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the ministry of silly walks

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silly walks video is here.

when the lineup only musters 4 hits and 2 runs against the worst pitching staff in the league, it's hardly fair to blame the loss on the manager. the players lost the game. but i've exhausted my powers of description and explanation as regards these bad hitters. can't argue anymore that the cards' struggles are partly an effect of tough opposition pitching; the last four games they've faced very young / very old pitchers whom the rest of the league is hitting hard, and they've stunk as badly vs them as they have against the glavines and oswalts and lillys and suppans. hell, the cardinals can't even score on sunday anymore. so while i'm well aware that the hitters, not the manager, lost the game, it's no longer interesting to discuss how pitiful the offense is. it stopped being interesting about two weeks ago.

so i'm gonna sift through the wreckage of la russa's decision, with men at 1st and 2d and two outs in the 9th inning of a tie game, to walk the bases loaded.

i don't take up this critique with much relish. this has already been a hard, hard spring for the cardinal manager; he seems old and unhappy to me. but he doesn't accept excuses on behalf of his players, so i won't make excuses for him. like the players, he has his weaknesses, and one of tony's was on display last night: he made a tactical move that didn't have to be made and shouldn't have been made, one that significantly increased the cards' chances of losing. in the paper this morning, tony explained himself this way: "You make a decision on who is going to beat you in that situation -- Atkins or Hawpe. I chose Hawpe." but tony also made a decision on what was going to beat them: a clean basehit, or a clean basehit / infield hit / walk / hbp / error / wild pitch / passed ball. obviously, all other things being equal, you want to choose the former --- you want to make them get a hit to beat you. la russa chose the latter.

he's not stupid; tony thinks every situation through very carefully. i have no doubt that he made the tradeoff with eyes wide open --- that he very consciously calculated his chances and believed he was gaining an advantage by controlling the matchups, even at the cost of pushing the lead runner to third base. let's check tony's math here. to begin with, the pitcher vs hiter matchups tell us nothing; tyler johnson had never faced garrett atkins before, and he'd only faced hawpe twice (got him out both times). so that leaves the platoon matchups, which obviously are what guided la russa --- he wanted johnson to pitch to a left-handed hitter (hawpe) rather than a right-hander (atkins). here is tyler johnson's platoon breakdown:

car
avg
car
obp
2007
avg
2007
obp
vs right .232 .357 .105 .150
vs left .225 .328 .190 .292

the numbers in bold represent the pertinent options. under option a --- pitch to atkins (the right-hander) with men at first and second --- the rockies need a hit to score, so you look at the rate at which johnson allows hits to right-handers, ie his batting average allowed. under option b --- pitch to hawpe (the left-hander) with the bases loaded --- the rockies simply need the man to get on base any which way, so you look at the rate at which johnson allows baserunners --- his obp allowed. johnson's batting avg vs right-handers is significantly lower than his on-base vs left-handers --- 96 points lower over the course of his career, and 187 points lower in this year's small sample size. the percentages very clearly dictate that you pitch to the right-hander and make him get a basehit to beat you.

what about hawpe and atkins? how do those guys fare against left-handers?

car
avg
car
obp
2007
avg
2007
obp
atkins .299 .365 .256 .354
hawpe .222 .300 .200 .259

these numbers are a complete wash: atkins' batting average vs right-handers is nearly identical equal to hawpe's on-base pct vs right-handers. whatever advantage la russa thought he was gaining in that situation is not evident in the stats.

we can blame tyler johnson for failing to execute --- just throw strikes, damn you! --- but la russa's success over the years has lain in his ability to put players in a position to succeed. he didn't do that last night with ty johnson. the kid is not and never has been a strike thrower --- he struggled with his control throughout the minors, and last year in the bigs he walked over 5 men per 9 innings (unintentionals only). a pitcher like that needs a margin for error; eliminate it at your own peril. tony did that last night, and it contributed to a loss.

i didn't get to see reyes pitch, but (knock on wood) maybe he's starting to turn the corner. he's not starting on 8 days' rest anymore, which probably contributed to his first-inning struggles early on; in his last four starts (all of them on normal rest) he has thrown 6 innings each time, posted a 4:1 strikeout to walk ratio, and held opposing batters to a .191 average. still a work in progress, but improving. weird thing about reyes, by the way: seems like every time he pitches, the cardinals blow a golden opportunity to tie or win the game late. it has happened three times now: april 16 vs the pirates, when duncan and pujols both failed to get the tying run home from 3d base in the 9th; april 27 vs the cubs, when st louis had the tying run at 3d with no outs in the 8th but couldn't score; and last night, when ludwick and edmonds couldn't bring taguchi home from 3d.

only 132 games to go . . . . .