Sunday, April 26, 2015

Where has all of the Cardinals pitching depth gone?

There was a time, not so long ago, that the Cardinals were the envy of General Managers everywhere for their pitching depth.  You think your team has good pitching depth?  We had 3 guys who can throw 95+ mph (Shelby Miller, Joe Kelly and Trevor Rosenthal) vying for our 5th starter spot in 2013.

Now, with the expectation that Adam Wainwright will miss the rest of the season with an Achilles tendon injury, per Ken Rosenthal, the Cardinals pitching depth, or lack thereof, is going to come into question.

Gone are Joe Kelly (traded to Boston last year for John Lackey) and Shelby Miller (traded for Jason Heyward).  Rosenthal is the Cardinals closer and the pipeline of power arms seems to have dried up.

Now the Cards pitching depth consists of a bunch of lefty control specialists (Marco Gonzales, Tim Cooney and Tyler Lyons), while the team's remaining minor league power arms are either being groomed for relief (Sam Tuivailala) or are too far away from the majors to offer much help this year (Alex Reyes).

What is even more concerning is that, while he should have been groomed as a starter and allowed to build up his innings each year, Carlos Martinez spent the last two years in the Cardinals bullpen and, as a result, he will likely face an innings limit this year (speculated to be around 150 innings). 

Another concern is that Michael Wacha will likely be on a similar innings limit as well, after a stress fracture sidelined him for a few months last year. 

Assuming that Wainwright is out for the year and Martinez and Wacha reach their innings limits in mid-to-late August, who is going to step in to fill those voids?  Who will be in the Cardinals rotation in the playoffs?  Will they even make the playoffs?

These are legitimate concerns for a team that use to pride itself on its pitching depth.  What use to be a strength now appears to be a weakness and the team could suffer as a result.


Saturday, April 25, 2015

Adam Wainwright injured: Who might replace him in Cardinals' rotation?

In case you missed it, Adam Wainwright was injured tonight trying to get out of the batter's box on a popup of all things.  He will undergo an MRI to see the extent of the injury, but its likely he's headed to the DL.

Its uncertain how long he will be out, with some speculating that, if he has a torn Achilles, he could miss the rest of the season.  However, that is the worst case scenario.

At a minimum, he will probably miss at least one start, leading to the question of who will replace him in the starting rotation?  Here are the Cardinals' options:

Marco Gonzales

The first and most logical choice is Marco Gonzales.  He pitched well during the spring, losing out in the 5th starter race to Carlos Martinez, despite going 3-0 with a 1.04 ERA.

As an added bonus, he is already on the 40-man roster, so calling him up would not cause the Cards any roster management headaches.

The only problem with Gonzo is that he has not pitched too well in the early going at AAA, with a 4.50 ERA in 3 starts.

Tim Cooney

Cooney has fared the best of any of the AAA starters, with a 3.63 ERA in 3 starts.  His stuff is reminiscent of Gonzales, relying on his changeup and control, instead of trying to overpower hitters.  However, he is not as far along as Gonzales and the Cards may want to give him more time to develop.

Add in the fact that he is not on the 40-man roster and its unlikely that he gets the call.

Tyler Lyons

Yet another lefty, like Gonzales and Cooney, Lyons has made 12 starts for the Cardinals over the last two years, serving mostly as a stopgap until someone better was ready to take over.

He could serve the same function this year, if the Cards feel that the need to give Gonzales more time to get into a groove or if they think Wainwright will only miss a minimal amount of time.

He is also on the 40-man roster, which is an added bonus.

UPDATE:

It appears that the Wainwright is going to miss the rest of the year with an Achilles injury, so Gonzales is the likely choice to fill in.  However, Gonzales is currently dealing with a shoulder/pectoral muscle injury, so Lyons will likely get the call in the short term.

Of course, they could always trade for Cole Hamels, but that is a story for another day....

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Catching up with the Cardinals

OK, its been a while.

The problem with any blog, where you're the sole writer, is that often "real" life gets in the way.

So, with all the background noise finally starting to die down some, its time to get caught up with the Cards.

The Cardinals did most of the offseason moves before Christmas, acquiring Jason Heyward (for Shelby Miller) and adding Mark Reynolds to the bench.  Heyward, who hit his first Redbird homer yesterday, seems to be a good fit for the team, while Reynolds gives the Cards a much needed right handed power bat to pair with Matt Adams at first.

Now, 10 games into the season, the Cardinals are 7-3 and sitting atop the NL Central.  However, its not all wine and roses for the team.  Despite the good start, there are some concerns to go along with the positives.

First, lets look at the positive, the pitching.

So far the pitching has been outstanding.  The Cardinals pitching staff sits atop the NL leader board with a  2.00 ERA.  Both the starters (2.02 ERA) and the relievers (1.95 ERA) have pitched well. 

Particularly impressive has been the two starts by Carlos Martinez.  After winning the 5th starter job, when Jaime Garcia succumbed to injury, he has had two straight quality starts, lasting 6 innings in both, while allowing just 7 hits, 4 walks and just 3 earned runs.  He seems more focused this year, which he is dedicating to his departed friend, Oscar Taveras, and the only thing that might hold him down is a innings limit of around 150.

Now for the main concern, hitting.

Sure, the team is hitting .260, good for 4th in the NL, and their OBP of .323 is good for 2nd in the NL.  Yet, despite the ability to get on base, the Cardinals have scored a paltry 41 runs (10th in the league) and have hit just 5 homers (14th in the league).

The Cardinals have not been known for their power hitters, finishing last in homers in 2014, but they were able to get by because of their approach with runners in scoring position (RISP).  However, after hitting .330 with RISP in 2013, that average dropped to just .254 last year, when the team struggled to score runs, and its sitting at just .264 so far this year.

Without any significant power presence and an inability to hit in the clutch, the team could struggle to score runs again this year. 

Overall, I feel confident in the Cardinals pitching staff.  The have a lot of quality arms and some depth in the minors.  The hitting is a concern, but, as we have seen with the Giants, good pitching and timely hitting can carry a team a long way.


Friday, January 2, 2015

Cards shuffle the deck. Do they have what it takes to win it all?

Once again, the Cardinals and GM John Mozeliak got their Christmas shopping done early.  Last year, Mo made his big moves in November (trading David Freese for Peter Bourjos and signing Jhonny Peralta) and he did the same this year (trading Shelby Miller and Tyrell Jenkins for Jason Heyward and Jordan Walden).

Other than maybe a couple more tweaks, it appears that the roster is complete.  But are the Cardinals better off than last year?  Do they have what it takes to win it all?  Lets take a look at the changes and see.

Infield

The main goal for Mozeliak this offseason was to find a right handed bat who could play first and potentially platoon with Matt Adams.  Mo filled that hole with the signing of Mark Reynolds to a one year, $2 million contract. 

Reynolds will not provide much in terms of batting average (career .229 hitter), but he has 224 homers in 1118 games and has fared a bit better against lefties in his career (.809 OPS compared to .772 vs righties).  This is far better than Adams' numbers against lefties (.553 career OPS), making Reynolds a good option to platoon with Adams.

Free agent Mark Ellis and his .180 average will not return and the Cardinals finally moved on from Daniel Descalso and his career .654 OPS.  Replacing them will be veteran minor leaguer Dean Anna, who finally got a cup of coffee in the majors last year at the age of 27 and hit just .136 in 22 at bats.  However, he does have a career .380 OBP in the minors, with nearly as many walks (310) as strikeouts (319) in 2448 plate appearances.

Another addition, is 26 year old Ty Kelly, who the Cardinals acquired from Seattle for Sam Gaviglio. Like Anna, Kelly showed the ability to get on base in the minors (.387 OBP) and had more walks (434) than strikeouts (431).  Both Anna and Kelly project to be utility infielders, with Anna capable of playing second, short, third and corner outfield, while Kelly is capable of playing second, third and corner outfield.

Pete Kozma will also compete for a backup spot and is a career .236 hitter in 522 at bats.

Overall, I would have to say that infield is a bit better than last year, as the bench has improved with the addition of Reynolds, while the combination of Anna, Kelly and/or Kozma should be able to improve upon the meager outputs of Ellis and Descalso.

Outfield

After losing top prospect and likely starting right fielder Oscar Taveras to a tragic car accident, the Cardinals filled the void with the trade for Heyward.  Heyward is an excellent defender, but has seen his OPS drop in each of the last 3 years from .814 in 2012, to .776 in 2013 and .735 in 2014.  The main culprit for this drop is a serious power outage during that time that has seen his home runs drop from a career high of 27 in 2012 to a career low of 11 last season.

Randall Grichuk seemed to find his stroke in the second half last season, hitting .318/.338/.485 after the break and should provide some pop off the bench.  Peter Bourjos will also fill a reserve role, with resurgent Jon Jay (.303/.372/.378) having reclaimed his starting job.

The Cardinals will also have highly regarded prospect Stephen Piscotty and defensive wiz Tommy Pham as extra depth at AAA Memphis, while Shane Robinson, who was released in November, along with his career .612 OPS, will not be missed.

Overall, Heyward should be an upgrade over the Cardinals 2014 right fielders (mostly Allen Craig and Taveras) who hit a combined .237/.283/.326.  Bourjos and Grichuk will provide the backup, as they did for most of 2014 and will look to improve on their 2014 numbers.

Starting Pitching

The Cardinals started the overhaul of their rotation last July, with the acquisition of John Lackey for Allen Craig and Joe Kelly.  He will slot into the rotation that will also feature holdovers Adam Wainwright, Lance Lynn and Michael Wacha.

With the trade of Shelby Miller, the 5th starter job will likely come down to a battle between Carlos Martinez and Marco Gonzales.  Martinez made 7 starts last year and has the best stuff of the two, whereas Gonzales made 5 starts in 2014 and may be more polished.

One key to the Cardinals rotation will be the health of Wacha, who missed over two months last year due to a stress reaction in his shoulder.  Should he prove healthy, he will give the Cards a quartet of starters that would match up well with most other teams in the league. 

Another key will be Lynn proving that his 2014 season (15-10, 2.74 ERA) was not a fluke.  He has been troubled by inconsistency throughout his career and must prove that he can put another strong season together.

Overall, with a healthy Wacha, the Cardinals rotation should be better.  The emphasis should be on keeping these guys healthy, as the Cards showed in 2014 that their pitching depth isn't all that its cracked up to be, using 4 different guys (Martinez, Kelly, Gonzales and Tyler Lyons) to replace the injured Wacha and Jaime Garcia.

Bullpen

The bullpen appears to be the biggest question mark for the team heading into the 2015 season.  Closer Trevor Rosenthal showed some signs of wear and tear after being leaned on heavily the last two seasons.  His walk rate jumped from 2.4 BB/9 in 2013 to 5.4 BB/9 in 2014.  He was able to wiggle out of numerous jams while posting 45 saves, but he was often walking a tightrope.

The Cardinals most effective reliever, Pat Neshek, is gone, taking with him a sparkling 1.87 ERA and 7 wins in 67.1 innings.  While there are questions regarding Kevin Siegrist's health and who will replace Martinez' innings, should he move to a starter role.

To fill these voids, Mozeliak brought in Walden, who has a career ERA of 3.10 in 211.2 innings, and veteran Matt Belisle, whom the Cards hope will follow the Neshek rejuvenation path, after posting a 4.87 ERA in 2014.

The Cardinals will also return groundball specialist Seth Maness, along with lefties Randy Choate (4.50 ERA) and Sam Freeman (2.61 ERA), although Choate may be on the trading block.

Overall, this is the one area where I think the Cards may have taken a step back, especially if Martinez earns a starting rotation spot.  Replacing Neshek and Martinez with Walden and possibly Belisle is definitely a downgrade and, even if Martinez returns to the bullpen, the Cardinals may have only 3-4 reliable bullpen arms.  I would love to see Mo add at least one more proven guy to the pen.

Based on all of the above, I think the Cards should be improved over last year, but there are still concerns surrounding the bullpen.  As we saw last year, when the Cardinals bullpen went 1-3 with a 4.96 ERA in the LCS compared to the Giants 3-1, 1.69 performance, a good bullpen can make all the difference.

Monday, November 17, 2014

What is the long-term (and short-term) impact of the Cardinals acquisition of Jason Heyward from the Braves.

In case you missed it, the Cardinals made a big move today, acquiring Jason Heyward and reliever Jordan Walden from the Braves in exchange for Shelby Miller and prospect Tyrell Jenkins.

GM John Mozeliak let it be known that the Cards were looking to find an upgrade for their right field spot, after the loss of Oscar Taveras left them with Randal Grichuk and Stephen Piscotty as their only internal options, and Mo did not wait long to make a move.

Let's look at the impact of this move on the Cardinals both in the short term and long term.

Short Term

Heyward will immediately step in as the Cards starting right fielder, meaning that Grichuk will likely serve as the team's 4th (or 5th) outfielder.  Matt Holliday, Jon Jay and Heyward will be the starting trio in the outfield, with Peter Bourjos and Grichuk serving as backups. 

Heyward is widely considered an excellent right fielder, having won two Gold Gloves, including just recently winning the 2014 award.  He has some pop, hitting as many as 27 home runs in a season (in 2012), but his power has waned in recent years, as he hit just 11 homers in 2014 and had a .384 slugging percentage.  Given that he is just 25 years old, he could still regain his power stroke.  However, even if he doesn't his defense and his speed (20 stolen bases while being caught only 4 times in 2014) still make him a valuable player and a nice addition to the 2015 lineup.

On the pitching side, losing Miller hurts, but the addition of Walden could allow the Cardinals to slide Carlos Martinez into Miller's rotation spot, with Walden serving as the setup man.  Marco Gonzales is another possibility and the team might decide to go with him instead if only to allow them to keep Martinez and his power arm in the pen.

Much could depend on whether the Cards bring in another reliever (or two) this offseason, to offset the losses of Pat Neshek and Jason Motte.

Overall, I like this move from a 2015 standpoint, as the offense (and defense) should be better with the addition of Heyward, while the pitching should not skip a beat, as the combination of Martinez and Gonzales should make up for the loss of Miller and Walden should help in the bullpen.

Long Term

Here's where things could swing in the Braves favor.

A lot depends on whether the Cardinals can sign Heyward to an extension.  He is only under contract through the 2015 season and if he leaves for free agency, the Cards will be left with just Walden. 

The Braves on the other hand, will have 4 more years of Miller (including the 2015 season) and 6 years of Jenkins.

After a great rookie year, in which he posted a 3.06 ERA and finished 3rd in the Rookie of the Year voting, Miller struggled in 2014.  He was inconsistent for most of the year and saw his ERA rise to 3.74, while his strikeouts per 9 innings (K/9) decreased from 8.8 in 2013 to 6.2 in 2014.  He is only 23 and certainly has the ability and stuff to bounce back, but there were some concerns about Miller after he didn't pitch in the 2013 postseason and the Cards seem to have been shopping him for a while.

Jenkins, of course, is the real wildcard here.  In 5 minor league seasons, he has yet to pitch above A ball, mainly due to injuries.  However, he had a good showing in 2014 at high A Palm Beach (3.28 ERA in 74 IP).  He was rated as high as the Cardinals #8 prospect by Baseball America, prior to the 2013 season, but fell to the #17 slot prior to 2014.  He's still got a live arm, throwing in the mid-90's, but needs to prove he can stay healthy.

Overall, I like this trade.  Yes, we may lose Heyward after the 2015 season, but the Cardinals have shown the ability to retain players they have acquired via trade in the past (Matt Holliday being the most recent example).  There are questions surrounding Miller, as there are with Heyward, but the Cards are still getting 2 proven major leaguers for one somewhat shaky starter and a prospect.