i was just talking about this last week at Baseball Analysts: in rbi situations, la russa like his hitters to attack the 1st strike rather than run a deep count. and, per the big number-crunch i conducted for that article, attacking the first strike is the percentage play. well yesterday david eckstein heeded the charge and wafted a 1-0 pitch into the mezzanine for a game-winning grrrrrrrand slammer. that's not eckstein's usual approach; as i've noted elsewhere, he takes the first strike in about 85 percent of his at-bats, an extremely high percentage. i've been critical of this tendency, even referenced it in the BA article -- eckstein takes too many hittable strikes, is passive when he should be aggressive. well he wasn't passive yesterday. sacks jammed, hot left-handed hitter on deck, pujols in the hole -- the pitcher couldn't afford to be too fine, and eckstein knew it. he was looking for a pitch to drive; when it came he jumped on it.
so happens eckstein does this pretty routinely, my prior criticisms of him notwithstanding. in my unhealthy attentiveness to (obsession with) such matters, i have noticed that he's more likely to take an early-count hack in rbi situations. alas i haven't kept a log and thus can only cite one example -- way back on april 13 vs cincinnati. the cards were trailing 6-4 in the bottom of the 9th, and eckstein came up with men at 1st and 2d and 1 out. walker was on deck; pujols in the hole; danny graves (snicker) on the mound. eck took two balls, then took a shot at the 2-0 pitch and fouled it off. eckstein almost never swings on 2-0; in 450+ plate appearances this year, he has only put three 2-0 pitches in play, which probably translates into six or seven swings (ie, balls in play + foul balls + swing/misses). when the count ran to 3-1, eckstein fouled it off again -- and again, he almost never swings on 3-1 (only 8 balls in play all year). eck wound up hitting a ground-rule double on the 3-2 pitch, putting the tying run at third with one out; the cards lost the game anyway when the reds intentionally walked larry to get to pujols(!?!?) and induced a game-ending double play.
anyway, that's my only concrete example of eckstein's "situational aggressiveness," but it's reinforced by several other unrecorded observations. it's also reinforced by this: with men in scoring position and two out -- classic rbi situations -- eckstein this season has an isolated power of .280 this year, vs an iso power of just .077 in all other at-bats. that's part of a trend; from 2002-04 his iso power with 2 out and men in scoring position was .122, vs just 0.70 in all other at-bats. in other words, eckstein tends to muscle up in just those situations where an extra-base hit will do the most damage. i have to think that's by design -- ie, he seems to appropriately modify his approach. or is it just a coincidence that four of his 22 career HR gave been grand slams? maybe eckstein sees fatter pitches with men on base; maybe pitchers just come right after him, in the assurance that the little squirt can't hit their stuff over the wall. and that's probably true. but credit eckstein for smart situational hitting; he's thinking right along with the pitchers. that was not your typical eckstein swing yesterday in the 9th; he was trying to pull the ball, not just slap it up the middle or into right. the circumstances called for aggression, and eckstein supplied it.
got a kick out of this comment from bill at the birdwatch: "The baseball gods, through another ridiculous improbability, have made up for Neifi."
we were all talking about the overworked pitching staff yesterday; la russa heard us and granted our wish. he's giving the rotation an extra day of rest this week (thanks cardsrul). perfect opportunity to take a look at either wainwright or reyes, except guess what: they're both pitching like shit. on friday night wainwright got pounded for 9 hits and 9 earned runs in just an inning and a third at salt lake city; in the start before that, he gave up 6 earned in 5 and 1/3 . his era over the last month is 7.64; for the season it's up to 4.70. reyes lasted only 3 and 2/3 in his last start, thursday at salt lake: 6 hits, 4 walks, 5 earned. his shoulder is still tender, and altho i'm dying to see this kid now may not be the time. he's pitching out my way, in colorado springs, wednesday night; i'm hoping to be in the park.
Update [2005-8-8 9:18:26 by lboros]: word is that anthony reyes will make the spot start this week for the cards in milwaukee. disappointed i won't get to see him, but as i've ref'nced recently i wouldn't mind getting this kid postseason-eligible; flamethrower's a good weapon to have in short series.