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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Wednesday, July 09, 2014

Return To The Team-Building Exercise - The Rotation

Five years - five years?! - ago, I did this little thing where I constructed a 25-man roster for the St. Louis Cardinals from their previous 25 seasons, 1984 through 2008. I'm going to try and do it again, moving the timescale forward 5 years. So it'll be 1989 through 2013.

The rules are the same. I'm selecting a player based on their performance in that season only. In theory. In reality, I'm going to play favorites a bit because it's my team, damnit. The team has to be built with some sense of reality. There are going to be bench players, relievers, and so on. The players selected must have fulfilled those roles in the seasons I'm selecting them from. Only one player per season, and no player can be chosen more than once, even if they'd qualify for more than one spot.

Today, we start with the starting rotation. When I list stats, I'm going off Baseball-Reference, rather than Fangraphs. It's mostly relevant when it comes to the wins above replacement numbers, and defensive stats, if I list those.

1) Bob Tewksbury, 1992 - 33 games, 32 starts, 233 IP, 5 CG, 16-5, 91 K, 20 BB, 15 HR, 2.16 ERA, 158 ERA+, 3.13 FIP, 1.017 WHIP, 6.5 WAR, 4.7 WAA

In the early '90s, Bob Tewksbury was the guy in the Cardinals' rotation. He was a Herzog scrap heap pick-up, surrounded by all these young guys from the farm system. Omar Olivares, Donovan Osborne, Rheal Cormier, Mark Clark, Allen Watson. But Tewksbury might have had the best career (Cormier had the longest, but that was as a lefty reliever). I certainly didn't try to imitate the pitching style of any of the others when I was a kid, and none of them had a season like this.

This was easily Tewksbury's best season. 1998 is the only season where his WAR is even half of what it was here, and he never had a season with a wins above average half of the 4.7 in 1992. And it's a perfect Tewksbury season. He struck out only 3.5 batters per 9 innings, but also walked only 0.8 per 9, which is how he lead the league in K/BB ratio, at 4.55. He'd manage the same trick in 1993, with a slightly better K rate, and a ratio of 4.85. So it isn't a complete outlier. His FIP was actually slightly better in 1990 (3.12), and it was only 3.36 in 1993. He allowed 0.6 HR/9 each year from 91-93. The big difference in '92 was he had greater success (or luck) in not allowing hits. His hit rate was 8.4/9, which is at least one less than he allowed in any other full season. He allowed only 7.5 in 1989, but you're talking 30 innings. Beyond that, his next best showing was 9.4 in 1990, which is also the only year besides '92 where his WHIP is below 1.2. Tewksbury couldn't strike guys out, so he had to hope he could minimize the contact he allowed, and that his guys could catch it. I don't think the Cardinals' defense was anything special in 1992, not with Zeile at 3rd, and Galarraga or whomever at first, so mostly luck. But I plan on putting an excellent defense behind him, so luck won't be such a necessity.

2) Adam Wainwright, 2009 - 34 starts, 233 innings, 1 CG, 19-8, 212 K, 66 BB, 17 HR, 2.63 ERA, 155 ERA+, 3.11 FIP, 1.21 WHIP, 6.2 WAR, 4.4 WAA

Not really Wainwright's strongest year. 2014 will probably be better when it's all said an done, and 2010 and 2013 are basically even with 2009, maybe a little better. His K rate is basically the same across them all, but the BB rate is a bit higher than 2010's, and about half of 2013. He allowed one fewer hit per inning in 2010 than the other two years, but the HR rate is basically even. FIP is considerably higher, but ERA+ is better for 2009 than 2013, and pretty close to 2010.

But there were other candidates who filled vital needs in those seasons (we'll get to them in later posts), so here we are. Not a bad season, though. This is the one that put Wainwright on the map as a starting pitcher. The Cards had a three-headed monster at the front of the rotation, but Wainwright was probably the main piece. Carpenter might have pitched better, but made only 28 starts and threw less than 200 innings after missing almost all of the prior 2 seasons. Joel Piniero had the best season of his career, basically by mimicking Tewksbury's 1992, but Wagonmaker led the way in innings, and wasn't so reliant on good defense and luck. I'm surprised to see just the one complete game, though. Anyway, he's one of two young, curveball dropping hurlers in this rotation. Not to be confused with the older, curveball dropping hurlers in the rotation.

3) Chris Carpenter, 2005 - 33 starts, 241.7 innings, 21-5, 7 CG, 4 SHO, 213 K, 51 BB, 18 HR, 2.83 ERA, 150 ERA+, 2.90 FIP, 5.8 WAR, 3.9 WAA

Baseball-Reference says his 2009 was better by WAR, but I couldn't pick that season over this one, where he threw 50 more innings even before you count postseason numbers. And outside of that, there's no season of his to match his Cy Young year of 2005. This was the year where Carp became the big man in the rotation. If he hadn't gotten hurt in September of 2004, it would have happened then, and perhaps the Cards don't trade Dan Haren for Mark Mulder. Geez, Carp, Haren, Wainwright, talk about a 3-headed monster.

But it wasn't to be, and if Carp had trouble finishing other seasons, it wasn't a problem this year (though yeah, his September wasn't great, and he admitted it was because the Cards had already locked up the division, and he was on cruise control. But he was a major reason they managed that. In June and July of that year, he threw 80.7 innings, and allowed only 9 runs, basically an ERA of 1.00 for two months. Crazy.

On the whole, it was what became a standard healthy Chris Carpenter season. Strikeout rate between 7 and 8 per 9 innings. Walk rate between 1.5 and 2. Home run rate between 0.5 and 1.0. The hit rate is 7.6 per 9 innings, which was bettered only by 2009's 7.3 per 9. Some of his other good seasons are between 8 and 9 hits, so there's an element of good fortune, but that's par for the course, I guess.

4) Darryl Kile, 2001 - 34 starts, 227.3 IP, 16-11, 2 CG, 1 SHO, 179 K, 65 BB, 22 HR, 1.289 WHIP, 3.09 ERA, 140 ERA+, 3.74 FIP, 4.8 WAR, 3.1 WAA

I guarantee you when that season happened I was disappointed in DK because of that 16-11 record. To be young and stupid again. This is Kile's last full season before his unfortunate and sudden death, and the one where Matt Morris started to take the lead in the rotation. But it hadn't happened yet, and as good a year as Morris had, Kile was still a bit better. The numbers aren't great, but you have to adjust a bit for the era. This was the year everyone finally decided they cared about steroids, what with Barry Bonds setting the home run record. So big offense all around. This is Kile's second best ERA+, after the 1997 he had with the Astros that got him that disastrous contract with Colorado. His FIP is basically in line with that year and 1996 as well. HR rate is OK for him, little lower than with Houston, but he wasn't in the Astrodome any more, so that makes sense. Hit rate is worse than either of his other 2 St. Louis seasons, walk rate is up from his first year there.

But I don't care so much about that. Kile's strength was that you could count on him to take that ball every five days and give you a chance to win. He might or might not stack up against the very best pitchers in the league, the ones he often faced, but he was close enough to give you a chance. I like guys like that, I think most fans do, honestly. Todd Stottlemyre was like that for them, and I loved that guy. I would have put him on here if he had a season good enough I could have justified it. Kile did have a season good enough. And he helped Morris become that good too, for a little while until the injuries came back.

5) Matt Morris, 1997 - 33 starts, 217 IP, 12-9, 3 CG, 149 K, 69 BB, 12 HR, 1.276 WHIP, 3.19 ERA, 131 ERA+, 3.51 FIP, 3.9 WAR, 2.2 WAA.

2001 was Morris' best year, but not as good as Kile's. So here's 1997, which didn't have a preponderance of other options. The key with Morris in 1997 was he was the one guy who stayed healthy the whole season. Stottlemyre missed September with a tired arm. Andy Benes had back issues, Alan Benes' career effectively ended with a shoulder injury, Donovan Osborne missed half the year (big surprise). Morris was the only guy to top 200 innings or 30 starts for the Cards that year. Probably that was too much work. His total number of minor league innings was only about 165 when he was called up, and he blew past that in by over 50 innings. Then he missed half of 1998, and then he had Tommy John, missed all of 1999, and spent 2000 in the bullpen.

But in 1997, he was healthy, and he was good. Not great, he was a work in progress. The walk rate was around 3 per 9 innings, but he'd eventually get that down to around 2 per 9. The strikeout rate never went up much, outside of 2001 and 2002, but in 1997, the potential is there. As the #1 starter, he'd be exposed, but as the #5, he'll be just fine. Plus, this team is going to be a lot better than the 1997 team was.

Next time, whenever that is, the bullpen.

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Saturday, June 28, 2014

Cards At the Halfway Mark

Man, I was way wrong about that Heat/Spurs Final. Can only count on Lebron so far I guess. To baseball!

It's been 40 games since I last looked in. Over that time, the Cardinals have gone 23-17, so a minor improvement over their 21-20 start to the season. Haven't made up any ground on the Brewers, though, and the National League looks like it might have more than 5 good teams this year. The offense has not improved. The Cards are now 12th in the NL in runs, down from 11th 40 games ago. They're still 13th in slugging percentage, so being 6th in OBP isn't helping much. They're dead last in the NL is home runs, and 14th in stolen bases. So no power, and still no speed. Dandy.

Kolten Wong got called back up eventually, hit all right for awhile, but his numbers are essentially where they were 40 games earlier. .544 OPS then, .586 now, and he's on the DL, which leaves the Cardinals with Mark Ellis (.523 OPS), and Descalso (.490 OPS). Shane Robinson is back up, not doing much. Grichuk hit his first HR, but otherwise has an OPS of .464, and is back in the minors. Oscar Taveras was called up, hit his first HR in his second at-bat, continued to make good contact, but had poor results, to the tune of a .522 OPS. So Matheny spewed some crap about Oscar's swing being wrong, and they sent him back down. You know, I thought Matheny was hired because he understood the need to play the young guys so they could develop. Sure doesn't seem to be doing that. More like he has "his guys", and "not his guys", and the "not his guys" get no wiggle room for struggle.

Also, Peter Bourjos has an OPS of .596, and Allen Craig's is only .675, though Bourjos is playing excellent defense, at least.

On the positive side, Matt Adams is the leading hitter on the team, with an .867 OPS and 9 HRs. Peralta has cooled somewhat from his hot start, but has an OPS+ of 111, good for 3rd on the team behind Adams and Matt Holliday, who is at least getting on-base (.376 OBP), if not hitting for power (.392 SLG). Matt Carpenter's above league average (106 OPS+), though his slugging is still only .369. Still, it's a 50 point improvement from last time. Jon Jay still has an OPS+ of 109, so Bourjos is gonna be in trouble if he doesn't get his bat in gear a little. Tony Cruz is hitting, not great or anything, but better than he has in the past. Maybe because Molina's been banged up (and has fallen off considerably from the start of the year), so Cruz is getting more consistent playing time.

If the offense hasn't improved, the better results must be the pitchers' doing, right? Well, their ERA is now 2nd in the league. They're still 5th in Ks, but now 8th in BBs, so not improving there. However, they've allowed the fewest HRs in the league, so that helps. Injuries are starting to pile up, though. Joe Kelly still isn't back. Garcia and Michael Wacha's shoulder both started troubling them. Wainwright's had some periodic elbow inflammation. Keith Butler and Kevin Siegrist are both out. Shelby Miller's still getting decent results with bad peripherals. The strikeouts are at 6.3/9, the walks at 4.4/9, and the HRs, at least, are down to 1.1/9. Trevor rosenthal is still walking almost 5.5 batters per 9 innings, and Carlos Martinez is over 4.

Most of the other guys are doing better. Lynn is the only starter with more than 3 BBs/9, and it's not much over. His other numbers are good, and he's pitching quite well. Wainwright's been mostly aces, Wacha's good when he's not hurt. Seth Maness is doing well in the bullpen, and pat Neshek's doing outstanding. Choate's peripherals say he should be doing a lot better than he is, as his FIP is 3.10, but his ERA is 5.48. Beyond them, it's a hodgepodge of guys. Jason Motte's striking out a batter an innings, but he's also surrendered 3 HRs in his 10 innings so far. Sam freeman's done well is his 15 innings so far, Nick greenwood not so much in his 7. Marco Gonzales was called up for a start against Colorado, and while the Cardinals won, he didn't have much to do with that.

Defensively, Molina and Cruz' numbers both look good. Adams is about league average, Craig a bit below at first. Wong is now grading out slightly below-average, while Ellis is slightly above, at least by Baseball-Reference. Carpenter's improved his numbers at 3rd, Peralta's doing surprisingly well at SS. B-Ref has him on pace for 10 runs above average if he plays 1200 innings, which he's on pace for about 1300. Descalso grades out as below-average at all three of the infield positions he plays. What a shock. Holliday's dragged his defensive numbers up to exactly average, which I didn't expect. Bourjos is on pace to be 13 runs above average if he played 1200 innings, though he's only on pace to actually play about 800. Even Allen Craig is scoring well in RF, which I definitely didn't expect. I figured we'd be fortunate if he could be no worse than Beltran was last year.

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Thursday, June 05, 2014

Finally The Finals

The NBA Finals start tonight, with a rematch of last year's Finals. Miami finished off the Pacers in 6 games, as I predicted. Nice to get one right once in awhile. Second year in a row that Miami ended Indy's season with a blowout. I guess all that talk about the Pacers being built to trouble the Heat is just talk. Miami seems capable of destroying Indy anytime they choose.

Out West, even the return of Serge Ibaka from his "season-ending" injury after only 2 games couldn't help the Thunder, as they fell in 6 games. Which makes my prediction they'd win in 7 look kind of stupid. Ah well, on to the championship.

San Antonio vs. Miami: The consensus seems to be that the Heat are not quite as good overall as they were last year, and the Spurs are a little better than they were last year. Put together with the Spurs having homecourt advantage, I probably ought to pick the Spurs, but I'm going Heat in 7.

The Heat as a team might be weaker, but Lebron doesn't seem to have slipped, Wade is healthier than he was last year, and Bosh seems more comfortable out beyond the arc than last season. I'm not sure it matters that Greg Oden and Michael Beasley were a waste of free agent dollars, or that Udonis Haslem and Shane Battier are running on fumes. The Heat lean on the Big Three (especially Lebron), and count on someone else - Ray Allen, Mario Chalmers, Birdman - having a big game just often enough to swing things. It's worked pretty well the previous two years, and so far in this postseason (not that the East offered much of a challenge).

The Heat are still a good defensive team, with a fair amount of the same athleticism the Thunder use to trouble the Spurs offense. Their offense is considerably better in terms of execution and coaching, which makes the challenge facing the Spurs that much greater. I'd still like to pick the Spurs. They're the deeper team, probably better coached, they can play in a lot of different styles to either match Miami, or try and force the Heat to react to what they do. I'm not sure about Tony Parker's status, and Ginobili always seems to be 5 seconds away from injuring something, but the Spurs seem as capable of dealing with those problems as any team. They survived a tougher road than Miami, though I'm not sure if that's good or bad. I don't think either squad really needed to be battle-tested, but I'm not sure there's a significant difference between 15 playoff games (Miami), and 18 (Spurs). At this point, I just don't think I can pick against Lebron, until somebody actually beats him 4 times in 7 playoff games, which hasn't happened in the last 3 seasons.

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Sunday, May 18, 2014

Conference Finals Time

Miami and the Pacers are already playing Game 1, so I guess I better get on with this. My second round predictions mostly went right. I got three of the four series winners, at least. Thanks for nothing, Wizards. The Thunder (and the refs) made sure I even got the number of games in their series right, while the Spurs and Heat took care of business one game faster than I expected.

Miami vs. Indiana: The Pacers look like they're gradually rediscovering their form, but there's a big difference between the Wizards and the Heat. Granted, the Heat are the team Indiana seems constructed to beat, and while they've managed that with some success in the regular season, well this is the playoffs. I mentioned in the last post that the Nets couldn't feel too great about their regular season success against the Heat, because Miami plays at a different level in the post-season. Same thing applies here. The Pacers found that out last year, when they couldn't finish Miami in 6, then got their doors blown off in Game 7.

The issue I have is that, when both teams play their best, Miami is still better. If the Heat don't play at their best and Indiana does, the Pacers can triumph easily, and the Heat have been known to drop some stink bombs in the playoffs before. For the last 2 years though, they've come through when they needed to. Or Lebron has come through, may be more accurate. The Pacers seemed sure all year that if they got homecourt advantage, that'd be the difference against Miami. Time for them to prove. Personally, I'm not convinced. Heat in 6.

San Antonio vs. Oklahoma City: Before last night, I was prepared to hand this one to the Thunder. In the same way Memphis poses matchup problems for OKC, the Thunder seem to pose similar issues for the Spurs. I think it's all the length and athleticism, which seems to neutralize all the Spurs' scheming and ball movement (which they're using at least in part because they don't have as many insanely athletic players as the Thunder).

Now Serge Ibaka is apparently out for the remainder of the playoffs with a calf injury. The Thunder have other big men, but none of them are on Ibaka'a level in all facets of the game. Certainly none are the rim protecting presence he is, and I don't think any of them have his offensive ceiling, either. I'm not sure how much it matters, though. The Thunder still have Durant and Westbrook, which means they have the two best players in the series, and the team already proved it can survive for a while with no Westbrook. But what Ibaka brings to the team is different from Westbrook, and it's mostly things no one else can do. At least some of Westbrook's contributions can be duplicated by Durant, or maybe Reggie Jackson.

I'd like to think the Spurs' superior system and depth will prevail, but I'm not sure they can contain Durant and Westbrook. Kawhi Leonard can only guard one person at a time, you know, and I'm not sure who else they have that can handle it. Thunder in 7.

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