During yesterday's postgame comments, Tony La Russa was asked about walking Miguel Cabrera intentionally, loading the bases to bring Clete Thomas to the plate. His response was, in typical Tony fashion, more than a little bit defiant:
"I can't walk in the clubhouse if Cabrera beats us. I don't feel very good now, but you've got a better chance to get [Thomas] out."
"I don't care what they say," La Russa said. "It's what I say to myself. You can't live with what people say. You live with what you think is the best thing to do. I've watched Cabrera all series. You know how many times he hit the ball on the barrel? Even if he had struggled, I'd have done it. This is a guy who makes his living in situations like that. (Parisi) just didn't make the pitches to finish it."
Well, all I've got to say is that it's a good thing Tony doesn't care what people like me say, because I say this was a bad move.
OK, so Clete Thomas is a rookie. Great. Rookies do tend to shoot themselves in the foot occasionally whenever the pressure's really on. All part of being a young player.
Of course, the pitcher on the mound was also a rookie, and Mike Parisi has proven that he will hurt himself if you give him the chance. I'm not going to claim that Parisi never should have been in the game or anything like that, the way that so many talking heads will as they overreact and pander away. Parisi wasn't a great option, but he was as good of an option as the Cards really had.
OK, so Miguel Cabrera is a great hitter. That's pretty well established. But even the best hitter can't make the ball fall in every single time. There's a reason that even Hall of Fame hitters only get the balls they put in play to fall in around 35% of the time.
What the whole thing comes down to, to me, is two very simple numbers.
.273 vs. .366.
The first number there is Miguel Cabrera's batting average this season. The second one is Clete Thomas's on-base percentage this year. I'm sure you'll all notice that one is a fair bit higher than the other.
The problem is that, by walking the bases loaded, the Cardinals put themselves in a position where anything that put Thomas on base won the game for the Tigers. With Cabrera at the plate, the Tigers had to get a hit to win it. With the bases loaded, all Thomas had to do was lean into an inside delivery, or just do what he did, and take four wide ones.
You pitch to Cabrera there, don't give him anything good to hit, and maybe he gets himself out on a bad pitch. If he doesn't, you're in the same position you ended up in anyway. At least you gave your rookie pitcher a chance to get the hitter out before you backed him into the corner.
I don't care how great of a hitter Miguel Cabrera is, I don't make the trade off between those two numbers, and those two situations. I'm not a big believer in reducing baseball simply to a numbers game; I don't think that players are simply automatons as some of the more serious sabermetricians out there seem to. But when you have a struggling rookie on the mound, and the choice between getting beaten with a hit and getting beaten with anything that isn't an out, I take the numerical advantage, and the safety net of the open base, and I make the Tigers earn the win.
Cabrera gets a hit twenty seven percent of the time. Thomas gets on base almost thirty seven percent of the time. Which one do you want to take your chances on?