I am obliged to preface what I am about to write with the simple fact: it all worked out. The St. Louis Cardinals won their game against the Milwaukee Brewers Tuesday evening 2 runs to 1 for their tenth win in a row. It is has been weird and a lot of fun and I have just enjoyed being along for the ride.
That being said sometimes there are just things that I cannot stop thinking about. I ruminate over them. It has been a minute since a baseball managerial decision has stuck in my craw quite like this one. What I am talking about is Mike Shildt’s decision to walk the bases loaded in the bottom of the ninth in a one-run game. That is the gist, but let’s dig in even further to the situation.
Giovanny Gallegos was pitching.
Christian Yelich was up to bat.
There were two outs.
There were runners on first and third.
It was the bottom of the ninth.
The Cardinals led 2-1.
Christian Yelich is intentionally walked.
The move to walk Yelich not only loaded the bases, but it pushed the winning run into scoring position in the bottom of the ninth. Let’s dig into it even more though. Here is Shildt’s explanation for the decision.
A guy’s in scoring position on first base with a guy like Yelich... He’s been in that moment quite a bit... And trusted Gio [Giovanny Gallegos]. He’s a strike-thrower. He’s got some serious guts — this entire team does — but he has some serious guts and I trust him to throw strikes and I kind of liked the matchup better with the guy on deck.
So let’s unpack the matchup.
In his career Christian Yelich has been an excellent hitter with a career wRC+ of 132 and coming off nearly 8 fWAR seasons in 2018 and 2019, but in 2021 Christian Yelich has a wRC+ of 99 with a slash line of .247/.358/.369 with an ISO of .122.
Instead of Christian Yelich, the Cardinals elected to face Pablo Reyes, a career 80 wRC hitter with a .256/.333/359 slash line in 87 plate appearances in 2021.
Christian Yelich bats lefthanded and Givanny Gallegos pitches right handed. In 336 plate appearances Gallegos has a slash line against lefthanded batters of .187/.245/.339 with 115 and 26 extra base hits versus a .195/.252/.326 slash line in 424 plate appearances against righties with 122 strikeouts and 27 extra base hits. In his career against Yelich Gallegos only has 6 plate appearances of data. Yelich has been hitless with one walk and one strikeout in those appearances.
As for Yelich, he hits righties slightly better than lefties, but the move was not to bring in a left-handed pitcher, which was an option if that was the concern (Andrew Miller hasn’t pitched since September 15 — what is going on there?). Handedness did not seem to be a concern in this decision, however, it was just about being afraid of Yelich.
While the Cardinals technically chose to face a weaker hitter with the same handedness as the pitcher to create a better matchup, it was not that much better. By walking Yelich the Cardinals advanced a runner from first to second and loaded the bases, increasing the number of ways the Brewers could score the tying and winning run. With the bases loaded (and not accounting for errors or wild pitches) a walk, hit by pitch, and single tie the game and a single or better could win the game, where with runners on first and third it would take at least a single to tie the game and an extra base hit to win. Shildt’s decision is based on a conclusion that Yelich is more likely to hit an extra base hit to win the game than Reyes is to hit a single and I just don’t think the numbers bear that out.
The Cardinals win expectancy, which does not take into effect context like pitcher/batter matchups, dropped from 79.6% to 72.4% after the walk.
Yes, the context matters, but even when you add all that in to this evaluate this move, it is still an unwise choice that does not hold up to scrutiny. Shildt was afraid of Yelich and his decision ultimately made it harder for the Cardinals to win on Tuesday.
BUT HEY THEY STILL WON!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!