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

Advertisements

Matt Holliday: One of the Most Cost-Effective Players in Baseball

AP Photo/Jeff Roberson

AP Photo/Jeff Roberson

Since Matt Holliday signed his Cardinals’ record-setting contract back in 2010, he has been one of the most cost-effective position players in all of baseball. Over the past four seasons, here are Holliday’s season averages:

.301 batting average
.386 on-base percentage
37 2B
25 HR
94 RBI

Cardinals’ owner, Bill Dewitt, has paid Holliday a total of $67 million over the past four seasons. During this time, Holliday has collected 651 hits, 148 doubles, 99 home runs, and 374 RBI. According to Fangraphs’ calculation of WAR, Holliday has accounted for 20.4 wins above replacement since 2010.

In my opinion, I feel that the numbers I just listed should be enough to show Holliday’s value to the Cardinals, but I realize that he has some really tough critics out there. I figured that these critics probably needed some more convincing, so I took it a few steps further.

I compared Holliday to some other “big money,” high-profile players around the league. I fully realize that there are other players like Mike Trout and Andrew McCutchen who have been better than many on this list. However, since they have not yet been given “big money” contracts, I decided to not include them in the discussion. Rather, I decided to compare Holliday against 12 other position players who have also made at least $53 million over the past four seasons. The results of my findings are as follows:

holliday1

Before we break down the numbers, let me point out that Holliday is the 9th highest paid player on this list of 13. Now, let me explain the most integral part of the table above–a measure that I will call “$ / WAR“–super creative title I know. The main point of this measure is to see how much a team is paying a player for the wins above replacement that he provides(If there is already a statistic out there just like this, my bad!)

Well, as you can see, the Cardinals are paying Holliday $3.27 million per one win above replacement. Of the 13 players included in the discussion, only two have been better–Miguel Cabrera (duh!) at $2.99 million per WAR and Adrian Gonzalez at $3.13 per WAR. Some notable names below Holliday on the list are Albert Pujols, Joe Mauer, and Prince Fielder. Also, if you look again, Holliday has the second most wins above replacement on the entire list–behind reigning AL MVP, Cabrera.

Another thing to note is that Holliday is 6th on the list when it comes to percentage of games played (89.51%) and is the 3rd most durable outfielder behind freakishly healthy Ichiro and Alfonso Soriano. Considering how violent of a swing Holliday takes and the fact that he plays a position that requires a lot of running, it is pretty unbelievable that a big guy like him has been able to play in almost 90% of his team’s games since 2010.

A Quick WAR Mini-Digression:

I realize that there are many people out there that are not big fans of WAR, and I completely understand your opinion. However, to me, it is our best way of calculating a player’s overall value right now. Sure, you can look up the standard numbers like batting average, on-base percentage, home runs, etc, but once you start comparing a player’s rank among numerous different categories, you are basically creating your own way of calculating a player’s value compared to others in the league.

If that did not make sense, I realize that it was kind of wordy, let’s look at it another way. In my opinion, Miguel Cabrera is one of the best players in Major League Baseball, if not the best. However, I will not say that Miguel Cabrera is the best player in baseball just because he has the highest batting average. Rather, I will see that he also leads the majors in on-base percentage, slugging percentage, OPS, and is in the top five of a slew of other offensive categories. Thus, by creating an argument for Cabrera by combining all of his individual numbers together and comparing them to others–I would basically be creating my own make-shift definition of a player’s value.

Back to the Point of this Article:

Holliday-haters, I really hope you were able to read this article. Holliday has not only been one of the most valuable players for the Cardinals over the past four seasons, but he has been one of the most valuable in the entire major leagues as well. The only players ahead of him in “$ / WAR” are perennial All-Stars, Miguel Cabrera and Adrian Gonzalez.

If you still do not like WAR even after my two paragraph mini-digression, then just look back at his standard season averages–.301 BA, .386 OBP, 37 2B, 25 HR, and 94 RBI. For $17 million per season in today’s market, that is an incredible deal for the Cardinals.

Until next time…

Joe

For more updates, follow me on Twitter: @stlCupofJoe

Official member of the STLSportsMinute Network

St. Louis Cardinals: What Has Been Different for Jon Jay?

Photo Credit: David Banks/Getty Images

Photo Credit: David Banks/Getty Images

At the start of August, Jon Jay‘s batting average was .253. Now, 18 games into August, it is up to .273, and he appears to be climbing towards that coveted .300 mark. Needless to say, Jay has been one of the hottest, most consistent hitters for the Cardinals of late.

Jay has the most hits (27) and most RBI (17) in the National League for the month of August. He is second in doubles with eight. His batting average is .370, his on-base percentage is .420, and his slugging percentage is .562–over 50 points higher than Cardinals’ slugger, Matt Holliday.

So, what is different then?

It does not appear that his batting stance is drastically different than what it has been. His hands may be a little higher, but nothing too obvious to the fan’s eye. If anything, it looks like it is closer to what his stance was at the beginning of the season when he was slumping–at one point in April, his average dipped all the way down to .197. Yikes!

Hmm…

Well, let’s take a look at his (hitting) spray chart for the month of August. This may show that he is using a different approach at the plate.

jayhits

Thus, it looks like the difference is that he is finally consistently hitting the ball to the opposite field. Sure, he has pulled a couple singles to right field, but the majority of his power has been the opposite way to left–including both of his home runs.

In April, he struggled with a .213 batting average, and his spray chart looked much different (shown below):

jayApril

As you can see, he did not have a single extra base hit to left field in April. Sure, he had a couple up the middle, but nothing truly to left field. This is vastly different than his performance in August in which he has already hit two home runs out to left and has had multiple doubles down the left field line.

I won’t bore you with another spray chart, but if you look at his chart from 2012, a year in which he hit .305, he was hitting the ball to the opposite field on a regular basis, just like he has been in August thus far.

In short, Jay is not a “pull” hitter. To be honest, he is at his worst when he is pulling the baseball. We all have seen him roll over on pitches and hit slow ground balls to the first or second basemen many times throughout his career. Well, those are a direct result of him not allowing the pitch to get deeper in the zone.

His stance may not be much different, but his approach at the plate has most definitely changed. He is letting pitches get deeper in the zone and is looking to shoot them out the other way, a la Matt Carpenter.

I know that opposing pitchers and pitching coaches will notice that he is taking a lot of pitches out to left field because they have access to more in-depth scouting reports than I do. As a result, they will start pitching inside to Jay more and more. Thus, if he has a little cold streak for a while, give him time to adjust. Jay has a .293 career average for a reason–he will figure it out. Jay has proven to be an integral bat for the St. Louis lineup (notice, this post has nothing to do with his defense).

Final point. It is in Mike Matheny‘s best interest to keep Jay in the 6th spot of the lineup. It is where he has enjoyed the most success this season. In 91 at-bats in the 6th spot, he has 28 hits and 21 runs batted in. Of those 28 hits, seven have gone for doubles and three have been hit over the fence for home runs.

Until next time…

Joe

For more updates, follow me on Twitter: @stlCupofJoe

Official Member of the STLSportsMinute Network

P.S. It did not take a rocket scientist to figure out what Jay has been doing differently during his recent hot streak, but I figured I would make it easier for my readers to compare his different spray charts in one post.

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

New Month, Familiar Pitcher: Matt Holliday Will Get Bat Going

Photo Credit: USAToday.com

Photo Credit: USAToday.com

No one involved with the St. Louis Cardinals was happier to see the month of May end more than six-time All-Star left fielder, Matt Holliday. May 2013 was one of his worst months at the plate in his entire nine year career. Holliday hit .235 in the month with an on-base percentage of just .303–81 points below his career OBP of .384. To put this in perspective, the Cardinals had four position players with higher batting averages in May than Holliday’s on-base percentage

No matter what his many critics say, Matt Holliday is an All-Star hitter who, barring a significant injury, will soon turn it around to get his numbers up to near his career averages: .310 batting average, 24 home runs, and 90 RBI. If there is one thing that is for certain about Matt Holliday, it is his consistency over the course of his career, so Cardinal nation should not worry too much about his hitting–after all, it is just June 3rd.

Tonight is the perfect night for him to get back on track. He faces off against a pitcher he has had success against–Trevor Cahill. In nine at-bats against Cahill, Holliday has three hits–all for home runs. Thus, I would not be surprised to see Holliday have two extra-base hits tonight at Busch Stadium against the Arizona Diamondbacks.

What to expect from Cahill in terms of pitches? According to BrooksBaseball.net, he has increased his reliance on his cutter so far in 2013–throwing it 20% of the time to left-handed hitters and 27% of the time to right-handed hitters. He also has a quality sinker that he throws around 50% of the time. Thus, he is a ground ball pitcher who has allowed only 4 home runs this season. However, as we have seen in the past with sinker-cutter pitchers, it just takes one pitch up in the zone for a player of Holliday’s caliber to deposit it into the outfield bleachers.

Plus, based on an article by Fox Sports Arizona written earlier this season, it seems as if Matt Holliday is in Trevor Cahill’s head. In the article, Cahill was quoted in saying, “Every team I’m on, he’s always killed us.” He followed by describing Holliday as “probably the strongest guy [he’s] seen” and that “if [Holliday] gets the barrel on [the pitch] it is going to go out.”

Thus, Trevor Cahill knows that Matt Holliday likes hitting against him, and I am sure Matt Holliday was delighted to see that Trevor Cahill was scheduled to pitch tonight. It is the perfect time for Holliday to get his bat going to not only silence his many critics but to join in on the fun that the Cardinals offense has been having as of late.

Other Game Notes:

David Freese, who is finally seeing the ball well, looks to extend his 12 game hitting streak tonight. He has had a .357 batting average during the streak which has raised his season average to .256.

Matt Carpenter, looking to stay hot in the top spot, brings an 11 game hitting streak into the game as well.

Lance Lynn toes the rubber in hopes of improving on his 7-1 record.

Until next time…

Joe (@stlCupOfJoe)

Seventh Heaven

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Until next time…

Joe
@stlCupOfJoe