Joey Gallo’s Season for the Ages

Think about all of the baseball games that have been played at Globe Life Park in Arlington, Texas. Yeah, I know it’s not the most historic stadium in the world, but it’s coming up on 25 seasons old and has hosted a pair of World Series’.

With a multitude of sluggers having graced its diamond, Globe Life has seen some monstrous home runs. Between Nelson Cruz, Alex Rodriguez, Rafael Palmeiro, Juan Gonzalez and Adrian Beltre, moonshots have abounded in Arlington. Last Tuesday, Joey Gallo did something that Globe Life has never seen before.

You know that lawn out in center field? The one that hundreds of home runs have landed on? Yeah, Joey Gallo hit it over that lawn.

Way over that lawn.

Now, I don’t watch the Rangers a whole lot, but I’ve never seen a ball hit over that lawn. Statcast measured Gallo’s moonshot at 456 feet, but I’m not buying it. I’d be willing to bet that this baseball was hit further than any in Globe Life Park or Rangers history.

Statcast probably broke trying to track this bomb.

Ranger fans have long been teased by Joey Gallo’s name. He’s been touted as Adrian Beltre’s heir ever since he was drafted 39th overall in 2012’s supplemental 1st round. His power is the stuff of legends, with ESPN giving it an 80 on his draft report and Baseball America reporting that he hit the 10th longest home run in Petco Park history while playing in a high school showcase with a wood bat.

The only question about Gallo at time time of his drafting was that while the power and arm tools were both incredible, his hit tool was concerning. The question of whether or not he could make consistent enough contact to truly take advantage of his power caused him to slide down to Texas’ first round supplemental pick at 39th overall.

Well, 5 years later, Gallo has answered questions about his power and contact abilities in an extreme way.

Gallo 2
Photo by Stefan Stevenson for the Star-Telegram

At the time of writing, Gallo has hit 32 home runs and out of the eight hitters who have topped 30 bombs already in 2017, Gallo’s 381 plate appearances are the fewest. He has a chance to become only the 5th player to hit 40 home runs in 500 or fewer plate appearances.

Also at the time of writing, Joey Gallo is sporting a .206 batting average and 143 strikeouts. Combine that with his slugging profile and you not only have one of the most extreme hitters of 2017, but possibly the most extreme hitter of all time.

In a season where home runs and strikeouts are at an all time high, Joey Gallo is leading the way and producing a season unlike any we have ever seen before. The deeper into the numbers you dig, the more and more amazing he gets.

Gallo has a chance to become the first player ever to post a full season with a sub .200 batting average, 30 home runs, and an OPS above .800. That alone would be amazing, but it’s only part of what makes Joey Gallo’s 2017 so remarkable.

Major League Baseball has set a new record for most total strikeouts in a single season every year since 2008. 2017 is on pace to break that record once again and Gallo is a main contributor.

His 37.5% strikeout rate would be a full season Major League record and he’s coming for Mark Reynolds’ single season strikeout record of 223 with vengeance in his eyes. Combined with that, Gallo’s 20 singles are easily the fewest in Major League baseball this season and that number is on pace to be the lowest single season total in the live ball era.

Gallo doesn’t make consistent contact, but when he does, it goes in the air. His ground ball to fly ball ratio of 0.43 is the 3rd lowest mark in single season Major League history, meaning that his batted balls are just about always hit in the air. The average launch angle on 2017 Joey Gallo home runs is 30.4 degrees, easily the highest among players with at least 30 round trippers.

Launch angle proprietors, meet your poster child.

But Joey Gallo isn’t just out here hitting soft infield pop ups and cans of corn, his hard contact percentage on balls put in play is 2017’s 4th highest mark at 45.4% and puts him 16th on the all time single season list. And, just for good measure, Gallo hit a home run at 116.3 MPH, an exit velocity that only Aaron Judge has been able to top in the Statcast era.

So, what we know about Joey Gallo so far is that the has an extreme contact to non contact profile. He is striking out at an all time rate, yet producing hard contact when he puts bat on ball. The balls he makes contact on are consistently going in the air and then over the fence at an all time rate.

Gallo 3
Photo Courtesy of The Sporting News

That’s not all that Joey Gallo does, though. Combined with all the strikeouts and home runs is a 12.9% walk rate. Strikeouts, walks and home runs are considered the “three true outcomes” of baseball, and Gallo’s three true outcome percentage of 58.8% is on pace to be an all time single season high.

Now, if you’re an older baseball fan who grew up watching an era of players who desperately tried to avoid strikeouts at all costs and believed that a .300 average was the benchmark of greatness, you probably hate Joey Gallo because of his extreme profile.

But, all of Gallo’s offensive exploits have come together to produce a well above average hitter and player. At 124 wRC+, Gallo is 24% better than league average as a hitter. Combine that with solid defense, outstanding base running (Gallo’s 6.4 Fangraphs BsR ranks 3rd in all of Major League Baseball for 2017), and you’ve got yourself about a 4 WAR player.

Joey Gallo’s record breaking 2017 season will go down as one of the most unique and incredible in the history of the game. It might also be one of the most influential seasons in history because it’s making us pose an important question in today’s day and age of baseball.

How much does making consistent contact really matter?

If Joey Gallo can strike out at an all time rate, set a new single season low for 1 base hits, yet still produce a well above average offensive profile and be a 4 WAR player, why does hitting for high average and making consistent contact matter anymore?

Another question for another day…

Thanks for reading.

-Ryan

Joey Gallo’s Season for the Ages

How Delusion Lost the Trade Deadline

Man, the Baltimore Orioles really don’t know how to use Zach Britton.

After last year’s Wild Card game, you’d figure the Orioles maybe would have finally figured out how to deploy their greatest asset. But, it’s August 3rd and Britton still puts on an orange and black uniform every night that doesn’t say ‘Houston’ on the front of it.

Lol nope, they haven’t figured out. 

According to Ken Rosenthal, with about an hour left until the deadline the Baltimore front office called all teams interested in Britton – presumably Houston, Cleveland and Los Angeles – and told him that he wasn’t available any more. The Orioles then preceded to acquire Tim Beckham from the Rays, combining him with Jeremy Hellickson, acquired two nights prior, to make up their trade deadline prizes.  

The Baltimore Orioles, 4 games under .500 entering July 31st and featuring the 27th best MLB farm system according to ESPN’s Keith Law, decided to buy at the trade deadline.

Now, if we’re to believe Houston’s front office and a report by Jon Heyman, there was a Zach Britton to the Astros trade in place before it was “vetoed at the top.” Orioles owner Peter Angelos has only allowed his team to ‘sell’ for 2 out of the past 20-30 deadlines, so it seems pretty easy to understand who put the stamp on things.

Delusion reigned supreme in Baltimore.

From Angelos’ point of view, he’s 86 years old and I understand an urgency to win. But his win-now demands have tied the hands of his franchise. The Orioles traditionally don’t draft well or spend internationally, so they have to be on point with trading and free agency. Holding onto Zach Britton and Brad Brach – among others – at the deadline has set them up in a porous position going forward.

In a seller’s market for pitching, Baltimore had two of the most valuable assets and a chance to run the table. Instead, they decided to hold firm and, further, when they weren’t able to get the presumably exorbitant player returns they wanted on Britton and Brach, the Orioles decided to buy.

When Jeremy Hellickson doesn’t solve Baltimore’s awful starting pitching situation, things predictably collapse down the stretch of this season and the Orioles finish in the AL East cellar, they’ll have a dire offseason situation staring them in the face and nobody to blame but themselves. 

So, congratulations to the Orioles for still thinking they can contend, I guess. Enjoy Tim Beckham and another decade of irrelevancy.

What Baltimore – and a startling amount of other clubs – apparently fails to understand is that relief pitching is the most volatile commodity in baseball. Second on that list is prospects. So all the teams that decided to cuddle up with their relievers and prospects instead of sacking up and making smart, calculated moves did a great job holding firm and not being pushed around!

But don’t be too proud, you’re worse off than you were before.

Out in San Diego, General Manager AJ Preller was reportedly “reaching for the stars” with his asking price on reliever Brad Hand. Hand is having a breakout, All-Star season and had emerged as one of the most valuable deadline commodities.

The Padres have absolutely no use for him. A top quality relief pitcher on a bad team is like having icing, but no cake. Keeping Brad Hand in San Diego is a useless luxury because a good bullpen is usually the final piece in a championship puzzle, but the Padres don’t even have a box to keep it in, let alone the rest of the puzzle.

What AJ Preller apparently failed to understand is that he wasn’t in a position of leverage with negotiations surrounding Hand. Could teams such as the Dodgers, Astros, Red Sox and Indians all use a pitcher like Brad Hand? Absolutely, but the Padres aren’t in a spot where holding onto Hand instead of trading him gives them any sort of advantage.

Bad teams clearly fail to understand that they will not be able to extort GM’s of better teams in relief pitching negotiations. And instead of accepting a lesser, yet still valuable return on a luxury player they had no use for, the Padres opted to hold firm on their outrageous demands and ended up keeping Hand through the deadline.

Way to go, AJ Preller and company! You didn’t allow yourself to be pushed around and have wasted the only useful trade commodity wearing Padres brown. 

Considering that Hand has no track record of putting up the numbers he’s putting up this season and also considering the volatility of relief pitching, he could easily flame out within a year and San Diego would end up with nothing to show for what once could be considered the most valuable deadline commodity.

Delusional return demands and the idea that they had some leverage made San Diego hold onto Hand and caused them to fail the deadline. Enjoy more irrelevancy, Padres; not like it’s anything you aren’t used to, though.

And now we get to the biggest failure of the deadline, the Houston Astros.

3 weeks ago, I said that if Houston didn’t trade for a young, controllable starting pitcher they will have failed the trade deadline. Well, guess whose parents aren’t gonna be happy with the report card coming in the mail.

The Astros’ team ERA has gradually risen from 3.38 in April, bottoming out at an alarming 5.08 over the month of July. Team ace Dallas Keuchel has spent extended time on the DL this season, and Lance McCullers Jr. just was placed there on Wednesday morning. Right now, Houston would roll into a playoff series with Keuchel, Mike Fiers, Charlie Morton and Collin McHugh making up their rotation.

And the front office’s brilliant solution to this problem was Francisco Liriano.

I certainly believe that the Astros were busy because, as I mentioned earlier, they reportedly had a deal for Zach Britton all set until it got “vetoed at the top.” But, unlike the Dodgers, Houston didn’t seem to have a backup plan after their Britton pursuit failed.

Los Angeles finalized 3 trades in the span of an hour after the Britton shutdown and solidified their contender status. Houston curled up in a corner and convinced themselves that they were already good enough.

And then as soon as the masses predictably began questioning the Astros’ lack of trade movement, the executives played the victim card. General Manager Jeff Luhnow talked about how disappointed he was that some deals were “almost over the finish line” but then couldn’t get done. He mentioned that things either got vetoed at the top or that Houston’s “math guys” didn’t like the long term numbers of deals in place.

Whatever excuse they come up with next, the Astros failed miserably.

Houston’s seeming lack of a Britton back up plan is pathetic. If Liriano was their back up plan and the trade just got announced sooner than the Britton news happened, that’s less pathetic but still not conducive to a team trying to win its first ever World Series.

If the Astros were worried about their long term math being messed up, that’s even more of a problem because it shows that the front office lacks perspective. As I mentioned yesterday, you don’t get to choose the winning window because it chooses you. Houston seems to be irresponsibly acting as if, by holding onto their precious prospects, the window is going to be open forever and that trading some away would close it immediately after 2017.

Teams in a similar position, the Yankees and Dodgers, went out and aggressively acquired quality starting pitching. Houston, with just as many prospects to trade as those two teams, let themselves be bullied into a corner and have thus allowed the gap between them and the rest of the American League to be all but closed.

The Astros will have nobody to blame but themselves when 2017 turns into another ‘what could have been’ year in the franchise’s long, title-less history.

Considering that I implored every team to either buy or sell at the deadline, you can put me up at the top of the list of people that are immensely frustrated by the holistic lack of movement over the month of July.

The Giants only traded Eduardo Nunez because it was convenient. The Mets moved laterally by shipping out Addison Reed but bringing in AJ Ramos. Milwaukee allowed themselves to be bullied around by the Cubs and opted to only comfortably acquire a few relievers. The Tigers unwisely held firm on Justin Verlander and Ian Kinsler. The Pirates went nowhere. Cincinnati failed to capitalize on Zack Cozart’s sky high value. And I have yet to even mention teams like St. Louis, Toronto, Seattle, and the Angels that all remain without a clear franchise direction.

This trade deadline was a mess, and all the ‘losers’ have delusion to blame.

Baltimore’s delusion was believing it should buy. Houston’s delusion was believing prospects are more valuable than winning now. San Diego’s delusion was believing they had leverage with Brad Hand negotiations. Among many, many others, these stand out most.

Hopefully 2017’s trade deadline can serve as a reminder to all GM’s that midseason activity is pivotal to franchise success, whether that be during the current season or in the future. Sitting pat is a useless activity that yields nothing but mediocrity and irrelevancy.

To the D’Backs, Cubs, Indians, Red Sox, Yankees, Rays, Dodgers or Nationals: one of you will enjoy a 2017 championship.

To the A’s, Rangers and especially the White Sox: enjoy the future fruits of your selling labor.

To everyone else: figure it out or remain irrelevant. The choice is yours.

Thanks for reading.

-Ryan

How Delusion Lost the Trade Deadline

How Active Teams Won the Trade Deadline

You don’t choose the window, the window chooses you.

Apparently, only 11 MLB general managers understand the most important concept of front office-ing. Out of all 30 teams at the deadline, only 11 seemed to truly know what they were doing and only 11 teams truly improved.

The Nationals, Dodgers, Yankees, Red Sox, Cubs, Rays, Diamondbacks and Indians all sensed an opportunity to win in 2017 and acted on it. The Rangers and A’s sensed that they needed to build for the future and acted on it. The White Sox continued a fire sale that will pay off soon.

Every other team? Yikes.

About 3 weeks ago, I wrote about how the idea of ‘standing pat’ at the deadline is stupid and useless. You either feel you have a team that can make a playoff run or you feel you don’t. And based on that feeling, you act accordingly at the trade deadline. Standing pat and doing nothing creates mediocrity and irrelevancy.

And, out of the 29 teams that won’t be celebrating a World Series in 2017, 21 of them – excluding intentional sellers Oakland, Texas and the White Sox – just solidified that status with an apathetic trade deadline approach. Yeah, I’m primarily looking at you, Houston Astros. Enjoy 2017 as your ‘what could have been’ season.

But I’m not here to talk about the teams that failed the deadline, I’ll get to them some other time. I’m here to talk about the teams that won the deadline and the common approach that they all shared.

Activity won the trade deadline, and I will personally guarantee that one of the 7 buyers I listed above will be standing alone at the end of the season as 2017 World Series champions.

In the National League, the 3 best teams have clearly separated themselves. The Nationals, Cubs and Dodgers all understand that they have both pressure and rosters ready to make a deep playoff run in 2017, and they all acted like it in July, operating with the precision and aggression conducive to a World Series winning approach.

The Cubs, experiencing a World Series hangover that saw them enter the All Star break under .500, were able to stay afloat for the first 3 and a half months of the season due to a weak NL Central. However, instead of trusting the team already in place to get things going, Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer bolstered what few roster holes they had and have kick-started a sleeping giant.

Since acquiring Jose Quintana on July 14th, the Cubs are 14-3 and have leapfrogged the Brewers to take control of the NL Central. Having filled the three discernible roster holes that they had – left handed reliever, backup catcher, starting pitcher – with micro-precision trades, Chicago appears set for another playoff run and has put itself back on track for more future success after appearing unsteady.

Out in Washington, the bullpen appears to be the only problem. The Nationals are 63-42 and hold a commanding 13 game lead over the second place Marlins in the NL East. However, with 14 blown saves and a 4.38 ERA entering the All-Star break, some clear help was needed in the bullpen.

GM Mike Rizzo and the rest of the Nationals’ front office acted accordingly, making trades for A’s relievers Sean Doolittle and Ryan Madsen along with Twins’ closer Brandon Kintzler. By adding 3 back end arms and addressing the dire bullpen need, Washington has secured itself a more stable playoff position and can feel good about their chances of finally making good on the promise of a World Series run that they have teased their fans with for so long.

Since the break, the Nationals haven’t blown a save and hold a much improved 3.05 team bullpen ERA. Problem solved thus far.

With a 75-31 record on August 2nd, the Dodgers have something seriously special going on. That .708 winning percentage has them on pace for 114 wins, just 3 shy of setting a Major League record. Clearly, this is a tremendous team having a tremendous season.

With an approach reflecting that, the Dodgers didn’t mess around at the deadline. They tried and failed to acquire Zach Britton from the Orioles. However, when that fell through, Andrew Freidman, Farhan Zaidi and the rest of the Los Angeles brass launched into plan B.

Plan B consisted of power relievers Tony Watson and Tony Cingrani along with Texas Rangers’ ace Yu Darvish.

The Dodgers have a sparkling farm system that has been carefully built by a patient and stingy front office. Their traditional refusal to trade prospects has yielded them Corey Seager and Cody Bellinger’s respective 2016 and 2017 breakouts. However, understanding that 114 win teams don’t come around very often, Los Angeles rightly decided it was time to bite the bullet on their traditional mold and deal away some future talent.

Instead of cuddling up in a corner with their precious prospects, the best team in baseball sacked up, dealt some away and got better because of it. The Dodgers’ are now easily in pole position to win their first World Series since 1988 because of a superb trade deadline and it was beautiful to watch.

I also have to give props to the Diamondbacks for going and getting JD Martinez. Arizona is currently in position to make the playoffs for the first time since 2011, and although they don’t appear good enough to take down the Cubs, Nationals, or Dodgers, they have separated as the best of the rest.

Their move for Martinez showed a clear approach. Arizona believes that they just have to make the playoffs to have a shot. The Diamondbacks didn’t deplete the farm system chasing after rentals, they made a calculated move in order to smartly capitalize on a winning team without mortgaging their future.

Those 4 teams all guaranteed themselves a playoff spot by simply having a clear plan and being active at the deadline.

In the American League, the story wasn’t so much about separating the gap between playoff teams as it was closing the gap.

The Astros, to this point, have made themselves a clear front runner in the junior circuit. Sports Illustrated, 3 years ago, declared them the 2017 World Series champions and Houston has apparently taken that to heart.

However, some chinks in the armor have shown through over the course of the past month or so and Houston is only 8-8 since the All Star break with a disturbing 5.64 team ERA.  Sensing an opportunity to close ground on the previously invincible looking Astros, the Yankees, Red Sox and Indians all pounced.

New York reeled in the most prized possession of the trade deadline in Sonny Gray. Boston nabbed themselves Eduardo Nunez and Addison Reed, thus far solving their 3rd base issue and adding another power arm to an already stacked bullpen. And Cleveland moved for strikeout machine Joe Smith from Toronto, further solidifying a bullpen that has already shown itself as a dynamic October weapon.

Hell, even the plucky Tampa Bay Rays acquired Lucas Duda and Steve Cishek to fortify their troops for a possible Wild Card run.

The gap that Houston had previously created between themselves and the rest of the American League is now all but gone. Old fashioned aggressive dealing by Dave Dombrowski, Brian Cashman and Chris Antonetti closed it and just made the junior circuit playoff picture a whole lot more interesting.

And on the selling side, Texas and Oakland nailed it.

Instead of waiting until the offseason and possibly only getting a compensatory draft pick, the Texas Rangers opted to pull back 3 prospects for walk year ace Yu Darvish. Prospects are already one of the most volatile commodities in baseball, but prospects that haven’t even been drafted yet take it to another level. Texas secured themselves a much more comfortable return by trading Darvish to Los Angeles, even if they didn’t get back the ideal package of prospects they were looking for.

Oakland did similarly with their trades of Sonny Gray, Sean Doolittle and Ryan Madsen. Knowing they aren’t ready to win right now, the A’s have no use for those 3 players. Instead of letting their value waste away on a losing team, Oakland acquired high quality future talent from the Yankees for Gray, and also got prospects back for Doolittle and Madsen.

With 2 more years of control, could Oakland have easily held onto Sonny Gray in hopes of having him ready to lead a winning team soon? Absolutely, but Billy Beane isn’t stupid enough to think that his team is going to need a player like Gray right now or even in the immediate future because he knows that the A’s won’t be ready to win during Sonny Gray’s contracted tenure.

So, he planned for the future.

It boggled my mind while watching the trade deadline unfold that only 11 out of 30 teams seemed to have a clear plan and know what they were doing. In a seller’s market, only Oakland and Texas truly took advantage of a seemingly voracious appetite for pitching.

Understanding that playoff opportunities aren’t to be taken for granted, Tampa Bay and Arizona (and Kansas City in a way, but that’s a more unique situation) made calculated deals to maximize the teams they have now without selling away their futures.

And with pressure to win now and rosters conducive to that plan, Boston, New York, Los Angeles, Cleveland, Chicago and Washington went all in and have essentially set the playoff picture.

When October rolls around and the teams playing include the Yankees, Red Sox, Dodgers, Indians, Cubs, Nationals and Diamondbacks, everyone will see that activity and aggression won the trade deadline. No team has ever won the World Series by sitting pat in July, and no team that isn’t listed above will be raising a trophy this year either.

Thanks for reading…

-Ryan

How Active Teams Won the Trade Deadline

Dexter Fowler and the Importance of Clubhouse ‘Chemistry’

If you went on Google right now and looked up ‘Dexter Fowler’ – like I did earlier when I wanted to do some research for this article – the majority of articles that would be returned from your search involve Fowler doing something off the field.

Dexter Fowler’s Importance to the Cardinals Goes Far Beyond Baseball

Dexter Fowler’s Mission: Change Tune in the Cardinals Clubhouse

Fowler Already Having an Impact on Cardinals

You have to dig a little bit, but eventually you might find something about how his switch hitting ability or high on base percentage will add a different dynamic to the Cardinals lineup this year. But the point here is that Fowler’s initial impact on the Cardinals has mostly come off the field.

Keeping up with baseball over the past few seasons has become more difficult as each year goes by. Every year it feels like more statistics are added and baseball becomes less and less of a game and more and more of a robotic numbers business. Too many people forget that a player’s impact on a team can’t just be quantified by on field performance.

Some of the best players that I ever played alongside were vile teammates that pushed away the rest of the locker room and were not fun to be around. It’s something that’s hard for any non-baseball players/athletes to understand when looking in from the outside, but clubhouse chemistry means way more than on field performance ever will.

This is going to be pure speculation, but take Barry Bonds for example. Excluding the claims that he was a PED user for most of his key earning years, Bonds is, based strictly off of numbers, probably the best player to ever play the game of baseball. I could list his career accomplishments and it would go on forever. The man was the greatest hitter the game has ever seen, steroids or not.

Barry Bonds never won a World Series.

But considering the numbers he put up over his career, that’s not his fault though, right? It might not be entirely his fault, but there is no way that the single greatest player in the history of the game not winning a World Series is a coincidence.

Look at all the other great players up in the same echelon as Bonds. Out of all 32 players that have ever accrued over 100 bWAR in the history of baseball, Bonds is the only one without a World Series title.

Please, I dare you to try and convince me that this is a coincidence.

Well, based purely on reputation alone, Barry Bonds was not a good teammate. He had a reputation for being selfish, and he often carried himself in a manner that would reflect it. In an article written in mid-December chronicling Bonds’ friendship with Dexter Fowler – funny enough – Bonds said that, “he didn’t handle himself the way he wanted to be handled during his career.” And the article goes on to casually say that Bonds is, “known as one of the coldest men in baseball history.”

Not exactly a glowing review.

The greatest statistical position player in the history of baseball. Career numbers that will never be matched by anyone, steroids or not. And a reputation as possibly the coldest man in the history of the game.

Starting to see how Bonds’ non-possession of a World Series Title can’t be a coincidence?

A clubhouse atmosphere and clubhouse chemistry matter, and they were clearly lacking in St. Louis last year. Patrick Cramer, a clubhouse attendant for the Cardinals, notes that “last year, some players were walking on eggshells around here. Dexter came in during spring and just stomped all over those eggshells.”

Everything in this article revolves around speculation and word coming out of Cardinals camp. I will never exactly know the full impact that Fowler is having on the clubhouse of the Cardinals. But I can tell you that, personally, I play my best baseball when I’m having fun.

The Cardinals have never been a club associated with the word ‘fun’. I mean sure, winning is fun, but the way the Cardinals have always won has never had a ‘fun’ feel about it. The club is buttoned up, serious about the work they do, and even makes every prospect and new team employee read an 80 page manual entitled, ‘The Cardinal Way’ – which is exactly what it sounds like.

Fowler, a key member of the 2016 Cubs’ team that finally broke the 108 year World Series curse, has seemingly come in and flipped everything about ‘The Cardinal Way’ on its head.

Listening to music during batting practice is completely normal; hell, we do it on my college team. But it’s making waves of headlines from Cardinals camp because it’s never happened before. Fowler brings a boombox to batting practice every single day and lets a different member of the roster choose the music.

“Dexter is kind of a personality that we haven’t had, that we didn’t have last year,” starting pitcher Mike Leake said in an interview with Ben Hochman on Saturday. “His personality, which is very outgoing, I think helps this team.”

General Manager John Mozeliak echoed Leake’s sentiment when he commented that, “…on the field and off, he’s been everything we could’ve hoped for. The one word I would use to describe him is inclusive. What he’s been able to do in this clubhouse so far is extremely positive.”

Listening to sabermetric-based baseball pundits on television talk about how clubhouse chemistry is a myth and it doesn’t matter as much as on-field numbers has always annoyed me. The type of energy that Fowler can inject into a club can mean so much more than a 5 or 6 WAR season ever will.

The 2015 Cardinals won 100 games and were the best team in baseball before an untimely exit from the postseason. A virtually unchanged 2016 Cardinals team won 86 games and missed the playoffs, underperforming expectations and being just a general pain to watch on a nightly basis. And further pointing towards clubhouse division in 2016, Stephen Piscotty mentioned in an interview with Mark Saxon that, “Already, this year seems more fun, and I think we’ll play looser. I think that’s a good thing, instead of tight and rigid like last year…when you play this game, if you’re not having fun, it’s just an absolute grind.”

That grind is the reason why I believe the Cardinals underachieved last year. And with everything that’s being said this year, combined with Fowler’s reputation as one of the clubhouse leaders of an energetic and fun Cubs team last year, the Cardinals seem to have signed the perfect guy to help reinvigorate a seemingly dead and dry clubhouse.

Having played on a team that wasn’t overly talented but was very tightly knit and had a strong clubhouse bond, I can attest to how much a team atmosphere can mean. A positive team atmosphere is infectious, makes the game more fun than it normally would be, and can cultivate overachievement, something the Cardinals might desperately need from players like Kolten Wong, Matt Adams and Randal Grichuk.

Whether Dexter Fowler is worth -1 or 7 WAR in the 2017 will not and should not be the complete end-all evaluation of him. No, Fowler’s value should be measured in something that can’t be fully quantified and that very few of us will ever understand.

Making the Cardinals fun again.

Thanks for reading

-Ryan

 

Author’s Note: This article was written in March of 2017, but I never got around until publishing it until July 30th of 2017. The perspectives reflect this

Dexter Fowler and the Importance of Clubhouse ‘Chemistry’

Mike vs Yadi: The Final Straw?

2 nights ago, I decided that I wanted to bring my mom to her first Cardinals game of the 2017 season. She doesn’t get to many, so I figured she would enjoy it. On the day of the game, I learned that Yadier Molina would be getting a night off and my first thought was disappointment that mom wouldn’t get to see Yadi play in what will probably be her only live game of the season.

But, when I thought about why Carson Kelly was starting instead, everything made sense from a baseball standpoint. The Cardinals need to get Kelly playing time in order to continue helping foster his growth; and with Luke Weaver getting a start – Kelly has worked routinely with Weaver at Triple-A over the course of the past season and a half – the fit was perfect.

I thought nothing more of it, went to the game, enjoyed it as much as I could when considering it was a long, boring shutout, and then went to sleep.

In case you haven’t heard, Yadier Molina resting last night was a much, much bigger deal than I just made it sound.

When asked about his decision to start Kelly, Cardinals’ manager Mike Matheny pointed out that Carson Kelly needs playing time in St. Louis while he’s here, saying “we’re going to have to keep him engaged if he’s going to be able to contribute like he needs to.”

That reasoning makes perfect sense and should have been the end of Matheny’s answer. But, instead, the embattled St. Louis skipper foolishly took a presumably unintentional pot shot at one of the greatest servants in franchise history.

“Yadi’s caught a lot,” Matheny added. “Yesterday, just kind of watching him go around the bases too, you could tell that he’s, you know…”

I haven’t seen or heard Matheny’s comments, but I’m assuming that he realized what he’d done, tapered off his sentence and then went on his merry, mumbling way. Now, to his credit, Mike never actually said the word “tired” and he made sure to point that out today in his pregame comments. Matheny said something about how Yadi looked a little hurt while running the bases Wednesday and that was what he was talking about.

But what, exactly, had Mike Matheny just done? I’ll let Yadier Molina’s Instagram tell you.

 

Screen Shot 2017-07-28 at 9.12.15 PM

I don’t care what anyone says, shots have been fired. Public shots.

If you’re looking for a glimpse into the Cardinals’ clubhouse right now, this exchange pulls aside the 4th wall curtain and gives us a great feel for what’s going on with the struggling team.

What I see here is a clueless and ignorant manager pissing off the face of his franchise, who seems already fed up with the inconsistency and losing.

I completely understand the need to rest Yadier Molina. His health is imperative to the Cardinals being able to play winning baseball, and burning him out is reckless. But why would you come out to the media and broadcast the fact that one of your everyday players is tired? And then, the next day, why would you try and backtrack your comments and make it sound like he’s hurt?

I believe that Matheny tailed off his sentence halfway through it because he knew that he would be angering one of the most important players on his team. It’s a widely known fact that Yadier Molina prides himself on being able to play every day. He’s known to argue, scratch and claw his way into the lineup when his manager tries to give him a night off. If I know these things, Mike Matheny surely knows them. So why even insinuate that Yadi is tired or hurt if you know it’ll tick him off? And, even further, this begs a bigger question.

Why doesn’t Mike Matheny know?

Switching your story, talking about how your catcher is tired and hurt, reacting to what he thinks he sees by taking Yadi out of the lineup without consulting Molina first; all of these things are reasons why I believe Matheny is ignorant and clueless.

As a Major League manager, Mike Matheny has 25 players to keep track of. Yes, there are minor leaguers that he certainly cares about, but the 25 players that put on a big league uniform every night have to be Matheny’s priority. Yadier Molina, as I’ve harped on, is the face of your franchise and arguably the most important position player on the team.

How in the blue hell do you not know his fatigue or health level?

Watching Yadi over the past month or so, he has looked tired at times. During the series against the Rockies, there were several times that Molina, looking noticeably slower than usual, had to be held up on the base baths. From the stands, it appeared to me that Molina was struggling.

But I’m in the stands and have no access to the players. Mike Matheny spends nearly 8-9 hours each day with his players and can talk to them whenever he wants. There’s no reason why he shouldn’t know the daily health and fatigue level of every single member of the 25 man St. Louis roster.

Mike Matheny has done a lot of questionable things during his time in charge of the Cardinals. Bullpen mismanagement, player overuse, other miscellaneous poor decision making, the list goes on and on; but this should be the final straw.

Clubhouse dissension is something that the public often never sees. Beef between teammates is usually handled within the clubhouse confines and never sees the light of day. Thus, it’s easy for us to forget the fact that our favorite baseball teams spend nearly 7 months together and need to have an element of respect and love or else they’ll kill each other.

The tone of a clubhouse atmosphere begins with the manager and is carried out by the players. By my estimation, somewhere around the end of 2015, Mike Matheny ‘lost’ his clubhouse.

What I mean by ‘lost’ is that, for one reason or another, the players lost respect for Matheny and his leadership began falling on deaf ears. A lack of respect for the supposed leader of the team quickly generates tension and creates an atmosphere that feels like “walking on eggshells,” as Stephen Piscotty said during 2017 Spring Training.

Having to spend 8-9 hours in an atmosphere full of tension and annoyance every day is toxic and I believe it’s the reason why the Cardinals have significantly underachieved over the past two seasons. However, we have never truly had any evidence of Cardinal clubhouse dissension.

Until now, that is.

Yadier Molina’s comments, no matter how he tries to walk them back or clarify, peeled back the facade of respect that has been put up during Mike Matheny’s time as manager in St. Louis. What I read from Molina today showed a player who is completely fed up with his manager. Should this have been a big deal? No, but it’s just another example of Matheny’s ineptitude and someone is finally showing some anger.

To further the situation, Dexter Fowler, Kolten Wong, and Tommy Pham all ‘liked’ Molina’s post this morning, clearly showing how the other players feel.

Molina’s jab and frustration at Matheny wasn’t subtle, and the front office now has a serious situation on their hands. Fans have been calling for Matheny to be fired since for years, and for years the front office has been able to talk their way around and give the manager their support.

With the players publicly making their feelings known, how long will Cardinals’ brass continue to stick with a manager that is clearly unfit for the job? How much more will it take for the most obvious deadline move to finally be made?

That deadline move being Mike Matheny’s, you know…

 

Thanks for reading.

-Ryan

Mike vs Yadi: The Final Straw?

Everyone Chill on Dexter Fowler

$82 million is a lot of money. It would be a lot of money regardless of who was collecting that money, but it really looks like a lot of money when it is being paid to a 31 year old center fielder who has spent as much time on the disabled list as he has on the field.

Just over halfway through the first year of his 5 year contract with the Cardinals, Dexter Fowler already looks like a mistake. Offensively, Fowler has been okay. His .452 slugging percentage and 14 home runs have been a pleasant surprise. However, the on base skills that were the primary reason behind the Cardinals being willing to pay him $82 million have diminished to the tune of a .334 mark and only 4 stolen bases.

And the improved center field defense that took Fowler from being a -20 DRS player during the 2014 season with the Houston Astros to being a +5 DRS player with the 2016 Chicago Cubs? Yeah, it’s been pretty awful to the tune of -12 DRS and a -3.3 defensive fWAR in only 631 innings.

Yikes.

With yesterday’s announcement that Fowler was headed to the 10 day disabled list for the 3rd time this season, I heard a lot of kicking and screaming on Twitter about his contract. And after top prospect Harrison Bader’s heroic performance last night, that kicking and screaming has only gotten louder this morning.

Well, as the headline says, everyone needs to chill.

Fowler 3
Photo Courtesy of St. Louis Post-Dispatch

Firstly, Dexter Fowler hasn’t been that bad. His on base skills have always been prevalent, and if he can shake the injury bug and find himself some consistent at bats, he’ll be right around the .380 – .390 OBP mark that we all expected prior to this season.

The unexpected slugging has been beautiful to see. Fowler’s 2017 ISO of .210 would be a career high mark by nearly 50 points, and project out his 14 HR’s in 333 plate appearances over a full season of 600 plate appearances and we’re looking at 25 HR’s. Combine that with the on base skills that will show with consistent at bats and the Cardinals have themselves a dynamic offensive player.

Secondly, Fowler’s injuries this year have been small, nagging things that no player can control. Injuries are the worst and it’s not fair to already call his contract a ‘mistake’ just because of the injuries he’s dealt with.

Personally, I believe that those nagging injuries have been a part of Fowler’s determination to play center field in St. Louis. Earlier in July, when asked how the outfield would shake out after Fowler’s initial return from injury, Tommy Pham commented, “Dex is in center field, we know that for sure.”

Center field is a tough position to play every day. It’s especially tough for a guy dealing with small, nagging injuries. So, to do our part in trying to solve some of Fowler’s injury issues, just move him to a corner outfield spot. The Cardinals already have several in-house replacements to take his spot.

In just 178.1 innings played in CF, Tommy Pham has been worth 6 DRS and 1.1 defensive fWAR. His defense hasn’t just been good, it’s been exceptional. So why keep trotting out a terrible defensive center fielder when there’s a great defensive center fielder hanging out next to Fowler?

And thirdly, we all have to take a look back at the state of the Cardinals when they initially signed Dexter Fowler.

On December 9th, the Cardinal outfield looked unstable, at best. Randal Grichuk was coming off of a rough year during his debut season in CF. Stephen Piscotty was locked into the right field position, and beyond those two players, there didn’t seem to be any options that could be counted on to produce in 2017.

Tommy Pham was an oft-injured Triple-A guy that didn’t seem to have a spot. Jose Martinez wasn’t a name that anyone knew, Harrison Bader wasn’t ready yet, and Tyler O’Neill was still in Seattle.

The Cardinals needed a center fielder. The trade market was exploding, and players like Adam Eaton were being dealt away for entire farm systems. St. Louis was wise to avoid an inflated trade market, and Fowler was clearly the best fit on the free agent market.

Fowler 2
Photo Courtesy of St. Louis Post-Dispatch

At the time of the move, it was imperative. Fowler slid right into the Cardinals immediate plan and the 5 year deal provided St. Louis with future stability, which was desperately needed entering the 2017 season.

Since then, Tommy Pham has played his way into becoming the Cardinals’ most productive position player and a 5 WAR outfielder. Jose Martinez has turned heads and become one of the best pinch hitters in the sport. Harrison Bader has crushed Triple-A and now made his mark in the Major Leagues. Tyler O’Neill has been acquired from the Seattle Mariners and players like Magneuris Sierra, Randy Arozarena and Adolis Garcia have shown themselves to be potential Major League impact players.

If, on the day Dexter Fowler signed his contract, you saw all of this coming, you’re lying.

Hindsight is everything, and being able to look back on all that has transpired during the 2017 season allows us to see that yeah, if we were given the option right now of whether or not to sign Dexter Fowler before the season, we would gladly pass on him.

But he was needed at the time and that’s all that matters. So everybody take a second and chill; have some patience.

Fowler simply needs to be moved out of center field, which will hopefully solve the nagging injury problem. Being moved to a corner outfield spot will improve his defense by giving him less ground to cover. With the nagging injury issue presumably solved, Fowler will be able to gain his stride and get consistent at bats. With consistent at bats, the on base numbers will get back to where we expected them and can combine with the improved power to create a highly productive corner outfielder.

So everybody just relax. Put away your pitchforks and torches about Dexter Fowler’s contract and have some patience. Baseball is a fickle beast and unexpected things happen. Fowler is not suddenly a horrible player that needs to be cut. He’s a productive and dependable Major League player that simply needs a few adjustments to harness that production and dependability.

Let’s all enjoy Harrison Bader and Tommy Pham for right now, but stop going too far and calling Fowler a mistake.

He’s not. So chill.

Thanks for reading.

-Ryan

Everyone Chill on Dexter Fowler

More Tyler O’Neill’s: A Sequel

On yesterday’s episode of, ‘Ryan is the GM of the Cardinals’, I traded away Kolten Wong to Oakland in exchange for Matt Chapman and I also sent Jedd Gyorko and Trevor Rosenthal to Tampa Bay in exchange for Willy Adames.

My trade deadline goal remains to sell 2017’s expendable parts in exchange for pieces that will help the Cardinals win in 2018 and beyond. So, with all this in mind, let’s take a look at who is still left in my ‘sell’ pile, shall we?

The most simple player in the pile is Lance Lynn, so let’s start there.

Lynn is set to become a free agent at the end of 2017 and he surely won’t re-sign with the Cardinals. For starters, St. Louis has a wealth of pitching talent just waiting for an opportunity to take Lynn’s rotation spot. Alex Reyes is presumably first in line, closely followed by Luke Weaver, Jack Flaherty, and Dakota Hudson among others.

Secondly, with Lynn’s track record of quality, (career 3.37 FIP while averaging 191 IP in each of his 4 full seasons as a starter) he will likely be able to command money on the open market the Cardinals won’t be willing to pay him with so many younger, cheaper options available.

Lance Lynn
Photo courtesy of St. Louis Cardinals

The course of action is simple here. With a 3.30 ERA in 114 IP so far this season, Lynn poses as an attractive piece for one of 2017’s many contending teams in dire need of starting pitching help. Houston needs pitching help, Milwaukee needs pitching, the Cubs need pitching, but I’ve got my eyes on two teams and I want a bidding war between them.

With today’s news that Clayton Kershaw will be out for 4-6 weeks with back trouble, the Los Angeles Dodgers suddenly have a real need for starting pitching. Pair them up with a New York Yankees team desperately trying to catch the Boston Red Sox and we’re in business.

From both of their perspectives, Lynn makes a lot of sense both during and beyond 2017. Quality, durable, dependable starting pitching is difficult to find. Lynn would fill an immediate need in both teams’ rotations – the Yankees’ rotation already needed help before Michael Pineda went down with Tommy John surgery – and he would make sense to sign in the offseason considering that both teams easily have the money and will definitely be looking to win immediately beyond 2017.

From the Cardinals’ perspective…oh boy is this going to be fun.

Both the Yankees’ and Dodgers’ farm systems are loaded, but I believe the deal more feasibly gets done with the Dodgers as the trade partner. For one, the Yankees have already given up Blake Rutherford and others to trade for a Todd Frazier package and they could be hesitant to give up even more future talent for more rentals. However, if the Cardinals can manage to net Justus Sheffield or Chance Adams in return for Lynn, that would be ideal.

As for the Dodgers, they haven’t made any moves yet and maintain that the team they put out on the field right now is plenty good enough to win the World Series. However, staring down the barrel of being without Kershaw for possibly 6 weeks and with the Diamondbacks and Rockies hot on their trail, starting pitching is needed and the iron is hot.

Does that mean that the Dodgers will panic and give up Yadier Alvarez or Walker Buehler for Lynn? No, that seems excessive, but neither of those guys are players the Cardinals should target. Willie Calhoun makes much more sense.

Minor League Baseball: Arizona Fall League-Fall Stars Game
Photo courtesy of Los Angeles Dodgers

Could demanding a Calhoun for Lynn trade still seem excessive from the Dodgers’ end? Absolutely, but he’s the guy the Cardinals should have earmarked in this potential trade.

Calhoun is currently wrecking Triple-A to the tune of a .965 OPS with 22 homers and 65 RBI’s and the bat is an asset. He’ll be ready to contribute immediately in 2018 and getting him in return for Lynn would be a steal for the Cardinals.

I’m probably overvaluing Lance Lynn right now, but the need for starting pitching is dire for contending teams right now and the starting pitching market appears dry. Other than Yu Darvish and Sonny Gray – who will both cost a fortune of talent – the trade market for starting pitchers is weak at best. Lynn has definite value and the Cardinals need to capitalize on that value while the need is there for some teams.

After trading Lynn, I’m left with Michael Wacha, Randal Grichuk and Seung Hwan-Oh as the only remaining players in my ‘sell’ pile. I don’t think any Cardinal fan needs a reminder that Oh has struggled this year, so I’m not even going to pretend like I can move him for any future value players. I’ll keep him in St. Louis, let him play out his deal and then go from there.

But Wacha and Grichuk? I’ve got a few ideas.

While the two of them do seem to be having down years, there is a lot of value between Wacha and Grichuk, so I want to package them together. Neither of them are rentals in any way, as Wacha has 3 more years of team control after 2017 and Grichuk has 4 more years of control. Both in their age 26 season, it’s reasonable to expect each of those team controlled years to be of prime production.

So what kind of team would want two young, controllable, productive players? Both Wacha and Grichuk strike me as players that don’t fit in on a winning team right now, but will be focal points in a year or two. This means that the kind of team interested in Grichuk and Wacha would have to be a rebuilding club, but not a club in a full rebuild. Someone like the Angels, the Twins, Rangers or Mariners. However, the Angels don’t have any pieces I like, the Twins just made a trade for Jaime Garcia, the Rangers appear to be in sell mode, and the Mariners just gave up a top prospect to the Cardinals already so let’s leave them alone for now.

None of those teams make perfect sense, so let’s head down to the Braves and make a deal with them because they make perfect sense.

Firstly, from the Braves perspective, they have never viewed themselves as truly rebuilding. With the opening of a new park this year, Atlanta tried to put out as competitive a team as possible to break in SunTrust Park instead of buying into a full rebuild. But, while still doing that, the Braves have stacked up their farm system and will be loaded in two or three years.

Wacha and Grichuk, being young and controllable, make sense in the mold of Atlanta’s rebuild. They can both help right now while still being around for the completion of the rebuild project. Grichuk and Wacha both slide right into Atlanta’s current team and help to accelerate the rebuild process.

For the Cardinals, we’re gonna keep looking for players that can help win in 2018. One name from the Braves’ system come to mind; Sean Newcomb.

sean newcomb
Photo courtesy of Atlanta Braves

Newcomb has already come up and had a cup of coffee with the big club and although he struggled, the stuff is outstanding from the left side. A high 90’s fastball combined with a hammer curveball have produced 75 K’s in 56 IP at Triple-A this year. As stacked as the Cardinals’ farm system is with pitching, there aren’t any top quality left handed starters. Newcomb fits that bill perfectly.

A Michael Wacha and Randal Grichuk for Sean Newcomb trade would serve the Cardinals and Braves both well and would continue the necessary ‘Tyler O’Neill’ trend in St. Louis.

So, after all the dust has settled, let’s take a look at the work we’ve done.

Kolten Wong is an Oakland Athletic in exchange for 3B Matt Chapman. Jedd Gyorko and Trevor Rosenthal have both been sent to Tampa Bay for SS Willy Adames. I’m making an executive decision here and sending Lance Lynn to the Los Angeles Dodgers in return for Willie Calhoun. And a Michael Wacha + Randal Grichuk package has been shipped to Atlanta in exchange for Sean Newcomb.

These 4 deals combined with the Tyler O’Neill trade that I based these articles on create a clear direction for the Cardinals and put them in prime position to win in 2018 and beyond.

Matt Chapman slides in at 3rd base with Gyorko gone. Willy Adames takes the reigns at SS while bumping Paul DeJong over to 2nd base. With Lynn and Wacha now out of the rotation, the way is cleared for Luke Weaver and Sean Newcomb. Calhoun stays down at Triple-A for now, but he’ll hit his way up soon and create some fantastic outfield depth.

My way certainly isn’t the only way for the Cardinals do go about their trade deadline business, but I believe it’s pretty darn effective. Here’s hoping Mike Girsch can come up with a plan as good as one created by an unexperienced kid that works retail and still believes that ERA is more important than FIP.

Happy deadline week!

Thanks for reading.

-Ryan

More Tyler O’Neill’s: A Sequel