Thursday, June 30, 2011

At The Halfway Mark

The St. Louis Cardinals have played half their games now. They're 43-38, so on pace for 86 wins, same as last year. The injury issues seem to have struck especially hard this year, with Wainwright falling before the season started, then McClellan, Sanchez, Laird, Schumaker, Craig, Holliday, Punto, Freese, and now Albert Pujols all missing time. Some of those hurt more than others, some were more of a surprise than others, but regardless, the team is struggling to get by lately. The lineup looks thin, the bullpen stinks, even with 8 relievers, and the starting pitching seems to be wearing down. Let's take a look at each player. Pitchers today, hitters tomorrow, hopefully.

Chris Carpenter - Carp's not really pitching that much worse than he did last year. His HR rate is the same (0.8/9 IP), walks are down, Ks are up. He is allowing an extra 1.6 hits per 9 innings, which seems to be the difference between having an ERA+ of 119 (last year), and one of 90 (this year). His babip is .322, but whether that's a question of luck or lousy defense I don't know. The results have started to turn around, though I doubt it's a coincidence he's going deeper into games as well, rather than rely on the bullpen. I do question the wisdom of his recent pitch counts. Sure, let the 36-year-old with a history of elbow and shoulder troubles throw 130+ pitches! Why not?

Kyle Lohse - In the offseason, I hoped Lohse could be a passable fifth starter. When Wainwright was hurt, I hoped Lohse could be a 4th starter So far he's done a fair impression of a #1 starter. He's far and away the best pitcher they have, worth 3.1 wins above replacement, almost 2 wins more than any other pitcher. His WHIP is 1.027, he walks 1.6/9, his HR rate is the same as Carpenter's. The K rate is low enough he probably can't keep it up, but if he can match his 2008 season it'll be a smashing success.

Jaime Garcia - The good is Garcia's thrown 2 complete games, kept his ERA around 3, and he's allowing 1 HR every 18 innings. He's also cut his walks to 2.3/9 vs. 3.5 last year, and his K rate is up slightly. However, he's had some trouble getting deep into games. In starts 2-6, he couldn't record a single out in the 7th. Ditto for starts 10, 11, and 13-15. That's 10 of 16 starts, which is a problem with the Cards' bullpen woes, plus the struggles of both Carpenter and Westbrook. Garcia's been the team's second-best starter this year, which means increased pressure, which means he needs to work deeper into games more consistently. At least until the bullpen sorts itself out, or the underachieving veterans get their acts together.

Jake Westbrook - Did someone say underachieving veteran? I've been waiting all year for Jake to get his ERA under 5, and he still hasn't managed it. That would be bad enough if he were the 5th starter on a late-90s Cardinals team. For this team, where he was probably the #2 (#3 at worst) at the season's start, it's ugly. His K rate (4.7/9) is the same as Lohse's, but his walk rate is almost 3 times higher (3.8). That's Jeff Suppan in 2010. I would expect Westbrook to surrender hits. He's a groundball pitcher, the Cardinals' infield mostly sucks at actually fielding, but the walks are an unwelcome surprise.

Kyle McClellan - McClellan started the season well, then went on the DL, and has been somewhat less impressive since. He Ks even fewer hitters than the other Kyle, and has been prone to the longball, but for a 5th starter, he's done well. So far.

Bryan Augenstein - He's been hurt practically the entire year, but he didn't pitch well in the 5+ innings he did throw, so it's hard to figure the team is suffering for his absence.

Miguel Batista - Batista was released a few weeks ago, which is fine. He was being used in situations he had no business pitching in given he was walking almost 6 batters per 9 innings. I'd rather LaRussa had used any of the young guys, but Batista was a Proven Veteran, so he kept pitching in important moments, and screwing them up, mostly. He's gone now, so he can't hurt us anymore.

Mitch Boggs - Boggs was the first guy to get a crack at the closer job after Ryan Franklin was removed from it. He was allowed to fail exactly once before being removed, compared to Franklin who was allowed to shoot the team in the foot multiple times before LaRussa removed his head from his ass. Boggs had some bad luck with balls in play after that, then got sent to the minors to be stretched out, presumably to start in the event a member of the rotation got hurt. Or maybe not, because that wasn't the role he took when McClellan was hurt. Since his return, Boggs has been successful, if not trusted with too much responsibility. Too bad, he's pitched well. He's keeping the home runs and walks low, striking guys out. Hopefully his role will increase going forward as the Cardinals seem to be removing wastes of roster spots.

Maikel Cleto - The player picked up in the Brendan Ryan trade. He's done well in the minors, where his fastball can easily overpower hitters. he wasn't nearly as successful in his brief major league stint, but there's no denying he has the physical ability to pitch in the bigs, so hopefully it was a useful learning experience somehow.

Ryan Franklin - Franklin was always playing with fire as a closer. He's not a strikeout pitcher, so he had to keep the walks down and hope the balls found his teammates gloves. That didn't happen this year, though Franklin didn't help by allowing about 1 HR every 3 innings. Eventually the Cardinals stopped using him in close games. Then they stopped using him in St. Louis, then they finally released him, which is just as well. They're using 13 roster spots on pitchers, they can't afford to waste one of those spots on a guy they won't use with anything smaller than a 6-run gap, especially if he can't actually retire any hitters.

Lance Lynn - Lynn was used in the rotation during McClellan's DL stint, and now he's in the bullpen, which seems to be working out so far. I don't quite understand it myself. McClellan's been a key bullpen guy for the last 3 years, Lynn's been a starter regularly in the minors for the last few years. His arm should be better built up for extended stretches in the rotation, so why not switch them? I'm not adverse to Lynn as a reliever, supposedly he has some good stuff, but given how much LaRussa seemed to trust K-Mac in the 'pen, I'm surprised he wouldn't take the opportunity to move him back.

Trever Miller - Miller has one job on this team: get left-handed batters out. He's done better than I expected, as lefties have a .614 OPS against him. The question is why he's pitching to any right-handers, since they've posted a 1.076 OPS. I can only assume TLR felt he had no other option, or was hoping Miller could deal with the righty so he could stay in to face another lefty. It appears Tony should abandon that hope. Like Batista, he's walking almost 6 guys per 9 innings, which is more than he's striking out. At least he hasn't allowed a HR, that's good, right?

Jason Motte - Motte's stats look good. He's not allowing HRs, his K rate and walk rate are good, his ERA is fine, but fan confidence in him in close situations is low. His quest for a consistent second pitch continues, which may be part of the problem. His fastball is all he can rely on, which isn't enough at the majors, and he knows it, but his other pitches aren't really good enough to trust in crucial situations. Still, with some of the veteran detritus being cleared away, it would be a good idea for Motte to make the most of the opportunity, since the team has numerous other young relievers that may leapfrog him if he's not careful.

Fernando Salas - Salas currently holds the closer role. It's a bit of a mixed blessing, since he's one of the few relievers able to go multiple innings at a time, but LaRussa closers will never pitch more than one inning a pop. He's struggled a bit lately, which is to be expected as the league gains familiarity and makes adjustments. Salas doesn't have the stuff of Boggs, Motte, or Sanchez (get to him in a minute), but he seems to have better command, at least in terms of minimizing walks while also getting Ks. His strikeout rate is better than Motte or Boggs, the walk rate better than Motte and Sanchez. His HR rate isn't quite as good, though. He may not be the closer of the future, but he should have a regular role in the bullpen if he can continue to get people out.

Eduardo Sanchez - Sanchez probably has the most electric over all stuff of the Young Relievers. Unfortunately, he has the lack of control one might expect pf a young pitcher with great stuff. Which is how he ends up averaging 5 BB/9, but only 4.4 hits/9. I'm not ecstatic about the walks, but combined with over 10 K/9, and that hit rate, I'll take it. As long as he can avoid walking too many batter in a row, it shouldn't be a huge issue. He is on the DL right now with shoulder problems, which hopefully aren't going to get botched by the training staff, which has a bit of a mixed record when it comes to this stuff.

Brian Tallet - Tallet has the same job as Miller. He hasn't done it at all (.979 OPS against). He hasn't done much better against right-handers (1.023 OPS). The righties do have a .393 babip, so perhaps they're getting lucky, but the lefties aren't. Their babip is .200, but when they make contact, they crush the ball (.619 slugging). OK, all this is extremely small sample sizes, even by relief pitcher standards, but the fact remains that in the opportunities Tallet's had to do his job this year, he's failed a lot.

Raul Valdes - Which is where this fellow came in. He was doing well in AAA, and when neither of your lefty relievers are doing their jobs well, it gives another guy a chance. Valdes has only pitched one inning so far, but at least he only surrendered one hit and no runs. Better than most of the guys can say.

Looking it over, the Cardinals have released 2 relief pitchers, called up 5 guys from the minors, had to place 3 pitchers on the DL, and the 'pen's generally been a mess. Lohse is far and away the most valuable starter (3.1 WAR), basically equal to Carp, Garcia, and McClellan combined (3.0). Westbrook's been a disaster (-0.6). In the bullpen, the worst of them (Franklin, Batista, combined -1.9 WAR) are both gone, and Sanchez and Salas are the best (2.2 combined). Pity Sanchez is on the DL. Those two have the highest leverage indexes on the team, as befits your two best relievers. Boggs, strangely enough, has a 0.8 average leverage index, which means he's being used in low pressure situations. Miguel Batista had a 1.3, which is also higher than Motte's, which is just ridiculous, and probably explains a lot about the Cardinals' struggles.

Position Players tomorrow! Or later today!


Monday, June 13, 2011

They'll Have To wait Another Year To Start That Eight Championship Run

So the Mavericks won the NBA Finals. Good for them. When I had the opportunity to watch them, I really enjoyed their offense. The ball was always moving, whether it was somebody driving to the basket, or using a screen to get free, or passing out of the double-team to an open shooter. A lot of fun to watch.

It's still hard for me to believe Jason Kidd is actually a good shooter now. I remember when he was leading the Nets to the Finals (where they'd get swept) and teams would play off him to try and force him to shoot jumpers. He was that lousy of a shooter. Now he's some kind of deadeye from 3-point range. Let's hear it for working hard.

I really expected LeBron to have a huge game 6. After all the questions about his performances, and the way he's responded at times to all the crap and the questions that have been thrown at him, I thought for sure he was going to dismantle Dallas single-handed. Or come real close, anyway. I figured the Mavericks could still win if he had a huge game (I was thinking like 37 points, 8 boards, 13 assists, roughly), but it'd be tough. Dirk would have to come up huge, and Wade and Bosh would have to be relatively quiet. I figured that was entirely possible for Bosh, but probably not for Wade, so yeah, I expected it to be a struggle for Dallas.

And I suppose it was at times. They were behind early, then built a large lead, only to watch it slip away. Nowitzki shot poorly most of the game, but they pulled it off.

I'm not sorry the Heat fell short. I hope they continue to fall short, though I don't expect they will. I imagine they'll find a way to build a better roster, even if the new CBA lowers the salary cap. I guess my issue was for the better part of a decade we've been told LeBron is the chosen one (he even has it tattooed on his back), that he's King James, and we are all witnesses. This wasn't just p.r. people, this was something he actively encouraged as his image. Then he essentially said, "You know what? I'm really not that great. I can't win here, so I'm going to team up with a couple of friends, one who already got himself a ring." He wrote a check his talent couldn't cash. So even though it really was a decent bit of self-awareness to recognize he did need more help than he received in Cleveland, he still feels like a bit of a fraud.

But honestly, I'm surprised that even if he wasn't scoring, he wasn't setting up his teammates. He seems like such a good passer, and he draws so much attention if he goes towards the basket, I'd think he'd be spoiled for options to pass it to. That's one of the things I like about his game, that he seemed willing to get his teammates involved, if the opportunity was there. He took some flack for it at times, like that Pistons series where he was criticized for passing to an open teammate (Donyell Marshall?) who clanked a potential game-winning 3. So the next game he scored something like the Cavs last 26 points.

But is that really his game, the scoring fiend act? If not, I can't hate a guy for wanting to keep his teammates involved, even if they stink. It was one of the things I liked about Kevin Garnett in Minnesota. He wasn't going to ball-hog just because his teammates were lousy. If he drew a double-team, he was going to find an open man, and trust they'd come through. It wasn't his fault Kevin McHale couldn't consistently surround him with players who could come through. I don't know why he didn't go that route. Even if he didn't want to shoot, all he has to do is drive. it's not as though Dallas could take a chance he won't shoot and leave him unguarded. Someone would be open to pass to.