When we use the phrase playing the percentages what we generally mean to say is that because there are so many examples or samples in the game of baseball, we’re given a somewhat predictive ability as to what the most likely outcome is for most situations. Playing the percentages refers to reacting to a situation by exerting one’s control to set up the most positive likely outcome possible for one’s team.
There were several instances from last night’s game, be they intentional walks, sacrifice bunts, stolen base attempts or pitching changes, in which percentages weren’t played. And while both managers are guilty of exhibiting a large disconnect between their decisions and reason, Tony La Russa’s errors appear the more egregious simply because of the final scoreline.
Fortunately, for us, following the game, the St. Louis Cardinals’ manager was there to take questions from the media and answer for what ended up being his mistakes.
Here are some of the justifications that La Russa used in his postgame press conference to explain his decision making process.
On leaving Marc Rzepzcynski in to face Mike Napoli:
Well, what happened was that twice the bullpen didn’t hear Motte’s name. They heard “Rzepczynski’ and they didn’t get Motte (when both were supposed to be getting loose). I looked up there and Motte wasn’t going. So I called back for Motte and they got Lynn up. That’s why he wasn’t supposed to pitch today so I wasn’t going to let him throw that hitter. He just threw the warmups and walked him and Motte behind was ready. I don’t know if it was noisy, probably real noisy. They just didn’t hear the second time.
On Lance Lynn being brought in to intentionally walk Ian Kinsler:
They heard “Rzepczynski” and they didn’t hear “Motte” and when I called back I said “Motte,” they heard “Lynn.” So I went out there, wrong guy. He’s not going to pitch today. I said, “Go back, get Motte ready.” We’ll walk the guy because I don’t want Lynn to — he is not supposed to pitch. I didn’t want to hurt him. And then Motte came in. That’s why — it must be loud. I give the fans credit.
On Craig Allen taking off for second base with Albert Pujols at the plate in the seventh inning, behind in the count 0-1:
It was a mix-up, and that’s all I’m going to say.
I don’t think too many people would generally describe me as naive when it comes to baseball, if anything I likely err on the other side of cynicism when writing about American’s pastime.
However, I believe Tony La Russa. I believe it when he says that there was a telephone mix up because it’s the most reasonable explanation for first seeing only Rzepczynski warming up and then later watching Lynn join him.
When has Tony La Russa, in the eighth inning of a baseball game, ever in his career, asked that a single left handed pitcher warm up? Why, after Lynn threw two and a third innings the night before, would he ask that he start throwing in the bullpen? And finally, why wouldn’t he go to Jason Motte, when he’s never shown a hesitancy in the past to use the team’s de facto closer in the eighth inning. In fact, of Motte’s nine previous postseason appearances, he was brought in to get four outs three times.
La Russa, for all of his faults, is never one to skirt responsibility or push blame on someone else. Something that was evident from his answer to questions surrounding the Allen stolen base attempt in the seventh inning. Joe Buck and Tim McCarver calling the game from the FOX broadcast booth mentioned the possibility of Allen running because Pujols put on his own hit and run, an idea that Pujols later confirmed. This explains why La Russa approached Allen after he was thrown out at second, and appeared to question exactly what he was trying to do by taking off for the extra base.
It can be argued that if Pujols put on the hit and run sign, he would’ve swung at the 0-1 pitch he got from Alexi Ogando, instead of taking it and allowing an easy throw for Mike Napoli down to second base. However, such an argument completely fails to recognize the location of that second pitch from Ogando which had more in common with a pitch out than a regular fastball.
The point is that while we can certainly question a lot of the decisions that were made last night, I think it’s tackling a different beast altogether to attempt to question La Russa’s integrity. Instead of jumping to conclusions about the seeming ridiculousness of a bullpen phone miscommunication causing so much havoc, I believe that examining the evidence combined with consideration for the Cardinals manager’s past actions, actually backs La Russa’s claims.
If we’re going to be quick to lambaste La Russa for the bad parts of his reputation, we should also consider the good parts as well. This is a manager who will always attempt to absorb a negative focus on his team, whether it’s over his star player negotiating a big contract or his batters going through a prolonged slump. If anything, La Russa has a history of showing nothing but contempt for others’ opinions of him.
This isn’t everyone’s favourite analyst Gregg Zaun supposedly throwing a crumpled up, blank cheque. This is Colonel Nathan R. Jessep on the stand in a military trial. Tony LaRussa is a man who wants to tell the truth, whether we can handle it or not.