Friday, April 18, 2014

Cardinals Hall of Fame Vote

In case you've missed it, in connection with the opening of the Cardinals' Ballpark Village, the team is letting fans vote on the two former Cardinals that they would like inducted into the Cardinals' Hall of Fame.  You can vote over at the Cards website (link) and select two players from the following list:

  1. Jim Edmonds
  2. Bob Forsch
  3. Keith Hernandez
  4. Willie McGee
  5. Mark McGwire
  6. Matt Morris
  7. Ted Simmons
  8. Joe Torre
The United Cardinals Bloggers are all making our selections for the Cardinals Hall of Fame as part of our April project.  Here are the two players I am voting for and why:

Ted Simmons

One of the best hitting catchers of his time, Simmons is often overlooked as he played during the same era as Hall of Famers Johnny Bench and Carlton Fisk. 

In a 2013 version of the 50 Best Baseball Players not in the Hall of Fame, former senior research associate for the Hall of Fame, Bill Deane, wrote this about Simmons:

As a teenager in the mid-1970s, I’d hear people debating about who was the best catcher in baseball: Johnny Bench, Carlton Fisk, or Thurman Munson? I’d say, “What about Ted Simmons? The guy hit .332 with 100 RBI!” I’d get only puzzled looks from people who were barely aware that St. Louis had a team.

That exemplified Simmons’s problems in getting attention throughout his career: He played in media-Siberias and was overshadowed by two contemporary HOF catchers. But consider their average HR-RBI-AVG stats from 1971-80: Bench (27-93-.263), Fisk (16-57-.285), Simmons (17-90-.301).
Ted Simmons retired as the all-time leader in hits and doubles among catchers, and ranked second in RBI behind only Yogi Berra. Only Ivan Rodriguez has surpassed him in those categories since.
Simmons was one of the ten best all-around catchers in baseball history. He deserves serious consideration for Cooperstown.
 If the Baseball Hall of Fame won't honor Simmons, then I would make him the first Cardinals player voted into their Hall of Fame. 

Bob Forsch

I'll admit to a bit of personal bias here, as Forsch was one of my personal favorites growing up, but there is no question that Forsch had an outstanding career as a Cardinal.

His name litters the Cardinals record book:
  • 3rd in career wins (163), behind Bob Gibson and Jesse Haines
  • 5th in career strikeouts (1,079)
  • 3rd in career innings (2,658.2)
  • 2nd in games started (401)
  • 4th in total games (455)
  • 9th in career shutouts (19)
  • The only pitcher in Cardinals history with two no-hitters
He was pretty good with the bat too, hitting .213 for his career with 12 homers.

Sure, he wasn't as dominant as Gibson, but he had a career 3.67 ERA with the Cards and a .562 winning percentage.  He helped set the tone for the Cardinals victory over the Atlanta Braves in the 1982 playoffs, shutting out the Braves in the first game and was part of the Cards 3 World Series teams during that decade.

So, for those reason, and because I had a serious man-crush on him back in the day, he's my second choice for the Cardinals Hall of Fame.

What's yours?

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Cardinals' Joe Kelly headed to DL. Who will take his place?

Joe Kelly injured his hamstring today trying to beat out a bunt, leaving the Cardinals with a hole in their starting rotation.  Who are the candidates to replace Kelly?  Let's take a look.

Carlos Martinez

Martinez, who lost out to Kelly for the 5th starter job, would be the obvious choice to replace him in the starting rotation.  However, there are some factors working against him.

First, the Cardinals may think they are better off leaving him in the bullpen, where he has enjoyed success (1.86 ERA) in a setup role.

In addition, if the Cards take him out of the setup role, who would they use to replace him?  Jason Motte is not ready yet.  Perhaps the team could bring up veteran David Aardsma from AAA Memphis, but, coming off a season in which he posted a 4.31 ERA, can he be relied upon as the setup guy?

Finally, Martinez may need time to stretch out, after spending the first two-plus weeks of the season as a reliever.  While he has gone more than one inning in 5 of his 7 appearances, he has not pitched more than 2 innings in any game.

Tyler Lyons

If the Cardinals decide to keep Martinez in the pen, Lyons would be the most logical choice. 

For one thing, he has pitched well so far this season, going 2-0 with a 3.32 ERA in 3 starts.

Second, he is on the 40-man roster, so it would not required the Cardinals DFA's any of their current 40-man guys.

Finally, he pitched today at Memphis, so he would be in line to make Kelly's next start.

Boone Whiting/Tim Cooney

Both Whiting and Cooney could be dark horses to fill in for Kelly.

Both are off to good starts at AAA Memphis:  Whiting is 0-1, but with a 1.98 ERA, while Cooney is 3-0 with a 2.04 ERA. 

If the Cardinals are not ready to give Lyons another try as a starter, especially after he posted a 5.56 ERA last season in 8 starts and they do not want to move Martinez from the pen, then Whiting or Cooney could get the call.

Whiting has more high level experience, having made 21 starts at AAA last season, while this is Cooney's first season at AAA.  However, Cooney has arguably more upside than Whiting.

In either case, neither of them is on the 40-man roster, so the Cardinals would have to make room for them, which makes it less likely that it will happen.

Prediction

The Cardinals will likely give Lyons the first shot to replace Kelly.  This will allow the team to keep Martinez in the pen and keep his innings down.  However, depending on how long Kelly is out (and how Lyons fares), the team could be forced to use Martinez.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Have the Cardinals lost their hitting with RISP magic?

There's no secret to the Cardinals success last year--clutch hitting. 

Their .330 average with runners in scoring position (RISP) led the majors.  Not only that, but their .330 mark was nearly 50 points higher than the next closest team, the Detroit Tigers, who hit .282 with RISP and they shattered the record for hitting with RISP, previously held by the 2007 Tigers, who hit .311.

It was this ability to hit in the clutch that allowed them to lead the NL in runs scored despite finishing last in stolen bases and 13th in homers. 

The Cardinals chalked up their success to their approach at the plate--how they stayed disciplined and didn't try to do too much.  This was backed up by the fact that the Cardinals had the second lowest strikeout total in the NL as well as the highest OBP in the league.

However, this year, the Cardinals have not fared as well. Through Sunday, the Cards are hitting just .213 with RISP, 13th in the NL. 

Some might say that this is just the law of averages coming back to bite the Cardinals in the butt.  There have been several studies done on the myth of clutch hitting, including a groundbreaking article by Baseball Prospectus from about 10 years ago.

But, could this also just be a case of bad luck for the Redbirds?

As a team, the Cardinals are hitting just .236 on the season, yet they have the fewest strikeouts in the NL with just 78.  As a result, their batting average on  balls in play (BABIP) is just .276 compared to the league average of .300 (the Cardinals had a .311 BABIP in 2013).

With RISP, the team's BABIP is even worse at .258.  Raise that up to a more normal .300 BABIP, and the Cards would have nearly 4 more hits with RISP, raising their average to .250.

Yes, its still a far cry from the .330 average from a year ago, but that was boosted by a .377 BABIP. 

So, while I do not see the Cardinals approaching .330 with RISP again this year (or ever), I don't see them hitting .213 either.  They should raise that average as the season progresses and I can see them finishing with a mark around .270 or so.

Combine that with their ability to get on base and limit their strikeouts and the Cardinals should have another successful offensive season.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Does Cardinals manager Mike Matheny trust his bullpen?

One week into the season, you get the sense that Cardinals manager Mike Matheny does not trust his entire bullpen.

In the first 7 games, Matheny has leaned heavily on holdovers Trevor Rosenthal (3 games), Carlos Martinez (4 games), Pat Neshek (4 games) and Kevin Siegrist (5 games). 

However, rubber-armed LOOGY Randy Choate has appeared in just 2 games, while last year's ground ball specialist Seth Maness and this year's "last spot in the bullpen" winner Keith Butler have appeared in just one game apiece.

I can understand the reluctance to use Butler, who was rocked for 5 runs in his lone inning of work, however, the lack of use for Maness and even Choate is unexplicable. 

Using Maness and Choate more would help ease the burden on both Neshek and Siegrist, who, at this pace, would appear in a whopping 93 and 116 games for the season.

Martinez is another problem though.

My initial thought was that, once Jason Motte gets healthy, he would replace Martinez in the bullpen, so that Martinez might be stretched out again as a starter.  However, now I'm not so sure.

Maybe the plan is that Motte replaces Butler in the pen and then Motte and Martinez split the setup duties.

Its not the best case scenario for Martinez' development, but it probably would be best for the team this season.

The bullpen is still a work-in-progress at this point and things may become clearer as the season wears on.

However, one thing is for sure, Matheny needs to find some other guys he can rely on this season or were going to have a lot of tired arms come September.



Sunday, April 6, 2014

Catching up with the Cardinals

Well, as often happens with 3 kids and a demanding job, life got in the way of blogging the last couple weeks, so let's all catch up on what's happened during that time.

First, the Cardinals finalized their opening day roster, with the Spring Training Battles being decided, as follows:

5th Starter

Despite having a superior spring, Carlos Martinez was relegated to the bullpen, where his power arm was more desperately needed.  Joe Kelly "won" the 5th starter job, more on last season's performance than this spring's results, which is probably how it should be.

Bench

Thanks in part to an injury to Mark Ellis, both Daniel Descalso and Pete Kozma made the opening day roster, along with 4th outfielder Shane Robinson. 

One of Descalso or Kozma will have to go when Ellis is healthy and, if the recent trade rumors are any indication, it will probably be Kozma. 

As for Robinson, he's likely just keeping the seat warm until Oscar Taveras, Stephen Piscotty or even Mike O'Neill is deemed ready to take over the 4th outfield spot. 

Bullpen

The battle for the last bullpen slot came down to Jorge Rondon and Keith Butler, with Butler winning the job.  However, with Jason Motte expected back in early May, it will be interesting to see what the Cards do. 

Will they send Martinez down to stretch him back out as a starter or will they keep him in the pen and jettison Butler?  My hope is that Martinez will be sent down, but the team may keep him up out of necessity, as it already appears that Mike Matheny has few relievers he trusts in the pen.

The Season so Far

With the roster set, the Cardinals have faced the Reds and Pirates in their first 6 games and come out of the road trip with a 3-3 record.  They return home to face the Reds and Cubs this week.

While not a bad road trip, the lack of offense so far is a little bit of a concern.  The Cardinals have scored only 17 runs in those 6 games, including 4 games where they have scored two runs or less.  Hopefully their bats will warm up with the weather.

Overall, not a bad start, but not great either.  Hopefully the Cardinals can make some noise on this 6-game home stand and carry the momentum going forward.