The Michael Wacha Solution

In 2013, he was the future of the franchise. He went from ‘fast rising prospect’ to ‘late season revelation’ and ended the year as a postseason hero with possibly the brightest future of any Cardinal pitching prospect in a stacked system.

In the first half of 2014, he was dominant. Over the first 2 months of the season, he posted a 2.77 FIP with a 75-19 K/BB ratio and 1.07 WHIP in 77.1 IP. Then, a unique injury bug bit Michael Wacha and left him on the sidelines until his infamous flameout in the NLCS, which ended the Cardinals’ 2014 season with him on the mound watching Travis Ishikawa circle the bases after hitting a pennant clinching home run for the San Francisco Giants.

Ever since the injury, Wacha hasn’t been the same. There have been flashes of previous brilliance, but no real consistent stretches of 2013 Wacha. Rock bottom came last year, when Wacha’s full season ERA sat at 5.09 over 138 IP.

However, during April of 2017, Wacha showed some promise and reinvigoration. In 24 IP, he posted a 2.55 ERA with 24 K’s and 6 BB’s. But, over the last 35.1 IP, Wacha has slogged his way to a 5.88 ERA with 32 K’s and a frighteningly high 11.6 BB%.

So, what gives?

Diving into Wacha’s velocity numbers, I couldn’t find anything substantial that would point towards his recent struggles. Month to month, the velocity has held steady on each one of his 4 pitches throughout a game, so it’s not that. His heat maps are all similar, his pitch locations are all similar; I just couldn’t find anything.

With no statistic to point to as a reason for Wacha’s struggles, we just kind of have to assume one unfortunate thing. Until further notice, Michael Wacha is not cut out to be a starting pitcher; for one reason or another, whether we can quantify it or not.

That leaves the Cardinals with quite a predicament.

Wacha can clearly still be effective at the Major League level, as his great start to the season showed. However, as his recent track record has showed, that success, as a starter, is not consistent and can’t be counted on.

I can’t be the only one to think of this before, but the solution here seems simple.

The Cardinals shouldn’t just give up with Wacha and sell low on him right now (see: Matt Adams, and look how that’s turning out). Wacha also shouldn’t be sent down because he’ll just dominate the minors.

Michael Wacha should be sent to the bullpen and turned into a super reliever.

Now, I understand that transitioning from being a starter to being a reliever is difficult, no matter how simple anyone may try to make it seem. But the numbers that make me think Wacha’s transition could be simple are his splits each time he goes through a lineup.

As a starter, Wacha’s first time through the order is sparkling. This season, he sports a 1.95 ERA, 9.59 K/9, 2.20 BB/9, and a 0.95 WHIP. Further, for his career, Wacha has a 2.73 ERA with 200 K’s and 66 BB’s in 207.2 IP.

Essentially, over the course of a full season’s worth of innings pitched, Wacha has been worth 6.8 WAR according to FanSided’s WAR calculator. In case you don’t know, that is outstanding value.

The second time through the order? Yikes.

In 2017, Wacha’s second-time-through ERA balloons to 7.54, his K/9 drops to 6.08 and his walk rate also balloons up to 10.3%. Third time through the order is a similar story, (6.08 ERA, 9 K’s, 6 BB’s in 13.1 IP).

And, again, these numbers bear out over the course of his career. In 191 IP while going through the order a second time, Wacha’s ERA is a decent 3.91, but the K/9 goes down to 7.45 and the BB/9 goes up to 3.39. Third time through, his ERA balloons to 5.16 in 134.1 IP with a rather paltry 6.35 K/9.

Michael Wacha has electric stuff. He sports a 4 pitch mix with a fastball that can still touch the upper 90’s and a changeup that’s produced a career K% of 34.1%. This is a guy who definitely belongs in the Major Leagues, but as a reliever right now.

And, although limited, Wacha’s career numbers as a reliever are incredibly promising. In 16.1 career IP as a reliever, Wacha has a 12.6 K/9, 1.1 BB/9 and a heartening 2.10 xFIP. Personally, I rely on these numbers a lot more than Wacha’s 7.16 ERA in those 16.1 reliever innings.

For the Cardinals, the solution here seems pretty simple. With a guy like Luke Weaver currently tearing up Triple-A, Wacha’s transition to the bullpen doesn’t have to leave the Cardinals without a 5th starter.

Further, the Cardinals need bullpen help right now. So why not discover that help internally, like GM John Mozeliak just loves to do.

All the pieces here seem to perfectly fit, and if Wacha continues to struggle as a starter, you’ll only hear me harp on this point more.

Thanks for reading.

The Michael Wacha Solution

Free Randal Grichuk

Randal Grichuk, the greek god of baseball, a “Lamborghini”, a “wild stallion that just needs to run free”; the man of many nicknames, long hair and glorious forearms is stirring the pot of conversation in Cardinal-land.

He’s been hailed as the next great Cardinal center fielder, sent down to Triple-A, called back up, sent back down, called back up and been a general disappointment along the way. But, the heir to the great Colby Rasmus’ throne has caught fire recently, and he’s done it by accepting his game and playing it.

In all my years of studying baseball, I’ve made the mind-blowing discovery that you can break down every single hitter in the history of God’s greatest game into two categories. Hitters either slug, or they get on base. If you do both, you are a superstar. If you do neither, you are not collecting paychecks as a professional baseball player.

Randal Grichuk slugs, and he slugs really well.

Entering the season, Grichuk was saddled with the expectation that he would seize the Cardinals center field job by storm, maximizing his incredible raw power, stealing 20 bases, playing top notch defense, and finally mastering the art of becoming an on-base aficionado.

As exciting as the though was, our expectations of Grichuk were too high, and he crumbled underneath them. He’s admitted that he was trying to hard to modify his swing and his approach in the name of trying to get on base more, and that he “lost most of [his] power in the process.”

The Cardinals sent him down in mid-May, and then recalled him in June, only to send him back down in July and call him back up just after August started. Upon his most recent call-up, Grichuk got some words of advice from a fellow slugger, Brandon Moss.

“I wanted to show him some things on similar players that have struggled in their careers or struggled in their first couple years and then all of a sudden the power number starts to spike because the on-base started to climb. The batting average slowly climbs, sometimes goes down, but that’s okay. I’m not trying to shape him, but I’m trying to give him a better idea because I feel like that’s where he was lost. He wants stardom. He needs the patience for it, but it will come.”

Those are some powerful words, coming from a late blooming slugger like Moss, who accepted what he was, and unapologetically exploded onto the scene in Oakland during his age 29 season, in which he slugged .596, sported an insane .954 OPS, and blasted 30 home runs to drive in 87.

Moss’ career high average in a season in which he has at least 300 plate appearances is .263, which he’s tallying this year, and he’s clearly never cared about that; nor should he. Like I said, hitters either get paid to slug, or they get paid to get on base. It’s that simple, and Moss slugs as well as anyone in baseball.

And, since his latest promotion back into the Major Leagues, Grichuk is slugging at ridiculous levels as well.

Much like Moss was doing during his initial stint in the major leagues with Boston, Grichuk has been trying to be a player he is not. Drafted with the pick before Mike Trout, he has consistently tried to be a dynamic power-speed threat that plays sparkling CF defense and is the total package 5 tool player. That’s just not who he is.

When Randal Grichuk is at his best, his walk rate will sit around 6 or 7%, his strikeout rate will be somewhere around 25%, and his OBP will be in the .320’s. And this is all 100% okay, Randal Grichuk does not need to be an on-base machine, the Cardinals can pay other guys to do that.

STOP TRYING TO MAKE RANDAL GRICHUK INTO SOMETHING HE ISN’T.

What Grichuk is, however, is a man of large biceps and monstrous power, so turn him loose and watch baseballs fly.

Since his latest callus – and, presumably, his chat with Brandon Moss that has seemed to set him free – Grichuk is slugging .900, with 5 home runs and 12 out of his 13 hits have gone for extra bases. He is getting on base at a respectable .341 clip, but his K/BB ratio is 15/1. So just let him be what he is.

Grichuk is absolutely mashing the baseball since coming back, and the one stat that really jumps out at me and is indicative of his approach is added velocity. Really quick, added velocity is a stat cast number the measures the difference between incoming pitch velocity and exit velocity. The difference is either added or subtracted velocity.

Randal Grichuk has a season average of 10.52 MPH of added velocity, meaning that the balls he does square up are being absolutely smashed. He has seemed to stop worrying about trying to make contact with everything – and thus stopped chasing that pesky breaking ball away that every pitcher knows is his weakness – and has started hunting fastballs that he can do damage with. For reference, the MLB average for added velocity is 3.51 MPH.

Even more indicative of the type of player Randal Grichuk is are his numbers over the last 30 games. He’s slashing .250/.287/.615 with 8 home runs, 18 RBI’s and a K/BB ratio of 38/5. As I said, he slugs, and he slugs very well.

Let Randal Grichuk be himself, stop trying to turn him into an on base machine  while still maintaining his power, we all saw how that experiment turned out, (demotions…lots of demotions). Put him in every day CF, hit him 6th or 7th in the lineup, and turn him loose. The man will absolutely mash.

The Cardinals can pay other guys to get on base in front of Grichuk, but they just need to leave him be and let him do his thing. Balls will fly, runs will be driven in, and everyone wins.

#FreeRandalGrichuk.

Thanks for reading.

-Ryan

Featured image courtesy of Harry How for Getty Images

Free Randal Grichuk

It is Officially Time for the Cardinals to Sell

It is July 6th, and the St. Louis Cardinals are 43-41. That record places them 9.5 games back of the 52-32 Chicago Cubs and sitting in 3rd place in the National League Central division. Normally, still being 3 months away from the playoffs, Cardinals fans would have reason to be patient and optimistic – particularly considering that St. Louis is only 3 games shy of the second wild card spot.

This year is very different.

Following a dreadful 7-5 home loss to the Pittsburgh Pirates tonight, St. Louis sits in a very precarious position. With the trade deadline coming up, General Manager John Mozeliak has a potentially franchise altering decision to make. Do the Cardinals buy or sell?

In this writer’s opinion, for the first time in my recent memory, the Cardinals should sell.

There are a lot of factors to this decision, but let’s start with the things that tonight’s 7-5 loss to Pittsburgh taught us.

The Pirates, despite their underwhelming start, are still very good and will only get better. Having won 6 straight games, Pittsburgh has now surpassed St. Louis for 2nd place in the division. Gerrit Cole just made his first start of an injury rehab assignment on Tuesday, striking out 6 in 3 innings of work for Triple-A Indianapolis, and is due back very soon. His return, combined with the arrival of top pitching prospect Tyler Glasnow and the impending returns of Francisco Cervelli and, eventually, Jameson Taillon can lead Pittsburgh to believe that they will only get stronger in the second half.

The Cardinals, meanwhile, are trending in the very opposite direction. The team’s leading home run hitter, Brandon Moss, was put on the 15 day disabled list on Tuesday with a sprained left ankle, and that news came following the news that ace reliever Kevin Siegrist would be placed on the disabled list with mononucleosis – basically, extreme fatigue.

And, if that wasn’t enough, the Cardinals’ only All-Star, Matt Carpenter, left tonight’s game in the 2nd inning with what the club called, “a strained right oblique.” Carpenter – 1.001 OPS / 164 WRC+ / 3.5 WAR – has dealt with said injury before, and we could be looking at possibly a month long stay on the shelf. Carpenter potentially being out for a month would be a devastating blow to St. Louis, and the fact that the Cardinals haven’t been able to win with Carpenter doesn’t remotely give me any belief that they can win without him.

Following Carpenter’s exit, the Cardinals took a 5-1 lead and looked poised to snatch a crucial win from Pittsburgh. That was all before Jaime Garcia and the sieve-like Cardinal bullpen decided to have another breakdown and change the script. With no Siegrist, Jonathan Broxton inherited the 7th inning tonight, and promptly gave up the 3 runs which would give Pittsburgh a lead that their lights out bullpen would not relinquish.

The Cardinals’ bullpen has been a problem all season long, and there isn’t a reason to believe that improvement will occur. The Cardinals’ collective 3.73 bullpen ERA ranks 10th in baseball, and the 9 losses surrendered is tied for 4th best in baseball. So the fact that the Cardinal bullpen has still felt extremely inconsistent and vulnerable despite the seemingly solid numbers is worrisome.

Yeah, I know, how brilliant to base my opinion on a bullpen off of a gut feeling that I get while watching them every night, but it’s true. No team can win in the playoffs with a bullpen like the Cardinals have. With Siegrist’s injury being as unpredictable as it is, Trevor Rosenthal’s meltdown – 5.28 ERA, 22 walks in 29 innings – and Jonathan Broxton’s inconsistency – 1.80 ERA in April, 9.31 ERA in May, 0.77 ERA in June – the Cardinal bullpen doesn’t really point towards improvement.

But, let’s assume that the Cardinals decide to become buyers at the July trade deadline, they would presumably be shopping for bullpen arms and/or a position player. So what kind of bullpen help is out there on the market?

Looking to New York, the names of Andrew Miller and Aroldis Chapman have been thrown all over the trade rumor mill. Miller is likely out of the Cardinals price range, as the Yankees’ have reportedly asked for Kyle Schwarber in return for Miller from the Cubs; the Cardinals do not have a player comparable to Schwarber that should be dealt for two and a half years of an 8th inning reliever, that’s completely unreasonable for a transitioning club like St. Louis.

Moving along to Chapman – who will be a free agent at the end of the season – his asking price will likely be in the range of either a young, MLB ready position player – a la Kolten Wong or Randal Grichuk – or a B+ position player prospect – a la Carson Kelly or Harrison Bader. Neither of those scenarios should be attractive to St. Louis, as Chapman’s price tag at the end of the season will be too high to re-sign him, and giving up any of those four names for three months of Aroldis Chapman should be a big red light.

In an almost identical scenario to Chapman is Arizona closer Brad Ziegler. He is a free agent at the end of the 2016 season, and would likely carry a high price tag due to his sparkling 1.85 ERA and 18/19 save record. Milwaukee closer Jeremy Jeffress – he of a 2.45 ERA and a 23/24 save record – will carry a heavy price tag due to the 3 years of control a club will have over him following the 2016 season, and it’s highly unlikely that Milwaukee would be willing to part ways with their top reliever to a team in the same division.

In looking at the possible bullpen trade market, none of the Cardinals’ options really make sense at this point in the season, and ever since the 2nd wild card was added into the mix by Major League Baseball, the trade deadline has become a sellers’ market.

The injury to Matt Carpenter – on top of the already existing injuries to Brandon Moss, Kevin Siegrist, and now Jhonny Peralta – combined with an inconsistent bullpen and the recent and expected continual resurgence of the Pirates put the Cardinals in a position to sell; a position they must take advantage of…

…which brings us to a different question. If the Cardinals are to sell, who do they put out on the market?

In no particular order, here are the players that St. Louis should look to sell before the July 31st trade deadline.

Matt Adams – With the injury to Brandon Moss, Adams should get the bulk of the playing time over at 1st base for the next few weeks. But, with Mike Matheny being the manager that he is, Jedd Gyorko has started both of the games that Moss has been unavailable for. As Adams showed earlier in the season, he is a very productive first baseman when he gets consistent playing time. When given 22 starts during the month of May, Adams posted a 1.064 OPS and drove in 19 runs. He will have two years of arbitration control beyond this one, so to a team looking to buy, such as the New York Mets, Chicago White Sox, or Houston Astros, Adams could present very good value.

Seung-hwan Oh – By far, Oh has been the Cardinals best reliever. Sporting a 1.67 FIP, 12.2 K/9 rate and racking up 1.4 WAR so far this season, Oh represents a very dependable and very versatile reliever, as he has pitched anywhere from the 6th to the 9th inning for the Cardinals this year. In a reliever market that seems very top-heavy, Oh could be a mid-level option for any team looking for reliever help. Being on a one year deal, the Cardinals’ asking price couldn’t necessarily be particularly high, but Oh is still a valuable piece that could fetch a solid return in a somewhat sparse reliever market.

Brandon Moss – Depending on how long his DL stint is, Moss could be unavailable at the July deadline due to nobody wanting to trade for an injured player. But, with a .566 slugging percentage, a .910 OPS, 17 home runs, and the ability to play both corner outfield positions and first base, Moss presents tremendous value. He is a free agent at the end of the season, but plenty of teams could use a player like Moss, and if the Cardinals decide to sell him, he would be in high demand among relatively offensively challenged teams such as Cleveland, San Francisco and Los Angeles.

Jaime Garcia – This is the Cardinals’ big ticket to a truly successful trade deadline, in my eyes. The starting pitching market at this year’s trade deadline is pretty low on talent, with the biggest potential names out there being Rich Hill and Hector Santiago. Julio Teheran’s name has been thrown around, but the Braves are adamant that they will hang onto their ace and keep him around through their rebuild. With many contending teams in dire need of starting pitching – Kansas City, Boston, Baltimore, Texas – Garcia would be in high demand. He has proven his health over the past season and a half, and his 162 ERA+ and 4.1 WAR during the 2015 season show that Garcia can be a frontline left-handed starter. On top of that, Garcia has a very reasonably priced $12 million team option in 2017, so there is control beyond this season. For a pitching-needy club making a postseason push, the Cardinals could really pull in some pieces for Garcia.

This article could be interpreted as Ryan panicking and giving up on the Cardinals after just one frustrating July game, but I don’t view it that way. I viewed tonight, July 6th, 2016, as a reality check.

The Cardinals are in a very precarious position. The team’s core is finally showing signs of slowing down and breaking down. Yadier Molina got off to hot start, but has since struggled his way to a .671 OPS and a startling -1 defensive runs saved. Adam Wainwright has somewhat turned things around following his dreadful start, but still sits with a 4.70 ERA and a career low 6.1 K/9 rate, suggesting that his stuff just simply isn’t fooling hitters like it normally has. And while Matt Holliday has hit 15 home runs, his OBP is a career low .319 and his defensive metrics are atrocious.

The 2012 Phillies are often used as an example of how not to deal with an aging core, as that front office simply held on too long and the team’s core aged and sent the team into a rebuilding abyss. If the Cardinals decide to be patient and make one last run with this core, they will have to give up valuable young pieces to do so and thus could be looking at a similar situation; a gutted farm system, a bunch of aging veterans, and no success to show for it.

The Cardinals have plenty of young talent spread throughout their minor league system and are not far away from being a very good team. But this is just not their year, and giving up valuable young farm system talent for short term rentals would only set them back further.

This one month could decide the future of one of the greatest franchises that baseball has ever known. Let us all hope and pray that John Mozeliak makes the moves that help us look back upon this month as the time that the Cardinals began their next great dynasty, not the time that the Cardinals began their descent into baseball hell.

It is Officially Time for the Cardinals to Sell

Appreciating the 2015 Cardinal Bullpen

Recently I’ve been sifting through a lot of numbers related to bullpens, and last night I discovered something that really caught my attention. The Cardinals bullpen had an absolutely remarkable season in spite of their almost insane manager.

If you take a quick look at the numbers like many of the major television networks – @ESPN, MLB Network etc. – the Cardinals didn’t field the best bullpen in baseball in 2015. The Pirates and Royals both sported lower ERA’s at 2.67 and 2.73 respectively. St. Louis tied for 10th best in baseball with 20 bullpen losses and ranked 15th in both BAA and strikeouts at .242 and 466.

Maness + Cruz.jpg
Photo by Jeff Curry for USA Today Sports

They don’t have the lowest ERA, they don’t have the stockpile of power arms that can strike out everyone in sight, and to the naked eye they look like a middling bullpen that was placed in favorable situations by a historically good starting staff. But oh my lord would you be wrong to assume that last statement was correct.

Was the Cardinals starting staff historically good in 2015? Absolutely, and not just when you consider what they were working with. But that doesn’t mean the Cardinal bullpen was constantly inheriting monster leads and being tasked with simply not screwing up too bad. In fact, the case was almost the exact opposite.

Recently I’ve started studying LI and WPA. Leverage Index and Win Probability Added both study the idea of how every play impacts the overall game as a whole. Leverage Index applies one single number to every given situation to determine how important it is in the overall context of a game. 1 is the average LI of every situation; anything below 1 is less important, and anything over 1 is more important. ‘High leverage’ situations are any LI of 1.5 or over, while ‘low leverage’ situations are any LI of 0.7 or under. ‘Medium leverage’ situations range in between those two numbers, obviously with a situation of 1.49 LI being more important than a situation of 0.71 LI.

This is where the brilliance of the Cardinal bullpen starts to shine through. As I said, 1 is the average Leverage Index in any given situation and the Cardinal bullpen’s LI when entering a game was 1.101, which lead the league over second place Pittsburgh, which finished at 1.069 average LI.

Siegrist 1
Photo by Dilip Vishwanet for Getty Images

Basically, any time a Cardinal reliever entered the game the situation was of above average importance. It’s impossible to quantify with a number, but I can guarantee you that having to pitch knowing any one mistake is going to be magnified and could potentially lose a game is much harder than having to pitch knowing your mistakes probably won’t matter in the overall scheme of the game.

And the Cardinal relievers still thrived.

Bear with me for a second here, I need to explain more statistics. ‘Clutch’ is a stat that comes up with one number to attempt to encapsulate how clutch a player is; pretty simple, right? It takes a player’s WPA – explained above – and divides it by that same player’s pLI – the average leverage index when a player is batting or pitching.

In the words of Fangraphs’ David Appleman, ‘clutch’ defines “…how much better or worse a player does in high leverage situations than he would have done in a context neutral environment.” It also compares a player against himself, so a player who hits .300 in high leverage situations when he’s an overall .300 hitter is not considered clutch.”

Also, shutdowns and meltdowns are a stat designed to replace saves and blown saves. It utilizes WPA to measure how well a pitcher performed. Any outing of +0.6 WPA or more is considered a shutdown, and any outing of -0.6 WPA or less is considered a meltdown. Again, pretty simple. Moving along…

Among their top 5 relievers – which I identified via IP as Kevin Siegrist, Trever Rosenthal, Miguel Socolovich, Carlos Villanueva and almighty Seth Maness – the Cardinals thrived in pressure situations. Between the 5 of them, the average ‘clutch’ factor was 0.776. A clutch factor of 0.6 is considered great, and the Cardinals had 5 guys averaging more than that. Leading the charge in the clutch department is Mr. Double Play himself, Seth Maness, with a mind blowing 2.54 clutch factor.

Villanueva 1
Photo courtesy of Getty Images

And if you’re a person who relies upon the eye test to tell you how good relievers are, answer me this. How many times did you see Seth Maness enter a tight ball game with men on base and wiggle his way out of that jam with no harm done?

These same five Cardinal relievers combined for 117 shutdowns and only 29 meltdowns. Comparatively, the top 5 relievers determined by IP from the immortal Royals’ bullpen – Greg Holland, Wade Davis, Kelvin Herrera, Franklin Morales, and Ryan Madson – combined for 115 shutdowns and 38 meltdowns.

The Royals’ average LI was 1.003 and they only faced 172 high leverage situations (LI of over 1.5) to the Cardinals 189 high leverage situations. Overall, the Cardinals’ bullpen led all of baseball with an average of 3.24 runs allowed per game. The Royals sit all the way down in 9th on that list, allowing 3.96 runs per game.

Huh…so according to these numbers the Royals’ bullpen allows more runs per game in lower leverage situations than the Cardinals’ bullpen does in higher leverage situations. I don’t really want to get into mindsets or anything like that, but all I’m trying to do here is just show how freaking good the Cardinals’ bullpen was in 2015, and the credit that is not given them.

MLB: Spring Training-Miami Marlins at St. Louis Cardinals
Photo courtesy of Getty Images

Lastly, in my opening paragraph I mentioned that the St. Louis bullpen had a brilliant 2015 in spite of a near madman manager and you’ve waited long enough; it’s time to touch on that teaser. The number that got my attention most was something that all Cardinal fans inherently knew, but can now point to as numeric proof that Mike Matheny overworks his bullpen.

The Cardinals had 146 relief appearances where the pitcher was entering on zero days’ rest, a number that no other team came within 10 of. Kevin Siegrist led the league in relief appearances with 81, and all the wear and tear showed through down the stretch as he gave up monster home runs to Anthony Rizzo – on more than one occasion – and Kyle Schwarber to essentially lose St. Louis the NLDS against Chicago.

And there is absolutely no way that both Kansas City and the New York Mets being below the league average of 111 zero days’ rest appearances is a coincidence. Both Ned Yost and Terry Collins kept very good bullpens fresh throughout the regular season whenever they could, and it paid off in October as their fire departments were stronger than all the others and carried both teams to the Fall Classic.

You can look at that last number one of two ways. You can either hang your hat on the fact that Mike Matheny needs to lay off the gas pedal with his top relievers way more often or you can further appreciate the feats that the Cardinal bullpen was able to accomplish whilst being under both enormous stress and somewhat extreme fatigue.

The Cardinal bullpen was a truly remarkable and vastly underappreciated asset in 2015 that only got stronger this offseason.

Missing from that list of top 5 relievers was super set-up man Jordan Walden, who went down in May of 2015 with a biceps injury and never returned. He is set to return at the beginning of spring training and will provide a massive boost should he stay healthy. Combined with Walden is the acquisition of Korean import Seung-hwan Oh, a dominant closer in his native country that will presumably provide set-up help to spell Kevin Siegrist and ‘Matheny-proof’ the bullpen.

A dominant bullpen only got better this offseason, which it actually needed to do, contrary to the primary message delivered through this article. Oh, but the Cardinals are only worth 84 wins as a team in 2016 according to Fangraphs.

We’ll see about that.

Thanks for reading…

-Ryan

All numbers are credit of Fangraphs and Baseball-Reference

 

 

Appreciating the 2015 Cardinal Bullpen

The Cardinals: How to Fix 1st Base

This past weekend, at the Cardinals’ annual ‘Winter Warm-Up’, most of the talk that I heard surrounded the Chicago Cubs. How will the Cardinals react to being underdogs? Is this finally the year Chicago wins it all? In what new way can the Cubs destroy St. Louis next?

The rivalry with Chicago is, without a doubt, the most interesting storyline entering the 2016 season for St. Louis, but as I was thinking about how the Cardinals match up with Chicago the other day I realized something.

First base is a confusing black hole in St. Louis.

There are two types of positional solutions in modern baseball; conventional wisdom would claim that every position needs a primary starter that will receive between 90 and 95% of the at-bats while teams like Oakland and Tampa Bay have revolutionized the platoon, a system in which two players almost evenly split at bats to highlight the specific strengths of each player.

The Cardinals have neither of those

What St. Louis does have is a pair of left handed sluggers who play average defense, have big power potential and are more fit to be platoon first basemen. Therein lies the issue…both of them are left handed.

How are you supposed to platoon two left handed first baseman?

Both Brandon Moss and Matt Adams have shown that they are capable of handling a starting job at 1st base; and not just starting, but being above average players.

Over 563 PA as the primary Cardinals’ 1st baseman during the 2014 campaign, Adams produced a 129 OPS+, mashed 17 dingers and drove home 68 en route to a 3.4 WAR. During the 3 seasons he spent as Oakland’s starting 1B, Moss delivered an .844 OPS, 135 OPS+, hammered 76 HR’s and accumulated 6.5 WAR. Both guys are capable of being above average starting 1st basemen, but both guys come with their share of uncertainty.

Adams
The epic 2014 NLCS bat flip. Photo courtesy of Cut4

After his breakout 2014 season, Adams entered 2015 looking to solidify himself as the Cardinals’ 1st baseman of the future when a devastating May quad injury robbed him of just about all of his season. His knee injury forced Mark Reynolds into primary duty, and when Reynolds – not really suited for a full time starting job – started to falter, Cardinals GM John Mozeliak was forced to deal for Brandon Moss.

Moss came to the Cardinals following a disappointing half season in Cleveland in which his power was sapped by an offseason back surgery. After hitting 30 homers in only 505 PA during the 2014 season, Moss was only able to hit 15 homers in 526 PA during 2015.

So take your pick between the guy coming off the serious leg injury or the guy coming off the serious back injury as your primary first baseman. In true baseball fashion, the Cardinals current 1st base situation is unpredictable and uncertain.

The question is pretty obvious, but unfortunately the answer is far from obvious. As I brought up earlier, how in the world are you supposed to platoon two left handed 1st basemen? But let’s say we were to try and do it, how would it work?

The point of a platoon is to highlight each player’s splits vs. a left handed or right handed pitcher. So if player A can hit lefties but not righties, while player B can hit righties but not lefties, player A and player B would naturally form an ideal platoon. So let’s check the splits.

Adams – in a pretty small sample size – slashes .197/.230/.317 with 6 HR, 26 RBI and a 30.9% strikeout percentage in 230 PA. If my years in baseball have taught me anything, that’s not anything to be real proud of.

Moss – in a much larger sample size – slashes .246/.322/.399 with 16 HR, 71 RBI and a 28.1% strikeout percentage in 559 PA, nearly a full season’s worth of PA to base these numbers. Again, not particularly outstanding but certainly respectable.

Moss.jpg
Photo Courtesy of FoxSports.com

Against right handed pitchers over his brief career, Adams has accrued a much larger sample size of 929 PA; and in those 929 PA he slashes .296/.337/.485 with 33 HR, 130 RBI and a 20.2% strikeout percentage.

Moss – in 2,097 PA vs right handers – slashes .243/.322/.463 with 94 HR, 285 RBI and a surprisingly robust 25.8% strikeout percentage. While he strikes out less vs. righties, Adams’ walk rate is a paltry 5.9% while Moss’ walk rate is a less paltry 10.5%.

These splits really only further complicate the problem. Both guys are bad against southpaws, but Moss is less bad than Adams. Both guys are pretty good against righties, but Adams is better than Moss. So do you start Adams vs. righties and start Moss’ vs. lefties? It’s a possibility, but facing right handers would give Adams the majority of the at bats and would be not only irresponsible, but would defeat the purpose of a platoon.

Knowing Mike Matheny and his penchant for simple positional solutions, the Cardinals will probably give both guys equal opportunity over the course of the first few weeks of the season before riding the guy who plays the best over those few weeks as the primary starter. Matheny did this in 2014 when he split at-bats in CF between Peter Bourjos and Jon Jay before giving the full time job – whether it was fair or unfair is up for debate – to Jay when Bourjos went ice cold at the plate.

So what do I believe? I believe that Adams’ 2014 season was his ceiling and that he really doesn’t have much more to offer the Cardinals, while Moss’ massive power potential combined with a full offseason spent gaining back his lost strength from the aforementioned back surgery make him the best option.

As has been well chronicled, the Cardinals lack a truly transcendent power bat in the middle of their lineup. While Moss won’t ever really be a Ryan Howard-esque superstar, he can still deliver the power that has been missing from the Cardinals lineup since Albert Pujols left town.

It’s a fascinating conundrum that has plagued the Cardinals all offseason, but for St. Louis to take the next step in the postseason, 1st base must be solidified. If either guy can take control of the position to the full extent of his abilities, the Cardinals will be solidified and ready to challenge the Cubs for the division title that has seemingly already been presented to them.

Thanks for reading…

-Ryan

Credit to Fangraphs and Baseball Reference for all data used in this post

 

The Cardinals: How to Fix 1st Base

The Cardinals Made the Right Decision on Jaime Garcia

Like it or not, Jaime Garcia will be in the Cardinals’ rotation during the 2016 rotation. And at $11.5 million, he’s a modern baseball bargain.

Before we get into why Garcia is a bargain, I just want to point out that it’s pretty remarkable that a pitcher being paid $11.5 million is considered a bargain in our current baseball world.

But anyway, as I said earlier, the Cardinals made the right decision to pick up Garcia’s $11.5 million team option for the 2016 season, an option that, maybe 6 months or so looked like it would be an easy decline. But – much to his, as well as the Cardinals’ training staff’s credit – Garcia pitched his way into this option.

As we all know, over the course of his Cardinals career Jaime Garcia has struggled with almost constant injuries. And coming into the 2015 season, he was a bit of an afterthought with regards to the immediate rotation, and we were all counting on 2015 being his last year in a Cardinal uniform.

But after Adam Wainwright went down with an unfortunate April Achilles injury that would keep him out until the end of September, Garcia stepped up to become arguably the Cardinals regular season ace.

In 129.2 regular season IP, Garcia pitched to a 2.43 ERA with 97 strikeouts, only 30 walks, a 1.04 WHIP and a 3.00 WHIP. Granted, 129 innings is not an exceptionally high number, but what Garcia did in those innings is put up ace numbers.

Photo by Billy Hurst for AP.
Photo by Billy Hurst for AP.
Garcia delivers a pitch during a June game against the Kansas City Royals. Phot by Dilip Vishwanat for Getty Images
Garcia delivers a pitch during a June game against the Kansas City Royals. Phot by Dilip Vishwanat for Getty Images

So, let’s unfairly assume that Jaime Garcia maintains these splits over the course of 200 innings. His 2.43 ERA would be good for 4th overall in baseball, better than David Price, Max Scherzer, Jake DeGrom, and Dallas Keuchel. His 3.00 FIP would be good for 15th overall in baseball, better than Cole Hamels, Matt Harvey, Johnny Cueto , and teammate Carlos Martinez.

Now, until Garcia does pitch 200 innings in a season and put up these types of numbers, we can’t really assume all of this. But still, the point here is that when Garcia did pitch, he pitched exceptionally well.

And since I mentioned that Garcia’s 2016 option is a bargain, let’s take a look at his numbers compared to much more expensive players.

Felix Hernandez, he of a $25 million 2015 salary, pitched to a 3.53 ERA and a 3.82 FIP in 201.2 IP. Justin Verlander, he of a $28 million 2015 salary, pitched to a 3.38 ERA and a 3.59 FIP in 133.1 IP. And lastly, Rick Porcello, pitching on a $12.5 million salary – which is totally insane – posted a 4.92 ERA , good for 2nd worst in baseball, with a 5.13 FIP.

So Jaime Garcia’s 2016 salary will be less than half of what Felix Hernandez and Justin Verlander are making, and a full million dollars less than what Rick Porcello will make. That, ladies and gentlemen, is what we call a bargain.

Aside from the nasty stuff, the great numbers, and the bargain money, there’s something else about Garcia that not a lot of people give him credit for that makes me want to keep him around.

In the June issue of ‘Cardinals Magazine’, Stan McNeal wrote an article on the Cardinals new assistant head organizational strength coach, Rachel Balkovec. As she was helping Garcia work his way back during his rehab process, she said this after one of their spring training workouts, “His work ethic is absolutely insane. Jaime is one of the most relentless human beings I’ve ever met. He kicked my ass today.”

Regardless of what you think it should be like, the Cardinals have a culture, and it affects just about every personnel decision John Mozeliak makes; and Jaime Garcia’s relentless work ethic contributes heavily to that culture.

Teaching the next generation of Cardinal pitchers how to work and perfect their craft and be relentless is imperative to fostering success in St. Louis in the future. And that, almost more than any numbers Jaime puts up in 2016, might be more important than anything.

Just 6 months ago, Jaime Garcia’s 2016 option looked like a no-brainer decline, that the Cardinals would move forward with Marco Gonzales or Tim Cooney, or even Alex Reyes. But after a brilliant 2015 campaign during which he showed off his incredible skill set, Garcia will be wearing the birds on the bat once again in 2016, and that will prove to be a great thing.

John Mozeliak has made his first right decision of the offseason. Let’s hope he can keep this streak rolling all the way up to opening day.

Thanks for reading…

-Ryan

The Cardinals Made the Right Decision on Jaime Garcia

Oscar Taveras: 1 Year Later

One year ago today, Oscar Taveras woke up for the final time
One year ago today, Oscar Taveras woke up for the final time

3:30 AM on Saturday May 31st, 2014, I sit in Santo Domingo International Airport with Wi-Fi for the first time since entering the Dominican Republic 6 days ago. I power my phone up for the first time in those 6 days and a lone Bleacher Report push notification appears.

Cardinals call up #1 prospect Oscar Taveras, in lineup Saturday vs. Giants batting 6th.

My pulse jumped and my heart raced. In the lineup Saturday? Today?! Oscar Taveras is going to make his debut today?! I jumped up, suddenly invigorated with energy, and punched the air in celebration. What a day this was going to be.

For years, I’d only heard about Taveras’ hitting prowess, how he was the second coming of Albert Pujols; but I’d never actually been able to experience his greatness. There were stories of him hitting bottle caps as a child in his native Dominican Republic, stories of him winning batting titles at every minor league level he played at, stories of his infectious smile and spirit. Suffice it to say, we had been expecting him for a long, long time.

And finally, he had arrived. And I’d learned of the news while in his native homeland, no less. I marked the time and day down on my phone so as to always be able to remember where I was when I got the news.

A transfer flight to Miami, a 2 hour layover, and another takeoff later I’m in the air somewhere above central Georgia around the time of first pitch. American Airlines has blessed me with in-flight Wi-Fi and you’d better believe I was taking full advantage of it. Most of that midday flight was lost in sleep, but not me. The Cardinals, and Taveras, had my full attention from 30,000 feet in the air.

Everything that didn’t involve Taveras just dragged. I wished he could have every Cardinal at-bat that day, as he just seemed to be the only thing that mattered to me. Hell, the whole game just dragged, a 0-0 contest through 4.1 innings was barely holding my interest. And then time stood still.

A 1-0 backdoor slider from Yusmiero Petit was the pitch. It stayed up over the outside corner of the plate and Taveras launched into that beautiful, majestic, iconic swing.

Photo by Dilip Vishwanat for Getty Images
Photo by Dilip Vishwanat for Getty Images

The audio that had been struggling to come through all game long was suddenly crystal clear, and I can still hear Rick Horton belting out, “The 1-0…HIT HARD…DEEP TO RIGHT…IT’S A LONG ONE…AND IT IS GONE. HOME RUN, OSCAR TAVERAS.”

I loud out an unintentionally loud scream of elation, I high-fived the stranger next to me and punched the sky with both fists. Oscar Taveras had just hit a home run in his second career at bat. It was almost too good to be true. And my only thought was, “The first of many, this kid is special.”

Immediately after hitting his home run and taking a chill-inducing curtain call, the St. Louis skies opened and rain began falling in sheets. Oscar Taveras had literally opened up the skies with his majestic blast; you couldn’t even write this type of script for a movie. The moment was too perfect.

The Taveras curtain call through a driving rain. Photo by Chris Lee for St. Louis Post-Dispatch
The Taveras curtain call through a driving rain. Photo by Chris Lee for St. Louis Post-Dispatch

Five months later he was gone.

I was sitting at home when, once again, a single Bleacher Report push notification appeared on my phone.

Cardinals 22 year old OF Oscar Taveras has died in a single car crash in the Dominican Republic.

It hit me like a punch straight to the chest. I felt the wind get knocked out of me and I couldn’t believe it. I showed it to my Dad to verify that I had indeed read it correctly. His shoulders slumped and he just nodded quietly and gave me a pat on the back before walking away.

I stared at the wall in complete and utter disbelief. My heart hurt, and I was in shock. Just as his home run had been too good to be true, this was just too awful to be true. It wasn’t supposed to happen this way. He was supposed to become the greatest Cardinal since Musial, the next Pujols, and the greatest hitter of our generation. That iconic swing that launched his first career home run would someday be immortalized in bronze outside Busch Stadium. But instead, he was dead at 22, also having taken the life of his 18 year old girlfriend with him.

The course of history had been as damaged and altered as the wrecked body of his cherry red Corvette, smashed into a tree along a rain slickened roadside in the Dominican Republic.                                                                                                                                                                              Taveras 4

The same rain that his majestic first home run had brought was now one of the causing factors in his tragic demise.

The very skies that Taveras had opened up on that afternoon in May had opened up for him once again, but this time they would not be returning him to us.

There are two parts to every death, the victim of the death, and the people left behind. In the wake of the tragedy, it brought strength to many grieving souls to witness the way the Cardinals, as a team, came together to honor the memory of their fallen comrade. They became less of a team and more of a family; and at the center of all of the love and support was Carlos Martinez, Taveras’ childhood friend who understandably took his death extremely hard.

Taveras' moving funeral in his native Puerto Plata. Photo by Chris Lee for St. Louis Post-Dispatch
Taveras’ moving funeral in his native Puerto Plata. Photo by Chris Lee for St. Louis Post-Dispatch

And among the other people left behind that should not be neglected, Taveras’ now two year old son, Oscar Yadier Taveras – who not only lost his dad, but also lost his acting mother and Taveras’ 18 year old girlfriend, Edelia Arvelo. And his middle name alone should tell you what kind of family the Cardinals are and what kind of impact that had on Taveras.

But for as unexpected and tragic as this was, the situation got a hell of a lot more complicated just about two weeks later. Once again, Bleacher Report did the honors, delivering the push notification that created said complication.

Dominican police reports show Cardinals’ OF Oscar Taveras’ blood alcohol level nearly twice the legal limit at time of fatal crash.

My heart sank in my chest. I didn’t want to believe it was true. I wanted to think that it was just a rain-slickened road accident, and nothing more. Somehow that made his death easier to swallow.

But now, things were convoluted.

When I began driving, one of the things that my Mom told me that has stuck with me was, “Every time you get behind the wheel, you hold a lot of lives in your hands, and every decision you make can end any given number of those lives.”

As I briefly mentioned earlier, not only did Taveras essentially rob the world of his own life by strapping in behind the wheel that afternoon while heavily inebriated, the life of his 18 year old girlfriend, Edelia Arvelo, was lost.

The problem is not nearly as simple as, Taveras made a really stupid choice and now we’re all dearly paying for it. First off, public transportation in the Dominican Republic is not easily accessible. Taveras couldn’t really have just called up an Uber, or called a cab or taken a bus. It isn’t that simple down there. And second off, the quality of the roads in the Dominican Republic is absolutely atrocious, which also contributed to his loss of control over the car. So beyond the idea of not driving drunk, those are two other issues that can be solved to potentially save lives.

But, at the same time, the problem can be as simple as just not driving drunk. And, I’ll expand that to distracted driving of any kind. And I’ve been a victim of this in my own experience.

Last summer, I suffered an extremely painful concussion and broken wrist in a 2 car accident on the highway, caused when our car was hit from behind by a driver going 40 MPH who was too buried in his phone too look up and stop in time. Our car was effectively crumpled, and my head and arm were both smashed off the dashboard.

I still feel pain from this experience to this day, and I take distracted or impaired driving of any kind very seriously. The driver of the car that hit ours stepped out to talk to us and admitted that he was on his phone at the time of the accident. And he didn’t even seem apologetic about it, in fact he didn’t even seem to care, and that completely disgusted me.

So after moving forward from the initial grief of the Taveras tragedy, we move into what we can learn from the incident. Plain and simple, impaired and distracted driving are unacceptable, and must be avoided at all costs.

As my dear Mother made clear to me, driving is dangerous enough as is. Driving while inebriated or while bothered with something that takes your eyes off the road just increases that danger astronomically. And as innocent as it seems, it can have incredibly dire consequences, as we so tragically learned from Oscar Taveras.

So, on the one year anniversary of two completely unnecessary and unexpected deaths, I implore you, dear reader; put down your phone, call a cab, call an Uber, call your friends, do whatever you have to do. Just don’t drive while distracted or impaired. Life is precious, and not to be tempted unnecessarily.

And for all of the special gifts that Oscar Taveras blessed the world with, he robbed himself, and one other person of the greatest gift of all.

The gift of life.

Thanks for reading…

– Ryan

Oscar Taveras: 1 Year Later