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

Evaluating a Potential Carlos Martinez Extension

The St. Louis Cardinals have a long tradition of outstanding starting pitching. It extends all the way back to the inception of the franchise and has continued to present day.

This tradition is highlighted by names such as Dizzy Dean and the Gashouse Gang teams of the 1930’s, Bob Gibson – the greatest postseason pitcher of all time, John Tudor – the best Cardinals pitcher of a golden era, and Chris Carpenter and Adam Wainwright.

Without fail, every single time one Cardinal ace begins to slip down the aging curve and lose his touch, the torch is passed onto a younger pitcher to become the ace of the staff. Most recently, when Chris Carpenter was in the twilight of his career he passed the metaphorical torch on to Adam Wainwright after the 2011 season, symbolizing the franchise’s full commitment to Waino as the ace of the staff.

Adam Wainwright is now 35 years old and coming off a 2016 season in which he posted career highs in ERA and FIP (4.62 and 3.93) while posting a career low in strikeouts. Not to really emphasize his age because Waino could come back and have a tremendous season in 2017, but at 35 years old, it’s hard to realistically see Wainwright re-discovering his peak form that lasted from 2009-2014.

And what a peak form it was, might I add.

But, getting back to the point, Wainwright’s time as the ace of the Cardinal staff is coming to a close. We are in the twilight years of his time holding the metaphorical torch, and it’s time to pass it on. It’s time for the Cardinals to designate a new torch-bearer.

And I can’t think of a better player to both fulfill this metaphor and become the next Cardinal ace than 25-year-old fireballer, Carlos Martinez.

In 2016, his second year on full-time starting pitcher duty, Martinez threw a career high 195.1 innings, while posting an ERA of 3.04, xFIP of 3.28, and a new career high in bWAR at 5.4.

Now, Martinez is entering his first year of arbitration this offseason, and will be predictably due a fairly hefty sum due to his excellent performance as a starter over these past two seasons. But, the Cardinals shouldn’t even allow him to reach arbitration and sign him to an extension as soon as possible, cutting all of the deadlock and riffraff that comes with arbitration hearings and negotiations.

In signing Martinez to an extension, the Cardinals are pushing all of their chips to the middle of the table and betting on El Gallo, thus passing the torch on to him from Adam Wainwright.

Before we get into what a Martinez extension would potentially look like, I want to quickly review why Martinez deserves this extension and the moniker of ‘Cardinal Ace’.

Taking a quick glance at his first two seasons, it’s a very impressive performance from a young pitcher, but it isn’t quite what you want to see from a guy that you’re gambling the franchise on. The numbers are good, but they don’t necessarily scream ‘ACE’.

Over his first two seasons as a starter, Martinez has posted a cumulative ERA of 3.02, FIP of 3.36, K/9 of 8.5, bWAR of 9.5 and 87 RAR – this is a stat that is like WAR, but measures how many runs above replacement level a pitcher is.

Among starters during that span, Martinez ranks 9th in all of baseball in bWAR, is tied for 10th in ERA, 21st in FIP, 20th in xFIP and 21st in K/9. So, judging solely off of these numbers, Carlos Martinez is a good pitcher who is teetering on the verge of becoming elite.

And, might I remind you, he is entering his age 25 season.

But, the most interesting thing about Martinez’s peripherals so far that points towards him really taking the reigns as the ace of the St. Louis staff came when I compared his career numbers to those of incumbent Cardinal ace, Adam Wainwright.

Like Martinez, Wainwright began his career as a reliever, exceeding his rookie limits during the Cardinals’ 2006 World Series run as the closer. Like Martinez, Wainwright spent the first two seasons of his career as a very good reliever for the Cardinals, having a cumulative FIP during his 2005 and 2006 seasons as a reliever of 2.91. And, like Martinez, Wainwright then transitioned into a starting pitcher role, having mild success.

During his first two years as a starter, Wainwright posted an ERA+ of 119 in 2007 and 132 in 2008. During his first two years as a starter, Martinez posted an ERA+ of 130 in 2015 and 135 in 2016.

Anyone else starting to see this parallel?

Wainwright then exploded into his prime years during the 2009 season, during which he posted a 2.63 ERA, 9.2 K/9, 155 ERA+ and 7.2 bWAR in 233 innings. Wainwright’s respective ERA+’s over the 4 seasons during which he was a starter after 2008: 155, 160, 147 and 153.

Again, Carlos Martinez is 25 years old, his career nearly mirrors Adam Wainwright’s, and Martinez’s first two seasons as a starter were better than Wainwright’s. Do you see why this gets me excited, now?

But, the question of this article was not, ‘Should Carlos Martinez get an extension?’

The question of this article was, ‘What would a Carlos Martinez extension look like?’

The crux of figuring out what a potential Carlos Martinez extensions will look like is all based off of Martinez’s projected WAR, and the market value for a win. Currently, market dollar value for one win is $8.0 million. Meaning that a player with 1.0 WAR would be worth – in a perfect world – $8 million.

Trying to project out Martinez’s WAR in the future can be a tricky exercise because, first off, his 2017 projections have not been released yet. Alas, trying to figure out how much Carlos Martinez will be worth through future seasons is very rough around the edges.

So what I did do is take an unofficial Fangraphs aging chart for pitchers and attempt to make Martinez’s career mirror this graph as closely as possible while adding on a 5% inflation to the market dollar value of a win every year.

pitcher-age-graph

So, roughly judging this graph, the total WAR for pitchers in their age 24 season – which Martinez was during 2016 – was 850. That number then roughly jumped to 1,000 during the age 25 season, 117.6% increase.

Applying this same math to Martinez bWAR, his 2017 value will be 6.35 WAR according to Ryan’s rough projections. If we also take into account the Adam Wainwright career trajectory that Martinez appears to be mirroring, this 6.3 WAR appears even more reasonable, as Wainwright posted a 6.2 WAR in his 3rd season as a starter.

Now, going back to the graph, the jump in collective WAR from age 25 seasons to age 26 seasons is approximately 107.5% – roughly 1,000 WAR to roughly 1,075 WAR. Increasing Martinez’s Ryan projected 2017 bWAR of 6.35 by 107.5% yields a Ryan-projected 2018 bWAR of 6.82.

As we can see in the graph above, the bWAR line peaks at the age-26 season and then begins to decline down towards zero. From age-26 to age-27, the decline is approximately 3.3%. From age-27 to age-28, the decline is approximately 6.8%. The age-28 to age-29 decline is approximately 15.5%, and the age-29 to age-30 decline is approximately 8.6%.

I’m stopping at the age-30 season on this graph because my ideal extension length for Carlos Martinez – both for team and player – is 6 years. This would buy out all three of his arbitration years as well as three free agent years while paying him during his prime years, thus maximizing his value.

So, applying this unofficial pitcher age chart graph thing as well as my super unofficial percentages, Carlos Martinez’s Ryan-projected WAR during the 6 potential seasons of this extension would be as follows.

2017: 6.35

2018: 6.82

2019: 6.66

2020: 6.20

2021: 5.24

2022: 4.79

Overall, during the 6 years on this potential extension, Martinez would deliver – according to my extremely rough projections – a total of 36.06 WAR. That is absolutely astounding value.

So, how would this look when calculating Martinez’s Ryan-projected WAR in combination with the dollar market value for a win?

As I mentioned earlier, the current market value for one win is $8 million. For the sake of this exercise, I will add on a 5% inflation to that $8 million number every year. Martinez’s value comes out as follows.

screen-shot-2016-10-17-at-1-08-54-am

So, according to the market value for wins and my rough projections, the Cardinals should offer Carlos Martinez a 6 year extension somewhere in the range of $320 million to match his value.

Is that realistic? Absolutely not. As much as I love Martinez, $320 million over 6 years is insane and should not even be considered by the Cardinals.

Market value is absolutely outrageous these days, and I knew that this exercise would yield an incredibly high answer to the question, “What is Carlos Martinez’s projected value?” So how do we try to figure out what his potential extension should look like?

Martinez is a unique case. He is a pitcher that has hit arbitration at the ripe age of 25, having two full and very productive seasons of being a starting pitcher under his belt. At 25, it’s both reasonable and viable to expect his value to only increase over the next few years as he ages into his peak years.

Right now, his value is high enough to reasonably warrant a pricy extension on its own, but when you consider that he should only get better? His value only increases. Thus, it’s basically impossible to find another player in the history of baseball that was in this situation and then compare the contract that nonexistent player signed and point to that as the blueprint for what Martinez should be extended for.

So bear with me here because this could be a bit of a stretch, but I have found a player that seems comparable to Martinez in the New York Yankees’ Masahiro Tanaka.

When signed in the winter of 2014, Tanaka was entering his age 25 season, like Martinez. The only difference between the two is that Tanaka had been pitching in the Japanese professional league since his age-18 season in 2007, giving him a much longer track record.

Anyway, the contract that the Yankees signed Tanaka to was a 7 year, $155 million deal; an average annual value of $22 million complete with a full no trade clause and an opt-out after the 2017 season.

Applying this AAV down to the ideal 6 year extension that I have in mind for Martinez, the potential extension total comes to 6 years and $132 million. And let’s throw the full no-trade clause and opt-out after the 4th year into the deal as well just for the sake of mirroring Tanaka’s deal.

To the naked eye, this seems a bit steep to pay Martinez. But when you project out his value, he could – according to my numbers – out-perform the value of this contract by nearly $200 million. So you tell me if it’s a good or bad deal.

Personally, I really like the framework of a 6 year, $132 million extension with full no-trade and an opt out. I believe this deal checks all of the boxes.

Fully committing to Martinez as the future ace? Check, this would be the biggest deal in Cardinals history both from an AAV and total dollar value standpoint.

Allowing Martinez stability and some control? Check, the full no-trade guarantees that he’ll be in St. Louis for the duration of the deal while the opt-out gives him the option of going back onto the free agent market after his age-28 season in 2020.

Not over-committing with too many years? Check, the 6 years all come during the supposed prime of Martinez’s career, which maximizes his value while not paying him too much during the downturn that his early to mid-30’s could potentially be.

All of these numbers are extremely raw and very rough around the edges so please don’t take them as fact or guarantee, but this has still been a worthwhile exercise in attempting to define and project Carlos Martinez’s value going forward.

Both sides are supposedly interested in an extension, the entirety of the Cardinal fan base is interested in an extension, so what’s not to love?

Go make it happen, Mo.

Evaluating a Potential Carlos Martinez Extension

A Center Field Solution for the Cardinals

What can I say about the Cardinals center field situation that hasn’t already been said? Randal Grichuk, while not as bad as you might think, played just above the replacement level by crushing baseballs after his August recall from Triple-A to make up for ‘blah’ defense.

Look, you know the deal by now, Grichuk is not a center fielder, as badly as you and I both might want him to be. For Grichuk, this season can be viewed one of two ways.

You can be disappointed in his center field defense, porous ability to get on base, high strikeout rate, and view Randal Grichuk’s 2016 season as a lost cause that will only hurt his development as a quality player. Or, as I see things, you can view his season as a positive.

See, in 2016 we learned what Randal Grichuk isn’t, which can often be more important than knowing what someone is. We learned that Randal Grichuk is not a center fielder, and he is not a hitter who gets on base at a high clip.

Right now, we’re in a situation where he had to take one step back in order to take a big leap forward, which I believe will happen in 2017 when he likely takes over the full time left field job. Grichuk is a plus defender in left field – tallying 5 DRS in just under 370 innings while playing left field in St. Louis. And he can, and will, hit 40 home runs while slugging .500 and driving in over 100 runs if the Cardinals simply leave him be in the lineup and don’t nag him about getting on base all the time.

Did we not go over this already?

Anyway, this article isn’t about Grichuk, nor is it about Stephen Piscotty, the Cardinals everyday right fielder. This article is about the hole that is left by Grichuk’s evacuation of Busch Stadium’s center field.

While not officially confirming that Grichuk will be moving to left field, Cardinals General Manager, John Mozeliak, emphasized that two of his priorities during the 2016 offseason are upgrading the porous St. Louis defense and finding a solution in center field.

Many names have been floated around as a potential solution to the Cardinals central issue of the offseason. Charlie Blackmon, Andrew McCutchen, A.J. Pollock, Carlos Gomez, Adam Eaton, Ian Desmond and Dexter Fowler are just a few of the names that have been tossed into the magic hat of potential options for the Cardinals. However, I want to zero in on one guy that wasn’t listed above.

Kevin Kiermaier.

Kiermaier.jpg
Photo by Will Vragovic for the Tampa Bay Times

John Mozeliak’s two main focuses for the offseason, as he stated, are center field and defense. So why not kill a ton of birds with just one stone?

I don’t think anyone really needs an introduction to Kiermaier’s defense, but just in case you do, here are the things you need to know.

In two seasons and just under 2,000 innings played in center field, Kiermaier has an astonishing 68 defensive runs saved and a UZR/150 of 35.4. No one has ever posted a higher single season DRS in center field than the 42 DRS that Kiermaier posted during his gold glove season in 2015.

The man is the greatest defensive center fielder of all time, not even remotely kidding with that statement. While playing nearly 500 less innings than 2nd place Kevin Pillar, Kiermaier led all center fielders with 25 defensive runs saved and a 26.9 UZR/150 during the 2016 season. 

So, let’s say that the Cardinals make a deal for Kiermaier. Not only does this solve the problem of center field defense by nabbing the greatest center field defender of all time, but left field defense is made stronger by the simple subtraction of Matt Holliday and addition of Randal Grichuk.

And just imagine all of the extra base hits that the outfield trio of Kevin Kiermaier, Randal Grichuk and Stephen Piscotty could potentially take away from opposing hitters. It’s mesmerizing just to dream about it.

Now, I know that there are much better offensive options available, and Kiermaier’s career WRC+ of 105 isn’t ideal offense from a franchise center fielder, but with the offensive talent that the Cardinals can trot out in 2016, they do have the ability to pull Kiermaier’s potentially league average offense.

Just as I have pointed out that Randal Grichuk does not need to be an on-base maestro, Kevin Kiermaier – in a potential sense – would not need to carry the Cardinal offense. The 2017 Cardinals must be a puzzle in which the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

So, what does Kevin Kiermaier do well that could fit into a puzzle?

Kevin.jpg
This. He does this very well. (Photo courtesy of Fox Sports)

I already touched on his defense, but his other plus quality is base running. If you had no prior knowledge of Kiermaier, but knew that he was an outstanding defender in center field, you might have been able to guess that he was a pretty darn good baserunner too; which he most definitely is.

In 2016, Kiermaier’s 6.5 BsR – “an all encompassing base running statistic that turns stolen bases, caught stealings, and other base running plays into runs above and below average” – ranked 7th in all of baseball, just ahead of Starling Marte.

The highest Cardinal on that list? Stephen Piscotty in a tie for 114th with Chris Carter of the Milwaukee Brewers at -2.8 BsR. Yikes.

Our findings conclude that Kevin Kiermaier’s strengths are running the bases and defense. And what were the Cardinals primary weaknesses in 2016? Running the bases and defense; it’s almost too perfect of a fit.

And even further, Kiermaier plays for the Tampa Bay Rays, a notoriously low budget team that must maximize the talent they have by trading it for young, controllable players before the current roster gets too expensive for them to keep.

Kiermaier fits this bill. Although he is still several years away from free agency, it continues to seem more and more likely that, even with his league average offense, Kiermaier will be able to command a hefty contract that Tampa Bay will not be able to afford. Considering what we all saw Jason Heyward sign for this past offseason, defense and base running can command massive contracts, and that’s what Kiermaier has.

And with a restocked farm system, the Cardinals now have the depth and young, controllable talent to be able to reasonably make this deal happen. So, not only does this appear to be an absolutely perfect fit, but the deal doesn’t seem outlandish to accomplish, as a potential trade for Andrew Mccutcheon or A.J. Pollock currently feels, as great as those would be.

Look, everyone needs to get over the fact that the Cardinals don’t have a bona fide, all encompassing superstar player that can garner MVP votes and put up 7 WAR seasons. That means, as I said, that the whole of the 2017 Cardinals must be greater than the sum of its parts.

If we include Kiermaier into this puzzle, all of the pieces are there for the Cardinals to be successful.

Power? Yup, even with the assumption that Jedd Gyorko regresses back to his career norms, the Cardinals still have Randal Grichuk and Matt Carpenter as power sources; and if Gyorko doesn’t regress, that’s even more power.

Speed? Kiermaier takes the reigns here and joins up with Kolten Wong to spearhead a much improved St. Louis Cardinals team on the base paths.

On base ability? Matt Carpenter and Aledmys Diaz, step right up and show off your shiny on base percentages that set the table for the run producers behind you like Randal Grichuk and Stephen Piscotty.

Defense? Kiermaier takes the reigns here as well, covering acres of ground in center field, while having Kolten Wong as the – supposed – primary second baseman in 2017 also will definitely help in this area.

From a position player standpoint, the Cardinals have every ingredient to field a very successful team in 2017 – provided that my theoretical Kevin Kiermaier addition does occur. All of those ingredients may not come from one player, but that’s the beauty of this team. All of the pieces of the puzzle fit together to produce a winning ball club.

All we need is Kevin Kiermaier to fit into those last few tricky spots.

A Center Field Solution for the Cardinals

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

The Cardinals are Getting Hot and That Should be Scary

Recently, I was having a conversation with a good friend of mine, and intern for Yahoo sports. He was telling me about how his boss is a big Cubs fan, and has been riding really high throughout this season during the Cubs monstrous run of success. However, he is “deathly afraid” of the Cardinals making the playoffs, regardless of how weak they may seem to be.

Guess what, his fears may be coming true.

Seemingly forgotten by just about everyone throughout the course of this season, the Cardinals have silently hovered around .500 and treaded water in the shadow of the Chicago Cubs empire. Comfortably living underneath the enormous amount of hype being put on the Cubs, St. Louis has trusted their ability to get hot at the right time and their veteran and playoff experience.

The sentiment throughout the clubhouse has consistently been, ‘we will do what is necessary when it is necessary.’ And, sure enough, here we are in late August, looking up at the standings and seeing the Cardinals holding onto a playoff spot and starting to get hot.

And that should be scary to every other team in the national league.

When I was looking at St. Louis before the season and trying to get a beat on the type of team they would be trotting out on a nightly basis, one thing always stuck out. Depth; St. Louis has it in spades. Teams like Washington or Chicago or even Miami may be able to put out a stronger starting 9 than the Cardinals, but St. louis has the 25 man – and even 40 man – roster to compete with anyone.

Having won 6 of their last 7 games following a woeful stretch of series against the lowly Reds, Braves and the mighty Cubs, something has clicked in the Cardinal clubhouse. The much maligned St. Louis bullpen has given up 2 runs in their last 21 innings, and the offense has put up 38 runs over the last 7 games. And this is all without, by and large, the best offensive player in the lineup being healthy since late July.

The Cardinals are just beginning to hit their stride, and they still have an extra gear.

So, when I say that St. Louis has the 25 man roster to compete with any club, what, exactly, does that mean and why should that raise their status as a true contending club? There’s one player in particular that I want to use to highlight my point, and who is, by himself, a microcosm of the St. Louis season.

Jedd Gyorko came over from the San Diego Padres during the offseason as the return package for Jon Jay. At the time, I thought, “Okay, a little move for some infield depth and flexibility with maybe some added power. Well done, Mo.” Turns out, Gyorko has been far more than just ‘a little move’.

While playing all 4 different infield positions and batting in every single lineup spot 1-9, Gyorko has turned in his best all around season, and has a case for being the Cardinals finest offensive player. And, keep in mind, this was a simple depth move that was supposed to strengthen the bench.

Gyorko hit his 20th home run of the season on Sunday in Philadelphia – good for 2nd on the team behind Brandon Moss’s 23 bombs, we’ll get into that – and has not yet eclipsed the 300 at bat mark. His 2.5 WAR is nearing a career high and is good for 4th on the team. Again, this is a depth player that doesn’t even have 300 at bats. And since July 1st, Gyorko is slugging .581, with 13 home runs in 136 at bats and a WRC+ of 146. With the rash of injuries that has hit St. Louis since late June, Gyorko’s surge has been incredible.

Yet another example of the Cardinals ‘next man up’ mentality. And, to even further Gyorko’s remarkable season, he plays good defense. Between his 4 infield positions – highlighted by a +6 at third base – Gyorko has 9 defensive runs saved.

Furthering the Cardinals depth is Brandon Moss. Coming into the season, the thing that Gyorko and Moss had in common was that both of them didn’t have a set role with the team. They were both sort of in limbo, not knowing when they would be called upon, but knowing that they would be called upon. Come August, both are vital cogs in the Cardinal machine, and Moss has re-asserted himself as one of the premier power hitters in all of baseball.

During the same game that Gyorko his his 20th bomb of the year, Moss mashed his 23rd, something that I would have expected at the start of the season, but am still in shock and awe of.

That team leading 23rd home run now has Moss averaging one home run every 12.6 at bats. For players with at least 300 at bats, this is the best rate in all of baseball. And Moss’ monstrous .570 slugging percentage on the entire season ranks 2nd in the national league behind Daniel Murphy (boo this man).

Now, what does this all have to do with the Cardinals chances in the playoffs? Every team has some surprises that come along and do big things, why are they special?

I’m highlighting these two players because they are a glimpse into why the Cardinals serve as a dangerous and scary beast one the playoffs arrive. The home run has been the primary weapon of choice in the Cardinal arsenal throughout this season, but those home runs come in wave after wave after wave.

St. Louis has 9 players with at least 10 home runs, and one – Tommy Pham – that should easily eclipse 10 and even has an outside shot at 20. And, as dangerous as the lineup may seem right now, just wait until Aledmys Diaz returns from a thumb injury. Adding a .912 OPS back into a lineup that sits 3rd in all of Major League Baseball with 631 runs scored can’t possibly hurt.

On a statistic-less note, St. Louis serves as a dangerous playoff team just because of their experience. As good as the Chicago Cubs or Washington Nationals are, those two teams just haven’t ‘been there’. The core of the St. Louis clubhouse has won a World Series and been to the playoffs for 5 straight seasons. This is a club that simply knows how to get the job done.

And, considering the random, free-for-all style of baseball that the playoffs often give us, St. Louis is as good a bet as anyone. When you throw everything out the window and put the Cardinals in the playoffs, their lineup, pitching staff, and bullpen match up favorably with anyone.

Let’s take Los Angeles, for example.

Match up the two lineups and St. Louis has scored 82 more runs and features a team OPS that is 57 points higher. On the starting pitching side, LA has a slight edge with an ERA of 4.09 in 673 innings while St. Louis sports a 4.23 ERA in 731.1 innings. However, the 673 innings pitched by Los Angeles’ pitching staff are only better than Pittsburgh and Cincinnati, while St. Louis’ 731.1 innings are good for 6th best in baseball. Which leads us into the bullpens, where Los Angeles ranks 3rd in all of baseball with at 3.25 ERA, while St. Louis sits right behind them, in 4th, at 3.30. But, considering all the innings that the Los Angeles rotation has thrown, the Dodger bullpen has shown signs of wear and tear of late with a 5.27 bullpen ERA during the month of August.

Los Angeles isn’t the only example I could use, but it just shows that St. Louis – even with all of their perceived flaws – can match up with anyone in a playoff scenario and be dangerous. Just a month ago, I was clamoring for John Mozeliak to sell, wave the white flag, and look towards next season with a clearer picture. Not only did Mozeliak not do what I told him to, but his club has now gotten hot, and is in somewhat secure control of a Wild Card spot.

Baseball is random, the Cardinals are random. When hot and healthy, this is not a team to be messed with, and the Cardinals are getting both hot and healthy; and that should scare the rest of baseball.

Recently, I was having a conversation with a good friend of mine, and intern for Yahoo sports. He was telling me about how his boss is a big Cubs fan, and has been riding really high throughout this season during the Cubs monstrous run of success. However, he is “deathly afraid” of the Cardinals making the playoffs, regardless of how weak they may seem to be.

Guess what, his fears may be coming true.

Seemingly forgotten by just about everyone throughout the course of this season, the Cardinals have silently hovered around .500 and treaded water in the shadow of the Chicago Cubs empire. Comfortably living underneath the enormous amount of hype being put on the Cubs, St. Louis has trusted their ability to get hot at the right time and their veteran and playoff experience.

The sentiment throughout the clubhouse has consistently been, ‘we will do what is necessary when it is necessary.’ And, sure enough, here we are in late August, looking up at the standings and seeing the Cardinals holding onto a playoff spot and starting to get hot.

And that should be scary to every other team in the national league.

When I was looking at St. Louis before the season and trying to get a beat on the type of team they would be trotting out on a nightly basis, one thing always stuck out. Depth; St. Louis has it in spades. Teams like Washington or Chicago or even Miami may be able to put out a stronger starting 9 than the Cardinals, but St. louis has the 25 man – and even 40 man – roster to compete with anyone.

Having won 6 of their last 7 games following a woeful stretch of series against the lowly Reds, Braves and the mighty Cubs, something has clicked in the Cardinal clubhouse. The much maligned St. Louis bullpen has given up 2 runs in their last 21 innings, and the offense has put up 38 runs over the last 7 games. And this is all without, by and large, the best offensive player in the lineup being healthy since late July.

The Cardinals are just beginning to hit their stride, and they still have an extra gear.

So, when I say that St. Louis has the 25 man roster to compete with any club, what, exactly, does that mean and why should that raise their status as a true contending club? There’s one player in particular that I want to use to highlight my point, and who is, by himself, a microcosm of the St. Louis season.

Jedd Gyorko came over from the San Diego Padres during the offseason as the return package for Jon Jay. At the time, I thought, “Okay, a little move for some infield depth and flexibility with maybe some added power. Well done, Mo.” Turns out, Gyorko has been far more than just ‘a little move’.

While playing all 4 different infield positions and batting in every single lineup spot 1-9, Gyorko has turned in his best all around season, and has a case for being the Cardinals finest offensive player. And, keep in mind, this was a simple depth move that was supposed to strengthen the bench.

Gyorko hit his 20th home run of the season on Sunday in Philadelphia – good for 2nd on the team behind Brandon Moss’s 23 bombs, we’ll get into that – and has not yet eclipsed the 300 at bat mark. His 2.5 WAR is nearing a career high and is good for 4th on the team. Again, this is a depth player that doesn’t even have 300 at bats. And since July 1st, Gyorko is slugging .581, with 13 home runs in 136 at bats and a WRC+ of 146. With the rash of injuries that has hit St. Louis since late June, Gyorko’s surge has been incredible.

Yet another example of the Cardinals ‘next man up’ mentality. And, to even further Gyorko’s remarkable season, he plays good defense. Between his 4 infield positions – highlighted by a +6 at third base – Gyorko has 9 defensive runs saved.

Furthering the Cardinals depth is Brandon Moss. Coming into the season, the thing that Gyorko and Moss had in common was that both of them didn’t have a set role with the team. They were both sort of in limbo, not knowing when they would be called upon, but knowing that they would be called upon. Come August, both are vital cogs in the Cardinal machine, and Moss has re-asserted himself as one of the premier power hitters in all of baseball.

During the same game that Gyorko his his 20th bomb of the year, Moss mashed his 23rd, something that I would have expected at the start of the season, but am still in shock and awe of.

That team leading 23rd home run now has Moss averaging one home run every 12.6 at bats. For players with at least 300 at bats, this is the best rate in all of baseball. And Moss’ monstrous .570 slugging percentage on the entire season ranks 2nd in the national league behind Daniel Murphy (boo this man).

Now, what does this all have to do with the Cardinals chances in the playoffs? Every team has some surprises that come along and do big things, why are they special?

I’m highlighting these two players because they are a glimpse into why the Cardinals serve as a dangerous and scary beast one the playoffs arrive. The home run has been the primary weapon of choice in the Cardinal arsenal throughout this season, but those home runs come in wave after wave after wave.

St. Louis has 9 players with at least 10 home runs, and one – Tommy Pham – that should easily eclipse 10 and even has an outside shot at 20. And, as dangerous as the lineup may seem right now, just wait until Aledmys Diaz returns from a thumb injury. Adding a .912 OPS back into a lineup that sits 3rd in all of Major League Baseball with 631 runs scored can’t possibly hurt.

On a statistic-less note, St. Louis serves as a dangerous playoff team just because of their experience. As good as the Chicago Cubs or Washington Nationals are, those two teams just haven’t ‘been there’. The core of the St. Louis clubhouse has won a World Series and been to the playoffs for 5 straight seasons. This is a club that simply knows how to get the job done.

And, considering the random, free-for-all style of baseball that the playoffs often give us, St. Louis is as good a bet as anyone. When you throw everything out the window and put the Cardinals in the playoffs, their lineup, pitching staff, and bullpen match up favorably with anyone.

Let’s take Los Angeles, for example.

Match up the two lineups and St. Louis has scored 82 more runs and features a team OPS that is 57 points higher. On the starting pitching side, LA has a slight edge with an ERA of 4.09 in 673 innings while St. Louis sports a 4.23 ERA in 731.1 innings. However, the 673 innings pitched by Los Angeles’ pitching staff are only better than Pittsburgh and Cincinnati, while St. Louis’ 731.1 innings are good for 6th best in baseball. Which leads us into the bullpens, where Los Angeles ranks 3rd in all of baseball with at 3.25 ERA, while St. Louis sits right behind them, in 4th, at 3.30. But, considering all the innings that the Los Angeles rotation has thrown, the Dodger bullpen has shown signs of wear and tear of late with a 5.27 bullpen ERA during the month of August.

Los Angeles isn’t the only example I could use, but it just shows that St. Louis – even with all of their perceived flaws – can match up with anyone in a playoff scenario and be dangerous. Just a month ago, I was clamoring for John Mozeliak to sell, wave the white flag, and look towards next season with a clearer picture. Not only did Mozeliak not do what I told him to, but his club has now gotten hot, and is in somewhat secure control of a Wild Card spot.

Baseball is random, the Cardinals are random. When hot and healthy, this is not a team to be messed with, and the Cardinals are getting both hot and healthy; and that should scare the rest of baseball.

The Cardinals are Getting Hot and That Should be Scary

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