Friday, May 18, 2018

Checking In At The Quarter Mark

41 games in, the Cardinals are 23-18, close to the record their run differential says they should have (22-18). The record is mostly bolstered by kicking the shit out of the Reds (7-0), and now roughly half the roster is on the DL, so they're probably fucked. Carlos Martinez, Wainwright, Bowman, Lyons, Leone, Gregerson, Molina, Carson Kelly, Paul DeJong. Especially since the NL Central, other than the Reds, is actually good.

Rotation: Carlos has mostly been good, outside of the season opener, and his last start. Second on the team in innings, first in strikeouts, first in ERA. He has been lucky, judging by the large gap between his ERA (1.62) and FIP (3.38). He's done it to himself, walking 4 batters per 9 innings, along with 9 HBP. Hopefully he gets that under control when he gets off the DL, since he probably won't keep giving up 1 HR every 50 innings like he has so far.

Weaver's had ups and downs. Started well, had a rough patch of 4 starts, but had a good effort in a loss last night. His ERA (4.37) is over a run higher than his FIP (3.33). He's under five and a third innings a start, which isn't spectacular. Wacha's been solid, although a little lucky. He's walking too many guys (3.9/9 IP). Miles Mikolas has been the breakout star, despite striking no one, by not walking people. Basically, he's being the best version of Mike Leake. Of course, Leake was the best version of himself for about 5 weeks last season, and that didn't end well, but maybe this will go better. Given the mounting injuries, the Cardinals have to hope it does.

Of the replacements, Flaherty's made three starts, none where he made it through the sixth, but he's been mostly effective. He has a sub-3 ERA, and the same FIP as Luke Weaver. Their numbers are fairly similar. Same K rate, BB rate, HR rate. Weaver's hit rate is actually slightly lower. John Gant made one start, along with three relief appearances. It wasn't bad, but nothing to write home about.

Bullpen: The Cards have used 13 relief pitchers already, which seems like a lot for 41 games. Bud Norris has been excellent, which is unfortunate, since he's kind of a tool. Rather not be stuck rooting for this guy. He's striking out over 12/9, and walking one batter every 7 innings. His ERA is 2.14, and that's actually worse than his FIP (1.57). Jordan Hicks, who had never pitched above A ball before this season is second in innings among the relievers. Which would be great, if he hadn't walked 14 guys and only struck out 8 across those 19 innings. Can't imagine he'll keep getting away with that. Matt Bowman has an ERA near 6, and hasn't been unlucky. He's walking a batter every other innings, and allowing 11 hits per 9 innings.

Leone would be doing great if he hadn't given up those two HRs back to back to blow that game against Milwaukee. Also if he wasn't hurt. Other than those problems, he's fine. Lyons is suffering from home run and walk trouble. Holland. . . is just bad. Great use of $14 million there, Cardinals. Maybe you should have given it to Tommy Pham instead, actually get some bang for your buck. Ryan Sherriff and Luke Gregerson have both struggled, with home runs and walks. I'm detecting a theme. Perhaps walking batters and surrendering homers is bad for a pitcher.

Brebbia's mostly been good, outside of a couple of scuffles lately. Tuivailala's been better since he took some time on the DL to recover from a knee issue. Mayers is getting by, somehow. Brett Cecil's been good, if he could stay on the field. He's only faced 9 batters so far this year.

Infield: Molina was hitting for power before taking a foul ball to the nuts, but his OBP was still only .292. The Cardinals could use an above league-average hitter, though. Of his two back-ups, Kelly was just 2-for-18 before injuring his hamstring. Francisco Pena is 8-for-34, all 8 are singles. Pena is not demonstrating much ability to drive the ball with authority.

Jose Martinez is getting all the starts at first base, where he is not very good. He's been so bad, it's basically canceling out any value from his hitting. Considering his OPS+ is 133, with 11 doubles and 4 HRs already, that really says something about how putrid his defense is. Wong is struggling, with a sub-600 OPS, but playing excellent defense at second. So, Bizarro Jose Martinez. Matt Carpenter has gotten most of the innings at third so far, where his defense has been adequate, but he's hitting as well as Wong. Supposedly he's hitting the ball hard, but it's being caught. Of course, they're using the shift against him 90% of the time, and he's pulling the ball right into it, soooooo. . .

DeJong was hitting very well, tied with Pham for team lead in HRs, and actually walking some. His walk rate is around 9%, which is solid. He's playing solid defense at shortstop as well. Baseball-Reference says he's been the Cardinals' most valuable position player. I have my doubts about that, but he's been valuable no doubt. Jedd Gyorko's been getting regular playing time since he came off the DL. It's only 74 PAs, but he has a .930 OPS. The concern is that Matheny will play him at SS with DeJong out. Gyorko is passable at second, and was very good at third last season, but he's not got the range for shortstop.

But there's a lack of options. Greg Garcia is passable defensively at SS, maybe average if you're lucky. And he's actually hitting for a surprising amount of power this season. His career ISO, including this season, was 101. This year, it's 180. Probably won't last if he gets more at-bats, but it's nice to have while it lasts. While the injury to DeJong, they've brought Yairo Munoz back up. He looked great in Spring Training, but completely overmatched once the real games began. Like Kelly, he was 2-for-18, but with 11 Ks in 20 PAs. He'd only struck out 18 times in 100 PAs in AAA, but also only walked 5 times. So he probably hasn't rediscovered plate discipline. Put him together with Garcia, and they'd probably have an acceptable player.

Outfield: Marcell Ozuna is hitting basically as well as Carpenter and Wong, meaning terribly. He's not walking much, and he's not driving the ball. Swinging at basically everything. Fowler, remarkably, is hitting worse than all of them. Like Carpenter, he's drawing enough walks to prop his OBP to almost bearable levels. He just can't get any flippin' hits, and his defense is grading out as horrible, even after being moved out of centerfield. Harrison bader has been getting more playing time as a result, and so far is rating as an excellent fielder, while being an above-average hitter. Like Garcia, that probably won't last with increased playing time (Bader has never shown much knack for hitting righthanded pitching). Tyler O'Neill is coming back up. Maybe he can get a hit this time.

Tommy Pham is basically propping up the outfield. He's batting leadoff now, has scored almost 10 more runs than anyone else on the team, second on the team in batting average to Jose Martinez. Tied with DeJong for lead in HRs, first in stolen bases, but also first in times caught stealing. OBP of .412, OPS+ of 161.

It's ahrd to see how this team is going to keep it's head above water with all the injuries. Granting that most of the guys getting hurt in the bullpen weren't doing great, and Wainwright is done. He was on the DL for weeks, and when they brought him back, his elbow flared up before he even finished his warm-up throws. Flaherty and Gant would be hard-pressed to be worse, and Alex Reyes may be on the horizon.

But the Cardinals have so many hitters struggling, and so few doing well, that losing two of the above-average hitters they did have - Molina and DeJong - is a blow they probably can't afford. We'll see.