about the kind of aggressive at-bats he wants to see in RBI situations.

Okay, so let me just say my piece here, and then we can all get back to our lives. First off, I have a pretty serious problem with the idea that you may only see one good pitch in an RBI situation. No, I don't have any numbers to throw at you. But just look at it logically for a second. The premise that is always advanced here is that in a situation with runners on base, the pitcher is only going to give you one good pitch to hit, then just junk you to death with crap out of the zone.

To me, that doesn't make any sense whatsoever. If a pitcher has men on base, shouldn't he have to throw more good pitches, instead of less, in order to avoid compounding his problems by walking more hitters on or possibly even forcing in a run? We hear, usually from the same bad media people and old school baseball types, that the best protection for a player is to have men on base in front of him. See, now that I agree with. You want pitchers to have to pitch to Albert Pujols? Put two men on in front of him, so that the opposition has nowhere to put him, unless they're comfortable loading the bases. Do you see the problem?

The problem is that the above two statements, made by the same people, often within the same game, cancel each other out.

Statement A: The best protection is men on base. You force the pitcher to pitch to a guy, since they don't want to walk him. He'll see better pitches to hit.

Statement B: With men on base, a pitcher is less likely to throw you anything to hit, so you'd better jump on the first good pitch you see.

So which one is it? Does a player see more or less hittable pitches with men on base? I go with choice A, personally; with the bases occupied, you force pitchers to either be less fine to avoid possibly making the situation worse, or, well, throw less strikes and make the situation worse.

The second problem that I really have with this is the idea that somehow a hitter needs to change his approach depending on the situation. Why is it that managers seem to want their players going away from their strengths with the game on the line?

Now, I'm not saying that every player should be up there taking pitches and working the count all the time. Obviously, I consider that the ideal, but there are plenty of different approaches a hitter can take and be successful at what he does. There are hitters who have outrageous numbers when they swing early in the count; those guys should probably swing early in the count more often. The point is that a player has to find the approach that works best for him. Why, in the most important moments in a game, would you ever want that player to change the approach that has the best chance of producing a positive outcome?

I think the problem all boils down to this: managers (well, quite a lot of them, anyway), seem to think that different outcomes are more desirable in different situations. Now, is that true? A little bit, yes. A double with the bases loaded is certainly better than a walk. But, and this is the real key, a walk is successful. A hit by pitch is successful. Anything that isn't an out, regardless of the situation, is successful. Is it as successful as a double in the gap? No, but it's still infinitely preferable to failure.

So let me just put it out there, in a very clear and to the point way. Tony, if you're listening, write this down on one of your index cards. Any other managers who may be eavesdropping, feel free to take note as well.

The point of a plate appearance is NOT to get a hit. The point of a plate appearance is to avoid making an out.

I know, it doesn't seem like a big thing, but it really is. It's mostly accepted in baseball by now that a walk is as good as a hit. The one time that doesn't seem to be the case is in RBI situations. When a hitter has a chance to drive in runners, it seems as if suddenly the rules change, and a guy had better be hacking, trying to put one in the gap somewhere.

On a quick side note about this, Ricky Horton desperately needs to learn this point. His complaining about things like bunting for a base hit with two outs is really beginning to wear on me. He seems to think that a guy coming up with two outs shouldn't ever try to bunt, because, um, well, I'm not really sure why. Again, if the bunt is successful, it's exactly the same as a line drive base hit. Yet Horton will trumpet one as a triumph of batsmanship, while the other isn't smart baseball, even though they both have the exact same outcome. Again, repeat it with me, Ricky: any plate appearance that results in a player getting on base is a successful one. Regardless of how it was done. If the bunt has a good chance of being successful, then it's a good play. How is this really so difficult to comprehend?

So how about it, guys? How about we simply agree that a player, no matter what the situation, should take the best possible approach to a plate appearance that he can? If he comes up with men on first and third and walks, that's a success. The man behind him then has the bases loaded. And don't give me the bullshit about the table being set, that now there's no reason for him to stand up there and take pitches. Hey, if he walks, it's still a run, right? And isn't that the point? I know we all love the excitement of the big hit, but the big hit is a result of proper process, not changing the way you play the game because the situation is different.

Alright. I think I'm all out of vitriol now. You know, I was planning on doing another draft report today, but I think this has turned out long enough already. (Can I get someone in the back to help me out with a that's what she said?) So dig in.

Have a lovely day, all. I shall have a game thread up around, say, 5:00?

Oh, and just because I'm in such a rotten mood today (and also because I've now been watching Alice Cooper videos since grabbing one for a column yesterday), I bring you a bit of angry music to really get you in the mood to thrash some Pirates.

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