Descalso or Schumaker, that is the question

Last night Mike Matheny was left with a choice. Do you leave in Daniel Descalso to face Pittsburgh Pirates’ closer Joel Hanrahan? Or do you pinch hit using Skip Schumaker.

We all know the outcome. With Carlos Beltran on first with two outs, Matheny elected to leave Descalso out there and he hit a line drive to center field to end the Cardinals’ 21st loss in 1-run games.

Normally things like this may not make much news. However, when you have Skip Schumaker on the bench, hitting .314 on the season and finally playing slightly plus defense at second base, why aren’t you playing him? Why is Descalso out there? There are many reasons why Schumaker would have been the better choice over Descalso.

Overall batting average? Schumaker at .314 to Descalso’s .230.

Platoon split maybe? Schumaker at .329 to Descalso’s .203

Maybe clutch with runners on base and two out? Schumaker at .323 to Descalso’s .122.

Things weren’t adding up. So obviously the media was going to press him on it after the game. Matheny offered that they were planning to use Schumaker if the pitcher’s spot came up.

I hate criticizing a manger, but I’m sorry, the explanation and the stats don’t add up to me.

Descalso was the sixth hitter in the batting order last night. There was Tony Cruz and Rafael Furcal behind him before the pitcher’s spot was due to come up. So let’s consider if Joel Hanrahan, the PIrates’ closer, walks everyone to get to the pitcher’s spot, the Cardinals have tied the game up 2-2. Odds are that if they were going to win in 9 innings, they were going to do it before the pitcher’s spot came up.

I’m reminded of a little phrase my family often uses in the game of Euchre. “Kill as you go.” Basically it means, you have to take advantage of the opportunities that present themselves when they present themselves you might not get the chance later. Under that philosophy, you pinch hit Descalso with Schumaker and you worry about the pitcher’s spot when it comes up. When playing from behind, worry about tying the game before you worry about winning it.

I campaigned all offseason on the point that Schumaker should be this team’s every day second baseman. His bat was the best one at second base and his defense was much improved over two years ago when I was screaming for him to be released at all costs. He had made himself a solid second baseman. At this point in the season, Schumaker has proven himself the best second baseman on this team and furthermore exceeded my expectations by far.

Since the All Star break, Skip Schumaker has the second-best batting average on the team, .333 behind only Matt Carpenter. He has the second-best OBP on team, .429 behind only Matt Carpenter. Against right handed pitchers, he is second in batting average and third in OBP. When runners are on base with two outs, he is fourth in batting average and second in OBP.

Looking at Baseball-Reference’s Defensive Runs Saved statistic, Descalso has saved 3 runs at second base over 465 innings at the position. Meanwhile Schumaker has saved 1 over 240 innings. Not a huge difference defensively.

But the spread offensively is huge. Schumaker leads the team in OBP. He also leads the team in batting average. Yet he’s appeared in just the 12th most games. In fact, even Shane Robinson, whose slash line this season is .250/.306/.333 and whose splits aren’t much better, has gotten more playing time. Tyler Greene got more too.

At this point in the season we have enough data to know who the best player is at each position. This is when you play them, not bury them on the bench. I’d like to chalk it up to a rookie manager, but it’s a glaring difference.

Hopefully Matheny’s testiness last night while being questioned by the media about it is the sign of a manager who realizes he made a mistake and will learn from it.

The Cardinals cannot afford to give away games at this point in the season, and we did last night.