St. Louis Cardinals: Tony LaRussa's Strategy In The 11th

Adam BernacchioAnalyst IIIApril 11, 2011

JUPITER, FL - FEBRUARY 28:  Bryan Augenstein #65 of the St. Louis Cardinals throws against the Florida Marlins at Roger Dean Stadium on February 28, 2011 in Jupiter, Florida.  (Photo by Marc Serota/Getty Images)
Marc Serota/Getty Images

Friday afternoon’s tilt between the St. Louis Cardinals and San Francisco Giants was an interesting one. It had a lot of twists and turns and the Giants eventually won the game in the bottom of the 12th on a hit by the usually hated Aaron Rowand.

While the game ended in the 12th, it was in the bottom of the 11th where the game took the most twists and turns and required Cardinals’ manager Tony LaRussa to go into the deepest depths of his strategy book.

I thought it would be interesting to take a look at each situation that occurred in the inning and, using Baseball Reference’s and Phil Birnbaum’s Win Expectancy (WE) percentages, see if TLR as the cool kids say, put his Cardinals in the best situation to win.


The 11th inning must have given TLR heartburn

Let’s start with Andres Torres on second with Freddy Sanchez at the plate and Bryan Augenstein on the mound with nobody out.

Giants’ WE start of Sanchez’s AB = 81 percent

During the AB, Augenstein threw a wild pitch, which moved Torres to third. LaRussa is faced with a very tough decision. Does he walk the bases loaded to force Torres at home or does he hope Sanchez either K’s or hits the ball to one of the five infielders? LaRussa moved Allen Craig to the infield.

Giants’ WE if LaRussa walks the bases loaded with nobody out = 90 percent

Giants’ WE if Cardinals retire Sanchez and leave Torres at third = 93 percent

LaRussa elected to pitch to Sanchez and in doing so, hurt his team’s chances of winning by 3 percent. Not a huge percentage decrease, but a decrease nonetheless. Augenstein was able to strikeout Sanchez on a high fastball.

Now we have Torres still on third with one out and Rowand at the plate. After Rowand, the Giants have Buster Posey and Pablo Sandoval coming to the plate, so this is another very tough decision for TLR.

Giants’ WE if LaRussa walks the bases loaded with one out = 83 percent

Giant’s WE if Cardinals retire Rowand and leave Torres at third = 83 percent

LaRussa could do no wrong with his decision and once again, elected to pitch to Rowand. The end result was that TLR got the best of both worlds.

Rowand hit a one-hop rope to Craig at third and Craig was able to throw out Torres, who was running home. No fault with Torres running home. He was caught in no man’s land and was almost forced to go home.

On the play, Rowand went to second. Now the Giants have a runner on second with two outs with Posey and Sandoval coming to the plate.

LaRussa decided to walk both Posey and Sandoval to load the bases and take his chances with Mark DeRosa.

Giants’ WE with a runner on second, with two outs and Posey at the plate = 61%

Giants’ WE with bases loaded, with two outs and DeRosa at the plate = 66%

Once again, TLR puts his team in the worse position. TLR wanted DeRosa to come to the plate, so he can force Bruce Bochy’s hand. If DeRosa hits, then the Giants are down to just one pitcher in the bullpen.

The problem with this is that TLR is putting the winning run at third. Now the Cardinals can lose by an single, error, passed ball, wild pitch, walk, or hit batter. Augenstein was able to strikeout DeRosa and somehow get out of the inning.

I always find it fascinating to look back at a manager’s decisions throughout the course of a game and see if it jives with the percentages. In this case, TLR went against the book in the bottom of the 11th and got away with it.

Unfortunately for him and the Cardinals, the baseball gods are a fickle bunch and will eventually make you pay when you go against them.

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