What’s up with Edward Mujica?

Photo Credit: Dustin Bradford/Getty Images

Photo Credit: Dustin Bradford/Getty Images

Something is wrong with Edward Mujica, and it needs to be corrected if the St. Louis Cardinals plan on making a deep run in the playoffs. Sure, Mujica successfully nailed down last night’s save to give the Cardinals a two-game lead in the Central, but he did not do it very convincingly.

After a lead-off single, sac bunt, fly out, intentional walk, infield single, Mujica found himself with the bases loaded and the winning run on second base. Thankfully, he was able to blow a 94.5 MPH fastball by the slowed bat of Todd Helton for the third out.

This is an alarming statistic for a pitcher who has a WHIP of 0.89 on the season. I realize that Mujica’s main pitch is his devastating splitter, and it is tailored towards contact. Averages show that all “contact pitchers” eventually have to allow hits, but don’t forget that this pitch has a 19.5 whiff percentage in 2013 and has helped him record 45 strikeouts in just under 63 innings. Thus, he’s really not a pure “contact pitcher,” he just does not get nearly as many strikeouts as pitchers like Trevor Rosenthal or Aroldis Chapman.

I decided to break down these five outings (two hits allowed per outing) further to see if I could spot anything of note. In each of the five outings, Mujica allowed the lead-off hitter to reach base via a double (vs. Pittsburgh), single (vs. Cincinnati), double (vs. Milwaukee), single (vs. Seattle), and single (vs. Colorado). Allowing the lead-off hitter to reach can spell disaster for a late-inning reliever, especially in one-run ballgames.

From April 13th through June 19th, Mujica had 26 appearances and recorded 21 straight saves. During that span, Mujica had 15 appearances (57.7%) in which he did not allow a single hit. For comparison and disregarding the one-out outing on September 6th, Mujica has not had a hit-less outing since August 26th–7 appearances ago.

Also during that span, he allowed the lead-off hitter to reach base only three times (11.5%) in 26 opportunities. As I stated above, Mujica has allowed the lead-off hitter to reach in five of his last six appearances–not a good

Trying to figure out what has been different, I took the time to graph each at-bat that resulted in hits against Mujica in these five troubling appearances, and a pixelated image of it is shown below:

1305458_10200643425150546_2073743277_n

If you look closely (probably not possible given the pixelation of the image), of the 10 hits he has allowed, seven of them have come against his splitter and three against his fastball. Only four of the hits have come on pitches near the middle of the strike zone–with two of them being the singles last night by the Rockies. I also noticed that he is still setting up his pitches well by changing the hitters’ eye levels on the pitches prior to the hits.

Thus, Mujica is still pitching well in my opinion–changing speeds, locating well, and changing hitters’ eye levels throughout the at-bats.

So what’s different, then?

Well, during that span in which he had 21 straight saves, Mujica’s splitter averaged 87.45 MPH and its average horizontal movement was 8.22 inches (tailing action). Over his last six outings, his splitter is averaging just 85.8 MPH and its horizontal movement has been averaging 7.28 inches.

In these appearances, his splitter is averaging 1.65 MPH slower and is tailing 0.94 inches less. This may not seem like much, but for a “contact pitcher,” this is a big deal. He relies on that extra bit of movement to lead to less solid contact from the hitter. Also, the slower speeds can lead to hitters being able to sit back and read the pitch’s break before taking their swings.

It’s a long season, and he has the second most innings pitched by a Cardinals reliever behind Rosenthal. The numbers above show that he is either tiring or has a lingering injury that is affecting his performance.

Conclusion:

If the Cardinals want to make a legitimate run at their 12th World Series title, they need Mujica to return to the form he was in earlier this season. This may not be possible given the innings he has logged, but he at least needs to get closer than where he is at right now.

Allowing two hits per outing in the 9th inning of playoff games is simply not going to cut it. Thus, he either needs to get rest now or figure out if there is some mechanical flaw in his motion. Like I said earlier, he is still pitching well mentally and is locating his pitches, hitters are just being fooled like they were earlier in the season.

In short, if Mujica is unable to figure out what is going on, the Cardinals need to insert Rosenthal into the closer role. Mujica is one of my favorite Cardinals, but if he cannot figure out what is going on, the team needs to remove him from such a crucial role.

Until next time…

Joe

For more updates, follow me on Twitter: @stlCupofJoe

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St. Louis Cardinals: Breaking Down Lance Lynn’s Numbers

Photo Credit: cbssports.com

Photo Credit: cbssports.com

Cardinal Nation, it is time to give Lance Lynn some of the respect he deserves.

But, Joe, doesn’t he have a really high earned-run average? Well yes, he does. His 3.98 ERA is the 35th highest of starting pitchers in the MLB. However, regular ERA can at times be deceiving, so there is another statistic out there to come to Lynn’s defense (pun intended?)–fielding-independent pitching (FIP).

According to Fangraphs, FIP “measures what a player’s ERA should have looked like over a given time period, assuming that performance [by the defense] on balls in play and timing were league average.” Well, Lynn has the 16th best FIP in the MLB at 3.16. This ranks him above stud pitchers Cliff Lee (3.17), Yu Darvish (3.21), and Jose Fernandez (3.23).

What about his efficiency? He has to be the least efficient pitcher out there, right? In short, no.

Lynn is not the most efficient pitcher out there, but he is definitely not the least either. He is averaging 16.4 pitches per inning which is 28th highest in the league. Basing efficiency off this statistic, some notable pitchers that can be considered “less efficient” than him this season are Justin Verlander (17.4 pitches/inning), Gio Gonzalez (17.1 pitches/inning), and Shelby Miller (16.7 pitches/inning).

Well, then he for sure doesn’t go deep into games, does he? This notion is incorrect as well. Through 21 games started this season, Lynn has 129 innings pitched, which means he is averaging just under six and one-third innings pitched per outing.

Unless you are Adam Wainwright, the Cardinals really do not need the starter to pitch in the 8th and 9th innings that often with how effective Trevor Rosenthal and Edward Mujica have been this season.

Thus, based on the average of six and one-third innings per outing, Lynn leaves only two outs for the rest of the bullpen to get before reaching the Rosenthal/Mujica combination. With how effective Seth Maness and Kevin Siegrist have been, they are fully capable of getting these two outs, so Lynn, once again, is not really punishing the team.

Lynn is no Wainwright or Miller, but he does not have to be on this team. St. Louis needs him to step up and be a reliable third or fourth starter, and as shown above, he is doing just that.

One last statistic I would like to throw out there is the quality start stat. A quality start is defined as any outing in which the pitcher completes six innings and allows no more than three runs. Lynn has 12 quality starts this season, second on the team to Waino (who has a league-leading 17). He has two more than Jake Westbrook and three more than Miller.

Room for Improvement

However, for all the praise I just gave Lynn, I 100% agree that he does have room for improvement, and the biggest thing he needs to work on if he wants to play a role in the post-season is his “efficiency.”

Through 21 games this season, he has thrown 2,108 pitches. This averages out to be just over 100 pitches per outing. He needs to cut down on this or else he will have a second half just like last season. I delved deeper into his pitch statistics to see what can be done for him to improve, and I came up with one thing. Before I get to that, though, let’s go over the numbers.

Lynn: Pitch Location Percentages

Credit: BrooksBaseball.net

Credit: BrooksBaseball.net

42% of his pitches in the strike zone, that can’t be good, can it? Well, let’s compare this to someone else in the National League. Wainwright. Waino is widely considered as one of the top-three NL Cy Young Candidates, and his percentages look like this:

Credit: BrooksBaseball.net

Credit: BrooksBaseball.net

The “inefficient” pitcher, Lynn, actually throws more pitches in the strike-zone than Wainwright by 2.99%. Then, why does Wainwright average 14.2 pitches per inning–2.2 less pitches per inning than Lynn?

Some would answer this by saying that Lynn just tries to strike everybody out. Is this really the case, though? Based on strikeouts and innings pitched, Lynn is averaging 0.95 strikeouts per inning compared to Wainwright who is getting 0.90 strikeouts per inning. Lynn may not be just pitching for strikeouts after all.

Then what’s the problem? What is causing him to have the 28th highest pitch per inning rate in the majors? Let’s look into it a little further.

Lynn: Swing Percentages

Credit: BrooksBaseball.net

Credit: BrooksBaseball.net

Wainwright: Swing Percentages

Credit: BrooksBaseball.net

Credit: BrooksBaseball.net

Hitters are not swinging at Lynn’s pitches that are out of the zone like they are with Wainwright. Hitters are swinging at nearly 10% more of pitches out of the zone when facing Waino than when they are facing Lynn. Why is that? Though no one can be entirely sure, I think I have a good reason behind this.

Lynn: Pitch Type Percentages

Credit: BrooksBaseball.net

Credit: BrooksBaseball.net

Using this table as reference, 84.78% of his pitches are variations of his fastball–fourseam, sinker/twoseam, and cutter. After including the changeup, 88.86% of Lynn’s pitches are considered “straight.” Sure, his sinker/twoseam and cutter have movement, but what makes these effective are their late movement–thus, they are not really considered breaking pitches.

Thus, his relative inefficiency lies here. Lynn is unable to locate his “straight” pitches. To be honest, at this point in his career, he may never gain control of these pitches. He either will always be wild or needs to fine-tune his mechanics which is usually something that is reserved for the off-season, not in-season.

Now, after five tables and various ramblings, I will state what I think Lynn needs to do…

What Lynn Needs to Do

To combat his inablity to locate his “straight” pitches, he needs to throw more curveballs. Hitters watch film and read scouting reports. They know that nearly 90% of what Lynn throws is straight. So if it looks like it is out of the zone coming from his hand, it will most likely stay out of the zone when it crosses the plate. The guesswork as to whether a pitch is going to be a strike or not is not as big of a deal for hitters facing Lynn.

So, why is Wainwright so “efficient” when only 39% of his pitches cross the plate in the strike-zone? One of the biggest reasons is his regular use of his curveball.

If Lynn wants to become more efficient, he needs to start utilizing his curveball more often. Wainwright throws his curveball 27% of the time, while Lynn throws his only 11% of the time. Sure, he does’t have a curveball half as good as Wainwright’s, but he needs to do something to keep hitters off-balance and second-guessing whether or not a pitch is going to be a strike or not.

He loves his fastball and for good reason, it is a fantastic pitch. However, by introducing a curveball on a more regular basis, hitters will start swinging at more pitches out of the zone. If hitters swing at more pitches out of the zone, this will ultimately lead to less pitches thrown per outing–increasing his “efficiency.”

Conclusion

To date, one of his best outings this season was against the Pittsburgh Pirates on April 26th. He pitched seven innings, racked up nine strikeouts, and allowed just two hits and one run. In that game, Lynn used his curveball 22% of the time. He threw 106 pitches over seven innings–a 15.1 pitch per inning average. Thus, he was 1.3 pitches per inning more efficient than his current season average.

The outing that had people cringing was his start against the Chicago Cubs just before the All-Star break. In that game, he failed to get through the fifth inning, allowing six earned runs in the process. In that game, of the 74 pitches he threw, only TWO of them were curveballs.

Thus, unless he plans on magically gaining control of his fastball mid-season (very unlikely), he needs to start throwing his curveball more often. The statistics show that he is already missing the strike-zone 58% of the time, so he might as well make it a little more deceiving to the hitter by throwing a pitch that has movement. By doing this, he will not only get more swings on pitches out of the zone, but  will also get more swings and misses on his fastball due to the velocity difference between the two pitches.

Thank you for hanging with me on this one.

Until next time…

Joe

Follow me on Twitter: @stlCupOfJoe

Come September, Trevor Rosenthal Should Replace Edward Mujica as Closer

Photo Credit: ESPN.com

Photo Credit: ESPN.com

Edward Mujica was an All-Star for the first time in his career this season, and he was well deserving of the honor. The St. Louis Cardinals are 25 games over .500 right at 62-37, and a pretty big reason has been Mujica’s performance as closer. However, as weird as this may sound to some people, Mujica is not the answer for the Cardinals if they want to make a deep playoff run to the World Series.

Mujica’s Statistics:

Don’t get me wrong, Mujica’s statistics through 99 games have been nothing short of incredible for St. Louis. He is an NL-leading 30 for 32 (93.75%) on save opportunities, and he has appeared in 45 games out of the ‘pen.

In 44 and two-thirds innings pitched, he has 38 strikeouts and just two walks. His earned-run average is near the league lead for relief pitchers at 2.01. He is holding hitters to a stifling batting average of .198. Lastly, for the sabermetrics guys, his 2.76 SIERA is still in the “excellent” range.

Rosenthal’s Statistics:

However, for as good as Mujica has been this season, Trevor Rosenthal has been even better. Rosenthal has 23 holds compared to just two blown saves thus far this season. Like Mujica, he has also appeared in 45 games.

In 48 and one-third innings pitched, he has racked up 71 strikeouts to just 10 walks. His earned-run average rivals Mujica’s at 2.23. Batters are hitting just under .230 against him, which is slightly higher than Mujica. However, his SIERA is over one point better than Mujica’s at 1.71–4th best of pitchers who have pitched at least 40 innings this season. A SIERA as good as Rosenthal’s basically means that he is striking out a lot of hitters (71), walking very few (10), and if hitters do make contact, it is usually not very solid contact.

Also, he is highest among relievers with 71 strikeouts–just three above the 68 tallied by the almighty Reds’ closer, Aroldis Chapman. (Reds fans, if any of you are even reading this, I realize that Chapman has pitched in 8 less innings than Rosenthal so calm down.)

Comparative Analysis:

Mujica and Rosenthal have had fantastic seasons so far, and both would have been worthy All-Star selections. However, this is just the regular season, and even if the Cardinals stay hot and finish with the best record in baseball, they cannot take home their 12th World Series trophy without first making it all the way through the playoffs.

Well then … what are the biggest differences between regular season games and playoff games?

1. Increased pressure. (Duh!)
2. Fewer runs scored.
3. Cooler temperatures–leading to more defensive swings, less solid contact, and ultimately fewer runs scored (point #2).

Thus, one of the most important characteristics for a closer in the playoffs is his ability to make hitters swing and miss, and this is where Rosenthal clearly outperforms Mujica. Rosenthal strikes out just under 36% of the batters he faces, while Mujica strikes out just 22% of them. This point can be further accentuated by Rosenthal’s 13.3 strikeouts per nine innings compared to Mujica’s 7.5 strikeouts per nine innings.

According to PITCHf/x, hitters make contact 70.6% of the time they swing at a Rosenthal pitch, while they make contact 77.3% of the time they swing at pitch thrown by Mujica.

Rosenthal is giving up a home run every 18 innings compared to Mujica giving up one every nine innings. This can be a game-changer, especially in one-run save opportunities. One late-inning home run allowed can not only determine the outcome of one game, but it can also play a key role in deciding the series as a whole. Advantage: Rosenthal.

Critics have made a point in saying that the Cardinals’ defense is not as good as the fielding percentage may show. I have not had the time to analyze this much, but it is believed by many that the reason the team’s fielding percentage is so high is because the defense as a whole lacks range. If the defense lacks range, it gets to fewer balls, and by getting to fewer balls, it has less chances to make an error.

If proven to be true, this “lack of range” will probably be exposed in the playoffs and become a much bigger deal since runs come at a premium in October. Thus, this is just another reason why Rosenthal is the better choice for the Cardinals in the playoffs.

Conclusion:

Mujica has done a great job as closer, and as long as he remains effective, I recommend the Cardinals to still use him till the beginning of September. The reason I say this is because Rosenthal is still a rookie, and I don’t want him to have too much stress put on his arm before the playoffs.

Sure, Rosenthal has pitched more innings than Mujica so far, but let’s be honest “closer innings” can be more stressful than “set-up man innings” at times. Now I am not undervaluing the set-up man role here, just saying that the stress of “closer innings” can add up, especially on a 23 year old rookie like Rosenthal.

The main reason I believe Rosenthal should take over in early September is so he can get comfortable in his new role and get whatever “growing pains” he faces out of the way by the start of the playoffs. This will also give the team ample time to evaluate Rosenthal and see if he is truly ready to take over as closer for the most important parts of the season–the stretch run and the playoffs.

A huge thank you to Mujica for what he has done and will continue to do in the closer role until September, but if the Cardinals want to get #12in13, it is in the team’s best interest to move Rosenthal into the closer role.

Until next time…

Joe

Follow me on Twitter: @stlCupOfJoe

Are the St. Louis Cardinals Utilizing Carlos Martinez the Right Way?

Photo Credit: ESPN.com

Photo Credit: ESPN.com

UPDATE: 12:50 PM on 7/25: Via Derrick Goold, the Cardinals have optioned Martinez to Triple-A Memphis, recalling LHP Marc Rzepczynski. This poses the question: Is “Scrabble” up to contribute for the rest of the season, or is he up to showcase his arm one more time at the big-league level for potential suitors? We will soon find out.

Carlos Martinez‘s “role” for the St. Louis Cardinals. What is it? Does he even have one?

Thus, I took to Twitter to ask the expert, Cardinals’ beat writer, Derrick Goold, and this is what he had to say:

photo (48)

Given Goold’s response, the latest rumors linking Martinez to Alexei Ramirez (this has to be a bogus rumor by the way), and the way he has been used since his latest call-up, I decided to delve deeper into the topic. Before I get into possible roles for Martinez, I will give a brief run-down of his season so far.

First Stint in St. Louis

Martinez was up earlier this year in May and had what seemed to be a middle-relief role. However, he was not designated to a specific inning and was used sparingly–making just seven appearances for a total of eight innings pitched. He was basically making one appearance every four days. During that span, he had a 4.50 earned-run average while tallying nine strike outs to just three walks.

His ERA was elevated mainly because of one bad outing against Colorado in which he allowed three hits, one walk, and three earned runs in just two-thirds of an inning. Of his seven appearances, he did not allow a run in five of them. Surprisingly for a flamethrower, he allowed 14 ground balls compared to just seven fly balls. He did not allow a home run during this stint.

Back to Triple-A Memphis

Due to his sparse use out of the big league ‘pen, the front office decided to send him down–looking to “stretch him out” so that he could possibly fill the void at the end of the rotation left by injuries and a suddenly ineffective Tyler Lyons.

From May 28th through July 5th, Martinez made eight starts in Triple-A and worked his way up to where he was averaging over 90 pitches each outing. Thus, it is safe to say that he was successfully “stretched out.” He may not have developed the efficiency the team had hoped–only pitching more than seven innings once (a gem against the Iowa Cubs), but he was stretched out nonetheless. During this stint with the Redbirds, he went 3-2 with a 1.98 ERA. In 41 innings pitched, he recorded 35 strike outs while walking 16 batters. In those 41 innings, he allowed just 1 home run and batters were hitting .226 against him.

Second Stint in St. Louis

Thus, pleased with his performance in Triple-A, the Cardinals decided to call Martinez up on July 11th for the second time this season. Most saw this as a short-term move to fill in for an overworked bullpen, but exactly two weeks later, Martinez is still a part of the big league bullpen.

However, just like before, the Cardinals have only used him sparingly. In nine team games since his second call-up, Martinez has a grand total of three appearances for just three and one-third innings pitched. In his first appearance, he kept the Cardinals in the game against the Cubs on July 13th by pitching two scoreless innings, but his last two appearances have been what can be termed “mop-up” duty only.

On July 19th, six days after his last relief appearance, Martinez struggled in this “mop-up” role against the Padres. Hopeful to have a night off for closer, Edward Mujica, Matheny sent in Martinez to close out the ninth for the Cardinals who were leading 9-3 at the time. Martinez followed by allowing three hits, one walk, and three earned runs and was able to record just one out. Because of this poor performance, he forced the Cardinals to use Mujica when they really did not want to.

Just last night, with the Cardinals leading 11-3 over the hapless Phillies, Martinez came in again to close out the ninth. This time, he had much more success–retiring Philadelphia in order on just 13 pitches.

His second stint has been just as uneventful as the first. However, he has yet to allow a home run in the big leagues and with a 2.75 SIERA, it shows that major league hitters have trouble making solid contact against him, if at all. Thus, with all this in mind, it leaves fans and writers wondering what exactly his role is for this team? Well, as I see it, there are four possible options for Martinez, and for his sake, the Cardinals need to use him in one of them.

Four Possible Options for Martinez

1. Although I hate this term, Martinez can serve as the “bridge” between the starters and the 8th/9th inning combination of Trevor Rosenthal/Mujica. This is essentially the role that Mujica assumed for the Cardinals after coming over from the Marlins last season.

2. Martinez can fill the void and assume the position of 5th starter in the rotation. Sure, Matheny has done a great job at juggling the rotation and utilizing off-days so that the team has not needed a 5th starter yet. However, the team has 19 straight games without a day off, so a fifth starter is absolutely necessary. If the team sent him down to Triple-A to get stretched out and he was impressive enough to be called up, shouldn’t he at least get a shot in the rotation? What’s the worst thing that could happen? If he struggles, the team can look at other options like returning to Joe Kelly or giving Lyons another chance.

3. He can be traded. Although I strongly disagree with this option, I have come to the realization that there really is no such thing as an untouchable prospect anymore. If the members of the front office find a deal that they truly believe will make the team better–both in the short-term and the long-term–then can they really pass that up? I have been having trouble finding a trade that will help the Cardinals out in the long-run (meaning past this season), but that is why I am just a Twitter/Blogging-GM, not a well-respected GM like John Mozeliak.

4. He can be sent back down. I don’t really like this option either, but if he is not going to be used in one of the aforementioned roles, then what is the point in having him sit in the bullpen and pitch one inning every 5th or 6th day? He is too valuable of an arm to not gain the experience needed to be a successful big league pitcher in the future. Sure, he can learn a lot from the pitchers on the big league roster through side sessions, but what he really needs is to face live hitters and develop an effective off-speed pitch to complement his electric heater. If he is indeed sent down, I see the team either calling up Keith Butler for the bullpen or Lyons for the 5th spot in the rotation.

Until next time…

Joe

Follow me on Twitter: @stlCupOfJoe

The Year of Stan Musial: St. Louis Cardinals Get 6 All-Stars

Photo Credit: sportslogos.net

Photo Credit: sportslogos.net

We all know that Stan Musial did incredible things on and off the field during his lifetime, but based on the way this year’s All-Star rosters panned out, it seems as if he is still having an impact on his beloved, St. Louis Cardinals.

When the All-Star rosters were announced, St. Louis had two starters and three bench players. Yadier Molina was voted in as the starting catcher over defending league MVP, Buster Posey. Carlos Beltran collected enough votes to be the starting right fielder for the National League.

Bruce Bochy, the National League manager, chose Allen Craig, Matt Carpenter, and Adam Wainwright to round out his roster. Most teams would be thrilled to have such an impressive representation in the All-Star game, but I knew something was just a little off about having five players this year (and no, this is not a stab at Albert Pujols).

2013 has been dedicated to Stan “The Man” Musial. This is shown each and every game by the #6 patches that adorn the sleeves of the Cardinals jerseys. Five players in the All-Star Game was nice, but that was not the right number given the circumstances of this season. The team needed six players this season, and it could be seen as another tribute to The Man.

When manager, Mike Matheny, decided to manipulate the rotation a week before the All-Star break to give Wainwright the opportunity to pitch twice, it set up perfectly for the Cardinals to get their sixth man added to the team. However, there were no guarantees because it was all left up to Bochy to name the All-Star replacements. Would he even be interested in putting another Cardinals player into Wainwright’s open spot?

Well, Wainwright did a really good job at campaigning for Mujica to take his spot. He was very straightforward in saying, “If my spot can go to a guy who’s not on the roster, preferably on this team named Mujica, I would like to see that happen. Of course, I want to pitch in the game. But I don’t want to be a liability in any way. If I have a pitch count of 12 pitches in an inning … I want to see a guy who really deserves to be there go and get a chance to pitch.”

His proposal was accepted by Bochy, and during his outing on ESPN’s Sunday Night Baseball, it was made official that Mujica was named to take his spot–the sixth Cardinal on the National League All-Star roster. Could Trevor Rosenthal, Shelby Miller, or even Lance Lynn also made the team? Each one could make their own case, but that just was not going to work this year. The Cardinals had their six, and I am sure that is exactly how Stan would want it.

A Quick Video Tribute to Stan

One will never forget this legendary home run hit by The Man 58 years ago. Just two years ago, this 12th inning walk-off home run by Musial was voted as the top moment in All-Star Game history.

Good luck to the team’s representatives as they take on the American League for the rights to home-field advantage in the World Series. It would only be fitting if Craig (or AC Hammer as I like to call him) or Carpenter could hit a walk-off home run just like Stan did back in 1955.

Photo Credit: Carlos  Beltran's Twitter

Photo Credit: Carlos Beltran‘s Twitter

Above is a picture of the six Cardinals representatives on the plane that took them to New York for the All-Star festivities. Notice that Mujica has started a trend with his hand gesture that he describes as “the Cardinal” based on its shape.

UPDATE: The American League won the game, 3-0. Molina and Carpenter both went 0 for 2 in the game. Beltran went 1 for 2 with a single, and Craig lined out to left off of the great Mariano Rivera.

Thus, the Cardinals’ quest for a 12th World Series title will have to come through an American League stadium. Good thing the Cardinals are 30-20 on the road this season.

Until next time…

Joe (@stlCupOfJoe)

Edward Mujica Replaces Adam Wainwright in All-Star Game

Photo Credit: sbnation.com

Photo Credit: sbnation.com

All-Star News:

Since Adam Wainwright started tonight’s game against the Chicago Cubs, he is unable to pitch in the All-Star Game on Tuesday. Thus, Edward Mujica has been named to replace his spot on the team. Don’t worry, though, Wainwright will still be making the trip to New York to enjoy the All-Star festivities with his teammates.

Season Recap thus far:

At the beginning of the season, who in Cardinal Nation had Mujica making the National League All-Star team? If you found yourself nodding your head or raising your hand, you are most likely lying.

When Jason Motte went down before the season, I will be honest, I was really worried. The St. Louis Cardinals had finally found a reliable closer in Motte, and now he was out for the season.

Who was going to take his place? Well, as we will never forget, the team started with Mitchell Boggs–the reliable set-up man from last season. We know how that turned out. Soon after Boggs’ implosion, fans cried out for Trevor Rosenthal to get his chance as closer.

Well, the Cardinals decided that last year’s deadline deal, Edward Mujica, was the guy for the job, and 92 games into the season, he has not looked back.

Mujica has pitched in 40 games this season, and he is an impressive 26 for 27 on save opportunities (96.3%)–good enough for second in the National League in saves. He is averaging just under eight strikeouts per nine innings and has an amazing 17:1 strikeout-to-walk ratio. Opposing hitters are batting just a measly .186 against him

Now, a Brief Tangent on Sabermetrics:

@elmaquino (one of the best follows on Twitter–so go follow him!), introduced me to a sabermetrics statistic called SIERA. SIERA stands for Skill-Interactive ERA. It is a pretty complicated statistic so to simplify, it basically tells you that strikeouts are good and walks are bad. Well, duh. It also takes into account balls in play–the higher the ground ball rate of a pitcher, the more outs the defense will likely get which ultimately leads to less runs scored. Well, according to Fangraphs, an excellent SIERA is anything less than 2.90. So far this season, Mujica’s SIERA is 2.63! Thus, according to this statistic, his performance this year can be considered even better than excellent.

In Closing:

Yadier Molina is widely considered as the first-half MVP of the National League. Matt Carpenter should be getting consideration for this award as well based on his performance in the lead-off spot and his easy transition to second base. Wainwright has been the ace of the starting rotation and is in contention for the Cy Young Award. Rosenthal has been a lights-out set-up man, and he has shown the organization that he is likely the closer of the future.

All four of these players have been huge for the Cardinals, but let’s be honest, where would the Cardinals be right now without Mujica? Sure, Rosenthal could have stepped in as closer and dominated, but who would have pitched the eighth then? Would Mujica have been just as successful as the set-up man as he has been as the closer? We will never know, and we do not really need to find out since both have excelled in their current roles.

Thus, since Mujica has done so much for the team this season, it is only right for him to be in the All-Star Game. Could Rosenthal have taken Waino’s spot as well? Sure, but Mujica was the guy Wainwright promoted to take his spot. Rosenthal is just 23 years old, and I am positive that he will make his fair share of All-Star appearances in the future.

Make sure to check out the All-Star Game on Tuesday at 7:00 PM Central on FOX.

POST-GAME UPDATE:

Mujica blew tonight’s save, so he is now 26/28 on the season which is still more than respectable. It is ironic that Wainwright promoted Mujica to take his spot, considering Mujica’s two blown saves have kept Wainwright from being a 14 game winner. Then again, that just shows how great of a teammate and leader Waino  is for the Cardinals.

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)