Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Meet Seth Maness: Control artist extraordinaire.

OK, I'll admit it, I'm a big fan of Seth Maness.

He isn't one of the Cardinals top prospects.  He barely cracked Baseball America's top 30 for the Cards, coming in at #23.

He doesn't have a power arm.  While guys like Trevor Rosenthal, Shelby Miller, Lance Lynn and Carlos Martinez can all throw in the upper 90's, Maness tops out at 90 mph, on a good day.

But what Maness does have that most power pitchers lack is pinpoint control.  We're not talking the "good" control label that scouts often use to describe pitchers who walk maybe 2 batters per 9 IP.  No, we're talking PINPOINT control, as in 0.7 BB/9 in his 247.2 minor league innings.

Last year, Maness pitched 169.2 innings and walked just 10 batters, giving him a 0.5 BB/9 as well as an incredible 11.20 K/BB ratio.

Color me impressed.

So, when the Cardinals announced that Maness would get the call to try to help sort out the Cardinals bullpen issues, my thoughts went back to another Cardinals control artist, Bob Tewksbury.

For those of you who don't remember Tewksbury, he too was a control artist who, after bouncing between the minors and majors for several years, put it all together in a 6 year stretch with the Cardinals from 1989-1994.  During that time, he posted a 3.48 ERA for the Cards (108 ERA+), including his incredible 1992 season in which he went 16-5 with a 2.16 ERA.

Yet, with all of his success with the Cardinals, he only posted a 3.8 K/9 ratio.  What allowed him to be successful was his low 1.5 BB/9 ratio, including two years (1992 and 1993) when he posted an 0.8 BB/9 ratio.

To put that a bit more in perspective, since 1950, only 4 pitchers have posted a BB/9 ratio below 0.8:  Carlos Silva, who had an insane 0.43 BB/9 ratio in 2005, Brett Saberhagen's 0.66 BB/9 ratio in 1994, Cliff Lee's 0.76 BB/9 ratio in 2010 and Greg Maddux's 0.77 BB/9 ratio in 1997.

Maness could have similar success with the Cards.  His minor league BB/9 ratio of 0.7 is actually lower than Tewksbury's (1.9).  So, while it took a while for Tewksbury to master his art, Maness seems to have already mastered it.

I'm looking forward to seeing what Maness can do at the major league level.  He may take his lumps early on, but I think if he can show the same kind of pinpoint control that he displayed in the minors, success will come.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Bad body language has no place in baseball!

The way Tom Hallion describes it, David Price swore at him with his body language in yesterday's game and he responded, verbally.

This makes total sense to me.  Lord knows I've seen plenty of bad body language.  Having 3 small kids, it is a daily occurrence. 

So, from now on, you know what I'm going to do?  Anytime I catch my kids using bad body language, I'm going to swear at them.  And, if they should report to Mom that I used a bad word, I will call them a liar!

I don't care if my kids don't say a word and don't look at me when I make them eat their broccoli for dinner.  If they should happen to make a pouty face, yuck face or even just slump their shoulders and sigh heavily, I will unleash a string of expletives on them so fast it would make a sailor's head spin.

And if one of the other kids tries to back the bad body language kid up, I will put 'em in time out!  No kid of mine is going to disrespect me with bad body language!

The bottom line is this.  Bad body language hurts. It is like someone pulling your nose hairs out one by one.

So, Tom Hallion had every right to get upset at David Price for showing bad body language while he was walking off the field after the 7th inning of yesterday's game. 

It doesn't matter that Hallion blew a call that upset Price.  It doesn't matter that that call could have cost Price the game (if he was facing anyone other than the light hitting DeWayne Wise). 

All that matters is that Price showed bad body language while walking off the field, which hurt Hallion's feelings, and that, my friends, is the worst hurt of all.

Cardinals continue to tinker with their pen. Call up Seth Maness.

After a weekend series with the Pirates that saw the Cardinals pen give up 11 runs in 8.1 IP, the Cards made a move today to try to shore things up.

The Cardinals called up right handed, control artist Seth Maness from AAA Memphis and optioned Marc Rzepczynski to AAA. 

This is not to put the blame for all of the Cards bullpen issues at Scrabble's feet.  But the Cardinals needed a fresh arm in the pen and Scrabble wasn't cutting it as a lefty specialist.

Will this fix the Cardinals bullpen issues?  Probably not.  There is more to the problem than just Scrabble's ineffectiveness. 

First, we still need to get Mitchell Boggs back on track.  However, the Cardinals cannot just option him to Memphis to get things sorted out.  He would have to clear waivers first, which isn't going to happen.  Thus, Boggs needs to figure it out at the major league level.

Second, the Cardinals still need to sort out their 7th and 8th innings guys.  After dominating last year, Trevor Rosenthal has been extremely hittable this year so far, making it hard for Mike Matheny to rely on him in pressure situations.  However, due to lack of better options, Matheny must rely on him to handle the setup role.

As for the 7th inning, the Cardinals recently tried Joe Kelly in the spot (on Saturday) and he proceeded to give up 4 runs in 0.1 IP. 

Of course, when the Cardinals are winning games 9-1, like they did on Friday, you can hide your bullpen issues.  But, short of Friday's game, the Cards offense has struggled a bit lately.  With leadoff man John Jay hitting only .226/.278/.357 on the season, the Cards offense is missing its reliable table setter from the last couple years.

Yet, despite all these issues, the Cards find themselves sitting at 14-10 and only 1/2 game behind the Pirates for the Central lead. 

So, I guess things could be worse.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

With bullpen struggling, Cardinals are starting to consider other (internal) options.

With the Cardinals closer questions apparently being answered by Edward Mujica, who has converted all 3 of his save chances, the Cards are still looking to shore up the rest of their bullpen.

As of today, the Cardinals have a bullpen ERA of 5.37, last in the majors.  Most of this can be attributed to Mitchell Boggs, who struggled when placed in the closer role and has yet to sort things out.  If you remove his 12.46 ERA in 8.2 IP, the Cardinals bullpen ERA is a more respectable 3.74. 

However, the problem is that Boggs was expected to play a major role in the Cards pen.  He was the main setup guy last season and, before Jason Motte's injury, he was expected to fill that role again this year. 

With his struggles, Trevor Rosenthal has had to step up into the setup role, a role that he finally appears to be getting use to.  After, blowing two saves a little over a week into the season, Rosenthal has managed 5 holds since then.  He is still trying to find himself, as he hasn't been as dominant as he was last year (15 hits allowed in 11.2 IP), but he seems to be acclimating to his new role.

But, with Mujica moved to the closer role and Rosenthal handling the 8th innning duties, the Cards are still looking for a 7th inning guy.  Boggs could be that guy, if he gets things sorted out, but if he doesn't, the Cardinals will look at other options.

One such option, as Bernie Miklasz points out, it to swap the roles of Joe Kelly and Boggs, make Kelly the 7th inning setup guy and move Boggs to the long-relief role.  This would give Boggs time to sort out his issues while giving Kelly a chance to show what he can do in a more prominent role. 

Another option that Miklasz discussed would be to move Lance Lynn to the pen and call up a starter from AAA (Michael Wacha or John Gast).  However, the Cardinals starters have been just fine, posting a 2.38 ERA (tops in the majors), so its unlikely that Mike Matheny would want to mess with his rotation.  If it ain't broke....

Finally, the Cardinals could call up Carlos Martinez to fill a setup role.  Joe Strauss speculated that this could happen in a recent interview.  Martinez has closer type stuff, but just recently made his first start of the minor league season after arriving in the U.S. late due to visa issues. 

My feeling is that the Cardinals should try Kelly in a setup role and move Boggs to long relief.  I think this is the best option at the current time, as it gives Boggs time to sort out his issues while giving Kelly a bigger role.  If things don't work out, then Plan B should be to give Carlos Martinez a try.

In any case, there is still work to be done to sort this all out.  The Cardinals could always shock the world and pull off a trade. Strauss tweeted recently of a possible April/May trade (please, anyone but Carlos Marmol!!!).  But, until that happens, the Cards will have to make due with what they've got.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Can Edward Mujica succeed as the Cardinals closer?

It appears that, with Mitchell Boggs' struggles continuing last night (0.1 IP, 4 ER) and the Cardinals not ready to turn the reigns over to rookie Trevor Rosenthal, who has struggled too, Edward Mujica is the Cards closer, as least for now.

But can he succeed in that role?

Mujica has been nothing short of spectacular in his short career with the Cardinals.  Since being acquired from the Marlins last July for Zack Cox, Mujica has posted a 1.10 ERA in 32.2 IP, with an incredible 28/4 BB/K ratio. 

After struggling with home runs early in his career, Mujica has reinvented himself the last few years, relying more on a sinking fastball to go with his splitter/change, which has increased his ground ball rate from 39% in 2009 to 50.5% last year. 

As a result, his HR/9 has dropped from 1.81 in 2010 to below 1.0 the last two years.

So, he appears to have the tools to succeed, but does he have the "closer mentality" to succeed?

If Thursday's game is any indication, then I think the answer is a resounding yes.

After coming into the game with two on in the bottom of the 8th, Mujica struck out Laynce Nix to end the inning.  Then, after giving up consecutive hits to put runners on first and third with no one out in the 9th, Mujica induced Kevin Frandsen to ground out, with the infield in, before striking out Jimmy Rollins and ending the inning with a Freddy Galvis groundout.

That's two pressure situations in consecutive innings from which Mujica was able to escape unscathed.

Thus, while the Cardinals continue to look for ways to shore up the rest of their bullpen, it appears that the closer role will belong to Mujica and, if the early results are any indication, he should hold the job for a while.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Could the Cardinals make a play for David Price?

As the reigning Cy Young award winner and having been through the arbitration process twice already, the Tampa Bay Rays' David Price is getting expensive.  He is already earning $10 million this year and can be expected to double that over his next two arbitration years.

What this means is that the Rays, as is their M.O., will probably look to trade Price, maybe as soon as this July, if they are out of contention. 

As a result, people are already starting to speculate as to where Price might end up if he's traded.  In an interview with Mut & Merloni, ESPN's Buster Olney speculated on such a scenario, suggesting that the Cubs could make a play for the lefty, as could the Red Sox.

However, what caught my attention is this quote from Olney:
"...the Cardinals being the team, that if they ever stuck out their elbows, because the farm situation is so deep, they could blow everybody out of the water in a bidding situation.”
Obviously, with baseball's best farm system, the Cardinals have the talent to acquire Price, if they so desire.  The question is would they want to?

Sure, Price is an ace and adding him to a rotation that includes Adam Wainwright, Shelby Miller, Lance Lynn and Jaime Garcia would certainly make the Cardinals World Series favorites.  However, you have to consider the cost.

First, any trade for Price would likely require the Cards to give up prized prospect Oscar Taveras. The Rays traded James Shields and Wade Davis to the Royals over the winter and received the Royals top prospect Wil Myers in return.  Price is better than either of those pitchers and will require a bigger return.  So, Taveras would probably just be the starting point.

Second, the Cardinals just signed Adam Wainwright to an extension for about $20 million a year starting next year.  Are they going to want to commit another $15 million plus to Price?  The Cardinals are not the Yankees and even with some payroll flexibility next year, they probably don't have the room for another big contract.

Finally, this goes against the Cardinals new philosophy of building from within.  Under the old Walt Jockety regime, they Cards utilized their prospects for deadline trades to help them make the playoffs.  Now, under John Mozeliak, the Cardinals have focused more on developing their prospects and utilizing them to fill holes at the major league level.

Bottom line, I do not see the Cardinals becoming a player in the David Price sweepstakes.  Let the Cubs (or some other team) gut their farm system and bloat their payroll to acquire Price.  Meanwhile, the Cards will continue to ride their wave of prospects to the playoffs.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Can the Cardinals find room for both Matt Adams and Oscar Taveras in the 2014 lineup?

Everyone assumes that Oscar Taveras is the heir apparent to take over for Carlos Beltran in right field in 2014.  However, with the way Matt Adams has started out of the gate this season, its entirely possible that Adams starts at first next year with Allen Craig moving to right.

But, if that should happen, where does that leave Taveras?

Its a nice problem to have, as it shows the Cardinals depth and overall talent level is high.  But, when you have a special talent like Taveras and a masher like Adams, you want their bats in the lineup as much as possible.

Something has got to give...

....which brings me to John Jay.

Jay has been an excellent table setter for the Cards over the last 3+ years, hitting a combined .295/.353/.398 in either the leadoff or #2 spot in the order.  However, he has little power and little speed and could easily be replaced by Taveras.

For his part, Taveras has shown he is capable of playing center field, having started nearly 60% of his minor league games there, and, while probably not as good defensively as Jay, he should be an improvement offensively.

Now, I'm not in a rush to get rid of Jay or relegate him to the bench, but, if Taveras proves capable of playing center in the majors, it gives the Cardinals the flexibility to potentially trade Jay to fill another hole (such as shortstop).

Add in the fact that Jay will be arbitration eligible for the first time next year and the Cards may want to make a move just to free up some money to spend on other areas.

Of course, the Cardinals could just trade Taveras for Jurickson Profar, as everyone keeps suggesting they do.  But, I already covered that last week and don't think its such a great idea for the Cards.

In any case, the Cardinals will need to sort out this logjam, probably over the winter, and it will be up to John Mozeliak to determine the best solution for the Cards for 2014 and the future.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

No DH in the NL, please!

The way everyone is talking about it, the NL world as we know it is coming to an end in the not-too-distant future.  That is because everyone is speculating the the NL will eventually have to adopt the DH.

No longer will the NL be the last bastion of "pure" baseball.

No longer will managers actually need to think about when to lift their starter for a pinch hitter or pull a double-switch.

In other words, baseball in the NL will eventually become more brawn and less brains.

The rumors started swirling about this possibility last year when it was announced that Houston would move to the AL, which required that 2 teams play an interleague game each day.

The thinking is that, with interleague play becoming more prevalent, eventually the two leagues will have to adopt uniform rules and, since the MLBPA will never vote to eliminate the DH in the AL, the NL will eventually have to acquiesce and adopt it.

But every time I see another article proclaiming that the end is near for the NL or extolling the virtues of the DH, it makes me want to scream WHY!?!

Why are the powers that be doing this to our beloved game?

Why do they keep trying to fix something that is not broken?

I've never been a fan of interleague play.  To me its just a distraction from the games that really matter. 

Do we really need to see a Cardinals/Royals series every year?  Is it really that big of a rivalry?  Wouldn't we be better off seeing more games against the hated Reds or even the Cardinals natural rival, the Cubs?

I may be in the minority here and I know that interleague play will not go away.  A long time ago baseball became more about money than tradition or history.

So, while the DH in the NL may be inevitable, it doesn't mean I have to like it.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Pete Kozma and BABIP

Ask any closet Sabermetrician and they will tell you that Pete Kozma's 2012 stretch run was a fluke.  Call it a small sample size aberration or just plain luck, but Kozma is NOT a .300 hitter and, after starting this season hitting .333 through the first 6 games, he is starting to come back to earth, hitting just .176 over his last 5 games.

Sabermetricians will point to Kozma's batting average of balls in play (BABIP) of .415 as the main indicator of his fluke status.  By way of comparison, Albert Pujols, for his career, has a BABIP of .308 and most hitters will hover around the .300 mark.

So, while Kozma will come down to earth and is unlikely to hit .300 for a season, what can we really expect from him?

If you look at his minor league stats, he has a career line of .236/.308/.344.  However, that comes with a BABIP of .278, which is low compared to the norm.  Is that the result of 6 seasons of bad luck or is a .278 BABIP Kozma's norm?

If we assume that Kozma is capable of posting a BABIP of .300 and adjust his career average (to date) based on this, he is a .246 hitter (through 130 At Bats).  However, if his true BABIP is closer to his minor league rate of .278, then he is a .231 hitter. 

What can we truly expect out of Kozma this season?  My feeling is that he will finish somewhere between the two levels established above--let's call it .240.  While not great, if he continues to play good defense, it should be acceptable (remember the Cardinals did just fine last year with Daniel Descalso hitting .227 as the regular second baseman). 

Sunday, April 14, 2013

External closing options for the Cardinals

Last week I took a look at some of the internal options for the Cardinals at closer and, with Mitchell Boggs blowing another save today along with Trevor Rosenthal throwing a shaky 8th inning, its time to look at some external options.

Trade Candidates

While the trade market usually doesn't develop until July, there are a couple players who could be moved early.

Carlos Marmol, Cubs

The Cardinals could get Marmol for a song, however why would they want him?  Marmol has already lost the closer job to Kyuji Fujikawa and, even after Fujikawa recently got hurt, Marmol was not in the discussion for the job.  The Cardinals certainly have better internal options that to choose this route.

Rafael Betancourt, Rockies

Betancourt was the subject of trade rumors last season and certainly could be on the block again this year.  He saved 31 games for the Rockies last year and already has 4 saves this year.  However, at 38 and set to become a free agent after this season, the Rocks could move him early, while his value is high, and move Rex Brothers or Wilton Lopez into the closer role.

Free Agents

Francisco Rodriguez

After setting the season save mark with 62 back in 2008, Rodriguez has seen his stock dropped dramatically the last few years, posting the highest ERA of his career (4.38) last year.  However, he still struck out a batter per inning last year and may benefit from a change in scenery.  He is only 31 years old and could come relatively cheap.

Brian Wilson

Wilson is still working on building up his arm strength after undergoing Tommy John surgery last April.  He does not want to pitch for teams until he is 100%, which may not be until the end of the month.  He also apparently only wants to sign with a team that will make him the closer.  Cardinals fans most likely would embrace "The Beard" much like the Mad Hungarian back in the day and it would make for an interesting addition to the team.  But can the Cardinals afford to wait until May to settle their closer role?

If I had to rank the external options, I would rank them Wilson, Betancourt, Rodriguez and Marmol.  None of them is a sure thing, but if the Cardinals could somehow lure Wilson with a one year contract, it might be worth the risk.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Oscar Taveras for Jurickson Profar rumors persist. Does it make sense?

It seems like a day cannot go by without someone bringing up the possibility of a Oscar Taveras for Jurickson Profar trade.  The latest coming from former GM Jim Bowden on ESPN Insider (subscription required), who labels it as a "challenge" trade--one that could define the GM's careers.

Of the face of it, the trade seems to make sense.  Profar is generally consider the top prospect in baseball, but is blocked at the major league level by Elvis Andrus.  Taveras is considered the 3rd best prospect in baseball, but is blocked by a loaded Cardinals outfield.

The Cardinals need a long-term solution at short, where shortstop Pete Kozma has done admirably in his short tenure, but there is skepticism as to whether he can keep it up. On the other hand, the Rangers need a replacement for Nelson Cruz, who will be a free agent after this season. 

One concern for the Cardinals is that Carlos Beltran will be a free agent after this season and Taveras is seen as the heir apparent in right field.  But they have other options there as well, such as putting Matt Adams at first and shifting Allen Craig back to right field.

For Texas, the Rangers could move Profar to second and shift Ian Kinsler to first to make room for their talented prospect.  But that would still leave a hole in the outfield should Cruz walk.

So, a trade of Profar for Taveras makes perfect sense.  Except there's one problem:  Bowden thinks that Taveras is the better prospect and that the trade would be a win for the Rangers.

By all appearances, the Rangers are setting up Profar as trade bait.  They just signed Andrus to a 8-year, $120 million extension and despite this, they keep playing Profar at short.  Why would they do this if they do not intend to play him there at the major league level?  Simple answer, to make him more attractive to other teams.

In addition, many people, including Bowden, project Taveras to be a consistent .300 hitter with 20-30 HR power in the majors.  He has a career minor league line of .323/.382/.525.  While some scouts feel that Profar can develop into a .300 hitter with 30 HR power, he has yet to show it in the minors, with a career line of .276/.368/.447 in the minors and a season high of just 14 homers.

So, if I was Cardinals GM John Mozeliak and Rangers GM Jon Daniels called to offer me Profar for Taveras.  I politely tell him no and go about my business.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Jason Motte has torn UCL. Could Michael Wacha be an option as closer?

According to Jennifer Langosch, an MRI on Jason Motte's arm today revealed a tear in his ulnar collateral ligament.  He will be shut down until May 1st and then checked again for any improvement.  If none, he will likely undergo Tommy John surgery.

This is a big blow for a Cardinals bullpen that has struggled so far this year. 

With their closer likely out for the year and Trevor Rosenthal (2 blown saves) and Mitchell Boggs (1 blown save, 14.54 ERA) struggling, the Cardinals could look to other options to fill the closer role.

Here are some possibilities:

Edward Mujica

Mujica has been very effective since the Cards acquired him from the Marlins last summer, posting a 1.21 ERA in 29.2 IP.  He main asset is his control, allowing only 1.2 BB/9 with the Cards and 1.5 BB/9 for his career. However, he only has 4 saves in his career.

Fernando Salas

Salas closed for the Cardinals in 2011, compiling 24 saves and a sparkling 2.28 ERA, but struggled last year (4.30 ERA) and hasn't fared much better in the early going this year 8.10 ERA.

Eduardo Sanchez

 Sanchez is another former closer for the Cards, having saved 5 games in 2011.  However, he struggled with his command last year (34 walks in 42.2 IP) and, although he has shown better form this year, the Cardinals will likely want him to prove himself in a lesser role before handing the closer reigns over to him.

Carlos Martinez

Martinez has the 2 pitch arsenal to be a good closer in the majors, with a blazing fastball that sits in the high 90's and a biting curveball.  However, visa issues delayed his start to the season and he is currently in extended spring training.

Michael Wacha

Wacha surprised many with a strong spring this year and showed last year that he is comfortable pitching out of the pen, posting a 0.86 ERA in 21 IP (mostly in relief).  However, the Cardinals would probably prefer to keep him as a starter to help him develop his pitches. 

Overall, the Cardinals will probably give Boggs and/or Rosenthal a long leash, but beyond Boggs and Rosenthal, the best bet for saves would probably be Mujica.  Wacha could be a possibility, but the Cards would have to be desperate to turn to him (which just might happen, the way things are going).

Monday, April 8, 2013

Cardinals bullpen is struggling without Jason Motte

After a quality start against the Reds today, Jaime Garcia got to sit on the bench and watch the Cardinals bullpen implode, costing him a win and the Cards the game.

Trevor Rosenthal started it off by blowing a save in the 8th, giving up a run to tie the game, before Mitchell Boggs and Marc Rzepczynski came on in the 9th to allow a combined 9 runs and make a close game into a laugher.

However, this is nothing new for the Cardinals. 

Back in 2011, the Cardinals tried everything but the kitchen sink in an attempt to shore up their bullpen.  After incumbent closer Ryan Franklin's effectiveness finally deserted him, the Cards turned to a variety of relievers to plug the gap.  Mitchell Boggs, Eduardo Sanchez and Fernando Salas all tooks turns at closer before Jason Motte finally stepped up in September to claim the role.

The result was an incredible 26 blown saves during the year, second only to the Nationals, who had 27. 

With Motte firmly entrenched in the closer role in 2012, you would think the Cardinals would have improved on that blown saves number, and they did, only blowing 22 saves.  However, that still put them as the 3rd worst team in the NL, behind the Brewers (29) and Rockies (27). 

This year, the Cardials are showing just how much they are missing Motte.  Through 7 games, the Cardinals already have3  blown saves.

Thus, Cardinals fans everywhere will be crossing their fingers as Motte undergoes an MRI tomorrow to check on his recovery from his flexor tendon strain.  A healthy Motte would allow the Cards to return Rosenthal and Boggs to their more comfortable roles in the 7th and 8th innings.

The good news is that, even with all the blown saves the last two years, the Cardinals have still made it to the playoffs each year, winning the World Series in 2011 and nearly winning the pennant in 2012.  The bad news is....well, let's just say Get Well Soon Jason!!!

Friday, April 5, 2013

What can we expect from Shelby Miller this season?

If you are like me, you are eagerly anticipating Shelby Miller's season debut tomorrow.  After beating out Joe Kelly for the 5th starter job, all Cardinals fans are waiting to see if he can live up to the hype.

However, as often happens, it is rare that a pitcher lives up to the hype.  Take for example the top 5 starting pitchers in the 2012 NL Cy Young voting.  Here is how those 5 pitchers performed in their rookie seasons:

1.  R.A. Dickey

2003 9 8 .529 5.09 38 13 116.2 135 66 38 94 1.483
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 4/5/2013.

2.  Clayton Kershaw

2008 5 5 .500 4.26 22 21 107.2 109 51 52 100 1.495
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 4/5/2013.

3.  Gio Gonzalez

2009 6 7 .462 5.75 20 17 98.2 113 63 56 109 1.713
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 4/5/2013.

4. Johnny Cueto

2008 9 14 .391 4.81 31 31 174.0 178 93
68 158 1.414
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 4/5/2013.

5.  Matt Cain

2006 13 12 .520 4.15 32 31 190.2 157 88 87 179 1.280
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 4/5/2013.

As you can see, out of the 5 Cy Young caliber pitchers from 2012, only one (Cain) had a decent rookie season.  That's not to say that Shelby Miller won't have a good year.  But we shouldn't be surprise if he struggles some this year.

So, what should we expect from Miller this yearFangraphs has 4 different projections for Miller this year, ranging from a 3.53 ERA to a 4.29 ERA for an average of 3.96, which seems like a reasonable expectation for him.

If he can post a ERA under 4.00 for the year and get double digit wins, I think most fans would be happy.   

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Is Yadier Molina more valuable than Albert Pujols?

A few months after the St. Louis Cardinals lost Albert Pujols to the Las Angeles Angels, they signed catcher Yadier Molina to an extension.  One can infer from the timing that, losing Pujols freed up the money the Cards needed to make the Molina deal and, with that, the Cardinals made Molina the face of the franchise.

Of course, ask any Cardinals fan back then who they would rather have, they would say Pujols.  Now, I'm not so sure.

In his first American League season, Pujols struggled out of the gate and had the worst season of his career (albeit still a very good season).  Meanwhile, Molina had a breakout year for the Cards. 

Which leads to the question is Molina more valuable that Pujols, at least going forward?

Looking at their raw stats, there is not much difference between the two:

Pujols - .285/.343/.516, .859 OPS (141 OPS+), 30 HR's
Molina - .315/.373/.501, .874 OPS (137 OPS+), 22 HR's

However, when you look at their sabermetrics, its pretty clear that Molina had the better year.

Take, for instance, their 2012 wins above replacement (WAR) per Fangraphs:

Pujols 3.6 WAR
Molina 6.2 WAR

In addition, Pujols has been in a steady decline over the last few years.  Here are his WAR's from 2009 to 2012:

2009:  8.7
2010:  7.0
2011:  4.3
2012:  3.6

At the same time, Molina's WARs have increased the last few years:

2010:  2.6
2011:  4.4
2012:  6.2

Pujols, at 33, is 3 years older than Molina (and some still question if that is Pujols' true age) and appears to be in the decline phase of his career.  While Molina is still in his prime. 

Plus, WAR cannot measure the intangibles that Molina brings, such as handling the pitching staff, as well as things like framing pitches to get a called strike

That's not to say that Pujols cannot have a bounce back year or that Molina might, as a catcher, go into a decline earlier than most everyday players.  But, going forward, I think that Molina will be the better value and considering that he makes $10 million less a year, he is an absolute bargain.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Do the Cardinals have what it takes to catch the Reds?

If you listen to the various pundits out there, the St. Louis Cardinals are predicted by many to finish no better than second to the Cincinnati Reds.  Even the Post-Dispatch's Jeff Gordon is calling this a "transition" year for the Cards, as they deal with season-ending injuries to Rafael Furcal and Chris Carpenter, while also breaking in youngsters like Shelby Miller and Matt Carpenter.

While its true that the Cardinals are going through a transition phase, I do not think that should preclude them from competing for the NL Central title.

First of all, the Cardinals finished with the second best offense, in terms of runs scored, in the NL last year and I do not see them slipping any this year.  Allen Craig will be hitting from day one this year and, once David Freese is healthy, Matt Carpenter will shift over to second to boost the offense at that position.  The loss of Rafael Furcal hurts a little, but after his strong April and May last year, he was really a non-factor.  

On the pitching side, the Cardinals lost "ace" Kyle Lohse and many people are putting the onus on Shelby Miller to replace him.  However, the Cardinals are counting on Adam Wainwright to be their ace and he showed in the second half last year (7-5 with a 3.28 ERA) that he is more than capable of reclaiming that status.  Thus, Miller just needs to give the Cardinals what Wainwright produced last year, which was roughly a league-average 3.94 ERA (97 ERA+) over 198 innings.  He may not be able to handle the innings load, but I think he can be at least a league-average pitcher and someone like Joe Kelly can make up the extra innings.

The bullpen took a bit of a hit with the loss of Jason Motte for the foreseeable future.  There is no timetable for his return, which has many concerned.  However, the Cards are still in good shape as Mitchell Boggs should be able to step in and fill the void, with Trevor Rosenthal as the new setup man.  In addition, last year's acquisition, Edward Mujica, should help and Fernando Salas appears to have regained his 2011 form.
Finally, with the top farm system in baseball, the Cardinals can tap into the system to add depth throughout the year.  Spring phenom, Michael Wacha, is only one step away should Kelly falter.  Carlos Martinez could be ready to help out by mid-year.  Oscar Taveras is ready should any of the outfielders suffer an injury and we cannot forget about the less heralded prospects, such as control artist Seth Maness and on-base machine Mike O'Neill, who could also have an impact at the major league level.

Let others doubt the Cardinals or call it a transition year.  I think the talent is there to surprise a lot of those people, including the Reds.