Sunday, September 12, 2010

Looking For My Worst Cardinals Team - Part 8

It's time for the last team, barring a complete collapse by the current squad. As opposed to the half-assed collapse they've been engaged in for the last month.


Record: 78-84 (.481), outscored 829-725, -104 run differential
Pythagorean Record: 71-91 (.438)

Offensive Notes: Scored 725 runs (11th out of 16); 5 players (2 starters, 3 reserves) with OPS+ > 100.

This team was marginally good at getting hits. They were 7th in hits, and 5th in batting average and on-base percentage. That last one was in spite of being 13th in walks. Unfortunately, they didn't hit for any power. 14th in doubles and slugging, 16th in triples, 13th in home runs. They did have the 3rd fewest strikeouts, but more than offset this by grounding into the most double plays in the league. They were also 15th in the NL in stolen bases.

The two starters were Albert Pujols, who with a .997 OPS (157 OPS+) had his second worst season up to that point, and Chris Duncan (.834, 114), whose season ended early. David Eckstein outhit Scott Rolen and Jim Edmonds, which would have been great if David put up a .900 OPS, but he didn't reach .750. Adam Kennedy had a miserable year (.575, 50). Amongst the reserves, the good hitters were the guys taking over in the outfield by the end of the season: Skip Schumaker (.816, 111), Rick Ankiel (.863, 119), and Ryan Ludwick (.818, 110). They all had weaknesses, especially patience, as none of them walked all that much, and Skip wasn't much of a power hitter, but they were an improvement on the starters, as a whole.

Molina had a positive year in the sense he posted his best OPS up to that point, .708. Brendan Ryan hit better than his minor league numbers suggested he would, though Scott Spiezio was a bit of a disappointment. Aaron Miles had what was probably a good year for him, but not a particularly useful one for the team. As a whole, the Cardinals had 5 players in double digit home runs, though only two of those (Duncan and Pujols) reached 20. Eckstein was the only one to steal 10 bases.

Pitching Notes: 829 runs allowed (13th of 16); 11 pitchers (3 starters, 8 relievers) with ERA+ > than 100.

Not much good to say here, either. They allowed the 5th fewest walks, they were in the middle of the pack in HRs. But they were 11th in hits allowed, and 15th in strikeouts. No surprise there.

Of the relievers, Josh Hancock threw 13 innings before his passing, Troy Cate 16, of which he was probably lucky to have a 3.38 ERA, considering his 1.688 WHIP. Randy Flores and Tyler Johnson both posted ERA+ better than 100, but their ERAs were still above 4.00, which isn't great for a reliever. Flores was probably lucky, considering his 1.564 WHIP, compared to Tyler's 1.237. The Cards did have 4 legitimately good relievers: Isringhausen, Ryan Franklin, Russ Springer, and Troy Percival. All of them had an ERA+ of at least 145, and no ERA was higher than Franklin's 3.04. Izzy had the worst WHIP, at 1.071, and Springer (0.909) and Percival (0.850) were both fantastic. Izzy struggled a bit with walks (3.9/9 IP), but still K'd over 7/9. Percival was over 8 K/9, and Springer was a 9 K/9. Two of the good starters were Pineiro and Todd Wellenmeyer. Pineiro surrendered 1.6 HR/9, and Wellenmeyer averaged less than 5 innings when he actually started, while walking over 4/9. Wainwright was the closest thing to an actual good starting pitcher, throwing 202 innings with a 3.70 ERA (119 ERA+).

Unfortunately, the team had its share of duds. Mike Maroth had a good first start, then was battered for the next six starts, and 7 relief appearances. Anthony Reyes struggled with runners on base, with his mechanics, with the pitches they wanted him to throw, with lack of run support when he pitched well. Kip Wells sucked. Mulder was still not ready. Kelvim Jimenez (7.50 ERA) mostly held the role of "pitcher LaRussa uses when he's throwing in the towel", though Andy Cavazos, Brian Falkenborg, and Dennis Dove also took turns.

Defensive Notes: The Cardinals were actually good at some positions. Unfortunately, like the '99 team, they were equally terrible at others, mostly in the outfield. Molina was 12 runs above average behind the plate, Albert +25 at first, Rolen partially made up for his lousy offensive season by being +14 at 3rd. The bad news was the Cards were -5 at 2nd, and -9 at SS, thanks to a -15 in 1245 innings of Aaron Miles and Eckstein. The outfield was a disaster. Chris Duncan and So Taguchi were a -22 in 960 innings, though Ludwick and Schumaker were good enough that the team was only -13 overall. Their CFs were average, but Juan Encarnacion was -16 in RF, and the team was -24 as a whole. Overall, the Cardinals were only +8, despite being a combined +59 at C, first, and third.

Other Notes: The Cardinals somehow managed a winning record (43-38) at home, despite being outscored by 20 runs. That they were 35-46 on the road, where they were outscored by 84, made more sense. The team had two good months, July and August, where they managed to climb into the divisional race, thanks to a 30-23 record and a terrible division. Not surprisingly for a team with such poor starters, the team was 25-38 in blowouts. Also not surprisingly for a bad team with a relatively good bullpen, they were 16-20 in one-run games. They owned the Pirates (12-6), but were destroyed by the eventual division winning Cubs, losing 11 of 16. Though only managed 1 win in 6 games against the Nationals, and 1 in 5 against the Giants.

Final Thoughts: This probably shouldn't have been a surprise, considering how the 2006 team played during the regular season. Going into a season with a rotation of Chris Carpenter, Kip Wells, Braden Looper, Wainwright, and Reyes, only to see Carpenter lost for the season in the opener, should have been another clue. Very little seemed to go right. The offense was completely non-existent (even from Pujols) for the first six weeks, and then, just as the team started to hit a little, the rotation fell completely apart. Reyes mostly stopped pitching well and getting screwed by lack of run support, and just pitched poorly. Kip remembered he was Kip Wells. Wainwright started to turn things around by the end of May, but by then Looper was reaching career highs in innings, and wearing down, though I was still impressed by how well he held up.

Mulder tried to come back, and failed. Maroth was not a successful reclamation project, and in that season, Wellenmeyer would be stretching the definition of "successful". Preston Wilson tried to play hurt because the team needed him, and fared poorly. Encarnacion came back from injury mid-season, then had his career ended by a foul ball off Miles' bat. Adam Kennedy played horribly, then was shut down with a knee injury. Duncan struggled after July, until he was shut down in early September with a hernia. I was watching the game against the Diamondback when they shut him down. Watching Albert run the bases that season had been ugly, as you could tell he was running so as to avoid injuring his hamstrings and heel any worse. Watching Duncan leg out a triple that night, you could tell he was in even more pain.

The only things that slightly mitigated the pain of such a lousy season were that they won the World Series the year before (big help), and the NL Central was so lousy they weren't eliminated until an 8 game losing streak in early September.

This is the team. There's really nothing they do well. They aren't a decent offensive team like the '94 squad. They aren't a good run prevention team like the '95, '97, or '86 teams. The '88 and '90 teams could each at least run a lot to compensate for their lack of hitting, and both those teams had better rotations than the '07 team, if not better bullpens. The '99 team is probably close to as bad, but they were a better offensive team, able to hit for more power, and demonstrate more speed on the bases. The '99 team's rotation was better too, even if their bullpen was also much worse. They aren't a good defensive team overall, either. Better than the '99 and '88 groups, but only by 10 runs. +8 is better than -2, no doubt, but it doesn't hold a candle to +35 (1990 and 1994), and certainly not +94 (1986). Really, a good bullpen (excluding all the lousy relievers, anyway) is all this team has going for it, besides Albert Pujols, and I don't think that's enough to elevate them above the other teams.

From worst to best, I'd go 2007, 1999, 1988, 1990, 1994, 1995, 1997, 1986.

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Saturday, September 04, 2010

Cardinals Release Leinart

Yes, it's a post about something other than baseball.

The Arizona Cardinals cut Matt Leinart. I'm a bit surprised by that. I wasn't surprised that Whisenhunt would make Leinart earn the starting job. After all, he didn't draft Matt, Denny Green did, and Leinart hasn't impressed in the occasional playing opportunities he had the last two years. I hadn't heard much good about Leinart's performance in the preseason, but I wasn't hearing good things about much of anything on the team. The running game hadn't materialized, the offensive line was struggling, the defense was a huge question mark if only because of how poorly they played the end of last year, when Green Bay ran up the points in consecutive weeks, then new Orleans torched them.

But I don't play too close attention to the preseason. The results don't mean anything. The Rams beat the Patriots a couple weeks ago. Are the Rams better than New England? I highly doubt it. The Colts have gone 0-4 in the preseason in the last couple years. Doesn't seem to hamper them from winning double-digit games once the competitions count for something. So I was trying to remain positive, figuring it was an adjustment period, the team would get things sorted by Week 1, and if not, they play in the NFC West. The 49ers concerned me a bit, but I wasn't quaking at the sight of Pete Carroll coaching the Seahawks, and I wanted to see the Rams win more than 3 games in a season before I worried about them.

But apparently Leinart's been so bad Whisenhunt would rather take his chances with Derek Anderson and two rookies? Derek Anderson, the guy who couldn't hold off Brady Quinn to keep his starting job. I know Anderson has one more Pro Bowl selection than Leinart, but I keep coming back to Anderson playing so poorly, the Browns decided they were better off with Brady Quinn, who was terrible for them. At least Leinart originally lost his starting job to Kurt Warner, a quarterback who was actually good.

I read an idea that Arizona really wanted to trade Leinart, rather than release him, because if they had to cut him, he'd probably go straight to Seattle and Pete Carroll. I have no idea if that was any concern of the Arizona staff, it was something I read on a blog, probably just them spitballing. If it has some grain of truth, I'd hope it was one of those situations where they don't want him giving away all their plays to Seattle. Because if it was worry that he might play well and burn them, then why cut him in the first place? If it's possible for Pete Carroll to make Leinart a successful starting QB, it ought to be possible for Whisenhunt and his bunch.

Anyway, at this point, I'd rather the Cardinals looked into bringing back Josh McCown to be QB, than go with Anderson. Hell, I'd rather they tried to talk Jake Plummer out of retirement. Oh well, Anderson probably isn't the worst starting QB they've had since I've been a fan. That was probably Kent Graham in '97. Or maybe 800-year old Boomer Esiason the year before. Or 900-year old Dave Kreig the year before that.

The Cardinals also traded one of their starting guards, Reggie Wells, to Philly for a draft pick. I'm going to hope that was because Arizona feels they have astounding depth on their O-line. Astounding depth that is good. No doubt the Cardinals have had deep offensive lines consisting of mostly terrible players before, but that's not something to be excited about.

I used to read all the NFL preview mags I could get my hands on. SI, ESPN, Sporting News, two or three others. I'd read them, and especially in the first few Plummer years, and later, the Denny Green years, I'd get excited afterward. It sounded like the Cardinals were loaded, and they'd make a move. Outside of 1998, that never happened. Eventually, I started ignoring all of that. Now I've paid just enough attention to be worried before the season even starts. I'm not sure whether it's better to go in worried, or go in excited and then be crushed by reality. I guess I'll know by then end of the season. Really hoping the Cardinals figured something out to turn Anderson around.