March 17, 2009

Protecting Pujols a popular subject

Recently, Cardinals' skipper Tony La Russa was pondering who might best protect slugger Albert Pujols in the lineup.

Derrick Goold has an article up on the subject in STLtoday.com, the online publication of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

Nice timeing for such a piece, I thought, as Spring Training shakes out who will make the squad, who will play what position and bat where in the lineup.

La Russa has so far narrowed down the candidates to three: Chris Duncan, Ryan Ludwick, and Rick Ankiel.

Sounds right to me.

Granted, there are about three weeks remaining before the Cards break camp and head north, but as it stands, the field of three seems wide open.

Two out of three, actually, as you must consider protecting Pujols in the lineup is a sort of candle you hope burns at both ends. With Pujols batting in the three-hole, the clean-up spot is all-important. But so is the second batter.

This could turn into six of one, half a dozen of the other real fast, but I would favor a lefthanded swinger in front of Pujols, simply based on the fact that Pujols bats righty. If that's the case, however, I wouldn't suggest sandwiching Pujols with lefties. Although it seems like a pitching protection, this may not be the case.

If you want to prevent the opponents from the easier strategy of leaving a lefthander in to pitch through the 2-3-4, you'll need to follow Pujols with a righty, and that means Ludwick. Not to mention that the Cards are likely to end up with a lefthanded swinging leadoff man and possibly a ninth-place lefty as well. All this simply makes it too easy for foes to have an opportunity to slide through what should be the most dangerous part of the Cards' lineup with one lefthander.

That Pujols swings righthanded makes no difference here, and that's the key. Doesn't matter if the opponents throw a lefty or righty at Pujols. Neither are likely to pitch to Pujols anyway. Therefore, if you want to increase your odds of success in protection and production, go L-Pujols-R.

You could go the opposite: R-Pujols-L, but you simply invite a pitching change with the ease of the righthander finishing with an intentional pass of Pujols before the LOOGY hits the hill.

Now, for all you stat-geeks who subscribe to some service to look smart, you can actually earn your keep here by figuring out if there is a righty-lefty combination pre- and post-Pujols (2-hole and clean-up) that is the exception to this fine-line strategy. This takes the numbers beyond the obvious -- who hit what average in clean-up w/Pujols in 3-hole. To be anlayzed is who (as lefty or righty) batted how well before and after Pujols, and, versus RHP or LHP.

I don't get paid to figure all that out, but I can see how it would make a difference to TLR, Pujols, an the Cards.