Monday, May 22, 2017

The Cardinals At The Quarter Mark

This post might have been a fair bit more positive a week ago. At that point, the Cardinals were 21-15, coming off taking 2 of 3 from the Cubs, having recovered nicely from an abysmal 3-9 start. Then they lost 4 of 5 to the Red Sox and the Giants through the usual combination of bullpen incompetence, garbage baserunning, and abrupt silence from the bats.

So the team is 22-19, about where they were last season at this time. Of course, last year's team was underperforming according to run differential by 5 games, while this one is right on track. The team doesn't seem too different from last year, hardly a surprise given the limited number of roster moves. Inconsistent pitching, bad defense, bad baserunning.

The rotation seems a bit more solid than last year's although that could be an illusion. Last season, everyone except Carlos Martinez was considered unlucky when comparing their ERA to the FIP. This year, everyone except Wainwright has been lucky so far. Lance Lynn's ERA is 2.78, but his FIP is 5.02 (I'm guessing it's the 8 HRs surrendered in 45 innings that has his FIP so high). Leake has a 2.03 ERA, and 3.19 FIP (which is still the best in the rotation, but that's a not inconsiderable gap). Martinez has struck out 62 batters in 57 innings, far and away leading the team (by 20 Ks), but also has 22 BBs (8 of those in that one awful start against the Yankees). Wacha has a 3.34 FIP to his 2.74 ERA, but Matheny is holding him pretty steadily to six innings so far, which seems smart.

The bullpen has been more of a disaster. Oh has a 3.32 ERA, but a 4.88 FIP. They've already had him intentionally walk 5 guys this year, which seems like a lot in 21.67 innings for the person who is supposed to be your closer. What worries me is he can't seem to put hitters away. He can get two strikes, but that final swing and a miss doesn't materialize. But he has 16 Ks, so maybe I'm overreacting. Siegrist has been garbage. His velocity is gone, he's walked 11 batters in 17 innings, his ERA is 5.29 and his FIP is 4.80. Cecil has an ERA and FIP both over 5, he's given us 3 home runs in 15 innings, walked 9 batters in that time. Broxton's ERA is over 6, he's walked 9 and struck out 10 in 12 innings. Socolovich, to my dismay, has been even worse. His ERA is 6.75, his FIP is 5.69 (Broxton's is only 5.64). The one thing I can say for Socolovich is he isn't walking guys - 4 in 17 innings -  but I strongly believed he should have been in the bullpen last year, and this is disheartening.

The useful relievers essentially come down to Bowman (2.79 ERA, 3.09 FIP, only 5 BBs and 1 HR in 19 innings), and Rosenthal (2.76 ERA, 1.14 FIP, 28 Ks, 4 BBs in 16 innings). Tuivailala hasn't been bad in limited stints. Tyler Lyons spent the first month on the DL, came back, hurt something else almost immediately.

On the position player side, Molina's not really hitting much. OBP of .307, .384 SLG. Actually, that amount of power isn't bad for him, it's an Isolated Power of .123, it's the OBP that's killing his numbers. Still, with Eric Fryer's numbers having crashed back to earth hard this season (OPS of .526 in 27 PAs), I'm surprised Molina's had as many days off as he has. There have been five whole games he didn't play in this year!

Matt Carpenter's one of the best hitters on the team, despite his .235 batting average. He has 32 walks; the highest combined total between any two of his teammates is 35 (Fowler + Piscotty). His ISO is .257, with 5 doubles, 9 HRs, and a triple. Unfortunately, switching to first base has not produced an upswing in his defensive value, and he's a lousy combination of slow and aggressive on the basepaths (traits he shares with several of his teammates). Matt Adams was actually playing more in the outfield, because Matheny's brain is actually a tire fire, and was producing an almost league-average batting line by hitting .296, which was keeping up his OBP and lackluster slugging (ISO of .096). Now he's been traded to Atlanta for a first base prospect in A ball. Well, until Freddie Freeman returns from injury, Adams will presumably gets lots of playing time, so one last chance to earn himself a big contract.

Kolten Wong is having one of the better seasons hitting of his career. He's hitting for average (.282), power (ISO of .145), and getting on-base at a .375 clip. He's 3 out of 4 stealing bases, although some of the defensive stats don't love him so far. Still, this is as close as I've seen to him putting all his various skills together. It hasn't really translated into the value I thought it would, though. Maybe if he maintains it for the full season. Gyorko is second on the team in HRs, is hitting .331, and has an ISO of .260. He's already hit almost as many doubles as he did all last season, and played solid infield defense. Aledmys Diaz is hitting for some power, but walked all of once the first month of the season, which is why his OBP is .289.

AS for the bench infielders, Greg Garcia is hitting for next to no power (ISO of .069), but is getting on-base at a .406 clip. So hitting as advertised, basically. Jhonny Peralta played horribly for the first few weeks of the season, got injured (and the team took off), and is now back. His OPS is .536, so 10 points better than Fryer's, and he hasn't had an extra-base hit yet. At this stage, the Cardinals should either cut bait or trade him and send some cash along to get whatever they can. Just get him out of the way and if you need another infielder call up Paul DeJong or Luke Voit for a bit.

Fowler seems to be coming along. The average isn't there, but his OBP is .318 in spite of it (and he's second on the team in walks behind Carpenter), and he has 6 HRs and 4 triples. Piscotty has been a little better than average hitting as well, thanks to his .381 OBP, because he's not hitting for any power (.129 ISO). He's alo a disaster on the bases, another guy who likes to run but has no clue what he's doing. He's been on the DL for awhile, and suffered a setback just as he was getting close to returning. Grichuk is what he usually is. His average is bad, his OBP is terrible, but he hits for some power, although not much compared to his teammates (ISO of .170). He does lead the team with 13 doubles, for what that's worth.

Jose Martinez was the 4th outfielder coming out of spring training, but often found himself playing first base on Carpenter's days off. Even though Matt Adams was on the roster. Martinez hit for a good average, drew three walks, and hit for a little power in limited chances before he got hurt. Once he did get hurt, the Cardinals called up Tommy Pham, and he did what he does about half the time he's in the majors: Crush the fucking ball (the other half of the time he just strikes out a lot, but the same is true of Grichuk). Pham is hitting .294 with 4 doubles and 3 HRs in just 60 plate appearances. He has struck out 18 times, which isn't great, but his OBP is still .367, so it isn't killing his value. When Piscotty also got hurt (and Fowler was hurt but not put on the DL), they called up Magneuris Sierra all the way from A-ball. Sierra played pretty much like the reports suggested he would: He swung at most everything, didn't drive the ball much, ran really fast (but with no clue how to steal bases), and played excellent defense in centerfield. He was exciting, if not ready for the majors. So it's understandable they sent him back to make room for Peralta, if a little disappointing. But He needs as much chance to work on his hitting as possible, as well as learning to harness his speed.

Going forward, it's hard to tell what to expect of this team. They aren't as bad as the 3-9 start, they aren't as good as 18-6 run that followed it. They're probably roughly the same as last year's team, amybe a little better in the field, but with less power. Bullpen seems worse, rotation is a little better. Probably end up between 82-90 wins, barring either catastrophe or trading for a major difference maker.