On Jon Jay Versus Shane Robinson (by Jared Simmons)

Photo Credit: fantasycpr.com

Photo Credit: fantasycpr.com

This is a guest post written by Jared of @McGeeTriples. Thus, please read the post accordingly. Considering this topic can lead to heated debates, feel free to include your thoughts in the comments section below or by contacting either of us on Twitter.

It says a lot about your organization when one of the biggest questions you have about your team on December 31st is which solid bench guy should be the 4th or possibly 5th outfielder on the roster. But that’s the position the St. Louis Cardinals and their fans find themselves in as 2014 beckons. With the bulk of the roster written in blood and holes in its construct harder to find than Tim Tebow at a key party–there’s little left for Cardinal diehards to deliberate.

Be that as it may, St. Louis is a town where baseball sits ever on the conscious, and thus a debate rages among the more far gone addicts about who the better player and fit will be for the Cardinals in 2014: Jon Jay or Shane Robinson.

There is a strong contingent among us running the flag up the pole in support of Shane Robinson. Among that group there are two sub-groups: those with intelligent, well-reasoned and valid arguments for backing Robinson, and a second group racing to be first in line to support any diminutive, “gritty” player who gives them warm fuzzy feelings, and makes them believe that THEY TOO can become great.

You can count me out of both groups.

While I acknowledge that Robinson was a better defender than Jay in 2013 (and by a wide margin), it is clear to me that Jay is the better baseball player and the better fit for the Cardinals’ roster as presently constructed. This argument is built on analytics, advanced baseball metrics, and old-school eye test reasoning. I fully respect Robinson and what he has accomplished in life. Most of us would be lucky to get out of our gifts what Shane has produced from all 5 feet, 5 inches of his body.

That said, Major League Baseball and professional sports, in general, are a zero sum game. There are no points for being the best pound-for-pound and no moral victories. Feel-good stories are made for TV only. ESPN will nauseate you to death with heart-wrenchers and baby-mama drama. Yet, the fact remains that in the business of baseball, the sole measure of success is winning and losing.

So let’s get into it…

Jay’s defense drew much ire in 2013 and rightfully so. He had a UZR of negative 7.3 (beyond terrible). By contrast, Robinson’s UZR was a positive 4.0. While defensive numbers can be hard to quantify–the stark contrast in those zone ratings is hard to ignore.

The questions that all concerned parties must answer is whether or not at the age of 28 (generally considered to be a prime year in a player’s career), has Jay completely lost the ability to play defense? After all, in the prior year he played a solid CF, and his UZR was a respectable 3.7 (nearly identical to Robinson’s 3.6). I tend to think that the awfulness that was Jay’s defense in 2013 was an outlier and that given playing time in 2014, he would be more slightly below average and less albatross than he was in 2013.

Robinson also has a decent arm; while Jay terrifies no one with his wet noodle. I won’t offer you any numbers here, but ask yourself this question, how often does an averaged-armed starting outfielder impact a game with a throw? The answer is rarely. And if that guy isn’t playing very much, this impact is almost nonexistent. And let’s not kid ourselves, Robinson is an averaged-armed outfielder. Rick Ankiel, he is not.

The best fit for this team is going to be the player that hits the most. Matt Holliday, Peter Bourjos, and Allen Craig are going to patrol the outfield for the Cardinals for the most part in 2014. If one of those three (or Matt Adams) suffers a long-term injury, then the bulk of the playing time created will likely fall into the lap of Oscar Taveras. As a result, the opportunities for either Robinson or Jay to impact games are going to be few and far between, and they are also going to come in the form of pinch-hits.

There’s a reason a player (Robinson) makes it to age 29 and has amassed only 386 plate appearances for his career. Robinson’s career slash line is .246/.316/.327. Robinson has also posted a career RC+ (runs created plus) of 80 (100 is average).  Three leading projection sites project Robinson’s 2014 numbers to be:

Rotochamp: .255/.349/.355 (OPS: .704)
Steamer: .264/.337/.381 (.718)
CAIRO: .241/.312/.355 (.647)

I tend to favor CAIRO’s projection for Robinson as I believe that given full-time at bats, he would struggle to post a .700 OPS. Obviously, this is just one man’s opinion.

In contrast to Robinson, Jay is 28 (younger than Robinson) and has compiled 1956 plate appearances throughout his career. His career slash line of .293/.356/.400 completely dwarfs Robinson’s. He also has a career RC+ of 112. Jay’s projection:

Rotochamp: .294/.366/.388 (.754)
Steamer: .281/.349/.397 (.746)
CAIRO: .274/.340/.374 (.714)

I like the middle ground here with Steamer’s projection for Jay in 2014. In case you haven’t noticed, Jay is also left-handed and the Cards’ entire projected starting OF is full of RH hitters. Coveting a roster composition of diverse skill sets is another feather in Jay’s cap.

But perhaps the most decisive reason for Jay over Robinson is potential value. In short, Robinson has none and is never going to have any. Perhaps, only Jeff Luhnow in Houston would covet Robinson’s services. After all, he also wanted Tyler Greene.

Jay on the other hand, has established value in the major leagues. Even last year, as his defense completely tanked, Jay was basically a league average player. According to Fangraphs, he had a WAR of 1.9. Robinson posted a WAR of just 0.9 in limited playing time and would likely have seen that number decreased had he seen extensive exposure. Jay’s bat, and likely defensive rebound offer the most upside both in terms of tangible value to the Cardinals and speculative value as a trade chip mid-season.

Jay is a fringe starter and solid 4th outfield option. Robinson is a AAAA player. We all want to cheer for the little guy and pull for the underdog, but the Cardinals are best served by making calculated decisions. Not emotional ones. John Mozeliak has wreaked havoc on professional baseball by remaining steadfast in this approach (buh-bye David Freese), and we can only hope that he continues to do so by maximizing the assets at his disposal. Jon Jay is an asset.

Feel free to cheer on the best story if you like, but I’ll be rooting for the best team and hopefully…

…A World Series championship.

-Jared

Like I said before the post, feel free to include your opinions in the comments section below. Both Jared and I would love to see conversation result from this this post.

You can follow Jared on Twitter: @McGeeTriples

For more updates from stlCupofJoe, follow me on Twitter: @stlCupofJoe or Facebook: stlCupofJoe’s Sports Page

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St. Louis Cardinals 2013 Season in Review: Top Five Stories

2013 was another great year for the our beloved St. Louis Cardinals. Despite facing an incredible amount of adversity, they were still just two wins away from their 12th World Series title. Well, as part of our end-of-the-year project for the United Cardinal Bloggers, this post will be dedicated to bringing you my top five stories of 2013. Here we go:

stltoday.com

stltoday.com

5. The Emergence of Rookie Pitchers. Jason Motte went down before the season. Jaime Garcia required season-ending surgery after a handful of starts. Jake Westbrook pitched injured for much of the season.

Rookies–Shelby Miller, Trevor Rosenthal, Kevin Siegrist, Michael Wacha, Seth Maness, and Carlos Martinez–became key contributors to the pitching staff. Throughout 2013, other rookies–Tyler Lyons, Keith ButlerJohn Gast, Sam Freeman, and Michael Blazek–had roles of their own as well. Considering only one of the 10 listed were traded (Blazek), fans can expect much from this group in 2014.
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Photo Credit: Elsa/Getty Images

Photo Credit: Elsa/Getty Images

4. Matt Carpenter‘s Breakout Season. Carpenter filled two glaring team-needs in 2013 by taking over as the everyday second baseman and leadoff hitter. According to Fangraphs, he had the third highest WAR in the National League at 7.0. He made his first All-Star team and finished fourth in NL MVP voting.

With David Freese now in Los Angeles, Carpenter will return to his natural position at third base. Ideally, by the end of the 2014, this doubles machine will be moved down to the two-spot in the lineup, but that will be a direct result of the performances of Kolten Wong and Peter Bourjos.
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Photo Credit: USATSI

Photo Credit: USATSI

3. Yadier Molina‘s Brilliance was Ever Present. As I stated in story #5, the pitching staff was largely dominated by rookies. It is hard to fathom how 2013 would have gone without Molina’s presence behind the plate. He was a calming presence for the young arms and was the mentor they needed to get through the long, grueling season.

Molina remained one of the best defensive catchers in the league–winning his sixth straight Gold Glove Award. His offense picked up yet again–leading to a .319/.359/.477 slash line. Putting all of 2013 together, Molina finished third in NL MVP voting and moved one step closer to being known as one of the best catchers to ever play.
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Photo Credit: AFP

Photo Credit: AFP

2. The Cardinals Win the Pennant! The Cardinals Win the Pennant! The Pittsburgh Pirates were the “sexy” pick by the national media to win the National League in 2013. However, Wacha and Adam Wainwright had other plans–allowing just two total runs in Games 4 and 5 of the NLDS.

They moved on to face the big bad, $220+ million-payroll Los Angeles Dodgers in the NLCS. They won the series in six games with two wins from Lance Lynn and two wins from Wacha over the best pitcher on the planet, Clayton Kershaw.

They ended up losing the World Series to the Boston Red Sox in six games, but for the purpose of this post, let’s just focus on the positives.
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1. Stan Musial. On January 19, 2013, the greatest Cardinal to ever live passed away. I would love to write a paragraph embracing just what Stan meant to the Cardinals and the city of St. Louis, but I really could not do him justice.

However, the lovely ladies over at Aaron Miles‘ Fastball constructed the perfect post to check out because it contains links to article from across the Web about The Man.

Thank you, Stan Musial. I may not have been able to see you play, but your impact on the Cardinals and the city of St. Louis will last forever. Because of this, I feel like Stan was the only choice for the #1 spot on my list.

Until next time…

Joe

For more updates, follow me on Twitter: @stlCupofJoe or Facebook: stlCupofJoe’s Sports Page

Hitting Analysis of Brandon Phillips: From a St. Louis Cardinals’ Perspective

Photo Credit: Jeff Curry/Getty Images

Photo Credit: Jeff Curry/Getty Images

Ever since this altercation (video) between Brandon Phillips and Yadier Molina back in 2010, Phillips has been one of the most despised opponents to play at Busch Stadium.

A large factor is obviously due to the incident, but another contributing factor has to be his success against Cardinals’ pitching over the years. In 117 career games against St. Louis, Phillips has a solid .264/.314/.437 slash line. He has 26 doubles, 5 triples, 14 home runs, and 61 RBI–arguably his most success against any team in the National League.

PhillipsWhiffLHP

In 2013, Phillips’ whiff rate against left-handed pitchers was exceptionally low at just 9.9% (74 whiffs/749 pitches). Down and out of the zone (boxed in yellow), his whiff rate is 18.3%–almost double that of his average whiff rate against lefties. 18.3% is still really low, but it’s the best shot Cardinals’ lefties have if they are looking for swings and misses from Phillips. Up and in (boxed in green) would be an area to avoid considering he faced 73 pitches in that zone and did not whiff on a single one.

PhillipsWhiffRHP

Phillips’ whiff rate against right-handed pitchers was 12.5% (219 whiffs/1750 pitches) in 2013. This is slightly higher than it was against lefties, but it’s still really low. Down and out of the zone (boxed in yellow) could be an area right-handers could target against Phillips, with a whiff rate of 21.3%–almost 10% higher than his average in 2013. Like with lefties, up and in (boxed in green) is an area to avoid when facing Phillips considering he had only one whiff in 83 chances.

PhillipsLHPLD

Phillips’ linedrive percentage on balls in play against lefties was 25.5% (40 linedrives/157 balls in play) in 2013. Down and away (boxed in yellow) is the best place for lefties (Jaime Garcia, Randy Choate, and Kevin Siegrist) to attack Phillips. His linedrive percentage in these zones was over 10% lower than his average at 14.3%. Lefties can also attack him down and in (boxed in orange), but they would have to paint the inside corner because he has high linedrive percentages in the zones immediately adjacent to this.

PhillipsRHPLD

Phillips’ linedrive percentage on balls in play against righties was 22.7% (87 linedrives/384 balls in play) in 2013. The zones boxed in yellow are areas right-handed pitchers could target when facing Phillips because his linedrive percentage on balls in play from these zones was just 7.3%–15.4% lower than his average in 2013. The two zones boxed in green, up and in, would be areas to avoid when facing Phillips.

Conclusion:

In short, Phillips does not swing and miss much. Because of this, he does not strike out very often. In 11 years of experience, he averages only 66.8 strikeouts per season. To break it down even more, he strikes out one time in every seven plate appearances against the Cardinals which is pretty impressive.

Thus, Cardinals’ pitchers should not look to strikeout Phillips in 2014 and beyond. Rather, lefties can attack him down and away, while righties can attack him away as well–both up and down in the zone. A quick look at his spray chart from 2013 (below) shows that the majority of his extra-base hits–and all but one of his home runs–occurred when he pulled the baseball. By pitching him away, he may still get hits, but these hits will likely be singles instead of doubles, triples, or even home runs.

phillipsSPRAY

There you have it. I have taken a look at Pedro Alvarez, Jay Bruce, and now Brandon Phillips. I hope, as fans, you can use these posts as references/quick guides going into next season to see how Cardinals’ pitchers will approach these “Cardinal Killers.”

Until next time…

Joe

For more updates, follow me on Twitter: @stlCupofJoe or Facebook: stlCupofJoe’s Sports Page

Hitting Analysis of Jay Bruce: From a St. Louis Cardinals’ Perspective

Photo Credit: AP Photo/Al Behrman

Photo Credit: AP Photo/Al Behrman

Like Pedro Alvarez, Jay Bruce is a left-handed slugger who has had a good amount of success against the Cardinals over the course of his career. His career slash line against the Cardinals sits at .237/.294/.398.

The .398 slugging percentage is nowhere near that of Alvarez (.473), but he still has 12 doubles, 12 home runs, and 44 RBI in 88 career games against the Cardinals. One-third of his production came from last season alone. In 19 games, Bruce hit .315 with four doubles, four home runs, and 15 RBI.

Bruce has a career .257/.330/.482 slash line. After taking a look at his slugging percentage against the Cardinals (.398, 84 points lower than his career SLG%), he may not be a true “Cardinal Killer” like Alvarez. However, given his numbers against the Cardinals in 2013 and the fact that one of my readers asked me to take a look at Bruce, I decided to write a post on him anyways.

As noted on the following graphs (from BrooksBaseball.net), but to avoid any confusion, all zones are from the catcher’s point of view.

BruceWhiffsLHP

Bruce’s 2013 whiff rate against left-handed pitchers was surprisingly low for a lefty slugger who averages 137 strikeouts per season at just 15.9% (136 whiffs/858 pitches). Non-overpowering lefties like Jaime Garcia or Randy Choate can attack the zones boxed in yellow (21.5% whiff rate); whereas, Kevin Siegrist (fastball averaged 96 MPH in 2013) can attack Bruce up in the zones boxed in orange (26.4% whiff rate).

Ideally, if one of the above pitchers is looking for a strikeout, they should avoid the inside corners of the strikezone against Bruce. These two zones are boxed in green, and he had just two whiffs on 63 pitches (3.2%) in those zones last season.

BruceWhiffsRHP

Right-handed pitchers, especially hard-throwers like Trevor Rosenthal, Carlos Martinez, and Michael Wacha, can attack Bruce up the zone–preferably towards the outside corner. His 2013 whiff rate against right-handed pitchers was also pretty low for a slugger at just 15.3% (290 whiffs/1899 pitches). However, his whiff rate was significantly higher in the zones boxed in yellow (23%) and even higher in the zones boxed in orange (27.6%).

Thus, if any of our righties find themselves in a situation where a strikeout is necessary and Bruce is at the plate, their best bet is start him up and away in the zone, with down and out of the strikezone as their primary backup plan.

BruceLHPLD

Of 152 balls in play against lefties in 2013, 35 of them were linedrives–23%. 40% of these linedrives came on pitches in the middle of the zone which is to be expected–big league pitchers know to avoid the middle of the zone, especially against sluggers like Bruce.

After taking a look at both lefty graphs, it appears that the best place for lefties to attack Bruce is down in the zone from the middle-out (boxed in yellow) where his linedrive percentage is just 12.5%. There is that little blip on the outside corner where nearly 30% of the balls in play were linedrives, but I think this may be due to the small sample size. Either that, or he just loves scorching liners down into the left-field corner.

BruceRHPLD

As a fan of the Cardinals, this graph frightened me. There’s a reason why he has a .267/.341/.502 career slash line against right-handed pitchers. I really could not find a glaring hole that Cardinals’ pitchers could exploit. In 2013, on 302 balls put in play, 94 of them (31.1%) were linedrives. This puts him near the top of the league and shows just how potent his bat can be against righties.

As I noted in the right-handed pitcher whiffs graph, pitching Bruce “up and away” can lead to more swings and misses. However, as you can see, if he does make contact on pitches that are up and in the strikezone, there is a pretty good chance he makes solid contact. Thus, the best place for righties to go is up and out of the zone (boxed in yellow)–hoping to get Bruce to chase. They can set these pitches up with breaking balls or changeups down in the zone immediately prior to change his eye level–increasing the chances of him chasing pitches out of the zone.

Conclusion:

Overall, Bruce is a much better hitter than Alvarez. He may strike out just as much as Alvarez, but he hits for a higher average and has a significantly higher on-base percentage. Also, when he does put the ball in play, it’s more likely to be a linedrive than balls off the bat of Alvarez.

Being a better hitter, there are obviously fewer glaring holes in his swing. However, as I noted above, the Cardinals’ hard-throwing righties (which they have plenty of) best chance is by throwing pitches up and away–with their best chance on pitches out of the zone completely. This not only leads to more swings and misses, but also fewer line drives.

Lefties can attack him low and away, just like with Alvarez. Siegrist can attack him up and away, but he must be careful because zones immediately adjacent to these somewhat “cold” zones show that he can be very dangerous.

In short, Bruce is a much tougher hitter to pitch to than Alvarez. I hope the Cardinals can figure him out because at the age of 26, they are going to have to deal with his potent bat for years to come.

Due up next: Brandon Phillips

Until next time…

Joe

For more updates, follow me on Twitter: @stlCupofJoe or Facebook: stlCupofJoe’s Sports Page

Hitting Analysis of Pedro Alvarez: From a St. Louis Cardinals’ Perspective

Photo Credit: piratesprospects.com

Photo Credit: piratesprospects.com

Pedro Alvarez is probably the most infamous “Cardinal killer” in recent memory. In 53 regular season games against the Cardinals, Alvarez has a .254/.304/.473 slash line. The batting average and on-base percentage components don’t seem all that scary, but a .473 slugging percentage shows that his hits “pack a whole lot of punch.”

Of his 51 hits, 11 of them were doubles and 11 more were home runs. Thus, 43% of his hits have gone for extra bases. He has knocked in 42 runners against the Cardinals–11 more than he has against any other team in his career.

So what can the Cardinals do? Alvarez is a career .235 hitter who averages 141 strikeouts per season. He must have a lot of holes for the Cardinals to exploit, right? Well, I took a look at five different graphs from BrooksBaseball.net to see where he can be attacked.

Now, I fully realize that the Cardinals already have scouts and pitching coaches relaying this information to their pitchers, but I figured it would be fun and informative for readers as well. At just 26 years old, fans will be seeing Alvarez take at-bats against the Cardinals for years to come.

As noted on the graphs, but to avoid any confusion, all zones are from the catcher’s point of view.

AlvarezWhiffsLHP

Against left-handed pitchers, down and away (boxed in yellow) seems to be the most vulnerable spot for Alvarez. This makes sense, though. Teams bring in lefty specialists, such as Randy Choate, to throw sweeping breaking balls down and away–daring him to chase pitches that usually end up out of the zone. Of those four squares in the bottom left, Alvarez swung and missed (aka “whiffed”) on 67 of 242 pitches in 2013. His 27.7% whiff rate on pitches down and away was 6 percentage points higher than his average whiff rate (21.5%) against lefties in 2013.

Also, if a pitcher is locating his pitches well, up and out of the zone (boxed in yellow) could be viable options with 50+% whiff rates in these boxed areas. However, very dangerous areas border these so it would probably be wiser to look down and away since there’s more room for error.

AlvarezWhiffsRHP

Like with lefties, down and out of the zone is the way to attack Alvarez if you are a right-handed pitcher looking for swings and misses. His overall whiff rate against righties in 2013 was 16.6%, but in the zones highlighted by the yellow box, his whiff rate was significantly higher at 25.2%. This was a pretty good sample size as well, considering 25% of the pitches from right-handers ended up in the boxed zones.

Enough about whiff rates, what about balls in play? I’ve got you covered there as well. However, before I get into that, let me make you aware of a quick disclaimer. I chose “linedrives per balls in play” instead of batting average because I believe linedrives are a better representation of a hitter’s hot and cold zones than average. A high average in a certain zone could be tainted by a small sample size full of bloop hits; whereas a linedrive is a linedrive–regardless of whether it’s results in a hit or not.

AlvarezLHPLD

That same zone I highlighted on the left-hander whiff rate graph is highlighted here. As you can see, of 15 balls in play on pitches in this zone, only two of them (13.3%) were linedrives. In fact, if you look at the zone highlighted in orange just above that, Alvarez had just one linedrive in 17 balls in play–leading to a very tame 5.9%. If you put the two left-handed pitcher graphs together, the way to attack Alvarez is down and away–looking for him to chase pitches out of the zone at times, which he does at a pretty regular rate.

AlvarezRHPLD

The same area I noted in the right-handed pitcher whiff rate graph is highlighted (in yellow) in this graph as well. Of 36 balls in play on pitches in this zone, only four of them were linedrives–11.1%. Considering the linedrive percentages in other parts of the zone, this is easily one of his weakest spots. I highlighted two other areas in orange that seem to be weak spots for Alvarez as well. However, if you take a look at the zones immediately adjacent to these (highlighted in green), a pitcher must have his best stuff if he wants to attack these two zones.

Finally, a look at Alvarez’s spray chart from 2013:

AlvarezSprayChart

Of his 36 home runs in 2013, five were to the opposite field (14%) and three were to center field (8%). It’s obvious that much of his pop comes when he pulls the baseball. This shouldn’t be news to anyone, though–just thought it was worth visualizing.

Conclusion;

Alvarez’s career batting average against lefties is .200 with 12 home runs. His career average against righties is much better at .248 with 74 home runs. The numbers show his bat is much more potent against right-handed pitching–also should not be news to anyone. However, as I showed in the five graphs above, both lefties and righties should attack him in pretty similar zones–down and away.

I fully realize that the majority of the zones I highlighted were pitches out of the strikezone. Yet, until Alvarez proves he can be a more patient hitter, these zones need to be exploited. Plus, if he indeed proves to be more patient next season, I would much rather walk him on four pitches out of the zone than give him the opportunity to change the game with one swing of the bat–like he has done so many times already in his young career.

I hope you enjoyed this piece because it was pretty fun to create. In the coming days, maybe even today, I will be publishing a few more hitting analyses on infamous “Cardinal Killers.”

Due up next: Jay Bruce

Until next time…

Joe

For more updates, follow me on Twitter: @stlCupofJoe or Facebook: stlCupofJoe’s Sports Page

Q&A with National Baseball Insider, Chris Cotillo

Photo Credit: MLB Network

Photo Credit: MLB Network

In an attempt to keep bringing you the best content possible, I was able to participate in a quick email interview with national baseball insider, Chris Cotillo, of MLBDailyDish.com. It contains a variety of topics ranging from the offseason of the St. Louis Cardinals to his busy life as a high school senior and baseball insider. Though he may still be in high school, he is one of the best baseball insiders and writers out there, so I am extremely thankful to have had this opportunity.

stlCupofJoe: What are your thoughts on the Cardinals offseason thus far? With Peter Bourjos/Randal Grichuk, Jhonny Peralta, and Mark Ellis on board, Cardinal Nation is pretty pumped, so what’s a national media member’s thoughts?
Chris Cotillo: I think they’ve had one of the more interesting offseasons in baseball this winter. As one of the best teams in the league last year, they didn’t seem like they had a lot to do, but still found a way to improve. I like the Bourjos trade, and Ellis is a nice complementary piece as well. The loss of Beltran will hurt them, and Peralta’s success may not be sustainable over all four seasons. Only time will tell, though.

stlCupofJoe: Which of the three acquisitions will affect the team the most long-term? I have my opinion, which I’ve shared on Twitter, but would love to hear yours as well.
Chris Cotillo: I think the Bourjos/Grichuk deal will be the best for them. Bourjos is a very underrated, good player…and Grichuk is not a throw-in by any means. Both of those guys have a legitimate chance to help the Cardinals at the big league level for a long time, and a guy who needed a change of scenery (Freese) and a throw-in (Salas) don’t seem like too hefty of a price to pay for them.

stlCupofJoe: With the majority of the offseason checklist completed, do you see the Cardinals making any more complementary moves?
Chris Cotillo: I think they are pretty much done for now. Small waiver claim/40-man roster shuffling moves always happen, but there are no glaring holes after the moves that they have made.

stlCupofJoe: It appears that the final spot is down to Daniel Descalso and Pete Kozma. If you were in charge, who would you pick?
Chris Cotillo: I would pick Descalso, just because of the versatility he can provide. Kozma may have some trade value because many teams are looking for help at shortstop.

stlCupofJoe: As a soon-to-be high school graduate and national baseball insider, you’ve obviously got a lot on your plate. How are you able to handle it all?
Chris Cotillo: I get about 4 hours of sleep per night, but I feel like I’m not accomplishing anything if I’m not awake, so I get used to it. I prioritize school over baseball writing, but if it’s a time-sensitive news item that needs to be written about, pre-calc or Spanish work can wait.

stlCupofJoe: What is your favorite part of being a baseball insider?
Chris Cotillo: Actually, just the competition part of it. I know that there are dozens of excellent reporters chasing the same stories as I am, so being able to get something first is something that I take pride in. I bet the thrill of the competition of getting information before others wears off after a while, but for someone like me who can’t hit a beach ball with a tennis racquet–it’s the closest thing to a sport as I can get.

stlCupofJoe: As a Boston native, is it tough to stay as un-biased as possible while doing your job? Or do you still find the time to show your Red Sox pride?
Chris Cotillo: It’s becoming easier. I root for people in the game who have been good to me and have helped me out, regardless of team or opponent. Being able to cover the World Series in October at Fenway, I was thrilled to see the Sox win just because I knew it meant a ton to a lot of friends and family members of mine…and the city needed it badly after what we went through in April with the bombing. It truly brought everyone together once again, but this time for something extremely positive. I may not be a diehard Red Sox fan anymore, but I am still a diehard fan of the city of Boston and everything it stands for.

stlCupofJoe: I’m a Butler pharmacy student, but I also aspire to be a pretty respected baseball writer (which is why I started stlCupofJoe), what would be one piece of advice you would have for me?
Chris Cotillo: My biggest thing is to not make up stories or claim that sources are telling you things when they’re not. You earn respect from other reporters by citing sources, showing that you have a passion for all of this, and by not making things up.

For the latest breaking news in the MLB, I highly recommend you follow @ChrisCotillo on Twitter. You can also read some of his top-notch articles on MLBDailyDish.com. He is one of the few national insiders that I follow on a regular basis, and I highly recommend you do the same.

Until next time…

Joe

For more updates, follow me on Twitter: @stlCupofJoe or Facebook: stlCupofJoe’s Sports Page.

Mark Ellis: A Welcome Addition to the Offense

Photo Credit: Associated Press

Photo Credit: Associated Press

The offense of the St. Louis Cardinals has struggled against left-handed pitchers over the past few years, and 2013 was no exception. Standard statistics show this pretty clearly. Against lefties, the Cardinals had a .238/.301/.373 slash line. For comparison purposes, the team hit .280/.343/.412 against righties in 2013–a statistically significant difference between the two.

With left-handed hitters, Kolten Wong (second base) and Matt Adams (first base), set to play every day next season, it appears the team may be on its way to another poor season at the plate against southpaws. But Joe, what about your last post in which you said Craig needs to play first base, subsequently moving Adams out of the starting lineup? Well, my projected replacement for the vacated spot (by Craig) in the outfield was Oscar Taveras, yet another lefty bat.

John Mozeliak (General Manager) and Dan Kantrovitz (Scouting Director) know that hitting lefties, for whatever reason, is a problem for the Cardinals. Do they have faith in both Wong and Adams to make the required adjustments to adequately hit left-handers at the big league level? Of course they do. However, they smartly added necessary insurance by signing a veteran right-handed hitting bat in Ellis.

Ellis had a solid .282/.331/.412 slash line in 131 at-bats against lefties last season.  If you include his 2013 numbers with the Cardinals’ numbers against lefties, it would have raised the team batting average three points–from .238 to .241. This may not seem like much, but one player can only do so much to influence a team’s overall average. In fact, it would have taken the team from 13th in the NL in batting average against lefties all the way up to the 8th spot in the league.

Ellis is getting older. I get it. He will turn 37 in June next season, and we all expect age-related decline to be in full effect. A .282 average against lefties is a vast improvement for the offense of the Cardinals. However, as many baseball minds would ask, considering his age, was that a hard .282 or a soft .282? In other words, with one season (131 at-bats) being a pretty small sample size, was he lucky to have such a solid average? Were bloop hits falling in front of outfielders or were seeing-eye singles finding holes through the infield?

The graph below (from BrooksBaseball.net) puts this notion to rest. Ellis, at the age of 36, was still smacking line-drives all over the diamond against lefties in 2013–especially on pitches in the outside portion of the strikezone.

Photo Credit: BrooksBaseball.net

Photo Credit: BrooksBaseball.net

In 117 balls-in-play against lefties in 2013, 33 of them were line-drives. This is good for 28.2%. To break it down a tad further to accentuate a strength of his, Ellis’ LD% was an incredible 39.4% (13/33) on pitches in the outside portion of the strikezone. This implies an approach at the plate of “shooting the ball the other way”–an approach that will fit in quite nicely under hitting coach, John Mabry.

The top two overall LD%’s in 2013 were 29.8% by James Loney and 27.7% by Gregor Blanco/Joe Mauer. Thus, Ellis appears to be at the top of the league when it comes to LD%. Obviously, this only applies to his balls-in-play against lefties, but if things go as planned with Wong, the majority of Ellis’ at-bats will come against lefties.

Will he stunt Wong’s development by participating in a full-on platoon at second? I sure hope not. I truly believe Mozeliak moved Freese in order to give Wong a spot in the starting lineup. However, Wong is just 23-years-old and has yet to participate in a full 162-game season. A 162-game season can be long and grueling on a player–especially a high-energy player like Wong. Ellis is the perfect complement second baseman for the rookie. He can give Wong days off (especially with a lefty on the mound) to preserve his legs for the duration of the season.

Also, there is a still a pretty big part of the fan-base that doubts Wong’s ability of being an everyday second baseman. If he continues to struggle like he did in part-time action last season, Ellis will be primed and ready to fill in on a more regular basis. In short, the extent of Ellis’ playing time with the Cardinals is yet to be seen. However, it is nice to see that he is still hitting line-drives at a top-of-the-league percentage against lefties at this point in his career–a welcome addition to the offense of the St. Louis Cardinals.

Until next time…

Joe

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