Today's P-D is an important moment in the history of inexplicable Cardinals career shifts, as the Skip Schumaker Experiment gets another several column inches to its name. With no stats to look at and little chance to watch him, it's been tough to do much but wait and see if any shoes drop.
Each day that doesn't end with somebody saying "enough!' makes me more optimistic; to me the middle infield seems like a place where, in lieu of the understood "types", effective and ineffective, that managers like to defend on offense—the Slugger, the Speedy Disrupter, the Clutch Vet—there's been an honest attempt at figuring a minimum level of competence to work from.
Players below that level tend to have an obvious mitigating factor—last year there's Jeff Kent and Luis Castillo at the end of the line, Kelly Johnson and Alexei Ramirez with abnormal offensive profiles—or are themselves former defensive whizzes, like Orlando Hudson. The stats just haven't been out long enough for managers to spend time willfully contradicting them. "He's unselfish; you can count on Skip to play team defense, even if it means his own UZR goes down"—that sort of thing is a decade away, at least.
With that in mind, if Schumaker is a second baseman by, say, May, I'll assume he's at this hypothetical line, -5 or -10 runs, and stop worrying about it until there's something substantial to look at. If he's average, which Hummel suggests as the Cardinals' internal target, it'll be a pleasant surprise for all parties concerned.
The other recent Hummel article, headlined unhelpfully as "La Russa rethinking lineup strategy", sounded more like a refinement of the pitchers hit eighth policy than a serious shake-up.
"My prejudice is to (hit the pitcher eighth) every day," said La Russa. "But what started my thinking (not to do it) is when Glaus comes back. Glaus, Molina, (Skip Schumaker) against a righthanded pitcher, whatever you do in the outfield - Ludwick, Ankiel and Duncan - who's the ninth-place hitter there? There isn't any."
It's refreshing to hear things like this from La Russa, whose strangest weakness as an innovator is his tendency to move from strategy toward dogma after coming up with novel approaches to baseball problems. Where the pitcher hits is a marginal move compared to situational relievers, which ossified into the one-inning closer, and the need to pitch to contact, which eventually alienated Anthony Reyes, but here La Russa seems to reiterate the original idea—the elusive Second Lead-Off Man—and not the facile result, which is that the pitcher bats in a weird place.
In 2008 he actually did a pretty good job of hewing to the underlying concept, given the personnel at his disposal—Cesar Izturis and Brendan Ryan, who got 114 of the starts in the nine hole, at least look like second lead-off men; if they had any value as offensive players, it would have been distributed in a way that got them on base for the meat of the order.
That said, even La Russa acknowledges that most of the rethinking, or reform, is pragmatically driven; with shortstop filled by Khalil Greene, who is to clean-up hitters as Izturis and Ryan were to lead-off men, there's just not going to be a spot in the lineup for that sort of thing when Duncan starts.
Which is not to say that there's no room for ideological change—it it'll probably be for the best if this means that noted speed merchant Jason LaRue's six starts in the spot come elsewhere.
Kyle Lohse gets the start today against Boston. Did they ever end up playing those World Series games against the Red Sox? I remember a great NLCS, and then, well, it's all a bit of a blur.