Jon Jay, Lead Off Hitter

Jon Jay

No debate sparks more argument among Cardinals fans than the center field debate. I wrote about it preseason, in which I voted for Peter Bourjos to start in center.

Here’s that link: https://gatewaysc.wordpress.com/2014/02/17/pb-jay/

I still like Bourjos, and think he is a really nice piece to have on the roster, but the debate is over. Jon Jay has up and run away with the centerfield job, and frankly has become criminally underrated. Let us not forget that Jay was the leadoff man for the Cardinals not long ago, and possesses a career OBP of .358.

Fans turned on Jay last year because of a career low .276 average. Amazingly, Jay still maintained a .351 OBP which was higher than the .344 OBP he carried while hitting .297 in 2011. However, the Cardinal Centerfielder also posted career lows in slugging, and had a horrendous year defensively.

That is all in the past. Jon Jay is back, and better than ever. Jay’s average sits at .302, creeping up on his career high .305. His OBP of .372 is one point lower than his career high, and he is carrying the second highest SLG% of his career. Shockingly, Jay’s OPS sits at .772, higher than Matt Holliday and Yadier Molina.

People will say what they will about Jay’s average being fueled by BABIP, and they aren’t wrong. Jay posts a ridiculously high .355 BABIP this year, .056 higher than the league average. I hear all the time on twitter “once Jay stops BABIPing, he will decline.” That would absolutely be true, but frankly, there is no sign that Jay will stop having an insanely high BABIP. In 2010 Jay had a .350 BABIP, and people called in unsustainable. In 2011, that number dipped to .340, and again it seemed unsustainable. Last year, Jay’s career low average was caused by a career low .325 BABIP, which was still good for .028 above the league average. That was the only year of Jay’s career in which he did not post a BABIP of .340 or better. It’s hard to say that Jay is going to decline once his BABIP does, because for the last five years, BABIP has been no issue for the Miami native.

In the offense’s current state, I would love to see Jay moved to the leadoff spot. Many, including myself, believe that Matt Carpenter makes for the ideal number two hitter. The only thing hindering that is that the Cardinals haven’t had anyone else to hit leadoff, now they do. This works for many reasons. Number one, Kolten Wong’s .292 OBP belongs nowhere near the top of the lineup. Secondly, the Cardinal offense has been crippled this year by double plays from the two hole. Four players have taken 40+ AB’s from the two hole this year, Jhonny Peralta, Matt Holliday, Kolten Wong, and Jon Jay. Those four also happen to carry the four highest double play percentages on the roster. I have grown weary watching Matt Carpenter lead off the game by getting on base, only to be erased seconds later.

Moving Jay to lead off, and Carpenter down to second almost completely erases this issue. Jay’s OBP is only .007 lower than Carpenter’s and would be a .81 improvement over Kolten Wong. Simply put, the top two spots in the order would be getting on base 8% more often than they currently are. As far as the double play situation, Matt Carpenter holds the lowest double play percentage on the roster, so that issue would be relieved as well.

For an offense struggling as mightily as the Cardinals have, a little lineup reconstruction certainly wouldn’t hurt. The point being, is that Jon Jay can provide a healthy boost to the offense if used correctly. It’s time to stop with BABIP argument, and start appreciating the offensive weapon that Jay is becoming.

It’s not crazy, it’s sports

AJ

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

Question of the Day Pt. 2: Off Season Free Agent Signing

The question Doug presented to me in our questionnaire project, was what free agent I thought the Cardinals should sign in the off season if money was no object.

Here is Doug’s answer: http://baseballgeekingalveston.wordpress.com/2014/07/17/free-agent-id-sign-in-the-offseason-for-the-st-louis-cardinals/

I like the Shields idea, a lot actually. Big game James is an innings eater with top of the rotation stuff, that’s tough to come by. The biggest issue I had with this question is that this year’s class of unrestricted free agents (UFA) is bad. Mix that with a Cardinal team that doesn’t have any glaring weaknesses, and you’ve got quite the pickle. The position player class is certainly weaker than the pitching class, so I decided to stick with a pitcher. Especially given that I’m sure a couple young pitchers will be deal to acquire Giancarlo Stanton (it’s a joke people).

My guy: Jon Lester
There are quite a few rumors swirling that the bottom dwelling BoSox might be looking to part ways with Lester at the deadline. I would be perfectly fine with the Cardinals acquiring him in some sort of deal, a cheaper alternative to David Price. If not, he would be my first free agent target. First of all, he is left handed, and the Cardinals could desperately use an effective left handed starter. Lester is also a little younger than other pitchers on the market like James Shields and Hisashi Iwakuma. Like Shields, Lester will eat plenty of innings. He has surpassed the 200 innings plateau five times, and is on pace to do it again this year.

The Cardinals experienced firsthand what Lester is capable of as a postseason performer, a trait I believe John Mozeliak values in a veteran free agent signing.

Credit: YawkeyWayReport.com

Credit: YawkeyWayReport.com

The price will be high, as it always is for free agent pitching, but the Cardinals can afford it. A rotation of Wainwright, Lester, Wacha, Lynn, and whoever else looks awfully good.

So thanks to Doug for this fun project, perhaps more will come in the future. Don’t forget to check out his blog over at baseballgeekingalveston.wordpress.com and as always, thanks for reading.

It’s not crazy, it’s sports

AJ

Names to Watch at the Trade Deadline

Oh trade speculation, how I’ve missed thee. While constant rumors and speculation drive some people crazy, I’m one of the fans that crave it. Perhaps because I have nothing better to do than sit on twitter and wait for the latest update, but let’s ignore that point.

The Cardinals are in a position this year where no one really has any clue what they’ll be doing. According to John Mozeliak, there isn’t a lot available in regards to offense, the Cardinals biggest need. Pitching seems to be a little more plentiful on the trade market, but isn’t necessarily a need for the Redbirds. Although if Michael Wacha is going to miss the rest of the year, which I’m fully prepared for, adding another starter isn’t a terrible idea.

Pitchers
The Long Shot: David Price

David Price rumors have swirled for over a year now. The Rays can’t resign Price when his contract expires, they know it, and so do the other 29 teams. Like any wise team would do, the Rays need to sell Price high while they can. However, the Tampa Bay ace won’t come cheap, and the Cardinals have shown a reluctance to part with young talent. If the Cardinals do add pitching, I believe it should of the top end variety, just not sure this will work. Perhaps something falls into place as the deadline approaches, but Price ending up in St. Louis is a long shot.

The Likely Candidate: Jake Peavy
For the second year, the Cardinals have been attached to rumors involving Jake Peavy. Last year they lost out on the Peavy sweepstakes to the Red Sox, this year, it remains to be seen. I stated already that I believe if the Cardinals add pitching, it should be of the top end variety. Peavy hasn’t fit that description since 2007. I simply don’t see how Peavy is an upgrade over guys like Carlos Martinez or Joe Kelly. The fit makes sense though. The veteran right hander has stated his interest in playing for the Cardinals in the past. Not to mention, the Red Sox are seeking outfield help, something the Cardinals have a surplus of. I suppose that Peavy isn’t a horrible idea, but dealing Allen Craig, as rumored, for a guy like Peavy would be a mistake.

Hitters: Adrian Beltre and Ben Zobrist
In the case of hitters, I’m not sure there is a “likely candidate” for the Cardinals to acquire. Zobrist and Beltre are two names that have been connected to St. Louis, and could be on the market. Of the two, I think Ben Zobrist makes the most sense. Most importantly, it would rid the major league roster of Daniel Descalso. Zobrist is a starter quality utility man capable of playing almost any position. Zobrist is an on base machine that I think could slot in nicely wherever, whenever.

Beltre would obviously be a welcome addition. The Cardinals have no bigger need than a middle of the order bat to drive in runs. This deal would move Matt Carpenter back to 2nd, and slot a gold glove caliber player in at 3rd. The hindrances here are that Kolten Wong’s playing time would see a significant drop (something I don’t see the Cardinals wanting). Also, Beltre is 35 years old, the Cardinals wouldn’t be looking to negotiate anything long term with him, and wouldn’t want to give up cost controlled players for a rental.

My pick: Charlie Blackmon or Corey Dickerson.
I like both Jon Jay and Peter Bourjos, but centerfield remains the obvious upgradable position for the Cardinals in my opinion. The Rockies would love to get their hands on some of the Cardinals young pitching, and would have to part

Credit: Denver Post

Credit: Denver Post

with a bat like Blackmon or Dickerson to do so. Blackmon is a career .291 hitter with 15 HR/162 games.

Dickerson holds a monstrous .881 career OPS, but doesn’t have a lot of experience in centerfield. I think either Rockies’ outfielder would slot in nicely right behind Matt Carpenter in the Cardinals’ lineup. The only concern with these two is the Coors Field effect. Blackmon’s home OPS is .257 points higher than on the road. Similarly, Dickerson’s OPS is .308 points lower away from Coors. If I’m the Cardinals though, I’m taking the risk assuming the price is right.

It’s not crazy, it’s sports

AJ

Seth Maness is Awesome

Drafted in the 11th round in 2011, standing all of 6’0 tall, a fastball hovering around 89 MPH, and no devastating off speed pitches to speak of, Seth Maness simply shouldn’t be good. The Cardinals 2012 minor league pitcher of the year is defying odds and he’s not just good, he’s awesome.

Credit: SI.com

Credit: SI.com

Maness entered the league with one strength, control. In 247.2 minor league innings, Maness walked only 18 batters, which is 0.7/9 innings. That walk rate has inflated to 1.7/9 innings, but is still Maddux-esque (Maddux had a career 1.8 BB/9 IP). A starter in the minors, Maness has been used as a double play specialist of sorts out of the bullpen for the Cardinals in his brief career. In a defiance of the odds, Maness has actually dropped his 2.80 minor league ERA to 2.40 in the majors. Fellow blogger of mine @elmaquino broke down the concept of a double play specialist last year.

Here is that link: http://wp.me/p2DXa4-187

Last year Maness induced 16 double plays in a matter of 62 innings, no other relief pitcher induced more than 12. In 2014, the right hander has induced only six double plays in his 43 innings of work, still good for fourth in the National League among relievers. After a slow April posting a 4.09 ERA, Maness has settled in and had ERAs of 2.31, 1.84, and 1.59 in May, June, and July respectively.

So what makes Maness so awesome? Obviously the ability to throw strikes and induce ground balls while doing so has been the key to his success. Maness doesn’t have the “stuff” to issue free base runners, therefore his ability to throw strikes becomes even more vital. Fangraphs database suggests that the league average for groundball% (GB %) is 44%. The Cardinals secret weapon blows that number out of the water with a career 63.6 GB%. Essentially, Maness is inducing a groundball ~20% more often than the average pitcher. That has allowed him to keep his through the roof 25% double play percentage.

Maness utilizes a sinker in his arsenal of pitches, as most groundball specialists do. However, that isn’t necessarily the key to his success. Mixing pitches, and being able to get groundouts with any one of his weapons has gotten Maness to this point. The East Carolina product has produced 44 groundball outs to go along with his 6 double plays this year, doing so with a variety of pitches.

Pitch GB Outs
Fastball 4
Sinker 24
Changeup 16
Slider 6
Total 50

The fastball and slider haven’t been the most effective pitches for Maness’ groundball habits, but he still has gotten 20% of his groundballs with those two pitches. Besides, it would makes sense that the two pitches with the most downward vertical movement, sinker and changeup, are the most effect groundball getters. Here is a heat map of all of those groundball outs.

Credit: Baseball Savant

Credit: Baseball Savant

Maness doesn’t necessarily keep the ball down as often as he should, but his stuff is so effective, hitters haven’t been able to elevate it regardless of location. It’s obvious that Maness checks out in all the basic pitching categories, but given that he doesn’t really pass the eye test of what a dominant pitcher should be, I wasn’t sure his peripheral stats would check out. They do.

If you’re interested in reading about how effective Maness sinker really is take a look at a post by @stlcupofjoe on Viva El Birdos. Here’s that link: “The Seth Maness Sinker, How Good was it?”

FIP which stands for fielding independent ERA is a stat that defines what a pitchers ERA would have been over a given time period given a league average defense. For a pitcher like Maness who relies heavily on balls in play, this stat can vary greatly from real ERA. Compared to his 2.40 ERA, Maness FIP is 3.39, while that seems like a big jump Fangraphs still defines that FIP in the above average to great range.

The only worry is that Maness is subject to regression due to a sky high left on base percentage (LOB %). This is the number of runners that reach base, and are stranded there. The league average is 72% and 80% is considered extraordinary. Seth Maness leaves 82% of runners on base. Maness is forced to be this great because he allows a higher batting average on balls in play (BABIP) than most pitchers, not to mention has more balls put in play than most pitches. The worst part of Maness game is that he allows a 12.3% HR/FB ratio (the number of home runs hit per fly ball) which falls in Fangraphs category of “awful.” Any sabermartrician will tell you that a high LOB% mixed with a high BABIP and HR/FB makes any pitcher subject to regression.

Regression isn’t in Maness’ future, and here is why. BABIP is used unfairly when looking at performance. He gives up a slightly higher than average line drive percentage, which is what leads to his slightly above average BABIP, but given his ridiculous GB%, that BABIP will always remain reasonable. The HR/FB is glaring, but given the very few amount of fly balls that Maness allows, it’s not a terrible issue that 12% of them leave the park.  The reason that LOB% is so high and will stay so high is because of the groundball and double play ability.

The reality is that the only test Seth Maness doesn’t pass, is the eye test. People underestimated him coming out of college, hence the 11th round draft position, and people continue to do so now. Maness is living proof it doesn’t take a 98 MPH fastball and a devastating slider to be an effective relief pitcher. He has proved a valuable weapon in the Cardinal bullpen, especially when being used in a pinch. His quick pace, and ability to throw strikes make him as fun to watch as any pitcher in my opinion. Here is to hoping Seth Maness continues to be awesome. Thanks for reading.

It’s not crazy, it’s sports

AJ

*all stats and info courtesy of Baseball Reference, Baseball Savant, and Fangraphs

Disappointing Series Finds Cards in 3rd Place

It certainly wasn’t the first disappointing series of the year for the Cardinals, but perhaps the toughest to swallow. The Cardinals edged out a nail biting victory on Friday to capture the first of three games against Miami. Saturday started with a feeling of exuberance as Allen Craig and Jhonny Peralta hit back to back jacks to put the Cardinals up 5-1 and in full control of the series.
How quickly things change in the game of baseball. The Cardinals found themselves with their first pair of back to back home runs of the year, a four run lead, and four innings away from being eight games over .500 for the first time all year. Then some offense from the Marlins fused with mismanaging from the Cardinals’ skipper changed it all. Trevor Rosenthal struggled Friday night throwing over 30 pitches, and nearly blowing game one of the series. Pat Neshek had only thrown nine pitches in the 8th inning and seemed like the perfect candidate to finish the game. However, Mike Matheny elected to go back to his closer.

Matt Holliday was lifted from the one run game for Shane Robinson due to an apparent “knee issue” that failed to keep him out of the line-up on Sunday. Rosenthal struggled all the way through the ninth, and the bullpen remained bare because “we want him to feel like a king in the ninth,” said Matheny. While I understand wanting to keep a closer’s morale high, not being willing to take him out of a game before the lead is blown is stubborn. You are costing the team victories at the expense of one player not getting his feelings hurt for a day. It was another one that got away, not the first time this year. It has seemed all year

Credit: Post-Dispatch

Credit: Post-Dispatch

long that every time the Cardinals seem close to getting over that hump, something devastating like Saturday’s loss happens.

Sunday was perhaps more mismanaged than Saturday, and the Cardinals now find themselves in 3rd place with the 2nd place Pirates coming to town. Whenever the lineup card reads Daniel Descalso’s name, Mike Matheny has already done the team a disservice that day (the Cardinals are 28-8 when Descalso does not see the field). In this particular instance, he was starting over Jhonny Peralta who had two hits including a home run the day before. The offense wasn’t able to muster a lot without Peralta, not to say they would have with him, but it wouldn’t have hurt.

Marco Gonzales put together his “best” start of the year if you want to call it that. Gonzales allowed only 1 run on 7 hits, and 5 walks in his 4.2 innings of work. Seth Maness was brought in to get out of a jam in the fifth, and in true Seth Maness fashion, induced an inning ending ground ball. Skipper struck again, letting Maness hit for himself, but then pulling him for Nick Greenwood. Maness was only out there for three pitches before Greenwood took over. The lefthander gave up 3 runs, letting the game get away from the Cardinals. Kolten Wong homered in his return for one of the only Cardinal highlight of the day, on the way to an 8-4 defeat.

The Pirates are as hot as any team in baseball, defeating the Phillies 6-2 on Sunday. Pittsburgh has won 12 of their last 15, and closed quite a bit of ground to surpass the Cardinals in the standings. With a four game sweep in this upcoming series, the Bucs could essentially bury the Cardinals in the standings before the All-Star Break.

The Cardinals have been devastated all season by lack of consistency not only from their offense, but from their manager. Mozeliak and Matheny need to sit down and have a long talk about what needs to be done going forward. Matheny simply has to start putting the best lineup possible on the field every day; anything else is crippling the team. If a roster move needs to be made, it is Mo’s job to make it, but the reality is that this roster is good enough to win if utilized properly. This upcoming Pirates series very well could define where the Cardinals go from here, but for now they find themselves in 3rd, looking up at the pack.

UCB Weekend Through the Eyes of a 1st Timer

This weekend I was blessed with the opportunity to join many of my fellow bloggers and members of the United Cardinal Bloggers at Busch Stadium for a wonderful weekend of baseball. The weekend began with a dinner at J Buck’s downtown on Saturday night where we were treated to great good and I was first introduced to many people I had previously known only through twitter conversations.

Sunday morning we reported to Busch Stadium and the bright and early hour of 11 AM. My fellow bloggers and I were given some time to have a Q&A session with Cardinals’ GM John Mozeliak as well as team president Bill Dewitt III. Mozeliak answered questions ranging from the Oscar Taveras situation, to the Darryl Kile death, and even shared with us a humorous story about Scott Rolen’s departure. After that we were shown to our suite where the stadium chefs accommodated us with more food than one could ever hope to eat.

Overall it was a truly amazing weekend and I feel beyond blessed that I was presented with this opportunity. I can’t say enough for how accommodating the Cardinals organization was for us bloggers. There are some really great people throughout the blogging community, many of whom put in a lot of hard work to make this weekend happen and I can’t thank them enough. It was nice to finally put faces to twitter handles, and if you’re not already I urge you to follow the following people:

  • Dan Buffa  @Buffa82
  • Joe Schwarz @stlcupofjoe
  • Cole Claybourn @highsocks_sunday

Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to meet all the bloggers that I have been in touch with via twitter, and I hope that will change. Again, I commend all those who put in the hard work to make this weekend happen, and the Cardinals for being so accommodating to our band of misfits. It was an experience that I will treasure for a long time, and completely exceeded any expectations I may have had. I hope you all will continue to read and support me along my blogging journey.

Thank you!

It’s not crazy, it’s sports