In the bottom of the seventh inning of the Cardinals’ 3-1 win over the Phillies Monday night, Tony La Russa summoned starting pitcher Kyle Lohse to pinch hit for Jake Westbrook after Nick Punto reached with a leadoff single. The Cardinals had a one-run lead at the time, and a tiring Cliff Lee was still pitching.
Lohse was of course a clever choice, especially since La Russa originally had infielder Tyler Greene ready to pinch hit, before Punto’s hit presumably changed his thinking.
Normally, we admire such resourcefulness on the part of a manager. But was Lohse the best option? Assuming that La Russa wanted to use a pitcher and not burn a position player, here’s the current staff by descending order of sac-bunting proficiency:
Ah, the irony! In terms of percentage, Westbrook — the batter of record — is actually better than Lohse, at 75% to 70%. Granted, Westbrook has only eight total attempts, but he has already gone two-for-two this season. Presumably, though, Lohse’s tremendous advantage in the experience department — 50 career attempts to Westbrook’s eight — more than offsets the small percentage advantage. For the same reason — and the facts that he might’ve actually been useful as a pitcher later in the game, and that he would’ve had a platoon disadvantage against Lee — Trever Miller, who is perfect in two attempts , didn’t pinch hit. The only other real option was Chris Carpenter, who offers a similar profile as Lohse.
That’s the pitchers. If the bunt was what TLR wanted, he had no reason not to use his best bunter, which might’ve been one of his position players on the pine.
At the time, La Russa also had five position players available — Gerald Laird, Daniel Descalso, Mark Hamilton, Colby Rasmus (though perhaps not truly available due to his injury) and of course Greene. Was one of them the best option?
No. No one with experience was any better than Lohse, and even considering Descalso’s 100% record, he like Miller would’ve had a disadvantage against Lee. And you can see that Greene most certainly shouldn’t have been up there to bunt. Ah, for the days of Aaron Miles (career 73% sac-bunt success rate).
As it was, Lohse put himself in a 1-2 hole before bunting successfully and setting up the Cardinals’ third run. He and La Russa exchanged sly grins in the dugout as if they knew their stunt almost backfired. Neither may have known, but Lohse was the right man for the job.