Riddle me that. Who was sitting in the dugout with Descalso at-bat?
Granted, Mike Matheny chose Daniel Descalso to pinch run for the hobbled Craig in a close game in hopes of gaining a speed advantage on the bases. Certainly, few would argue that Craig can best Descalso in a foot race, but was it the right move? Regardless of outcome, try to consider it in terms of win probability, since we simply cannot know how that move impacted the game’s outcome.
Allen Craig started the home half of the 9th inning by hitting a clean single to left field which took him to 2 for 4 on the night. At that point, Matheny replaced Craig with Descalso. Makes sense, yes? That’s a fairly fast runner on first base with Matt Holliday, Carlos Beltran, and David Freese to follow at the plate. In terms of oWAR, all 3 of those players rank in the top 5 for the Cardinals. Great narrative potential. Shortsighted at best.
Coming into the game, Holliday was hitting just .224/.268/.433/.700 in the month of August. During that same period, Beltran hit .246/.279/.523/.802, and David Freese was limping through the month at a .193/.266/.281/.546 clip. Sure, there was reason to hope that someone would get a double that would score Descalso from 1B. Not only were the odds stacked against the Cardinals, they were practically pointing and laughing at that point. The second guessing begins when you think about likely positive outcomes.
If Craig stays in the game and Holliday hits a single, the odds of Craig getting to 3rd base are relatively low. That’s no shot at Craig’s speed, either. The probability is based primarily on a combination of pitch location, pitch selection, swing speed, and hit location. The same holds true for Descalso running from 1st base. The logic can then be extended somewhat to factor in a double hit by Holliday. The odds of Descalso advancing an extra base compared to Craig slightly favor Descalso, but the numbers still favor the opposing team.
Let’s say that Holliday advances Craig to 2nd base with a single or to 3rd with a double. Would that not be a better time to pull Craig for a faster runner? The potential scenarios of either 1st and 2nd with no outs or 2nd and 3rd with no outs seems to make more sense for a pinch runner to be used. Naturally, the logic here stems from the belief that the greater the chances of scoring, the less value an RBI has. Huh, wut? Yes. Check out the work by Tangotiger on the subject of how runs are really created. To put it plainly, the more the situation begins to tip in favor of the offense, the easier it becomes to score runs. Now that makes more sense.
If Holliday strikes out or grounds into a fielder’s choice, it essentially matters not who the runner on 1st base is/was. If he grounds into a double play, the same holds true. Either way, the pinch running move pays off in terms of wasting 1 available position player. Sure, I’m circuitously trying to reach the point that pinch running for Craig added very little in the way of reward when weighed against all the likely outcomes.
Win probability and win expectancy provide a statistical view of the likelihood that a given play will produce a positive outcome for each team. Before Allen Craig stepped to the plate in the bottom of the 9th inning, the win probability for the Cardinals was 63%. After his single, the WPA (win probability added) took the win probability to 71%. Then when Descalso came to bat again in the 17th inning with a chance to win the game, he was facing Juan Cruz with runners on 1st and 2nd and 2 outs. With runners in scoring position this year, Descalso is hitting .100/.273/.150/.423. With 2 outs and men on first and second base, he’s hitting just .125/.364/.125/.489. With 2 outs and runners in scoring position, Descalso’s line is .097/.300/.129/.429. He’s also just hitting .208 in “high leverage” situations which are defined by a leverage index.
On the flip side, Allen Craig is hitting .385/.453/.667/1.119 with runners in scoring position and .400/.455/.600/1.055 with 2 outs and runners on 1st and 2nd base. With 2 outs and runners in scoring position, his line is .273/.385/.523/.907. Finally, Craig hits .262/.324/.415/.740 in high leverage situations.
As if that doesn’t smart enough, then it’s probably worth considering the replacement factor. Descalso bats left-handed, and he came into the game hitting .230/.308/.327/.635 on the season with 307 plate appearances. Even worse? Descalso was hitting .196/.226/.275/.501 this month. The guy he replaced, Allen Craig, entered the game hitting .305/.366/.574/.940 and actually raised his average a couple of points. Need more pain? Craig was already hitting .333/.368/.603/.971 in August and had 2 hits in 4 at-bats in the game.
To add insult to injury, keep in mind that Jon Jay hits left-handed as well, so the move meant the Cardinals had 2 lefties at the top of the order. Maybe Matheny had an eye on a stolen base attempt for Descalso, but we may never know. Even so, Descalso has speed, but I’d argue that he doesn’t have that kind of speed. Descalso can really motor from home to 3rd or from first to home, but he doesn’t necessarily have “straight line speed”. He only has 7 stolen base attempts on the season, and his last one was July 7th. For the record, he stands 4 for 7 in terms of successful attempts.
To be fair, I have no idea whether not not leaving Allen Craig in the game would have changed the outcome in favor of the Cardinals. However, I don’t see a very solid argument for lifting him for a pinch runner at exactly the moment in the game that he was lifted. It’s not a matter of preference, either. It’s just playing the odds.