[Redbird Reveille] Leadoff walks, bullpen management, and Jo-Jo

by on April 29, 2009 · 1 comment

It occurred to me after Kyle McClellan walked Omar Infante to load the bases last night in the eighth inning, “we’ve seen this before, I know we have.”

Thing is, I wasn’t referring to the impending blown save and loss.

Cardinal pitchers have walked twelve batters this season with no one out and the bases empty.

Worse, they have walked ten batters to lead off an inning.  As I’m sure one would expect, that doesn’t bode well for continued success.  Four of the ten batters have gone on to score in those innings.  I haven’t done the research to see what the typical rate is across the league for lead off walkers scoring, but I’d bet it is just as poor a ratio as the Cardinals have.

I know the Cards are not the only team that suffers from this affliction, but if you want to prevent teams from scoring, a good way to do that is to keep them off the base paths.  Shocking development, I know, just remember you heard it first here at Pitchers Hit Eighth.

Another damning stat?  Sure, I’ll feed you…

Cardinal pitchers have surrendered walks to the first batter they’ve faced six times.  Five of those are credited to relievers.  Dennys Reyes has done it twice in eleven appearances!  I know six doesn’t sound like a lot compared to the number of plate appearances versus the Cardinals already in this young season, but when you make the assumption that a reliever’s job is to come into the game and shut down a rally, or preserve a lead – six is a big number in only 21 games.

I believe this goes without saying, but I’ll put it down here for posterity’s sake:

The Cardinals must throw more strikes.  Moreover, the Cardinal relievers must throw more strikes.

—–

In a nice segue from the above, I’d like to qualify my next few statements and questions:

I understand they are Major League pitchers and are paid very handsomely to do their job.  They are expected to perform under pressure because they have talent that many of the rest of us do not.  If a pitcher finds himself on a big-league baseball club, it is because somewhere along the road he has proven that he can get batters out and throw strikes.

Ok, so keep that in mind as you read along here…

1. Why does Tony LaRussa insist upon protecting his starters (read: “Tony wasn’t going to let him take the loss there.”) and hanging his bullpen out to dry?  The obvious inference in “won’t let him take the loss” means that “the bullpen is going to take one on the chin here”.  We’re already on the record here as disagreeing with some of Tony’s decisions re: his bullpen, so this isn’t uncharted territory.

At the first sign of McClellan struggling last night, where’s the quick hook?  Where’s the guy who meticulously managed the matchups and his bullpen on April 23rd against the Mets, using four pitchers to get five outs with a four-run lead?  Reyes was already warm, not to mention the other arms that were still available.

2. I assume, and feel pretty safe in said assumption, that I’m not the only one who feels this way, but I’m going to put it here for discussion.

Why on earth can’t managers just intentionally walk a guy, if that’s what they want the result to be?

Case in point, Chipper Jones‘ at-bat in the eighth inning last night against McClellan.  It was clear that McClellan was under instructions not to give Jones anything to hit.  Or at the very least, nothing he could drive.  This means nibbling at corners, trying to get him to chase, or trying to get a favorable lean from the umpire.  In most cases, it means an unintentional intentional walk, because the pitcher is so afraid of getting too close to the plate.

See my caveat above, but wouldn’t you think this could really screw up a pitcher’s control?  Manager calls for an intentional walk, okay, I’ve got to soft-toss four balls way off the plate.  Manager says, “stay away from this guy, don’t give him anything to hit” and now you’re trying to nibble around the plate just close enough to try and get him to swing, but still essentially walking him.  (And this is why I still think Albert Pujols should not have a perpetual 3-0 green light.)

Casey Kotchman helped KMac out on a couple pitches, he struck out.  But to walk Jeff Francouer on five pitches?  Francouer would never be accused of being an OBP machine, and seems to repel walks.

I just don’t agree with trying to have your pitcher “just miss” the plate.  If you don’t want to pitch to a guy, just put him on base and move on.  Let your guy concentrate on throwing strikes.

3. Circling back to “not letting the starter take the loss,” Cardinal fans are eventually going to have to ease upon this bullpen.  I don’t know if Tony just feels a certain loyalty to his starting rotation going out and battling every night (because they truly have been excellent so far, as a whole), or if he figures that bullpen arms are a dime a dozen, or if he just figures the bullpen is going to get bagged on regardless – might as well give them another loss?  Maybe he just expects more of his bullpen and is routinely let down.

Thing is though, Kyle Lohse had more in him last night.  He was pretty well cruising through six, and that’s when the games began.  Tony subbed in his “defensive save” team, pulled Lohse, and “saved” Kyle from worryiing about taking the loss.  Sure, one could argue that Rick Ankiel’s catch in the bottom of the seventh justified the defensive switches.  You could even argue that the Cards were still in really good shape after Jason Motte finished off the seventh inning.

But why is all of that necessary?  Tony wasn’t going to let Lohse get into a situation to take the loss last night, and that left a precarious 1-0 lead in position for the bullpen to blow it.

The argument that “this always happens” because “the bullpen sucks and can’t hold a lead” just doesn’t fly with me.  The Cardinals won this exact same game on Monday night against the same Braves.  They won this game on Friday against the Cubs.

The manager must put *all* of his pitchers in the best position to succeed.  If that means that Lohse pitching another inning is the best chance to succeed, that’s what happens.  If Lohse blows it, is it really any worse than the bullpen taking the loss?

Trever Miller must not pitch to a right-handed hitter with a game on the line, yet we’ve seen that happen this season.  Motte was left in to absorb a beating on Opening Day when it was clear he was overwhelmed and erratic.

It doesn’t take much analysis, if you ask this humble fan, to understand why St Louis starters are 12-2 and the relievers are 2-5.  And it’s certainly not because the starters are that good and the bullpen is that bad.

—–

By the way, has anyone noticed that the Cardinals have given away 11 runs so far this season?  The Cards have allowed 89 runs, but only 78 of them are earned.

Only the Washington Nationals are worse, allowing 16 unearned runs.

The defense must improve for this team to continue winning.  And that includes positioning yourself well on plays that don’t even result in errors, Khalil Greene.

—–

Then there’s the ineptitude of the Cardinal offense, turning Jo-Jo Reyes into a world-beater.

Jo-Jo struck out seven Cardinals, most of them looking like they weren’t even trying.

As many folks were a-Twitter after the game last night, it’s difficult to pin a loss on the bullpen when an offense averaging (even including last night’s game) 5.7 runs per contest has to struggle to manufacture one, particularly against Jo-Jo.

Reyes came into the game 0-1 with an ERA of 7.94 after being pasted by the Pirates on April 18th.  For his career?  Well, let’s just say that in his third big-league season, Jo-Jo has yet to really impress.

Until last night, that is.

Reyes posted a 73 Game Score last night against the Cardinals, which ranks as the second best start of his 34 start career, using that metric.

I know we’ve talked about it before, but Game Score is defined as:

Game Score – This is a value created by Bill James that evaluates how good a pitcher’s start was.

Start with 50 points. Add 1 point for each out recorded, (or 3 points per inning). Add 2 points for each inning completed after the 4th. Add 1 point for each strikeout. Subtract 2 points for each hit allowed. Subtract 4 points for each earned run allowed. Subtract 2 points for each unearned run allowed. Subtract 1 point for each walk.

Jo-Jo is unlikely to be mistaken for Cy Young anytime soon, so perhaps the Cards could’ve taken better swings.

—–

Yesterday marked two years since Josh Hancock passed away after being in an accident while driving drunk in St Louis.

With MLB being affected by Angels pitcher Nick Adenhart being killed by a drunk driver in another vehicle this year, the issue has come to the forefront again.

The New York Times ran an article yesterday that focused on former Cards pitcher Tyler Johnson, talking to him about his history with alcohol and how Hancock’s death changed his outlook and how he lives his life.

Untimely death is always a tragedy, no matter the circumstances or fault, but it’s hopeful to see a guy like Johnson take something away from one of these incidents and strive for redemption and improving his own life.

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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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