Tony La Russa’s Missed Opportunity

To see the definition of an expertly handled bullpen we need to merely look three days in the past, to Tony La Russa’s masterful performance Sunday against Philadelphia. After Chris Carpenter sputtered on three days rest, La Russa’s bullpen maneuvered deftly through the last six innings, holding the Phillies scoreless. All six of the Cardinals’ relievers — Jason Motte, Mitchell Boggs, Fernando Salas, Octavio Dotel, Mark Rzepczynski and Arthur Rhodes — appeared in Sunday’s game, and thus a long start from Jaime Garcia on Tuesday would have been a boon for the bullpen.

Naturally, in the bottom of the sixth inning Tuesday in St. Louis, Tony La Russa was confronted with a conundrum: in a 0-0 game, Garcia came to bat with two outs and runners on first and second having thrown a mere 74 pitches. La Russa left Garcia in, and the decision would eventually lead to both their downfalls. Garcia would strike out to end the inning, and minutes later, with two outs in the top half of the seventh, Garcia would give up a three-run home run to Ben Francisco to effectively end the game.

Although Garcia certainly should have been able to retire Francisco, a .244/.340/.362 hitter on the season, La Russa’s decisions, first against pinch-hitting and then against removing Garcia, ultimately cost the Cardinals Game 3 and a 2-1 series lead.

Jaime Garcia is not a complete black hole at the plate — I watched him effectively win a game against the Brewers earlier this season with a three-run home run — but, as tends to be the case with pitchers, he’s not good. This season, he put up a mere .097/.111/.145 line at the plate and is a .137/.172/.171 hitter in his career. Carlos Zambrano he is not (in this situation, yes, that would be a good thing).

The Cardinals also have a tremendously deep bench, as La Russa opted to keep 15 position players partly due to Matt Holliday‘s injured hand. Holliday can’t play the field yet, but he was available to pinch-hit in game three, and was successful when called upon against Brad Lidge in the bottom of the eighth inning. The Cardinals also had right-handers available in Nick Punto and Gerald Laird, but if any situation calls for Matt Holliday — he of the 154 wRC+ — it was the bottom of the sixth yesterday. When Garcia came up to the plate against Hamels, there was a leverage index of 2.51, the highest of the game to that point. By leaving Garcia in, he effectively conceded the baserunners, assuming his pitching staff could hold the Phillies down long enough for the Cardinals to start another rally.

The move was misguided in a few different ways. As good as Cole Hamels is, things aren’t going to get much easier as the bullpen comes in. By the seventh inning, the Phillies are able to go to Antonio Bastardo, Vance Worley, Brad Lidge and Ryan Madson, all pitchers who kept their ERAs and FIPs both under 3.40 this season. By taking the runners of the bases, La Russa is making it so his batters have to restart the process all over just to get into the same situation, attempting to get a string of consecutive baserunners instead of hoping one hitter — the team’s second or third best hitter at that — can produce.

Also, the attempt at saving the bullpen was likely unnecessary. For as long as the Cardinals’ relievers were in the game, they didn’t actually throw many pitches. Salas and Dotel each threw 19 pitches, and that tops the list. Rzepczynski threw 12, Motte nine, Boggs four, and Rhodes three. Especially with the day off between games, this should have been a bullpen near, if not at full strength.

All of this makes me feel as if La Russa was managing the game in regular season mode. In the regular season, you simply don’t take out a pitcher at only 74 pitches, because over 162 games, a team needs to keep its bullpen fresh due to the lack of scheduled off days and how quickly constant work can pile up. In the playoffs, with a day off after every two games (at least in the divisional round), this shouldn’t be as much of a concern. In the playoffs, every run is important now, particularly in a tie game in which runs are scarce such as Tuesday’s. La Russa’s bullpen is very much capable of getting outs — they went another two scoreless innings in Tuesday’s tilt.

There wasn’t going to be a better chance at using Matt Holliday to score runs and gain a lead, and La Russa let it pass him by. He paid once as his team left the sixth scoreless, and he paid again as it left the top of seventh behind for good.

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34 Responses to “Tony La Russa’s Missed Opportunity”

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  1. Urfrank says:

    I think the IBB to Ruiz was even crazier considering that Hamels was at 117 pitches and was likely done for the day.

    And obviously in hindsight, that extra run is directly on the manager’s head since he ordered him to be put on base.

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  2. deadpool says:

    His justification for leaving Garcia in showed of his TLRness quite well too, basically boiling down to, “Garcia has owned Franscisco.”

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    • CircleChange11 says:

      TLRness is making numerous, perhaps even unnecessary, pitching changes.

      Now, it’s leaving the starter in too long?

      I can’t stand the guy, but basically any move he makes at this point is going to be decried if it doesn’t work out.

      TLR was probably looking at the fact that 2 guys were on base, 1-run lead, and a groundball-strikeout pitcher on the mound. You can take an out at any of the bases on a groundball.

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  3. Harry says:

    “La Russa‚Äôs decisions, first against pinch-hitting and then against removing Garcia, ultimately cost the Cardinals Game 3 and a 2-1 series lead.”

    Intentionally walking Ruiz, who has struggled this series, to get to Francisco is what cost the Cards the game. Garcia was dominating and taking him out of the game after only 74 pitches is not the right move, especially with just runners on 1st and 2nd with 2 outs.

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    • hk says:

      Further to this point, if TLR had pinch-hit for Garcia, the PH had made an out and PHI went on to win against the STL bullpen, the narrative would be that LaRussa’s decision to remove Garcia after 74 pitches ultimiately cost the Cardinals Game 3 and a 2-1 series lead.

      We all know the end result was that Garcia sruck out to end the 6th, stayed in the game, gave up 3 runs and his team lost 3-2. However, it is wrong for the author to conclude that STL would have won if TLR had pinch-hit for Garcia.

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  4. CircleChange11 says:

    La Russa left Garcia in, and the decision would eventually lead to both their downfalls. Garcia would strike out to end the inning, and minutes later, with two outs in the top half of the seventh, Garcia would give up a three-run home run to Ben Francisco to effectively end the game.

    Isn’t this the exact type of scenario that FG warns against? Using the result to justify/criticize the decision?

    I think the WORSE decision was leaving Garcia in to face the RHB Francisco with 2 men on. TLR loves himself a double switch and that seems like the right time for it.


    Also, we can’t really say the HR effectively ended the game when StL had the tying run at 2B (go-ahead run at 1B) in the 8th and the tying run at 1B (go-ahead run at the plate) in the 9th.

    Allen craig’s inning ending GIDP was a bout as hard as you can hit a one-hopper.

    But, in hindsight the 3-run HR was the game winner, so I get it.


    This is where looking at the run expectations in the various scenarios could shed some light instead of relying on hindsight. What is the run expectation with Garcia at the plate? How does that change with Pinch Hitter A? What about Pinch Hitter B?

    Then, who’s the next reliever and what batters is he facing?

    My initial thought was to pinch hit. But, let’s not act like we wouldn’t be all over TLR had he done so, and ended up removing a SP that had held PHL scoreless through 6 IP on 74 pitches if the bullpen comes in and gives up the lead.

    IMO, at a sabermetric analysis website, the factors going into the decision should be laid out in sabermetric terms, rather than relying on after-the-fact results as evidence. I suppose it is possible that the evidence of decreased performance of starting pitchers is so well supported and commonly known that it goes without saying among sabermetric fans.

    The other day TLR was ripped for having his 2nd best pitcher pitch the 3rd game of the series, even though Garcia is much better at home. If we use the ‘after-the-fact’ analysis system, we’d have to at least say that garcia pitching at home was a very good decision.

    I’m at my saturation point with TLR for various reasons, but in the last two analysis articles the conclusion “TLR is wrong” is made before the evidence is presented (or so it seems).

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    • Abreutime says:

      I agree. This is what I love about this site, how it attempts to quantify our hunches. The leverage value was good, and run expectancies would be helpful for weighing the tradeoff that Larussa made in letting Garcia bat.

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    • hk says:

      FWIW, as a Phillies fan, I was hoping TLR would pinch-hit there. Garcia was cruising, I would have expected Hamels to retire a pinch-hitter and I would have thought the Phils would have a better chance to score against the Cardinals pen – Sunday’s results notwithstanding – than against Garcia in the next inning or two.

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    • Phils_Goodman says:

      Good post.

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  5. CircleChange11 says:

    Looking at this some more ….

    In the 7th, Garcia faced …

    Victorino – 1B to CF
    Mayberry – FO to RF
    Polanco – GO to 3B
    Ruiz – IBB (The guy OPS’s 820 in th eplayoffs, it’s a must)

    Actually, IBB’ing Ruiz guarantees Hamels is out of the game. Not sure the exact #’s vLHP for StL this year, but they are usually among the worst in the majors.

    Francisco hits a 3-run HR. For the cardinals that just sucks. I’m ranking this play alongside Tom Lawless’s WS HR and Kurt Bevaqua’s smash. I mean crazy shit can (and does) happen.

    But had Garcia gotten out of that inning, his pitch count is still good and he’s able to face Utley and Howard in the 8th. Garcia had dominated THE Philly that absolutely destroys StL (1.185 OPS in 200 PA). Not sure if that was what TLR was thinking, but it’s possible.

    StL was able to use Holliday in an important situation, and still had another chance to tie the game.

    The bitch of it is Francisco’s blast, which might be just another glitch in the playoff universe.

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    • hk says:

      Hamels had thrown 117 pitches so it was likely that he was out of the game whether Ruiz got on base or not.

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      • CircleChange11 says:


        I was unable to watch the game. 2 parent meeting followed by open house at my kids’ school.

        IBB’ing Ruiz then doesn’t make sense.

        Carlos Ruiz OPS
        NLDS – .549
        NLCS – .861
        WS – 1.194

        Maybe TLR forgot that he was only facing “NLDS Ruiz” and not “WS Ruiz”. Of course, I’m just trying to be funny, even though SSS can be entertaining.

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    • CircleChange11 says:

      The comment on Ruiz being a playoff, while a partial-truth, is mostly sarcasm.

      If you walk him, it’s to force Philly to take Hamels out.

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      • arch support says:

        Which, as hk notes, is a little silly.

        Hamels was at almost 120 pitches. And he’d had to throw quite a few in each of the two previous innings.

        IMO, if Charlie let Hamels go out there to pitch the bottom of the 7th, he’s just done the Cards a favor. The Cards had the top of their order up. I like the lineup’s chances against a tiring left-handed starter who’s starting his (I think) fourth time through the order much better than I like their chances against a fresh arm from the bullpen.

        Maybe TLR was walking Ruiz to knock out Hamels, or maybe he was walking Ruiz because he liked the PH match-up better. Either way, I think the walk to Ruiz was a mistake. THE mistake. Granted, it can be expected that Garcia would get Francisco out most of the time. But in this game, baby, youneverknow.

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    • hk says:

      My point is that Hamels was coming out any way. There’s no way he was coming back out for the inning having already thrown 117 pitches. In fact, if Charlie Manual had any thoughts of having Hamels pitch the 7th, he would have let him bat (a la LaRussa with Garcia the half inning before). Having watched Charlie manage over the years, he rarely lets an increased chance to score runs lead him to pinch hit for a Hamels, Halladay or Lee.

      If you want to IBB Ruiz because you think you have a better chance at retiring Francisco, I’m on board with it. If your rationale behind IBB’ing Ruiz is to get Hamels out of the game, that’s a mistake because he was coming out any way.

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      • CircleChange11 says:

        Yeah, considering Hamels’ pitch count, it’s tough to defend the IBB to Ruiz.

        The only things I can come up with are …

        [1] The PH is likely a lesser hitter than Ruiz.
        [2] It sets up a force at every base for a high GB% pitcher facing a low power batter.

        I’d rather go after Ruiz and have a PH (a weaker hitter) lead off the 8th. Face the top of the order with 1 out already on the board.

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  6. hk says:

    The bottom line here is that some managers get too much credit when their team wins and too much blame when their team loses. The decision to let Garcia bat was justifiable as would have been the decision to pinch-hit had he chosen to do so. He kept a pitcher, who had thrown a masterful 6 innings, in the game instead of removing him and improving the chances of scoring from (I’m guessing here) 12% to 32%.

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  7. LuckyNucky says:

    I don’t see how you can blame TLR for Ben Francisco’s 3-run blast. This was the right move considering all aspects. Garcia had the Phillies’ number and a PH that Garcia owned. Besides that, Francisco has been lame all year. Any base gets an out (besides HP). I am not a TLR fan. IMO.. he over-manages too often.

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    • adr3 says:

      I absolutely agree. TLR got exactly the matchup he wanted….and I would bet Philly fans didn’t like the Francisco vs. Garcia matchup until the result…. I’m still amazed that Francisco came through, but that doesn’t reflect poorly on anyone. Jaime just left a pitch up, and kudos to Francisco for coming through.

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  8. WY says:

    The roster is 11 pitchers and 14 position players, not 10 and 15.

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  9. WY says:

    These “second-guess the manager” playoff posts are literally a dime a dozen. They are a bona fide postseason cliche, but in a way, it is amusing to see bloggers, armed with 20/20 hindsight, spout off with such arrogance and misplaced self-confidence.

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    • CircleChange11 says:


      For example, Leyland left Verlander in the game in the 8th inning the other day despite clear evidence that he was losing his command and missing his spots by a decent margin. That he was avoiding his curveball and challenging ARod and Teix with fastballs (even triple digit ones), indicated to me that JV could be taken out of the game.

      Leyland left him in and JV pitched out of the situation getting Teix to pop up to 3rd.

      If we use results as our indicator, it was a brilliant managing decision. I felt JV coulda/shoulda been taken out.

      Same deal with Valverde being left in while he was issuing walks after throwing 34 pitches the day before. Jim Leyland sure knows his pitchers. *grin*

      It also reminds me of another lightning rod pitcher …. Kelly leaving Jack Morris in the game despite 2nd and 3rd with 1-out in a 0-0 world series game 7. Of course Morris went on to throw a 10-Inn shutout, and make Kelly look like a damn ballsy genius.

      Joe Maddon’s IBB’s to Cabrera, even without 1B open to face Boesch (on consecutive nights), also look brilliant if we use results as our deciding factor.

      I still can’t believe Francisco went deep. Garcia, TLR, and the rest of the Cardinals team and fans have to be wondering how the hell that happened. In 1987 WS, Tom Lawless, of the 2-for-25 during the regular season dropped a 3-run HR off Viola in a 1-1 game. Go fargin figure. Sorry for the rambling.

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      • WY says:

        I have to be honest — at the time, I wondered about both decisions (whether to pinch hit, and then the IBB to Ruiz). They were both tough decisions, and I could have seen going either way in each case.

        But there are many tough decisions in close games like this, and it is very rare to see any of them acknowledged except when they backfire. This is especially true when it comes to a polarizing figure like La Russa.

        (It was barely a week ago when La Russa was haevily criticized for lifting Carpenter for a pinch hitter in a 1-1 game against the Cubs. Carpenter was leading off in the bottom of the 7th when he was pinch hit for. They didn’t score, McClellan gave up a three-run bomb to Soriano — ALSO after an IBB — and they lost.)

        One other thing to point out is that if they had brought in Dotel to face Francisco, the Phillies would have likely countered with Ibanez (or at least Gload). If they wanted to bring in Dotel, it would have made sense to do it with Ruiz up, since they wouldn’t pinch hit for him. That possibility was also going through my mind. Who knows how it would have turned out.

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  10. Bob says:

    As far as getting Hamels out of the game goes…I think I’d have been happier if Hamels had *stayed* in the game, given his elevated pitch count.

    Tiring excellent starters are still tiring, nontheless.

    It was a 50/50 call, in my mind…but the free pass to Ruiz was the blunder—because it was only the 7th inning, not the 9th, and the extra run/runner was really important.

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    • CircleChange11 says:

      At the time of the comments, I was not aware of Hamels pitch count.

      StL did have pretty good success against the Philly relievers in that game, 7 H 1 BB in 3 INN.

      I keep coming back to the Allen Craig one-hopper for a DP. If that ball gets through (and it reasonably could), we’re looking at a 3-3 game with Pujols up with runners on 1st and 3rd, and a whole new narrative.

      Even if Utley plays it safe and takes it off the chest and gets Craig at 1st, it’s a 1-run game where PHL likely IBB’s Pujols to load the bases.

      Chase Utley is freackin good.

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  11. MGL says:

    Not pinch hitting for Garcia is MUCH more of an egregious error than the IBB (although the IBB wa clearly an error also).

    You probably lose around .1 in win expectancy (WE) in that situation (not pinch hitting). There is no starting pitcher in baseball history that can make up that amount of WE in the number of innings Garcia was expected to pitch after the 6th (maybe 1.5 on the average).

    Look at it this way, without using LI (leverage index) and WE. The difference between Garcia batting and a pinch hitter is around .4 runs. That is huge. There is no greater difference in baseball strategies than that between a pitcher batting and a regular position player with runners on base and a high leverage situation (the .4 has nothing to do with leverage of course – only on the bases and outs).

    Garcia is going to pitch for around 1.5 more innings on the average. To equal the .4 runs conceded by not pinch hitting for him, you need a pitcher who is 2.4 runs per 9 innings better than his replacement. There is no starter or reliever on the team with that magnitude of difference. Garcia was facing the lineup for the 3rd time, regardless of the fact that he was only at 74 or 75 pitches. A starter facing the lineup the 3rd time through the order probably loses .5 runs per 9. So there is probably NO difference between Garcia and one of STL’s relievers, let alone 2.5 runs per 9!

    And that still understates the cost of the chosen strategy. The LI was 2.51 as Jack said. That means that the .4 runs lost is actually 1 run (.4 times 2.5). the average leverage over the next 1.5 innings is likely less than that, so that 2.5 run per 9 difference that you need between your starter and reliever is probably more like 3 runs. To sum, Garcia facing the Phillies the 3rd time through the order for the 7th and, say, half of the 8th, on the average, would have to be 3 runs per 9 innings better than a reliever, to make up for the lost WE or RE by not pinch hitting.

    That was an egregious, unconscionable mistake by TLR, of which there is no defense or justification….

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  12. JG says:

    I’m sure Cards fans feel differently, but as a neutral observer I’m happy TLR dropped the ball, because now I get to watch Halladay/Carpenter on Friday night.

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    • CircleChange11 says:

      I’m cool with that. Isn’t that how a series is supposed to end?

      Best against best.

      Winner moves on, loser goes home.

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