Mike Matheny, Bench This Man (At Least Against Lefties)

April 27, 2012; St. Louis, MO, USA; St. Louis Cardinals second baseman Skip Schumaker (55) is congratulated by Cardinals manager Mike Matheny (22) after scoring a run against the Milwaukee Brewers at Busch Stadium. The Cardinals defeated the Brewers 13-1. Mandatory Credit: Scott Rovak-US PRESSWIRE

On August 23, 2012, after Skip Schumaker went six for 12 against the Reds in Cincinnati, a media member asked the utilityman about his role on the St. Louis Cardinals. Schumaker gave a wise and thoughtful response that was also accurate. Rick Hummel, Hall-of-Fame reporter for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, reported the diminutive slap hitter's response on stltoday.com:

"I look at the lineup every day and see if I'm in there," said Schumaker. "I've done that my whole career I've been a utility guy, bench player my whole career. I've had 500 at-bats a couple of times but I'm used to coming to the field and looking at the lineup card."

Looking at Schumaker's career numbers, I was impressed by the accurate assessment he gave of his own career and acceptance of his station in the game. Even under renown grit fetishist Tony La Russa, Schumaker was never an everyday in the vein of Albert Pujols, Scott Rolen, Jim Edmonds, Matt Holliday, or David Eckstein. The reason for this is likely that managerial skill that La Russa is oft-credited for: putting players in a position to succeed. Few managers are devout in their adherence to platoon splits as La Russa. A glimpse at Schumaker's tell us why he was never an everyday player under No. 10.

Split

PA

BABIP

ISO

BA

OBP

SLG

OPS

tOPS+

wOBA

wRC+

vs. LHP

455

.252

.040

.206

.275

.246

.521

44

.242

44

Total

2653

.324

.090

.290

.346

.379

.725

96

.321

97

vs. RHP

2135

.337

.100

.306

.360

.406

.766

111

.338

108


His career numbers make it as plain as day: Schumaker should face lefthanded pitchers are rarely as possible. To La Russa's credit, he recognized this and deployed Schumaker accordingly. In fact, under the former Cardinals manager, Schumaker took more than one-fifth of his plate appearances against southpaws but once--in 2008, when Schumaker was as close to an everyday player as he ever came, he took 22.39% of his plate appearances against lefties. Since then, Schumaker's share of plate appearances against lefthanders declined with his skill.

Year

Total PAs

PAs vs. LHP

PAs vs. LHP Share

2005

26

2

7.69%

2006

60

10

16.67%

2007

188

29

15.43%

2008

594

133

22.39%

2009

586

109

18.60%

2010

529

87

16.45%

2011

400

43

10.75%

2012

270

42

15.56%

Career

2,653

455

17.15%


In 2011, with options such as Nick Punto, Allen Craig, Daniel Descalso, Tyler Greene, and Ryan Theriot, Schumaker barely ever faced lefties. This was La Russa rightly leveraging Schumaker lone skill: hitting for a .300+ batting average against righthanders. With Schumaker's horrendous defense at second base, the only way it is even defensible to play him is against righthanders. In 2011, particularly during the magical stretch run that saw the Cardinals overtake the Braves for the Wild Card berth, Schumaker hardly faced southpaws at all.

To his credit, early in the season, Matheny seemed to be following La Russa's lead with Schumaker. However, the rookie manager appears more willing to allow Schumaker to make outs against lefties in the season's second half. With the club fighting for a spot in the postseason play-in game, this is indefensible.

The Cardinals face San Diego southpaw Eric Stults tonight. Even though it isn't large, Stults does have a slight platoon split. He's slightly better at getting lefties out than righties. Even so, Matheny has named Schumaker the starting second baseman. It's a move that boggles the mind.

UPDATE: Your author is stupid and read yesterday's Fox Sports Midwest's tweet on his mobile phone of the starting lineup instead of tonight's. He then wrote this entire post on his laptop despite Mike Matheny not doing what it was the author thought he did. I apologize to Mike Matheny.

Schumaker's hot start has given way to his true talent., stripping Matheny of the ostensible justification of playing the so-called hot hand. On August 1, Schumaker was hitting .323/.404/.445, an .850 OPS. This was more than high enough to justify playing the rangeless second baseman. Since then, Schumaker's batted-ball fortune has dipped to .271 and his batting line has fallen off a cliff. From August 1 through September 9, Schumaker has hit .227/.233/.295, a .529 OPS. Schumaker's batting line has consequently evened out to .288/.345/.391. His 25-point drop in average, 79-point drop in OBP, and 54-point drop in SLG have led to a 109-point drop in OPS, to .736.

Making matters worse is the fact that Schumaker appears to be comfortable with his shortcomings as a baseball player and would seemingly be okay with the move. In the Hummel article at stltoday.com, he elaborated on his part-time player role.

"I understand it. I get it," said Schumaker. "You have to know what kind of player you are and I understand what kind of player I am."

If only Matheny understood that Schumaker was the type of player who should never play against a lefty.

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