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Why did Tony Cruz pinch-hit in the seventh inning of NLCS Game 1?

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I've crunched the numbers and I have no idea.

Tony Cruz is as confused by the decision as we are.
Tony Cruz is as confused by the decision as we are.
Dilip Vishwanat

When the St. Louis Cardinals announced that they were dropping lefthanded reliever Sam Freeman from the NLCS roster and adding catcher A.J. PierzynskiI wrote that I liked the move because it gave manager Mike Matheny more pinch-hitting options:

With no defensive versatility to speak of, Pierzynski—with his career .286/.328/.434 (.328 wOBA, 97 wRC+) vs. righties—will presumably fill the role of lefthanded bench bat for Matheny. The question is whether he supplants both Oscar Taveras and Daniel Descalso as the first lefthanded pinch-hitting option, Descalso as the second lefthanded pinch-hitting option, or neither and just fills in as the club's third lefthanded pinch-hitting option.

This is a good move by Matheny. If the manager doesn't have enough faith to use Freeman, then the southpaw shouldn't be on the active roster. It's a far better use of precious roster space to have on the NLCS 25-man a player Matheny might call upon to pinch-hit (perhaps in place of Daniel Descalso—fingers crossed!).

After NLCS Game 1, I searched my residence high and low in search of a Monkey's Paw. Why? NLCS Game 1 gave us one of those be-careful-what-you-wish-for moments that typically comes about after one makes a magical request of a severed, mummified hand of a primate. Adding a catcher gave Matheny more options all right: With Pierzynski on the active roster as a second Yadier Molina injury insurance policy, the manager was free to use backup catcher Tony Cruz as a pinch-hitter.

With one out and runners on second and third in the seventh inning of NLCS Game 1 and the Cardinals trailing 3-0, Matheny called on Cruz—who last batted in a game situation on September 28, 2014, during the Cards' meaningless season finale against the Diamondbacks—as the first righthanded pinch-hitter off the St. Louis bench. The decision to pinch-hit Cruz in that situation is inexplicable, which is perhaps why Matheny didn't really explain the rationale behind his decision after the game. From the audio of Matheny's postgame comments that Brian Stull posted on STL Baseball Weekly:

I’ve got a whole bench full of options and most of them lefthanded. And I like our chances to get anybody up there that can come through big for us and giving Tony a shot. We can look at some of the numbers. Danny has had a little bit of success against him. But it’s a tough assignment for a lefty. It’s a tough assignment for anybody. We needed one of our guys to come up big. Gave Tony a shot. Had a real nice swing on a foul ball that his timing was right on, but ended up chasing a high one late.

So we don't know why Matheny chose Cruz and the manager might not know either. Looking at the numbers, the decision is even more bizarre.

1. Cruz is the worst righthanded batter on the Cardinals bench.

The Cardinals do not have an impressive righthanded bat on the bench, as Matheny alluded to during his postgame statement. The righthanders are a light-hitting bunch, so it's saying something to declare Cruz the worst of the bench bunch. But that's how terrible a batsmen Cruz is. The following chart contains the career batting stats for Peter Bourjos, Pete Kozma, and Cruz.

Player

PA

K%

BB%

BA

OBP

SLG

OPS

ISO

wOBA

wRC+

Bourjos

1430

23.0

5.8

.247

.304

.388

.692

.140

.305

94

Kozma

578

20.4

8.3

.236

.297

.320

.617

.084

.270

68

Cruz

482

17.6

5.4

.225

.271

.310

.580

.085

.256

59

Cruz's career batting line is ghastly.

2. Cruz is the worst righthanded batter on the Cardinals bench vs. lefthanded pitching.

My next thought was that maybe Cruz had more favorable career numbers against lefties than Bourjos or Kozma. Oddly enough, all three of the Cardinals' righthanded-hitting bench bats have a reverse platoon split for their respective careers—each has had more success against righties than southpaws. That odd tidbit aside, Cruz has hit worst against southpaws over his career than either Bourjos or Kozma and it isn't particularly close.

Player

PA

K%

BB%

BA

OBP

SLG

OPS

ISO

wOBA

wRC+

Bourjos

483

24.0

5.2

.241

.290

.387

.677

.146

.297

88

Kozma

182

19.2

12.1

.208

.302

.302

.604

.094

.264

63

Cruz

147

15.6

4.1

.173

.207

.223

.430

.050

.190

15

As unsightly as Cruz's overall career batting line, his performance over 147 career plate appearances against lefties has somehow been even worse.

3. Cruz is 0-for-his-career vs. Bumgarner.

Oftentimes when Matheny does something nonsensical with his lineup, the answer can be found in the head-to-head splits for a batter against the opposition pitcher. This is why Kozma started NLDS Game 1. And Matheny indicated that he considered batting Daniel Descalso against Bumgarner because of his head-to-head numbers against the Giants lefty. For what it's worth, Descalso is 3-for-9 with a double against Bumgarner for his career. Cruz was 0-for-6 against Bumgarner. Given their respective overall career batting lines, Descalso may have actually been a better choice than Cruz, which is yet another indictment of the backup catcher's hitting skill.

#

There is no reason for Cruz to ever pinch-hit for the Cardinals, but especially not with runners on second and third with one out in the seventh inning of a postseason game with St. Louis trailing 3-0. With the game on the line, Cruz should remain on the bench. If Matheny is going to use Cruz as a pinch-hitter because he has a third catcher on the roster, it's a bad thing that the Cardinals added Pierzynski to the NLCS roster. We've been Monkey Paw'd.