Column: Carpenter doubles down on mistakes

On last Saturday night the Cardinals and the Giants played a tight game. Carlos Martinez dominated, throwing 9 shutout innings and posting an 87 game score. When the Cardinals would go on to lose the game in extra innings, they became the first team since June of 2015 to lose a game where their starting pitcher had at least an 86 game score. In that span, teams who got at least an 86 game score from their starting pitcher had gone 85-0.

That streak would end, but it may not have had to if not for a base running blunder in the 9th inning. The Cardinals were given a golden opportunity score a run in the bottom of the 9th, and then Matt Carpenter squandered it.

Leading off the bottom of the ninth for St. Louis was Carpenter. He ripped a ball to the wall that was initially misplayed by Giants left fielder Eduardo Nunez. The ball caromed off the wall back towards the infield. Carpenter saw it and decided he would try to stretch a double into a triple and was thrown out for his troubles. The problem here was that, because of how the ball game off the wall, Nunez had plenty of momentum towards the infield for his throw.

But rather than admitting his mistake, Carpenter decided to double down on the decision offering a number of things that he says factored into his decision to try to take the extra base.

“I wouldn’t have gone if I didn’t think I couldn’t make it, first and foremost,” said Carpenter to the Post-Dispatch. “Secondly, we’re talking about a game where offense was at a premium and getting to third the percentage of scoring that run goes up way higher than if I was just at second. We’re not going to bunt Jedd (Gyorko) behind me. We’re going to have to require a base hit. If I can get to third base then a sac fly wins the game, a wild pitch wins the game, a base hit wins the game, a groundball, an error — a lot of different things. My whole thought when I saw the ball hit the wall was I’m getting to third. It just didn’t work.”

First and foremost, I hope that Carpenter wouldn’t try to go to third if he didn’t think he could make it. I’m actually more than a little concerned that he felt like he had to make this point.

Secondly, offense is at a premium and you ran into an out. It’s one of the oldest baseball adages. Don’t make the first out of an inning at third base. Apparently Carpenter doesn’t believe in that.

“The old golden rule is that you don’t want to make the first or last out at third base, but you cannot win the game from third if you’re not on third. That’s my mindset,” he said.

And it is literally true what Carpenter says there, you can’t win the game from third base if you aren’t on third base. But you can’t win the game from third base if you’re sitting in the dugout either. And you can win games from second base.

Now, getting to third base does give the team a better opportunity score, so I understand the desire to get there. But like Carpenter said, offense was hard to come by in that game, so the answer in that situation is to not give away outs.

If only there were some statistic or metric to get a grasp on what the scoring opportunities would be if he had just held up at second so we could objectively judge this.

Oh wait, this is baseball, so of course there is. Run Expectations.

Simply put if you haven’t heard of it before, Run Expectations is simply a measure of how many runs a team scores on average after finding themselves in a particular situation, given the position of men on base and how many outs you have.

And when we look at the Run Expectation table for 2017 to date we find that if a team has a runner on third base with none out that they score an average of 1.36 runs. So the odds are really good that the Cardinals would have been able to drive home at least one run in that situation.

But that’s not the only thing we need to consider. We need to be weighing the risk versus the reward.

For example, if Carpenter had stopped at second base with none out, teams in that situation have gone on to score an average of 1.09 runs in that inning. That’s still a very good opportunity and on average is going to net you, that go-ahead run.

But neither of that is what happened. What happens to the Run Expectation when Carpenter tries for third and gets thrown out? A team with no one on and one out goes on to score 0.28 runs in that inning.

So in an effort to advance those extra 90 feet and gain 0.27 runs in Run Expectation, Carpenter ended up getting out and costing his team 0.81 runs of Run Expectation compared to if he’d just stayed on second base. That risk versus reward doesn’t work.

Not with Jedd Gyorko, Yadier Molina and Greg Garcia coming to the plate and were a combined 4-for-8 in the game at that point. Not to mention that Gyorko is hitting a team leading .357 with runners in scoring position this season.

Ultimately it was a bad decision and you can objectively demonstrate that the thought process behind it was bad. This wasn’t just a bad outcome as Carpenter argued.

It’s a radically different approach to Kolten Wong making a critical error and costing the team and taking ownership of his defensive misplays and publicly taking blame for the loss. And that was in the middle of a stretch where Wong was pretty much the guy on the offense driving the team to wins.

As Kevin Reynolds and I discussed on the UCB Podcast last night. This is where the manager needs to step in and say something. That is, unless he feels getting thrown out by three feet at third base in the bottom of the 9th of a tie ballgame is acceptable.

Matheny says he doesn’t need to address it with Carpenter because he knows. But sometimes after a string of mistakes, which Carpenter has on the base paths this season, the employee needs to be told by his boss that you are aware he made a mistake.

I’ve often talked about how I feel there is a severe lack of communication from the manager’s office in the Cardinals’ clubhouse. He hinted at Winter Warm Up in January that he has struggled to get guys to buy into his philosophy and there are generally two reasons for a lack of buy in. Players don’t understand the plan because you haven’t adequately communicated it or they think you or the plan is stupid.

I do not see much evidence of the latter, but I definitely have seen many instances of the former that lead me to believe there are communication problems.

Matheny needs to make the point to Carpenter that aggressive is good, but you have to be smart and you can’t be giving away outs. This was a bad decision and he needs to trust his teammates to do their job. It sends a message, not just to Carpenter, but to the rest of the club when you start defining the line between what is aggressive and what is stupid.

And we’ve seen a lot more stupid base running than than aggressive base running.

The worst thing any team can do in baseball is to give away outs. It doesn’t matter if it’s on defense with errors or on offense by running into outs, the Cardinals have have done far too much of it the past two seasons. And it’s the absolute worst in the 9th inning of a tie ballgame where offense is at a premium.

Instead of doubling down on his decision to try for third, Carpenter should have acknowledged the mistake. But not just that, learned from it and adjusted his mental equation that he runs in his head when he’s running the bases so he doesn’t make it again. And until he does that, nothing will change.