Monday, August 30, 2010

Looking For My Worst Cardinals Team - Part 7

As we move into the home stretch, I'm returning to the LaRussa era for these last two teams. Today it's the last bad team before the Cardinals kicked off a decade of being good almost every year.


Record: 75-86 (.466), outscored 838-809, -29 run differential
Pythagorean Record: 78-83 (.485)

Offensive Notes: Scored 809 runs (10th out of 16), 6 players (3 starters, 3 reserves) with OPS+ > 100.

The team's runs scored total was fairly accurate considering their rank in other offensive categories. It might even have been better than one might expect. They were 13th in hits and batting average, 12th in doubles, 11th in OBP, 10th in triples and OPS, 9th in SLG and 8th in stolen bases. They did manage to finish 7th in walks, 5th in HRs, and lead the league in strikeouts.

The team's lineup was top-heavy, or thin depending on how you'd prefer to describe it. The starting lineup had Mark McGwire (1.120 OPS and 176 OPS+) with his 65 HRs, and Fernando Tatis (.957, 139). Ray Lankford (.873, 118) rounded out the positive offensive performances. The rest of the lineup consisted of hitters with mid-80s OPS+ (Joe McEwing, Edgar Renteria), or low-90s (J.D. Drew, Eric Davis, when they were healthy, as Drew and Lankford were the only outfielders on the team to top 400 plate appearances). The millstone in the lineup was Eli Marrero, recovering from a serious illness and posting a .533 OPS (that's a 33 OPS+) in 343 PAs. That was bad enough to make his backup, Alberto Castillo's .667 look almost good. Of the 3 above average offensive reserves, two were Eduardo Perez and Marcus Jensen, who combined for 81 PAs. The third was Craig Paquette posting a slugging heavy (OBP of .309) .825 OPS. Unfortunately, Paquette was 6th amongst reserves in PAs, and of the top 5, only Thomas Howard (.789, 98), and Darren Bragg (.746, 89) had an OPS+ better than 80.

The Cardinals had only two players with more than 20 HRs (McGwire and Tatis), though there were 4 others with at least 10. They did have 2 players (Renteria and Tatis, though Tatis's 21 successes in 30 attempts didn't merit so many green lights) steal more than 20 bases, and three others (including Marrero) who stole at least 10 bases, but in each case, the drop off from those few productive players to the rest of the team was severe.

Pitching Notes: Allowed 838 runs (10th out of 16), 8 pitchers (5 starters, 3 relievers) with ERA+ > 100.

The Cardinals' pitching staff was pretty uniformly bad. They were 13th in complete games, 12th in hits allowed, 13th in Ks, and 15th in walks, which had been at least one thing the bad teams of the Herzog era had avoided. Apparently this Cardinals pitching staff couldn't help making things harder on themselves. They did have one thing working for them, that they allowed the 5th fewest HRs in the NL, but with as many other hits and walks as they surrendered, it didn't help much.

A primary culprit was the bullpen. Of the three relievers that managed better than average ERAs, the caveats abound. Rich Croushore's 112 is for a 4.14 ERA, which probably should be worse considering his 1.549 WHIP, and more than 5 BB/9 IP (he did average 11.1 K/9, best on the team). Heathcliff Slocumb somehow posted a 2.36 ERA in 53.3 innings, despite a 1.481 WHIP, and more than 5 BB/9 himself. Mike Mohler posted a 4.38 (106) in 49.3 innings with a 1.419 WHIP. He at least kept his walk rate down to 4.2/9. And these were the good relievers. Ricky Bottalico posted and ERA of 4.91, which was lucky considering his WHIP of 1.8, and 6 BB/9. Juan Acevedo (working as both a starter and reliever) post an ERA of almost 6.00 in over 100 innings, and allowed 1.5 HRs/9 innings pitched. The rest wasn't much better.

Not that the starters were blameless. Jose Jimenez posted a 5.85 ERA (79 ERA+) in 163 innings, and that includes his two shutouts of the Diamondbacks (which came within two weeks of each other). Kent Mercker posted a +5.00 ERA in over 100 innings, with a WHIP of almost 1.7. The ace of the staff was either Kent Bottenfield (3.97, 116) or Darren Oliver (4.26, 108). Bottenfield has the better ERA and record (18-7 versus 9-9), but Oliver posted a better WHIP (1.38 vs. 1.50), and a better strikeout-to-walk ratio (1.61 vs. 1.39), and threw more innings (196 vs. 190). Either way, if those are the two best starters a team has, they're in trouble. The Cardinals picked up 12 starts from Garrett Stephenson (4.22, 110, in 85.3 innings), as well as 5 starts from Mark Thompson (2.76, 169, 29 innings) and Rick Ankiel (3.27, 142, 33 innings, including 4 relief appearances). Ankiel's was more accurate, considering his WHIP of 1.212, vs. Thompson's 1.466 (and more than 5 BB/9).

Defensive Notes: As a whole, the Cardinals were about 2 runs below average defensively. With the exception of 2nd base (basically average) and RF (-5), they were either excellent or abysmal at each position. Marrero and Castillo were each +8 behind the plate, but McGwire's -9 at 1st base, and Renteria's -8 at SS sort of cancel that out. Tatis was an awful -22 at 3rd. It takes the combined efforts of Lankford in LF (+15), and J.D. Drew in CF (+11) to nullify that. Oddly, Willie McGee was -4 in LF, -8 in RF, but +1 CF, the most difficult outfield position. The problem here is the Cardinals were good at some critical positions (catcher, CF), but lousy at others (3rd, SS), so you can't even say they had good defensive players at the places those matter the most, because it would only be partially true.

Other Notes: Like their Pythagorean Record and run differential suggest, this team ought to have been a few wins better than it was, and it's backed up in some of the odd records you see for them. They were 38-42 at home, 37-44 on the road. But they were outscored by 50 runs at home, while outscoring their opponents by 21 on the road. Going by that, they ought to have been even worse at home, and a winning team on the road. Through July, they were 52-52, despite being -23 in runs. The remainder of the season they went 23-34, despite being +4. Contrary to what I would have expected with their bullpen, the team was 9-8 in extra innings games, and only one game below .500 in one-run games. They had a winning record in blowouts. They dominated the southern California teams, going 13-5 against the Padres and Dodgers. The only team they were exceptionally poor against was Atlanta (1-8), though the Reds (4-8) and Mets (2-5) both did well against them.

Final Thoughts: This was the third disappointing year in a row for the Cardinals, after going to the postseason the first year of the LaRussa era. It was, perhaps not coincidentally, the third year in a row their starting rotation had trouble staying healthy all year. And the pitchers who did stay healthy, as well as those who replaced the injured, weren't very good. Matt Morris blew out his elbow in Spring Training, gone for the year. Donovan Osborne struggled the first month, then retired for a few years. Jimenez had two good starts at the beginning of the year, then the two good starts against the D'Backs in June, and otherwise, was consistently hammered. Mercker was hurt for awhile, then traded. Acevedo, who had been good when available the year before, in both the rotation and the pen, was good in neither this year. LaRussa tried moving Lance Painter to the rotation, he got hurt. Bottalico was not a noticeable improvement on Jeff Brantley.

Joe McEwing started well, then his numbers declined as the league figured him out. Willie McGee's skills seemed completely gone. None of the outfielders could seem to stay healthy, which may not be much of a surprise considering the three primary starters for the year wound up being Ray Lankford, J.D. Drew, and Eric Davis. Renteria may have been an improvement on the traded Royce Clayton offensively, but not so much defensively, and Tatis was giving way quite a few of the runs he was generating offensively.

I know much of the fan excitement that year wound up revolving around McGwire, though for me it was the late season call-up of Rick Ankiel. Pitching had been the Cardinals' problem, in my opinion the previous year and this one, and it sure would be swell if Ankiel could be as good as people said he was. He actually was about as good as I could have hoped, considering the Cardinals consistently didn't score any damn runs for him when he started. They could score enough to get Bottenfield 18 damns wins, but they couldn't net Ankiel any?

I went to one game with my dad that year, Late June, Cards vs. Astros. The game seemed to drag, and I had to be up for work at 6 the next morning, so we left in the 6th inning. What cinched us leaving was Juan Acevedo, who was starting, walked Shane Reynolds, the opposing pitcher. That's when you know it isn't a good night. The Cards did score a couple of runs after we left, but it didn't make any difference to the result. That was the last game I went to until the series against Pittsburgh late last month. Not out of any disgust stemming from Acevedo walking a pitcher, though that earned him plenty of scorn from me, the opportunities just didn't come up. As to whether this could be the worst team, I believe they're more mediocre than anything else. They're 10th in runs scored and runs allowed, which isn't terrible, but isn't good in either category. So not bad enough, I think.

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Saturday, August 14, 2010

Talking About The Current Cardinals

I haven't done any posting about the 2010 Cardinals this year. There are a couple of reasons, both relating to me not feeling a connection with the team.

The first is because until the end of June, there was no TV where I was living, so watching games was out, and I've never been much of a fan of listening to games on the radio. More of a visual learner. Since the start of July, I've had access to TV, but I've fallen out of the habit, so I still haven't been watching. Really, I haven't been watching any TV, an hour a day, tops. So my investment's been limited to reading about the team on the Internet, which can be informative, but it doesn't convey any emotional connection to the team for me.

The second reason is, I was kind of disappointed in the Matt Holliday signing. For starters, I thought the contract was too large, as I wouldn't have gone higher than 6 years, $96 million (and I would have started at 5/$80). It's not my money being spent, but the owner will factor that contract into how much they can spend to plug other holes as needed, be it rotation, or perhaps finding a real second baseman (as Schumaker, Felipe Lopez, and Aaron Miles don't qualify). That's provided there isn't anyone in the system that could step in (and as far as 2nd base goes, I don't think there is anyone close). I tend to prefer when the Cardinals are more reliant on players they developed, as opposed to big name free agents. If the Cardinals had let Holliday walk and given the left field job to Allen Craig, I'd certainly have been intrigued. It would have made it tougher, but that would have been more interesting, and it would have been a deviation from what I tend to expect of LaRussa teams.

They didn't go that route (and as far as team performance this year, it's almost certainly been to their benefit), and they've seemingly been trying all season to be less reliant on younger players. Bringing Aaron Miles, Jeff Suppan, Mike MacDougal, Jake Westbrook, Randy Winn. Westbrook's been useful, though I'm really not sure he was worth trading Ryan Ludwick to a potential playoff foe (assuming the Cardinals make the playoffs). So that's put me off a bit as well.

Still, I was entertained by the recent series with the Reds. I don't know how concerned Cincinnati should be, considering how many games are left and the Cardinals hit the Reds with what have been their 3 best starters up to this point (Westbrook may surpass Garcia soon). Still, it had to be a little frustrating for them, with Brandon Phillips talking trash, then they get swept, thoroughly failing to back up his talk. I can't understand the suspensions the league handed down. I assume Cueto was suspended because one of his kicks allegedly gave LaRue a concussion, but I can't see how Phillips, Rolen, Carpenter, and especially Molina didn't get tagged. Yeah, Phillips shouldn't have tried tapping the shin guards in a "We cool?" moment after his comments, but that doesn't mean Yadier had to get in his face and start jawing. I really don't understand singling Cueto amongst the players.

I am impressed that when Carpenter and Rolen went at it, they didn't end up injuring themselves. I wouldn't have been surprised to see Carp come up holding his elbow, and Rolen his shoulder, and then each of them is out for the season. I'm not sure which team would have been hurt worse. Losing Carpenter would weaken the rotation, and the bullpen would likely have to increase its workload, but Rolen's an everyday player for the Reds, and I'm not sure they have a 3rd baseman available who could approximate his performance. Guess it's fortunate for both teams it didn't happen.