Viva El Birdos: Interview with St. Louis Cardinals Pitcher Joe Kelly

GIF Credit: MLB GIFS

GIF Credit: MLB GIFS

As most of you already know, I have moved my blogging ability over to SB Nation’s Viva El Birdos.

Don’t worry, I am still known as stlCupofJoe over there as well. That is something I hope I am able to retain for the entirety of my blogging “career.”

I am so grateful for the amount of opportunities I have had since joining Viva El Birdos. I have been able to interview many of the Cardinals top prospects: Lee StoppelmanKurt Heyer, Joe Cuda, Alex Reyes, Carson Kelly, Rob Kaminsky, and Oscar Mercado. I still have interviews set to publish on Marco Gonzales and Randal Grichuk later this week. If you have missed any of the above interviews or just would like to read them again, feel free to check them out by clicking on the player’s name.

Each one of those interviews have been absolutely awesome. However, I am writing this post to bring your attention to the biggest interview I have had in my short blogging career. I was able to exchange questions and answers with St. Louis Cardinals hybrid pitcher, Joe Kelly, and the link to that interview can be found here. I can assure you that this interview is in the “must-read” category for all Cardinals fans because some of his answers are absolutely priceless.

Also, I am in charge of managing the site’s Twitter and Facebook accounts, so if you have accounts on either of those, make sure to give us a follow or a like:

You can follow us on Twitter: @vivaelbirdos or Facebook: Viva El Birdos.

Thank you so much for your continued support, and I hope you have continued to follow me at my new location.

Go Cards!

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A Role for Carlos Martinez (by Jared Simmons)

guest post by Jared Simmons. You can find him on Twitter: @McGeeTriples.

.gif credit: SB Nation

.gif credit: SB Nation

The glut of young, power arms possessed by the St. Louis Cardinals has been well documented. Some fans have called for the organization to maximize the value of their assets and relieve the rotation’s logjam through a trade. However, I have always believed the old cliché about never having too much pitching. So, how then, can the Cardinals get the most value out of all their young arms when they can’t all fit into a five-man rotation?

Adam Wainwright, Shelby Miller, and Michael Wacha are locks for the rotation with Jaime Garcia, if healthy and effective following shoulder surgery, destined to be in the mix as well. That leaves Joe Kelly, Lance Lynn, and Carlos Martinez vying for the final starting spot. There’s been talk from John Mozeliak himself about C-Mart potentially starting the year in AAA if he cannot crack the big-league rotation. This line of thinking is very pragmatic and follows the conventional wisdom. But I believe that there’s another, less conventional way for Carlos to dramatically impact the Cardinals season without 1) being in the starting rotation or 2) being the “eighth inning guy.”

The odds of Martinez beating Kelly or Lynn out for the 5th and final rotation spot appear slim and honestly, seem undesirable. Where can Martinez impact the game the most? I would argue that the gap in production between any of these three in the 5th starter role would be negligible over the long season. Further, the 5th starter is unlikely to see a start in postseason play and therefore asked to step into a role that he has not performed in all season. I want Carlos Martinez to pitch early and to pitch often when the postseason rolls around.

The late-inning relief roles are stocked with good pitchers. Trevor Rosenthal, Jason Motte, and Kevin Siegrist are flame-throwers and should be able to hold down the fort in the 7th, 8th, and 9th innings pretty efficiently. As a result of these surpluses the Cardinals have the luxury of breaking the mold or returning to the old mold–if you prefer–and using Carlos Martinez and his electric arm as a super reliever.

Let’s define “super reliever” for the purposes of this blog post: a super reliever is a relief pitcher whose role is not tied to a particular inning. Today, closers pitch the 9th and setup men pitch the 7th or the 8th innings. If anything different is asked of these players, they lose or their agents lose their minds on their behalf. Saves and holds earn dollars.

Meanwhile, games are lost in the 5th inning when a starter loses his mojo and gets in a jam. Or the sixth with the bases loaded and a two run lead, does the manager call the bullpen for his best guy knowing that this is the confrontation that will likely determine the outcome of the game?

No.

Instead, the manager calls for Seth Manness. Or Fernando Salas. Or Maikel Cleto. When this happens, the odds of losing the game skyrockets—all because the manager is paralyzed by fear and handcuffed by convention.

The “super reliever” eliminates this scenario because his role is to put out the fire whenever the flame sparks. The super reliever is just like the closer—only more flexible, more durable, and more valuable. If the game is on the line in the 6th, this man (Carlos Martinez) will slam the door. If Trevor Rosenthal has pitched 3 straight days, Carlos Martinez will save the game without breaking a sweat. If a game goes into extra innings and all other bullpen options are exhausted, the super reliever will go 3 innings, shut the door, and send the crowd at Busch home happy.

The super reliever is also not tied to an arbitrary one-inning limit. He pitches as needed, and gives way when the situation dictates that he should. And because he’s not tied to an inning or a particular situation, he is free to do this—as tomorrow the setup men and the closer will still be there to do the overrated, overvalued, and overpriced task of coming into their predefined inning with a 3 run lead, no one on base, and retiring the opposing 7, 8, and 9 hitters for the 29th best team in baseball.

The super reliever is the leverage reliever. The man to pitch anywhere, anytime as long as the outcome hangs in the balance. The bullpen arm who can count for two roster spots and determine the difference between winning and losing.

For the Cardinals, this man is or rather should be Carlos Martinez with his electric fastball and devastating slider. A man with a reliever’s arm and a starter’s stamina. His career ahead lies in the rotation, but for now, with the excess of young arms already on the roster, his most potential impact is in this unconventional role I just described.

I believe Carlos Martinez has a rare gift in his right arm. In my view, C-Mart has the stuff to become a legendary figure in the annals of Cardinal pitching lore – if only he is able to refine his command and remain healthy. As such, I hope the Cardinals will utilize him in as many game-deciding situations as possible. With the traditional bullpen roles in good hands and the long-relief/mop-up role being handled by the odd man out of the rotation (Lynn or Kelly) the most efficient way to capitalize on C-Mart’s talent will be in the same way that old school closers were used: 100-120 innings of flame-throwing, season-defining, high-leverage relief.

Shortening the bullpen with C-Mart in this manner does a lot of things for the Cardinals:

• It allows the greatest number of the team’s bullpen innings to be pitched by the team’s best pitchers.

• Gives Manager Mike Matheny the ability to ration the workloads of Motte, Siegrist, Rosenthal, and even Seth Maness (whom Matheny loves for some reason). This is important because for the 2014 St. Louis Cardinals, the goal is winning a World Series. And NOT in the same way that it’s the goal for every team in the MLB. Really winning a World Series. Barring catastrophe, the regular season is just a formality the Cardinals have to wade through on their way to October. So, having your power arms fresh and peaking at playoff time is of more concern than how well they can play in April.

• Rations C-Mart’s innings. The Cardinals, like most teams, are concerned with preserving their young arms for the long-term (Note Shelby Miller’s disappearance from the playoffs). Being able to manage Carlos’ innings throughout the season will hopefully eliminate any desire to hold him back in October.

• Ensures that the bridge from the starter to the shutdown portion of the bullpen is as smooth as possible. There’s value in the middle innings. Close games are often lost in the 5th or 6th innings. Big leads are lost nearly every time Fernando Salas steps on to a major league mound. It also limits the desire of modern managers to trot every member of a bullpen into every single game until they find the one guy who is going to have a bad day. C-Mart is easily capable of going 2-4 innings at a time on any given night.

• Gives the Cardinals roster flexibility. Martinez’s ability to pitch so many innings out of the bullpen means the Cardinals don’t have to carry as many pitchers if they don’t want to. Or if they choose to carry 12 pitchers—they don’t have to use them as often.

The Cardinals have a lot of different ways they can go with Carlos Martinez in 2014. They afforded themselves this luxury because of half a decade’s worth of smart decisions in free agency, the draft, international pool, and with their own players. Carlos Martinez is a weapon they can use from the 5th inning to the 9th inning.

He should be used in tight games, and he should be able to rack up a ton of relief innings. If you make him the “eighth inning” guy, you are unnecessarily limiting him and are probably only going to get 60-80 innings out of him. More innings = more value. Pitcher’s with elite arms like Martinez have not generally been used in this manner since the 80’s, but the presence of Motte, Siegrist, and Rosenthal means that they can deploy Martinez anytime, anywhere and still be covered at the end of the ballgame.

Make sure to follow Jared on Twitter: @McGeeTriples

Jared

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

Yadier Molina’s Hitting Approach AND 3 Monkey Sports Giveaway

Photo Credit: Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

Photo Credit: Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

Disclaimer: This will be a shorter post than usual so that we can get to the 3 Monkey Sports Giveaway at the end of the post!

Two and a half years (2004-2006) into his Major League career, Yadier Molina was a .238 hitter. Yet, during this time, Molina threw out 62 of 122 (51%) would-be base stealers, so his lack of offense was not too big of an issue.

In his book, One Last Strike, Tony La Russa said that he would have started Molina at catcher every single game during his tenure as manager even if he had a .000 batting average. This is a testament to Molina’s ability behind the plate. In nine years for the Cardinals, Molina has racked up an ample amount of defensive trophies: 5 Gold Glove Awards, 2 Platinum Glove Awards, and 5 Fielding Bible Awards.

Yet, if the last three seasons are any indication, Molina has shown to have developed quite the ability at the plate as well–hitting .305 in 2011, .315 in 2012, and .319 this year. Here is a quick look at his standard batting statistics from the last three seasons:

stats

As I looked deeper into the statistics, I found that of his 465 hits since the start of 2011, 105 of them (22.6%) have occurred on the first pitch of the at-bat. For perspective against his overall averages, Molina hit an incredible .361 on the first pitch from 2011 through this season. I used to question Molina’s approach when he swings at the first pitch, but after looking at his numbers, I can no longer complain.

Next, I looked at his yearly spray charts, and I found something quite intriguing–something that shows how good Yadi truly is at handling the bat and making season-to-season adjustments.

2011 Spray Chart
yadi2011

2012 Spray Chart
Yadi2012

2013 Spray Chart
MolinaSprayChart2013

As you can see, the majority of Molina’s hits were to center and right field in 2011–the year in which he hit .305. In 2012, pitchers undoubtedly made adjustments after watching game film of Yadi’s approach in 2011.

Yet, as you can see by the 2012 spray chart, Yadi was one step ahead of the pitchers and made his own adjustments as well. He hit .315, and the majority of his hits were to left field.

Finally, in 2013, a year after he was largely a “pull-hitter,” Yadi reverted back to his 2011 approach by having the majority of his hits to center and right field–while recording a career-best .319 batting average.

Brief Conclusion

Molina is obviously one of the best defensive catchers in the Major Leagues, if not the best. One of the main reasons he is so good defensively is his baseball intelligence–something raved about by both La Russa and current manager, Mike Matheny. Well, over the last three seasons, Molina has applied his baseball intelligence to the plate as well, and here’s how:

1) Molina realized that sometimes the best pitch to hit in at-bat is the very first pitch, and his .361 batting average combined with 12 home runs and 57 RBI on the first pitch have been an integral part of his offensive production over the past three seasons.

2) Molina, as a game-caller for his own pitchers, knew that pitchers would make adjustments to his hitting approach based on his performance the year before. Thus, he made adjustments as well–being an “opposite-field” hitter in 2011, a “pull” hitter in 2012, and an “opposite-field” hitter again in 2013. Is this merely a coincidence? It very well could be. However, with such a big sample size–an entire season–one would think that he has purposely brought different approaches to the plate each year.
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Information on the 3 Monkey Sports Giveaway Contest!

3 Monkey Sports was kind enough to provide a Matt Adams autographed baseball and a Joe Kelly signed photo for two lucky readers of my blog.

How to enter:
1) Follow them on Twitter: @3monkeysports
2) You can follow me on Twitter, too: @stlCupofJoe (optional)
3) Enter your Twitter handle/name into the “Comments” section of this blog post.
4) Only one entry per person, and only legitimate Twitter handles/names will be accepted

How the Winners will be Picked:
1) The contest opens at 11:30 AM CST on 10/3/13 (when this was published)
2) Entries will be taken up until 11:30 AM CST on 10/4/13 (one day later)
3) At this time, I will compile the list and place all names into a hat.
4) The first name picked (AND verified) will get first choice on their prize.
5) The second name picked (AND verified) will get the remaining prize.
6) @3monkeysports will contact the winners on Twitter via Direct Message.
7) Winners must reside in the United States or Canada for shipping purposes.

For privacy reasons, I do not want people to be sharing emails in my comments field because this can lead to unwanted spamming. Thus, this contest is limited to people who have a Twitter account. If you do not have a Twitter account, I am sorry, but this is just the best way to do it. You can always make one if you do not already have one as well.

Be sure to check out www.3monkeysports.com for all sports’ memorabilia! Thank you so much for their generosity in providing two awesome items of two young Cardinal stars!

Good luck to all! Make sure to share this blog and contest with other Cardinal fans!

#12in13

Until next time…

Joe

Fox Sports Ohio is a Terrible Way to Watch the St. Louis Cardinals

Photo Credit: Fox Sports Ohio

Photo Credit: Fox Sports Ohio

As most of you know by now, I am a 5th year pharmacy major at Butler University in Indianapolis, Indiana. Thus, in order to watch the Cardinals while at school, they either have to be on national television or playing against the Cincinnati Reds. Well, tonight, I was lucky enough to catch the action on Fox Sports Ohio. However, I don’t think lucky is the right word to describe the telecast that I viewed. Yet, before I get into that, let’s review some of the key points from the game first…

Quick Game Recap:

The Cardinals beat the Reds 6-1. The Cardinals are now an incredible 25-3-2 in 30 series against the Reds in St. Louis since 2003.

Joe Kelly had yet another solid outing for the Cardinals. He was able to pitch around jams (with some help from the Reds’ base running) all night. He pitched 6 innings, allowing just one run–a solo shot from Shin-Soo Choo in the 5th. Kelly is now 6-0 in his last eight starts.

Every starter (minus Kelly) had a hit. Matt Holliday, Allen Craig, Matt Carpenter, David Freese, and Daniel Descalso all had one RBI in the game. The other run scored on a ground out double play by Craig in the first.

Kelly, along with the bullpen (Siegrist, Rosenthal, Maness), silenced the Reds after Choo’s solo home run in the 5th. Cardinals’ pitchers ended up retiring the last 13 Reds hitters in order.

With the win, the Cardinals pulled 1.5 games ahead of the Pirates and 4.5 games ahead of the Reds in the National League Central.

Here comes the juicy part…

Analysis of the Broadcast:

The Fox Sports Ohio telecast consisted of Thom Brennaman and Chris Welsh, and boy, were they extremely hard to listen to all game. After watching this telecast, it will be extremely hard for me to badmouth Danny McLaughlin and the Fox Sports Midwest crew ever again.

There were many things that made me mad, but the main thing that got under my skin was their pregame scouting report on Joe Kelly. I forget which broadcaster said this, but here is exactly what was said, “Kelly throws from 92-94 MPH, but the changeup is really his pitch.”

Mr. Brennaman and Mr. Welsh, who is providing you with your scouting reports? Whoever it is needs to re-check their references. To be 100% sure, I immediately looked up Kelly’s pitches on BrooksBaseball.net. Prior to the game against the Reds, Kelly had thrown 871 fastballs (44% four seamers, 56% two seamers), and the average speed on those fastballs was 95.64 MPH. Also, by my count, Kelly had roughly 30-35 pitches that were faster than this nonsense “92-94 MPH” scouting report provided by the Reds’ broadcast team.

As the game went on, the broadcasters still weren’t believers in Kelly’s fastball speed as shown by the following two quotes:

“I didn’t realize that Kelly threw this hard. He has to be having a little adrenaline flowing to touch 97.”

“[Kelly’s] fastball above average to what it normally is.”

In short, baseball broadcasters have one of the best jobs in the world. They are paid to watch and talk about baseball. Other than being a player, I really cannot think of a better job out there. As a professional, they should take ownership in providing viewers with the best information they can get. Broadcast teams have access to a lot more scouting reports than I do, so it could not have been that hard for them to find out that Kelly’s fastball has averaged nearly 96 MPH this season.

There were various other quotes on various other topics that I could have also included in this post, but I figured I would spare you from any more of them. The next problem I had with the broadcast irked me the most. I could not stand their lack of interest in the game. Choo hit a home run that temporarily brought the Reds back into the game, and yet Brennaman called it in such a bored tone. If you truly don’t want to be there, I am sure there are many people in Cincinnati willing to take over, Mr. Brennaman.

People can knock Danny McLaughlin all they want, but after what I just watched on Fox Sports Ohio, I will not be one of them. McLaughlin calls plays like he sees them, shows enjoyment to the game being played on the field, and interacts with fans via social media. All three of those (and many more) make him a much better broadcaster than both Brennaman and Welsh.

In closing, I am sorry that this post ended up being a rant. I guess this can be seen as a sign that I miss being back home in St. Louis. I promise to refrain from posts like this in the future, I just really wanted to make a point and felt this was the best way possible.

Until next time…

Joe

For more updates, follow me on Twitter: @stlCupofJoe

Official Member of the STLSportsMinute Network

Joe Kelly Should Not Be Overlooked for 2014 Rotation

Photo Credit: Jeff Curry/Getty Images

Photo Credit: Jeff Curry/Getty Images

Joe Kelly has been the best starting pitcher for the St. Louis Cardinals since the All-Star break. Including a brief stint back in the bullpen, Kelly has been one of the top pitchers in baseball since mid-June.

The table below is a breakdown of his statistics since June 14th:

Date G ▴ GS Dec IP ER BB SO HR ERA BA
Jun 14 to Aug 17 12 7 4-0 53.1 11 21 34 3 1.86 0.222

Those statistics are absolutely incredible. He may not be pitching that deep into games, but he has pitched at least six innings in four of his last seven starts.  Sure, the relievers (Maness, Siegrist, Rosenthal, Mujica) cannot pitch every single day, but who can really complain if Kelly pitches six innings and allows only one or two earned runs?

If Kelly is truly the team’s best pitcher since June, then why is he not really being considered for the 2014 starting rotation?

Let’s take a look at the current state of the 2014 rotation:

2014 Rotation “Locks”:
1. Adam Wainwright
2. Shelby Miller
3. Lance Lynn
4. ??
5. ??

Thus, this effectively leaves five (maybe six) guys for the final two spots:

a. Kelly
b. Jaime Garcia
c. Michael Wacha
d. Carlos Martinez
e. Tyler Lyons
f. John Gast

Case for Kelly:

His performance thus far in 2013 as a starter has been impressive. His stuff is just nasty. His four-seam fastball can touch 98 MPH on the radar gun. His two-seam fastball comes in around 93-96 MPH and has tailing action that leaves left-handed hitters buckling at the knees. He is gaining confidence in his changeup and slurve which will only make him a better starter in the future.

I realize that we have only seen a small sample size of Kelly as a starter, but as I stated above, he has the stuff to get both righties and lefties out. His laid-back personality shows that he will be able to survive a long season of up’s and down’s. Let’s see how he does for the rest of the season before locking him into the 2014 rotation, but the purpose of this article was to bring him into that conversation in the first place.

Case for Garcia:

He is left-handed. He has proven to be a successful pitcher thus far in his career–39-25 in with a 3.45 ERA in three seasons as a starter. Also, he is under contract through 2015 with team options for 2016 and 2017.

However, there are also few knocks on Garcia. His health always seems to be in question–he has now injured both his elbow and his shoulder in his short MLB career.

Also, for whatever reason, he has not been able to bring the success he has had at home with him on the road. From 2010 through 2012, his home ERA is an impressive 2.33. However, during that same span, his road ERA is 4.46. I cannot put a finger on this issue, but given the fact that half of his starts will be on the road, this can be troubling.

Case for Wacha:

He has been a successful starter in Triple-A. Just a year after being drafted, he has shown flashes of being a dependable starter at the big league level. Against the Royals in late May, he pitched seven innings and allowed just one earned run. When was the last time a Cardinals starter had a performance like that?

His stuff is unbelievable. He is able to touch 97-98 MPH on the gun, and his 6’6″ frame allows him to throw his heaters on a downward plane–kind of like Wainwright. His curveball has been nasty when it’s on, and given time, it will only get more consistent. He also has a change that can be effective as well.

Having only thrown just over 110 innings (Memphis + St. Louis) this season, has he been groomed to pitch 175+ innings next year? Not really. However, as a polished college pitcher with solid mechanics, I really do not see this as that big a problem for him.

Case for Martinez:

He has electric stuff. In his one big league start, he touched 100 MPH multiple times, and he flashed a devastating curveball. He has proven to be a successful starter in Memphis so far this season. Yet, he needs to fine-tune his off-speed pitches and learn how to get deeper into games. Look for him to develop this more the rest of the season and into the off-season.

Case for Lyons:

He is left-handed. He has been extremely successful for Triple-A Memphis–going 7-2 with a 3.39 ERA in 16 starts. He has not been able to translate this success to the big leagues just yet, but he has only been given seven starts so it may still be too early to tell.

His last start was actually pretty good–going 6.0 innings and allowing only three earned runs. This could have been even better had Matt Holliday caught that flyball instead of having it bounce off his glove/hand into the stands for a home run.

Case for Gast:

He is left-handed. Yet, it is tough to even make a case for Gast to be honest. Though he was 2-0 in three starts in the big leagues, he had a 5.11 ERA and was unable to pitch deep into games. Also, he is recovering from shoulder surgery and may not even be ready to return to live action until July 2014. Thus, with all the question marks, he is very unlikely to get this, but I figured I would include him in the conversation since he saw time in the starting rotation this season.

Trade Possibilities?

The Cardinals have a surplus of pitchers for just two starting spots in 2014. The organization also has some promising prospects that will look to crack the rotation sometime soon as well–Zach Petrick, Marco Gonzales, etc.

As we all know, shortstop is a weakness for the Cardinals. Though Pete Kozma has been good defensively in his rookie season, his bat has just been ice cold–.223 batting average, .273 on-base percentage, and .281 slugging percentage. He has not hit a home run since the second game of the season. The Cardinals already had Brendan Ryan at shortstop and dealt him for Maikel Cleto (haha!). Thus, they don’t need another one and need to make a move to improve at the position during the off-season.

It is likely at least three to five years before any of the team’s recent draft picks at the position will make it to the big leagues. Thus, wouldn’t it be smart to trade part a surplus to improve a glaring weakness?

Well, in my humble opinion, I really do not want to trade Wacha or Martinez. Both project to be top-end of the rotation guys and have shown flashes of brilliance in brief appearances in the big leagues.

The only other player on the above list that could bring a solid return would be Garcia. I realize that potential trade partners will be worried about his health, but he claims that he is on track to be ready by October so hopefully that is not an issue. Also, compared to other starters in the league, he has a relatively cheap contract–$7.75 million in 2014 and $9.25 million in 2015.

I realize that most people believe that every rotation needs at least one left-handed pitcher. This makes a lot of sense, especially if you face an opponent that has a lot of left-handed hitters. However, Kelly has been more successful against lefties than he has against righties this season. Also, Wainwright and Lynn have shown to be successful against lefties as well. Thus, does it really matter if the pitcher throws left-handed or not? In my opinion, as long as the pitcher is able to get lefties and righties out, then that is all that matters.

My Picks for the 2014 Rotation:
4. Kelly
5. Wacha/Martinez

  • I think Wacha is better suited for the spot at this time, but it is still hard to rule out Martinez

Until next time…

Joe

For more updates, follow me on Twitter: @stlCupofJoe

Official Member of the STLSportsMinute Network

St. Louis Cardinals Deadline DEALS: Joe Kelly, Daniel Descalso, Jon Jay

Photo Credit: Getty Images

Photo Credit: Getty Images

Disregarding the injury to Yadier Molina since it happened so close to the deadline and the catching market was extremely thin, what were considered the three major areas of need for the Cardinals at the trade deadline?

In no certain order:

a. Starting Pitcher

b. Shortstop

c. Center Fielder

Well the trade deadline passed, and externally, the Cardinals did not make a move to “improve” in any of these three areas. In fact, the only move the team made was sending embattled lefty, Marc Rzepczynski, to the Cleveland Indians for minor league infielder, Juan Herrera.

Some fans on social media as well as sports talk show hosts raised their respective eyebrows at the lack of moves, especially given the way the team was performing in Atlanta and Pittsburgh.

Well, as shown by the past two games, the Cardinals did make some “moves” after all, and they can truly be considered deadline DEALS.

a. They improved the starting rotation by inserting Joe Kelly into the 5th spot.

But what about Jake Peavy? Or Cliff Lee? Or even Bud Norris?

Well, since the start of June, Kelly has a 1.49 earned run average. In other words, in 42 and one-third innings pitched, Kelly has allowed just seven earned runs. His control has not been the best (1.73 K: BB ratio), but opponents just cannot make solid contact against him. Since June, opponents are hitting around .200 against Kelly. Also, since the All-Star Break, Kelly is 1-0 in two starts. He has 12 and one-third innings pitched and has yet to allow an earned run.

It would have been nice to add a pitcher like Peavy or Lee, but the asking price was just too high. As one team executive said on trading for Lee, “You’d have to give up your first born, second and third born, too.”

b. They improved at shortstop by going to a Daniel DescalsoPete Kozma platoon at the position.

Sure, Descalso is not a shortstop by trade, and after the season, the Cardinals really need to address this position. However, at this time, he is the team’s best option overall.

Kozma is better on defense, but Descalso is leaps and bounds ahead of Kozma on offense. Descalso’s on-base percentage is .321 while Kozma’s is .282. Get ready for this next point. Seriously, get ready. In 134 LESS at-bats, Descalso has just one less double than Kozma with 16, has four more home runs with five, and has just three less RBI with 29. 

Based on that alone, who should be playing shortstop more often? I guess if you are more of a fan of defense you will pick Kozma, but I have to go with Descalso. His offense more than makes up for what he is lacking in defense.

Thus, once again, the Cardinals did not have to sacrifice the future by dishing out top prospects for a marginal improvement at shortstop. Alexei Ramirez is a good player, but his value to the Cardinals compared to what the team already has at the position was not worth the asking price.

Is Descalso the future at shortstop? No, but he can fill a current need for the Cardinals at a much cheaper price. If Descalso’s defense really takes a tumble, then Kozma can take over. Plus, by having a platoon, it will motivate both players to work harder, and if one is struggling then the other can get more starts.

c. They improved in center by trusting that Jon Jay, a career .290 hitter, would start turning it around at the plate.

Post All-Star break, Jay is hitting .311 and has a .367 on-base percentage. There is only ONE player on the team with better numbers than that right now, and it is Matt Holliday. During that time, Jay has three doubles, one triple, and six RBI.

On the season, Jay may be hitting just .258, but this is definitely on the rise–he is hitting .300 since the start of July. Sure, he has a poor throwing arm and below-average range, but that takes a backseat if he is hitting like he has been. Also, as a past player, I am a firm believer in the notion that when a player starts hitting again, his defense often follows suit. Will this magically make his arm better? No. However, in my opinion, it will help him get better jumps on fly balls.

Sure, the team could have went out there and made a move for a center fielder, but in order to substantially improve at the position, Mozeliak would have had to relinquish one of the farm’s top prospects–something that just could not be done.

Thus, let’s start giving Jay some credit. He is not an All-Star by any means, but that is not needed on a team full of All-Stars. As long as he hits around .280 or higher and gets on base at least 33% of the time, he is getting the job done. Once Oscar Taveras is healthy, he will probably take over, but until then, Jay is our best option. Deal with it.

Conclusion

By filling needs internally and standing pat in center, the Cardinals not only improved for the rest of this season, but for years to come. Under the guidance of Jeff Luhnow and now Dan Kantrovitz, John Mozeliak, has carefully built a top-tier farm system–full of future impact players like Kolten Wong, Michael Wacha, Carlos Martinez, Taveras, etc.

Giving up Colby Rasmus in 2011 would look really bad right now if the team did not win the World Series. However, they did win so who can complain? Was there a deal out there that the Cardinals could have made that guaranteed them a better shot at winning the World Series? In my opinion, I do not think there was, so I am glad the Cardinals kept their prospects while improving the team in a much more cost-effective manner.

Until next time…

Joe

Follow me on Twitter: @stlCupofJoe

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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:

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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