Second-guessing Tony LaRussa

by on April 20, 2009 · 1 comment

I know, I know – here we go again.

Many of you have no doubt read all of the things Tony has done wrong over at the Cards Talk forums.  You know the routine over there –  “the season is over,” “Tony must go,” “why didn’t they sign a closer?” – those type of posts.

I’d like to believe that I’ve developed a reputation thus far for being positive overall.  For being supportive of the Cardinals (and the manager) on a regular basis, regardless of the latest motivation for overreaction and complaints.

Today, in a departure from all of that, I’d like to briefly address some decisions made by Tony LaRussa that have baffled me, and I bring them up because they exist in an alarming number after only thirteen games.  I’m used to disagreeing with the manager on occasion, but I find myself asking “what is he thinking?” more often early in this season.

In order:

1.  Opening Day versus the Pirates

Tony hangs Jason Motte out to dry in his first outing of 2009, leaving seemingly better options in the bullpen.

I’ll just repeat my thoughts from the Redbird Reveille the morning after

Speaking of helping a guy along, am I the only one perplexed by the Cardinals’ insistence on Motte facing all of those left-handed hitters in the Pirate lineup?  Nate McLouth, Adam LaRoche, Brandon Moss – all were already in the lineup.  Ryan Doumit is a switch hitter, so kind of a wash, but the Pirates brought in Eric Hinske to pinch hit.  That makes five batters from the left side against Motte out of the eight he faced.

Shouldn’t the field staff be setting this kid up for success a bit more than that?  I understand if you’re “testing his mettle” or operating under the premise that a full-time closer has to pitch to whomever he faces.  I agree.  But the Cardinals have maintained that Motte is not their full-time closer, supposedly in an effort to protect him from facing the sort of backlash he’s already getting today.  So if he’s not your full-time closer, where was Dennys Reyes?  As it were, Reyes wasn’t even up until after Wilson’s double (as I recall).

I can’t agree with that management of the bullpen.  Show faith in the rookie, fine, but at the first sign of trouble – you’ve gotta play for the win.

2.  April 14th versus the Diamondbacks

Too much Josh Kinney.  Kinney had already given Cardinal fans fits against the Astros with his allowed walks, and this outing was the final appearance for Kinney before being optioned back to Memphis following Chris Carpenter’s oblique injury in the same game.  Tony chose to stick with Kinney after three very wild at-bats, finally allowing a home run to Conor Jackson that ultimately won the game for the D’Backs.

To be fair, Carp’s injury holding him to a three-inning outing didn’t do the Cardinals any favors in terms of using only the bullpen arms they wanted in this game.

3.  April 14th versus the Diamondbacks (again)

The Ryan Ludwick versus Brendan Ryan, who-should-pinch-hit-with-the-bases-loaded-and-the-game-on-the-line argument.  I don’t think there’s anything I can add to this that hasn’t already been said across the media, both credentialed and not.

4.  Any game featuring Trever Miller versus a right handed hitter

I looked up Trever Miller’s 2009 and career splits versus left-handed hitters and right-handed hitters after his implosion on April 17th against the Cubs.

As posted via Twitter @PitchersHit8th:

Trever Miller LH/RH splits – career: 2009: – in case anyone didn’t already realize Miller = bad vs RHB

He simply shouldn’t be in the game versus a right-handed hitter whenever avoidable.  Friday, it was avoidable, with Dennys Reyes already warm and standing around waiting for the call in the bullpen.

5.  Continuing to try to manufacture wins for Adam Wainwright

Adam Wainwright has had his struggles early on this season.  He has emerged relatively unscathed in the win and ERA columns, but his walks and pitches have skyrocketed.  Tony has stuck to his “wasn’t going to let him be the losing pitcher” routine with others this season, but appears to have adopted a “get Adam a win at all costs” approach in 2009 as well.  Wainwright had his worst outing of 2009 on April 16 against the Cubs, according to Game Score.  Yet Waino was sent out for the sixth inning and struggled through yet another frame, loading up the bases (with the help of his inept defense on the day) before setting down the Cubs (with the help of Milton Bradley.

6.  April 18th versus the Cubs

Not bunting in the top of the eighth inning with Joe Thurston at the plate and runners on first and second with noone out seems to go against everything Tony LaRussa has built his reputation on.  National League-style play, using statistical advantages to manufacture runs, and just pushing one tiny run across the plate in a game where it clearly would’ve made a difference – this perhaps baffles me the most.

Now, I’m not oblivious to the fact that most of the incidents listed above happened in Cardinal losses.  We’re all susceptible to overlooking the poor decisions made that turn out ok, that wind up in wins.  But the fact remains that bad decisions that lead to losses are magnified many times over.  Especially when it involves the much-maligned Cardinal bullpen.

Here’s hoping the multiple days off will allow the bullpen to recover, and the manager to get his swagger back.  Play to win Tony, that’s the only stat or matchup that matters.

Writing about the Cardinals and other loosely associated topics since 2008, I've grown tired of the April run-out only to disappoint Cardinal fans everywhere by mid-May. I do not believe in surrendering free outs.
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