Response to Phil Rogers: The 2014 St. Louis Cardinals are NOT ‘Most Damaged’

Photo Credit: Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

Photo Credit: Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

On December 31, 2013, MLB.com columnist, Phil Rogers, wrote one of the sloppiest sports articles I have ever read in my 23 years of life. In the post, Rogers took the time to review 15 teams’ offseasons–five as “Most improved,” five as “Most damaged,” and five as “Incomplete.” The link to his full MLB.com post can be found here if you are interested in checking it out yourself.

If you don’t have the time to read his full post or you simply don’t care to, then here is what he had to say about the 2014 St. Louis Cardinals–the fourth team he listed under “Most damaged” this offseason:

4. The Cardinals. Year in and year out, these guys are best judged over 12 months, not just the offseason. But Beltran leaves a hole in the middle of the order that the addition of Peter Bourjos won’t offset, and Peralta arrives with questions about whether he’ll be the same guy after his Biogenesis suspension. Chris Carpenter‘s innings can be easily replaced by the stable of young arms — Carlos Martinez for a full season in the rotation, yes! — but his presence will be missed in the way that the Rays’ pitching staff missed James Shields last season.”

Mr. Rogers, what does your first sentence even mean? Isn’t every team “best judged over 12 months, not just the offseason?” Last time I checked, the commissioner’s office doesn’t hand out World Series trophies in the winter. I would argue this opening statement more, but I honestly have no clue where to go from there.

Sure, Carlos Beltran has moved onto the New York Yankees, and his bat and leadership will definitely be missed. However, the purpose of the Bourjos trade was not to replace the hole left by Beltran. Bourjos was acquired to provide better range in center field and better speed on the base paths. Given his wrist returns to full health (and all signs from the organization point to this being the case), the Cardinals’ scouting department believe his bat will be just fine and hopefully provide more pop from the position–especially with regular plate appearances–something he did not receive while on the Angels.

Now that we have discussed Bourjos’ true role on the team, let’s revisit that “hole in the middle of the order” you speak about. If Beltran had re-signed with the Cardinals, you’re assuming Beltran would be hitting in the middle of the order? Well, 62% of his plate appearances in 2013 occurred from the 2-hole in the lineup–not the middle of the order. As long as Matt Carpenter remained the team’s lead-off hitter, this would have likely been the same in 2014.

Even if Beltran would have moved to middle of the order in 2014, how much better is the Allen Craig-Beltran combination than Craig-Matt Adams? At this point in Beltran’s career (37 years old next season) and his relative inability to replicate first-half stats after the All-Star break, I would tend to believe there is not much difference at all. Let’s take a look at Dan Szymborski2014 ZiPS projections just to make sure:

Cardinals ZiPS

Stats Credit: Dan Szymborski’s ZiPS and some simple math

As you can see by the totals (highlighted in green), there really isn’t that much of a difference between the two combinations if Adams gets 500 plate appearances next season. Single-digit differences in every single category, with the Craig-Adams combination actually having two more doubles. Thus, is the “middle of the lineup” really that much worse going into 2014? Sure, projections are just projections and many things could happen between now and opening day, but it’s the best we have right now. Frankly, it is irresponsible for an MLB.com writer to write such a comment about a team without at least first checking the data that’s very easily available to him.

Carpenter’s innings can be easily replaced by the stable of young arms.” Really? You’re still talking about this going into 2014. I think Carp’s innings have already been replaced, Mr. Rogers. He pitched ZERO innings in 2013 and was only able to grind his way through a mere 17 injury-ridden innings in 2012. You think Martinez will for sure take over in the starting rotation? I think Lance Lynn and Joe Kelly will have something to say about that. Is Martinez’s future in the rotation? I really do think so, but the start of 2014 may be a stretch. Does he have an opportunity? Of course he does, but he’s far from the shoe-in for the spot that you make him out to be.

Carp was one of the pitching staff and team leaders, arguably even more so than Shields was for the Rays, but what about Adam Wainwright? What about Yadier Molina? Did you watch any Cardinal games last year? Molina almost single-handedly guided a pitching staff full of rookies all the way to the World Series. Ask Shelby Miller his opinion of Molina. I promise you will hear nothing but utmost praise for the catcher. Wainwright watched many pitchers’ (especially the rookies) bullpen sessions and gave advice where he deemed necessary. Will they miss Carpenter’s presence? Of course they will, but last time I checked, they have fully capable leaders who have already taken over during the transition process.

Finally, let’s address your final point. To be honest, I really don’t care how far Peralta falls in production post-Biogenesis suspension–if he falls at all. Pete Kozma was one of the most frustrating hitters to watch last season, and I can assure you, PED-aided or not, Peralta can hit a baseball at a much more successful rate than ole Petey. Kozma had a .275 on-base percentage and hit one home run in 2013, and it occurred in the second game of the entire season. In Peralta’s 10-year career (a more than adequate sample size in my opinion), his lowest on-base percentage was .295, and this occurred in just 77 games during his rookie season. He averages just over 14 home runs a season–an amount that I doubt Kozma reaches in his career.

Let’s take a look at a point you did not look at as well–the improved defense compared to 2013. With Carpenter moving back to his natural position at third, Kolten Wong or Mark Ellis playing second, and Peralta making all the standard plays, the infield defense is much better than it was last season. A quick look at the UZR’s of these players at these positions makes this quite clear. What about the outfield? Holliday and Craig may be average to below-average defenders in the corners, but this is where Bourjos’ range in center helps immensely. I would provide concrete numbers to back up these defensive points, but this post is already much longer than I had expected.

Cardinal fans, instead of Phil Rogers, let’s see what Dan Szymborski, an informed (but quirky) baseball writer over at ESPN, had to say about the 2014 Cardinals in a previous interview with stlCupofJoe:

stlCupofJoe: In YOUR opinion, compare this year’s Cardinals (I realize some more deals may be made) going into the season to last year’s team. Which one is in a better position, projection-wise?
Dan Szymborski: I think they’re a better team, as frightening as that may be to the rest of the NL. Remember, they only got 9 starts from Michael Wacha during the regular season and a whole lot of starts from the Great Kozmandias (Look on his bat, ye Mighty, and despair). And they’re not even a million years old, there’s enough youth to cancel out possible age-related decline from Matt Holliday or a little regression from Yadi Molina.

In conclusion, I fully respect Phil Rogers for what he has done for the MLB. He has covered the game since before I was even born. However, if he is going to write a post about the Cardinals being “most damaged” after one of the most productive offseasons in recent memory, he better at least have numbers to back up his opinions.

You can find Phil Rogers on Twitter: @philgrogers

Until next time…

Joe

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

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Postseason Performances: Michael Wacha vs. Chris Carpenter

Photo Credit: Jared Wickerham/Getty Images

Photo Credit: Jared Wickerham/Getty Images

Set to retire this off-season, Chris Carpenter will go down as one of the best postseason pitchers in the history of baseball. There are numerous articles written about his postseason legacy, but this one by HardballTalk in 2011 is one of the absolute best.

Carpenter made 18 postseason starts–compiling a 10-4 record with a 3.00 ERA. His last postseason, one in which he pitched while injured, put a slight damper on these numbers, but it also added to his legend. Carpenter was just the second pitcher in MLB history (the other being Virgil Trucks in 1945) to record a postseason win without having one in the regular season.

Well, 22-year-old rookie, Michael Wacha, is making his case to drive Carpenter’s numbers into the ground. Through four postseason starts, in his rookie season nonetheless, Wacha is 4-0 with a 1.00 ERA. For perspective, Carpenter didn’t make his first postseason start until his eighth year in the MLB at the age of 30–eight years older than Wacha. Carpenter after his first four starts? 3-0 with a 1.98 ERA.

Thus, Wacha has one more win and has an ERA almost one point lower than Carpenter’s over their first four postseason starts. However, this does not even tell the whole story. Over those four starts, Carpenter allowed 22 hits–Wacha has allowed exactly half that with 11. Opponents hit .229 against Carpenter and have hit just .122 against Wacha. Carpenter had 19 strikeouts and 8 walks. Wacha has 28 strikeouts and 8 walks.

For even more perspective, I decided to look at Bob Gibson‘s first four postseason starts–all in the World Series since they did not have the same playoff format back then–as well. Gibson was 3-1 with a 2.50 ERA. He had 41 strikeouts and 9 walks. Opponents hit .218 against him–96 points higher than the batting average against Wacha thus far. Yet, unlike both Carpenter and Wacha, Gibson had 36 innings pitched over these four starts–8 IP in his first start, 10 IP in his second, 9 IP in his third, and 9 IP in his fourth. Interested in seeing the rest of Gibson’s amazing postseason statistics? Click HERE.

Michael Wacha is in really good company to even be talked about in the same sentence as Bob Gibson and Chris Carpenter. Will he ever be as good as Gibson? Absolutely not. Gibson is in a class of his own and will forever be known as one of the best pitchers in the game. He, too, would have had gaudy win totals if he had played under the current playoff format.

However, given Wacha’s early start in the playoffs, since it is still his rookie season, and the fact that the Cardinals appear to be built to make the playoffs for years to come, Wacha has a really good chance at eclipsing Carpenter’s numbers early in his career and creating his own records as his career progresses.

Buckle up, Cardinal fans, the World Series is on the line–at Fenway Park. Game 6 is necessary after the Cardinals lost two of three at Busch Stadium. Wacha will be poised and ready to compete for his 5th playoff win and keep the Cardinals World Series title hopes alive.

Until next time…

Joe

For more updates, follow me on Twitter: @stlCupofJoe

Thank You, Chris Carpenter

Photo Credit: Springfield Cardinals' Facebook page

Photo Credit: Springfield Cardinals’ Facebook page

If this latest setback is truly the end for Chris Carpenter, then dang, what a ride it has been over the past ten years. Given that time-frame and what he has been able to accomplish in a St. Louis uniform, I do not know if there is another major league pitcher I would have wanted on my team more than Carp.

197 regular season starts and 18 post-season starts later, Carpenter can officially go down as one of the Cardinals’ all-time greats.

Thus, in two words to describe ten years: thank you.

Thank you for the comebacks. Sure, it would have been nicer to be 100% healthy in a St. Louis uniform, but to be honest, I think the fans enjoyed the comebacks. It was always nice to know that Carp could be on his way back at any time, regardless of the injury.

Thank you for pitching well enough to have a .683 winning percentage (95-44) with the Cardinals.

Thank you for being one of the best post-season starting pitchers of all time–10-4 (.714 winning percentage) with a 3.00 earned-run average in 18 starts.

Thank you for the masterful performance against your buddy, Roy Halladay, in game five of the 2011 NLDS. Given the circumstances, I still think that was the best pitching performance I have ever seen. A 1-0, 3-hit shutout on the road against THE Roy Halladay? There is no way. Well, it happened, and it helped spring-load the team to the 2011 World Series.

Thank you for your performances in the 2006 and 2011 World Series. I don’t need to describe them because the table below sums them better than words can describe.

Credit: baseball-almanac.com

Credit: baseball-almanac.com

Thank you for this fantastic play in the 2011 World Series. Go ahead, you want to watch it again and again and again.

Huge thank you for your role in some of brawls with the Cincinnati Reds over the years. The Cardinals had been lacking a true rival since the Chicago Cubs disappeared into an abyss, so it was nice to have that one team that I just could not wait to see the Cardinals play against.

Lastly, thank you for not giving up this season even when the prognosis was poor and the outlook was cloudy. Most major leaguers would have packed it up and moved on to collect their last paychecks, but you battled your way through one last grueling comeback attempt.

Though your career statistics may not be seen as Cooperstown caliber, you’re a first-ballot Hall-of-Famer in St. Louis. If asked who was the face of the St. Louis Cardinals over the past ten seasons, the national media might say Albert Pujols, but you are most definitely not far behind.

It is going to be tough not seeing #29 out there on the mound next season, but the rotation is in good hands. Adam Wainwright has learned from the best over the past eight seasons, and if this season is any indicator, he has fully embraced the role as staff ace.

Thus, if this is the end of your playing career, thank you. I feel like I can speak for the majority of Cardinal Nation in saying that, too. Let’s hope the team can add one more ring to your collection before you officially retire. Also, like I said here about Darryl Kile, I could see Carp returning as the pitching coach some time in the future. Until then, though, I believe there will be an open invitation for him to join the team in Jupiter for Spring Training as a special instructor.

Until next time…

Joe

Follow me on Twitter: @stlCupOfJoe

St Louis Cardinals: Decent Rehab Start For Chris Carpenter

Photo Credit: Nick Valentine

Photo Credit: Nick Valentine

In front of a sold-out crowd of 9,709, Chris Carpenter made his first rehab start of the 2013 season for the Double-A Springfield Cardinals. Prior to the outing, members of the front office said that Carpenter’s pitch count would be limited to 60 pitches. Springfield faced off against Texas League North leaders, the Arkansas Travelers–the Los Angeles Angels’ affiliate. According to an intern for the team, the atmosphere in Springfield resembled a circus with fans crowding the bullpen for his pre-game warm-up and filling the stadium well-above its listed capacity.

First Inning: 13 pitches

Given the long layoff from live action, Carpenter looked surprisingly sharp in the first inning. He took care of business against his first live hitter of the season, striking out Randal Grichuk on just three pitches. After allowing a broken bat single to Taylor Lindsey, Carpenter bounced back by mowing down Luis Montanez for his second strikeout of the inning. He got the third out of the inning by inducing a soft ground ball off the bat of Arkansas’ first baseman, CJ Cron.

Second Inning: 13 pitches (26 total)

Travelers’ third baseman, Kaleb Cowart, led off the second inning with a laser single up the middle, but Carpenter followed with a strikeout to Travis Witherspoon. Following the strikeout, designated hitter, Ryan Jones, hit a sharp liner to Cardinals’ first baseman, Xavier Scruggs, who was unable to field it–leaving two runners on, one out. Carpenter was able to show off his stuff by unleashing a nasty curve ball to strike out Carlos Ramirez for out number two. To end the inning, Rolando Gomez weakly bounced out to Scruggs at first.

Third Inning: 28 pitches (54 total)

Carpenter started off the third by striking out Grichuk for the second time in the game. Lindsay followed with his second hit off of Carpenter–a double over James Ramsey‘s head. Following the double, Jimmy Swift drove Carpenter’s pitch completely out of Hammonds Field for a monster home run–giving the Travelers a 2-0 lead. Cron followed with a pop-out to second base for the second out. After issuing his first walk of the game to Cowart, Witherspoon hit a line-drive single to center field. Following the single, Carpenter’s pace significantly slowed down. He then issued his second walk of the inning to load the bases.

Carpenter, who had been averaging in the low 90s all game, was then able to reach an impressive 95 MPH on the radar gun, but after a bobble fielding a grounder by Ruben Gotay at third, the Travelers took a 3-0 lead. After the misplay and near his pitch limit of 60, Carpenter was relieved by Jose Almarante. Despite the rough outing, he left the field to a roaring standing ovation from the Springfield crowd.

Analysis:

Thus, Carpenter allowed two earned runs in two and two-thirds innings. His first two innings were very efficient–pitching just 13 pitches each inning. He was able to strike out five batters while walking just two. His curve ball looked sharp, and the speed of his fastball was impressive considering it was just his first rehab start of the season.

Statistically, it may not look like a very good start, but it was exactly what the Cardinals wanted from him. One of the biggest factors will be how he feels tomorrow. Let’s hope he feels good enough to continue his road back to the big leagues by making his next scheduled start for Springfield.

UPDATE:

According to Mike Ceide of WREG TV, Carpenter’s next start will be Saturday night against Oklahoma City.

Until next time…

Joe (@stlCupOfJoe)

Why the Cardinals Should Stay Put as Deadline Nears

Cardinals Walk-off Against Miami

Cardinals Walk-off Against Miami

Background

The Cardinals enter the last two series before the All-Star Break one-half of a game ahead of the Pirates with an MLB-best record of 53-34. The Cardinals start a two game series with the Astros at Busch tonight, and then the team travels to Chicago to take on the lowly Cubs for a four game set. With the Pirates facing off against the AL West-leading Athletics for two more games and then having to face Matt Harvey and the Mets, look for the Cardinals to extend their lead in the Central before the break.

Thus, if you are Cardinals General Manager, John Mozeliak, are you really that interested in making a trade at this time? The team is playing some of its best baseball in years, and the future is extremely bright with the stockpile of prospects (both pitchers and position players) down on the farm. Would you be willing to part with some young talent in order to fill a present need with what may end up being just a “rental” player?

Well, at the Matt Holliday Celebrity Golf Classic yesterday, Mozeliak was quoted in saying, “Hopefully, if we can find something that makes us better, we’ll pursue it.” Thus, he left the door open to possible moves which I will discuss next.

Possible Areas to be Explored by Mozeliak

#5 Starter:

Joe Kelly is filling in right now, and he is doing a decent job. However, is he really the answer for the stretch run? Will John Gast be able to return this season? Will the team call up Carlos Martinez to fill the void? These are all valid questions that have left fans beckoning for Mozeliak to pull off a deal for another starter. After all, the national media keeps bringing up big names that may be on the trade block–Cliff Lee, Matt Garza, Bud Norris, Jake Peavy (if healthy), etc.

Well, in my opinion, I do not think Mozeliak should make a deal for a starter. Why? Because of Chris Carpenter and his recent progress. Just the other day, he pitched an extended bullpen in which he threw 106 pitches. When asked about the session, Matheny said it was the best he has seen Carpenter look all season. If all goes as planned, a rehab session will follow, and then he will be set to return to the Cardinals sometime in August. Thus, why deal one of your coveted prospects for an expensive pitcher like Lee when there is a chance you can get one of the best pitchers in team history back in the rotation?

Shortstop:

Pete Kozma is in the midst of yet another hitting slump–0 for his last 19 at-bats. He is hitting just .234 on the season. Both his on-base percentage and slugging percentage are below .300 which is also less than desirable. However, he is hitting over .300 with runners in scoring position–allowing him to compile 27 RBI this season. He may not be getting it done at the plate, but he is flat-out getting the job done in the field. In 685 innings played this year, he has just four errors. Also, for the sabermetrics folks, he has a 5.9 UZR which basically quantifies how many runs a player saves with his fielding.

Thus, Kozma is not wowing anybody with his overall performance this year, but he is doing his job in the field, and any offensive production he can provide is a bonus. Shortstops that may be available would include Jimmy Rollins and Alexei Ramirez. To be honest, at this point in their careers, I do not know if they would provide much more than a Kozma/Daniel Descalso platoon at short. Also, one cannot forget that the bat of Ryan Jackson also awaits in Triple-A Memphis if necessary.

Center Field:

Jon Jay has had his struggles this year–both at the plate and in the field. However, he may be starting to turn it around at the plate, as shown by his current 5-game hitting streak. Also, the All-Star break may prove to be just what he needed considering he has played in 85 of the team’s 87 games this season. Thus, considering he is a career .289 hitter, I can only think that his bat will get hot during the second half. If not, then more innings can be shared with Shane Robinson or the Cardinals can explore other options like Tommy Pham from Memphis or even Oscar Taveras if he can ever get healthy. Either way, center field is not a big enough need for the Cardinals to get desperate and deal a young prospect just to get one. The organization has faith that Jay will turn it around, and if he does not, they have internal options they can explore instead.

Bullpen:

Despite its struggles earlier in the season, this has actually been a strong point for St. Louis. Rookie Seth Maness has been a double play machine in the seventh inning. Left-handed rookie, Kevin Siegrist, has proven to be a strikeout machine and just refuses to give up an earned run. Flame-throwing righty, Trevor Rosenthal, has been rock solid in the set-up man role all season. Lastly, Edward Mujica has been nearly perfect as the closer (23/24 on saves). If the team feels like a change needs to be made later in the year or in the playoffs, Rosenthal would be the guy to take over in that spot. Thus, sorry Ken Rosenthal, but the Cardinals do not need Jonathan Papelbon.

Conclusion

There are the four spots that Mozeliak may explore when looking at possible deals before the deadline. However, after reading this article, I hope that you now understand the point I was trying to get across–the Cardinals do not need to make a deadline deal. The team is playing incredible baseball right now, and the future is even brighter with the prospects it has developing in the minors. Thus, as the saying goes, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

Until next time…

Joe (@stlCupOfJoe)

Seventh Heaven

20130513-235453.jpg
Photo Credit: ESPN (screenshot taken of their highlight video)

Through just 2 innings, Lance Lynn had 54 pitches, and due to the early start time (to be on ESPN) leading to sun in Carlos Beltran’s eyes, he had allowed 3 runs. That was not the start the then 5-game winner needed to improve to a 6-game winner in just 8 starts.

However, Lynn showed his maturity over last season and bore down for the long-haul. Post 2nd inning, he did not allow another hit until there were 2 outs in the top of the 7th. He averaged 27 pitches per inning the first 2 innings which could have been disastrous for the bullpen, but he dialed in to average just 14 pitches per inning for the next 5 (final pitch count: 124). Last year’s Lynn would not have been able to recover like this, so it is a terrific sign for the Cardinals if he is able to keep this up throughout the season.

This performance was reminiscent of an outing by a past starter (and hopefully future reliever) that wears #29, the great Chris Carpenter. The Cardinals’ front office along with the fans would gladly welcome Lynn developing into a pitcher like Carpenter (Yes, I understand that there will never be another Carp, which is why I explicitly stated “like Carpenter”).

The team took note of the bulldog performance by Lynn, and the offense felt obligated to do what it could to provide some runs to give Lynn the win. That is exactly what they did in the bottom of the 7th. The inning most likely amounts to nothing if Rick Ankiel’s glove had made the trip from Houston along with him. However, he was forced into borrowing a glove from a teammate–left-handed pitcher, Jonathon Niese.

With 1 out already recorded in the 7th, Ty Wigginton hit a jam-shot to center that fell out of the outstretched glove being worn by Ankiel. With his own glove, this most likely would have been the 2nd out with no runners on; instead, it was 1 out with a runner in scoring position at second base.

The very next pitch, Matt Carpenter smashed a line drive off the leg of pitcher Scott Rice which caused the ball to ricochet into foul territory. Heads-up base running by Wigginton combined with a frazzled pitcher forgetting to cover home plate gave the Cardinals the lead at 4-3. Please see the picture above for visual proof that Wigginton indeed made a game-changing play for the Cardinals. Shocking, I know (sorry to any Wigginton fans out there reading this…if there even are any).

The Mets brought in a reliever (Scott Atchison) in attempt to keep the game at just a 1 run deficit. This attempt ended in about 1.5 seconds: the amount of time it took the rocket off Matt Holliday’s bat to reach the bleachers in left-center. Thus, the Cardinals were now up 6-3 and were able to shut down the Mets in the 8th and 9th to give Lynn his 6th win of the season.

Until next time…

Joe
@stlCupOfJoe