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On the other hand...

Tony made two particularly strange managerial decisions in Tuesday night’s game against the D-backs. While the decision to rest Ludwick in favor of the 3 lefties is questionable considering the fact that he had already sat twice in the season’s first 8 games, it is defensible considering the other players we have available. It is a long season and Tony wants to see what he’s got. I, too, believe that Ludwick should have played more than 6 of the first 9 games, but it’s hardly indefensible. It’s not like Brendan Ryan or Joe Thurston has started in the OF…yet.

The two decisions that are particularly curious are Tony’s decision to use Ryan rather than Ludwick as a pinch hitter with one out and the bases loaded in the 9th and the decision to use Brad Thompson rather than Ryan Franklin in relief in the bottom of the 9th. (There sure are a lot of "Ryans" involved here. Any chance all of them confused ‘ol Tony?) Tony explained his decision to go w/ Ryan (Brendan) rather than Ryan (Ludwick) thusly:

"I thought it was a better matchup for Brendan. I felt good about him putting the ball in play, he wasn’t going to be doubled. He missed that one fastball and he chased some sliders."
Brendan Ryan "offered the better chance, I thought, to put the ball in play and then, at least, we get one there, and we see where it goes," La Russa said.
Now, we’ll set aside the fact that Gameday says that all three pitches were sliders – something I noticed at the time as well. That’s not all that important. What is important is that Tony seems to be saying that Brendan Ryan – a guy w/ a career OPS of .668 and a career wOBA of .308 – offered the team a better chance to get the go ahead run in than Ludwick (.864 and .368) for 2 reasons. First, Ryan (ostensibly) is less likely to hit into a double play. Second, Ryan is less likely to strike out.

Derrick Goold, in the article linked above, did a pretty good job handling the double play reference. He notes that only a very few players in baseball were less likely to hit into a double play last year than Ludwick. Last year Ludwick grounded into 8 DPs in 303 PAs w/ runners on 1st base – a rate of 2.6%. In other words, he was likely to hit into a double play one out of every 40 times he came to the plate w/ a runner on 1st base. Last year Ryan’s rate was 4 DPs in 91 PAs -- 4.4% of the time or 1 out of every 23 times he comes to the plate w/ a runner on first. What about for their respective careers? Ludwick has hit into 15 DPs in 646 PAs while Ryan has hit into 7 DPs in 190 PAs w/ a runner on first. Ludwick’s rate is 2.3% and Ryan’s is 3.7%. Why, exactly, is Ludwick more likely to hit into a double play?

Maybe history has nothing to do with it or Ryan’s sample size is too small or those numbers aren’t necessarily double play situations b/c many of them may have come w/ 2 outs. Ok. Double plays occur on ground balls, right? Who’s more likely to hit a ground ball in that situation? Ludwick’s career GB rate is 30.1% and for the last 2 years it’s been 27.3% and 17.6%. How about Ryan? Career – 48.9%. Last 2 years – 47.1% and 52.1%. Ground ball to fly ball ratio? Career: Ludwick – 0.63; Ryan – 1.53. Last 2 years: Ludwick – 0.79 and 0.59 ; Ryan – 1.38 and 1.83. Ludwick is a fly ball hitter. Brendan Ryan is a ground ball hitter. Is there any plausible scenario where a fly ball hitter could come in handy w/ 1 out and the bases loaded in a tie game in the 9th? Hmmm……

In short, it is impossible for me to believe that Tony really believed that Ludwick was more likely to hit into a double play than Ryan was. I’m not calling him wrong. I’m saying that his statement to Derrick Goold is factually untrue. He did not, in my opinion, really believe that Ludwick was more likely to hit into a DP. It is simply inconceivable for a man w/ Tony’s knowledge of the game to think that Ludwick, despite Ryan’s speed advantage, was more likely to hit into the double play.

Now, there’s little doubt that Ludwick was more likely to strike out than Ryan was. Ludwick’s career K rate is 26.9% while Ryan’s is 13.7%. That said, a double play is worse than a strikeout in that situation. At least a K brings Ankiel to the plate.

What benefits does each hitter provide? It goes w/o saying that Ludwick is a better hitter than Ryan and, therefore, is more likely to get not only 1 run home, but possibly multiple runs. The difference in the two players’ OPS and wOBA is mentioned above, as is their propensities to hit fly balls. Brendan Ryan, in his career, has hit exactly 1 sacrifice fly. Ludwick hit 8 last year alone.

The one thing we haven’t yet considered is the pitcher on the mound. Chad Qualls is, w/o a doubt, a heavy ground ball pitcher. His career GB/FB ratio is 2.37. His career GB% is 58.5%. Even the hits we had in the 9th were grounders that found holes (w/ the exception of Thurston’s bunt single). There’s little doubt that Ryan’s relative speed advantage and Qualls’ strong ground ball tendencies tilted the decision toward Ryan. Then why was Ludwick in the on-deck circle while Pujols was at the plate. It certainly wasn’t to force Qualls to pitch to Pujols, as the bases were loaded. I suppose if Pujols makes an out, it ceases to become a double play situation, right?

Still, considering all the facts we have about their likelihood to hit into a double play and their offensive abilities, the decision to go w/ Brendan Ryan in that situation is difficult to stomach. It’s almost indefensible.

In my opinion, the decision to go w/ Brad Thompson in the bottom of the inning was nearly as awful. In fact, it could’ve been worse. The team was down to just 2 relievers at the time – Thompson and Ryan Franklin, our current (gulp!) closer. Now, I’m not a big Franklin fan but he’s a damned sight better than Thompson. Franklin’s FIPs w/ the Cards are 3.96 and 4.75. Thompson’s career FIP w/ the Cards is 4.96. Tony and Duncan clearly trust Franklin more as they’ve given him the treasured 9th inning role for the time being. Then, w/ just the 2 pitchers from which to choose, why didn’t he choose the better pitcher?

One reason he went w/ Thompson is that ridiculous notion that, on the road, you save your closer for closing situations. Thompson pitches the 9th and, if the Cards take the lead in the 10th, Franklin enters for the save. What’s ridiculous about this is the possibility that you’ll lose the game w/o your best reliever still in the pen – as is what happened. By saving your closer for the save, you lose the game w/ an inferior pitcher and that makes no sense whatsoever.

Another reason this decision made no sense was b/c Tony was down to just the 2 pitchers due to Carp’s injury and 4th inning departure. Let’s say Thompson had pitched the 9th, the Cards took the lead in the 10th 7-6, and Franklin was brought in for the bottom of the 10th. Franklin then blows the save when Augie Ojeda hits a homer. Game tied, 7-7. Can you pinch hit for Franklin when his turn in the order comes up? How long do you leave your last reliever in the game? Is Kyle Lohse brought in to pitch the 12th? You have no one else to turn to and wasted Thompson by having him pitch just the 1 inning. If you go to Franklin in the 9th, he can go 3 innings and then, if necessary, you can turn to Thompson for 3+ innings, thus saving your starters. We’re almost fortunate that we didn’t take the lead in the 10th. At least we didn’t have to burn any starters in relief. This, too, was a terrible decision on Tony’s part. Going w/ Franklin is a must there b/c he’s better and b/c it saves Thompson to go multiple innings later on if necessary.

So Tony went w/ Brendan Ryan and Brad Thompson – arguably our worst position player and worst pitcher – when he could’ve chosen Ryan Ludwick and Ryan Franklin – arguably our 2nd best position player and best (in Tony’s eyes anyway) reliever. Does this make any sense to you? After Thompson gave up the winning run, he was optioned to Memphis. Is it possible that Tony was testing Ryan and Thompson to see if they could be counted on later? Maybe he treated this more as an extension of spring training than an important regular season game. (Bear with me).

It’s an early April game -- #8 on the season – against a team outside the division. Once Pujols tied the game in the 9th, the situation’s leverage index fell somewhat. It was still high, to be sure, but it was a less critical situation. Qualls is a ground ball pitcher and Ryan, though a severe ground ball hitter, does have more speed than Ludwick. Let’s see if the kid can handle it. We know that Ludwick could have. Same w/ Thompson. Both he and Ryan are fringe major leaguers at best. Let’s see if Brad can handle this situation. Perez is pitching great at Memphis so, afterward, we can send Thompson down and replace him w/ Perez. Is this a guy we’ll be able to count on later? Both Ryan and Thompson suffered epic failures but it’s better to know now that they can’t be counted on rather than finding out in July or August against the Cubs, right?

I’m not saying this was Tony’s true motivation for selecting those two b/c, in reality, we’ll never know. It’s pretty clear to me that neither were the better options in their respective situations but the season’s a marathon, not a sprint. It’s possible that he was just testing the two players. Mather’s going to be called up before too long anyway. Should Ryan or Barden be sent down when Mather’s ready? Maybe this test helped Tony make up his mind. Food for thought.