It was a good at-bat, Dan or Tim said—I can't remember which. Jeremy Hazelbaker, down 0-2, looped the fifth pitch he saw into the horse latitudes in left field to put the Cardinals up 7-2.
And I thought—typically, maintaining eligibility for the Every TV Broadcaster's Good At-Bat Award means taking at least one ball before you foul off a bunch of two-strike pitches. But Hazelbaker is competing with Randal Grichuk for playing time, right now, and Grichuk has played to our worst fears, striking out 8 times in 15 plate appearances. And maybe, says the ex-sportswriter, here's the thing Jeremy Hazelbaker has to recommend himself against a guy who slugged .548 in 103 games last year.
So I checked, and, well, it isn't. Grichuk has been unusually bad ending at-bats on an 0-2 count: He's 3-43 with one double and zero sacrifice flies. (Stephen Piscotty, our control group, is 2-19; the NL, last year, hit .145, 6-ish of 43. Also, if you wanted to call Stephen Piscotty "Control Group" all the time, or just when a PG-rated nickname is called for, I wouldn't be bothered by it.)
But ZiPS has Hazelbaker striking out more often than Grichuk, though less often than Grichuk did last year; as a minor leaguer he struck out about as often as Grichuk did, with a better walk rate.
It's a push, at best—and if the Cardinals wanted to privilege contact over power, they could probably just pick Mike O'Neill back up.
The likely position is the simpler one—
“Matheny Loves Grichuk” and “Matheny Buried Diaz Already” theories can’t stand against the force of “Matheny Likes What You Did Yesterday"— Dan Moore (@mademdashes) April 9, 2016
But, OK, probably also not that simple. I think Jeremy Hazelbaker played because he's outhit Randal Grichuk over the last [extremely short and unpredictive period of time]. But there's a distinction to make here: I don't think Mike Matheny sits guys because he wants to win now and he believes the last [extremely short and unpredictive period of time] is predictive. I think he does it believing it will help the guy who sits as well as the guy he tosses a start. (That is, he thinks it's descriptive of something—Randal Grichuk is struggling in a way that may be helped by a day off and a million swings in the cage.)
He could well be wrong; I have learned, as an ex-sportswriter, to never bet against "an impossible rat king of tiny inputs masquerading as random chance has fooled you into believing you have an insight" as the truth behind something I'm worried or excited about. But like most ideas that come into being for reasons beyond my need to write tweets against them, there is an actual rationale behind it, and multiple confused and frustrated human beings trying to use it to solve the problem that may or may not exist.