Why would you ever hit-and-run with Pujols at the plate?

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In addition to taking the blame for the bullpen phone snafu on Monday night, Tony La Russa yesterday explained the failed hit and run with Albert Pujols at bat and Allen Craig on first.  In doing so he confirmed what everyone suspected and what he himself briefly said on Monday: that Pujols has the authority to call a hit and run himself.

Which is certainly not unprecedented. As Tim McCarver noted after it happened, many players have had this ability. He mentioned Cal Ripken. Others have mentioned guys like Tony Gwynn. Some writers say that Kirk Gibson allows several members of the Diamondbacks to do it.  It’s not the sort of thing we hear much about but, yes, it’s a thing.

And here’s how La Russa explained it during his presser:

“The other thing that’s so great about it, if you stop and think about it, a great hitter like Albert, there’s situations come up in a game where the hit-and-run in the manager’s opinion is the play, and you really wonder what message you’re sending your great player when you put the hit-and-run on, because you’re kind of saying, ‘We don’t want you to swing the bat.’

“So when a guy like Albert is so receptive to playing the game right, that’s kind of why I’m so aggressive in addressing this. It’s really a humongous break for our club when a great player wants to play the game right. And that’s kind of the point I want to make.”

Here’s my problem with it: why would that ever be a good play with your big bopper at the plate? The hit and run is a one-run strategy. And practically, it’s a much safer play if you have a contact hitter at the plate. Yes, Pujols is something special and doesn’t strike out at the rate your typical power hitter does, but he’s not exactly the guy you just want putting a bat on a ball. You want him waiting for something he can drive. He’s pretty darn good at that, actually.

La Russa admits that it’s bad to send the message to a great hitter that you want to take the bat out of his hands. Yet he says that Pujols wanting to take the bat out of his own hands is “playing the game right.”  I can’t help but disagree. It seems like it’s never, ever right to do that to a guy like Pujols. And if it never makes sense to hit and run with Pujols at the plate, you have to question why he has the power to call such a play at all.

Justin Turner is a postseason monster

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A not-insignificant amount of the Dodgers’ success in recent years has to do with the emergence of Justin Turner. In his first five seasons with the Orioles and Mets, he was a forgettable infielder who had versatility, but no power. The Mets non-tendered him after the 2013 season, a move they now really regret.

In four regular seasons since, as a Dodger, Turner has hit an aggregate .303/.378/.502. His 162-game averages over those four seasons: 23 home runs, 36 doubles, 83 RBI, 80 runs scored. And he’s also a pretty good third baseman, it turns out. The Dodgers have averaged 95 wins per season over the past four years.

Turner, 32, has gotten better and better with each passing year. This year, he drew more walks (59) than strikeouts (56), a club only five other players (min. 300 PA) belonged to, and he trailed only Joey Votto (1.61) in BB/K ratio (1.05). He zoomed past his previous career-high in OPS, finishing at .945. His .415 on-base percentage was fourth-best in baseball. His batting average was fifth-best and only nine points behind NL batting champion Charlie Blackmon.

It doesn’t seem possible, but Turner has been even better in the postseason. He exemplified that with his walk-off home run to win Game 2 of the NLCS against the Cubs. Overall, entering Wednesday night’s action, he was batting .363/.474/.613 in 97 postseason plate appearances. In Game 4, he went 2-for-2 with two walks, a single, and a solo home run. That increases his postseason slash line to .378/.495/.659, now across 101 plate appearances. That’s a 1.154 OPS. The career-high regular season OPS for future first-ballot Hall of Famer Albert Pujols was 1.114 in 2008, when he won his third career MVP Award. Statistically, in the postseason, Turner hits slightly better than Pujols did in the prime of his career. Of course, we should adjust for leagues and parks and all that, but to even be in that neighborhood is incredible.

In the age of stats, the concept of “clutch” has rightfully eroded. We don’t really allow players to ascend to godlike levels anymore like the way we did Derek Jeter, for instance. (Jeter’s career OPS in the playoffs, by the way, was a comparatively pitiful .838.) Turner isn’t clutch; he’s just a damn good hitter whose careful approach at the plate has allowed him to shine in the postseason and the Dodgers can’t imagine life without him.