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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On Jon Jay Versus Shane Robinson (by Jared Simmons)

Photo Credit: fantasycpr.com

Photo Credit: fantasycpr.com

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

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

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

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

You can count me out of both groups.

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

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

So let’s get into it…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

…A World Series championship.

-Jared

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

You can follow Jared on Twitter: @McGeeTriples

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

Mark Ellis: A Welcome Addition to the Offense

Photo Credit: Associated Press

Photo Credit: Associated Press

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo Credit: BrooksBaseball.net

Photo Credit: BrooksBaseball.net

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

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

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

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

Until next time…

Joe

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

The 2014 Cardinals and Beyond Need Allen Craig at First Base

Photo Credit: Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images

Photo Credit: Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images

The 2014 St. Louis Cardinals and beyond need Allen Craig at first base. Before I lose readers, let me make this clear: this post is not meant to be a knock on the ability of Matt Adams or Craig’s defensive ability in the outfield. Will I take a look at their defensive numbers? Of course I will, but as you are reading, keep in mind that this is not the main point of the article.

With four years and $28.25 million (not counting a $13 million team option in 2018) left on his current contract, it is in the team’s best interest to have the 29-year-old Craig on the field as much as possible. Sure, the team warded off the Pittsburgh Pirates for National League Central crown with Adams at first base, but if the World Series is any indication, Craig was sorely missed.

As we all know by now, the 2014 projected lineup consists of Craig taking over Carlos Beltran‘s spot in right-field and Adams stepping in at first-base on a full-time basis. Craig’s UZR/150 in right-field last season? -24.3. To put this in perspective, Beltran’s was -18.7, and we all had some very strong opinions on his declining defense over the past two seasons.

I understand that one season is a pretty small sample size so I dug a little deeper. In 627 right-field innings in his career, Craig’s UZR/150 sits at -5.6–making him “below average” at the position. At first base, Craig had a 3.3 UZR/150 in 2013 and is at 0.3 in just under 1,600 innings played at the position in his career. As Corey Noles noted back in July, Adams vastly improved his defense in 2013, but even at his best, he is an inferior defender compared to Craig. For those wondering, Adams’ career UZR/150 at first base (792.1 innings) is -1.9. To his credit, though, he was much improved in 2013 at -0.5 compared to -4.1 his rookie season.

As you can see, the Cardinals’ defense is much better with Craig at first than in right-field. Obviously, as long as Oscar Taveras‘ health remains a huge question mark and until he proves he can perform at the big league level, they have no choice but use Craig in right. This was made apparent when Beltran left on a three year deal with the Yankees.

However, despite these numbers and like I said in the first paragraph, my reasoning behind the Cardinals needing Craig at first has very little to do with Craig’s or Adams’ defense ability.

Craig, a fan favorite for both his performance and his effort, plays the game 110%. Two of his major injuries are a perfect example of this. He fractured his knee cap crashing into the side wall at Minute Maid Park back in 2011. Last season, he injured his foot rounding first base trying to extend the play on an overthrow (to this day, I blame the umpire for being in his way). Were both injuries fluky? Yep, but if he is called upon to play 140+ games in the outfield in 2014, there is a pretty good chance he will get injured again.

Craig was an All-Star last season, had one RBI every five at-bats, and hit .454 with runners in scoring position. His foot injury left him out of live action for almost two months, yet he came back and did what he does best in the World Series–hit. In 16 at-bats, he had six hits. That’s incredible. He is the “Amazing Whacker Guy” after all.

Adams is due for a breakout season. He will have more experience, he will get more at-bats, and he will be fully healthy. Corey Rudd of stlsportsminute.com wrote a detailed piece for the Yahoo! Contributor Network breaking down this belief. However, despite this, I don’t think I will have many people disagreeing with my following statement.

A fully healthy Allen Craig is more important for the success of the Cardinals than a fully healthy Matt Adams.

Could Adams prove me wrong in this statement? He sure could, but at this point in both their careers, it is hard to argue with the Craig’s resume.

Could Craig still get hurt at first base? Yep, but there’s a much lower risk there than in the spacious outfield of Busch Stadium.

Could the addition of Peter Bourjos lead to less range needed to be covered by Craig in the outfield? Absolutely! Bourjos has some of the best range in baseball, but the outfield walls will still be there, and I am fairly certain Craig will run into one or two throughout the course of the season. Sure, he could ease up on 50-50 balls, but that’s not the way Allen Thomas Craig plays baseball. The Cardinals gave him the five year extension because he not only plays the game at a high level, but he also plays it the right way–the Cardinal Way.

In conclusion, do I want Adams’ bat in the lineup every day for a full season? You bet I do. However, I do not want it at the expense of Craig’s health. With Beltran gone, the Cardinals will ask even more from Craig next season. They need 550+ plate appearances from him. Can he get that while playing right-field all season? Yes, he could, but I like his chances of reaching that number much more if he played most of his games at first.

Obviously, if set-backs occur with Taveras or he doesn’t perform the way the organization would like early in the season, this post won’t mean much. Yet, I still figured it was exploring because if he does perform the way many scouts believe he can, he will be an ideal fit in right-field for the long-term.

I leave you with this. The 2014 ZiPS projections for Craig, Adams, and Taveras from ESPN’s Dan Szymborski. These only include offensive statistics, which wasn’t really the main point of this article, but I still figured they were worthy of being included in the post.

2014ZiPS

I would love to hear your thoughts on the topic. Feel free to include them in the comments section below.

Until next time…

Joe

For more updates, 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.
_____________________________________________

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

Carlos Beltran Making His Case for 2014 and Beyond

Photo Credit: USATSI

Photo Credit: USATSI

At the end of the 2013 season, Carlos Beltran will officially become a free agent again. Since the departure of Albert Pujols, he has been one of the most consistent power bats in the St. Louis lineup. Yet, with Oscar Taveras looming and Allen Craig fully capable of playing the outfield (and Matt Adams taking over at first base), do the Cardinals even need to re-sign Beltran? After all, he is 36 years old and will command a contract somewhere around the $15 million per year range.

I know that there have already been numerous articles written on this topic, but I figured I would give you my take anyways. In my opinion, I do think the Cardinals should re-sign Beltran for two more seasons, especially with Taveras’ health being in question. An All-Star two years in a row for around $15 million per year is a steal in today’s market.

One of the knocks on Beltran from last season was that he had a dismal performance after the All-Star Break. Numbers don’t lie, he did indeed struggle mightily in the second half–hitting just .236. Yet, in 2013, he has had 110 at-bats since the All-Star Break and has collected 33 hits–good for a .300 batting average. Thus, was his poor second half in 2012 just an anomaly?

We have a couple more weeks to find this out for sure, but he looks fine thus far. If you want to break it down further, Beltran is hitting .357 with two home runs and four RBI in his last seven days–including this moonshot against the Brewers.

After hitting 32 home runs last season, Beltran is on pace for 28 (22 thus far) this season. He had 97 runs batted in last season and is projected to have 86 this year. He still gets on base at pretty solid rate–.342–good enough for 29th in the National League.

Lastly, Beltran is statistically one of the best playoff hitters of all time. In 2012 for the Cardinals, he hit .357 with three home runs and six RBI in the playoffs. For his career, Beltran is hitting .363 with 14 home runs and 25 RBI in just three playoff years. If the Cardinals plan on making the playoffs the next couple years, wouldn’t it be nice to have a bat like this in the lineup?

Bold Statements:

I admit, I will be playing “Fantasy Land General Manager” here, so please bear with me.

I am not alone in saying that I believe the Cardinals should re-sign Beltran. However, I am one of the few that also believes that the Cardinals should trade Adams while his value is still high. One of the biggest holes in the Cardinals’ lineup this season has been at shortstop. I admire Pete Kozma, but he just is not an everyday big league shortstop.

Can Adams play shortstop? No, he cannot, but he just may provide the value (along with some minor league pitchers) needed to land a much-needed upgrade at the shortstop position. Adams started out on fire for the Cardinals, but his production has dropped off a bit in July and August–hitting just .239 in July and .267 thus far in August.

Adams is a good hitter, but as long as he is in the National League, he is limited to one position. Thus, his value increases in the American League with the designated hitter being an option for him as well. So, who has something that can help the Cardinals at shortstop?

In my opinion, the Baltimore Orioles. According to ESPN’s depth chart, the Orioles current designated hitter is Steve Pearce. He is hitting just .245 with three home runs and nine RBI. Adams is hitting .282 with nine home runs and 36 RBI this season. Based on the numbers, Adams would be a substantial upgrade for team at DH.

So, who do they have that would make trading Adams worthwhile for the Cardinals?

Jonathan Schoop. He is a top prospect for the Orioles who is currently playing at their Triple-A affiliate. He is fully capable of playing shortstop, second base, and third base. Schoop has played 58 games in Triple-A, and he is hitting .252 with eight home runs and 31 RBI.

Is Schoop even available? Maybe not, but it would not hurt the Cardinals to put together a package involving Adams and some pitching and give it a shot. Schoop was asked for in trades involving both Jake Peavy and Matt Garza so it will take a lot to pry him away from Baltimore, but as a mere blogger, it does not hurt to aim high sometimes.

Regardless of whether or not Schoop would even be available, the Cardinals would be better off in 2014 if they re-signed Beltran and traded Adams for an upgrade at the shortstop position, in my humble opinion.

Thus, let’s take a look at the my 2014 lineup projection:

1. Carpenter (3B)
2. Beltran (RF)
3. Holliday (LF)
4. Craig (1B)
5. Molina (C)
6. Wong (2B)
7. Jay/Taveras (CF)
8. Schoop/Other Upgrade (SS)

That would be a pretty potent lineup. I like Adams. I like him a lot. However, long-term, he is limited to one position in the National League, and that scares me. Craig can play in the outfield, but he has had injury trouble in the past. His bat has proven to be an integral part of the Cardinals lineup, so I feel more comfortable with him manning first base.

Re-signing Beltran and dealing Adams would not only improve at shortstop but would also keep Craig at first base. Also, should Taveras’ ankle be 100% healthy next season, the signing would not necessarily stunt his development either. Because of the injury, I think Taveras will start out in the minors, but he won’t stay there for long. Once called up, there would be plenty of opportunities for Taveras to play in both right and center to give Jay and Beltran rest. If healthy and successful, Taveras could even take over in center field for a few seasons, leaving the Cardinals with a high quality fourth outfielder in Jay.

As always, I am open to whatever criticism you may have.

Until next time…

Joe

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St. Louis Cardinals: Time to Break Homer Drought against Bronson Arroyo, Reds

Photo Credit: Getty Images

Photo Credit: Getty Images

After 13 runs scored in the last night’s game against the Pirates, the Cardinals’ offense may have finally gotten its “mojo” back. Let’s hope it can carry over in Cincinnati for the crucial series against the Reds.

Before tonight’s game, let’s break down the Cardinals’ hitting against the game one starter:

Bronson Arroyo: 138 innings pitched, 9-8 record, 3.26 earned run average, 76 strikeouts, 25 walks, 18 home runs allowed.

Against the Cardinals, Arroyo is 0-2 in three starts. He has 19 innings pitched with eight earned runs. He has allowed three home runs–one each to Holliday, Beltran, and Adams.

However, disregarding past performances against St. Louis, Arroyo is coming off a really good July. In five starts, he was 3-2 with a 2.16 earned run average. He had 33 and one-third innings pitched with eight earned runs. He allowed five home runs and had 19 strikeouts to just five walks.

Bold Prediction: One home run each for Holliday and Jay. Okay, the first is a lot less bold than the second, but given the current homer drought, I figured it was fine calling any home run a bold prediction.

So when is Arroyo most vulnerable? The first pitch. In 84 at-bats this season, hitters have 29 hits with 10 doubles, three home runs, and 12 runs batted in. Why is he most vulnerable on the first pitch? Well, the only straight pitch he has is his fastball. He only throws it 13-14% of the time. However, 17-18% of his first pitches are fastballs–most likely an attempt to get ahead of the hitter. Thus, Cardinals’ hitters won’t see many straight pitches tonight so expect them to be first pitch swinging more often than not.

I know that in my last article I said that Adron Chambers deserves a shot to start now that he has been called up, but given the current outfield’s success against Arroyo, it will be difficult for Matheny to keep any of the three from the starting lineup.

Let me explain why below…

Cardinals Hitting vs. Arroyo:

Those in bold are the hitters to watch.

Matt Carpenter: 1 for 12, .083 batting average, .083 on-base percentage, 1 single, 1 strikeout

Carlos Beltran: 11 for 32, .344 batting average, .400 on-base percentage, 2 doubles, 1 triple, 2 home runs, 6 runs batted in, 5 strike outs

Allen Craig: 1 for 14, .071 batting average, .071 on-base percentage, 1 double, 2 runs batted in, 2 strikeouts

Matt Holliday: 16 for 51, .314 batting average, .386 on-base percentage, 4 doubles, 4 home runs, 10 runs batted in, 10 strikeouts

David Freese: 1 for 15, .067 batting average, .125 on-base percentage, 1 single, 4 strikeouts

Jon Jay: 13 for 32, .406 batting average, .424 on-base percentage, 2 doubles, 1 triple, 1 home run, 3 runs batted in, 3 strikeouts

Tony Cruz: 1 for 5, .200 batting average, .200 on-base percentage, 1 double, 1 strikeout

Pete Kozma: 1 for 7, .143 batting average, .143 on-base percentage, 1 single, 2 strikeouts

Daniel Descalso: 9 for 25, .360 batting average, .360 on-base percentage, 3 doubles, 1 triple, 4 runs batted in, 3 strikeouts

Matt Adams: 1 for 1, 1 home run, 2 runs batted in

Based on the above statistics and some other factors, here is the lineup I would use for the game.

1. Carpenter 2B
2. Beltran RF
3. Craig 1B
4. Holliday LF
5. Freese 3B
6. Jay CF
7. Cruz C
8. Descalso SS
9. Miller P

I originally had Adams in the 4-spot playing first base, but given Craig’s successful night at the plate last night, I decided that he should be kept in the lineup–moving him to the 3-spot and Holliday to the 4-spot–just like last night.

Another thing to watch for is Shelby Miller and his ability to keep the ball in the ballpark. He has allowed home runs in three of his past four starts. Thus, he will have to work extra hard at keeping the ball down in the zone given the ballpark and its proclivity to allow home runs.

Game Prediction: Cardinals 6, Reds 3.

Until next time…

Joe

Follow me on Twitter: @stlCupOfJoe