Sunday, June 28, 2009

So The Cardinals Did Something

The fans (some of them anyway) had been demanding it. I think LaRussa had been expecting it as well, and now the Cardinals went and traded for Mark DeRosa, sending Cleveland Chris Perez and a player to be named later. So, good deal, bad deal?

Well, on the plus side, one thing the Cardinals seem to have plenty of in the minors is hard throwing right-handed relief pitchers, so in trading Perez, I guess they're trading from a position of strength. Perez also hadn't been terribly effective this year, having lost some velocity, but not gained any control as a benefit. He was still walking almost six batters per nine innings, though he was also striking out over 11/9 IP. So for Cleveland, it's a matter of whether someone in their organization can help Perez sort things out. If so, then they landed themselves a young relief pitcher, with little service time in the majors, so he'll be relatively cheap for the next few years.

As for the Cardinals landing DeRosa, well, he certainly can't hurt. This is a team where there is a 408 point gap in OPS between their best hitter (Pujols, 1.173), and their 2nd best hitter (Schumaker, .765). That's just ridiculous. And pathetic. He started the season slowly, hitting .238 in April (though he drew 10 walks) but since May he's brought his average up, continued to draw some walks, and hit for some power (.500 slugging in the month of June). So they Cardinals added a hitter demonstrating patience and the ability to crush the ball. Other than Pujols, I don't think anyone else on the roster could make a similar claim*. Heck, DeRosa's 13 home runs would rank 2nd on the team, and his 29 walks would be 3rd.

Also, DeRosa has that defensively versatility LaRussa seems to love so much, since you could theoretically play him just about anywhere except catcher or centerfield. He probably wouldn't be anything special in the outfield, but the Cardinals use Duncan and Ankiel out there all the time, so that wouldn't be anything new. At this point, I'd think the Cardinals would prefer to use him at 3rd, since that seems to be the most glaring hole. Most of the defensive stats I've managed to locate suggest DeRosa is right around average at 3rd, which is also true of the guys he'd most likely be replacing (Thurston and Khalil Greene, neither of whom are natural 3rd basemen). Factor in that DeRosa is easily out hitting those two, and it's definitely an upgrade overall.

I like the move. They don't seem to have traded away anything irreplacable, which is good, since DeRosa is a free agent at the end of the season, so he might end up being a 3-month rental. He can hit lefties (1.070 OPS, though it's only 66 PAs), something most of the team** (and none of the outfielders) can do with any skill, so that's a plus. DeRosa certainly doesn't fix all the Cardinals' problems, but he can patch at least one, and maybe his presence relegates players to bench roles that are better suited for that, which could improve the bench (by also removing players from the major league roster that don't really belong there). I'm curious to see if things turn around a bit here in the next few weeks, before management makes any more moves. See how DeRosa strengthens (or weakens) the team, then decide whether they need to go out and get someone else. I don't think he's enough to make the Cardinals a serious World Series threat, but he gets them a little closer. The NL Central is a bastion of mediocrity this year, so DeRosa might be enough to win the division.

* I'd say Schumaker, Thurston, Duncan, and maybe Molina could claim they're showing patience, at least based on their walk totals, but none of them are hitting for much power.

** On Viva El Birdos this morning, the post pointed out that the team has a .667 OPS against lefties. Further, Schumaker's OPS is .546, Duncan's is .670, Ankiel's .570, and Rasmus' is .417. I mean, that's four of the Cardinals five potential starting outfielders there, all of whom hit like pitchers against lefties. So what do they do if they have to face, say, Ted Lilly? Besides strike out a lot, I mean.

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Friday, June 05, 2009

MLB 1/3 Season Review Post

So hey, the baseball season's about a third of the way done now, so why not take a quick look see.

Well, there aren't really many teams distancing themselves from the pack right now. There's the Dodgers with 37 wins (.661), and sort of the Phillies, who have a .615 winning percentage, but only 32 wins so far. There are 14 teams between .500 and .600, and two teams with winning percentages below .400 (the Rockies and the Nationals). So a whole lot of middling teams.

- In the AL, the East seems to be the dominant division, as usual, since they have 3 out of the top 5 teams (Red Sox, Yankees, Blue Jays). The Rays are hovering around .500, so they're still in it.

- The Central is seriously mediocre, since the Tigers are the only team with a winning record. The Royals have completely squandered their fine April, the White Sox keep failing in their attempts to trade for pitching, and the Twins seem to have been slightly unlucky (they have a +7 run differential, but they're 27-28).

- I can't stop being surprised at seeing the Rangers atop the AL West. I know Seattle has no offense, and apparently neither does Oakland, but still, the Rangers usually can't score enough to overcome their lousy pitching. Texas isn't really pitching that well (they've surrendered as many runs as Oakland and Seattle), but for now at least, they're hitting is compensating.

- The NL West is the one division that right now doesn't seem to be in much doubt. Losing Manny Ramirez doesn't seem to have slowed the Dodgers much, as they've scored more runs (296) than any other NL team, and surrendered fewer runs (211) than any team except San Francisco (208, but have scored only 208).

- The Phillies are currently four games up on the Mets, and for whatever injury issues the Phils may be having, the Mets are even worse off. The Braves are fumbling around .500, the Marlins probably ought to be worse than their record is, and the Nationals, well, they stink.

The NL Central is the tightest division in baseball. The Brewers and Cardinals are currently tied, and the Reds are only 2.5 games back. And then there's the Cubs, 3.5 games back. I really think that if anyone outside Chicago wants to win that division, they might want to start stretching that lead. The Cubs seem out of sorts right now, with the offense sputtering, and Zambrano getting himself suspended, and Harden on the DL (and Aramis Ramierexz is hurt right now too, isn't he). If they can get those guys back and playing well, I think they'll blow the doors of the division. I don't think the Brewers have the starting pitching, the Cardinals don't have the offense (they're allowing the 2nd fewest runs per game in the NL, but they're 9th in runs scored),and I'll believe the Reds can contend for an entire season when I see it.

If I could speak of the Cardinals specifically for a bit. I'm really impressed by the pitching. Carpenter gave up one run over 9 innings last night, and his ERA rose. If he can actually stay healthy, that would nice. Wainwright's done alright considering he can't keep his release point consistent. Lohse has been OK for a 3rd or 4th starter, and Joel Pineiro's been surprisingly good. I'm not sure he can maintain, though. He's not walking anyone (good), but he's not striking anyone out either (bad). If he doesn't keep the ball down, he's toast. If he keeps the ball down, but the ground balls find holes, he's also toast. Wellenmeyer's a concern, though. His walk rate's risen from last year, and the strikeout rate's dropped. I'm not sure if this will hold up, though, Lohse has had some arm tightness, and now Joel's going to pitch through back tightness, probably because he knows Lohse is hurting.

The Bullpen's been OK, except for Blain Boyer, who seems to have been a waste of time. Perez has been OK, Motte seems to have settled down, and Franklin's been better than I expected as a closer.

But the lineup, geez. With Glaus out, they've been Yadi Molina as the 5th or even the 4th hitter in the lineup. I don't care that his OPS was in the upper .700s earlier this season (it's at .698 now), Yadi's not that good of a hitter. Schumaker's hitting about as well as last year, which is all I could hope for, while Khalil Greene has other things to worry about. Joe Thurston has been a big surprise, with a .795 OPS, and he's doing it by drawing walks and hitting for extra bases, where he was previously thought to be all empty batting average. The outfield's been a disappointment. Duncan, Rasmus, and Ludwick's OPS are all in the .700s, which is not too bad for Rasmus, but Duncan needs to hit better to justify his glove, and the Cardinals need Ludiwck to hit so other teams don't just walk Albert all the time. The best hitter on the bench right now is Brendan Ryan, and he's not really a bench guy anymore, since Khalil's out of commission. As for the rest of the usual suspects (Ankiel, Barden, LaRue, Stavinoha) they're all disasters. LaRue's the only one any good at drawing walks (the other 3 all have on-base percentages below .300), and none of them hit for enough power to compensate for that.

And then there's Albert. I respect the Reds for pitching to Albert in this last series, but I sure can't figure why they did it*. There's hardly anyone else in the lineup worth anything except him. Here's how he ranks in some stats on the team: Albert has 38 more plate appearances than anyone else on his team (232 to Schumaker's 194). He's scored 17 more runs than anyone else (43 to Skip's 26). 9 more hits (63 to Skip's 54). He's tied for the lead with Duncan and Thurston with 13 doubles. He has 17 home runs, which is twice that of the the #2 guy on the team (Ludwick, 8). He has 48 RBIs, with Duncan and Ludwick in 2nd at 27. He even leads the team in stolen bases with 7 (no one else has more than 2). He has a more than 40 point lead in batting average on Skip, (.346 to .302), a 101 point lead in on-base on Thurston (.470 to .369), and a 241 point edge in slugging on Ludwick (.698 to .457). Jeez, if this keeps up (both the disparity offensively between Albert and his teammates, and the Cardinals being in contention), and anyone else receives votes for MVP, they might need to get a dope slap.

* I can guess why, though. Even if Albert's hitting really well, he still makes outs over 65% of the time when he isn't walked, so the odds are still in the pitcher's favor if he actually goes after Albert. Which is why I hate intentional walks. It's such a wuss move. Let the pitcher get the guy out.

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