Saturday, October 06, 2018

Season Over

The Cardinals had the second Wild Card spot in their hands with a week to go, then proceeded to crap it away by losing 5 of their last 6 games. To division rivals Milwaukee and Chicago no less. Well, the Cardinals weren't as good as that 24-6 August they had, so this was probably a good reminder. The young guys either ran out of gas or luck, or both.

Mikolas ended up just reaching 200 innings, with an ERA 37% above league average (and about .45 better than his FIP). He gave them 8 strong innings in the penultimate game to keep their hopes alive another few hours. Flaherty had a bit of a rough September, but was still easily second on the team in starts and innings, and first in strikeouts. Probably needs to get the walk rate down some, definitely try to get the home runs down a little (he gave up four more HRs than Mikolas in 50 fewer innings), but he looks like a solid front of the rotation guy going into next season.

Of course, we thought that about Luke Weaver going into this season, and he was pretty bad. He lost his rotation spot by the end of August, and the bullpen experience wasn't exactly great. His walk rate is about the same as Flaherty's, but his HR and K rates are both much worse, and he surrendered a lot more hits. The breaking pitch doesn't seem to have materialized, but his changeup wasn't as effective this year, either. I don't know where he stands going into next season. The same is true for Wainwright, who came back to make a few solid starts late in August when the rotation really needed them. His velocity mostly held up in the low '90s, and if that was something he could maintain going forward, he wouldn't be a terrible choice to bring back next year. But there's a difference between maintaining it for 4 starts, and 24 starts.

Carlos was kept to the bullpen after he came off the DL, making 15 relief appearances. He walked 11 batters in just over 18 innings, so he control issues were not resolved, and that made his appearances an adventure. Hopefully he gets that sorted out by next season. A trio of Mikolas-Martinez-Flaherty at the front of the rotation could be really good. Beyond that, John Gant and Austin Gomber were both up and down. Each one got better results than you'd expect for most of the season, although Gomber's luck turned late. Just too many hits and walks (walks were a problem for almost everyone besides Mikolas and a couple of the relievers). Wacha never did come back off the DL.

The bullpen pitched over its head in August, or else just got really lucky for how many baserunners they allowed. Then everything flipped in September and went downhill. Norris ran out of gas, which makes me wish even more they'd traded him at the deadline. Hicks, who had been improving as the season went on, seemed to lose his control entirely the last bit of the season. Considering he hadn't pitched above A ball before this year, and threw 77 innings, maybe he was just gassed. Brebbia was one of two relievers who didn't walk too many (Mayers being the other), and was easily the best reliever, but he missed some time with an injury, and Schildt didn't seem to necessarily trust him in big spots consistently. Mayers' ERA is three-quarters of a run worse than his FIP, not sure what happened there.

Brett Cecil was terrible, just completely useless. In less than 33 innings, walked 25 batters, allowed 5 HRs. Mikolas only walked 29 guys all season. Dakota Hudson had an almost even K/BB ratio (19/18). Chasen Shreve walked too many guys (9 in 14 innings) and allowed too many HRs (3). Which are the same problems he's had his entire career, so the Cardinals can't feign surprise. He's not good. Tyler Lyons and Matt Bowman never made it back onto the major league roster. Dominic Leone did, but the results never quite caught up to what his K and BB rates suggested. I think all those homers he allowed in April skewed his numbers too much. Daniel Poncedeleon shuffled between rotation and bullpen. At one point he was at 9 Ks and 9 BBs, but finished the season with 31 and 13, respectively, so maybe he found his footing, despite his irregular use patterns.

Molina played almost every day. He ended up with his second-best HR total of his career, and an OPS 3% better than league average. His average was 20 points below his career mark (.261 vs. .282), and sine he never walks, he OBP was a paltry .314, also 20 points below his career mark. When Molina sat, the team insisted on starting Francisco Pena, even when Carson Kelly is sitting right there. Did Kelly kill someone's dog or something? Francisco Pena is terrible. He had a .510 OPS (40 OPS+). He does not hit for average, or draw walks, or hit for power. He can't throw out baserunners (only one caught stealing in 15 attempts). He pitchers got tagged for 20 wild pitches, versus only 2 passed balls for him, which seems sketchy. He does not appear to be any good at pitch framing. Even by the low standards set by Molina's caddies, Pena is bad.

Matt Carpenter's hot streak ended partway through August. He had an OPS of .558 in September, with just one HR. He was very good in the middle of the season, and crap on both ends (the reverse of how Tommy Pham did, oddly). Still set a career high in HRs, plus 42 doubles, walked over 100 times, graded out above-average at third defensively, even went 4 of 5 stealing bases. He didn't end up leading the team in innings at any position for the second time in three years. Kolten Wong graded as outstanding at second defensively, and by year's end, had pulled his OPS+ up to 97. Only 6 of 11 stealing, so we'll have to wait and see if he finally puts it all together next year. he was still the 4th most-valuable position player on the team by bWAR (behind Carp, DeJong, and Bader).

DeJong's power didn't come all the way back after his hand injury, but he also graded as above-average defensively at shortstop, and slightly above-average offensively (102 OPS+). Jedd Gyorko's power wasn't there this year, with an Isolated Slugging of just 154, versus 200 last year and 252 in 2016. However, he walked a lost more often than he had, which pulled his OBP up a bit. It's still his weakest offensive season as a Cardinals by OPS+ (108 vs. 112 and 111), but it's not too far off. Combined with average defense, he came out as basically an average player.

Fowler did not make it back from his foot injury. Ozuna finally found his power in the last two months, hitting 10 of his 23 HRs over that span, with an OPS in the upper 800s. Basically what the team was hoping for when they traded for him. But he finished the season overall with an OPS+ of 106, or two percent worse than Gyorko. Most of the defensive stats say he was very good, even though he apparently has the weakest outfield arm in the league. Harrison Bader, meanwhile, graded out as excellent defensively, ran the bases well (15 of 18 stealing, among other things), and hit well enough. An OPS+ of 106 in fact, same as Ozuna, with a slightly higher Isolated Slugging, even.

As for the rest of the roster, Jose Martinez played less first base and more right field late in the season, as the Cardinals placed a greater emphasis on defense, something Jose is largely unfamiliar with. But in a limited sample of 335 innings, he graded out as average in right field, by one metric at least. They should still probably try to trade him to the AL this offseason. He was still the second-best hitter on the team after Carpenter, although the power wasn't there to the same extent as last year. Yairo Munoz somehow convinced the coaching staff he could play anywhere, which I guess is technically true in that he can stand there if you give him a glove. He just stinks at almost every position. He was, in extremely small samples, terrible in RF, CF, at SS and second base. He was average in LF, and above average at third, again in very small samples. He probably isn't as terrible as he looked everywhere, but I'm not sure he's good anywhere.

And he took most of Greg Garcia's playing time, even though Garcia is a superior infielder. But Munoz hit better, although some of that might be better batted ball luck. He certainly has more power, although that's not saying much. Power isn't Garcia's game, never has been. Tyler O'Neill couldn't seem to keep a consistent spot in the lineup, even though he was competing against two guys (Martinez and Munoz) he was much better defensively than, and he's a much better hitter than Munoz, although he has to work on the strikeout rate. He Ks like Pham did back in 2016 when his eyesight when south and he was trying to play while effectively blind.

The team picked up Matt Adams off the waivers from the Nats, and he had a couple of big hits, but that's about it. Patrick Wisdom got some playing time as a utility infielder, and showed some impressive power. 4 HRs in less than 60 PAs. Doubtful he'll maintain it as the league adjusts, but still nice to have while it lasts. Jose Adolis Garcia was used mostly as a late-inning defensive replacement for Martinez and Munoz, but will unfortunately probably be most remembered for falling down as he was rounding third trying to score in a game the Cardinals really needed, and ultimately lost. Hopefully he gets some time next year, and creates a few more positive memories.

I've seen a lot of comments about how much missing the playoffs hurt this year, compared to the previous two season. I don't really agree. I had given the season up for dead after the trade deadline. They were hovering around .500, all the trades made were building for the future things, with no immediate help acquired (unless you really believed in Chasen Shreve), and they were still playing Fowler every game. That they got hot for a month and climbed back in contention was a fun bonus, but I enjoyed just getting to see some of the young guys, even if they struggled.

The 2017 team was alternating between hot and cold, where they'd play well for 2-3 weeks, then stink for a similar amount of time. It was running in place, but at least you got sustained stretches of good play. And Tommy Pham was kicking all kinds of ass, which I thoroughly enjoyed.

Now the 2016 team, that was frustrating. They couldn't play well for more than 5 games at a time. They'd win two series, then lose two, on and on, all season. You could never feel like they'd found a rhythm. And they weren't good at much of anything. They were one of the worst baserunning teams in the league, and one of the worst defensive teams in the league. Which made their pitching staff, which was largely mediocre outside Carlos and Seung-hwan Oh, look even worse, because it kept forcing their pitchers to get 4 or 5 outs in an inning. They didn't hit for average, they didn't draw a ton of walks, but they did hit for power. They were second in doubles and first in homers in the NL, but home runs are about the worst thing you can be good at to hold my interest.

Add to that they were competing for the wild cards with San Francisco and the Mets. 60% of the Mets' roster was on the DL, and the Giants seemed to blow every close lead they had for the last three months of the season. Yet the Cardinals couldn't edge out either of them. That was frustrating, and felt like a missed opportunity. This year there were a bunch of good teams, and most of them were playing very well late in the season, and so it was always going to be tough. So it didn't bother me as much.



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