Category: St. Louis Cardinals

Good Baseball is Contagious, So is Bad! Not the Time for Gloom and Doom

By:  Jim Tsapelas

I have been following baseball in general, and the St Louis Cardinals in particular, since the mid-1950’s.  It may be the crankiness of my status as a senior citizen, or as I prefer Elder Statesman, however, I am finding myself growing increasingly tired of the prophets of gloom and doom and their seemingly relentless condemnation of the St. Louis Cardinals.  This morning I read a Cardinal writer, a self identified sabermetric guru, who prophesied the “Cardinals are projected to lose 142 games this season.”

Granted, the Cardinals have begun the 2017 season rather poorly and their record as of Thursday, April 13, 2017 is 3-6. Plus, they have yet to win one of the three series against the Cubs, Reds, or Nationals. However, what kind of nut could base a projection of one hundred forty-two losses on such a small sample?  It is time for Cardinal Nation to suspend the rhetoric of Gloom and Doom and take a more realistic look at the 2017 season and the series which ended Wednesday with the Washington Nationals.

Wednesday’s 6 to 1 victory over the Nationals, followed a loss on Monday to the Nationals by the score of 14 to 6, and on Tuesday by a score 8 to 3.  I, like any Cardinal fan, would like our record to be 9-0, or even 6-3, but it is also not realistic to expect the Redbirds to win one hundred sixty-two games a season either!

The Cardinals’ offense has been, at best, somewhat anemic.  In the Cubs’ series, the Redbirds scored 9 runs on 22 hits, striking out 16 times, while leaving 63 runners on base.  Against the Reds, St. Louis scored 12 runs, with 24 strikeouts, leaving 47 on base. Playing in our Nation’s Capitol, against the Nationals, the Birds on the Bat scored 15 runs, with 27 strikeouts, and abandoning 34 runners on the basepaths.

In the first 9 games, there has not been any semblance of consistent hitting, plate discipline, or effective base running.  Thus far in 2017, the Cardinals have averaged 26 strike outs a series and have left an average of 48 men on base, for each series.

I have long held the belief that Manager Mike Matheny inherited a good team.  There is no arguing the Cardinals’ success during his tenure.  Since assuming the helm from Tony LaRussa, Matheny’s managerial record in St. Louis, in 819 games, is 464-355.  Matheny is 5th in wins for Cardinals’ managers.  As I stated, Matheny inherited well.  This season Matheny has made some managerial decisions which would make the most casual and passive arm-chair fan take notice.

On Opening Day, Matheny brought in Seung Hwan Oh to attempt a five out save.  As a manager, Matheny has a reputation in helping his players reach individual records or personal milestones.  It make sense to bring in Oh, in the ninth, to get the save, however, he had 6 other relievers to secure the last two outs in the 8th inning of Game One.  Cardinals’ starter, Carlos Martinez deserved the game’s victory.  Martinez threw 7.1 innings of scoreless baseball, allowing 6 hits and striking out 10. In my opinion, Martinez was robbed.

I have been critical of Matheny’s handling and use of the bullpen for a majority of his managerial career.  Some of my concerns include his stubborn slotting a reliever with a particular role, choosing to leave a reliever in a designated role, regardless of the pitcher’s effectiveness or outcome.

This season I question what I describe as Matt Adams “over use” in left-field.  I am a fan of Matt Adams.  I believe he has disciplined himself and has committed himself to getting into the best shape of his entire playing career.  It is difficult to watch Matheny’s misuse of Adams in left.  As a professional athlete, I am sure Adams can eventually learn and adapt to the nuances of left field.  I question playing Adams in left when Jose Martinez, who has considerable experience in left, is on the team. In 8 plate appearances this season, involving 6 games, J. Martinez has 4 hits-including a double and a home run, with 3 RBI’s, while striking out just once, and is batting .500.  Adams deserves better treatment.

A glaring weak spot on the 2017 edition of the St. Louis Cardinals thus far has been the bullpen.  In addition to the arguable misuse of the relievers by Matheny, individual members of the pen have experience control and performance issue.  In 2016, the bullpen was one of the bright spots for the Cardinals.  So far in 2017, the bullpen has been somewhat of a liability.  In the scheme of the Birds’ 3-6 record, the bullpen owns 2 of the 6 losses, has accounted for 2 blown saves, and stole a win from Carlos Martinez in the opener.

Defensively, the Cardinals committed 7 errors in the 9 games. As a point of reference, the 2007 season was the last Cardinal team to finish a season below .500; having amassed only seventy-eight wins.

The season is long with many winding and difficult turns.  It is no secret that currently the Cardinals are in a slump.  There are 153 games left.  As the St. Louis native and HOF’er Yogi Berra said, “It ain’t over until it’s over”.  I wish the Cardinals and their fans success and peace in the days ahead.

Poor play and execution?  Yes.  Multiple missed opportunities?  Yes.  An urgent need for Cardinal Nation to cry Gloom and Doom?  No, not yet!

 Thanks for reading!

Jim Tsapelas is a feature author for A View From the Bench and is an editor and contributor for NL Central Discussion.

Advertisements

Cardinals Pass The Audition – Time For The Real Games To Begin

The St. Louis Cardinals finished the 2017 Spring Season, 20-8-4, the best record in the National League this spring.  This is the first time the Redbirds have won 20 games in the spring since 1997.  Sophisticated fans know all too well, the games of spring have no real impact upon the games of summer.

Spring Training is a time for auditioning, planning, developing, and assessing.  The Cards’ spring appears to have been a successful one; as their record indicates.  The 2017 Season begins with one of the hottest, if not the hottest rivalry in baseball, as the 2016 World Champions Chicago Cubs travel to Busch Stadium to take on the St. Louis Cardinals.

Coming out of Grapefruit League play, I believe the Cardinals need to focus on creating more offensive production in leftfield and 2nd base.  With the loss of Matt Holiday, via Free Agency to the New York Yankees, the leftfield position is Randall Grichuk’s to lose.  This spring Grichuk was 15 for 55, with a .236 batting average, and belted 1 home run.  Seeking to increase his value to the Cardinals, as he hopes to increase his MLB appearances, is one of the brighter stories coming out of spring, Jose Martinez.  Last season with the Birds on the Bat, J. Martinez had 7 hits in 16 plate appearances.  This spring, J. Martinez went 19/50, with a .380 batting average, and hit 4 home runs.  Also this season, primarily to his dramatic weight loss and outstanding physical conditioning, Matt Adams is also available for duty in leftfield.  This spring, Adams was 16/47, with a .340 average, hitting 5 home runs.

There is no need for this writer to re-hash the stories and drama surrounding Kolton Wong.  I personally believe Wong is capable of being an elite 2nd baseman.  I also believe, early on in the 2017 season, we may witness Manager Mike Matheny use a platoon combination at 2nd.  Matheny has the option of either starting Kolton Wong or Greg Garcia against right handed pitching, or starting Jedd Gyorko against southpaws.  Wong has a career .248 batting average.  This spring, Wong was 10/52, batting .192.  Garcia went 15/51, for a .294 average, and hit one home run.  Against left hand pitching, the right handed hitting Gyorko was 9/47, with a .191 batting average, and belted 2 home runs.  Last season Gyorko launched 30 of his MLB career 79 home runs.  Gyorko is a career .238 hitter.  Gyorko is a threat off the bench.

I have been often asked, “Do the Cardinals have enough starting pitching”?  My answer is yes.  This is no way to speculate on how significant the loss of Alex Reyes this season to Tommy John Surgery shall prove.  The starting rotation of Carlos Martinez, Adam Wainwright, Michael Wacha, Lance Lynn, and Mike Leake, are all capable, if right, to provide success in 2017.  If the Cardinals make a move, I believe it will be for starting pitching.  If not, be prepared to see many hurlers make the trek from Memphis to St. Louis, this season.

I am convinced the NL Central is the Chicago Cubs to lose.  I believe the Cardinals can be competitive in the Central Division.  I also believe the Redbirds will be in the fight for a Wild Card berth, with Chicago, again, winning the Division.  However, to quote Yogi Berra, “It ain’t over, until it’s over”.  The fact of the matter is, the season has yet to begin.

As a fan I am excited to see the Cardinals 1st series of the 2017 Season is against the Chicago Cubs.  Play Ball!

Thanks for reading!

Jim Tsapelas is a featured author for A View from the Bench.

 

 

 

 

 

The I-70 Challenge! Four Games-Two Cities-To Quote Little Orphan Annie, “It’s a Hard Knock Life!”

By:  Jim Tsapelas

Jim McIssac/Getty Images North America

In a split four game Inter-League series, two games in Kansas City and two games in St. Louis, the Kansas City Royals and St. Louis Cardinals faced off in what could have proved to be a costly series to both Missouri franchises.

The series featured two of the better catchers in MLB, today; Salvador Perez and Yadier Molina.  Perez has gone on record of speaking of his admiration and respect for Molina. Molina and Perez have appeared to foster a bonding, a friendship, that transcends the game of baseball and values all that which is good in the human spirit.

In Kansas City, the Royals and the Redbirds split the short two game home stand; with Kansas City taking the first game of the two game set.

Monday’s contest was highlighted for Royals’ fans with a six to two Kansas City win. Tuesday produced an eight to four win for the Birds on the Bat.  Royals right-fielder Lorenzo Cain sustained an injury as he attempted to leg out a ground ball in the seventh inning of Tuesday’s contest.  This was horrific news for the Royals, with Mike Moustakas, out for the season, and with Alex Gordon just completing a stint on the DL, the uncertainty of Cain’s injury loomed rather large.

Another by-product of the Cain injury was the reality that Kendrys Morales would start Wednesday for Cain as the series moved east to St. Louis; and the reality of no Designated Hitter in the National League park; Busch Stadium.

On Wednesday a MRI confirmed Cain with a strained left hamstring; and he was placed on the MLB Fifteen Day Disabled List.

Now playing right-field, Kendrys Morales“.  Morales had experience playing right-field, but that was quite some time and a broken leg ago.  In fact, Morales had played the right-field position a total of seventy-six times at the MLB level; the last being in 2008!

One of the hallmarks of the Royals this season has been their success in putting on the field a defensive oriented line up. You may remember Morales broke his left-lower leg on March 29, 2010-when as a member of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, he engaged in a celebratory jump into home plate to punctuate his Grand Slam Home Run to give the Angeles a five to one win over the Seattle Mariners.  Since that time, Morales arguably one of the slower base runners in MLB, today, had only served as a Designated Hitter and a first-baseman.  To say Morales was an unknown defensive risk prior to Wednesday’s contest would be quite an understatement!  Defensively on Wednesday, Morales was brilliant in right-field and went three for four at the plate.

Wednesday’s contest in St. Louis was a twelve inning win for the visiting Kansas City Royals. The Royals featured a one to nothing lead in the eighth inning.  In the bottom of the ninth, Cardinals third-baseman, Jhonny Peralta, singled scoring Greg Garcia, knotting the game at one.  In the tenth, the Royals’ Whit Merrifield reached base on a fielding error; scoring Cheslor Cuthbert.  In the bottom of the tenth, the Redbirds’ Stephen Piscotty went yard with his ninth home run of the 2016 season.  In the top of the twelfth, Alcides Escobar doubled in the go ahead and winning run in the person of Merrifield.  St. Louis was unable to win in walk-off fashion in the bottom of the inning as the Royals’ Chien-Ming Wang enjoyed a one, two, three, inning striking out Tommy Pham and retiring Piscotty and Matt Adams.

Of possible concern for St. Louis on Wednesday, was an injury to Cardinal right-fielder Piscotty on a play where he made a long run ending in an attempted sliding catch.  Piscotty failed in what would had been a highlight reel catch; the ball bounced off his glove and wound up in foul territory.

Piscotty reported swelling in his knee and pain in his ankle.  Unlike the injury to Cain on Tuesday, Piscotty will most probably not spend time on the DL.  An injury to Piscotty would have been as costly to the Cardinals as the injury to Cain is to the Royals.  Piscotty was not in the Cardinals’ line-up on Thursday, as a precautionary measure.  Baseball is a hard knock life!

Thursday’s contest was another hard fought battle for the Baseball Bragging Rights of Missouri in this edition of the I-70 Series.  The Royals took the series with a four to two win.

The Royals have a stellar bullpen.  The Cardinals appear to collectively be a bullpen struggling, as of late, to affirm their identity.  Of concern to Cardinals’ fans is the reality the Birds committed ten errors in the four game set, to the Royals one error.

It doesn’t take a baseball genius to understand that errors contribute directly to a loss, as well as extending an inning; thus forcing a pitcher to throw extra pitches.

To be honest, the Cardinals for what ever reasons are simply not playing their best baseball in 2016, at home. For the 2016 season the Cardinals are 15-23 at home.

The Royals began their hosting duties against the visiting St. Louis Cardinals enjoying the best home record in the American League.  The Cardinals went to “The K” with the best road record in the National League.

To be competitive in the Wild Card Race the Cardinals need to find the magic formula to begin a winning record at home.

With the loss on Thursday, the Redbirds have lost seven consecutive games at home.  This has been the longest Cardinal home losing streak since 1983.

In a post game interview following the loss on Thursday, manager Mike Matheny said it was a game of, “Missed opportunities.”  It is my opinion this series as well as this season has been one, thus far, of missed opportunities.  I continue to believe the Cardinals have a good team.  An issue I identified is the Cardinals, at times, fail to win as a whole unit.  The offense has at times, put up good to monster numbers, only to have another aspect of the game fail the team.  The pitching has been outstanding at times, only to not get support from the bullpen, defensive plays, etc. One departmentalized aspect of the team cannot sustain a winning reality.  It takes all parts of the team, starting pitching, the bullpen, the offense, and the defense to all be in tune with one another to grind out a victory.

Of Note:  Kendrys Morales banged out twelve hits in the four game set, including a home run.  Going yard for the Cards in the series were Matt Holliday, Matt Carpenter, Stephen Piscotty, Jhonny Peralta, and Brandon Moss.  The Moss home run was measured at four hundred and seventy-three feet and is the longest home run ever hit at Busch Stadium III!

Thanks for reading!

Jim Tsapelas is a featured author at A View From the Bench, an official affiliate of MLB.com. A View from the Bench is recognized in the Top 100 of MLB.com/blogs.

Hall of Fame, Hall of The Very Good or Hall of Cheaters?

1936 hall of fame

The first Hall of Fame inductees in 1936 including Babe Ruth and Ty Cobb

 

By Mike Moosbrugger

I originally wrote this article in January of 2015 shortly after the Hall of Fame voting and the announcement of the players to be inducted. I am reposting this article to bring to your attention a very big change in who will be permitted to vote from now on to enshrine players in Cooperstown. Look at the four changes that I call for in how the voting is done. The second one listed has in fact been changed for the 2016 voting! There will be 100 less “writers” allowed to cast a ballot this year. The Hall of Fame has decided that if you have not actively covered baseball for the last 10 years then you lose your right to vote. It is no longer a lifetime privilege. Good job by the Hall of Fame Committee because that one issue really needed to change. The 2016 Hall of Fame inductees will be announced on January 6th 2016. Ken Griffey Jr. is a lock to get elected. Trevor Hoffman may have to wait another year or two.  

It was a lot easier in 1936 when the BBWAA ( Baseball Writers Association of America ) first got together to vote in the first class of hall of famers. Those first 5 inductees were Ty Cobb, Babe Ruth, Christy Mathewson, Honus Wagner and Walter Johnson. The term “no brainers” comes to mind so you would think that the first class of inductees and the voting that elevated these fine players to HOF status would be without controversy. I looked at the voting for that first class and managed to have a raised eyebrow at what I saw. Cy Young failed to get in by only garnering 49% of the vote? Young had 511 wins pitching over a 21 year career, a record that will never ever be broken. What does a guy have to do to get a little respect? Cy Young was later inducted of course and the award given out each year for the best pitcher in each the National and the American League was named after good old Cy after the 1955 season. “Shoeless” Joe Jackson received two votes on that first year ballot even though he had already been banned for life from the game with no eligibility for reinstatement or election to the Hall of Fame. This was as a result of Jackson’s alleged involvement in the 1919 Black Sox scandal. The scandal implicated 8 players on the Chicago White Sox that were believed to have been losing intentionally and being paid off by gamblers to do so. Joe Jackson was a .356 career hitter during the “dead ball” era and hit .375 with 1 homerun and 6 RBI’s in the 1919 World Series. There have been issues and controversies nearly every year since the voting the Hall of Fame started over 70 years ago.

The 2015 class of Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, John Smoltz and Craig Biggio is a good one for the most part except for Smoltz. John Smoltz is a first ballot hall of famer? I don’t even think he is a hall of fame worthy player at all but to put him in on the first ballot? He had one very, very good season when he won the Cy Young Award in 1996 going 24-8 with the Atlanta Braves. Other than that Smoltz had a very good career not a hall of fame career. When they change the name of the building to the Hall of The Very Good then Smoltz should be a first ballot inductee. Mike Piazza is one of the top hitting catchers of all time and it looks like he won’t get in until his fourth year of eligibility next year. I will get back to the Piazza issue in a moment. Biggio has been labeled a “compiler” by his detractors but I have an answer for that as well. Let’s not diminish a player’s career that included durability, versatility, longevity and productivity over 20+ years because he did not hit 30 homers a year. What Biggio did is very hard to do make no mistake about it. Only 27 other men that ever played the game have reached 3000 hits. I for one will not diminish any of those players careers.  What Biggio did is hard to do, it is unique and it is Cooperstown worthy, case closed.

The biggest problem facing the voters the BBWAA is how to handle the steroid era and the players that put up video game type stats during it. It is a conundrum of major proportions but I know what I would do if I had a vote. Players that have steroids attached to their names should be separated into 2 categories.

Category 1 – The users and abusers

These are the guys that have either failed a drug test, admitted using or have such overwhelming evidence against them that it can’t be ignored. The most notable ones are Barry Bonds, Sammy Sosa, Mark McGwire, Rafael Palmeiro and Roger Clemens. Manny Ramirez and Alex Rodriguez will be eligible in the future and are in the category as well. These players changed the game and its statistical records so much that they have altered the game in a way that can only be fixed by vacating the stats which will never happen. They made the millions and took the health risks and now have to live with the results. No Hall of Fame for these players, ever.

 

Category 2 – The locker room whispers

The players that come to mind are Mike Piazza, Jeff Bagwell, Gary Sheffield and Jeff Kent. These are the guys that players, fans and writers whispered in corners of the room about but no hard evidence ever came forward. There is a 5 year waiting period after a player retires before he is eligible for Hall of Fame. If the evidence did not present itself during a players long career plus the 5 years after then I have to measure the player based on his performance on the field and steroids does not enter into my thought process.

 

In addition to deciding what players should or should not be on the ballot there are big problems with the the Hall of Fame voting process. It is riddled with issues that need to change. Here are the main ones that I would like to see changes in:

  1. Members of the BBWAA select players that are eligible to be on the ballot from a list of all players that have been retired for 5 years. This is done via a “special screening committee”.

I can’t explain how these writers could put Aaron Boone, Tom Gordon, Brian Giles, Tony Clark or Darin Erstad on the ballot with a straight face but they did. No disrespect intended as these players had nice baseball careers but in no way shape or form should they even be considered Hall of Famers. This process needs to be a little more transparent to the public so the fans know how these players are being justified to appear on the ballot.

  1. Members of the BBWAA that have been a member for 10 years and covering baseball then have a ballot that they can cast. They are permitted to vote for up to 10 players each year.

Some of these members have not been covering baseball for a very long time but once you become a voter it is basically a lifetime job. This makes little to no sense to me. If a writer is no longer actively writing about baseball I think his credentials should be reviewed each year to ensure that the guy voting is qualified to do so. Voting for the Hall of Fame is a privilege not a right. The 2015 voting results revealed that Troy Percival, Tom Gordon, Aaron Boone and Darin Erstad all had support. Each received 2 votes except for Erstad who only received 1. I don’t know if it was 7 different writers that cast these ballots but whoever it was he should no longer have the ability to vote in my mind.

  1. The board of directors at the Hall of Fame decide how players are elected. Currently and since 1936 they have relied on the BBWAA to vote on players.

It is not 1936 anymore so I think with all the media outlets in our lives today it makes more sense to open up the voting to others. Broadcasters and website writers come to mind. Although there has been some progress on allowing certain website writers gain eligibility to vote I do think more is needed. My real issue here is the broadcasters. Vin Scully has been broadcasting the Dodger games since the 1950’s. The man has met Babe Ruth for crying out loud. He has probably watched more games live and in person then any member of the BBWAA. Scully is a good example of a guy that I feel should have a vote. Others that come to mind here in New York where I live would be Michael Kaye or Howie Rose. Kaye is a Yankees broadcaster and Rose is a Mets broadcaster. I would trust that these gentlemen would take the vote serious and do the due diligence before casting a ballot. It is time for new voices to enter into the process.

  1. Players stay on the ballot for 15 years and must get at least 5% of the votes each year to remain on the ballot during the 15 years. After that time has passed the only way a player can get in is via the “veterans committee”.

This committee is all living Hall of Fame players and they vote every two years on players that are no longer on the ballot. This is how players such as Bill Mazeroski and Phil Rizzuto got inducted. They both had decent careers but in neither case are they Hall of Fame worthy. Rizzuto should be in as a broadcaster but not as a player. I think it is a dangerous thing when players start to vote on other players. The players and the voters get older and start to get more and more nostalgic about a player’s career which can start to cloud good judgment. I would eliminate this committee. 10 years should be the max amount of time that a player should be on the ballot.

These are just a few of the changes that I would make. The board of directors of the Hall of Fame have to decide what kind of hall of fame they want as well as who should be voting on the inductees. I have visited the baseball Hall of Fame numerous times over the years and it is a great place to recall some of the great players and moments in the history of the game. It is just time to review the entire process to ensure that only the best and most deserving players are being honored.

 

WAR – What is it good for?

By Mike Moosbrugger

Chicago Cubs Introduce Jason Heyward

Jason Heyward after signing an 8 yr. / $184 million contract with the Cubs. Photo by Yahoo Sports.

The mysterious stat known as Wins Above Replacement or WAR as it is more commonly referred to. You hear about it more and more every day in baseball circles as another way of determining a player’s value or impact to the teams win total. MLB sabermetric supporters, writers and analyst are using this stat to judge players more so it seems then using the traditional statistics that have been around since the first pitch was thrown in the 1800’s.  I have been trying to understand the relevancy of this “new” statistic for quite some time now and I still have a hard time judging a player using this method. First let’s all get on the same page with a short and not so simple definition of what WAR is.

WAR – “A single number that represents the number of wins a player added to a team above what a replacement player would add.” I will use Jayson Heyward as my example since he was my inspiration for writing this article. Heyward had a WAR of 6.5 in 2015. He was 10th in MLB and Bryce Harper was 1st with a 9.9 WAR. Keep in mind that Kevin Kiermaier had a 7.3 WAR  ( good for 7th in the majors ) in 2015 and he hit .260 with 10 HR’s and 40 RBI’s. The caveat here is that the replacement player would be a minor leaguer not a free agent that hit 40 homers or won 20 games last year. It is a player that would replace the player “at minimal cost or effort.”  A more detailed explanation of WAR can be found by going to the Baseball-Reference.com website www.baseballreference.com/about/war_explained.shtml

The calculation of WAR is where the fuzzy math starts to kick in for me. I am a firm believer in a player having more value than what his traditional stats are. Some players provide significant contributions in many areas where we, the fans, just can’t go on line and look at a stat for it.  The best that I can figure out about WAR is that the stat revolves around runs produced on offense by a position player and runs prevented on defense for the same player combined. More emphasis is placed on defensive play at key defensive positions such as catcher vs. first basemen. In the case of a pitcher it would be more about runs prevented obviously. Sounds great, the problem is that the calculation methods look more like rocket science to me. You or I would not be able to take out our IPhone and use the calculator to figure out a player’s WAR while sitting at the ballpark on a Sunday afternoon. We can figure out a players batting average pretty quickly and sometimes without a calculator. If you want some mind numbing formulas to look at then here is the link to the Wikipedia page where they “clearly” show you how some of the calculations are arrived at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wins_Above_Replacement

How does all this relate to Jayson Heyward? Heyward recently signed an astounding 8 yr. / $184 million contract with the Chicago Cubs. While I was watching the analyst on MLB Network break down the contract one of them indicated that Heyward’s WAR stat may have played a role in the Cubs being so high on him. Let me just say I have no issue with Jayson Heyward’s career or play thus far in baseball. He is a nice player but his stats are not exactly eye popping. He has played 6 seasons in the majors and has averaged .268 with 16 HR’s and 58 RBI’s. He has never driven in over 90 runs in a season. He has only hit over 20 homers in a season one time. He does not score a lot of runs and has only exceeded 90 runs scored once. He does have a .350 career on base percentage and steals around 20 bases a year while playing good defense. His WAR average is 5.18 over the 6 seasons which puts him in the “All-Star” category for the WAR statistic. The WAR status categories are as follows: 8+ is “MVP”, 5+ is “All-Star” and 2+ is “Starter” and 0-2 is “Sub”. Freddie Freeman came up in Atlanta about 1 year behind Heyward and both players will turn 26 in 2016. Freeman averages .285 with 21 HR’s and 85 RBI’s per season with an On Base % of .366 while playing a good first base. He signed an 8 yr. / $135 million contract prior to the 2014 season. His WAR average per season is 3.14. Hmmm, that is only “Starter” status. Could this be the difference in the $50 million gap between the two players? I tell you what I think. I think I would rather have signed the Freddie Freeman deal. He is a better contributor in the key categories and it is far less risk and a lot less money. Keep your wins above replacement I will take the additional HR’s and RBI’s at a big discount thank you so much.

Yoenis Cespedes is a free agent and has yet to sign with a club. The Cuban defector is 29 and has played 4 seasons in the majors. His average seasons look like this: .271 with 26 HR’s and 92 RBI’s. He has driven in 100 runs two times and is widely considered a major force in any lineup. He single handedly changed the Mets offense this past summer. He has an incredible arm in the outfield as well so he contributes on defense also. However, his WAR is only 3.95 which is “Starter” status and not the “All-Star” status that Heyward has. It looks like Cespedes will sign a deal for much less than Heyward did age notwithstanding. There are a few questions that you have to ask yourself. Which player do you think would have more of an impact in your lineup between Heyward and Cespedes? Which player has the ability to carry a team for a few weeks? Which player changes the way the others are pitched to around him? For me this is a no brainer. I will take the big bat of Cespedes and the traditional stats he produces over the Wins Above Replacement that Heyward produces every time. So what is WAR good for? Absolutely nothing in my mind.

Mike Moosbrugger

 

Hope in the Cards

 

Before we turn on our radio’s and hear Mike Shannon call a “steeerike one right down central” there should be an awareness of where the Cardinals are at offensively, and who will be standing in the batter’s box when that first strike is called.

There is much speculation surrounding the Cardinals success in the coming months so it would be nice to dissect the offense of the Cardinals as if the season were to start today. How much did the Cardinals actually lose by not signing Heyward?

First, housekeeping. The Cardinals suffered unbelievable amounts of injury in 2015. That is just it, 2015. Moving on to 2016 the lineup is healthy (minus one thumb) and looking to do just as much damage.

Starting off in the outfield, John Mozeliak has not quite made it clear as to how he plans to organize the outfield or who he plans on experimenting with; but there is a good clear definition that many fans had questions about going into the offseason. Is there a home in the organization for Pham? How about Piscotty? With Mozeliak’s withdraw from being aggressive this offseason during hot stove, he hinted in an interview on December 16th that the outfield looked strong with Piscotty, Pham and Holliday returning.

The infield looks to remain the same only (still) leaving questions at first base. With Matt Adams healthy the answer may just be in his bat, but there has been speculation with Brandon Moss still in the mix and Randall Grichuk looking for a place to play. There could be some real shifting around the right corner of the diamond. The point is, there are still a lot of options both within the organization and in free agency. Again, there is Moss and Adams who make great trade bait for a future first baseman to hold up the corner.

Like mentioned above, the argument of fans is at the loss of Heyward who was spectacular in 2014 with 163 hits in 547 at bats. His defense is irreplaceable. The long throw home from center field to tag out Marte granting a few days rest before the NLDS was unmistakably beautiful. There is still a lot of power left. I know fans will not forget that life and season saving throw.

With Piscotty actually getting a full season to show off his offensive weapons he has a chance to double his efforts replacing the offensive shadow that was cast above him in right by Heyward. After batting .305 with 71 hits in 233 at bats, he looks to nearly double the hit count, 142 hits would not be a bad thing for a team that is losing some good swings in Heyward.

A healthy Pham who only saw 52 games last year amongst a bunch of questions surrounding Jon Jay will see a full season this year and have a chance to get some better looks at the plate than a last second appearance and expectation of having to produce.

Randal Grichuk looks to be a good offensive weapon with only 103 games that produced 89 hits in 2015 he leaves a lot of hope in the mind of fans. The issue remains where to put him defensively. With no departure in the outfield from Holliday and his promised healthy return; Grichuk has the potential to sit more than hit. While the offseason has not produced any trades including Moss or Reynolds the depth still remains in question with Grichuk sitting atop the list based upon his healthy hitting habits.

The first key is health. Offensively the team will be fine if everyone remains healthy. Runs lost by Heyward are replaced by Pham and Piscotty playing a full season along with Holliday. While Grichuk is able to move around in utility the team can streamline the offense to get ahead and then shift to a defensive unit that can close out the game. Something they struggled to do in 2015. Brandon Moss brings hope with a healthy off season and a new focus with a team that saw a lot of confusion for the second half of the season.

Coming off of a great season, Matt Carpenter looks to be in as a weapon along with a once again healthy Kolten Wong who before the break had the attention of the fans with a hot bat.

The second key (argued heavily among some good friends) will be Jhonny Peralta who was less than stellar down the stretch and saw problems hitting outside the strike zone, the new campsite for opposing pitchers.

There are some who will argue that the Cardinals are in trouble with a loss of Heyward. There is even speculation surrounding the loss of Jay in center and his bat. The answer to those problems is the players who step up into the lineup in their place who will be able to produce full time and make up for more than what Heyward ever gave to the Cardinals.

 

 

 

 

These Ain’t Your Father’s Cubs

By: Omar Gobby

nlds cubs-cards

The 2015 Cubs came out of the gates with a new fire in their eyes.  This was not a team sitting back and waiting for Theo Epstein to set them up for “The Future”.  This was a team looking for blood from the get go.  They have refused to back down from any fight.  Just ask Sean Rodriguez.

And they are plain good.

Now, they are headed to new heights as they prepare to face off against their mortal enemy, the St. Louis Cardinals, in the National League Divisional Series.  If it were ever possible for a 100 win team to be an underdog, this may be the time, as many pundits see the Cubs as simply being the stronger and better team right now.  This is a Cardinals team that limped through September/October with a 15-16 mark, including not even bothering to show up against the Braves in the closing weekend.  The Cardinals are vulnerable, and the Cubs are primed to be the ones to administer the killing blow.

St. Louis won the season series against the Cubs, 11-8, but the Cubs won 4 of the last 6 in September, taking 2 games each in Wrigley and St. Louis.  The Cubs proved they could beat the Cardinals.  More importantly, Ace Jake Arrieta pitched exactly 0 innings in those last 6 games.  There is no way Arrieta skips the Cardinals in this best of 5 NLDS.  With Jon Lester likely to throw both games 1 and 4, and Arrieta likely to go Monday in Game 3, the Cubs are in good shape to keep things rolling.

Without further adieu, let us look at the match ups.

Starting Pitching

While the Cubs’ rotation is really good at the top (Jon Lester and Jake Arrieta), there has been a lack of consistency after that.  Jason Hammel had a very good first half and has been pedestrian in the second.  Kyle Hendricks has ranged between adequate and good, and never overwhelming.  Trade deadline acquisition Dan Haren was rather unremarkable until shining in 3 of his late season starts (against St. Louis, Cincinnati, and Milwaukee).  For the Cardinals, electric right hander Carlos Martinez’ season ended with a shoulder strain.  Add to that the Achilles injury suffered by ace Adam Wainwright (who has since returned in a relief role), and the Cardinals rotation looked to be a mess.  Yet, Manager Mike Matheny has seemed to keep this staff together despite all the adversity.  While the star power at the top of Chicago’s rotation is missing in St. Louis, there is an admirable top to bottom consistency.  There may not be a clear #1 right now, but there also is not a bad one in the bunch.  For overall consistency, the edge goes to the Cardinals.  Slight Edge: St. Louis

Bullpen

This is flashy vs functional.  The reliability of that 2001 Toyota vs the pizzazz of a brand new Lamborghini.  The Cardinals, led by closer Trevor Rosenthal, converted 62 of 77 saves (80.5%) and was generally quite effective.  Kevin Siegrist (7-1, 2.17, 6/10 with 90 strikeouts in 74 2/3 innings) confounds hitters regularly.  Behind that, there is a stable of steady performers such as Jonathan Broxton, Carlos Villanueva, Seth Maness, and Steve Cishek.  Add to that Wainwright, and this is a relief corps which would have no problem providing quality innings when needed.

The Cubs’ pen was prone to some spectacular blow ups and equally spectacular domination, converting 48 of 67 (71.6%) save chances.  Closer Hector Rondon (6-4, 1.67ERA, 30/34 saves) made fans quickly forget the frustrating days of Carlos Marmol while energetic set-up man Pedro Strop (2-6, 2.91, 3/5) often made many wonder if Marmol was back as he would counter a 1-2-3, 3 strikeout inning with a meltdown of 2 walks, a couple hits, and a run. To that end, it appears that Jason Motte (8-1, 3.91, 6/7) assured himself a spot on the NLDS roster because of the post-season success (career 1-1, 8 saves, 2.08 ERA) and experience (19 appearances).  After that, there are some intriguing names.  Seattle castoff Fernando Rodney (2-0, 0.75, 0/1 as a Cub) was quite effective in his 14 appearances in a Cubs uniform.  He is a Joe Maddon favorite and could be key.  Justin Grimm and former starters Travis Wood, Trevor Cahill, and Clayton Richard round out the staff.  The Cubs’ advantage here is only in the better ability to throw strikes than the Cardinals.  Otherwise, I like what the Cardinals have here.

Slight edge: St. Louis

Infield

The Cardinals have a solid starting unit here.  Matt Carpenter is one of the better all-around third baseman in the National League, and Jhonny Peralta has a strong bat for a shortstop.  On the right side, Kolten Wong probably had a better overall season than any Cubs second baseman, but more on that later.  First base is, frankly, a mess. Mark Reynolds and Brandon Moss will not remind anyone of Albert Pujols or Mark McGwire.

For the Cubs, this is their bread and butter.  For one, there is tremendous versatility and interchangeability.  Kris Bryant showed to be pretty much everything that was advertised at third base and Addison Russell, once he was moved back to his natural shortstop position, basically sucked up every ball hit anywhere in the same ZIP Code.  On the other side of the diamond, Starlin Castro suffered miserably from Opening Day through August.  And then something clicked. Once the calendar flipped to September, Castro turned into Babe Ruth.  All he did was hit .426 with a .750 SLG and 1.202 OPS.  While he was erratic defensively (6 errors in only 138 chances at second base), he occasionally came up with a spectacular play.  And what can be said that hasn’t been already said about the Cubs’ first baseman? Anthony Rizzo hit .278 with 31 HR and 101 RBI.  He added 17 stolen bases and got plunked 30 times, becoming the first player since Don Baylor to accumulate 30+ HR and 30+ HBP in one season.  Add to that Javier Baez, and this Cubs infield is really good.

Huge Edge: Chicago

Outfield

The Cardinals, due mostly to injury, did a lot of mix and match out here.  Veteran Matt Holliday battled injuries all year and played in fewer than half the Redbirds’ games.  Jason Heyward overcame a brutally slow start to put up good numbers in his walk year (.293, 16 HR, 60 RBI, .797 OPS).  Steven Piscotty was called up and had solid numbers in 63 games (.305, 7, 39) and Tommy Pham seemed to come up with every clutch hit for the Cardinals for a stretch of time in July and August.  John Jay and a (maybe?) healthy Randal Grichuk round out the group.

For the Cubs, Dexter Fowler (.250, but .346 OBP) gave the Cubs everything they needed in a leadoff man.  He scored 102 runs and walked 84 times, both tops on the team.  After that, Maddon seemed to stick with whoever had the hot hand from a group including Jorge Soler, Chris Coghlan, Chris Denorfia, and rookie Kyle Schwarber.  For the most part, Maddon’s hunch tended to work just fine.

Edge: Chicago

Catcher

Any other year, this would be no contest.  However, this is 2015. Yadier Molina is now 33 years old (catchers age a bit faster, remember) and is battling a finger issue.  He tore a ligament in his thumb in late September and has been cleared to play.  That injury will hinder his ability to grasp the bat at the plate and defensively (it is on his glove hand) as well.  If he plays, assume the Cubs will try to exploit this by running early and often and by bunting.  Backing him up is non-factor Tony Cruz who may be forced to be a factor.

For the Cubs, Miguel Montero had a decent enough offensive year (.248, 15, 53) and was tremendous defensively.  For those who still are not sold on the whole idea of “pitch framing”, watch the video of Jake Arrieta’s masterpiece against Pittsburgh in Wednesday’s Wild Card game.  Zero walks is the key number.  As in, no other pitcher in MLB history has had a post-season complete game of 10+ strikeouts and zero walks.  None.  While the pitcher throws the ball, the catcher has as much to do with that as anyone else.

Backing him up is crusty veteran David Ross.  A perfect example of how a player’s value needs to be measured by something far beyond measurable statistics.  Ross was phenomenal defensively, famously ending one game with a walk-off pickoff against the Washington Nationals.  Further, he was a true team leader.  It was his playing bodyguard for Arrieta in the Wild Card Game scrum against Sean Rodriguez which led to Rodriguez’ TKO of the Gatorade cooler.  Ross just would not let the Pirates’ utility man anywhere near his pitcher.

Edge: Chicago

Manager

Mike Matheny has been a good skipper for the Cardinals.  He keeps them atop the best division in MLB and doesn’t skip a beat through injuries.  But Maddon’s influence on the Cubs’ success in 2015 is other-worldly.  He plays quirky hunches.  He is masterful at negotiating his pitching staff.  He seems to pick the right guy at the right time.  He may be the best field manager of his time.

Huge Edge: Chicago

It all adds up to a Cubs victory in four games.

–Omar Gobby