Discordance Ruling the Cardinals

This has been a strange year for the Cardinals, as strange as any that I can remember. It has left fans scratching their heads on a daily basis, and for the first time that I can remember, I’m questioning the front office.

There is an obvious discordance between Mozeliak and Matheny on a few things, particularly the Oscar Taveras situation. Mo has stated time and time again that if Taveras is going to be in the major leagues, he needs to play. Matheny obviously hasn’t gotten that message. “Matheny’s guys” (Craig, Jay, Cruz) continue to get the bulk of the playing time, and I’m not sure Mo is thrilled about it. This past week he practically called out the skipper in front of the media, threatening to send OT back to AAA if he didn’t start seeing the field more. Tony La Russa didn’t always see eye to eye with the front office, but I can’t really remember there being this obvious of a disagreement.

Besides that, there seems to be more confusion than ever on what exactly needs to be done to help this team. Mo has always been the type of GM to have a very precise plan on what to do, and when to do it. That hasn’t been the case this year. Wong and Taveras have both ridden the bus back and forth from St. Louis to Memphis, and injuries have caused disarray within the pitching staff. Most recently, Yadier Molina’s thumb injury has caused the greatest confusion yet. It’s very unlike Mozeliak to sign a George Kottaras only to release him five plate appearances later. It is even more unlike Mozeliak to sign a guy like AJ Pierzynski.

I’m sure people are sick of hearing the term “The Cardinal Way,” but if there is one player in baseball that doesn’t fit it, it’s Pierzynski. Hated anywhere he goes, this is a signing that I believe wouldn’t happen in years past. But Mo’s hand has

Credit: SI.com

Credit: SI.com

been forced by injuries, the incompetence of his manager, and the underachievement of his veteran players.

This team just hasn’t been fun to watch at times this year, more so than most. Perhaps bringing in a polarizing figure like Pierzynski could change that, but a 37 year old catcher isn’t going to fix all of this team’s problems. For the first time in my fandom, I don’t think Mo knows how to fix all of the teams problems. Pitching and offense are both a need, but an unwillingness to part with prospects will probably prevent the Cardinals from acquiring both.

A lot can change between now and July 31st, but on the needs to happen first. The GM and the manager need to get on the same page, it will be very difficult for a team to achieve full potential otherwise. Whatever happens, I’m going to sit back (attempt to) relax, and enjoy the potentially bumpy ride that lies ahead.

It’s not crazy, it’s sports

AJ

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April Showers Bring Bullpen Madness for the Cardinals

UCB_11

Wow, it’s been a while. Apologies to my readers for my absence, I will try to get this thing back on track assuming my schedule cooperates. What have I missed? Well, since I last wrote, the CBC Cadets became MSHSAA Class 5 champions, Mizzou basketball suffered 4 arrests and a 2nd round exit in the NIT tournament, the Cardinals began their season, and much more. I also became a part of the United Cardinal Bloggers (UCB) so I hope that you will check out stuff from all of my fellow bloggers at unitedcardinalbloggers.com

Bullpen struggles are here yet again, I mean its April isn’t it? It is easily ignored that the Cardinals bullpen struggles early nearly every season because John Mozeliak is good enough to have it fixed by year’s end, but through seven games this year seems no different than years past.

Much like the April showers delaying seemingly every Cardinal game, bullpen struggles are here again like clockwork. It became pretty apparent the bullpen would be an issue when the Cardinals gave a contract to veteran righty Pat Neshek and then later David Aardsma. Only Neshek made the team, and started off the year by issuing a walk and a three run homer to the first two batters he faced. Since then Neshek has settled in, but for what seems like the 100th April in a row, the bullpen is a cause for concern. Jason Motte will be back to provide stability at some point, and hopefully that will be enough. Right now it’s obvious that the club has very little confidence in Seth Maness after his awful spring. Keith Butler probably doesn’t belong on a major league roster, and as for Neshek, I’m not sold.

Much has made about the turnover the Cardinals have had in the middle infield over the last decade, Jhonny Peralta was the 8th shortstop in eight years on opening day. What about closer? It has gone unnoticed but Trevor Rosenthal marked the fourth different opening day closer for the Cardinals since 2010. A list that also includes Ryan Franklin, Jason Motte, and Mitchell Boggs and excluding Fernando Salas and Edward Mujica who also spent time in that role. Volatility in the bullpen is a problem league wide, but it seems to bite the Cardinals hard every April.

Here is a breakdown of the Cardinal bullpen ERA in April each of the last 5 seasons.

Year – April ERA – League Median – Final ERA

2014 – 6.50 – 3.52

2013 – 5.80 – 3.52 – 3.45

2012 – 2.70 – 3.56 – 3.90

Credit: Post-Dispatch

Credit: Post-Dispatch

2011 – 3.83 – 3.71 – 3.73

2010 – 2.46 – 3.97 – 3.73

After looking at the Cardinals’ numbers compared to the league median each year it would seem that my claim about the Cardinals struggling “every year” is a bit of a hyperbole on the surface. In only three of the five years did the Cardinals numbers exceed the median including 2011 when it was close, and this year only seven games in. Looking deeper though, the 2012 team that posted a 2.70 included JC Romero and Victor Marte. After throwing four scoreless innings in April, Romero was released next month after allowing nine earned runs over his next four innings. Marte spent the majority of the season with the big club but finished the year with his ERA hovering near 4.90.

That 2010 team that looked spectacular featured Blake Hawksworth, who tossed nine scoreless innings in April before giving up 12 runs over his next 11 innings and finishing the year flirting with a 5.00 ERA. A scoreless inning from utility infielder Felipe Lopez also contributed to that spectacular April. All of these things are major contributors to the drastic rise we see from April to final ERA in those two seasons.

Here is some research I did about bullpen turnover in each of those seasons. I took a look at each bullpen in April and then again in August (September would have skewed the numbers due to late season call ups). Listed below are the April bullpen arms used each year, in bold are the arms still around in August.

2010 – Hawksworth, Boggs, Motte, Reyes, Miller, McClellan, Franklin, Lopez (infielder), Mather (outfielder)

2011 – Batista, Salas, Motte, Sanchez, Boggs, Tallet, Miller, McClellan, Augenstein, Franklin

2012 – Romero, Boggs, Marte, Rzepczynski, McLellan, Motte, Salas

2013 – Mujica, Choate, Rosenthal, Salas, Kelly, Boggs, Rzepczynski

This is where things get interesting. It would appear that there is actually no correlation in bullpen turnover and bullpen ERA. The 2010 team had no turnover and a 1.31 climb in ERA, 2011 turned over six relievers and saw a -.10 fall in ERA. 2012 turned over three and climbed 1.20 while 2013 turned over two and fell 2.35. There is also no correlation between bullpen ERA or turnover and winning baseball games.

That 2010 team finished with 86 wins and missed the playoffs despite maintaining stability, yet inconsistency, in the bullpen. The 2011 team saw the most turnover of any of the bullpens studied, which brought them nothing short of a World Series championship. The 2012 team made it to the NLCS despite their bullpen situation, and the 2013 team nearly won another World Series after Mozeliak straightened out the worst April bullpen to date.

So what does all this actually mean? To put it simply, nothing, and that’s the whole point. Fans are going to panic because of the early struggles of Maness, Neshek, Siegrist, and even a blip on the radar of Trevor Rosenthal, but it all means absolutely nothing. We know for sure there will be some turnover in this bullpen because Jason Motte will recover from his Tommy John surgery to join the ranks. Sam Freeman will probably make his way up from Memphis during the season, and I would be shocked if Mozeliak didn’t acquire outside help in some capacity, whether it be via trade or free agency.

Stop the panicking Cards’ fans, take a deep breath and trust in the organization as a whole. I was semi panicked about this too until this post, but fear no more. What the bullpen does today, tomorrow, or the next day will mean zip, zero, and zilch in the grand scheme of the 2014 season. Either the current guys get it figured out, or they will be gone, and new guys will, it’s as simple as that.

Thanks for reading, it feels good to be back. If you aren’t already please follow me on twitter at GSC_AJ

It’s not crazy, it’s sports

AJ

Why the Cardinals WILL be Successful in 2014

Earlier in the week I gave you the facts behind any potential struggles the Cardinals could endure this year. In response, I now bring you the facts behind what will bring the Cardinals, and their fans, joy in the upcoming season.

The national media, the fans, and I are all expecting big things from the Cards in 2014, and for good reason. Within two games of winning the World Series last year, John Mozeliak did his thing and only made the Cardinals better. There is five major reasons I believe the Cardinals will be successful in 2014.

Credit: Fansided.com

Credit: Fansided.com

Two games away – In 2013 the Cardinals were only two games away from being World Series Champs, and they were able to retain nearly every key piece on that team. Closer Edward Mujica has moved on to Boston, but he wasn’t much of a presence in the post season, and Trevor Rosenthal as well as the returning Jason Motte should more than make up for Mujica’s loss at the back end of games. The other key loss, Carlos Beltran will be wearing pinstripes in 2014.

Matt Adams is essentially taking the place of Beltran in the lineup as Craig moves out to right. VivaElBirdos.com (a great source for Cardinals information and analysis, check them out) has been working on their community projections, and their numbers have Adams cranking 23 HR, driving in 70+ with an OPS north of .800. If this is the case, the Cardinals shouldn’t miss Beltran much. It’s hard to believe that the Cardinals will miss David Freese who had a disappointing year last year. John Mozeliak limited his losses in the offseason, and the Cardinals have immediate replacements for the assets they did lose. A team two games away from a title has only gotten better, and that is reason for plenty of optimism.

The Bench – when examining why this year’s team is going to be successful, I tend to look at what held back last year’s Cardinal team. One glaring weakness of last year’s team was the bench. While many Cardinal fans (including myself) were hoping for John Mozeliak to upgrade from Tony Cruz, that didn’t happen. Fortunately, Mozeliak signed Mark Ellis in the offseason, and with the addition of Peter Bourjos, Jon Jay will reinforce the bench. Ellis and Jay could both start for a lot of major league squads so it’s a luxury for the Redbirds to have them as weapons off the bench. Not to mention super prospect Oscar Taveras will more than likely make his way to St. Louis before season’s end, providing extra firepower. Compared to last year’s bench which at times featured names like Ty Wigginton, Adron Chambers, and Brock Peterson, this year’s might as well be Murderers’ Row.

The Defense – The Cardinals had -39 defensive runs saved last year. That was 13th of 15 National League teams. Jon Jay was -10, and David Freese was a -14. A stat that shocked me was to see that Peter Bourjos was a -1 last year for the Angels. Given that his season was plagued by injury and he only participated in 55 games, I cut the Cardinal newcomer a break. Especially with the knowledge that prior to last season his lowest DRS for a year was +9. Even if Bourjos is just even in the upcoming campaign, that is a 10 run improvement at one position. Matt Carpenter was even last year at 2nd base, if he can continue the same at 3rd that is another 14 run improvement (assuming Kolten Wong can play at least even at 2nd).

Unfortunately, Pete Kozma was a bright spot for the Cardinals last year defensively, scoring a +8 at shortstop. Jhonny Peralta was even last year for the Tigers. 1st base and right field are difficult to project given the lack of experience of Craig in RF, and Adams at 1B. I feel that I can safely say Adams and Craig will not combine to be worse than the -7 Craig and Beltran were last year. All things considered the Cards upgraded +16 or more defensively in the offseason. Centerfield and third base will be dramatically improved while only shortstop has suffered any damage. DRS is only one metric towards measuring defense, which in my opinion is the part of the game toughest to statistically quantify.

Shortstop – I just touched on how Peralta will be a downgrade defensively, but that is a minor inconvenience due to the major upgrade he will be with the bat in his hands.  Among shortstops with 300+ AB’s last year only former Cardinal Brendan Ryan hit worse than Pete Kozma (based on OPS). Jhonny Peralta is not necessarily the franchise, long term SS the Cardinals need, but he will hold down fort for a few years. I knocked on Peralta for his relatively low .755 career OPS in my last post, but even that is a .207 improvement over what Kozma gave the Cards last year. Last year Peralta far exceed his career number with a .815 OPS, 3rd amongst 300+ AB SS’s, trailing only Hanley Ramirez and Troy Tulowitzki. As long as Peralta can be average as a defender, which history has shown he can be, the Cardinals have filled their only offensive weakness.

Polishing the Young Arms – While many see the Cardinals rotation as a major strength of the team, I expressed my concern in my last post. If Martinez wins the 5th spot in the rotation, that leaves the Cardinals with 3/5 of their rotation having one year or less of ML service time. However, despite their youth and inexperience Michael Wacha, Shelby Miller, and Carlos Martinez all have top of the rotation talent.

I assume that Derrick Lilliquist has had these three working in the offseason on polishing their raw skills. If Miller has learned to command his fastball and/or added a secondary pitch, then wow his ceiling is high. Imagine if Wacha’s curve has improved in the offseason to compliment his already dominant fastball/change combo. Martinez command will certainly (or should I say hopefully) have improved in the offseason. The future is now for the Cardinal rotation, and the future is bright.

When it comes to the Cardinals, the rich have gotten richer. The 2013 NL Central Champions have only widened the gap between them and their division rivals. Given the core group that brought so much success last year, as well as Mozeliak’s brilliant additions there is no reason to believe great things aren’t right around the corner.  Buckle up fellow Cards fans; it’s going to be a fun ride!

It’s not crazy, it’s sports

AJ

How Good is John Mozeliak?

Credit: Post-Dipatch

  1. Jim Edmonds traded for David Freese
  2. Brett Wallace traded for Matt Holliday
  3. Holliday extension
  4. Luke Gregerson traded for Khalil Greene
  5. Lance Berkman signing
  6. Colby Rasmus traded for Edwin Jackson, Octavio Dotel, Marc Rzepczynski
  7. Rafael Furcal acquired for Alex Castellanos
  8. Albert Pujols walks
  9. Carlos Beltran signing
  10. Zack Cox traded for Edward Mujica
  11. Yadier Molina, Adam Wainwright, Allen Craig all extended
  12. Jhonny Peralta signing
  13. David Freese traded for Peter Bourjos

That is a list of 13 major transactions that Mozeliak has pulled since taking over in 2007, and only one did not work out in the Cardinals favor. (Gregerson for Greene) It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to realize the brilliance behind most of those moves. Edmonds had nothing left when he was traded, Freese went on to become a World Series MVP. Wallace has been a complete bust while Matt Holliday remains one of the game’s best hitters. Lance Berkman and Rafael Furcal both helped the Cards to a World Series title. While Rasmus has been good for Toronto, we don’t win in 2011 without that trade. Pujols is breaking down at a rapid rate in Anaheim while his departure freed up the money to resign Molina, Wainwright, and Craig. As well as bring in Beltran, and now Peralta. Zack Cox may never see the major leagues while Mujica gave the Cardinals (nearly) a full season of dominance as a closer. While the jury is still out on the Freese for Bourjos trade, the track record is good for Mozeliak.

Recently is when I realized just how good Mozeliak is, and it has nothing to do with the big trades. It is difficult to statistically quantify the success of many of these moves in one short blog post, other moves were so obviously successful it’s not worth looking at. Let’s focus on what is in my opinion, Mozeliak’s best work to date, the Allen Craig extension. A five year, 31 million dollar deal was inked last year to keep the first baseman/corner outfielder in Cardinal red. To put that in perspective, Allen Craig is arguably a top five first baseman in all of baseball, this year he will rank 20th in salary for his position. Craig finished last year with 97 RBI, good for 17th in the majors. 22 players finished with 90+ RBI last year, of those 22, four are still on their rookie contracts. Out of the remaining 18, Craig is the lowest paid player. 24 players hit .300+ last year, and again, excluding rookie contracts, Craig is near the bottom of the list in salary.

In comparison, Freddie Freeman just received an eight year, 135 million dollar contract last week. Frank Wren, the GM of the Braves is no slouch, but Mo blew him out of the water here. Freeman is five years younger than Craig, better defensively, and overall healthier so one could justify a slight pay raise from that of Craig’s contract. However, let’s compare their offensive numbers

Allen Craig:

Allen Craig

Freddie Freeman:

freddie freeman

Craig’s numbers compare favorably in nearly every category, particularly when calculated over a 162 game average. To justify a three year, $104 million difference in pay between these two? Well let’s just say Wren dropped the ball. Maybe Wren didn’t drop the ball too far, after all Nick Swisher makes $15 million, Albert Pujols $23 million, and in 2014 Ryan Howard will be the highest paid first baseman in baseball (yes, he still plays). In that perspective, Wren didn’t drop the ball at all. Freeman is younger and better than all of those guys, it just goes to show how good the Craig deal, and John Mozeliak are. Allen Craig is going to be an all-star for years to come, a potential future MVP yet Mozeliak is paying him like he is Garrett Jones (they will be paid the same this year). Just wow.

Of those 13 moves listed above, one worked out poorly, and only time will tell on the final two. That leaves 10 successful moves, essentially out of 11. If Mozeliak was a player that would be good for a .909 batting average, with a few home runs. Obviously that is an outlandish analogy, but it does give some perspective on how high the Cards’ GM success rate is.

It’s not crazy, it’s sports.

AJ

Photo Credit: Baseball Reference & St. Louis Post-Dispatch