Tuesday, November 18, 2014

An Look At The Baseball Cardinals' Offseason

I've been meaning to talk about the St. Louis Cardinals' offseason for a few weeks (also finish the 25-year roster thing), but kept putting it off. Mostly because I felt I'd have to address Oscar Taveras' death (and that of his girlfriend, Edilia Arvelo) in a car crash, and a) I wasn't sure what I could say about it, and b) it would kind of make everything else seem unimportant. I'm not sure I have any solutions, but we'll see.

It turns out Taveras was very intoxicated, which is what I was afraid of when I heard the news. Not because I knew anything about Taveras' habits, but he was a young athlete, in his offseason, and he was driving. It seemed a likely, if unfortunate, aspect. It makes it worse, because then you have to think that if he'd been sober, maybe they both make it where they were going alive. But Taveras isn't the first person in their early 20s to make a bad decision with regards to alcohol. My best friend has made similar bad decisions over the years, so have a lot of his other friends. But they were able to get away with it, and hopefully eventually learn better. Taveras and Arvelo just weren't some of the lucky ones.

As to the offseason, my personal hope had been the Cardinals would upgrade the bench. Get a catcher Matheny will be willing to start 50 times a year. Either promote someone from within, or find a free agent, or trade for somebody. Get a righthanded guy who can play first and 3rd, to platoon with Adams and to just give Carpenter the occasional day off (he played in 158 games this year). Find a competent middle infielder, one who can play at least a mediocre second and shortstop, and hit well enough Matheny will be willing to use him to give Peralta the occasional day off. Descalso isn't actually a SS (or a second baseman for that matter), and Kozma's hitting is so bad, the Cardinals won't use him if they don't absolutely have to. And I don't know that the coaching staff has any confidence in Greg Garcia.

I also hoped the team would look into trading John Lackey. I figured given how cheap his contract is - one year at 500 grand - there has to be some team out there looking to compete that would take a chance on him as a stabilizing veteran presence. Sort of a low-rent James Shields. Not as good, or signed for as long, true, but a hell of a lot cheaper. Which would open a spot in the rotation that would hopefully be filled by a Carlos Martinez who spent the entire offseason preparing to be a starter. I know the odds that El Gallo can be the next Pedro Martinez are really small, but if he can be even half of Pedro, that's someone you give every opportunity to succeed. I don't want it to be another situation like Rosenthal, where the team says they haven't ruled him out as a starter, but really, they've ruled him out as a starter.

Anyway, Mozeliak held a press conference right after the NLCS where he said several things. One was that Wainwright's elbow was structurally fine, as was Wacha's shoulder (outside of the stress reaction thing he has, which is always going to be a problem). Of course, Mozeliak said that on a Monday, and by that Friday, Wainwright was having a procedure on his elbow to remove bone spurs and "scrape" the ligament. Apparently he didn't trust the team doctors and got a second opinion. The team medical staff are, after all, paying to be the Cards' medical staff, and so the question of whose best interests they're looking out for, the player or the team's, is a valid one. No word of if Wacha's looked into a second opinion, though I'm not sure there's anything to be done on his shoulder.

Mo said Martinez and Marco Gonzales would be stretched out in spring training, but Martinez would still most likely be in the bullpen, and Gonzales in the AAA rotation. This may have changed recently. Stephen Piscotty would be in a competition with Grichuk and Taveras for the RF spot. No word on whether it would be a real competition, or a LaRussa style, bullshit, "open competition", where Matheny already has a winner in mind. This one was rendered moot, first by Taveras' death, then by other actions that we'll get to. Jon Jay was named starting centerfielder next year, which may not bode well for Bourjos, and certainly doesn't make me happy. I still think Bourjos' ceiling is much higher than Jay's, and Jay's moving into his 30s, so I expect he may begin to decline. His power has already evaporated completely.

Mozeliak also said the team didn't plan to resign any of their free agents. Not a big deal, given who we're talking about, other than Neshek. And the impression was the Cardinals certainly would like for Neshek to return, but his excellent season would price him out of their range, which is true and a wise decision on the team's part. The last two multi-year contracts they handed to relievers were to Motte and Choate, neither of which has worked out fabulously. Mozeliak added that the team would offer arbitration to all their eligible players (Lynn, Jay, Tony Cruz, Shane Robinson, Descalso, maybe Bourjos).

The first two and Bourjos are fine, though Jay's likely to see a considerable spike, from a little over 3 million to closer to 6. But Cruz, Robinson, and Descalso are less necessary. The Cardinals need a catcher Matheny trusts enough to use to give Molina days off. My personal preference would be for Yadier to not start more than 110 games behind the plate this year. He could still play first against tough lefties in place of Adams, or DH when they play in AL stadiums, but just get him less wear and tear on his knees. The team says all the right things about trusting Cruz, but they clearly don't, or they'd get Yadi more days off. Also, they probably wouldn't have signed Pierzynski this season if they really trusted Cruz. As for Robinson, there's not really anything he does that either Jay, Bourjos, or someone from the minors (Tommy Pham?) can't do better. In a limited role (spot starter/5th outfielder/defensive sub/pinch-runner), Robinson can be a useful player, but I don't think the Cardinals need him.

As for Descalso, he's not good at any position defensively, and he's not a good enough hitter to compensate for this. Yet because Matheny seemingly has trust in him, he acts as this patch that keeps the Cardinals from bothering to upgrade their bench. They don't need a backup SS, they have Descalso. He can play there every so often, and Peralta will just play all the time, to heck with fatigue. Ditto Matt Carpenter.

So far, the team has made two moves. They signed a Dean Anna to the 40-man roster. Anna might be the middle infielder I was hoping for. He has just 25 PAs in the majors, from this season with the Yankees, and they didn't go well. But he's hit well in AAA in the past, and projects to be a slight upgrade over Descalso with the bat. More critically, he's regarded as competent at both 2nd base and SS. He's not going to supplant Wong or Peralta as starters, but he doesn't need to. He can give Wong the day off against the occasional lefty, and sub in for Peralta every so often. He's better offensively than Kozma, and better defensively than Descalso. He seems like he has the potential at least, to be a perfectly acceptable bench guy, which is what I wanted.

The other, much bigger move, happened yesterday. The Cards traded Shelby Miller and pitching prospect Tyrell Jenkins for outfielder Jason Heyward and reliever Jordan Walden of Atlanta. Heyward figures to take over rightfield, which is the other reason that Mozeliak comment about a competition is irrelevant. Heyward's power has fallen off the last two years, especially this year, when he had a slugging of just .384, and an ISO of 113. Which would still be better than most of the Cardinals (Yadi, Jay, and Matt Carp, to name 3). He still had an OBP of .351, and an OPS of 108, which isn't spectacular, but at least it would be another above-average bat in the lineup. The previous two years, his OPS+ were 117 and 114, which is in line with most of the Cards' lineup from last year.

Heyward's primary gift seems to be superb defense in right field (though he's also a fair baserunner). He might be even better in RF than Bourjos is in CF. If they played the two together, it might eliminate a lot of concerns about Holliday's worsening defense in LF. But Jay is starting supposedly, and there are questions as to whether Heyward has rendered Bourjos redundant. I'd argue no, because I don't Jay's longterm viability in center, but this hasn't been a good offseason for Cardinals' players I like, so Bourjos is probably screwed. Walden will apparently take Neshek's role as "reliever with strange delivery", and will hopefully also assume Neshek's role as "Reliever other than Maness who doesn't walk guys", though if Rosenthal wants to vie for that title, he's more than welcome.

Most Cardinals' fans I've seen online are excited about the trade. I'm less so. I still believed Shelby was going to put it together and become Wainwright's successor as staff ace (I feel Lynn is a step below Waino's level, and is already maxed out, and Wacha's shoulder makes it questionable he can handle the innings load I'd expect). And Shelby was still under team control for 4 years. Heyward is a free agent after this season, and there are at least some rumblings he was traded because he didn't want to resign with Atlanta (there are other rumblings Atlanta didn't want to cough up the cash it would take to resign him, so take your pick). Jenkins has had some shoulder issues, and has yet to consistently harness his stuff, or even make it into the high minors, so he's a lottery ticket of sorts. But if he does make it to the majors, Atlanta could have him for 7 seasons before he reaches free agency. Meanwhile, Heyward could be gone after 2015, leaving the Cardinals with a draft pick and one more season of Walden.

It feels like the J.D. Drew trade in reverse. Atlanta acquired Drew (and Eli Marrero) from the Cards with one season remaining on his contract, in exchange for Jason Marquis, Ray King, and a minor leaguer named Wainwright (who had struggled through some shoulder issues). The Cardinals didn't seem to really want to keep Drew (as he was not the sort of player Larussa was going to love), and they needed pitching, in both the rotation and bullpen. Atlanta figured they had things covered on the pitching front, but needed more hitting. They never had any intention of resigning Drew, so that was them going all in on 2004. As it turned out, while the Braves did win the NL East - again - they were knocked out in the first round, while St. Louis won 105 games and went to the World Series. Marquis and King were hardly the primary reason, but they both contributed, and did so again the next year (to a lesser extent).

So I worry the Cardinals gave up too much for what will be a one-year rental. And it seems strange to me, considering that the corner outfield was supposed to be one area the Cards' farm system was flush with prospects. Maybe they're saving those guys to take over for Holliday in a couple of years. Or they figure one more year of seasoning in the minors won't hurt. Or they plan to keep Heyward, and use those guys as trade fodder for filling in other holes down the line. Holliday is into his mid-30s, as are Molina and Peralta. Jay in around 30, and Carp is closing in. Those guys will start to decline eventually, and the team may not have replacements on hand.

At this point, the roster would look something like this:

Rotation: Wainwright, Lynn, Lackey, Wacha, Gonzales
Bullpen: Rosenthal, Walden, Choate, Maness, Freeman, Martinez, Siegrist(?)

I put Gonzales in the rotation and Martinez in the bullpen because the way Mozeliak described it initially, Gonzales sounded like he was going to be the first guy up, and Martinez would have to be stretched out again before he could start. But that was in the event of midseason injury. This may alter things, so maybe Martinez will be in the rotation, and Gonzales in AAA just in case. In which case, the pen may have Nick Greenwood, Tyler Lyons, maybe someone else. The Cardinals may be interested in reliever Andrew Miller, which is interesting. If you're going to get a free agent reliever, why not keep the one you've got? If Miller is good enough to be interesting, you'd figure that would net him a stupid, multi-year contract.

Catcher: Molina, Cruz

Until we hear something different, I assume they're rolling with Cruz as the backup. There are a whole mess of guys listed as being free agent catchers, though. Surely one would be an improvement on Cruz, and be willing to serve as a backup who gets to play about a third of the games, if the team will finally stick to their plan to reduce Molina's workload.

Infield: Adams, Wong, Peralta, Carpenter, Anna, Descalso/Kozma/Garcia/Scruggs

They could still sign someone to handle the backup duties at the corners. Scruggs is strictly a first baseman, and not much of a hitter apparently. Maybe the Cardinals eschew a corner infield guy, rely on Molina or an outfielder to sub for Adams sporadically, and focus on another infielder who can play all the other positions. Mozeliak confirmed more recently they might not offer all those guys arbitration, and noted Descalso might want more playing time than he can get here. So who the heck knows. Probably wind up finding someone during Spring Training. Two guys I'm sort of curious about are Chad Tracy and Jamey Carroll. OK, looked at both their numbers. Never mind. Better off taking their chances with Garcia.

Outfield: Holliday, Jay, Bourjos, Heyward, Grichuk

I think that's a workable outfield, though getting everyone enough playing time (especially Bourjos) might be tricky. We'll see where things go from here.

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Sunday, November 16, 2014

Arizona Is Determined To Kill My Doubts

I saw a comment on the Internet earlier this week on a post about Carson Palmer's season-ending knee injury. The commenter said it was a rare case of Palmer Palmering, and the Cardinals Cardinalsing. I don't know if I would describe the starting QB going doing without being touched as Cardinalsing, but I guess there being a dark cloud hanging over going 8-1 would fit. I do wonder how many years Arizona would have to be good before "Cardinalsing" would stop referring to bad things. I mean, the Patriots used to be a joke, but nobody would use "Patriotsing", or "Patriotsed" to describe bad fortune or play.

Of course, it might help if the Cardinals' own fans, such as myself, were more confident. Arizona beat the Detroit Lions today, 14-6, in a game where there were only 3 points scored after the 1st quarter. Arizona jumped out to a quick 14-0 lead, but then I spent the rest of the game on edge. Every time I saw that Arizona had the ball (we were stuck with the Green Bay pummeling Philly), I was imploring them to score more points. At least a field goal, to get the lead up to 11 points. And every time I'd see that Detroit had the ball back without the Cardinals scoring any points, my heart rate would rise. I expected Arizona's defense to battle hard, they have all year. But with Stafford and Calvin Johnson, all it takes is one missed assignment, or one time where Patrick Peterson slips, and boom, touchdown.

I know I ought to trust them more, but I have seen Arizona lose so many games over the years where they have a lead against a good team for most of the game, only to lose it late, it's hard to shake that fear that every time they don't take the opportunity to bury the good team, it's going to haunt them. Plus, you can't keep asking your defense to do so much. The offense has to carry its fair share.

I'm not being fair to the offense there, though. They did win time of possession, narrowly. They did convert 8 of 14 3rd downs. Stanton did make some good passes early that helped stake them to that two touchdown lead. Both those scoring drives were over 75 yards, which is not shabby against Detroit's defense. They didn't run the football effectively - again - but they at least tried 22 times (I'm assuming Stanton's 4 carries were kneel downs or something similar), which can at least slow the pass rush a bit. And Detroit did not sack Stanton once, which was the thing I was most afraid of, Stanton taking loads of hits from Suh and the rest.

But the defense was the star. Detroit had just 262 yards of offense, and were just 5 of 15 on third down. Arizona sacked Stafford 4 times, which gives them 10 in the last two weeks, and they hit him 9 times total. They forced two fumbles, though the Lions recovered both, and picked Stafford off once. Stafford completed 18 passes, but for only 183 yards. Peterson held Megatron to just 5 catches (on 12 targets), and just 59 yards. Hell yes, Patrick Peterson. When Stanton was picked off late in the first half, and the ball was returned to Arizona's 20. The defense held Detroit to a field goal. The game this reminds me of is the win over Seattle last year, where Palmer kept throwing picks, but the defense kept holding firm, keeping Seattle from scoring until Palmer could make a big play at the end.

Which is an appropriate memory, since next week, Arizona travels to Seattle. The Seahawks have run the ball real well the last two weeks (over 500 yards), and Arizona did allow 98 yards rushing this week, at over 5 yards a carry. But 200+ yards on the ground didn't help Seattle beat the Chiefs, and Arizona still beat Detroit, so we'll see what happens. Arizona has a 3 game lead in the division now, so one loss to the Seahawks isn't going to kill them.

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Sunday, November 09, 2014

Damn, I Love Arizona's Defense

The Rams led 14-10 from midway through the second quarter into the start of the 4th quarter. Then Carson Palmer went down with a knee injury that as I type this, hasn't been diagnosed (though the implication seems to be torn ACL, so crap). So Drew Stanton came in, and almost immediately uncorked a 48 yard pass to John Brown, and the Cardinals took the lead.

The defense took care of things from there. Austin Davis was intercepted twice, both by Patrick Peterson, one of which he returned for a TD. Then Kareem Martin I believe forced a fumble with a big hit on Davis, Cromartie picked it up, and returned it for a TD. Just like that, 31-14 Arizona, and it's the team's first 8-1 start since 1948. Criminy Pete.

I don't know that Arizona's had a game this year where everything has clicked. Certainly not for a full game. The run defense is almost always there - no 100-yard rushers this year, the Rams had just 70 yards on 22 catches. Though that's considerably better result the Arizona's rush offense today: 28 yards on 22 carries. The Rams did collect 3 sacks, and Palmer threw a pick, but Arizona sacked Davis 6 times, plus another 8 hits. So the pass rush produced tangible results in a way it hasn't managed most of this year (though the pressure does help even if they don't get sacks).

But Palmer was kind of up and down prior to his injury, and the offense in general only works in fits and starts. Typically it starts slow, then seems to pick up in the the second quarter. Other times it goes quiet late in the third quarter when they need to burn clock. Without Palmer, I'm not sure that's going to change. Stanton did alright the last time he stepped in as starter, but the remainder of the season is gonna be rough. Detroit, Kansas City, and Seattle are coming to town, and Arizona still has to visit Seattle, San Francisco, St. Louis, and Atlanta. OK, those last two might not sound so tough, but the Rams at least are a divisional game. They already beat the Seahawks and Niners this year, and they had Arizona on the ropes for 45 minutes, so take nothing for granted.

Plus, Stanton already went out with one concussion this year, which I imagine makes him more susceptible to subsequent concussions, and then you're down to Logan Thomas. Though if Palmer really has torn his ACL I would have to think they would get themselves a third QB, and hopefully he could learn the offense quickly enough to step in front of Thomas.

I don't know, Detroit's up next, and they look damn good, other than their kicking game. Matt Stafford isn't making stupid throws all the time any longer, and Suh isn't getting called for dumb penalties all the time. Given the pressure the Rams' defense was able to put on Palmer (not to mention how they bottled up Ellington, only 42 yards on 23 touches), I'm concerned what the Lions' D-line will do.

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Monday, November 03, 2014

Arizona's Making Me Real Happy

Arizona beat the Dallas Cowboys 28-17. It wasn't really that close. Dallas did jump out to a 10-0 lead in the first quarter, thanks to Palmer throwing an INT that was returned for a touchdown. But Arizona retook the lead 14-10 in the 2nd quarter, and built it from there. It was 28-10 with less than 2 minutes left.

I know Dallas hasn't been more than mediocre for over 15 years, and they were starting Doopy Pants Weeden because Romo has two fractures in his back, and not even Jerry Jones' attempt to question his toughness could overcome that. Even so, it's nice to beat the Cowboys in Dallas.

Arizona held DeMarco Murray to 79 yards rushing, this first time this season he didn't run for 100 yards. It turns out Patrick Peterson left partway through last week's game with a concussion, and wasn't doing terribly well against Maclin last week. This week, he kept Dez Bryant from catching a pass until there were less than 2 minutes left in the game. Andre Ellington ran for 95 yards on 21 carries, which is probably his best game since maybe Week 2 against the Giants. He also had 4 catches for 39 yards, so good times. Palmer did throw 3 TDs against the one INT, so hard to argue with that. On the whole, a pretty dominating performance.

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Sunday, October 26, 2014

The Cardinal Slew An Eagle

I'm not sure if Arizona's 24-20 victory of the Eagles is a good sign or a bad sign.

It's good they won, to be sure. It's good they surrendered no sacks of Palmer, and only 3 QB hits. The offense had 400 yards, and averaged 6.6 yards per play. Palmer did only go 20 of 42, but with 329 yards an 2 TDs, it's hard to complain. Andre Ellington only averaged 3.1 yards per carry, but did get 23 carries, so even if the o-line isn't opening a lot of holes, Arians is at least committed to trying to run, which probably helps keep Palmer on his feet. Larry Fitzgerald had 160 yards receiving, including an 80 yard TD, and John Brown had 119 yards, including the game-winning 75 yard TD reception. The defense held Philly 0-3 scoring touchdowns in the red zone. It also intercepted Nick Foles twice, and recovered a fumble. After watching him luck his was into that ridiculous TD/INT ratio last year, it's encouraging to see things reverting to a more normal state of affairs.

On the downside, those are about the only positives for Arizona's defense. The Eagles had 521 yards of offense. Lesean McCoy ran for 83 yards at 4.0 ypc, and the Eagles had 110 yards rushing overall. Jeremy Maclin had a ludicrous game, going for 187 yards and 2 TDs. Riley Cooper had a 50 yard reception. The Cardinals did not record a sack of Foles, though they at least hit him 8 times. At least Foles had to throw 62 times to get his 411 yards, completing 36.

I didn't get to see the game, so I don't know what happened. Breakdowns in coverage? Patrick Peterson was hurt? They picked on Cromartie (as most teams have done), and paid the price twice? I just worry that all the injuries the defense has sustained are starting to take their toll. "Next man up" is a good idea in theory, but at a certain point, the gap between the next man and the guy he's replacing in either talent or familiarity with the scheme is just too large.

Maybe I'm worrying over nothing. The Arizona Cardinals are 6-1. Yeah, Philly racked up 521 yards on offense, but it netted them all of 20 points, and three of those came on a 54-yard field goal on a drive that only covered 20 yards. So they moved it a lot, but it didn't get them much. And Arizona is 6-1. The Rams lost, the Niners are 4-3 and on their bye, and the Seahawks won, which makes them 4-3. Nothing is guaranteed, nothing is for certain, especially with 5 division games remaining (including in San Francisco and Seattle) but for the moment, Arizona has a 2-game division lead.

Up next are, oh crap, the surprisingly good Dallas Cowboys, in Dallas. At least they're playing on Monday Night Football this week, so short week for them. Fingers cross Garrett runs DeMarco Murray into the ground against Washington.

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Sunday, October 19, 2014

One Cardinal Holds Course, The Other Plummets

The St. Louis Cardinals lost three consecutive games to the Giants, and now their season is over. Matheny used Michael Wacha - who hadn't pitched in 3 weeks - in the 9th innings of a tie game that would end the Cards' season if a run scored. Maness, Rosenthal, Carlos Martinez, and Randy Choate were all available at the time (though Choate would have also been a bad call, given he'd be facing mostly righthanders). Also, true to my guess last week, Matheny started Grichuk in Games 2-4, despite the Giants using righthanded starting pitchers in all 3 games. He was so disinclined to use Peter Bourjos, he pinch-hit Daniel Descalso and Tony Cruz ahead of Bourjos at different times. The fact Matheny apparently thinks either of those guys is a better hitter than Bourjos ought to be enough to get him fired, even if the blithering idiocy of the Wacha blunder isn't.

But it probably won't get him fired, what with 3 consecutive trips to an NLCS. Well, I guess a manager can only screw a team up so much over 162 games. At least Wainwright ended the season on a strong outing, and now he has 3 months to let his arm recuperate. They're probably going to have to dial his workload back some next year. Molina's too. Also might be a good idea for Matts Carpenter and Holliday, maybe also Peralta. So it might behoove Mozeliak to fix the damn bench, and make Matheny understand he better fuckin' use it. And stop starting Grichuk against righties. How many times does he have to fail before he gets benched like Taveras did?

Whatever, on to happier topics. Arizona just finished beating the Oakland Raiders 24-13. I know it isn't much of an accomplishment to beat an 0-5 (now 0-6) team, but 1) it was on the road, and 2) I'm always terrified when Arizona plays winless teams this far into the season. I worry they'll lose and be the only victory for that other, pitiful team. Before you scoff, recall the Jets went 1-15 in '96, and the 1 was Arizona. In 2004, the 49ers went 2-14, and both of the 2 were Arizona, which is even more embarrassing.

Plus, this is just the kind of game Arizona blows, historically, though they've done better these last few years. Having a solid defense helps, and the Raiders managed just 220 yards on just 48 plays (compared to Arizona's 365 on 69 plays). And 79 of Oakland's yards came on their lone touchdown drive. The Cardinals didn't record any turnovers, and only had one sack, but they held Oakland to less than 3 yards per carry on the ground, and Carr went just 16 of 28 for 164 yards. And it's good to see a strong defensive performance that doesn't rely on a bunch of takeaways. You can't always count on those, because sometimes the ball won't bounce right, so it's helpful to just stop drives, and the Raiders were just 4-12 on 3rd down.

The Cardinals didn't have a hugely successful day running, just 3.7 ypc, but they did run 37 times for 123 yards. Seems like they played one of those "Enough to Win" games people talk about with the Patriots. They knew they were better, they got a lead, and then they just did enough to hold on. Which is fine, they went 9 for 15 on 3rd down, Palmer was 22 of 31 for 242 yards and a TD. He did throw the Cardinals first interception of the season. I knew I shouldn't have mentioned that to my dad yesterday.

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Monday, October 13, 2014

A Little About Two Victorious Cardinals

Arizona defeated that football team from the nation's capitol, 30-20. Carson Palmer came back from his shoulder nerve thing to throw for 250 yards and 2 TDs. The defense forced 4 turnovers, which is good, because the Cardinals couldn't run the ball effectively at the end of the game to keep the opposition's offense on the sidelines. Andre Ellington had 67 yards on 19 carries, 93 yards on 25 touches overall. I can't say Bruce Arians isn't using Ellington a lot.

The Cardinals shot themselves in the foot frequently, committing 14 penalties, several of which extended the Washington team's drives. It's odd, considering they'd been the least-penalized team in the league prior to that. Hopefully this week was the fluke in that regard. At any rate, the Cowboys beat Seattle, so the Cardinals are once again in sole possession of first in the NFC West. Sure, the Niners could win tonight and go to 4-2, but Arizona already beat them once this year so, tiebreaker!

On the baseball side of things, the Cardinals managed to beat the Dodgers in 4, thanks to L.A.'s complete lack of a bullpen. Have to figure that's why Kershaw was still in there in the 7th when things went wrong, such as it is. I mean, Holliday and Peralta's hits only just missed being caught, and Adams' home run only cleared the fence by a couple of feet. I thought football was the game of inches.

The NLCS has already started, and the Cards lost Game 1 to a lockdown performance from Madison Bumgarner. I'm curious, if the series went 7, would Bochy use him there? Right now, he's scheduled for Game 5, so Game 7 would be on short rest. But I think he's clearly they best guy they've got. Then again, Bochy seems to have a better bullpen overall than Mattingly (not to mention Bochy generally seems smarter at deploying his), so he might be more willing to trust a lesser starter, but keep the quick hook. And the Cardinals' offense is capable of making any pitcher look great on any given night.

Wainwright pitched poorly, again. The elbow is becoming more concerning. Given he had a week between his bad Game 1 NLDS start and his bad Game 1 NLCS start, I don't think rest is going to do the job. At least, not the amount of rest you can get during playoff series. I can hope an offseason will do the trick, but that's not going to help now. So do they keep running him out there, or do they try Wacha or Gonzales? I'm not sure I trust any of them, really, certainly not to win a game where the opposing pitcher is Bumgarner. Gonzales walks too many guys, and Wacha didn't seem to have great stuff or command the last time he pitched. At least with those guys, you aren't risking further injury necessarily (well, maybe with Wacha, given the chronic nature of his shoulder condition). I don't know what the answer is.

In the meantime, I guess the Cardinals will just keep trying to hit homers. They hit 4in Game 2, all solo, but it was enough to help them win and even the series. Matt Carpenter hit his 4th of the postseason, Taveras hit one as a pinch-hitter to tie things up, Adams his his second to give them a lead, and after Rosenthal pitched like garbage again, Kolten Wong saved his bacon with another homer. That's 11 in 6 games, 9 of them by lefthanded hitters. Not sure if that means anything.

I do know the Cardinals are about to face righthanded pitchers the next two games, so maybe Matheny ought to consider benching Grichuk, who has historically not hit well against righties. There's next to no chance he'd start Taveras, but he could always go with Holliday-Bourjos-Jay. For all matheny's talk about winning games, that is the outfield best suited to win games, certainly when facing righthanded pitching, and playing in a park with an expansive outfield. Get the really fucking good centerfielder in centerfield. Odds of this happening are basically nil. Matheny made sure to single out Randal for praise for a couple of good plays he made in Game 2, so I'm pretty sure he's trying to lay groundwork for starting him again. Him and my dad, they both just love Grichuk. Me? I find him a useful player, but I'm pretty sure he's the second coming of Jim Lindeman offensively (while being more useful defensively and on the basepaths). Insert your preferred "promising prospect who flames out because he can't stop flailing at breaking pitches and stuff out of the strike zone". Well, my first goal for the Cardinals in any playoff series is to not get swept, and they have taken that off the table, so we'll see what they can manage from there.

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Sunday, October 05, 2014

Guess I'm Rooting For The Seahawks To Lose Tomorrow

Arizona lost to the Broncos 41-20. Ouch. I expected Arizona would lose, but not that badly. Maybe 28-20, something moderately respectable. Arizona's offense was completely shut down, managing only 215 yards and converting just 3 of 16 third downs. Oh, and 81 of Arizona's offensive yards came on one catch and run by Andre Ellington.

The sad/scary thing is that in some ways, Arizona didn't play that bad. Only 3 penalties, they held Denver to 7 of 16 on 3rd down, which isn't great, but not terrible. They held the Broncos to 92 yards rushing, though Ronnie Hillman averaged over 4 yards a carry on his 15 attempts. The defense even intercepted Peyton twice.

You're right, I'm grasping at straws. The flimsiest of which is hoping the Seahawks lose to that football team in the nation's capitol so Arizona can maintain sole possession of first place.

So let's move to baseball. The playoffs are in full swing, though they aren't providing much suspense so far. The Orioles finished a sweep of Detroit this afternoon, and as I type, the Royals are leading Anaheim 5-2 in the top of the 4th with their own chance to sweep. After winning an 18 inning war of attrition on Saturday, the Giants are poised to sweep the Nationals.

The only series that has no chance of ending in a sweep in Dodgers/Cardinals, because they split the two games in L.A. St. Louis won the first game in a slugfest, hardly what anyone would expect from a game featuring Adam Wainwright and Clayton Kershaw (not to mention the Cards' anemic offense), but there you are. The Dodgers won the second game behind a good start from Zack Greinke, and a timely 9th inning home run by Matt Kemp. Off Pat Neshek, who isn't exactly covering himself with glory in this postseason, having surrendered a run in each of the first two games.

Oh well, the Cardinals needed a split to wrest away home field in this match-up, and they got it. In about the most unlikely way possible - lighting up Kershaw for 8 runs in less than 7 innings - but it still counts. Now they're sending out John Lackey against Ryu, which is another pitching match-up that favors the Dodgers, unless Ryu's shoulder is still bothering him. Now would be a great time for Lackey to be what I thought he was going to be when the Cardinals acquired him: a really good starting pitcher. Certainly didn't do it much during the previous two months.

Also, what the hell is up with Matt Carpenter? Hits 8 home runs all season, and now 2 in two games? Could have used you driving the ball like this a little more this Matt 2. I don't think that's his actual nickname (there's not one listed on his Baseball-Reference page), but I figure Holliday would be Matt 1, and Adams would be Matt 3, based on when they made the big leagues.

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Monday, September 29, 2014

Stepping Back To Baseball For A Moment

Arizona didn't play, so they're still in first in the NFC West. A trip to Denver - who are also coming off a bye week - awaits. But that's for next week.

In the meantime, the baseball season ended. The Cardinals managed to hold onto the NL Central, despite doing their level best to blow it against the Cubs and the Diamondbacks. Now they have to travel to Los Angeles and play the Dodgers, a team that won four more games than the Cardinals, scored 99 more runs, but allowed 14 more runs. L.A. has a run differential of +101 (suggesting they should only have won 92 games), the Cards +16 (suggesting they should only have won 83. Yipes).

I have no idea how much any of that matters in a 5-game series. 4 games difference across 162 games isn't very much at all, and plenty of teams have won playoff series against teams with better records. The major concern for the Cardinals should be the same one they've had all year: Can they score? You could tell me they were gonna get swept because they only score 4 runs in 3 games and I wouldn't be terribly surprised. I still can't figure it out. They have enough above-average hitters it seems like they ought to be able to score more consistently, but they can't ever get more than a couple guys on track at the same time.

One thing that might work in their advantage is the state of the Dodgers rotation. Kershaw and Greinke are going to be trouble, no doubt, but I've read a few things that make me wonder if Ryu is available, Josh Beckett definitely isn't, and Dan Haren hasn't pitched terribly well this year (though that would hardly preclude him from shutting down the Cardinals' offense). And outside of Kenley Jansen, Brandon League, and J.P. Howell, the Dodgers' bullpen doesn't look too imposing. And Howell walks a batter every other inning, so that makes me think he's vulnerable (though he barely allows any hits, so maybe not).

Of course, I don't know what the Cardinals are going to do with their rotation. Wainwright and Lynn are certainties, but between Lackey, Miller, and Wacha, I don't know who gets left out. Lackey's had only a couple of good starts out of the 10 he had for St. Louis. Miller pitched poorly for 4.5 months, then pitched well the last 6 weeks. Wacha's seems like he needs more rehab starts. I'd probably go with Miller and Lackey, but make sure to include Marco Gonzales in the 'pen to step in for long relief if either one struggles. I have my doubts Matheny will pass up Wacha, though. More likely it'll be Shelby getting left behind, given Matheny was willing to take Joe Kelly over Shelby last year, when Miller had pitched much better than he has this season. Beyond that, I'd have Rosenthal, Martinez, Maness, Choate, Neshek, and Freeman in the bullpen. 12 pitchers is excessive, 11 should be plenty.

Of course, the question is whether they have enough guys worth putting on the bench to bother carrying six bench guys. Figure Molina, Adams, Wong, Peralta, Carpenter, Holliday, and Jay are set. My guess is they take Pierzynski over Cruz for backup catcher, and Bourjos, Grichuk, and Taveras round out the outfield options. Then you can take Descalso, Ellis, Kozma, er maybe swap in Xavier Scruggs for Ellis, if they can do that. Or Greg Garcia. Like I said, they may not have a 6th bench guy worth having, but there has to be some way to leverage that spot. I don't want them to end up in a situation like last year, where Matheny carries 12 pitchers, but two of them just sit there taking up space (Miller and Mujica).

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Monday, September 22, 2014

Pleasant Surprises Abound For Arizona

Arizona defeated the 49ers 23-14 yesterday, moving the Cardinals to 3-0, and keeping them in sole possession of first place in the NFC West. The Niners helped by declaring Vernon Davis and Ray McDonald inactive, but heck, Arizona didn't have Palmer or John Abraham either, so it evens out.

In the first half, the Niners came out with a lot of 5 wide receiver, quick route stuff, and Kaepernick torched Arizona's defense. Also, the Cardinals' offense consisted of telling Drew Stanton to throw the ball downfield and hope his receivers made a play. Or the Niners got called for pass interference, whichever. Hey, it worked for Peyton Manning, back when he could still throw downfield.

In the second half, Arizona adjusted to the Niners and contained their QB, and San Francisco opted not to go back to their power rushing attack for some reason. They only ran for 82 yards, and Kaepernick had 54 of those. Meanwhile, Arians realized that Stanton isn't Daryl Lamonica, and went to shorter passes. Along with some help from the Niners penalty happy defense, the Cardinals managed to score a couple of touchdowns and win the day.

The good news is Stanton again avoided turnovers. Larry Fitzgerald lost a fumble, but that's not on the QB. Stanton also wasn't sacked, though he took some hits. The defense stiffened up, holding the Niners to just over 100 yards in the second half and 0 points. Arizona's offense went 8-13 on 3rd down conversions, which is good. The Cardinals only ran for 84 yards, but the ran 27 times, so Arians is at least committed to keeping a balanced offense.

Now the Cardinals have a bye week, which seems like bad luck (it seems better to have them later in the season, after guys are more beat up), and then they have to play Denver. It's at Denver, which is going to make things tougher, but may work out in the long run. I figure beating Denver, even in Arizona, might be a tall order. But the other teams in the AFC West are the sort that might not be too difficult to host, but could be rough if you have travel to their stadium. So maybe it's better to face KC in Arizona. Although I think Arizona's defense ought to be able to do at least as good a job against Denver as Seattle did. May be a question of whether Arizona's offense can dial it up. They went 1-for-4 scoring touchdowns on red zone trips again yesterday. That has to improve, especially against better teams.

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Monday, September 15, 2014

Who Is That Atop The NFC West?

Arizona, that's who.

Yes, I know it's only week 2. Yes, I know they could fall into a tie for first as soon as next week, when they play the 1-1 49ers, who will no doubt be pissed they blew a 17-point lead last night. Just let me enjoy the moment.

The Cardinals beat the New York Giants 25-14 yesterday. There were a lot of potential excuses if they lost. They were coming off a Monday night game that didn't even start until after 9 p.m., playing an early Sunday game, on the East Coast, minus both their starting QB (held out with a shoulder sprain), and their best remaining pass rusher (John Abraham, who suffered memory loss after his concussion in the Charger game).

Incidentally, I would totally understand if Abraham took that as a sign to retire. He's 35, probably made a pretty good chunk of change over the years. Take it home and enjoy remembering your family's names.

Besides the fact they won, there are several good things to take away from the game for Arizona. The team ran for 124 yards and 4 ypc, and the defense held the Giants to just 81 yards and 3 ypc. Andre Ellington had 91 yards on just 15 carries, and another 10 on his one catch, so 101 yards on 16 touches overall. The defense sacked Eli Manning twice, intercepted him twice (no great trick, admittedly), and recovered a fumble. Ted Ginn returned a punt 71 yards for a touchdown, then the Cards' special teams forced and recovered another fumble on the ensuing kickoff. Backup QB Drew Stanton didn't turn the ball over. Kicker Chandler Catanzaro was 4-for-4 on field goals.

Still, there are concerns. The Giants outgained Arizona 341 yards to 266, and averaged 5 yards per play. Eli Manning completed 67% of his passes, and I get the feeling the defense still can't get consistent pressure on the QB. The Cardinals were whistled for 7 penalties (though New York got 9), and Patrick Peterson drew two on one drive. For the second week in a row, Arizona got an early lead, then lost it and had to stage a comeback. The lead was lost and regained a little earlier this week than last week, but I'm hoping to see a game where they take control early and maintain. Stanton was sacked 4 times, which solidifies my concerns about the offensive line's pass blocking abilities. Which could be critical if they want to keep Palmer upright against the Niners in Week 3. Stanton didn't really have a great game. I know he hasn't played in a game since 2010, but 14-29 for 167 yards isn't all that special. It might be good enough against a shitty NFC East team, but the offense will have to do better against their divisional foes.

But for now, as I said above, I'm just going to enjoy what they've got going in the moment.

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Tuesday, September 09, 2014

Arizona Wasting No Time With the Narrow Escapes

The harder the NFL has tried to keep my attention in the offseason, the more I find myself ignoring it. I gave up monitoring the draft years ago, because I got tired of the hype that was so rarely matched by players Arizona drafted. Ultimately, I figured it was best to wait and see what the did once the games started.

Still, I was aware that the Cardinals' defense - which did most of the heavy lifting last year - had taken some hits this offseason. Karlos Dansby got a multi-year contract from Cleveland the Cards wisely didn't match. Daryl Washington is suspended for the year for multiple drug test failures, Darnell Dockett blew out his ACL, and Mathieu hasn't fully recovered from blowing out 2 knee ligaments last year. So there was concern.

But the defense did all right for itself last night against the Chargers. They didn't sack Rivers, and they only forced one turnover, but they did hold the Chargers to less than 300 yards of offense (and only 52 yards rushing, at 2.2 ypc). And late in the game, when San Diego was trying to drive the field and retake the lead, the defense kept bringing the house, and even if they didn't get to Rivers, they at least made him feel the pressure.

All of this is good, because Arizona's offense had trouble putting points on the board until the 4th quarter. I saw a little of the game, the last half of the second quarter, but the bit I saw didn't look promising. The O-line couldn't seem to open holes for Ellington, Palmer seemed to be under pressure constantly, and they were in a lot of third and longs. But they did better overall than I thought. Ellington averaged over 4 yards per carry on 13 carries, and totaled 80 yards on 18 touches. So with no Mendenhall, Arians at least seems determined to get Ellington more touches. The team went 6 for 13 on third down, which isn't superb, but it's a step up from some of the lousy performances they had last year. Palmer didn't throw any picks, though he and Ellington each lost a fumble.

But since Seattle and San Francisco both won this week, the Cardinals needed to win to keep up. The NFC West doesn't look like it's gotten any weaker this year, so Arizona is going to need every win they can get.

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Sunday, August 31, 2014

Return to the Team-Building Exercise - The Bench

I know, it's been over a month. I've been distracted, and busy. But since football season is about to start, I better get on this before I get completely distracted by whatever's going to happen with Arizona's season. Six-man bench, lot of positional versatility, I think. We'll just stick to chronological order.

1) Tom Pagnozzi, 1990 - 69 games, 239 PAs, 20 runs, 61 hits, 15 2Bs, 2 HRs, 23 RBIs, 1 SB, 14 BB, 37 K, .277 AVG/.321 OBP/.373 SLG/.694 OPS, 91 OPS+, 2.0 WAR

Pagnozzi had been a Cardinal for three seasons prior to this, but had seen only sporadic use.He got 53 PAs as the third catcher (behind Tony Pena and Steve Lake) in 1987, then 209 PAs as a backup catcher, but mostly at first base in 1988. That the Cardinals were reduced to using someone who would have a .359 SLG for his career as their first baseman, tells you a lot about the '88 squad's struggles. In '89 he was back solely behind the plate, but managed just 88 PAs, and posted an abysmal .391 OPS.

By 1990, Tony Pena was gone, but the starting job was handed to the young slugger Todd Zeile. As it turned out, Zeile might be able to hit a little (he led the team with 15 HRs), but he wasn't much of a catcher. After Herzog quit, and especially when Torre took over as manager for the last third of the season, Zeile was moved largely to third, and Pagnozzi took the lion's share of the starts behind the plate, since he at least seemed solid defensively. He came through on that count. His Total Zone Runs score is +10 in just 520 innings, which projects to a +23 if he'd played 1200 innings. And considering he'd post a +19 in 1156 innings the next season, that +23 might not be out of line. He also threw out 45% of would-be basestealers that year. And, he had his best year hitting up to that point. Admittedly a low bar to clear, but most teams would take a 91 OPS+ from their starting catcher, especially with Pagnozzi's defensive chops. As usual, he didn't get on-base much, but he had a little pop, and that was enough. There were only two seasons in his career - 1994 and 1996 - where he'd post a better OPS or OPS+ than he did in his first extended chance at catcher. Anyway, Zeile still played more innings at the position that year, so he's the starter of record, which is how I can use Pags as the backup catcher, since it was the role he fulfilled most of the year.

2) Milt Thompson, 1991 - 115 games, 361 PAs, 55 runs, 100 hits, 16 2Bs, 5 3Bs, 6 HRs, 34 RBIs, 16 SBs, 32 BBs, 53 Ks, .307/.368/.442/.810, 127 OPS+, 3.7 WAR

For a long time, I thought Milt was the primary left fielder in 1991, but no, that's Bernard Gilkey. By about 26 innings. So this might be fudging it a bit, but too bad. This was Milt's third year with the team. In 1989, he'd taken over in CF when McGee went down, and had a good year. His OPS+ was 107, his Total Zone score was +14, and he was worth 4.2 WAR. The next year, he primarily played in RF, after the team traded Brunansky in April, and didn't acquire Felix Jose until late July. That year, did not go well. OPS+ of 71, 0.7 WAR. His defensive numbers in RF were good, though. Milt's issues, like Pagnozzi's was that much of his value comes down to batting average. Milt didn't walk much, so if the hits didn't fall, he didn't get on base. And he didn't have that much power, so he tended to hit a lot of singles. So he wouldn't make up for poor average with a lot of powerful blasts.

But when it all comes together, you get a year like this: Good average, high OBP, pretty good power (his career ISO in 98, so a 135 is a big step up). '91 is only the third best year of Thompson's career by WAR, but in the other two, he was a full-time starter, so he had more opportunity to acquire value then. His OPS is the best of his career by over 30 points, his OPS+ beats any other year by 11 percent. His Total Zone score is +8 in LF, projecting to a +17 over 1200 innings. He was certainly caught stealing too many times (9) for his number of successes, but that was true of most of the team. They had no power (Zeile led them with 11 HRs), so they ran like mad. Tom Pagnozzi stole 9 bases in 1991. And was caught 13 times.

3) Gerald Perry, 1994 - 60 games, 92 PAs, 12 runs, 25 hits, 7 2Bs, 3 HRs, 18 RBIs, 1 SB, 15 BBs, 12 Ks, .325/.435/.532/.967, 153 OPS+, 0.8 WAR

Perry was in his 4th season with the Cardinals in '94. He was a sporadically used player, most a pinch-hitter, otherwise he'd play first every once in awhile, a more pressing need when he first arrived, since Pedro Guerrero was decaying before our eyes, and Andres Galarraga was the worst first baseman they've had in my lifetime. Since the Cardinals had Gregg Jefferies in 1994, they didn't have much need for Perry at first. He played just 93 innings in the field all year (and posted a Total Zone of -0), which was still more than the 70.2 he played the year before. Perry was there to hit, and he did that. His OPS was .950 in 1993, coming out to a 158 OPS+, and a 0.9 WAR. Which is pretty good value for a guy playing no more often than Perry. That's largely how I envision him, bring him in when I need a lefty pinch-hitter. That's handy, a lot of my power hitters in the starting lineup are righties, so it's good to have an option from the other side. Thompson's a lefty, but he's not much of a power hitter. Also, Perry brings some patience, considering he walked about once every 6 PAs, and once more often than Pags did, in less than half the PAs.

4) Eli Marrero, 2002 - 131 games, 446 PAs, 63 runs, 104 hits, 19 2Bs, 1 3B, 18 HRs, 66 RBIs, 14 SBs, 40 BBs, 72 Ks, .262/.327/.451/.778, 104 OPS+, 1.6 WAR

No we start getting into the versatility. It's one thing to have a guy like Thompson, who can play all 3 outfield spots, and play them well. But Marrero played all 3 outfield spots, plus catcher, and a smidgen of first base. Now admittedly, his scores for catcher and LF are both poor (-4 for both in roughly 200 innings), and 11 innings at first is practically meaningless, but the potential exists. By this point, the Cardinals had given up on Marrero as a catcher, I guess, preferring the good defense and awful hitting of Mike Matheny. Eli had chances in 1998 and 1999, and while his defensive numbers were good (+13 over roughly 1310 innings across the two seasons, and he threw out 48 baserunners in 121 attempts), he couldn't hit a lick, due to some serious illness, the specifics of which I've forgotten. So he gradually developed into a super-utility, one who could legitimately play catcher, which is pretty rare. Sure, Daniel Descalso can play catcher, but he's not a catcher anymore than he is a SS. This was Eli's second best year (behind his '04 in Atlanta), his busiest year. Most hits, most home runs, most stolen bases (and only caught twice), second best OPS+ (again, behind '04 in Atlanta). He brings a nice combo of Thompson's speed with Perry's power. Ought to come in handy.

5) Scott Spiezio, 2006 - 119 games, 321 PAs, 44 runs, 75 hits, 15 2Bs, 4 3Bs, 13 HRs, 52 RBIs, 1 SB, 37 BBs, 66 Ks, .272/.366/.496/.862, 120 OPS+, 1.6 WAR

Continuing the theme of guys who play everywhere. Spiezio played 4 positions for the Cards in '06, not counting DH: 3B, LF, 1B, 2B. He played only 26 innings at second, and 55 at first, only 216 in LF, and had a negative score there (-2). His score at 3rd, where he played about 200 innings, was a +4. The next season, he'd add RF and pitcher to the list, but that would be his final season, as he'd struggle with substance abuse issues. In 2006, though, he was the Cardinals most valuable bench player. Depending on how you look at it, maybe too valuable. He was good enough LaRussa felt confident in benching Rolen for Spiezio during the NLCS, which was what wrecked the relationship between Rolen and TLR. Hopefully such problems can be avoided here.

2006 is one of Spiezio's better years. Not as good as his 2001 or 2002, but on par with his 1997 and 2003. Except for '97, he was largely a utility guy for all those seasons. Even in '02 and '03, when he was the starting first baseman, he'd play three or four other positions. Offensively it's his best year, by a decent amount. He beats his career average by almost 20 points, his career OBP by 36, and his slugging by 77 points. And he's a switch-hitter which allows for some intriguing options.

6) Brendan Ryan, 2007 - 67 games, 199 PAs, 30 runs, 52 hits, 9 2Bs, 4 HRs, 12 RBIs, 7 SBs, 15 BBs, 19 Ks, .289/.347/..406/.753, 95 OPS+, 1.6 WAR

I debate sometimes who the manager is in this fantasy. Is it me, or did I select the manager from one of the options from this 25 year stretch? If it's the former, I put Boog on here in part because I like, and want him on the team. If it's the latter, then he's here in part because the manager would have to be LaRussa, and I want to torment him by giving him two of his least favorite players as the only options at SS. Which I guess means if I'm not the manager, I'm at least the GM, and I'm the one holding the whip hand.

This was Ryan's first year on the team, and it kind of foreshadowed how his time in StL would go. It was an odd-numbered year (and he wasn't injured), so he hit well. For him. He fielded well when given the chance (+4 in 163 innings at SS, +1 in 150 innings at 3rd, league average in 125 innings at 2nd). And he pissed off LaRussa, noticeably getting benched in the 2nd inning of a game against Philly because he swung away on a 3-0 count. Interestingly, LaRussa did not bench either Molina or Schumaker the next night when one of them missed either a stop or go sign, and so both wound up at 3rd base simultaneously. Which is how it went, Boog getting punished, while other players got to skate for some reason or another.

Yeah, if I'm Tony's boss in this scenario, I'm gonna make his life hell.

At any rate, I need someone defensively competent to be the backup middle infielder. None of the other guys can play short, and Spiezio's the only one who can play 3rd or 2nd. I'll likely take Speez over Boog at 3rd, but at 2nd, I'll stick with Brendan Ryan. In fact, he'll probably get a lot of play there as a late-innings defensive replacement, much like Thompson likely will in LF.

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Sunday, August 17, 2014

Cardinals at the 3/4ths Mark

Since last we looked in on current Cardinals, things have been a little hectic. Molina hurt his wrist, so the Cardinals signed George Kottaras to be Tony Cruz' back-up. After just 11 innings, Kottaras was jettisoned, and they signed A.J. Pierzynski. I don't know whether they just soured on Kottaras really quickly, or Cruz swiftly convinced them he was best left backing up, rather than being the primary starter. I lean towards the latter, because I can't imagine what the Cardinals saw in Kottaras in that brief span they didn't already know about from his 8+ year career. Then again, some of these guys are part of the same brain trust that thought Ryan Theriot could shortstop after watching him try for the Cubs for years, so perhaps I'm giving too much credit.

The team also traded James Ramsey to Cleveland for Justin Masterson, and then Joe Kelly and Allen Craig to Boston for John Lackey. Masterson's a buy low candidate, since he was coming off the DL, and hadn't pitched well this year when he did pitch. So far, it's not looking like a good buy. 3 starts, 15 innings, 10 runs allowed, 2 HRs, and 6 BBs. It's not really all that much worse than Shelby Miller, but if the team has decided their best strategy was to shore up the pitching staff, and hope the offense can string some hits together, then two Shelby's hardly helps. As for Lackey, well, 3 starts, 19 innings, 13 runs, 4 HRs, 5 BBs. So now they have 3 Shelbys. Well done, excellent work, but I kind of suspected Mozeliak made that trade to try and force Matheny to play Oscar Taveras. Much like in 2009 when he traded Chris Duncan to Boston so LaRussa couldn't keep putting him in the lineup everyday. Difference being, Mozeliak went out the next week and acquired Matt Holliday to fill LF, and Holliday hit a ton the rest of the season. Oscar thus far hasn't managed to get his OPS over .600, and since he went 0-4 today, I'm afraid Matheny will probably bench him for Shane Robinson tomorrow.

Anyway, with all this player movement, the Cardinals went 21-20 over the previous 41 games. So clearly shaking up the club house has gotten things back on track. After Saturday's loss, they're on pace for 86-88 wins, which puts them at the front of the pack of mediocre teams fumbling about for a wild card. The Cardinals did manage to win today, taking 3 of 4 from San Diego. They did it despite Wainwright somehow surrendering 4 runs to the Padres, and Trevor Rosenthal pitching so badly Matheny called in Seth Maness to bail him out in the 9th.

Wainwright's struggled a bit in general lately, though Lynn has continued to be solid. Carlos Martinez got sent to the minors, allegedly to stretch him out for a return to the rotation, but was called up this morning to replace Siegrist in the bullpen, after the latter crapped the bed against the Padres Saturday. I got to see that performance. Siegrist isn't just bad, he's slow bad, taking forever to actually throw the ball like he thinks that's going to make him a better pitcher. He's walked the same number of guys (10) as Maness is less than half the innings, and Maness has 2 intentional walks in there, so those are Matheny's fault. I watched him make Shelby walk the Padres #8 hitter last night twice, even though the guy's OPS+ was 68, so I'm confident that any intentional walks are not the pitcher's idea. Neshek's still the best guy on the staff, and Choate's doing OK, I guess, though he's walked more guys than Siegrist (though not if you remove intentional walks). Sam Freeman's doing all right so far, though he's walked more guys (13) than any of the other relievers I mentioned.

The Cardinals just seem to have a lot of guys who are wild, but not effectively wild. They miss the strike zone, but not closely enough to make hitters chase. I don't know if that's a young pitcher thing (though that hardly applies to Choate), or just a fluke. Rosenthal, Martinez, and Freeman are all walking more than 4 batters per 9 innings, and Choate and Siegrist are both above 3. Which kind of confirms my general feeling that Neshek and Maness are the only reliable guys in the 'pen right now (with Freeman standing 3rd). Rosenthal's turned into Isringhausen, the Sequel (or Bruce Sutter the Sequel if you're my dad) in his propensity for loading up the bases, which makes me worried he's going to become the bad Izzy of 2006 or 2008 at any moment.

As for the offense, even after scoring 12 runs over the weekend (while allowing 15, cough, cough), the Cardinals have still scored only 461 runs, which puts them on pace for 607 runs by the end of the season. The last time the team scored less than 700 runs in a season was 1997, when they scored 689. They scored 563 in the shortened '95 season, which would have come out to 638 over a full 162 games. The '94 team scored 535 in 115 games before the strike, on pace for 754 runs. The last time they slipped under 600 runs in a full season was 1990, 599 runs. That team was much worse at run prevention (though the Cardinals are back down to 7th in runs allowed and 8th in ERA), which is why they lost 90 games. This team is more like the 1986 group that was 3rd in runs allowed (611), but dead last in runs scored (601). They finished 79-82, exactly what their Pythagorean predicted, and pretty much what the 2014 team's Pythagorean predicted after Saturday night's game.

The '86 team only had 5 players with an OPS better than .700 (Mike Laga, Andy van Slyke, Jack Clark, Ozzie Smith, Jose Oquendo), only three with an OPS+ over 100 (Laga, van Slyke, Clark). Ozzie (.709, 98) was the only one with enough plate appearances to qualify for the batting title. Laga (.808, 120) had 52 PAs, Oquendo (.700, 95) just 158. Clark (.784, 116) and van Slyke (.795, 118) had 280 and 470, respectively. Of the starters, only Clark, van Slyke, and Ozzie had an OPS+ above 90, only Willie McGee and Tom Herr were better than 80. Terry Pendleton and Vince Coleman each had a 62. Among bench players with at least 100 PAs,  Tito Landrum (88) was the only one other than Oquendo to have an OPS+ better than 70. It was a miserable offensive bunch. Dead last in runs, hits, doubles, HRs, batting average, OBP, SLG, OPS. The only things they were good at were stolen bases (1st), triples (2nd), not striking out (2nd), and walking (5th).

By all rights, the 2014 team ought to be better. They have 7 guys with an OPS better than .700, though one is Greg Garcia (14 PAs), and another is the currently injured Molina. But Jon Jay, Matt Holliday, Matt Carpenter, and Jhonny Peralta all have an OPS+ between 116 and 120, and Matt Adams is at 126. And all of them have at least 300 PAs so far this year, with Carpenter and Holliday already above 500. Wong's OPS+ is 91 now (after his early July power surge), and Pierzynski, in the limited sample of 54 PAs, has an OPS+ of 88. The one massive hole in the lineup is RF, whether it was the departed Craig (79), Taveras (57), or lately, Shane Robinson (10). Descalso and Ellis are still useless, and Bourjos' OPS+ just hover a little above or below 80, but it feels like this lineup, if not a run-scoring machine, should at least be closer to middle of the pack, rather than sitting at the bottom. But there they are, 14th in runs scored, dead last in HRs, 12th in triples and stolen bases, 11th in slugging, 9th in hits, 8th in walks. The things the Cardinals rank better than average in are batting average (6th), OBP and doubles (4th), not getting caught stealing (3rd), and not striking out (1st). That feels more scattershot than the '86 club, which might make sense, as I'm not sure what this team's offensive identity is right now. Other than "bad", obviously.

I'm in kind of a strange head space with this team. They have a winning record, 66-57 with today's win, and this is good. But they're run differential is -8, which suggests they should be at least a couple of games under .500. That's bad. I'd like to see them make the playoffs, because once there, anything might happen. Plus, by then the Cardinals would theoretically have both Yadier Molina and Michael Wacha back. Maybe. Molina would be a certain upgrade over Tony Cruz or A.J. Pierzynski, Wacha would hopefully return to pitching well, which would put him ahead of everyone in the rotation other than Wainwright and Lynn. Hard to believe I'm including Lynn in that group, but he's impressed me this year. Maybe it's just luck, but I do have more confidence in him to at least keep things close even if he isn't going to be lights out every time. It's probably telling that Wacha is 4th among their pitchers in bWAR (behind Waino, Neshek, and Lynn), despite not pitching since June, and Molina is still 4th in WAR among position players (behind Peralta, Carpenter, and Adams), despite not playing since early July. They're good players obviously, but nobody else is stepping up in their absence. Jon Jay is the only other player on the team counted as being worth 2 WAR up to this point in the season.

Back to my mixed feelings about this season. The more I see of Matheny, the more I worry that he has "his guys", and he is ride or die with them no matter how bad they are. It isn't strictly a case of someone being a veteran, because he pretty quickly stopped using Wigginton last year before his release, and seems to have accepted Mark Ellis is not going to be useful this year. But among guys who have been on the team previously, they get a long leash, especially if the option is someone who hasn't. And Matheny seems all too willing to run down the new guys for things he lets pass from the old guard. Oscar Taveras makes a baserunning error, Matheny comments on it, but ignores similar poor decisions out of "proven guy" Shane Robinson. Kolten Wong doesn't hit and gets sent to the minors under excuses that the lineup needs a boost, even though the two players who will replace him at second - Ellis and especially "proven" Descalso - are both hitting worse. Not to mention how poorly Craig and basically everyone other than Peralta and Molina were hitting at that point. It is very reminiscent to me of the disparity in how LaRussa would treat certain players (say Brendan Ryan versus Skip Schumaker) for similar transgressions (ignoring a sign). Ryan would get pulled from a game in the 2nd innings, Schumaker would be allowed to continue on as before.

If the Cardinals are in contention, Matheny can continue to crap like that, under the auspice of his "I'm here to win games, not develop players" line. Which is interesting, because I had figured Matheny was hired, despite his complete lack of any coaching or managerial experience at the major league or minor league levels, because he understood the Cardinals were going to frequently promote from within, and it was his job to help those players develop. Instead, you see players who don't immediately excel get exiled to the bench (see Peter Bourjos) with some pap about needing to learn to struggle through adversity. Which sounds to me like something you do by continuing to play until you set things right, but in Matheny's world means "sit your ass on the bench and watch this veteran play, even if he's noticeably worse than you are". If they fall out of contention, he has no excuse for not playing the younger guys all the time.

I want them to win, but I'd prefer it happened in a way, and with players, that I actually liked or approved of. I don't dislike Shane Robinson - in certain circumstances I think he's quite useful - I just want Taveras to play more, because if he gets it figured out he is so much better than Robinson can ever hope to be. Shane Robinson's ceiling is some lesser hybrid of Jay and Bourjos, with less power and speed, but more walks. Taveras could be Ray Lankford, at minimum. That's no contest.

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Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Return To The Team-Building Exercise - The Bullpen

And we're back! I just haven't felt terribly motivated the last 3 weeks, but if I don't get another of these done this week, I won't be getting any done until mid-August. So here we are, checking in on the 'pen. I've once again opted to go with a 6-man bullpen, as I did in my revised attempt of my first go around. The way I figure it, with 5 starts each contributing roughly 220 innings (they add up to 1152 innings), it's ridiculous to have 7 relievers. I'm just going to list them chronologically, and also try to describe their role.

1) Mike Perez, 1993 (8th Inning Set-Up Guy) - 65 games, 77.7 IP, 7-2, 7 saves, 58 K, 20 BB, 4 HRs, 2.48 ERA, 159 ERA+, 2.97 FIP, 1.17 WHIP, 1.5 WAR, 0.9 WAA

I also considered taking Paul Kilgus from this season. He had the same WAR, but it was less than 29 innings. That's impressive, but it kind of suggests small sample size fluke, even for a relief pitcher. As for Perez, this is possibly his best year, depending on what you value. He has a lower ERA in '92, but his K rate is much higher in '93, and his BB rate is lower. He goes from a K/BB of 1.44, to 2.90, far and away the best of his career. 1993 marked his lowest walk rate, and 3rd highest K rate. And the two years where he struck out more guys were his last 2 seasons, when he threw a combined 47 innings for the Cubs and Royals. Perez gained the closer's role late in '93, when the Cardinals sent Lee Smith elsewhere, but he couldn't hold it in '94, losing it to Rene Arocha, as Torre continued to shift guys from the rotation to the bullpen, as if the Cardinals had an overabundance of good starting pitchers. Seriously, he did it with Arocha, Rheal Cormier, Omar Olivares, I'm sure he would have done it with Donovan Osborne if Osborne could have stayed healthy.

2) Tom Henke, 1995 (Closer) - 52 games, 54.3 IP, 1-1, 36 SVs, 48 Ks, 18 BBs, 2 HRs, 1.82 ERA, 229 ERA+, 2.81 FIP, 1.104 WHIP, 2.3 WAR, 1.4 WAA

One of the easiest selections. Lee Smith in 1991 was the only other closer I seriously considered, but '91 had other viable options. Unless I wanted to take Tony Fossas, 1995 really didn't. Anybody else that had a good season, there was someone for that same role that had a better season in some other year (some times it was the same guy). Henke and Smith were listed as being equally valuable. This was Henke's only year as a Cardinal, and his last year in the majors. He was a good guy to have around, if a bit useless since the rest of the team was so bad. The Cardinals actually had a good bullpen that year, but their rotation was mediocre (Osborne, Mike Morgan, and Mark Petkovsek had decent years, Ken Hill, Danny Jackson, and Allen Watson had horrible seasons), and the offense was a train wreck. Probably should have tried trading Henke for some good young players, but then who would I select from this season? Fossas, I guess.

3) Rick Honeycutt, 1996 (LOOGY) - 61 games, 47.3 innings, 2-1, 4 SVs, 30 Ks, 7 BBs, 3 HRs, 2.85 ERA, 148 ERA+, 3.17 FIP, 1.035 WHIP, 1.2 WAR, 0.7 WAA

What better way to celebrate the first year of the LaRussa Era than with a situational reliever? Feel the excitement? On the other hand, Honeycutt's wins above average is tied for 3rd highest on the team that year with Andy Benes. Which says more about the general mediocrity of the Cards' pitching staff than anything, but there you go. Honeycutt didn't have a great K rate, only 5.7 batters per 9 innings, though that's quite a bit higher than his career average (4.3). More critically, he walked people at a rate half his career average (1.3 versus 2.7). Which is how he managed the best K/BB ratio of his career (4.29, his next best is a 3.2 in 1992). But that's kind of what he'd have to do. If he's only being brought in to get one, maybe 2 guys at most, he can't very well walk the guy. Actually he averaged a little over 3 batters faced per appearance, but that includes guys he didn't get out. Anyway, Honeycutt's career would end abruptly the next season after just 2 innings, beginning a multi-year stretch where the Cardinals couldn't find a decent lefthanded reliever. It was ended finally in 2001 by Steve Kline, who I seriously considered for the team, but I wanted Darryl Kile, so here we are.

4) Heathcliff Slocumb, 1999 (Last Resort) - 40 games, 53.3 IP, 3-2, 2 SVs, 48 Ks, 30 BB, 3 HRs, 2.36 ERA, 198 ERA+, 3.81 FIP, 1.481 WHIP, 1.7 WAR, 1.2 WAA

The only two pitchers that were more valuable in 1999 were Kent Bottenfield and Darren Oliver, which tells you most everything you need to know about the state of the Cardinals' pitching staff that year. Slocumb was a midseason acquisition, picked up after the Orioles released him. You can tell he was the beneficiary of some good fortune during his stint in St. Louis, based on the gap between his ERA and his FIP. Have to expect that, if you're going to walk over 5 batters per 9 innings. The crazy thing is, that's not even unusual for Slocumb. His career BB rate is 5.1/9, compiled over 631 innings, so this was right in line with his past performance. But he maintained his HR rate (0.5/9), and raised his K rate a little (from 7.3 to 8.1), and had a hit rate almost a full hit less than his career norm (8.3 vs. 9.1). Which is funny, because I don't remember the 1999 team being much for defensive excellence, but I guess things just work out that way. Anyway, judging by all this, Slocumb's gonna be the last guy out of the 'pen, or the guy I use in blowouts, when I can tell him to just throw strikes and not dick around. Maybe that'll get the walk rate down some.

5) Kiko Calero, 2003 (Whatever I Need) - 26 games, 38.3 IP, 1-1, 1 SV, 51 Ks, 20 BB, 5 HRs, 2.82 ERA, 147 ERA+, 3.71 FIP, 1.278 WHIP, 1.0 WAR, 0.7 WAA

The scary thing is Calero's WAR is 4th among Cardinals pitchers that year, behind Woody Williams, Matt Morris, and Garrett Stephenson, all of whom threw at least 4 times as many innings (though Williams and Morris are at least appropriately far ahead). Calero has the best WHIP of any of the relievers other than Isringhausen, which is kind of sad, but there you go. Calero's walking too many guys (4.7/9), and the HR rate's kind of high (1.2/9, though Izzy and Kline are the only 2 relievers with lower HR rates), but he's also striking out 12/9. And Calero wound up being a pretty effective reliever in 2004 (though his WAR and WAA are the same). He still struck out a batter per innings, but he cut the BB rate to about 40% of what it was, and dropped the HR rate a little. Which is why his FIP dropped to 3.14 that year, even if his ERA barely moved. Anyway, even with Slocumb being worse than I initially realized (the dangers of trying to use WAR as a quick and dirty sorting method), there's still enough other guys I don't have to place too much pressure on Calero.

6) Jason Motte, 2011 (Fireman) - 78 games, 68 IP, 5-2, 9 SVs, 63 Ks, 16 BBs, 2 HRs, 2.25 ERA, 166 ERA+, 2.48 FIP, 0.956 WHIP, 1.3 WAR, 0.7 WAA

Look, Fernando Salas led the team in saves that year, so Baseball-Reference lists him as the closer. I was going to take one or the other, and for awhile Tony used Motte pretty much whenever he absolutely needed an out, like the way "closers" were originally used, before it became all about saves and the 9th inning. So that's what Motte's gonna do. His K rate (8.3/9) isn't anywhere near Calero's, granted, but neither is his walk rate (2.1/9), and his HR rate is a quarter of Calero's. If I can't use Henke in a dire situation, then I'll most likely turn to Motte (maybe Honeycutt if it's a lefty, since Motte allowed a .454 OPS to righties that year, but a .738 to lefties). So Motte might end up being the first guy out of the 'pen, depending on how often I'd have to pull my starter because he was struggling and we needed to get out of an inning right now.

As far as other relievers I considered, I already mentioned Salas, Paul Kilgus, Lee Smith, and Tony Fossas. Frank DiPino's 1989 was in the running, but there were two excellent seasons for starting position players ahead of him by considerable margins. I though about John Habyan's 1994, but he's pretty marginal. He would have been a 7th reliever, and I didn't want to do that again. I though about Petkovsek in 1996, but I wanted a lefty, and he and Honeycutt were basically equivalent in value. Juan Acevedo in 1998, but he spent some time in the rotation, as well as the closing, so I wasn't sure how to describe him, also there was another really good position player in front of him. Steve Kline in 2001 and Al Reyes in 2005 lost out to starting pitchers, Russ Springer in 2007 to a bench guy I really wanted. Like I said, relievers are at the bottom rung here.

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