Cardinals news from a Sabermetric point of view

Lohse leaves on a high note

Jerry Seinfeld once counseled George Constanza to leave on a high note. In the Cardinals’ season opener Wednesday, Mike Matheny took the advice and helped his starting pitcher do the same: After Kyle Lohse struck out Gaby Sanchez looking in the eighth inning, Matheny pulled him.

Typcially, of course, starting pitchers who get the hook in the middle of an inning do so after they’ve displayed a symptom of being close to giving up the ghost, such as a home run, a walk or even a bad pitch that a batter narrowly misses hitting hard. But how often does a starter get yanked after striking someone out, a surefire symbol of pitching success?

We checked the Cardinals’ game history from last year, and it turns out that of the 37 starts in which the pitcher was pulled in the middle of an inning, on two occasions was it immediately after a strikeout. One was Edwin Jackson. The other was — you guessed it — Kyle Lohse.

In both cases, the starter gave way to a reliever of the opposite hand, presumably in an attempt to gain a platoon advantage. That helps explain the seemingly contradictory move of removing a pitcher who has just struck someone out. But in Lohse’s case Wednesday, he yielded not to a left-handed pitcher but a fellow righty in Fernando Salas, which hasn’t happened in at least a year on the Cardinal staff.

The decision might simply have been Matheny managing conservatively in his debut, loathe to roll the dice too long with Lohse, tasting victory only five outs away, even if he did have a four-run lead. So perhaps it’s the opposite of the Gambler’s Conceit and a sign of awareness of regression tendencies, which would be a welcome attribute in the new manager.

Speaking of managing, a review of last-year’s mid-inning pulls is revealing, if nothing else, of Tony La Russa’s own proclivities in handling his staff. For instance:

  • Pitchers left more often after getting an out (or a player reaching on an error) — nine times — than after giving up a walk (four times) or home run (three).
  • An abnormally high percentage of Jake Westbrook‘s starts ended in the middle of an inning (40%, or 13 of 33). Why? Our guess is that as a veteran with a workhorse reputation, Westbrook earned the benefit of the doubt when starting an inning. But either because of his lack of stuff or lack of history with La Russa, the manager didn’t trust him to pitch out of jams.
  • On the other hand, Chris Carpenter left in the middle of an inning in only three of his 34 starts. And when he did, it was always only after surrendering a hit. Guess TLR didn’t want to face Carp’s wrath and try to explain why he was leaving despite getting an out.

Or as George said to Mr. Kruger, “Oh no, you’re not going out on a high note with me!”

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