Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Return To The Team-Building Exercise - The Bullpen

And we're back! I just haven't felt terribly motivated the last 3 weeks, but if I don't get another of these done this week, I won't be getting any done until mid-August. So here we are, checking in on the 'pen. I've once again opted to go with a 6-man bullpen, as I did in my revised attempt of my first go around. The way I figure it, with 5 starts each contributing roughly 220 innings (they add up to 1152 innings), it's ridiculous to have 7 relievers. I'm just going to list them chronologically, and also try to describe their role.

1) Mike Perez, 1993 (8th Inning Set-Up Guy) - 65 games, 77.7 IP, 7-2, 7 saves, 58 K, 20 BB, 4 HRs, 2.48 ERA, 159 ERA+, 2.97 FIP, 1.17 WHIP, 1.5 WAR, 0.9 WAA

I also considered taking Paul Kilgus from this season. He had the same WAR, but it was less than 29 innings. That's impressive, but it kind of suggests small sample size fluke, even for a relief pitcher. As for Perez, this is possibly his best year, depending on what you value. He has a lower ERA in '92, but his K rate is much higher in '93, and his BB rate is lower. He goes from a K/BB of 1.44, to 2.90, far and away the best of his career. 1993 marked his lowest walk rate, and 3rd highest K rate. And the two years where he struck out more guys were his last 2 seasons, when he threw a combined 47 innings for the Cubs and Royals. Perez gained the closer's role late in '93, when the Cardinals sent Lee Smith elsewhere, but he couldn't hold it in '94, losing it to Rene Arocha, as Torre continued to shift guys from the rotation to the bullpen, as if the Cardinals had an overabundance of good starting pitchers. Seriously, he did it with Arocha, Rheal Cormier, Omar Olivares, I'm sure he would have done it with Donovan Osborne if Osborne could have stayed healthy.

2) Tom Henke, 1995 (Closer) - 52 games, 54.3 IP, 1-1, 36 SVs, 48 Ks, 18 BBs, 2 HRs, 1.82 ERA, 229 ERA+, 2.81 FIP, 1.104 WHIP, 2.3 WAR, 1.4 WAA

One of the easiest selections. Lee Smith in 1991 was the only other closer I seriously considered, but '91 had other viable options. Unless I wanted to take Tony Fossas, 1995 really didn't. Anybody else that had a good season, there was someone for that same role that had a better season in some other year (some times it was the same guy). Henke and Smith were listed as being equally valuable. This was Henke's only year as a Cardinal, and his last year in the majors. He was a good guy to have around, if a bit useless since the rest of the team was so bad. The Cardinals actually had a good bullpen that year, but their rotation was mediocre (Osborne, Mike Morgan, and Mark Petkovsek had decent years, Ken Hill, Danny Jackson, and Allen Watson had horrible seasons), and the offense was a train wreck. Probably should have tried trading Henke for some good young players, but then who would I select from this season? Fossas, I guess.

3) Rick Honeycutt, 1996 (LOOGY) - 61 games, 47.3 innings, 2-1, 4 SVs, 30 Ks, 7 BBs, 3 HRs, 2.85 ERA, 148 ERA+, 3.17 FIP, 1.035 WHIP, 1.2 WAR, 0.7 WAA

What better way to celebrate the first year of the LaRussa Era than with a situational reliever? Feel the excitement? On the other hand, Honeycutt's wins above average is tied for 3rd highest on the team that year with Andy Benes. Which says more about the general mediocrity of the Cards' pitching staff than anything, but there you go. Honeycutt didn't have a great K rate, only 5.7 batters per 9 innings, though that's quite a bit higher than his career average (4.3). More critically, he walked people at a rate half his career average (1.3 versus 2.7). Which is how he managed the best K/BB ratio of his career (4.29, his next best is a 3.2 in 1992). But that's kind of what he'd have to do. If he's only being brought in to get one, maybe 2 guys at most, he can't very well walk the guy. Actually he averaged a little over 3 batters faced per appearance, but that includes guys he didn't get out. Anyway, Honeycutt's career would end abruptly the next season after just 2 innings, beginning a multi-year stretch where the Cardinals couldn't find a decent lefthanded reliever. It was ended finally in 2001 by Steve Kline, who I seriously considered for the team, but I wanted Darryl Kile, so here we are.

4) Heathcliff Slocumb, 1999 (Last Resort) - 40 games, 53.3 IP, 3-2, 2 SVs, 48 Ks, 30 BB, 3 HRs, 2.36 ERA, 198 ERA+, 3.81 FIP, 1.481 WHIP, 1.7 WAR, 1.2 WAA

The only two pitchers that were more valuable in 1999 were Kent Bottenfield and Darren Oliver, which tells you most everything you need to know about the state of the Cardinals' pitching staff that year. Slocumb was a midseason acquisition, picked up after the Orioles released him. You can tell he was the beneficiary of some good fortune during his stint in St. Louis, based on the gap between his ERA and his FIP. Have to expect that, if you're going to walk over 5 batters per 9 innings. The crazy thing is, that's not even unusual for Slocumb. His career BB rate is 5.1/9, compiled over 631 innings, so this was right in line with his past performance. But he maintained his HR rate (0.5/9), and raised his K rate a little (from 7.3 to 8.1), and had a hit rate almost a full hit less than his career norm (8.3 vs. 9.1). Which is funny, because I don't remember the 1999 team being much for defensive excellence, but I guess things just work out that way. Anyway, judging by all this, Slocumb's gonna be the last guy out of the 'pen, or the guy I use in blowouts, when I can tell him to just throw strikes and not dick around. Maybe that'll get the walk rate down some.

5) Kiko Calero, 2003 (Whatever I Need) - 26 games, 38.3 IP, 1-1, 1 SV, 51 Ks, 20 BB, 5 HRs, 2.82 ERA, 147 ERA+, 3.71 FIP, 1.278 WHIP, 1.0 WAR, 0.7 WAA

The scary thing is Calero's WAR is 4th among Cardinals pitchers that year, behind Woody Williams, Matt Morris, and Garrett Stephenson, all of whom threw at least 4 times as many innings (though Williams and Morris are at least appropriately far ahead). Calero has the best WHIP of any of the relievers other than Isringhausen, which is kind of sad, but there you go. Calero's walking too many guys (4.7/9), and the HR rate's kind of high (1.2/9, though Izzy and Kline are the only 2 relievers with lower HR rates), but he's also striking out 12/9. And Calero wound up being a pretty effective reliever in 2004 (though his WAR and WAA are the same). He still struck out a batter per innings, but he cut the BB rate to about 40% of what it was, and dropped the HR rate a little. Which is why his FIP dropped to 3.14 that year, even if his ERA barely moved. Anyway, even with Slocumb being worse than I initially realized (the dangers of trying to use WAR as a quick and dirty sorting method), there's still enough other guys I don't have to place too much pressure on Calero.

6) Jason Motte, 2011 (Fireman) - 78 games, 68 IP, 5-2, 9 SVs, 63 Ks, 16 BBs, 2 HRs, 2.25 ERA, 166 ERA+, 2.48 FIP, 0.956 WHIP, 1.3 WAR, 0.7 WAA

Look, Fernando Salas led the team in saves that year, so Baseball-Reference lists him as the closer. I was going to take one or the other, and for awhile Tony used Motte pretty much whenever he absolutely needed an out, like the way "closers" were originally used, before it became all about saves and the 9th inning. So that's what Motte's gonna do. His K rate (8.3/9) isn't anywhere near Calero's, granted, but neither is his walk rate (2.1/9), and his HR rate is a quarter of Calero's. If I can't use Henke in a dire situation, then I'll most likely turn to Motte (maybe Honeycutt if it's a lefty, since Motte allowed a .454 OPS to righties that year, but a .738 to lefties). So Motte might end up being the first guy out of the 'pen, depending on how often I'd have to pull my starter because he was struggling and we needed to get out of an inning right now.

As far as other relievers I considered, I already mentioned Salas, Paul Kilgus, Lee Smith, and Tony Fossas. Frank DiPino's 1989 was in the running, but there were two excellent seasons for starting position players ahead of him by considerable margins. I though about John Habyan's 1994, but he's pretty marginal. He would have been a 7th reliever, and I didn't want to do that again. I though about Petkovsek in 1996, but I wanted a lefty, and he and Honeycutt were basically equivalent in value. Juan Acevedo in 1998, but he spent some time in the rotation, as well as the closing, so I wasn't sure how to describe him, also there was another really good position player in front of him. Steve Kline in 2001 and Al Reyes in 2005 lost out to starting pitchers, Russ Springer in 2007 to a bench guy I really wanted. Like I said, relievers are at the bottom rung here.

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Wednesday, July 09, 2014

Return To The Team-Building Exercise - The Rotation

Five years - five years?! - ago, I did this little thing where I constructed a 25-man roster for the St. Louis Cardinals from their previous 25 seasons, 1984 through 2008. I'm going to try and do it again, moving the timescale forward 5 years. So it'll be 1989 through 2013.

The rules are the same. I'm selecting a player based on their performance in that season only. In theory. In reality, I'm going to play favorites a bit because it's my team, damnit. The team has to be built with some sense of reality. There are going to be bench players, relievers, and so on. The players selected must have fulfilled those roles in the seasons I'm selecting them from. Only one player per season, and no player can be chosen more than once, even if they'd qualify for more than one spot.

Today, we start with the starting rotation. When I list stats, I'm going off Baseball-Reference, rather than Fangraphs. It's mostly relevant when it comes to the wins above replacement numbers, and defensive stats, if I list those.

1) Bob Tewksbury, 1992 - 33 games, 32 starts, 233 IP, 5 CG, 16-5, 91 K, 20 BB, 15 HR, 2.16 ERA, 158 ERA+, 3.13 FIP, 1.017 WHIP, 6.5 WAR, 4.7 WAA

In the early '90s, Bob Tewksbury was the guy in the Cardinals' rotation. He was a Herzog scrap heap pick-up, surrounded by all these young guys from the farm system. Omar Olivares, Donovan Osborne, Rheal Cormier, Mark Clark, Allen Watson. But Tewksbury might have had the best career (Cormier had the longest, but that was as a lefty reliever). I certainly didn't try to imitate the pitching style of any of the others when I was a kid, and none of them had a season like this.

This was easily Tewksbury's best season. 1998 is the only season where his WAR is even half of what it was here, and he never had a season with a wins above average half of the 4.7 in 1992. And it's a perfect Tewksbury season. He struck out only 3.5 batters per 9 innings, but also walked only 0.8 per 9, which is how he lead the league in K/BB ratio, at 4.55. He'd manage the same trick in 1993, with a slightly better K rate, and a ratio of 4.85. So it isn't a complete outlier. His FIP was actually slightly better in 1990 (3.12), and it was only 3.36 in 1993. He allowed 0.6 HR/9 each year from 91-93. The big difference in '92 was he had greater success (or luck) in not allowing hits. His hit rate was 8.4/9, which is at least one less than he allowed in any other full season. He allowed only 7.5 in 1989, but you're talking 30 innings. Beyond that, his next best showing was 9.4 in 1990, which is also the only year besides '92 where his WHIP is below 1.2. Tewksbury couldn't strike guys out, so he had to hope he could minimize the contact he allowed, and that his guys could catch it. I don't think the Cardinals' defense was anything special in 1992, not with Zeile at 3rd, and Galarraga or whomever at first, so mostly luck. But I plan on putting an excellent defense behind him, so luck won't be such a necessity.

2) Adam Wainwright, 2009 - 34 starts, 233 innings, 1 CG, 19-8, 212 K, 66 BB, 17 HR, 2.63 ERA, 155 ERA+, 3.11 FIP, 1.21 WHIP, 6.2 WAR, 4.4 WAA

Not really Wainwright's strongest year. 2014 will probably be better when it's all said an done, and 2010 and 2013 are basically even with 2009, maybe a little better. His K rate is basically the same across them all, but the BB rate is a bit higher than 2010's, and about half of 2013. He allowed one fewer hit per inning in 2010 than the other two years, but the HR rate is basically even. FIP is considerably higher, but ERA+ is better for 2009 than 2013, and pretty close to 2010.

But there were other candidates who filled vital needs in those seasons (we'll get to them in later posts), so here we are. Not a bad season, though. This is the one that put Wainwright on the map as a starting pitcher. The Cards had a three-headed monster at the front of the rotation, but Wainwright was probably the main piece. Carpenter might have pitched better, but made only 28 starts and threw less than 200 innings after missing almost all of the prior 2 seasons. Joel Piniero had the best season of his career, basically by mimicking Tewksbury's 1992, but Wagonmaker led the way in innings, and wasn't so reliant on good defense and luck. I'm surprised to see just the one complete game, though. Anyway, he's one of two young, curveball dropping hurlers in this rotation. Not to be confused with the older, curveball dropping hurlers in the rotation.

3) Chris Carpenter, 2005 - 33 starts, 241.7 innings, 21-5, 7 CG, 4 SHO, 213 K, 51 BB, 18 HR, 2.83 ERA, 150 ERA+, 2.90 FIP, 5.8 WAR, 3.9 WAA

Baseball-Reference says his 2009 was better by WAR, but I couldn't pick that season over this one, where he threw 50 more innings even before you count postseason numbers. And outside of that, there's no season of his to match his Cy Young year of 2005. This was the year where Carp became the big man in the rotation. If he hadn't gotten hurt in September of 2004, it would have happened then, and perhaps the Cards don't trade Dan Haren for Mark Mulder. Geez, Carp, Haren, Wainwright, talk about a 3-headed monster.

But it wasn't to be, and if Carp had trouble finishing other seasons, it wasn't a problem this year (though yeah, his September wasn't great, and he admitted it was because the Cards had already locked up the division, and he was on cruise control. But he was a major reason they managed that. In June and July of that year, he threw 80.7 innings, and allowed only 9 runs, basically an ERA of 1.00 for two months. Crazy.

On the whole, it was what became a standard healthy Chris Carpenter season. Strikeout rate between 7 and 8 per 9 innings. Walk rate between 1.5 and 2. Home run rate between 0.5 and 1.0. The hit rate is 7.6 per 9 innings, which was bettered only by 2009's 7.3 per 9. Some of his other good seasons are between 8 and 9 hits, so there's an element of good fortune, but that's par for the course, I guess.

4) Darryl Kile, 2001 - 34 starts, 227.3 IP, 16-11, 2 CG, 1 SHO, 179 K, 65 BB, 22 HR, 1.289 WHIP, 3.09 ERA, 140 ERA+, 3.74 FIP, 4.8 WAR, 3.1 WAA

I guarantee you when that season happened I was disappointed in DK because of that 16-11 record. To be young and stupid again. This is Kile's last full season before his unfortunate and sudden death, and the one where Matt Morris started to take the lead in the rotation. But it hadn't happened yet, and as good a year as Morris had, Kile was still a bit better. The numbers aren't great, but you have to adjust a bit for the era. This was the year everyone finally decided they cared about steroids, what with Barry Bonds setting the home run record. So big offense all around. This is Kile's second best ERA+, after the 1997 he had with the Astros that got him that disastrous contract with Colorado. His FIP is basically in line with that year and 1996 as well. HR rate is OK for him, little lower than with Houston, but he wasn't in the Astrodome any more, so that makes sense. Hit rate is worse than either of his other 2 St. Louis seasons, walk rate is up from his first year there.

But I don't care so much about that. Kile's strength was that you could count on him to take that ball every five days and give you a chance to win. He might or might not stack up against the very best pitchers in the league, the ones he often faced, but he was close enough to give you a chance. I like guys like that, I think most fans do, honestly. Todd Stottlemyre was like that for them, and I loved that guy. I would have put him on here if he had a season good enough I could have justified it. Kile did have a season good enough. And he helped Morris become that good too, for a little while until the injuries came back.

5) Matt Morris, 1997 - 33 starts, 217 IP, 12-9, 3 CG, 149 K, 69 BB, 12 HR, 1.276 WHIP, 3.19 ERA, 131 ERA+, 3.51 FIP, 3.9 WAR, 2.2 WAA.

2001 was Morris' best year, but not as good as Kile's. So here's 1997, which didn't have a preponderance of other options. The key with Morris in 1997 was he was the one guy who stayed healthy the whole season. Stottlemyre missed September with a tired arm. Andy Benes had back issues, Alan Benes' career effectively ended with a shoulder injury, Donovan Osborne missed half the year (big surprise). Morris was the only guy to top 200 innings or 30 starts for the Cards that year. Probably that was too much work. His total number of minor league innings was only about 165 when he was called up, and he blew past that in by over 50 innings. Then he missed half of 1998, and then he had Tommy John, missed all of 1999, and spent 2000 in the bullpen.

But in 1997, he was healthy, and he was good. Not great, he was a work in progress. The walk rate was around 3 per 9 innings, but he'd eventually get that down to around 2 per 9. The strikeout rate never went up much, outside of 2001 and 2002, but in 1997, the potential is there. As the #1 starter, he'd be exposed, but as the #5, he'll be just fine. Plus, this team is going to be a lot better than the 1997 team was.

Next time, whenever that is, the bullpen.

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