Saturday, April 03, 2010

Looking For My Worst Cardinals Team - Part 2

For part 2, I'm going to look at the 1995 squad, another team I think was a little too good in one area to be the worst of the last 25 years. They were pretty bad offensively though, so they have to be considered.


Actual record: 62-81 (.434); equals 70-92; outscored 658-563, -86 run differential
Pythagorean Record: 61-82 (.427); equals 69-93

Offensive Notes: Scored 563 runs (14th out of 14 teams); 4 players (3 starters, 1 "reserve") with OPS+ > 100.

The 1995 Cardinals were a pitiful offensive team. They were last in the National League in hits, runs, batting average, on-base percentage, and slugging. They were 13th in HRs and walks, 11th in SBs, but they did have the 5th fewest walks. Only 3 players on the team managed more than 5 home runs or 10 stolen bases, so they lacked speed and power.

The 4 above-average hitters. I listed one as a reserve, and that was Todd Zeile, who wasn't really a reserve. He was the starting first baseman until his trade to the Cubs in June. But the trade means he didn't log the most innings at any position for the team. In 148 PAs, he put up an .835 OPS, or 121 OPS+. The three starters were the outfielders; Bernard Gilkey (.848, 123), Ray Lankford (.873, 129), and Brian Jordan (.827, 116). They all hit between 17 and 25 HRs, stole either 12 or 24 bases, and hit between .275 and .300.

They were the lone bright spots offensively. Tom Pagnozzi had a .569 OPS (50 OPS+), when he wasn't injured. Jose Oquendo (.616, 65) was the starting second baseman. Ozzie Smith missed three months (and didn't hit when he did play - .526 OPS, 41 OPS+ in 182 PAs), so Tripp Cromer (.586, 54) was the starting SS. Scott Cooper was the big free agent signing, but contributed a .634 OPS, which is a 69 OPS+. The only other starter remotely competent with the bat was Zeile's replacement, John Mabry (.752, 99). None of the bench players were any help at scoring runs, either. Danny Sheaffer had a 76 OPS+ backing up Pagnozzi, Darnell Coles (.657, 75) and Allen Battle (.672, 81) were the backup outfielders. Geronimo Pena was almost average with a 98 OPS+ in 124 PAs, but was on the DL 3 times that year.

Pitching Notes: Allowed 658 runs (6th in the NL), 11 pitchers (4 starters, 7 relievers) with an ERA+ >100.

This was the moderate saving grace for the team, they had a good bullpen, and a few decent starters. It's a bit surprising, because they weren't a terribly great in the peripheral stats. The team was 6th in the league in runs and ERA, but 13th in complete games and strikeouts. They allowed the 6th most home runs (though they were below league average), but the 5th fewest walks.

None of their starters were superb, but they were good enough. Mark Petkovsek (4.00, 105 ERA+) lead the team in starts and innings (21, 137.3), though his ERA as a starter was somewhat higher (4.16 in 125.3 innings). Donovan Osborne was probably the best starter (3.81, 110), along with Mike Morgan (3.88, 108), who was acquired from the Cubs for Zeile. Tom Urbani put up a 3.70 ERA (113 ERA+) overall, but only a 4.02 in 13 starts. Still significantly better than Allen Watson (4.96, 85, though his ERA in his 19 starts was 5.45) or Danny Jackson (5.90, 71, though Jackson spent time injured and learned he had thyroid cancer, so understandable, if frustrating for the fans). Morgan and Ken Hill (5.06, 83, traded to Cleveland in July) were the only two starters to average more than 6 innings per start. Osborne and Petkovsek were the only 2 with WHIPs below 1.30, and the highest strikeout rate was Osborne's 6.5/9 IP. He also had the best K/BB at 2.41, Petkovsek and Urbani were the only others with ratios better than 2 to 1, and only barely.

Fortunately, the Cardinals 'pen was good enough the starters didn't need to work deep into games. Tom Henke (1.82, 231) had an extraordinary final season, allowing only 2 home runs in 54.3 innings. Rich DeLucia, Jeff Parrett, and Rene Arocha all had ERA+ between 105 and 130, and Tony Fossas had a 287 ERA+. Add to that John Habyan (2.88, 147 in 40.7 innings) and T.J. Mathews (1.52, 270 in 29.7 innings), and it seems the Cardinals were quite good at protecting leads, if they could score enough to get one. Arocha's WHIP was 1.47, so he was probably lucky, but the others all had WHIPs below 1.30, and Henke, Fossas, Habyan, and Mathews were all below 1.2 (DeLucia wasn't far from that, 1.202).

Defensive Notes: The Cardinals defense was probably what helped their pitching be better than it was. It wasn't enough to make up for the offensive shortcomings, but it kept things close. Every single starting position player was at least average. Sometimes not by much, as Cromer was 1 run above average, and Gilkey was basically average. Other players were much better. Pagnozzi was +5 at catcher in 518.7 innings, and Oquendo was +4 at 2nd (417 innings), and +5.6 at SS (161.3 innings). The real star was Brian Jordan, who in 977.7 innings, was rated as being 20 runs better than average. Ray Lankford again demonstrated an odd split, as he was +6.7 on the road, but -4.5 at home. At least this year he was above average, rather than below. Largely because of Jordan, the team was +42 defensively.

Other Points: The team didn't have a winning record in any month. The closest they came was 13-13 in September. They were outscored in every month, the closest margin being 3 runs (111-108) in September. They were 39-33 at home, but 23-48 on the road. This is probably explained by the team's .719 OPS at home, vs. their .657 on the road (the pitchers allowed a .720 in StL, and .782 on the road). The pitchers seemed to get stronger as the season wore on, as opponents' OPS dropped each month. Or perhaps the team gradually eliminated the weak links. Danny Jackson spent some time on the DL, Ken Hill was traded, several young guys the league hadn't seen had a chance.

Final Thoughts: I have no attachment to this team, not even any memories of it, really. The strike had soured me on baseball, so I paid little attention when the labor strife was sorted out and baseball with non-replacement players resumed. I didn't even realize Ozzie was shelved for much of the season with a surgery. If I had watched, I don't know if this season would have bothered me more or less than the previous one. In '94 the team had to score a ton because they couldn't pitch, and this team had to keep the scores down because runs weren't coming easily. On most nights, there were five guys in the lineup hitting like a pitcher, and only one of them was actually a pitcher.

In general, this team was so good defensively, and good enough at pitching (especially the bullpen) they can't be worst. I mean the offense is bad, no question, but it's not the worst ranking they've had offensively in the last 25 years (I'll get to the owner of that dubious title, and why they aren't the worst either, in a couple of posts).

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