Monday, August 25, 2008

The QB Whirlygig Continues

Now Warner's going to be the starting QB, because Leinart had a crappy half against Oakland. I guess the Cards' really think the division is there for the taking, and they can't risk shaky QBing sabotaging their big chance to take the NFC West. Well, if they can run the football enough to keep other teams from blitzing Warner until they knock his head off, this just might work. I have little doubt Whisenhunt will try to run, whether they'll have success is another matter.

Of course, there's the question of what Leinart's state of mind is now, and how ready he'll be if Warner does get hurt, and Leinart has to come in to save the day. He was supposedly really working hard the last few weeks, and to lose his job after a bad half, well, that could be damaging. Hopefully it all works out.

On an unrelated note, I think Shawne Merriman should probably get the full knee surgery, and just sit out this year. Playing on two torn knee ligaments just sounds like a bad idea. Besides, it's not as though the Chargers will reward him for that, especially if he gets hurt, or his play suffers (both of which seem pretty likely). They'll just cut him, thanks for the effort, sorry about your knees, but we don't need you anymore, so fuck off. The NFL is a harsh mistress.

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Wednesday, August 13, 2008

MLB 3/4 Review

Well, a couple of teams are 3/4ths of the way through, and one of them is the Cardinals, so that's good enough for me. Amazingly, both the AL and NL have 8 teams above .500. 4 in the AL East, where the Rays still hold the lead over the Red Sox, while the Yankees are struggling just to keep up. I don't think the Yanks have the pitching to make up the gap on either team, so if things hold the way they are now, we'll at least be free of them in the post-season. The White Sox and the Twins are handing first place in the Central back and forth like the proverbial hot potato, and the Tigers have apparently run out of gas, as they just can't seem to crest .500. On a note of personal interest, Anthony Reyes, traded by the Cardinals in July for a minor league reliever, made his first start for the Indians last weekend, and did pretty well. Granted, it was against the punchless Blue Jays' lineup, but he said he feels more comfortable, so I'm glad for him. The Rangers should be very proud of themselves, with their winning record, but I'd say the AL West is settled, and it's the Angels by a landslide. They're scary right now.

The Phillies, Mets, and Marlins are all within 1.5 games of each other. Maybe Willie Randolph really was the problem with the Mets because they seem to be playing on a different level from the first three months right now. Or maybe it's Pedro, though he hasn't pitched very well. Too bad they let themselves fall so far behind to start with. I suppose my rooting interest is with the Marlins - just as soon as this series with StL is over. Both the D'Backs and the Dodgers are over .500, which is good, though not too good, since it's by a combined 3 games. I guess Manny Ramirez can only do so much. As for the NL Central, well the Cubs haven't quite buried the Brewers yet, though that 4 game sweep a couple weeks ago was a good attempt. Milwaukee's still hanging on to the Wild Card lead, 4 ahead of the Cardinals, who are about two games ahead of Philly, and so on. I think the Cardinals are in the same boat as the Yankees; not enough pitching and too far back to make up the ground. They just can't get anything going consistently. They win one, they lose one. They blow late leads (frequently), they stomp on a pitcher in the first three innings, then fail to do anything after that point (like last night's game). They're terribly frustrating.

Rotation: Things have gotten a tad more unreliable lately. Kyle Lohse's August numbers are much closer to his career numbers than what he did the first 4 months, which is troubling. His walks are up, his groundball rate's down, neither of those being good things. Looper was scuffling a bit there in early July, getting smacked around by the Royals, Phillies, and Padres, but his last four starts have served to lower his ERA from 4.6, to 4.2, and he got his K/9IP up to 4.33. All right! His pitching VORP is up to 19.2 (4th among starting pitchers), and he's added another 6.5 runs with his bat. Wellenmeyer's ERA has settled in at about 4, he's still striking out over 6 per 9 innings, and he's kept his walks down to 2.8/9IP, which is probably the important thing for him. Pineiro's struggled quite a bit, as his ERA has risen from 4.33 at the halfway point, to 4.82 currently, and it was over 5 before his last start. Like most of the starters, he's not striking people out (4.36/9), but not walking people either (2.01/9). The general trends seem to be Lohse trending down, Welly and BLoop trending up, and Piniero going down, with occasional upticks. Oh, and other than Lohse, none of them are averaging 6 innings a start, which worries me, especially given the bullpen.

Besides those 4, there have been several other starters, since Wainwright still hasn't come back, and the Cardinals sounded determined to make him the closer until Chris Perez' recent performance. Now they're strecthing him out to put him back in the rotation. Hurrah. Boggs got three more starts, one good one against the Royals, two curb-stompings at the hands of the Mets. Mulder made one embarrassing start, where he couldn't get out of the first before reinjuring himself, and Jaime Garcia made one OK start. Nothing special, but a far sight better than what Boggs or Parisi provided. Then there's Carpenter. Yes, your 2005 Cy Young winner is back! Maybe. He left his third start with a strained triceps muscle (and has gone back to St. Louis to get checked out - great), so who knows what's going to happen there. Be nice if he was OK, and the Cards could have a true front of the rotation guy (no disrespect to Lohse, but he doesn't qualify). His stuff has looked pretty good, just needs to build some stamina. Fingers crossed.

Bullpen: Look, the bullpen is lousy. The positives are when certain players (Flores) get shipped to the minors, or other players (Izzy) get removed from roles (closer) they are not suited for. As long as you keep McClellan out of the 9th, he does pretty well. He's even 4th among all Cards pitchers in VORP (19.9). He strikes batters out (7.35/9), keeps his walks (2.54) fairly low, so he's a bright spot. Franklin (10.8 VORP) and Springer (13.9) have each had their moments, just not in the 9th. The good news is they each got their walk rates down from where they were 41 games ago. Franklin's down to 3.84, from 4.17, and Springer's at 3.08, compared to 3.8. And they both upped their strikeout rates a little as well. Chris Perez might actually be able to do this closing thing. His walk rate is down under 5 per 9 innings, and he's still striking out almost a batter an inning. So it seems he got his control issues a little better resolved (or it's just a really small sample size of 27.3 innings). Villone's still not being terribly useful.

Catcher: Yadier Molina has a .733 OPS. Hot damn! LaRue's at .667, so they've both dropped a little. It's too bad about Yady's offense, because he was at .748 a couple weeks ago, and that would have been the best for a Cards' starting catcher since Darrell Porter in 1983. Molina's VORP (which doesn't include defense) is 12.3; LaRue's is -0.4. Oh well, he is the backup catcher. Yady's been good for 6 Fielding Runs Above Average (FRAA); LaRue's been good for 1.

Infield: Albert has a 1.067 OPS, but lately he's seemed streaky. He'll have a couple multi-hit games, then go hitless for two or three games. I expect that from Glaus, but what makes Albert scary is how eerily consistent he can be, so it's a little troubling. I wonder if his elbow is bothering him (more than usual), or if it's fatigue (I don't think he's sat out any games in the last 41), or if he's been demoralized by the team's lack of moves at the trade deadline (people always speculate that happens, hell if I know whether it's true or not). His VORP is 64.3 (which puts him 20 runs ahead of any other Cardinals, and he's been good for 5 FRAA. Kennedy's still not drawing walks or hitting for power (OPS of .652, VORP of 0.3), but he's somewhat better than Izturis (.624; though a VORP of 1.6, not sure how that works). On the plus side, both of their Range Factors are well above league average for their positions, though Kennedy has a 0 FRAA, and Izturis has only 2. Not sure how to reconcile those results. Glaus finally decided to hit against the Cubs, which was nice. His Range Factor (2.73) is above average (2.59), and he has an FRAA of 3. His OPS sits at .853, and his VORP is 26.5, which is more than double what it was 41 games ago. You might recall that at that point I compared him to Rolen and found them roughly equal. Well, Rolen's VORP is down to 8.5, compared to Troy's 26.5, so I would say things have changed.

As to the backups, Aaron Miles has a .733 OPS, which surprises the hell out of me. It's almost entirely batting average (.309, .348 OBP, .385 SLG) supported, but I take what I can get. He has a 9.6 VORP, but his Range Factor at 2nd is below average (4.49 vs. 4.82), and he has -1 FRAA. Well, no one ever said Miles was a defensive whiz. Brendan Ryan's sporting a 4.71 Range Factor at SS (4.43 league average), though his FRAA is -4. Sadly, his fielding is the good news. His VORP is -3.9, and his OPS is a horrible .585. Yes, his on-base plus slugging is lower than Albert Pujols' slugging. He was recently sent to the minors, and replaced by the recently signed Felipe Lopez, a guy the Washington Nationals released. His stats with the Nats suggest (OPS .619, VORP -8.1, -5 FRAA, 4.68 Range Factor at 2nd, versus league average of 4.82) he's barely an offensive upgrade on Ryan, and a defensive downgrade, so I can't see the logic, especially when his first start was in left field. I am so sick of Tony using middle infielders in the outfield. Danny Sheaffer, Hector Luna, Shawon Dunston, now Felipe Lopez? Christ.

Outfield: Chris Duncan may very well be done, since he had to have surgery on a herniated neck disc. That sucks, though it probably explains some of his difficulties this year. Ankiel got back in the lineup on Monday, first time he started since July 26. He's sitting at a pretty nice 29.7 VORP, with a .889 OPS. Neither of the fielding metrics I found like him. His Range Factor's below average, and his FRAA is -11. Maybe we can chalk that up to inexperience? Schumaker's at a 17.2 VORP, and a .778 OPS, which means his numbers are still dropping, but honestly, I'm still surprised he's done this well. He might have been struggling to fill in for Rick these last couple of weeks, since he might have been making starts against lefty pitchers, which is not good (OPS of .427 against LHP). Rick's gotten his OPS against LHP up to .735. A far cry from his .957 against RHP, but better than he was doing. He's learning, perhaps. Ludwick had a poor June, but he's done much better in July and August. His VORP is up to 44.9, and his OPS is sitting pretty at .991. Bet the Indians wish they still had him.

Brian Barton's been hurt since the first week of July, but he rejoined the team today, since his minor league rehab stints is almost up. That's good. He's been getting regular ABs in Memphis, so I hope he'll be a big help, and maybe he can get some more at-bats with Duncan out. Other than Ludwick, and now perhaps Ankiel, he's the only OF they've got who can hit lefties, since Mather's rocking a .615 against LHP. Still, Mather's been getting the at-bats in his absence, and while he's shown some nice power, with a .495 slugging thus far and 7 HRs in 107 at-bats. He probably needs to work on his plate discipline (OBP of .315), but he and Barton can probably compliment each other. The slugger that does best against righties, and the speedster that prefers righties. One's a lanky white boy, the other's a dreadlocked African-American with a degree in aeronautical engineering! Together they catch flyballs and fight crime!

I need to rant about LaRussa a bit. See Tony's made some moves I just dislike. The idea behind sending Ryan to the minors to get him more at-bats doesn't sound so bad, except he'll be taking ABs from Tyler Greene, who's also a potential SS for the big league squad, pending his results in AAA. So now Ryan's taking ABs from him. And replacing him with a guy who hasn't hit any better, and fields worse? What's the point? And then there's the use of Lopez as your starting leftfielder. That happened because Tony kept insisting that Rick would be ready to start again, that his abdominal injury would clear up any day now, so there's no need to put him on the 15-day DL, and bring up another outfielder. Except that day he'd be ready to go kept getting pushed back, and so the team wasted a roster spot on a guy who could only pinch hit, couldn't even run for himself (witness Saturday's game against the Cubs, where Rick gets a pinch-hit single, and they immediately send Pineiro out to run for him). That's especially poor management when you're using 13 pitchers, and so your bench is only 4 deep. Then you get a situation like Friday's game against the Cubs.

You've got four outfielders. Oops, Rick can't play in the field yet, so better make it three. Oh wait, Lilly is a lefty, better not use Skip. So that leaves Thudwick, Mather, and. . . hmm. No more outfielders. Well, guess I'll just use this middle infielder. Look, I know Bill James says the corner outfield slots are easier defensively than the middle infield slots, but it really seems like poor planning to have to use a MI as a starting outfielder, because you simply don't have enough outfielders you feel you can use, because you're carrying 13 pitchers and a guy who can't play in the field.

I feel much better.

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Sunday, August 10, 2008

I'm A Posting, Complaining Machine!

Wow, three posts in four days? That might be a record for me here. For an added treat (or disappointment, depending on your perspective), it's not a sports related post. No sir, this post is about that Burger King Smokehouse Burger commercial.

You may have seen it. Two people are sitting there, enjoying this new sandwich, and a third person comes by, and because the burger is so awesome, what's to know what these people have done to merit such an incredible meal. One person has usually done something impressive, like donating half their paycheck to feed starving children overseas, or discovering a new planet that may have life on it. The other person is usually just hungry. The passerby immediately becomes indignant that this person would eat such a magnificent food stuff, simply because they were hungry, and insults said person before storming off in a huff. In one commercial, I think the passerby actually smacks the person who has offended them.

I get the point, that because of how great this product is, you'd only buy one if you really felt you deserved a treat, but even so, it still annoys the hell out of me. The idea, however absurd, that someone is going to hassle me because I haven't cured cancer, or found a way to quickly improve reproductive success of an endangered species, before eating a fast food burger, just rubs me the wrong way. Probably because I don't like to be disturbed while I'm enjoying food, but also because I don't like having to justify my decisions to complete strangers. If I feel like explaining my choices to you, I will. If I don't feel like it, Fictional Character From A Burger King Commercial, then you can kindly piss off.

Coming sometime this week, the MLB at the 3/4 mark review!

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Saturday, August 09, 2008

The Cardinals Probably Can't Have Too Many QBs

The word is going around that Ken Whisenhunt has already declared Matt Leinart the starting quarterback for Arizona this year, ahead of Kurt Warner. I only know about it because it was apparently interesting enough to merit discussion on 1st and 10. Naturally the discussers disagreed, with Skip Bayless arguing this hurts Arizona's chances to take advanatge of a weak division, while his cohort, a Rob Parker of ESPN Radio, said that was OK, it was more important to look to future years, and that's why you start Leinart, and besides, Warner is old news, and we should just forget about that old man. Hey, he said it, not me.

I'm a bit torn on the issue. After Leinart got hurt last year against the Rams, Warner took over as starter, and racked up a 5-3 record (though the Browns were the only team of note he beat, and they lost to the Saints and the 49ers), which, since this is the Cardinals we're talking about, is nothing to sneeze at. Leinart hasn't done anything in two years (13 TDs/16 INTs in 17 games) to prove he's better than Warner (33 TDs/22INTs in 21 games). He hasn't even proved he's more durable than Warner is at this stage in his career, and that's after Warner's gotten pummeled for years.

The downside to that is Warner gets punch drunk when he gets hits a lot (say the first few games of '02, or '04 with the Giants). Hey, I love the fact that he'll stand there in the face of the rush that extra second to make the throw (except when he stands there a second too long) but that's a good way to get beat all to hell, and then his play suffers. He starts holding onto the ball too long more frequently, and his fumbles seem to increase. So he probably doesn't work as a long-term starter, unless you run the ball a lot, or have one outstanding offensive line*. Plus, Leinart is the first round draft pick that's making some big bucks, and you'd like to start seeing a better return on that. He is the guy for the future, certainly more than Warner anyway, and he's got to play if he's going to improve.

Truthfully though, I don't think it's any big deal. With the hits QBs take now (even with all the rules to protect them), you're not likely to keep one QB under center the entire year, so having two competent signal-callers is handy. I wonder whether they'll do what they did last year, with Leinart running the basic offense, and Warner taking the ball when it's time for the two-minute drill/no huddle offense. That seemed to work pretty well, since it eased the decision making process on Leinart, and let Warner handle the situations where you needed to make calls on the fly. Plus, a hurry-up offense wears down the defense, since they can't make substitutions, which blunts the pass rush Warner would have to deal with a little.

I suppose Leinart has to learn to handle those situations at some point though, so I guess it depends on what the team's goals are this year. If they're still primarily concerned with building up the team for the future, then you give the ball to Leinart and let him play until he physically can't, even if Warner might be better in a particular situation. If you're set on making the biggest splash possible this season, then I think you go ahead and use Warner when it's most advantageous, regardless of whether it stunts Leinart's progress.

Personally, I want Leinart to start, but have Warner ready to jump-start things if Leinart just looks completely lost out there. We're talking dire straits here, so hopefully Matt doesn't start looking over his shoulder. Honestly, with the weapons the Cardinals have, Leinart ought to be able to avoid prolonged struggles, barring massive, debilitating injuries to their playmakers.

* Either of those circumstances would be a nice change of pace for the Cardinals.

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Thursday, August 07, 2008

Is It Over? Is It Safe To Watch ESPN?

OK, so now that Favre's been traded, we won't hear anymore about him, right? The reign of terror is over? What? He's playing for a team very near the New York metropolitan area? Aw crap. Hopefully the discussion will at least center on how well he can play this year (as in, was his good 2007 a sign he'd rebounded from a couple of ugly years, or just an aberration as he continues his decline?) and what it means for the Jets. You know, actually football discussion, as opposed to this video tape of Farve getting off the airplane. Who is he, the fucking Pope or something*?

I do look forward to that Ombudsman they have on the ESPN website, LeAnn Schreiber I believe, covering this in her next column. I'm sure she's going to get a lot of e-mails from people sick and tired of being beaten over the head about this stuff.

Maybe this whole situation will teach teams not to push players so hard in the off-season. Players don't get any time to really reflect and think about what lies ahead, because as soon as a team's season is over, the coaches and general manager are already focusing on next year: who'll they'll draft, who they need to resign, who needs to be replaced, etc. A player can't get enough time to really think about it. I don't think anything will change though, because a team is rarely going to be as hesitant to just release a player uncertain about their status as the Packers were with Favre.

Aaron Rodgers is really under the gun now though, huh? He's the guy whose presence convinced the Packers they could go on with Number 4, and the fans are going to be on him from the start. Well, the Farve fans will be, Packers' fans may be more accomodating (one can only hope). Too bad for Rodgers he couldn't have taken over after the '05 season (when Farve threw 29 picks), or even the '06 when Farve's TD/Int ratio was 18/18. Could have eased expectations a bit. And what about Chad Pennington? As I understood it, he was at least in the hunt with Kellen Clemens for the Jets' starting QB job, then Farve comes along and he's out on the streets. Ouch. I'm sure Jeff Garcia's fine with this turn of events though.

* You knew it was getting bad when you turn on Sportscenter in the morning, and they have that little list of what they're talking about now, and the next 7 or so topics, and about 75% of it is Farve-related. Then maybe highlights from 2 baseball games, six more Farve segments, a couple of more baseball games, more Farve. Insane.

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