The wrong hunch

St. Louis Cardinals manager Tony La Russa is one of the all-time greats at what he does. If I’m not mistaken, only two managers in the history of baseball have won more games. So it may be unfair for me, having watched maybe a dozen Cardinals games all year, to second-guess La Russa. But here goes.
This was the situation in the top of the ninth inning yesterday. Detroit led 3-1, but St. Louis had the bases loaded with two out. Right-hander Todd Jones was pitching for Detroit. Yadier Molina was the scheduled hitter, to be followed (if the last out wasn’t made) by Aaron Miles.
Chris Duncan was available to bat for Molina. Molina hit .216 this season with an on-base percentage of .274. His average was about equally bad against left-handed and right-handed pitching. However, so far in 13 playoff games he’s batting over .300 and his home run won game 7 against the Mets. Duncan hit .318 and slugged over 1.000 against right-handers this year, but is only 3 for 18 (with a home run) in the playoffs. Oddly, right-handed hitters fared slightly better than left-handers against righty Jones.
La Russa allowed Molina to bat and he made an easy out. Duncan was waiting on deck to bat for Miles but, of course, never got the chance.
It seems to me that La Russa should have had Duncan bat for Molina. The young catcher may be a better hitter now than he was during the regular season, but a .216 average over the course of 400 at-bats can only be but so misleading. Other than Albert Pujols, Duncan was probably the Cardinals’ best hitter during the second half of the season. If he was good enough to bat for Miles, who had a better year at the plate than Molina, then he was good enough to bat for Yadier when it mattered most.
Molina’s fine post-season and Jones’ trouble with right-handed hitters may have entitled La Russa to play his hunch, but I thought it was the wrong move.


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