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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Friday, May 16, 2014

Cards At the Quarter Pole

The St. Louis Cardinals are 41 games into their season and they are. . . a mediocre team. 21-20, with a run differential that says that's really how good they are. It's the offense, mostly. The Cardinals are 11th in the NL in runs (though they're 8th if you remove pitchers from the equation, don't really understand that). And like last year, it's their power that's failing them. While only being 8th in batting average, they're a respectable 5th in OBP. But they're 13th in slugging, and dead last in home runs, with 23. And just in case you were, like me, hoping the arrival of Peter Bourjos and Kolten Wong would lead to more speed, they're 14th in stolen bases, with 13.

There's plenty of blame to go around. Wong wasn't hitting particularly well at the time he was sent down, with a .544 OPS, prompting Matheny to declare he needed to learn to push through adversity. One might wonder how he's supposed to learn that when Matheny benches him every time he struggles, and replaces him with people playing even worse. Mark Ellis has 74 plate appearances, to Wong's 76. Ellis has a .486 OPS. Descalso, who has 43 PAs, has a .464 OPS. Neither of them is the fielder he is. Greg Garcia has done all right in some extremely limited chances (14 PAs, .729 OPS). More than Shane Robinson or Randal Grichuk can say.

There are a few bright spots. Molina and Peralta are the two position players with an OPS over .800. Jon Jay, Holliday, and Matt Adams are all at least above average so far. And. . . that's about it. Bourjos and Craig's numbers are rising, and Bourjos' defense has been as spectacular as advertised, but their OBPs are both still under .300, which is not ideal. Matt Carpenters is at least getting on base (.356 OBP), but if the slugging doesn't come up (.319), that contract is going to look like a real bad decision on Mozeliak's part. On the upside, Wainwright's OPS is over .900. Maybe he got tired of a lack of run support.

The pitching has been somewhat stronger. Their ERA is a mediocre 8th, though it seems crazy to me a 3.44 ERA would only be that good. They're 7th in walks and 5th in strikeouts, which kind of sums up the staffs problem. They strike dudes out, but some of them are walking entirely too many people. Shelby Miller and Trevor Rosenthal in particular. Miller's been pitching poorly and getting away with it so far, but like Westbrook last year, you can't walk that many guys, or give up 1.6 HRs per 9 innings and succeed. Joe Kelly was doing OK for 3 starts, then he got hurt. Tyler Lyons took the spot and pitched badly. Now he's hurt. Other than that, the rotation is fine. Wainwright and Wacha have nearly identical FIPs, though Waino has an extra 10 innings, and a much better ERA (2.11 to 2.82). Lynn is pitching fairly well, though as usual, his results are not as good as his peripherals suggest they should be. Which I guess makes Lynn the current generation's version of Jose DeLeon.

As for the bullpen, Rosenthal, Carlos Martinez, and Kevin Siegrist all have ERAs over 4, which is hardly what you want from your top 3 relievers. Their peripherals suggest they, too, should have better results than they do. Pat Neshek and Seth Maness are doing well, though Maness is giving up a lot of hits. Choate's numbers also say he should be doing better than he is. Take from that what you will. The defense is crap, the pitchers are making stupid pitches, they've gotten bad bounces so far. I don't know which it is, but I'm not as encouraged by it like I suppose I should be.

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Sunday, May 04, 2014

The Playoffs Continue!

Round 1 kind of ended with a thud, but Round 2 is set to start tomorrow, so it's all good!

What? Look, yes, most of the series were very competitive, but most of them ended weakly. The Mavs got blown out, the Hawks reverted to playing like a sub-.500 team (or the Pacers finally stopped playing like one), the Grizzlies got blown out thanks to Mike Conley's bad hammy and Steven Adams being an instigating little shit. Seriously, Doc Rivers ought to take whoever is the last guy off his bench, probably Jared Dudley at this point, and tell him to do whatever it takes to put Adams out of commission. Just so Adams doesn't trick Blake Griffin or DeAndre Jordan into retaliating and getting suspended. The penalty won't be that bad, because the NBA would never believe someone intentionally targeted a waste of space like Adams.

OK, the Clippers/Warriors series ended well, even if it wasn't ideal, what with the Donald Sterling distraction and no Bogut to make things more even. The Nets/Raptors went down to the wire. The Blazers/Rockets series was won on a buzzer-beater, that was certainly cool, though someone needs to remind James Harden to play defense occasionally. The Thunder/Grizz series was good except there at the end, and ditto the Mavs/Spurs. And maybe the Pacers will keep playing like the belong in the playoffs now. Roy Hibbert was actually useful in that Game 7 and everything!

Indiana/Washington: My Pacers prediction was almost right, only off by one game. I should have expected they'd need to fall down 3-2 to finally get their act together. At 2-1 there was still wiggle room. Kind of disappointed they won, though, considering how much they derped around for the last 3 months. Meanwhile, the Wizards flipped my prediction entirely, winning in 5 rather than losing. To be fair, Wizards players, it was your own fans who convinced that late in close games, you would do stupid things that would hand the Bulls victories. Blame them.

So the Pacers like to play with two conventional big men, usually Hibbert and West. The Hawks were a problem, despite their lack of playable big men, because the ones they do have can all shoot from beyond the arc. Which drags Hibbert away from the rim, where's he's less useful as a defender. The Wizards use Gortat and Nene a lot, who can both shoot, but not that far out. Which in theory plays into Indiana's hands. The questions are twofold: One, are the Pacers too discombobulated to play their way even when the situation encourages it? Two, even if they are back to normal, are Gortat/Nene too much for them?

I hate to give the Wizards short shrift here, but I feel that if the Pacers play as they did the first half of the season, they'll win. That Indiana team is better than the Wiz. If the last two games against Atlanta were an aberration, or a reflection of the poor team they were up against, then the Wiz will cruise. They have to be brimming with confidence. They just played a team with some talented big men that plays good defense but struggles to score, and it was one with at least as good a playoff resume as Indiana. The Pacers were better overall on both ends than the Bulls this year, but not by that much in either case, and there's no guarantee they can play at that level consistently. And until they demonstrate they can, I'm not giving them much trust. Wizards in 6.

Miami/Brooklyn: The Heat dusted Charlotte even faster than I expected, while the Nets played much better than I expected, since picked them to lose in 6. I'm a little terrified of Miami. In the past, hey might have sleepwalked through a game and let the series drag out, but they took care of business. And the best chance the East (and maybe the NBA in general) has against the Heat is for them to wear down over the course of the playoffs. Wade reaggravates one of his injuries and misses a couple games. Lebron wears down under the heavy load he's been carrying, really, his entire career, but this season especially. Instead they got to sit back and watch the rest of the playoff teams (except the Wizards) beat each others brains out.

As for the Nets, this is what they wanted. Remember, they had the chance to be the 5 seed and play Chicago, and more importantly, delay playing Miami as long as possible. Instead, the opted to drop to the 6 seed because they figured Toronto for easy pickings, even though it meant Miami in Round 2. Well Brooklyn, it took 7 games to beat the Raptors, and now you've got to play the two-time defending champs. Good luck with that. I know the Nets aren't scared of Miami. They beat them repeatedly this season. But these guys, especially Pierce and Garnett, ought to realize by now Miami has a gear they save for the postseason which is completely unlike anything you see from them during the regular season. The Heat don't give a shit about the regular season. If they wanted to, they could easily have been the 1 seed, but they preferred to rest, because it doesn't matter. Indiana is sure that with homecourt, they can beat Miami, but they Heat don't think it makes any difference. They're confident they'll trounce anyone, anywhere.

As far as the Nets are concerned, I'm inclined to agree with them. They have a variety of different guys they can throw at Lebron, and Wade, and Bosh, but I'm not sure how long any of those options can check them for long. Also, I'm a little surprised just how critical Joe Johnson was to their success on offense and defense against Toronto. I feel like if Joe Johnson is your key to success, you're in trouble. I'll expect the Nets to win a couple of games, just on effort and pride, but they aren't pushing Miami to 7. Heat in 6.

San Antonio/Portland: The Spurs started slow, and blew my prediction of them sweeping right to hell. Eventually they figured out the gaps in the cobbled together Mavericks' defense, and that pretty much ended things. As for the Blazers, they surprised me, seeing as I picked Houston in 7. I'm not sure whether I underestimated the Blazers, or overestimated the Rockets. Little of both I guess. The Rockets didn't dominate in the paint, McHale didn't make enough adjustments, and Aldridge and Lillard went incendiary at different times.

The thing about the Spurs is that they seem to struggle against the really athletic teams. All the movement and passing their offense does to generate open shots is because most of their guys can't do it themselves. It's one of the reasons the Thunder give them trouble, and the Heat, and this year, the Rockets, though I suspect the Rockets are more trouble to stop than to score against, given Harden's complete disinterest in defense. Question is, are the Blazers athletic enough to make the Spurs work, and keep it up for an entire series? The Mavs made it work for about 5 games, and Terry Stotts probably learned some things from Carlisle, but eventually the Spurs found the weak points.

On the other side of things, can Tony Parker keep Lillard from going off, or will Kawhi Leonard have to take over? I'm not sure any of the Spurs' other guards can keep pace. Though they might need Leonard for Wes Matthews. He's a pretty strong guy. Can Duncan handle Aldridge? Again, I can't see any of the other guys managing it. Diaw, Bonner, and Splitter feel like guys Aldridge can blow past whenever he wants. But the Spurs are a team defense, so maybe it's just about making Aldridge take the worst shots possible, and hope he can't hit them. At this point, like with Miami, I'll trust in the Spurs. Even if Portland confuses them early, I believe San Antonio will hang on until they find the chink in the armor. Spurs in 6.

Oklahoma City/Los Angeles: Well, the Thunder needed one more game than I thought to win, and they needed Conley to be hurt, and Z-Bo to absent to manage it. The Clippers needed two more games than I predicted. Is that a credit to the Warriors ability to score and cobble some minor amount of defense, or were the Clippers too distracted by the Sterling mess? Of course, the Warriors were weak up front, and the Clippers only really have two useful options there. Will that hurt them against the Thunder? I don't know, OKC has multiple big men, between Ibaka, Perkins, Adams, Collison, apparently even Hasheem Thabeet has proven useful lately, but I'm not sure how many of those guys pose any real concern. Perkins and Thabeet are going to make life easier for the Clippers' D, Adams and Collison are kind of limited. Ibaka's the real problem, and that's as much because he'll be guarding Blake as anything else.

The Thunder seem like the better defensive team, but I feel like Chris Paul ought to be able to pick Westbrook apart. Westbrook gambles so much, he seems like someone Paul can get completely spun around and out of position. But that's why you have Sefolosha, I guess. Let Westbrook guard J.J.

I don't have a lot to say about this one. I figure the Thunder will win. They just beat a much better defensive team than the one they're about to face, basically because they had the two best best players. I'm not sure they have the two best players in this series, but they definitely have the best one, and I don't see who on the Clippers can really stop him. Matt Barnes, maybe? Sometimes I think Westbrook and Brooks' lousy offense do a better job stopping Durant than the opposition. Thunder in 6.

Yeah, I picked every series to go 6 games. What the hey.

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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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