Thursday, April 17, 2014

NBA Playoffs Time!

I'd been planning to revisit a series of posts I did 5 years ago, but I haven't felt terribly motivated lately. And now the playoffs are starting, which means it's time for some lousy predictions.

Indiana vs. Atlanta: What's funny to me about the Hawks being here is they didn't even want to make the playoffs. They wanted in the lottery, yet here they are. So how pathetic does that make the Knicks, Pistons, Cavs, and Bucks? They were trying to make the playoffs, and none of them could beat out an Atlanta team with no Al Horford. So the Eastern Conference is kind of pitiful. On to new business.

The Pacers are playing like garbage themselves. The offense is a mess, and everyone is pointing fingers over it. The wing guys sat Hibbert isn't posting up hard enough, Hibbert and West complain the wing guys won't pass to them, guys are making stupid passes and bad shots. Will any of that preclude the Pacers from beating the Hawks? Probably not. I have no doubt the players would love to beat Indiana and shut up all the people complaining about how this sub-.500 team is in the playoffs and Phoenix isn't, but I'm not sure that's enough. What I'm hoping for is Atlanta to steal one of the first two games, then win game 3 to go up 2-1. At that point, either the Pacers disintegrate entirely and get bounced, or they finally get their shit together and run the table. I'm going to lean towards the latter. Pacers in 6.

Miami vs. Charlotte: Miami hasn't played at the same level this year they have in the past, but they're probably wisely conserving energy for the playoffs. Wade will- in theory - be rested and ready, though I'll be surprised if he makes it through the postseason without missing at least a few games. Charlotte's been very good defensively this year, but with the Heat, there's always that extra gear they seem to have. They can't always find it, but when they do, opponents tend to get destroyed. The Bobcats have improved offensively over the course of the season, and Al Jefferson ought to have a field day against what passes for big men in Miami's rotation, but they're still mediocre when it comes to scoring the ball.

"Scoring the ball"? Why do people say that? What else are you going to score with in basketball? I hear it practically every time I watch a game, and it always sounds stupid. Anyway, I expect the Bobcats to win one game, probably game 4, when they're down 3-0 and the Heat let off the throttle. At least they'll get their first playoff win. Heat in 5.

Toronto vs. Brooklyn: The Nets wanted to avoid Chicago, mission accomplished. Now we'll see how they do against a team that can actually put the ball in the hoop. I know there's a lot of talk about many of the Raptors being playoff neophytes, but I don't know how big a deal that is. Certainly I could be convinced playoff experience helps against the best teams, but that is not the Nets. Plus, the Nets have had some injury woes - not to be unexpected with old teams - and I'm curious whether Garnett, Kirlienko, Pierce, and Deron Williams will hold up when they can't take games off. At the end of the day, Toronto is better at both offense and defense than the Nets, they have homecourt, and probably plenty of crazy fans, and I simply don't believe in the Nets. Raptors in 6.

Chicago vs. Washington: The Wizards are 10th in the NBA in defensive efficiency. I wouldn't have expected that. The Bulls are second, which I did expect, and 27th in offensive efficiency, which is also unsurprising. The Wizards are 16th on that side of things. So mediocre O and above-average D against phenomenal D and shitastic O. If it's close late, I'd lean towards the Bulls, because the Wizards strike me as the team more likely to get sloppy with the ball, or make mental miscues. And I have a hard time seeing the Wizards managing to blow the doors off the Bulls in any games. If they can, those wins ought to be cakewalks, because Chicago isn't really built to make comeback. I don't see it being much of a problem though. Bulls in 5.

San Antonio vs. Dallas: Dallas is a little better on offense. The Spurs are much better on defense. I figure the Mavs will be slowed a little, but the Spurs will run wild pretty much whenever they want. Marion is about the only plus defender the Mavericks have, and he can't guard 5 guys at once. Rick Carlisle is one of the few coaches in the league who can work on Popvich's level, but the talent disparity is too great. Spurs in 4.

Oklahoma City vs.Memphis: The Thunder have Kevin Durant. That's probably enough to win. The Grizzlies are better than their rankings suggest, since Marc Gasol is back and healthy. I'd expect the Grizzlies to try and feed the big men and beat the hell out of the Thunder down low. Will that mean lots of Kendrick Perkins stifling OKC's offense, possibly more effectively than Memphis can? Probably. Probably too much Perkins and too much Derek Fisher. Scott Brooks loves those guys. I still expect the Thunder to win, though, barring another Westbrook knee injury. I'm just not sure Memphis can score enough. Thunder in 6.

Los Angeles vs. Golden State: The Clippers and the Warriors don't like each other. No surprise, after all, nobody seems to like Blake Griffin. It's very strange to see Golden State ranked 12th in offensive efficiency, and 3rd in defensive. I guess having Igoudala and Bogut will do that for you. Except now Bogut's gone, which ought to mean a field day for the Clippers' offense, since I don't expect Jermaine O'Neal to be much of a rim protector. Basically, I expect the Clips to score at will, and the Warriors to try and go berserk from downtown to keep up. It's not going to work. Clippers in 5.

Houston vs. Portland: The Blazers started strong, then cooled off, but are playing well again of late. The Rockets took some time, but seem to have figured out how to incorporate Howard into their offense, and he makes up for at least some of the defensive deficiencies of, oh, everyone except Patrick Beverly. The Blazers don't seem to have any luck stopping Harden or Howard, which is a problem. The Blazers need to hit a lot of threes to have success, which could be good or bad. It's very feast or famine. The Rockets shoot a lot of threes too, but they seem to have more drive and kick, shoot free throws to their offense. I think the Rockets are the better team, but not good enough to close the Blazers out with authority, especially in Portland. Factor in Portalnd winning at least a game based off insane 3-point shooting, and Rockets in 7.

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Sunday, March 09, 2014

Looking At Arizona Drafts Over The Last 20 Years - Round 7

End of the line. How many actual productive players will the Cardinals pull from the final round of the draft?

Round 7: (26) - Frank Harvey, Billy Williams, Wesley Leasy, Chad Eaton, Jarius Hayes, Mark Smith, Phil Savoy, Jomo Cousins, Pat Tillman, Ron Janes, Chris Greisen, Sekou Sanyika, Renaldo Hill, Tevita Ofahengaue, Mike Banks, John Navarre, Leron McCoy, Todd Watkins, Ben Patrick, Brandon Keith, LaRod Stephens-Howling, Trevor Canfield, Jim Dray, Demarco Sampson, Nate Potter, D.C. Jefferson

Best: Renaldo Hill. Honorable mention: laRod Stephens-Howling, Pat Tillman

5 guys - Savoy, Cousins, Janes, Ofahengaue, Canfield - never played in an game. 6 - Harvey, Williams, Greisen, Navarre, McCoy, Jefferson - played 10 or less.

Arizona has drafted 5 tight ends in the 7th round over the last 20 years, versus 6 in the first six rounds combined. I understand tight ends are rarely franchise cornerstones, but this seems relevant to their ongoing difficulty finding even one reliable tight end. Freddie Jones is still the most productive one of the last 20 years.

Chad Eaton would seem like a good choice for best pick, if he'd ever played for Arizona. But like Rich Brahm, he was drafted and cut loose to have some moderately productive years for New England and Seattle.

So as far as best goes, it was down to 4 options: Tillman, Hill, Smith, and the Hyphen. Smith started well, the faltered when injuries felled Eric Swann and left Smith facing double teams. Then he held out for a better contract the first half of 1999, then he got the contract, came back, and promptly hurt himself. He'd be getting selected entirely on the basis of his 1998 season.

Tillman is certainly the most notable pick, and he was a starting safety for 3 years. His AVs are sort of mediocre, he was good for about 1 INT and 1 forced fumble a season. If he'd kept it up for another few seasons, maybe, but he felt he was needed elsewhere.

Hill can make a case for having the best overall career of anyone. His AV is just about even with Eaton's, and he played in more games. Some of them were even for Arizona! Most of his best seasons were as a safety for Miami or Denver, but he had a solid 2003 for the Cardinals, and was starting at cornerback 3 years overall.

Stephens-Howling's issue is lack of playing time. He was on the team for 4 years, but mostly as a special teams player or rarely used change-of-pace back. He never topped even 500 yards combined rushing or receiving, never had more than 4 touchdowns in a season. He lead the NFL in kick return yardage in 2010, but his yards and average fell well off after that.

I'm skipping Worst this round. By this point, I'm not sure what would qualify, unless I wanted to single out some year where they drafted two tight ends, or pick on Arizona for signing Eaton but letting him get away.

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Monday, March 03, 2014

Looking At Arizona Drafts Over the Last 20 Years - Round 6

Nearing the end of the line.

Round 6: (25) - Terry Samuels, Anthony Bridges, Mike Foley, Rod Brown, Tony McCombs, Zack Walz, Coby Rhineheart, Melvin Bradley, Dennis McKinley, Jabari Issa, Bobby Newcombe, Josh Scobey, Reggie Wells, Tony Gilbert, Nick Leckey, Jonathan Lewis, Chris Harrington, Will Davis, Jorrick Calvin, Quan Sturdivant, David Carter, Justin Bethel, Ryan Lindley, Ryan Swope, Andre Ellington

Best: Reggie Wells. Honorable mention: Leckey, Ellington, Bethel

Worst: Ryan Lindley. Dishonorable mention: Dennis McKinley

Six of these guys - Bridges, Foley, Brown, Newcombe, Sturdivant, Swope - haven't played a game in the NFL. Four - Bradley, Lewis, Harrington, Lindley - played fewer than 10 games. That does not preclude Lindley from getting worst, because god damn it, watching him play QB was fucking painful. How do you throw over 170 passes, with Larry freakin' Fitzgerald on your team, and not manage to throw a single TD pass? He is the only guy the Cardinals have drafted in the last 20 years with a negative AV. That's how terrible he was. As for McKinley, can't believe Arizona felt it necessary to draft two fullbacks that year, and McKinley couldn't even beat out Makovicka.

I'm pretty impressed with the 2004 draft. Nick Leckey played in 65 games, and recorded an AV of 15, and that only makes him the 5th best pick they made in that draft, behind Fitzgerald, Dockett, Dansby, and Antonio Smith. And he's just about even with Stepanovich. Even so, I wouldn't give the nod to Leckey. Also, as much as I like Lindley's 2012 6th round draft cohort, I can't give it to Justin Bethel. He's a very useful special teams player. Incredibly useful. But that just merits an honorable mention. So it goes to Reggie Wells. He was a starting o-lineman for 6 years, with an AV of 43 over that span, which is pretty solid. I think he has the highest AV of any Cardinals' offensive lineman they've signed in the last 20 years. Admittedly, that ain't saying much, he ranks around 65th all-time. But for a 6th round pick, that's not a bad career.

I have hopes Andre Ellington will eventually take this from Wells, assuming his stays healthy and Arians actually gives him more opportunities. But for the moment, that's all potential.

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Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Looking At Arizona Drafts Over The Last 20 Years - Round 5

The nice thing about these later rounds is it helps good players stand out more. There are a lot more bad picks, though.

Round 5: (26) - Anthony Redmon, Cedric Davis, Lance Scott, Tito Paul, James Dexter, Harry Stamps, Dell McGee, Chad Carpenter, Terry Hardy, Paris Johnson, Yusuf Scott, Mao Tosi, Jay Tant, Mario Fatafehi, Jason McAddley, Kenny King, Antonio Smith, Lance Mitchell, Brandon Johnson, Steve Breaston, Tim Hightower, Herman Johnson, John Skelton, Anthony Sherman, Senio Kelemete, Stefan Taylor

Best: Steve Breaston. Honorable mentions: Anthony Redmon, Antonio Smith.

Worst: Terry Hardy. Dishonorable mention: John Skelton.

Oh John Skelton, you broke my heart.

5 of the 26 picks never played a game in the NFL: Cedric Davis, Harry Stamps, Chad Carpenter, Paris Johnson, Herman Johnson. There are two others who played in less than 10 games: Jay Tant, Dell McGee. I could add Kelemete to that, but he's still in the league, so I figure there's a chance he'll get more playing time in the future.

There are a lot of guys who played in a surprising number of games, but didn't accomplish much going by AV. Tito Paul has an 8 in 67 games (a 3 in 31 games for Arizona), Terry Hardy a 4 in just 49 games. Arizona never has really started using their tight ends much, no matter how many coaches and offensive coordinators promise to do so.Coby Rhineheart managed a 5 in 61 games. I don't know if these guys were just really bad, or if they were mostly special teamers, and that limits their impact. My guess is the latter, though the former probably had something to do with the latter.

I remember Fatafehi, Tosi, and King from those early 2000s seasons when they had no pass rush, so they kept using lots of draft picks on d-linemen, but they all mostly sucked. Fatafehi at least had a couple of mildly productive seasons after he left, much like Calvin Pace hit his stride after moving to the Jets.

I mostly remember McAddley from late 2002, when the team's top 3 wideouts were all hurt, and they were using anyone they had or could sign off the street. It was him, Nate Poole, and Kevin Kasper by the end of the year, I think. I was going to say I don't even remember Brandon Johnson. Then I saw he only played 9 of his 87 games for the Cardinals. That might explain it.

The Best selections come down to about 4 guys: Redmon, Antonio Smith, Breaston, Hightower. Hightower couldn't stop fumbling, and only kept getting playing time because Beanie Wells couldn't stay healthy. Smith has been much better in his 5 years with the Texans (AV of 38) than his 5 years with Arizona (AV of 20). Redmon was OK for a couple of years, but nothing much overall. Breaston is the guy Arizona thought made Anquan Boldin redundant. Note: Breaston was not actually good enough to do that. Observe that Boldin's still a #1 or 2 receiver for teams that go to championship games, while Breaston can't even crack the starting lineup as part of the Chiefs' sorry-ass receiving corps.

And yet, I think it's Breaston. He wasn't as good as Boldin, but it isn't his fault the team decided he could take Boldin's place. The problem is none of them really stand out. They each had roughly one good year. 2007 for Smith, 1996 for Redmon (though his '97 is almost as good). 2009 for Hightower. Breaston has 2008, which is rated as being better than any of the other guys best season. So I give him the nod.

I gave the worsts to Hardy and Skelton over all those guys who didn't play or barely played because I figure at this stage, a guy getting drafted but not making on the field isn't such a big deal. But a guy apparently showing enough of something to get repeated playing time, then doing basically nothing with it, that's more of a problem. Either it's a problem with the player, or the coaching staff. They see what isn't there, or don't know how to develop what talent they see. I could have used Tito Paul or Yusuf Scott, but the disastrous end of the Skelton Experiment still stings, so he takes the hit.

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Friday, February 21, 2014

Looking At Arizona Drafts Over the Last 20 Years - Round 4

Sorry, fell behind there. Honestly, by this point, it's going to be hard to pick a "worst". So many 4th round picks don't pan out.

Round 4: (20) - Perry Carter, John Reese, Terry Irving, Aaron Graham, Chris Dishman, Michael Pittman, Joel Mackovicka, David Barrett, Bill Gramatica, Marcus Bell, Nate Dwyer, Alex Stepanovich, Gabe Watson, Kenny Iwebema, Greg Toler, O'Brien Schofield, Sam Acho, Bobby Massie, Alex Okafor, Earl Watford

Best: Sam Acho. Honorable mention: Dishman, Graham

Worst: Gramatica. Dishonorable mention: Dwyer, Reese, Makovicka, Iwebema

Yes, the Cardinals drafted a kicker with a 4th round pick. A Gramatica, no less. Just not the good Gramatica. Instead, they picked the one who blew out his knee jumping around celebrating a first quarter field goal. That gets worst pick just on principle. Dwyer never played a game, Reese only five. Iwebema played in 31 games, but had almost no impact. As for Makovicka, that's a more emotional selection.

They've drafted 6 offensive linemen in those 20 picks. They've only drafted 7 offensive linemen in the first 3 rounds combined over the same time period. Which probably explains a lot about their struggles in that area over the last 20 years. Of course, the best of the early round picks was probably Rich Brahm, who never even played for them. That or Leonard Davis. I'm not sure who's the best of the 4th rounders. Stepanovich, maybe.

I was surprised that Arizona had parted company with 2010 and 2009's selection, Schofield and Toler, but both are still in the league, suggesting they're still useful players. But they haven't been that great. Pittman had a pretty decent career outside of Arizona. Not as good as Thomas Jones, but Pittman was better in Arizona. I don't remember the Joel Makovicka era fondly. He was the guy arizona drafted because they were too cheap to keep Larry Centers, and because they thought they could switch to a power running game. Because some Nebraska fullback was going to compensate for the overall awfulness of the offensive line.

I selected Acho because he's been the most productive for the amount of time he's actually been on the time. The guys with roughly similar levels of value, did so in a lot more playing time than Acho. he's at 35 games, Stepanovich played 46, Dishman had over 90 games and almost 60 starts, Graham 62 games and 40 starts.

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Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Looking At Arizona Drafts Over the Last 20 Years - Round 3

We're back for the 3rd round. A couple of big successes, a few guys who were useful players for a few years, and a lot of guys who didn't do much.

Round 3: (22) - Rich Braham, Eric England, Stoney Case, Johnny McWilliams, Ty Howard, Tom Burke, Darwin Walker, Adrian Wilson, Josh McCown, Dennis Johnson, Gerald Hayes, Darnell Dockett, Eric Green, Darryl Blackstock, Leonard Pope, Buster Davis, Early Doucet, Rashad Johnson, Andre Roberts, Rob Housler, Jamell Fleming, Tyrann Mathieu

Best: Darnell Dockett. Honorable mention: Adrian Wilson.

Worst: Buster Davis. Dishonorable mentions: Blackstock, Pope, Howard, McWilliams, England

The choice for Best was easy. Dockett and Wilson are 2 of the best players the franchise have had at their respective positions. At the end of the day, Dockett's accrued more value in less time, probably because of Wilson's weaknesses in pass coverage. Dockett's still playing at a high level, which is encouraging. Darwin Walker and Rich Braham had the next best careers, but none of it was with Arizona. To a lesser extent, the same is true of Josh McCown. Less success away from Arizona, more success with them. Gerald Hayes had a good run with Arizona, nothing spectacular, but a solid contributor.

There's a lot of mediocrity. Guys who had scattered moments, but have eventually be moved aside for more reliable performers. Roberts, Doucet, Housler. there's even more guys who did very little. Any of the dishonorable mentions could have been tagged "worst", I went with Davis because he only played in 7 games, so he didn't really stick around long enough to do anything. The others were at least there long enough to try. And comprehensively demonstrate they were not useful, but staying on the field is half the battle.

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Tuesday, February 04, 2014

Looking At Arizona Drafts Over the Last 20 Years - Round 2

We went over the concept last week, but as reminder: I'm only counting a draft pick's performance with Arizona. If they stank with the Cardinals, but went on to great success elsewhere, it's not gonna help them. This week, Round 2, which has some very good players, a few promising current players, and a lot of utter failures.

I'm going to start listing all of the players, from furthest back to most recent.

Round 2: (21) - Chuck Levy, Frank Sanders, Leeland McElroy, Jake Plummer, Corey Chavous, Anthony Clement, Johnny Rutledge, Raynoch Thompson, Kyle Vanden Bosch, Michael Stone, Levar Fisher, Anquan Boldin, Karlos Dansby, J.J. Arrington, Deuce Lutui, Alan Branch, Calais Campbell, Cody Brown, Daryl Washington, Ryan Williams, Kevin Minter

Best: Anquan Boldin, Karlos Dansby. Honorable mention: Sanders, Campbell

Worst: Cody Brown. Dishonorable mentions: Levar Fisher, Johnny Rutledge

It's a real testament to Cody Brown that he won, considering some of the other options. Fisher and Rutledge were both linebackers who were barely able to get on the field, and only in special teams at that. Rutledge started a grand total of 3 games in the 4 seasons he was in Arizona. Raynoch Thompson was at least a starter for a few seasons. Vanden Bosch was hurt a lot, but was somewhat productive when he could play. Michael Stone might have been another choice, as a safety who never managed to make an impact. But it's hard to argue with a 2nd-round pick who never played a game in the NFL, and thus, Cody Brown wins.

On the positive side, there were enough good players I couldn't even list Plummer as an honorable mention. Or Daryl Washington for that matter. I think Washington has a good chance at being the best 2nd rounder here in a few years, assuming Arizona holds onto him, and he avoids more drug suspensions. I gave Campbell the nod over Washington since he's been around longer, and a bit steadier.

As for the best, it was either Boldin or Dansby. They were both Cardinals for a long time, they've both been Pro Bowl caliber players for the Cards, they're near the Top 20 in AV for the franchise. I lean towards Boldin, just because I've always been a fan of his, but Dansby came on with such a good year this year, that it's hard not to give him the nod. So they share it.

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Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Looking At Arizona Drafts Over The Last 20 Years - Round 1

It doesn't look like the St. Louis Cardinals are going to do much of anything for the time being, so I thought I'd crank out some of those odd posts I do from time to time. I have one planned for the baseball Cards in the future, though it's more revisiting something I did several years ago. For now, though, we'll look at the Arizona Cardinals.

This year marked the 21st season that I've been an Arizona Cardinals fan. Which means they've had 20 drafts since then. I wanted to look at the best and worst picks they've made in each round. To be clear, I'm interested in what the players did for Arizona only. Which is why Chad Eaton (1995) is not their best 7th round pick. He never played a down for them. I'm probably going to reserve judgment on most of the picks from 2013, simply because so few of them have substantive playing time so far.

1st Round (21 total picks):

Best: Larry Fitzgerald. Honorable mention: Patrick Peterson

Worst: Wendell Bryant. Dishonorable mentions: Matt Leinart, Levi Brown

The Cardinals actually haven't flubbed as many first round picks as I feared. Oh they've botched several, but as you'd expect (hope?) they actually managed to find quite a few good players in there. Unfortunately, being the Cardinals, many of those guys didn't find success until they left Arizona.

Simeon Rice was pretty good for the Cardinals, disinterest in run defense aside, but he had his two best seasons by far after he joined the Buccaneers. Thomas Jones ran for almost 10,600 yards, but less than 1,300 of those were in Arizona, where he couldn't hold the starting job over first Michael Pittman, and then Marcel Shipp. I don't know how useful or accurate Pro-Football Reference's AV statistic is, but just for point of comparison, it rates Leonard Davis as being worth 39 AV in 6 seasons with Arizona (which would still rank him as one of their 5 best O-linemen of the last 20 years), but 42 in just 4 seasons with Dallas. In 5 years with the Cards, Calvin Pace had 14.5 sacks, 1 INT, forced 5 fumbles, and recovered 4. In 6 years with the Jets, the numbers are 38 sacks, 2 INTs, 14 forced fumbles, and 6 recoveries. Some of that could attributed to the players around him, but surely some credit has to be given to the various Jets' coaching staffs, which were able to get production out of him the Cardinals could only dream of.

Or maybe they just gave up on him at the wrong moment. His highest AV with Arizona was the 8 he posted his last year there. Since joining the Jets, he's posted 9, 8, 7, 9, 9, 8. So maybe he simply hit his stride too late to convince Arizona to keep him. Antrell Rolle's best years have been with the Giants, though it's two widely separated (2010 and 2013) seasons, with a bunch of much weaker years, roughly similar to his Arizona years, clustered around and between them. Maybe 2013 and 2010 are fluke years, or perhaps it's a consequence of him playing safety exclusively for the Giants, while he was a cornerback until his last season in Arizona. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie was traded to help get Kevin Kolb, which was certainly a mistake, but he hasn't been that spectacular outside of a season and a half for Arizona, and this year in Denver.

For players that actually stuck and had success, Fitzgerald has to be the runaway winner. He's, if not one of the 10 best players in franchise history, very close to it. He owns pretty much all the cumulative receiving records in franchise history, and that's having spent 3 consecutive years catching passes from shitty QBs. Patrick Peterson has a chance at challenging down the line if he can maintain or even improve his play at CB, and Michael Floyd looks promising, but those guys have 3 and 2 seasons under their belts, respectively, and can't stack up to Fitzgerald. Beyond them, there are a few guys who had some decent seasons, but either weren't with the team long, or never moved beyond solid players. Jamir Miller for one (who might also qualify as a player who excelled after leaving, since he had easily his best season while a member of the Browns), and the two first rounders they had in 1999 draft, David Boston and L.J. Shelton.

Among the worst picks, there were several options. Given how little he did for Arizona, Jones was briefly under consideration. Matt Leinart would have been an even better choice. After all, Jones at least had a 189 yard day against Seattle in 2002. Likewise, Beanie Wells at least had one 1,000 yard season, plus other stretches of useful play. I'm not sure what Leinart's signature moment with Arizona would be. The Monday Night game where they blew the 20-3 lead against the Bears, because Denny Green kept having Edgerrin James futilely slam into the center of the line? That game against the Titans in '09, where Vince Young engineered the 98-yard drive to beat the Cardinals while Warner was out that week? Maybe that game where he threw 51 times against the Vikings, because Denny felt their running game was so bad there was no point even trying to run (they had 6 rushes in a game they lost 31-26)?

I also considered Levi Brown, for being rated the worst starting left tackle in the NFL at one point, but he also had stretches of competent play. Bryant Johnson wasn't even the best wide receiver Arizona took in the first 2 rounds of the 2003 draft. But he was useful as a third receiver, and at least a few other teams gave him chances once he left the Cardinals. At the end of the day, I had to give it to Wendell Bryant, who managed 1.5 sacks and 28 tackles in 2 years as a regular for Arizona (plus another seasons where he played in just 3 games). the thing is, the Cardinals' defensive lines of the 2002-2004 years were pretty awful. Someone needed to step up, and you'd sort of expect the first round pick to be the guy. Nope, he couldn't even manage to be the starter, nor did any other team take a flyer on him after Arizona cut him loose.

I had thought I might do all the rounds in one post, but I rambled a lot more than I expected, so I guess I'll plan on one round per post for the time being.

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Monday, January 06, 2014

Back To The Other Cardinals

In the month since the last post, the St. Louis Cardinals have only made one move of note, which was to sign Mark Ellis to a one year contract.

This isn't a bad idea. Ellis is a somewhat below average hitter these days (OPS+ the last three years: 68, 93, 92), but he's better than average for a second baseman. He bats righthanded, which makes him a decent platoon partner for Kolten Wong. He grades out as solidly above-average defensively at the position, so this wouldn't hamper St. Louis' defense improving moves earlier this offseason. The last two years, as a starter for the Dodgers, he's been worth 2.5 and 3.0 WAR. If it comes to pass he needs to play everyday, his track record suggests he can at least be an average second baseman overall.

The one thing that concerns me is that he's a temptation Matheny might not be able to resist. Wong is young, inexperienced at the major league level, and what experience he has isn't particularly positive. When he was called up in August, it was to allow Matt Carpenter to move back to 3rd, in the hopes that Carpenter/Wong would be more productive than Freese/Carpenter. Matheny stuck with him for about 10 days. Wong had 25 of his 62 PAs from August 16th (his first game) and August 24th (his 9th). He made 6 starts in that time. Wong played in 23 of the Cardinals' remaining 33 games after that, but collected just 37 PAs, and just 4 starts.

Granted, Wong hit absolutely horribly, but Freese was hardly setting the world on fire. Not before Wong was called up, and not after Wong was effectively benched. Wong was, at the very least, an average defensive presence, if not better, and could conceivably add some value on the basepaths. Freese couldn't manage either. If Wong is to be the franchise second baseman, as the team seems to hope, he has to learn to hit major league pitching. It's very difficult to do that without regular playing time, getting one pinch hit chance per game.

Presumably Matheny felt he had to focus on winning, and that Freese being back in the lineup was the best chance of that. Fair enough. But the Cardinals are likely expected to contend this year as well, so what worries me is if Wong struggles again out of the gates, how much of a leash does he get? How soon does Ellis start grabbing 60%, 70% or more of the at-bats, while Wong sits on the bench?

Luis Alicea had an awful 1988, when he was made the starting second baseman after the trade of Tom Herr to Minnesota. The only season by a Cardinals second baseman in my lifetime that's worse, is Adam Kennedy's 2007. Herzog did eventually send Alicea back down and hand 2nd base to Jose Oquendo - who held the job for three more years before injuries provided another chance for Alicea (and Geronimo Pena) - but he at least gave Alicea 330 PAs first. I would assume the front office would like to see Wong get some more playing time, and Matheny knows this, but I'd also imagine he's given leeway in that regard. I trust him more than I would LaRussa, and I'm glad Ellis is here to bolster the bench, and as a "just in case", but I'd really like to see Wong succeed and become the Cardinals' starting second baseman for the next decade.

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Monday, December 30, 2013

Nice Try, Little Cardinal

It didn't wind up mattering, not with Tampa being blown out by the Saints, or Atlanta suffering a very Arizona-type loss last Monday night, but Arizona lost to the Niners 23-20. For some reason, the Cardinals thought it would be a good idea to spot the Niners a 17-point lead.

You'd think they would have learned from their last loss, against Philly, when they spotted the Eagles a 10 point lead. You can get away with that crap against the Jacksonville's of the world, but not actual good teams. And sure enough, Arizona, despite an impressive comeback that saw them tie the game at 17, then again at 20, wound up losing. Arizona lost the turnover battle, with Palmer throwing a pick and Mendenhall fumbling, while San Francisco committed no turnovers. It's only the second time all year Arizona failed to force a turnover, the other occasion being, you guessed it, the loss to Philadelphia.

Depending on which metric you use, Palmer may still have out-played Kaepernick. Quarterback rating leans heavily to Kaepernick, 111.2 to 89.4. ESPN's QBR actually gives the nod to Palmer, 73.8 to 68.6. Even beyond the fact the Niners won, I'd be inclined to give it to Kaepernick. He didn't turn the ball over, averaged 9.1 yards per attempt, and scrambled for an additional 24 yards. He was sacked twice, and I guess QBR is penalizing him for not accomplishing much in the middle of the game. After all, San Fran scored 17 points in the first quarter, then didn't accomplish doodley-squat until the last 2 minutes of the game.

Anyway, Palmer finishes 10-6, though he can hardly claim sole credit for those wins. Most of the losses are his, though. Even so, that makes him just the second Arizona QB with a winning record since I've followed them, and Palmer is at least considerably better than Jay Schroeder. Still, 22 INTs is unacceptable. Maybe he'd be better with another full year in Arians' system, especially if Arizona could upgrade the offensive line. But the persistent problem is he doesn't play that well against good teams. Or maybe it's more accurate to say he plays poorly to start against good teams, then rebounds later in the game. After he's put his team in a big hole. This week for example, the earlier loss to the Niners, last week against Seattle, the Eagles game. I'm not asking for him to come out and score two TDs each week in the first quarter - though that'd be swell - but at least stop shooting the team in the foot with turnovers. Arizona's defense was 6th in turnovers, but Arizona's 17th in turnover differential (at -1) in large part because of Palmer.

Mendenhall and Ellington both fell short of 700 yards rushing this year, as Arizona as a team had only 83 yards on 22 carries. Still beats San Francisco's 83 yards on 23 carries. Yeah, take that, Niners. Arizona had a whole 0.2 yards more per carry. If Mendenhall's going to be around next year, hopefully Arians puts his brain in gear and switches the number of touches the two backs get. Mendenhall averaged 15.7 touches, producing 54.7 yards. Ellington averaged 10.5 touches, netting 68.2 yards. Yeah, might want to get the productive back more touches next year.

Arizona might also want to upgrade their special teams. Feely missed 4 field goals from inside 40 yards, so maybe my confidence in him is misplaced. Or maybe it's just a bad stretch. I'm more concerned with their coverage and return units. Especially the return units. Peterson only averaged 6 yards per punt return, and Javier Arenas just 21.4 yards on kick returns. I don't know if that's down to the two of them, or if Arizona needs to work harder on blocking to open up lanes, but it needs to improve. The offense can use every bit of help it can get.

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Monday, December 23, 2013

Holy Crap, Cardinals

Arizona went into Seattle and beat the Seahawks 17-10. It wasn't pretty; Palmer threw 4 INTs - two in the end zone - and had less than 200 yards passing. 6 of Arizona's 16 first downs were off Seattle penalties. Arizona may have gotten some favorable calls on a possible Mendenhall fumble and that interception Wilson threw. In both cases, if the refs' initial ruling had been different - meaning, that Mendenhall did fumble, or the pick bounced off the ground and not Baldwin's arm - those rulings likely would have stood. But the initial rulings were different, and they went in Arizona's favor.

Which isn't to take away from Arizona's victory. They earned that win. Seattle has a heck of a defense - just look at those stats I mentioned above, then throw in Arizona's 6-for-19 on 3rd down -  but Arizona's defense bested them. Handily.

Arizona only had 16 first downs? Seattle had 10. Arizona goes 6-19 on 3rd down? Seattle was 2-13. Arizona manages 307 yards of offense, at 4.4 yards per play? Seattle only gets 192 yards, at 3.8 yards per play. Seattle sacked Palmer twice? Arizona got Russell Wilson 4 times. Arizona gave up 60 yards on 11 carries to Marshawn Lynch in the first half, then held him to 11 yards on 7 carries in the second half. And they enjoyed some Skittles on the sidelines. Sorry, Beast Mode.

Arizona's offense wasn't entirely useless, either. They ran the ball 43 times for 139 yards, which helps explain why Arizona won time of possession by almost 15 minutes. Much like last week, the yardage was split fairly evenly. Mendenhall had 63 yards on 21 carries, Andre Ellington had 64 on 15. I know the Cardinals aren't going have a 1,000 yard back this season, but they have 2 guys each with an outside chance at 700 yards, which isn't too shabby.

And I need to give a nice nod to the special teams. Jay Feely's been killing it all year (I think he's missed one field goal, and had another blocked), added 3 more FGs yesterday. Dave Zastudil averaged 49 yards per punt, and had 3 of them downed inside the 20. That helps a defense out a lot, when the other team has to march a long way against them to score. It's why I get so frustrated when the offense turns the ball over in their own territory, because it puts the squeeze on the defense. And Justin Bethel recovered a fumble for Arizona. Glad he's in there, making plays.

Unfortunately, Carolina beat New Orleans. I don't have anything against the Panthers; but Arizona had a tie-breaker over them and not the Saints. So it was in the Cardinals' favor for the Panthers to lose, where the Arizona could edge them out for a wild card. Now Arizona, in addition to needing to beat the 49ers next week, need either for the Niners to lose to Atlanta tonight, or for the Saints to blow it against Tampa next week. Both the Saints and the 49ers will be at home for those games, so that's a tall order.

It won't mean anything if Arizona can't beat San Francisco, though, which I'm sure will be a tall order. The Niners have an outside shot at the division now, so they'll be fired up. Arizona let Vernon Davis go for 180 yards last time, and now the Niners have Patrick Peterson's personal Kryptonite, Michael Crabtree, back in action.

But at least there's a chance.

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Tuesday, December 17, 2013

The Cardinal Narrowly Escapes The Jaws of Death

You know how last week I said the problem with facing a QB who was just good enough for his team to almost win, is it only takes a few fortunate happenstances for him to win? I didn't expect Arizona to do their best to prove my point.

Arizona pissed away a 34-17 lead in about 3 minutes, then managed to pull it out in overtime, 37-34. The Titans accumulated 32 first downs, 460 yards of offense. Fitzpatrick went 36-58 for 402 yards (394 once you subtract the yards lost on his 3 sacks). He threw 4 TDs, but also 2 INTs, including the one that gave Arizona the ball in OT.

I had thought perhaps Arizona looked past Tennessee, to the trip to Seattle this week, but it seems it was more a matter of the defense being unsettled since Mathieu's injury. That's apparently turned the secondary upside-down, and they spent most of this game blowing assignments and leaving guys uncovered. If they're going to have any chance against the Seahawks, they better get things sorted quickly. Russell Wilson is a lot better than Ryan Fitzpatrick.

I saw someone say the offense bailed the defense out on this one. While that would certainly be a nice change of pace, I'm not sure how accurate that is. Arizona lost time of possession by three minutes, was out-gained by 100 yards and 8 first downs. The offense did avoid any turnovers, and Andre Ellington and Rashard Mendenhall combined for 140 yards on the ground. Ellington got his 71 yards on 10 carries, Mendenhall needed 21 carries for just 69 yards, which is largely in keeping with their respective performances up to this point.

This was a good game for the offense, don't get me wrong, but I wouldn't say they won the game exactly. 360 yards of offense isn't that good, and the defense still had to force 3 turnovers and score a touchdown of their own (Antoine Cason returned an INT to the house) to pull this game out.

Either way, both sides of the ball are going to have to up their game, which might be harder for the offense than the defense. Larry Fitzgerald was concussed during the game, so there's no telling whether he'll be good to go this weekend. I would totally understand if Fitz doesn't want to go, because brain trauma is nothing to sneeze at. I hope he can play, though. If Arizona has any hope in Seattle, they need to attack the Seahawks' secondary, which I'm pretty sure is still without some of their cornerbacks. Not having Fitzgerald would seriously impair their ability to do that.

But it may be moot. Larry would have to be medically cleared, and feel confident enough in himself to play. And even then, you could hardly pick Arizona to win. Seattle is the best team in the NFL right now, and even better at home. Arizona's good, but that's a steep order, Fitzgerald or no.

But Arizona pretty much has to win this game to have any hope of making the playoffs. Even though one of New Orleans or Carolina is sure to lose this week, the Cardinals have to win to tie them (and the Saints would have the tie-breaker over the Cards, while the Panthers wouldn't). And I wouldn't bet on San Francisco losing to the Falcons. Arizona has to keep winning.

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Monday, December 09, 2013

Welcome A Cardinal Back To The Mad Playoff Rush

Arizona crushed the Rams 30-10 yesterday, moving to 8-5 on the season. Carson Palmer didn't practice this week, due to a sore elbow, but he played really well. 27-32, 269 yards, 1 TD. No INTs, no fumbles, only sacked once. Considering how Robert Quinn practically set up residence in Arizona's backfield in Week 1, major kudos to the O-line. Or the coaching staff. Or both. Palmer seems to have stuck to mostly short passes - Fitzgerald had 12 catches, but only 96 yards - which could have been an acknowledgement of either his elbow, or the the Ram's pass rush.

Arizona ran the ball 32 times. Only for 107 yards, but the commitment to the run is encouraging. Keeps the pressure off Palmer. Between rushes and catches, Andre Ellington had 13 touches for 63 yards and a TD. Nice to see him back in the lineup.

The defense did its usual fine job, outside of that one 56 yard run by Tavon Austin. Besides that, the Rams had 44 yards on 18 carries. I'll take that. They sacked Kellen Clemens 4 times, including a safety by John Abraham, and intercepted him twice, with Karlos Dansby returning his for a TD. That's 2 TDs in the last 3 games for Karlos. Anyway, the Rams had 257 yards of total offense, and the lost 90 yards on penalties. Arizona lost only 31, though there's video evidence of Darnell Dockett stomping on the hand of a Ram. That'll draw a fine, maybe a suspension depending on how Goodell's feeling. I wouldn't expect a suspension, but you can't tell with the Ginger Hammer.

The defense did get some bad news, as Tyrann Mathieu may have torn his ACL. If they thought it was that bad an injury on the field, I doubt it'll turn out to be something he can come back from before season's end. This stinks. Mathieu made a few mistakes, but there was real promise, and I'm not sure how many safeties can also be their team's nickel cornerback. I'm not sure what this means for Arizona's secondary. Rashad Johnson takes over at safety, I guess, but I'm not sure who the third CB is now. I feel bad for Mathieu, who I feel like got a bad rap because of how things went at LSU. So he smoked some pot, big whoop. Hardly seems like an offense worthy of being booted from the team, but Les Miles is a man known for questionable decision making skills, so perhaps no surprise he did so again. Anyway, to whatever extent things were going wrong in Mathieu's life, he seemed to be doing fine, his career was off to a good start, and now this.

At this stage, Arizona's still on the outside of the playoff picture. Let's say Dallas wins tonight. No guarantee, given Dallas' defense, but the Bears' run defense is even more pitiful, so let's work from that assumption. That puts Dallas in the lead for the NFC East, because they beat Philly the one time the teams played so far. Which makes Philly 7th in the seeding, ahead of Arizona because they beat the Cards last week. Carolina and the 49ers would be the two wild cards.

I would say what the Cardinals need is for one of the two East teams to collapse, allowing the other to win the division, while ensuring Arizona has a better record than the collapsing team. Given Dallas' D, and their past history of December swoons, they're the more likely candidate. Plus, if Philly's winning the division, their tiebreaker over Arizona is irrelevant.

The other thing is for either Carolina or San Fran to go into a swoon. The Panthers still have a game against the Saints, although it's in Carolina. But if Arizona can keep winning, they only need to make up one win. Then they have the same record as the Panthers, and Arizona has the tiebreaker over Carolina, from curbstomping them back before the Panthers started their winning streak. The Cardinals do get to play the Niners, so they could actively shape their fate there. But that game isn't until Week 17. It may be too late by then.

And none of it will matter if Arizona loses to the Titans next week. That's the closest thing to a gimmie the Cards have left on their schedule, and it's no cakewalk. The Titans gave the Broncos all they could handle for a half, and that was in Denver. Arizona has to go on the road to play the Titans. Granted, Arizona's defense is considerably better than Denver's, but the gap between Arizona and Denver's offenses might be even larger. I joke about Ryan Fitzpatrick, that's he just good enough so his teams lose close, but not good enough to win. Problem is, if you're a good enough QB to keep your team close, then all it takes is a fortunate bounce or bad call by the refs to take the team the rest of the way. So I'm concerned. Arizona's not nearly good enough to consider this a sure thing.

Still, them having a chance to make the playoffs, and for the offense to be actively helping it happen, is more than I might have expected at the beginning of the season.

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Friday, December 06, 2013

Checking In With The Other Cardinals

I thought I'd look in on what the St. Louis Cardinals had been up to a few times during the offseason, but they may have taken care of all their needs already. There are three moves of note, and I'll take them in turn.

1) Cards make Carlos Beltran a qualifying offer. It was for 1 year, $14 million, and Beltran turned it down. Wisely, since there appear to be teams willing to pay him 14 million for multiple seasons. The Cardinals, wisely, are not one of those teams. Beltran's going to be 37 next year, and his value is entirely tied up in his bat at this point. He's lost the speed that made him a superb base-runner, and good arm or not, he's a real defensive liability in the outfield. I don't forsee either of those problems going away as he gets even older, which puts more pressure on his bat, and well, Carlos' bat shows a tendency to flag as the season progresses. In 2013, his first half OPS was .879; the second half was .758. In 2012 the first half OPS was .924; .742 in the second half. In both seasons, his slugging percentage dropped by over 100 points in the second half. This year, he went from 13 doubles and 19 HRs, to 17 and 5. A Carlos Beltran who posts above or near a .900 OPS, is probably worth committing to for multiple seasons. One who posts a mid-700s OPS is not.

It seems likely Allen Craig will take over in RF next season. I'm not sure how well that will go. I expect he will hit, but historically, his defense numbers in the outfield have been worse than Beltran's. Now that he's had a Lisfranc fracture in his foot, on top of that knee injury from a couple seasons ago, I don't expect that will improve. The Cardinals do have defensive options, though, if they're willing to take them.

2). Trade David Freese, Fernando Salas for Peter Bourjos and Randall Grichuk. A lot of people are touting this as a clear win for the Cardinals, and I certainly hope they're right. But both teams tried trading from a position of strength, to address a weakness, by essentially swapping players with injury-plagued careers. Th Cards figured they didn't need Freese because of Matt Carpenter and Kolten Wong, and the Angels needed a 3rd baseman. The Angels don't need Bourjos' spectacular CF defense because they have Mike Trout; the Cards had a horrible outfield defense.

When Mozeliak announced the trade, he made it sound a forgone conclusion that Bourjos is the new starting centerfielder. Matheny was less certain of that, and it sounds like Jay is going to have the chance to earn the job in Spring Training, which is probably the right thing to do for a guy who has been the starter the last 2 seasons, and who you hope will be a valuable bench player if he isn't the starter. Whether they have a Tony LaRussa style "open competition", where the winner is pre-ordained, or an actual competition is yet to be seen.

Of course, even if Bourjos wins the job, he has to stay healthy, and in that regard, he's even worse than Freese. Both have been regulars in the majors for 4 seasons now. Freese has never had less than 270 plate appearances in a season, and has over 500 each of the last 2 years. Bourjos has topped 200 plate appearances exactly once, in 2011 when he collected over 500 PAs. The rest of the time, he's struggled with hamstring issues (bad for a guy banking on defense and speed for most of his value), and injuries to his wrist from being hit with pitches (which hasn't one his offense any good). Bourjos' hitting fluctuates wildly from year to year: his seasonal OPS+ go 69, 116, 72, 102. Overall, he a slightly below average (98) hitter, but that's a lot of variation. He doesn't walk much (about 5.5% of the time), and his power has dropped. In 2011, his ISO was 167, the last two years it's been 95 and 103. That's probably a function of the wrist injuries, but the question is, can he regain some of that power as he distances himself from those injuries, or is it gone forever?

Because if he can get that power back, well, it's worth noting that in 2011, Baseball-Reference has him listed as being worth over 5 wins. The only Cardinals that beat that in 2013 were Matt Carpenter, Wainwright, and Molina. And he only turns 27 this season, so if the injuries haven't killed his swing entirely, he still has some peak years ahead of him. That is one definite edge the Cardinals have, that Bourjos is still in his peak years, while Freese has already entered his 30s.

The reason I like this trade is because it improves the Cardinals defensively at 3 positions. Kolten Wong is better than Carpenter at 2nd, Carpenter beats Freese at 3rd, Bourjos beats Jay in CF. Last year may have been an aberration defensively for Jay and Freese (they've typically been about average, maybe a little better), but even if they returned to those levels, Carp/Bourjos still beats it. Assuming Bourjos stays healthy. And he adds some speed to the mix, along with the defense! These are two of my favorite things!

It might be risky to count on Wong to hold down 2nd, but I'm more encouraged by his impressive hitting in AAA over an entire season, than 60 PAs in the majors. Matt Carpenter got a brief call-up early in 2011 (because Freese was hurt), and had 1 hit in 19 PAs (also 4 BBs and 4 Ks). The Cardinals didn't give up on him, and look where he is now. Matt Adams posted a .669 OPS in 91 PAs in 2012. This year, given 319 PAs, it was .839. If you can really hit in AAA (and Wong posted an .835 OPS in a pitcher's environment there this year), you can probably handle the majors all right.

I hope so, anyway. I would really like St. Louis to start an actual second baseman at 2nd, not an outfielder or 3rd baseman. They haven't done so for an entire season since Adam Kennedy in 2008. The fact Wong's supposed to be above-average defensively, and a smart, if not blazingly fast baserunner, doesn't hurt. Put him and Bourjos in the 7th and 8th spots, see if they can get on and start wreaking havoc before the top of the lineup comes along.

Oh, about Salas and Grichuk. That's fine. Salas was going to be hard-pressed to even make the major league club, with all the young arms, so it's more dealing from a surplus. As for Grichuk, he's most likely a corner outfielder, with a lot of power, but little plate discipline. In 5 seasons in the minors (though he's only 22), he's collected 80 walks and 353 strikeouts. In 1855 PAs, so a 4.3% BB rate, and a 19% K rate. The Cardinals already have several promising corner outfielders, but he could always be a decent throw-in prospect in a trade, or maybe he could turn into something useful, if he can learn to take some walks, stop swinging at everything. His K rate was down below 17% this year in AA, so maybe it's coming together?

3). Sign Jhonny Peralta to a 4 year, $52 million contract. I'm reasonably OK with this answer to the SS problem. The Cardinals wanted to get a new SS without surrendering prospects or a draft pick, and Peralta was the only answer that fit those criteria. Stephen Drew was the only other free agent worth the time, and since Boston made him a qualifying offer, he would have cost them a draft pick. I know Drew's a year younger, but I'm not sure he would have been a significantly better option. Once you adjust for Drew spending almost his entire career in hitters' parks, he's actually a worse hitter than Peralta. While Peralta does run the risk of being gone for 100 games if he gets in PED trouble again, Drew has missed over 200 games the last two seasons. He might not be as injury-prone as his big brother J.D., but it's close. It looks like both are basically average defensively, so either would be a drop off from Kozma, with the glove, while more than making up for it in their edge with the bat. Even so, they look like roughly average players, worth 2-3 wins in a given season.

The nice thing is, that still represents a 2-3 win improvement over what StL got from SS this year. It was the only position the Cardinals could significantly improve relatively easily. They could, for example, find someone 2 wins better than Holliday to man LF, but then you're talking around a 5-win player. Those aren't that plentiful, or cheap.

The Cardinals opted for a front-loaded contract, paying Peralta 30 million the first 2 seasons. I've seen a few theories, that the Cardinals have more payroll space now than they will in a few seasons when all those young pitchers get pricey, or they figure Peralta won't be able to stay at SS in a few years. They know he can also play 2nd and 3rd, but they're hoping they won't need him for that (Carp and Wong), but an average 3rd or 2nd baseman making $10 million might be attractive to other teams as a trade target. But that's for the future.

Peralta's not the exciting choice, like Tulowitzki or Elvis Andrus (I have spent entirely too much time the last few days comparing Andrus' offensive numbers to Ozzie Smith's), but he also doesn't cost them Shelby Miller, Rosenthal, Matt Adams, etc. If he gets hurt (a real possibility for Tulo) then you've got nothing. Not the player, or all the guys you traded to get the player.

It's been a pretty good offseason. They upgraded their weakest position, and even if SS is worse a little defensively, upgrading the defense at the 2 positions on either side should mitigate that. The outfield defense is better, they've added speed, they have a lot of positional versatility. Multiple guys who can play infield positions, 4 solid outfielders you can mix-and-match to keep everybody healthy and rested. And they didn't really sacrifice any significant pitching depth to do any of it.

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Monday, December 02, 2013

The Cardinal Ran Into An Eagle. Things Went Poorly

The winning streak was bound to end eventually, and Arizona lost to the Eagles 24-21.

I'm pinning this one on Palmer and the offensive line. The defense held the Eagles to just over 300 yards of offense. Lesean McCoy didn't break 80 yards rushing. The Eagles were 5-for-16 on third down, even worse than Arizona's 4-for-12 (guess last week's game was an aberration). They sacked Foles 5 times. Rashard Mendenhall ran for 76 yards on 18 carries.

But Palmer was also sacked 5 times, and he threw two interceptions, and he lost a fumble on the first drive, handing the Eagles the ball at Arizona's 25. I mentioned this last year, when they lost to the Packers, but it is much more frustrating to be able to watch the game as they're losing, than just seeing the score at the bottom of the screen. I saw the fumble and the resulting Philly touchdown. Then I watched Palmer throw a interception. Then I watched Peterson almost pick off Foles on that deep pass to the end zone, but Desean Jackson did a good job playing defense and swatted it away. Oh, I wanted that pick, especially when Philly scored a TD about 5 plays later.

At this point, Arizona's on the outside of the playoff picture looking in, and the real problem is two of the teams ahead of them - Philly and the 49ers - have beaten the Cards already, so they have tiebreakers. Arizona does have a tiebreaker over Carolina, but the Panthers would have to seriously stumble for that to come into play. The next game is against St. Louis, which the Cardinals can hopefully handle. They narrowly lost to the Rams in week 1, but that was in St. Louis, and the Rams had Sam Bradford. Granted, now the Rams have a running game, and Tavon Austin's become a serious threat, but I'm more worried about Arizona's offensive line holding up against the Rams' pass rushers. Robert Quinn had a field day against them in that first game.

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