Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Looking For My Worst Cardinals Team - Part 6

Today I'm looking at the team that signaled the true end of the Herzog era. Like the 1988 team, this squad couldn't hit, but unlike the 1988 team, they can't blame so much of that on a leaguewide downturn in offense.


Record: 70-92 (.432), outscored 698-599, -99 run differential
Pythagorean Record: 70-92 (.432)

Offensive Notes: Scored 599 runs (11th out 12), 4 players (4 starters, 4 reserves) with OPS+ > 100.

As you might expect, this team was bad at a lot of aspects of hitting. They were dead last in HRs, unsurprisingly, 11th in slugging and OPS, 8th in hits and on-base percentage, and 7th in walks and batting average. They were 5th in doubles, 3rd in triples, and 2nd in stolen bases, struck out the fewest times in the league, but that's about as far as the positives go.

You might expect, with that many above average hitters, that they'd fare a little better, but in most cases, the reserves are replacing some of the starters. Vince Coleman (.741 OPS, 104 OPS+) was suspended for 7 games at one point, and didn't play for 2 weeks in September, replaced largely by Bernard Gilkey (.859, 135 in 72 PAs). Willie McGee (.819, 126, won the NL batting title with a .335 BA) was the best hitting starter on the team, but he was traded to Oakland in July, replaced by Ray Lankford (.805, 121 in 139 PAs). McGee did net the Cardinals Felix Jose (.780, 113, in 93 PAs0, and he replaced Milt Thompson (.620, 71, .290 OBP) in RF. Todd Zeile was barely above average (.731, 101 OPS+). The upside (offensively) was by the end of the year, Zeile had taken over 3rd base from Terry Pendleton (.601, 65), and Tom Pagnozzi (.693, 91, in 237 PAs) had become starting catcher, which meant a net upgrade. Pedro Guerrero was slightly above-average as well. The problem had been the middle infield of Ozzie Smith and Jose Oquendo (77 and 85 OPS+es, respectively), combined with Thompson and Pendleton's ineptitude, and the lack of any decent bench bats besides early-season trade acquisition Rex Hudler (.770, 110 in 235 PAs). Tim Jones, Denny Walling, Craig Wilson, Geronimo Pena, players who might have taken at-bats from the weak-hitting starters in the infield, all had an OPS+ below 70, not an improvement.

The team had just two starters (Oquendo and McGee) with OBPs of .350 or better (and McGee's .385 was heavily batting average influenced). Coleman was next at .340. Lankford, Gilkey, and Dave Collins were all above .350, but combined for roughly 280 PAs. Guerrero, Coleman, and McGee were the only starters slugging above .400 (and Coleman's was exactly .400). Hudler, Lankford, Gilkey, and Jose were the sole bench players in that category. Zeile led the team with 15 HRs, and Pedro and McGee were the only Cardinals with more than 30 doubles. Pendleton, Ozzie and Zeile each managed at least 20, for what that's worth. 1990 was Ozzie's worst offensive season since 1981, when he was still a Padre.

Pitching Notes: Allowed 698 runs (8th out of 12), 8 pitchers (4 starters, 4 relievers) with ERA+ > 100.

The 1990 Cardinals pitching staff excelled at two things: The allowed the fewest HRs in the league, and the 3rd fewest walks. Normally, few walks and few home runs would be a recipe for success, even finishing 11th in strikeouts, but it didn't work here. While the paltry offense doesn't help, I don't believe the bullpen was much good, either. There was only one pitcher anywhere close to overpowering (judging by K/BB), and that was the closer. Considering the Cardinals finished last in complete games, they needed more from the guys bridging the gap, and they didn't get it.

Not that the starters were blameless. Magrane slumped from the year before, his ERA increasing by over three-quarters of a run (ERA+ still 106), and his innings dropping by 30. Jose DeLeon regressed, his ERA climbing from 3.05 to 4.43 (86), and his innings dropping by over 60. He was the only starter to average more than 7 Ks/9 innings (8.1). Bryn Smith didn't work out as a free agent pick-up, totaling less than 150 innings, with a 4.27 ERA himself. Ken Hill only made 14 starts (plus 3 relief appearances), and spent the rest of the year in the minors, probably due to his 5.49 ERA and 1.424 WHIP. On a positive note, he did lower his walk rate, and raise his K rate, so his K/BB went from 1.13 to 1.76. Greg Matthews made 10 lousy starts.

The bright points in the rotation came down a Herzog reclamation project, an old ace coming home, and a rookie making a late season call-up. Bob Tewksbury made 20 starts and 8 relief appearances, totaling 145 innings. He posted a 3.47 ERA (110 ERA+), with 3 complete games, 2 of which were shutouts, 1 save, a WHIP of only 1.142 (Magrane's for example, was 1.293, and the other starters mentioned above were considerably worse than him), and walked 0.9 batters per 9 innings, which is how he had a 3.33 K/BB while striking out only 3.1/9. John Tudor had missed most of 1989 with a shoulder surgery, the Cardinals took a chance on him, and it paid off. Tudor made 22 starts, plus 3 relief appearances, and in 145 innings posted a 2.40 ERA (159), with a complete game, a 2.10 K/BB, , a 1.025 WHIP, and allowed only 7.4 hits per 9 innings. Omar Olivares came along late to make 6 starts and 3 relief appearances, and in just under 50 innings, posted a 2.92 ERA. His 1.18 K/BB ratio was troubling, but he was able to get away with it.

But if you only have a handful of reliable starters, you need a lot of good relievers, and the Cardinals didn't have them. Of the relievers with an ERA+ better than 100, one was Stan Clarke, who pitched 3.1 innings. Another was Tom Niedenfuer (3.46, 110), but he went 0-6, had a WHIP of 1.4, and a K/BB of only 1.28 (4.4 K/9, 3.5 BB/9). Ken Dayley was still there, but his 3.56 ERA (107), wasn't terribly encouraging. He did however, keep hitters to less than 8 hits/9 innings, and posted a somewhat more acceptable 1.70 K/BB. Lee Smith, acquired in April from Boston for Tom Brunansky (why Milt Thompson was starting in RF), was the best they had. He saved 27 games, had an ERA+ of 182, a WHIP of 1.136 (not overpowering, but good), 9.2 K/9, and a K/BB of 3.5.

There wasn't much else to be happy about in the 'pen. Scott Terry, demoted from the rotation (where he made 24 starts in 1989), posted a 4,75 ERA. Frank DiPino had a 4.56, plus a WHIP over 1.50. Ricky Horton pitched 42 innings with an ERA of 4.93 and a WHIP over 1.7. Mike Perez had a mildly encouraging 13 innings at the end of the year, but the low strikeout rate (3.3/9), without a Tewksburian walk rate (Perez walked 2/9), was not great.

Defensive Notes: The '90 squad wasn't the defensive whiz the '86 team had been, but they also weren't the mediocrity the '88 squad had been either. Pagnozzi was a +10 in roughly 500 innings (compared to Zeile's -1 in close to 900). Oquendo was a +2 (little disappointing for him, actually), Pendleton a +10, Ozzie a +14. Coleman managed a +7, and Thompson a +8. Guerrero was a problem at 1st, and Zeile was slightly below average at 3rd as well. Gilkey was solid in LF, while Lankford (starting the trend early) was slightly below average in CF. Felix Jose was a downgrade defensively from both Thompson and Rex Hudler, with the caveat he only played 170 innings in RF that year (and Gilkey only logged 144 in LF). As a whole, the team was a +35.

Other Notes: The team had one winnings month (July, 15-13), even though they were outscored by 10 runs, and one .500 month, August, even though they outscored their opponents by 22. Their worst month was September (10-18, outscored by 41). The month they scored the most runs in was June (124), but it was also the month they allowed the most runs (148), so they wound up 11-17. They were 21-24 in one-run games, which was better than their 17-25 record in blowouts. Not too surprising with their offense, it would be hard to score enough runs to blow another team out. They did manage a 7-6 record in extra innings.

The team hit basically the same against righties (.680) or lefties (.673), but their right-handed hitters were better than the lefties (.692 vs. 661). Their left-handed and right-handed pitchers had the same OPS against, .701, but as a team, lefthanders did much better against them (.729 vs. 678). The Cardinals had their best OPS in August, even though June was their highest scoring month (June was their second highest OPS). July was their second worst hitting month (better only than May). As you might expect, the pitchers did their worst in June, and their best came in July, though August wasn't bad either. Those were the only two months the Cardinals' pitchers kept the opponents' OPS below .700 (.632 in July, .649 in August).

Final Thoughts: Like the 1986 team, the Cardinals were as good as their run differential said they were. Unfortunately, that wasn't very good. As typical for bad Cardinals teams, they had no power, and they didn't get on base enough for their speed to make up the difference. The starting pitching was shaky, as the two guys who had anchored the rotation the year before (Magrane and DeLeon) declined severely. If they could have pitched closer to their 1989 selves, combined with Tudor and Tewksbury, maybe the Cardinals could have reached .500. It didn't work out like that, though. Between this and the 1988 team, I have a hard time deciding who's worse. The '88 team scored fewer runs, but it was a down year for offense all around, and the allowed a lot fewer runs as well. The '90 team was slightly better pitching team, especially considering it wasn't a down year offensively, and about 3 wins better on defense, even with a full year of Pedro Guerrero at first.

This was the year where the Herzog championship team pretty much were done. A lot of that was Herzog quitting partway through the season, but most of the guys who were left were gone by the end of the year as well. This was Rickey Horton and John Tudor's last season. Greg Matthews had to go elsewhere for employment, as did Ken Dayley. Danny Cox had been out of commission since June of 1988. Todd Worrell had hurt his elbow September of 1989, he wouldn't return to the mound until 1992. Joe Magrane was still there, but he'd miss all of 1991 with elbow surgery, and make only 5 starts in 1992, then 20 more in 1993 before being traded to the Angels.

Tony Pena, had left before the 1990. Jack Clark and Tom Herr were long gone. The Cardinals traded McGee during the '90 season, and benched Pendleton and Coleman for long stretches because they didn't intend to resign them anyway. In 1991, pretty much the only active player who had a big role on the World Series teams was Ozzie, still the starting shortstop, and Oquendo who collected 312 PAs as a utility guy in '87, and was now the starting second baseman. It probably needed to be done. The '90 Cardinals were lousy, and it couldn't hurt to try some new, young players. However, there was a perception that the team was being run by suits not interested in winning, only in profit. To that end, it was felt they'd decided it would be more profitable to have a cheap, young team that didn't win as much, rather than a more expensive, older team. The fans would still show up in sufficient numbers for it to work out financially.

I don't doubt making a profit was in the minds of the brewery folks running the team. For myself though, I enjoyed the young teams the Cardinals trotted out in the early nineties. I'd enjoy them a lot more if they'd won a World Series, or at least made the playoffs, but they were posting winning records for a few years there at the start, which provided hope.

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