Monday, March 08, 2010

Looking For My Worst Cardinals Team - Part 1

It's my last day off before 10 straight days of work, so as good a time as any to start. First up 1994! One quick note: I'm going to give the actual record and winning percentage, but I'm also going to post what their record would have been with that winning percentage over 162 games, so it's somewhat more comparable to the other squads. Ditto for 1995, when I get to it.


Actual record: 53-61 (.465); equals 75-87 record; outscored 621-535, -86 run differential
Pythagorean Record: 49-65 (.430); equals 70-92 record

Offensive Notes: Scored 535 runs (6th out of 14 teams); had 9 players (5 starters, 4 reserves) with an OPS+ of 100 (league average) or better.

A couple of things. Their rank in runs scored is why I think they're out of the running. I figure if a team's in the top half of the league, they probably aren't the worst. This squad was 3rd in the NL in doubles, and first in walks. That explains their ranking 4th in on-base percentage and 6th in slugging, despite being 9th in batting average. However, they were 9th in HRs, 7 in stolen bases, and struck out more than any other team in the league.

About the 9 better-than average hitters. Two of them accumulated fewer than 50 plate appearances a piece (John Mabry 25, Gerald Young 44), so their offensive impact was limited. Gerald Perry had only 92 PAs (.967 OPS, OPS+ of 153), but his role was almost exclusively pinch-hitter, so I suppose that was by design. The other bench player was Luis Alicea (.832, 118), who was almost a starter himself, as he was platooning at 2nd base with Geronimo Pena. Pena (.823, 114) was one of the five above-average starters, along with Gregg Jefferies (.880, 130) at first, Todd Zeile (.818, 113) at 3rd, Ray Lankford (.847, 121) in CF, and Mark Whiten (.849, 121) in RF.

The remaining starters were Tom Pagnozzi, who threw up a .743 OPS, good for a 94, Bernard Gilkey (.700, 85), and Ozzie Smith (.675, 78). The one thing these three players have in common is they were all better than average defensively for their positions (C, LF, SS, respectively). Among significant reserves, Brian Jordan put up a .730 (91) playing all 3 OF positions, Jose Oquendo (.674, 80) put up his usual OBP-heavy (.364) OPS while backing up the middle infield, and Terry McGriff (.580, 55) back up Pagnozzi.

Pitching Notes: Allowed 621 runs (13th in the NL); 5 pitchers (5 relievers, 0 starters) with ERA+ of 100 or better.

The Cardinals pitching staff was dreadful. They were better than only the Rockies in both runs allowed and ERA, and this was when the league was still starting to realize what a launching pad the Rockies played in. They were second worst in HRs allowed (134), and dead last in Ks. On the positive side, they walked the 5th fewest batters in the NL.

About the above-average pitchers. One of them did make some starts, Rene Arocha. For the season, he pitched 83 innings, with an ERA of 4.01 (ERA+ of 104). In his 7 starts, totaling 33.3 innings, he had an ERA of 6.48, and a WHIP (walks + hits/innings pitched) of 1.74. As a reliever, he pitched in 38 games, or 49.7 innings, with an ERA of 2.36, 11 saves, and a WHIP of 1.148. I figured since the majority of his innings (and his success) came as a reliever, that's what he would be considered (Baseball-Reference groups him with the relief pitchers on the 1994 team page).

Of the other 4, Gary Buckels compiled his 2.25 ERA (186 ERA+) over just 12 innings, so like Mabry and Young, his impact was fairly low (he accounts for 1.2% of the team's innings). The other 3 are John Rodriguez (60.3 IP, 4.03 ERA, 104), and Rob Murphy (40.3, 3.79, 110), the team's two lefties, as well as righty John Habyan (47.1, 3.23, 129).

That's the extent of the good news for the Cardinals: By the end of the (strike-shortened) season, they had four good relievers. Unfortunately, they had no good starters. Bob Tewksbury wasn't able to get by striking out only 4.6 batters per 9 IP. His home run rate rose to 1.3/9, the only time in six seasons as a Cardinals it exceeded 1/9. Not surprisingly, it's also his worst season, by far, with an ERA of 5.32 (ERA+ 0f 79). Allen Watson (ERA 5.52, 76) averaged just 5.3 innings a start, with a WHIP of 1.582, and more than 4 walks/9. In 12 starts, Omar Olivares averaged almost 6 innings, but had an ERA of 5.80, and walked 36, to only 25 Ks. Rick Sutcliffe was even worse. In his final season, he made 14 starts, averaged 4.7 innings a start, walked 30 to only 24 Ks, and posted an ERA of 6.78. The closest thing to a bright spot in the rotation was Vicente Palacios. In 17 starts, totaling 97.3 innings, he posted a 4.44 ERA, a 78K/31BB ratio, and a 1.202 WHIP.

Defensive Notes: When I saw how lousy their pitching was, I figured defense was the culprit. It's a problem the LaRussa Cardinals have. Because he and Dave Duncan stress getting groundballs, the pitchers who follow that strategy make themselves more dependent on their defense. Beyond the problems that come from random luck with BABIP, if the defense behind them is bad, they're going to struggle more than pitchers who can strike people out readily. Since the 1994 team had very few strikeout pitchers (Palacios and Habyan are the only two who exceeded 7K/9, which is not that impressive of a strikeout rate), they would be heavily dependent on their defense.

Looking it over, it wasn't as bad as I feared. There were weak points, and the sample sizes are small enough that they can certainly be questioned, but what we have suggests the Cardinals were solid at several positions. Tom Pagnozzi was 7 runs above average in about 600 innings, while McGriff was average in half that. In 481 innings, Geronimo was 2.3 runs above average, while in 412.3 innings, Alicea was that much below average. Oquendo was +3.6 runs in 124 innings at 2nd, and +2.6 runs in 118 innings at SS. Ozzie Smith was +11.8 in 822 innings. In 850 innings, Bernard Gilkey was +5.1, and Mark Whiten was +11.4 in 780 innings (his arm was +3 on its own). Brian Jordan was +2 in 135 LF innings, +2.7 in 69 CF innings, and +3.4 in 180 RF innings.

There were some weak spots. Alicea I already mentioned. In 902 innings, Ray Lankford was a -2.8, though he was +3.3 on the road, and -8.1 at home (his arm was +2). Zeile logged 960 innings at 3rd, and scored a -2.8. The weakest spot was first base, as Gregg Jefferies put up a -5.6 over 865.3 innings. Oddly, he was Lankford's opposite, scoring +0.4 at home, but -6.0 on the road. That might explain the pitchers' struggles, since the first basemen is involved in more plays than anyone (Jefferies logged twice as many chances as any other Cardinal). If your weakest defender is also the one with the most opportunities, that's going to increase the chances there will be mistakes. Still, while Jefferies was below average, his numbers don't suggest someone so bad that he single-handedly torpedoed the entire pitching staff. As a whole, the team was 35 runs better than average defensively, so they were actually helping the pitchers be better than they were. Frightening.

Most likely, Tewksbury was due to have more bad luck (or lose the precise control a pitcher with his limited stuff has to have), Allen Watson was never any good, Sutcliffe retired after this season for a reason, and the Cardinals were missing healthy contributions from some pitchers who could have helped a little (Rheal Cormier and Donovan Osborne. The former struggled, and the latter missed the entire year).

Other Points: The team's record grew worse as the season progressed. They were 12-9 in April, 27-27 in May and June, then fell apart in July (8-20). The reason isn't readily apparent. The team posted a .755 OPS in April, and a .756 in July. Their pitchers allowed a .796 in April, and an .824 in July, which is worse, but not that much worse. The pitchers were worse in May (.852), and so were the hitters (.742), but they managed a 14-14 record. Considering they were outscored by 33 runs in May, they were probably a bit lucky. The team seems to have been good (or lucky) in close game, going 21-13 in 1-run contests, in contrast to their 13-23 record in games decided by 5+ runs. The other strange thing is the team was 30-28 on the road, but 23-35 at home. This despite the fact their OPS is basically the same (.754 home, .752 road), and so was their opponents (.818 home, .822 road).

Final Thoughts: This was a rough year as a fan. Not just because of the strike, since it probably spared me from watching this team stumble through the last month and a half. The previous three years the Cardinals had won 84, 83, and 87 games. They had a lot of young guys, either from their farm systems or ones they had traded guys from their '80s championship teams to get. This was the season things were hopefully going to come together, and they'd challenge for a playoff spot, especially since they were out of the East, where they'd been stuck behind Montreal and one of the two Pennsylvania teams the past few seasons. Obviously, things did not work out. It was the Reds who took advantage of the new division.

I went to two games with my dad. A double-header against Atlanta on the 22nd of July. It's the only time I can remember sitting in outfield seats, left field in this case. The Cards were making up several games against the Braves, because they played a double-header against them the night before as well. They split that one, but won both this time. Tom Urbani threw 8.3 shutout innings in the first game, which probably explains why I always wanted him to get more opportunities to start while he was a Cardinal. He could never seem to break into the rotation consistently though, which hardly seems fair considering the number of chances Allen Watson had. The main thing I remember from the second game was it was delayed for a long time in the first inning, as Tony Tarasco hurt himself stealing second. Rick Sutcliffe pitched well-enough (made it into the 6th! Whoo!), and Rene Arocha struck out Fred McGriff to end the game (I think Arocha got a favorable call on strike two, because I remember McGriff being annoyed by the call). So that was a good night, even if we didn't make it home until after 2 AM. Of course, the Cardinals seized upon the momentum of the two victories and promptly lost 10 of their next 11 games. Over the course of those 11 games, they held their opponents to less than 4 runs once (a game they lost 3-2), but allowed 7 or more 9 times (including their lone win, 10-7).

This team was bad, no doubt, and worse than their record suggests. Still, they were an average offensive team, making up for a lack of power and surprising lack of speed with a patient lineup, and were not the defensive disasters I expected them to be. Their pitching is lousy, but I don't think horrific pitching alone can make a team the worst I've seen.

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Saturday, March 06, 2010

For My Next Series Of Time-Wasting Posts

I'm going to try and determine which is the worst St. Louis Cardinals team of my fandom, so from 1985 to now. I started thinking about this sometime last fall, while reading one of Joe Posnanski's posts on the Royals. He said he thought the 2009 Royals might be the worst version he had covered.

It wasn't as simple as them having the worst record, which they didn't. It was more the fact that they were terrible in all facets. Even with Zack Grienke, who would end up winning the Cy Young, their rotation was not very good. Even Joakim Soria, an excellent young closer, their bullpen was lousy. They had Billy Butler, who hit more than 20 HRs and 50 doubles at the age of 23, something only done by 7 hitters before him, all Hall of Famers or potential future Hall of Famers, yet they weren't good at hitting for average, or hitting for power, or drawing walks. They weren't a speed team, nor were they a good defensive team. Actually, they were the worst fielding team in the league, according to some statistics. Even the front office was doing poorly, giving Kyle Farnsworth multi-year contracts, and trading for Yuni Betancourt, who the Mariners couldn't wait to rid themselves of. Even with some very good players, they were simply a disaster.

So I want to do the same with the Cardinals. Fortunately, they've been good enough over the last 25 years, I don't have too many teams to sift through. Sticking solely to teams with losing records, I have the following years: 1986, 1988, 1990, 1994, 1995, 1997, 1999, and 2007. So over the next, however long this takes me, I'm going to go through each year, discuss them a bit, based on what I remember or can look up, and eventually, I'll try and settle on the worst team. I've already essentially weeded four teams out on contention, on the grounds they were a little too good at either scoring runs, or run prevention, but I still want to discuss them, as taking a more in-depth look may change my mind. Anyway, that's what I have planned, in addition to any other posts I happen to feel like putting up.

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