Sunday, June 27, 2010

Looking For My Worst Cardinals Team - Part 5

Up to this point, the Cardinals' teams we've looked at have been good enough at some aspect of the game I've been inclined to count them out of the running. These last four teams, however, were in the bottom half of the league in both runs scored and runs prevented, so I imagine their cases will be a lot stronger.


Record: 76-86 (.469), outscored 633-578, -55 run differential
Pythagorean Record: 74-88 (.457)

Offensive Notes: Scored 578 runs (11th out of 12), 9 players (3 starters, 6 reserves) with OPS+ > 100.

This Cardinals team wasn't completely terrible at hitting. They were 4th in hits and batting average (though the team average was .249, 1988 was a pitchers' year), 6th in triples and OBP (again, just .309), 1st in stolen bases (234). The problem was a lack of power. When the Herzog Cardinals were good, they usually had at least one real power bat, say Jack Clark or George Hendrick, maybe Keith Hernandez. The latter two were long gone, and the ownership dithered around on making Clark a fair offer so long, he eventually signed elsewhere. The team was 11th in doubles, and 12th in HRs. They were dead last in slugging (.337). Even when they could get guys on base - which at a .309 clip, wasn't that often - they couldn't drive them in.

A word about all the above-average hitters. Most of them were non-factors. John Morris and Rod Booker had 39 plate appearances (PAs) apiece. Steve Lake had just 59 as the 3rd catcher. Tom Herr was traded midway through April for Tom Brunansky. Bob Horner (.703, 102 in 247 PAs) was the starting first baseman into early June, when he hurt his shoulder and missed the remainder of the year. Pedro Guerrero (.787, 125 in 176 Pas), his replacement, didn't arrive until a mid-August trade. That leaves Willie McGee (.701, 101), Brunansky (.773, 121), and Jose Oquendo (.700, 102), as the only three above average hitters who were available the majority of the season.

There were some semi-useful hitters. Ozzie Smith had a .686 OPS (98), and Tony Pena a .680 (94) behind the plate. But Terry Pendleton, Vince Coleman, and Tom Pagnozzi (second on the team in PAs among non-starters) were all below .655 in OPS. Guerrero and Brunansky were the only hitters with a slugging above .400, and Pedro, Ozzie, and Oquendo the only ones with an OBP of .350 or better (Brunansky had a .345, and Horner a .348 before his injury). The Cardinals simply couldn't muster enough good bats to fill a lineup, or even half a lineup, on most days.

Pitching Notes: Allowed 633 runs (9th out of 12), 7 pitchers (3 starters, 4 relievers) with ERA+ > 100.

The Cardinals pitching staff wasn't good at much that year. 9th in complete games, 8th in ERA, walked the 5th most batters, struck out the 8th most, allowed the 5th most hits in the league. The only thing they did well was avoid home runs, as they allowed the 3rd fewest (91). That was still 20 more than their team hit, but that's not really the pitchers' fault. Todd Worrell and Jose DeLeon were the only pitchers to average more than 7 K/9 (excluding Scott Arnold, who threw 6 innings that year). Among 5 of the pitchers with the most starts (DeLeon, Joe Magrane, John Tudor, Danny Cox, and Greg Mathews), none allowed more than 0.6 HR/9 innings, and Tudor and Magrane were at 0.3/9.

I included Scott Terry with the starters in the above listing. He only started 11 games, versus 40 relief appearances, but 75 of his 129.3 innings came as a starter, and he pitched quite well in that opportunity. His ERA was 2.40, his WHIP was 1.093, his K/BB was 2.53. And he was still no better than the 3rd best starter the Cardinals employed that year, 1 and 2 being Magrane and Tudor. Magrane won the ERA title with a 2.18 (161 ERA+), though he barely reached the innings requirement (165.3). Tudor posted a 2.29 (153) in 21 starts before being traded to the Dodgers for Pedro Guerrero. Despite that, their combined record was 11-14, with Magrane going 5-9, even with 3 shutouts. In one of those odd quirks, DeLeon had a rare (for him) winning season, going 13-10 in 225.3 innings, even though his 3.67 ERA was below average (95).

The rotation was a bit of a mess, as 8 pitchers logged at least 10 starts that season. DeLeon was the only one to reach 30 starts. Magrane made 24 starts before being sent to AAA for some reason. To preserve his confidence or his ERA lead, I don't know. It shouldn't have been the workload, as he threw more innings the year before. Tudor was traded to the Dodgers, Bob Forsch (12 starts, 18 relief appearances) was swapped to Houston for utiltyman Denny Walling. Cox (13 starts) suffered a shoulder injury that ended his career as a starter. Mathews (13 starts) wasn't good, and Larry McWilliams (17 starts, 25 relief appearances) bounced from rotation to bullpen all year.

With the rotation in flux, it took its toll on the 'pen. Ken Dayley (2.77, 127) wasn't too bad, though his 2-7 record suggests troubles. Todd Worrell threw 90 innings of 3.00 ERA ball, saved 32 games. John Costello put in 49.3 innings with a 1.81 ERA. But Dan Quisenberry put up an ERA over 6.00 in 38 innings, and Steve Peters did the same in 45.

Defensive Notes: Sometimes a poor hitting or pitching team can be mitigated by an excellent fielding team. The '88 Cardinals couldn't pull that off. As a team, they were -2 runs defensively, compared to the '86 squad that was +94.

They had their strong points. Ozzie was +18 at SS, and Pendleton +11 at 3rd. Oquendo's +8 in 500+ innings at 2nd offset Luis Alicea's -5 in over 700 innings. Tony Pena was +3 behind the plate. Unfortunately, Horner was a -3 at 1st (though Pedro was +1 in 300 innings), and the outfielders were atrocious at worst, unimpressive at best. Coleman -2, McGee -7, Brunansky -10 from left to right. None of their backups played much, and most weren't very good, though Curt Ford managed a +1 in 112 innings in LF, and a +2 in 69 innings in RF.

Other Notes: The team had three winning months: May (18-10), August (17-12), and September (14-13). The month that killed them was July, when they went 8-19, and were outscored 119-76. They were slightly above .500 at home, and 5 games below in both blowouts and one-run games. They did well against the Phillies and Cubs (combined 23-13), but were hammered by Montreal and the Mets (9-27).

They hit considerably better against lefties (.700 OPS) than righties (.621). Unsurprisingly, May (.686) was their best hitting month by 13 points, and July (.561) was their worst by almost 80. Not reflected in the 8-14 record, but April was their 2nd best month. Their pitchers were better against righties than lefties, and better at home than on the road. Interestingly, both their strikeout and walk rates were higher on the road, though unfortunately, the walk rate increased more. Their best performance was August (.623) by 30 points, their worst, no surprise, July (.727), by 17 points.

Final Thoughts: There's not much impressive about this team other than their ability to steal bases and avoid home runs. Admittedly, offense was down across the league that year, but the Cards were bad even compared to the others. I can't say they're the frontrunners, since I know who the remaining 3 squads are, but they deserve consideration.

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