Monday, July 01, 2013

Baseball's Halfway Point

At the halfway point of the season, the Cardinals aren't looking quite as strong as they did 40 games ago. They're still on pace for 98 wins, but over their last 15 games, they've gone just 6-9. They lost two of three to Oakland (acceptable) and the Marlins (unacceptable). They were swept by Texas, and split a 2-game series with Houston. They only series they've outright won over that stretch was a 4-game set against the suckass Cubs. In the meantime, the Pirates have moved 2 games ahead of them, and the Reds are lurking only a few games back.

The offense is still mostly holding up. They're first in the NL in runs, thanks to being first in OBP and 2nd in SLG. They still have no speed, and they're 11th in home runs, but even so, they score runs. Go figure. Molina, Craig, Carpenter, and Beltran have OPSes in the .800s. Molina's isolated power has risen from around 130 to over 150, which is encouraging. He and Carpenter are both getting on base better than 38% of the time. Holliday, meanwhile, has backslid to a .779 OPS, and his OBP is .349. On the good news side of the ledger, Freese - who had an OPS below .600 40 games ago, is now at .751. The power still isn't really there (only 5 HRs, iso of 123), but it's a significant improvement. Back on the bad side, Jay and Kozma both have slumped horribly. Jay's OPS has dropped over 100 points in the same stretch Freese's rose by over 150. His abtting line would be acceptable coming from Kozma, but the Cards need more from Jay (especially since Oscar Taveras isn't likely to ride to the rescue anytime soon, and I can't see the Cards risking Holliday/Beltran/Craig in the OF. The defense would be beyond atrocious.

Oh, and Kozma's OPS is below .600. That's too low, even for him. The Cardinals have taken to using Descalso at SS, despite his not actually being a shortstop. FYI, Ryan Jackson has an .808 OPS in AAA right now. Not that the Cardinals need a shortstop who can hit or anything. Admittedly, that might be a fluke of good fortune on balls in play for Jackson. I still think he could do better than Kozma is currently.

The bench is doing better. Wigginton and Cruz are still worthless offensively, and Adams' slugging has dropped all the way to .571 (which still gives him a team-best .933 OPS), but Descalso has joined Freese in batting better. His OPS is up to .763. I don't know how long he can maintain an iso of 160, but I'll take it for as long as he can manage it. Shane Robinson  has managed another 7 hits in the last 40 games, including 2 HRs and a double, plus another 3 walks. His OPS+ is 89 now! Jay's is only 82, so that's good for Robinson, but not so good for the Cardinals, as it highlights their need for more from Jay.

Defensively, Molina's looking good (no surprise there), as are Kozma and Holliday. Baseball Reference projects them all to be worth 15 runs above average over 1,200 innings. Craig's expected to be worth 4. On the other hand, Jay and Beltran are both listed at -20 for the same stretch, and Freese and Matt Carpenter (at 2nd) are projected as a couple runs below average. The system really likes Carp as a 3rd baseman, though. It doesn't like Descalso anywhere in the middle infield, or any outfielders besides Holliday, really, except for Craig in left field. On the whole, they don't look like a good defensive team, which is perhaps no surprise.

In an unfortunate balancing of the offense's increase in production, the pitching staff has slipped. Not a lot, from first in runs allowed to third, but it is a drop. They've still walked the fewest batters, and are second in Ks, which is good. Scrabble hasn't been called back up, Boggs was briefly, then demoted again when he still sucked. Marte and Cleto got brief chances, pitched poorly, and were sent back down. Cleto was waived, and picked up by the Royals. Fernando Salas is rehabbing in the minors, but might be back up soon. They're getting some useful innings from Kevin Siegrist and Keith Butler, who have allowed 3 runs (all by Butler) in 21 innings, while striking out 23. Butler might want to reduce the walks some (7 in 11 innings). Choate's getting his act together, maybe because Matheny's letting him work more. I've seen him throw entire innings lately. His number of batters faced has almost tripled, from 26 to 71, and he's struck out 10 while walking 2 over the last 40 games.

Beyond that, Seth Maness is holding up pretty well. ERA of 2.7, only 1 unintentional walk, though only 13 Ks. But he was never likely to strike out many with his limited stuff. But so far, so good. Joe Kelly's numbers have stabilized since his disastrous beginning, though he's also become the team's defacto fifth starter, albeit in a "break glass in case of emergency" way. Rosenthal's struck out 56 batters in only 38 innings, and while Mujica's numbers have regressed a bit, he's still been effective. His WHIP is still only up to 0.735. So in a lot of ways, the bullpen's not doing badly. Mujica and Rosenthal for the last two innings, Choate (or Siegrist) for lefties, Maness whenever, Kelly as a long reliever or spot starter, Butler probably as a mop-up guy. Figure you swap him or Siegrist out when Salas is ready.

The rotation, on the other hand, is starting to show some seams. Their performance was always going to slip, it was unsustainably good, especially with young pitchers the league was still adjusting to. Right now, the front 3 are still pretty good. Wainwright's ERA is 2.22, he has 4 complete games, his WHIP is below 1, his K/BB ratio has dropped quite a bit, but it's still 9.5. Miller's ERA is below 3, his K/BB ratio is almost 4.6, his HR rate has risen some, but not a lot, and he's striking out almost 10 batters per 9 innings. Lynn's maintained that erratic trend I noted 40 games ago, which makes it more troubling that I thought. He seems to alternate strong starts with poor ones, but on the whole, his ERA is 3.52, he's second on the team in innings, his K rate is 2nd among the starters to Miller's, he's doing pretty well.

It's the last 40% of the rotation that's the problem. Garcia's shoulder went out, so he's having surgery and he's done for the year. Westbrook missed time, came back, and hasn't looked so good since his return. $ starts, 22 innings, 16 runs, 13 earned, 8 Ks, 8 BBs. He's got to improve that K/BB. John Gast hurt his shoulder, and doesn't seem likely to return soon. Michael Wacha was doing all right for a back of the rotation starter, but when Westbrook returned, the team opted to stick with Tyler Lyons instead. Then they decided he wasn't any good, and sent him back down as well. At this point, they seem content to rely on the schedule to provide enough off days they won't need a 5th starter, and if they do, then they'll trot out Joe Kelly. If it works, I guess, but they need at least one more starter to step up and pitch passably well on a regular basis. They've gotten to the playoffs with 3 competent starters before (see 2009, the Wainwright-Carpenter-Pineiro trio), but the NL Central is a lot better this year. Someone has to pick it up, be it Westbrook, the AAA quartet of Gast/Lyons/Wacha/ Carols Martinez, or perhaps the return of Carpenter (which is being delayed by back issues).