As a baseball fan, this has been the worst offseason I can remember. It’s just been so boring; the hot stove has been like someone forgot to pay the gas bill. From the Cardinals’ perspective, it’s been a little better than most. The team did add Paul Goldschmidt and Andrew Miller (though not much else) and is on the verge of locking up Goldschmidt to a long-term deal. That’s pretty good, I guess, but it’s not nearly all the team needed. When you compare it to what most teams have done, it’s a veritable rebuild. It’s fair to say, for example, that roughly half the teams in the American League aren’t even trying to win games. I can’t imagine what it must be like to be a fan of the Orioles, Rangers, or Tigers. In the NL, it’s not quite so bad but it’s fair to say that there are more teams in the NL West NOT trying to win than there are teams actually trying to win.
There’s a fundamental problem in the game when at least a third, and approaching half, the teams in the sport are making no attempt to compete. Yes, these are businesses and yes, it’s entertainment, but the real entertainment is in having competitive teams playing competitive games against other competitive teams. I guess it’s fun to go watch the Harlem Globetrotters every now and then but no one’s buying MLB.tv so they can sit and watch them beat up on the Washington Generals 162 times.
As a Cardinal fan it’s frustrating knowing that your team is on the verge of being a true contender and needs only to add another piece or 2 – and seeing those pieces are available because so many teams have just decided it’s better to try and lose 100 games than to win 85 – yet they’re seemingly unwilling to add that extra piece. Meanwhile, billionaire owners seem to be doing everything they can to break the player’s union as the sport gets closer and closer to the expiration of the CBA in 2 years. And minor leaguers are toiling for below minimum wage – and still the billionaire owners are fighting to preserve that – and some are going to be forced into giving up the game because they can no longer afford it. There are literally billions of dollars in the game and minor leaguers are going to quit playing because they can’t afford to live on what they’re being paid. Think about that.
Spring training is supposed to lift our spirits and it does for most but for me it’s way overrated. Now, one spring I went and actually attended spring training for a week with my son. That was a blast and I highly recommend it. But I don’t want to sit and watch games that don’t count and don’t really matter. Most importantly, though, it’s that I just loathe all the ridiculous stories that come out of spring training. It seems like all the good stories are bullshit…
- “Dexter Fowler’s in the best shape of his life!”
- “I’ve never seen Fowler hit a ball that hard before!”
- “Does Wainwright have a new wipeout splitter?” Hint: no.
- “Can O’Neill hit 40 bombs and strike out less than 100 times?”
- “Carpenter has a new throwing motion and may be a Gold Glover at 3rd!”
- “Reyes looks better than ever!”
- “Hudson looks like he could be a dominant starter!”
Meanwhile, all the bad stories are true…
- “Ozuna still can’t throw the ball from LF to 3B.”
- “Reyes will be a reliever.”
- “CMart can’t throw right now and when he can he’s going to the pen even though he doesn’t want to.”
- “Bader hasn’t hit a loud foul all spring.”
- “The rotation is going to include Wainwright and Hudson while Reyes and Martinez will – hopefully – be in the bullpen and, by the way, Dallas Keuchel is still a free agent.”
- “Gyorko is hurt and still isn’t playing.”
- “Yadi is 36 and injured his shoulder playing games that didn’t matter and had to have offseason surgery.”
I can’t stand that stuff. I guess it’s just a running joke that every team has at least a dozen “best shape of their life” stories every spring but it just gets so old to me.
What I care about is what the team really looks like and what the season really looks like. While the team has plenty of talent, so does the NL Central, and it’s pretty obvious to me that the team still has holes to fill.
Both John Mozeliak and Bill DeWitt have taken their hits from the public for their failure to do what they needed to do over the last 3 years to get the team to the postseason. Some of that has been fair and some unfair but it strikes me that a 4th year left watching games on TV in October could lead to Mozeliak’s dismissal. Fair or not, he may be held accountable just as Matheny was last July.
Looking at the Fangraphs’ Playoff Odds page you can see that the Cardinals right now are projected for 84 wins and have about a 43% chance to make the playoffs. That’s pretty good – exactly 5th highest in the NL which would put the team on the road in the Wild Card game – but it also means a 57% chance of not making the playoffs. And to me it looks like the Brewers are pretty underrated according to the site. Fangraphs gives the Brew Crew just a 27% chance of making the playoffs and projects them for just 81 wins.
The Cardinals also sit smack-dab in the toughest division in baseball as both the Cubs and Brewers are very solid teams while the worst teams, the Reds and Pirates, are still considerably better than the worst teams in every other division. The bottom line is that a not-terrible team will finish last in the NL Central whereas in the AL Central a terrible team will finish 3rd.
One other notable revelation found among the NL’s playoff odds is that while the Cards project for 84 wins, the Phillies project for 85 and have a 49% chance to make the playoffs. It’s no secret, of course, that the Cardinals could have used Bryce Harper and instead he became a Phillie. That’s probably been debated enough on the Cardinal interwebs but he doubtless would have made the team better this year and for many years in the future. I guess it’s reasonable to conclude that some combination of Fowler/Martinez/O’Neill could combine for 2 – 2.5 wins and that a 3 win upgrade or so to Harper isn’t worth $330 million but it’s pretty clear that those 3 additional wins that Harper could have provided could prove to be extremely valuable.
Now none of us will ever know where Mo stood on the potential pursuit of Harper; it was always his job to parrot the company line. It’s clear that DeWitt didn’t want to throw $300+ million to Harper (or possibly, anyone) since he’d be the one actually writing the check. Maybe Mo agreed with that decision and maybe not but one can’t help but wonder if the decision not to sign Harper will be the one that keeps the Cardinals out of the playoffs for the 4th consecutive year. And that decision was indisputably DeWitt’s. Let’s face it…even if Mo was against it, if DeWitt had wanted to go after Harper, he’d likely be a Cardinal right now.
To be sure, this isn’t the only decision that could potentially keep the team out of the playoffs. Mo has unquestionably made his share of mistakes since taking the helm back in 2007. But if the team does miss the playoffs by a game or 2 as seems very possible – they missed by just a game last season – especially if the Phillies do end up in the playoffs, then DeWitt’s decision to stay out of the Bryce Harper chase would have been an important factor in preventing the team from making the playoffs.
One can’t help but wonder how much of a leash Mo has with the team. They always talk about having high expectations and Cardinals’ fans will surely not be happy with missing the playoffs a 4th consecutive year. I would doubt that this could lead to Mike Shildt’s dismissal – he surely has a longer leash than just a year and a half – but 4 consecutive years out of the playoffs could lead DeWitt to decide that it’s time for Mozeliak to go. If that’s the case then it would be fair to argue that DeWitt’s decision not to sign Bryce Harper is the final nail in Mo’s coffin. Is DeWitt setting Mozeliak up to take the fall if the team falls short again?
Now I’m not saying that DeWitt wants to get rid of Mo and is deliberately sabotaging the team so that he can justify firing him. That’s stupid. But it’s clear that DeWitt didn’t want to pay Harper. He does still owe Fowler $49 million, after all. Mo has been tasked with figuring this out and getting the team back to the playoffs without that $300+ million debt and, if Mo can’t get it done again, his head could be the one on the chopping block. If so, it’s very possible that the 3 or so additional wins Harper could have provided could end up being the difference between Mo keeping his job and Mo losing his job.
That’s the way it goes, of course. It’s a high stress job and every manager, GM, and VP of baseball ops knows going in that there’s a good chance he’s going to be fired one day. I’ve long been a fan of Mozeliak but, like most fans, I’m not going to be thrilled if the team fails to make the playoffs again and I can recognize that Mo has made some mistakes over those 12 years. Still, it wouldn’t shock me if the team wins 86 or so games, misses the playoff by a game or 2 and we end up watching the Phils and Harper in the playoffs, if only for 1 game. If that happens, it wouldn’t shock me if Mo ends up on his way out to make room for someone else who can get the team back where it belongs.
Thank you for reading.
Well, it’s T-minus 3 games to go and the Cardinals are turning to Wainwright, Mikolas, and Flaherty to try and save their season. The plan was to try and use Jack Flaherty in the Wild Card game if that was possible but there’s just no way now to avoid having him pitch Sunday night against the Cubs, unless the team has nothing to play for. But with the Cards having 3 against the Cubs and the Dodgers in San Francisco for 3 to end the season and with the Dodgers up a game on the Cardinals, it’s obvious that as long as the Cardinals still have a chance they’ll turn to Flaherty Sunday. This obviously means that he will be unavailable for the Wild Card game Tuesday.
With the Cardinals a game behind the Dodgers it is increasingly likely that, for the Cards to even have a chance to play in that Wild Card game they’re going to have win a game-163 against the Dodgers on Monday. Hopefully the Cards can gain that game on the Dodgers in the last 3 to bring them to a tie and if so, the Cards will get to host the Dodgers but with Flaherty going Sunday and Mikolas going Saturday, not only will the Cards be unable to turn to either of them, but now they’re going to have to come up with 2 more starters just to get to the NLDS.
Unfortunately, neither of the 2 most obvious candidates inspired much confidence with their performances against the Brewers earlier this week. Austin Gomber was awful, getting pounded for 5 runs on 7 hits and 2 homers in less than 4 innings Tuesday, and John Gant merely survived through 4.1 innings Wednesday.
Who would the other candidates be? Daniel Ponce de Leon? He hasn’t even been trusted with a start since September 12, the last time he took the mound for the Cardinals. What about Carlos Martinez? Now, there’s an idea but of course for the Cards to play well this weekend he’s going to be needed to pitch probably more than 1 inning more than once. And he hasn’t pitched more than 2 innings since July 30. Adam Wainwright pitches today. Does him pitching on 2 days’ rest Monday or 3 days’ rest Tuesday sound like a good idea to you? Me, neither.
Probably the best idea is to go with back-to-back bullpen games of some sort where the team throws Gant and Gomber in some order to start the 2 games but having the pen available and ready to go at a moment’s notice. Complicating this process is the fact that right now we don’t know who the team might face in the Wild Card game – right now it’s looking like it’ll be either the Brewers or the Cubs – and that the Dodgers run platoons at about half of their positions so they’re not obviously vulnerable against either lefties or righties.
In fact, if you look at the Dodgers’ lineup they’ve been practically superhuman against right-handed pitchers and simply mortal (tied for 3rd in the NL) against lefties. On the other hand, we’re probably only talking about having a starting pitcher face the lineup 1 time through the order or so. Still, it’s probably best not to send Gant out there against them – besides being a righty, the Dodgers did just blow him up a couple of weeks ago – so probably Gomber should be the guy to start Monday’s game.
The lineup the Dodgers will send out there tonight to face the Giants will give us a good idea of what they would plan to do against Gomber since they’re facing Madison Bumgarner today. We would probably be looking at something like this:
- Taylor – CF
- Turner – 3B
- Machado – SS
- Bellinger – 1B
- Kemp – LF
- Puig – RF
- Grandal – C
- Hernandez – 2B
- Hill – P
They might go with Bellinger in CF, Kemp in RF, and Taylor in LF and put Freese at 1B instead of Puig or they might go with Dozier (who hasn’t hit anything in a month) at 2B instead of Hernandez but this is a pretty good approximation of what to expect. The bad thing is that their dugout is loaded with depth and they can bring on good pinch hitters any time they want. Knowing that the Cards likely won’t stick with Gomber long and that most of the team’s relievers are righties, I’d guess they’d go with this lineup and save Freese in case they need him later.
The Cards will be the home team having won the season series against the Dodgers 4-3 so Gomber’s spot won’t be due to come up until probably the bottom of the 3rd unless the 1st 2 innings go really well. Regardless of when the pitcher’s spot comes up, however, the Cards should not plan to have a pitcher bat in this game. There’s just no point. It’s all-or-nothing and we can’t count on Gomber going deep into the game anyway. I believe that this game would be played like a game-163 so both teams will have their full complement of men from the 40-man roster. Thus, there is no reason for a pitcher to ever bat.
In this scenario, Gomber should be allowed to pitch to the 1st 9 hitters. Taylor, Turner, and Machado all annihilate lefties so it does no good to try to get Gomber through those 3 the 2nd time through just to face Bellinger again. He pitches to 9 batters. Maybe, maybe if there are 2 out and 1 man on in the 3rd I might let him pitch to Taylor just so that we don’t have to use 2 pitchers to get through 3 innings but there’s no way he should face Turner in the 3rd. Period.
With any luck, the 9-spot in the order will come up for the Cards in the bottom of the 2nd and the team can pinch hit for Gomber but that’s probably no better than a 50-50 proposition (and probably lower than that). The team probably wants Gomber pitching to Grandal since he’s much better this year and for his career against righties so if he happens to get through the 1st 2 innings perfectly, he could start the 3rd. You could probably hope to get Gomber through 3 if the 8-spot is leading off the 3rd also but, again, he shouldn’t pitch to Turner. So the Cards should be prepared to have a reliever pitch at least to Turner in the 3rd and then to pinch hit for that reliever in the bottom of the 3rd. That is a very likely scenario.
I would suggest Dominic Leone for the 3rd inning. He’s a good righty who could be sort of sacrificed so the team could get through the 4th – 9th with Brebbia, Hicks, Norris, and Martinez. This may be the key spot in the game since Gomber is likely to be the weakest pitcher that the team uses. (Another idea would be to start the game with Leone, Hudson, or Mayers and to have them pitch 2 innings but I doubt the Cards would be bold enough to try that.) It is absolutely critical that the team get to the top of the 4th having just given up a run or so and then the team can try to get through the rest of the game with its best relievers.
So it’s Gomber and Leone for the 1st 3 innings, pinch hitting for whichever pitcher is in the game in the bottom of the 3rd. (With Hill on the mound, assuming he’s still there, I would suggest Patrick Wisdom.) Top of the 4th and the team is facing probably Machado or Bellinger to lead off. They’ve probably batted 11 or 12 hitters through 3 innings. So the guy the Cards will use here will pitch to the last 6 or 7 batters in the order in order to get through the 4th and 5th innings. I would use John Brebbia for the 4th and 5th and then probably the team can pinch hit for the Brebbia in the 5th. If it looks like the Cards’ pitcher’s spot is going to come up again in the 4th – a nice problem to have – then use Norris in the 4th so that the team can use Brebbia for 2 innings. If the Cards end up going with Brebbia in the 4th and then bat 6 or 7 guys in the bottom of the inning and they can only use Brebbia for 1, so be it. If we’re pinch hitting in the 4th, that’s a good sign.
We’re probably in the top of the 6th now in a close game with something near the top of the Dodgers’ order coming to the plate. It’s Jordan Hicks’ time. He’s there to pitch the 6th and 7th and face the top and middle of the Dodgers’ order. Then the team needs to pinch hit for Hicks. If it looks like the team can’t get through Hicks through 2 innings without pinch-hitting then they need to double-switch — maybe Tyler O’Neill for Jose Martinez or Matt Adams for Jedd Gyorko.
Once the team gets to the top of the 8th, it’s time to turn to Carlos Martinez to get the team through 9. Hopefully now we’ve gotten through 9 innings and if extras are needed the team can turn to Norris. All hands will be on deck anyway and the team may have to turn to Hudson, Mayers, or even Wainwright in relief.
So the plan for that Dodgers game should be:
Gomber for 10 hitters max.
Leone to get the team through 3. (It would be great to get Gomber through 3, but the team shouldn’t push him in order to do it.)
Brebbia for the 4th and 5th
Hicks – 6 and 7
Martinez – 8 and 9
Norris is 1st up in extras.
Maybe it won’t come to that. Maybe we can leapfrog the Dodgers in these last 3 games but that would be shocking. The most-likely best-case scenario is to be playing the Dodgers Monday for a chance to face the Cubs or Brewers Tuesday.
Stats and info come courtesy of fangraphs.
Thanks to you all for reading.
Does anyone want to guess which Cardinal reliever leads the team in fWAR? Jordan Hicks, with his seemingly endless supply of blazing fastballs and wicked sliders? Nope. Bud Norris, with his solid 1st half performance and team-leading 28 saves? Guess again. Brett Cecil? What are you f&*king crazy? Nope. It’s John Brebbia, the same guy who has the 4th most innings of any Cardinal reliever so far this season.
And yet manager Mike Shildt, for some reason, does not appear to have much faith in the bearded righty. Fangraphs has a stat called gmLI which measures the leverage index of each reliever when they enter the game. The higher it is, the more the reliever is trusted in high-pressure situations. 1.00 is average. John Brebbia’s gmLI is 0.61. Dakota Hudson’s is 1.61. Daniel Ponce de Leon, who has been on the mound about once in the last 2 weeks, is at 0.87. Brett Cecil is 0.72. Matt Bowman’s gmLI (1.24) is twice as high as Brebbia’s. Among relievers who have been on the team for more than just one game, only Luke Weaver, whose performance has essentially led to his banishment from the Cardinals’ pitching staff, has a gmLI lower than Brebbia’s.
Last night as John Flaherty was loading the bases without allowing a hit in the 6th, and as Hudson was walking batters in, and as Hicks was walking the bases loaded in the 7th, I kept wondering over and over where in the hell Brebbia was. Some pointed out to me on Twitter that maybe he hadn’t entered the game yet because he had pitched an inning in Sunday’s game. It’s true that he did pitch Sunday – 1 inning only – and he pitched a meaningless inning in a 7-2 game. When he entered that game on Sunday the LI was 0.26. What, was Greg Garcia unavailable? Then, possibly because he pitched that inning Sunday, not only did Shildt select Hudson over Brebbia in a tough position against Monday last night, but even down only 1 in the 9th inning, Shildt turned to Mike Mayers – and then, when he failed, Dominic Leone – over Brebbia. Unsurprisingly, the 1-run deficit turned into a 2-run deficit and now the Cards are only a half game ahead of the Rockies in their race for the Wild Card.
What the heck is going on? Just to be clear, by nearly every measure Brebbia has been extremely good this season. His K-BB% of 22.5% is the best on the team – better than Hicks’, better than Flaherty’s, better than Mikolas’ and everyone else’s. He has a 30% K rate (Hudson, for example, is half that, at 15.1%) and a 7.5% BB rate, again half of Hudson’s 15.1%. So Hudson is trusted by Shildt far more than despite that fact that Hudson is HALF as likely to strike batters out and TWICE as likely to walk batters. Hudson’s K:BB ratio is 1:1. Brebbia’s is 4:1. Brebbia’s ERA of 3.35 is 15% better than average and his FIP of 2.95 is 27% better than average and is the lowest on the team.
Maybe Brebbia gives up too many homers, right? No, not really. It’s true that Hudson does have a fantastic GB% which does help him get outs when he’s not walking batters and because of that he is yet to give up a major-league home run. Brebbia, on the other hand, is more of a fly ball pitcher (when batters are actually able to put their bats on the ball) but still has a home run rate that is lower than Leone’s, Mayers’, Norris’, and Chasen Shreve’s. Chances are if Brebbia throws to as many batters over the course of a season as Hudson, he’ll give up more homers but I can’t help but think that he’ll make up for it by striking out so many more and walking so many fewer batters.
I decided to check out Baseball Savant to find out if maybe there was something in terms of Brebbia’s contact quality in comparison to the other relievers that might provide some clue as to why the team doesn’t trust him. I pretty much came up empty there as well. By expected wOBA, Brebbia is 1st on the team – better than Flaherty, Hicks, Mikolas, and every other Cardinal pitcher. By actual wOBA, Brebbia’s .287 mark is better than both Martinez and Norris. By average exit velocity, there are actually a couple of relievers (Martinez, Hudson, Shreve, Norris) who have Brebbia beat, but only slightly. Brebbia’s average exit velocity of 86.7 mph is a full 1 mph below the league average of 87.7. Aside from exit velocity, the only other area I could find where Hudson beats Brebbia is their wOBA against right-handed batters where Hudson’s is .197 and Brebbia’s is a still-very-good .245. Despite that distinction, Brebbia’s xwOBA against righties of .236 beats Hudson’s along with every other Cardinal reliever’s.
The fact that Brebbia’s expected wOBA is lower than his actual wOBA indicates that Brebbia, despite the excellent results this year, has actually been slightly unlucky on balls in play. Hudson, Leone, and Hicks, on the other hand appear to have been slightly fortunate since their wOBA’s are lower than expected.
Despite basically being a fastball-slider guy, Brebbia’s xwOBA against lefties is a solid .327, better than Hicks, Hudson, and most of the other pitchers in the Cardinals’ pen. He’s outstanding against righties – and has perhaps been unlucky where others like Tyson Ross and Hudson have been quite lucky – and a solid option against lefties.
Maybe despite the excellent actual and expected numbers, the team sees something in Brebbia’s spin rates that would indicate those numbers won’t hold up but that doesn’t appear to be the case either. The spin rate on Brebbia’s fastball is lower only than Ross’, Norris’, Shreve’s, and Gant’s and high spin rates tend to be associated with more strikeouts. His slider’s spin rate is better than everyone else’s except Norris and Ross who both have thrown less than 100 sliders all season.
In looking around at all the numbers, the only thing I could find on Fangraphs, Baseball Savant, or Baseball-Reference that might possibly scare Shildt or the powers-that-be are his numbers on 1 and 2 days’ rest from B-R. One 1 day’s rest, his OPS against is .862 and on 2 days’ rest, it’s .956. Still we’re only talking about a total of 97 PA’s all season long. It’s strange that he’s been most effective actually on 0 days’ rest (.448 OPS against). If the team was putting a lot of stock into these numbers, they’d have surely used him last night BECAUSE he had just pitched the previous day.
So let’s some up. He has one of the best ERA’s among the Cards’ relievers. He has one of the best FIP’s. He has one of the best wOBA’s. He has one of the best expected wOBA’s. His exit velocity is below league average. His strikeout rate is the best on the team and his walk rate is lower than most of the team’s pitchers. His K:BB ratio is 2nd only to Mikolas’ on the roster and is, obviously, the best of all the relievers. His average fastball velocity is higher than most of them. His slider and fastball have great spin rates. He does give up more fly balls and fewer ground balls than most of the team’s pitchers but he still manages to keep the ball in the yard better than most. And if batters don’t make contact due to all the K’s, it’s hard to hit home runs.
The bottom line is this: I don’t at all understand why Shildt (and maybe those in the front office) don’t trust Brebbia and are only inclined to use him in low-leverage situations. It’s pretty clear from all the obvious and not-so-obvious numbers that the team needs to have more faith in Brebbia, especially as there are reasons to have a little less faith in some of the others. Brebbia appears to be one of the team’s best relievers and needs to be someone the team relies on in situations like the ones they faced last night.
All the stats here come courtesy of Fangraphs, Baseball Savant, and Baseball-Reference.
Thanks to you all for reading.
For 13 years, Adam Wainwright has epitomized what it means to be a Cardinal. In every conceivable way, Waino has oozed greatness, from his performance on the field, to his presence in the dugout and the clubhouse, all the way to his efforts to help make his community and the world a better place. In every sense, Wainwright has been a champion. Because he is a free agent at the end of the season, today may very well mark Wainwright’s final home start as a Cardinal. This is my tribute to him.
Wainwright grew up in Georgia, a Braves fan, and as so often happens in Georgia, the Braves scouted young Wainwright and drafted him 29th overall in 2000 out of high school in Brunswick. He immediately caught the eye of Baseball America as he was ranked among their top-100 prospects each year of his minor league career, peaking at #18 prior to the 2003 season. He dominated each level of the minor leagues, averaging more than a strikeout per inning in both levels of A ball as a 19 and 20-year old in 2001 and 2002.
In the offseason prior to the 2004 season, the Cardinals traded OF J.D. Drew and C/utility player Eli Marrero to the Braves in exchange for 3 players – pitchers Jason Marquis and Ray King and minor league pitcher Adam Wainwright. Though Marquis and King immediately stepped into the Cardinals’ pitching staff, it soon became clear that Wainwright was the key man in the deal.
Wainwright was immediately assigned to AAA-Memphis but, unfortunately, things didn’t go so well early on. The walks were still low and the strikeouts still high but this time, so were the homers (as often happens in the Pacific Coast League). Worse still, after just 12 starts as a Redbird, Waino’s season was cut short with an elbow strain.
Wainwright’s 2004 season was finished and he would miss much of the 2005 season as well, though he was first promoted to St. Louis in September and made his debut at home against the Mets on September 11. It was not an auspicious debut for the young hurler as he gave up 3 runs on a homer to begin his career but it wouldn’t be too long before Wainwright would exact revenge.
Because Wainwright was so highly though of by the organization and because the team wanted to be cautious with a young star so recently diagnosed with the elbow strain, the team decided to have him pitch the 2006 season out of the bullpen. For much of the season he served as the primary setup man for closer Jason Isringhausen and pitched extremely well. He averaged nearly a strikeout per inning and had more than 3 strikeouts per walk out of the pen. His FIP was 3.31, 26% below league average and his ERA of 3.12 was 29% below league average. By every measure, it was an outstanding rookie campaign – the former 3-sport high school superstar even hit his first big league homer — and, when Izzy got hurt late in the 2006 season, Wainwright stepped in as the closer.
The 2006 playoffs were a remarkable success for the Cardinals as the team that won just 83 games during the regular season, barely squeaking into the postseason tournament, ended up the ones spraying the champagne all over each other when October ended. Wainwright’s iconic moment was striking out future Hall-of-Famer Carlos Beltran looking with the bases loaded to defeat the Mets in game 7 of the NLCS. The knee-buckling curve, his signature pitch, froze Beltran in his tracks and pushed the Cardinals into the World Series. Every Cardinal alive can remember the picture of Wainwright, arms extended into the Gotham night sky, waiting to embrace also-Cardinal-great Yadier Molina as he rushed to the mound.
The Detroit Tigers dominated the American League in 2006 and were supposed to dominate the Cardinals in the World Series. Of course, the Cardinals had other ideas and were able to finish off the vaunted Tigers in just 5 games with Wainwright again ending the series by striking out Brandon Inge. The moment wasn’t quite the same and isn’t as iconic as the one that ended the NLCS but it still seemed to be the perfect way to end the 2006 postseason with Wainwright again awaiting Molina’s embrace as the celebration began on the Busch Stadium infield. Wainwright pitched a nearly perfect postseason, throwing 9.2 innings, yielding just 7 hits and 2 walks, while striking out 15. His ERA? 0.00. His record was 1-0 and he saved 4 games, including 3 in that NLCS. A star was born.
Despite his clear bullpen dominance, it was obvious that Wainwright’s future was as a starter and so into the rotation he went to begin the 2007 season. He would pitch most of the next 11 seasons as a starter, pitching only a few times out of the pen in 2015 when he returned late in the season from surgery to repair a torn Achilles tendon.
Between 2007 and 2014, Wainwright became one of the elite starting pitchers in baseball, only averaging more than 3 walks per 9 innings in that first season and never averaging as many as 1 homer per 9 innings. In 2009, he finished 19-8 with a 2.63 ERA and a 3.11 FIP. He had 212 K’s in a league-leading 233 innings pitched. By Fangraphs, he was worth 5.7 WAR. By Baseball-Reference, he was even better, worth 6.3 WAR. He finished 3rd in Cy Young voting that season and 15th in the MVP race. He also won his 1st Gold Glove just for good measure.
The next year, 2010, was Wainwright’s first All-Star season. He finished that campaign with a 20-11 record and a 2.42 ERA. Not only was his ERA lower than the previous season, so was his FIP as it fell to 2.86. He struck out 213 in 230 innings and this time finished 2nd in the Cy Young balloting. In 2011, the elbow problems that Wainwright suffered from as a minor league returned, this time with reinforcements, and Waino would lose the entire season to Tommy John surgery. The Cardinals would again win the World Series and it’s unfortunate that Wainwright – though always the consummate teammate – couldn’t enjoy the team’s success on the field.
Wainwright returned to the mound in the 2012 season, nearly as good as new. As is typical for pitchers returning from Tommy John surgery, Waino didn’t pitch quite as well as he had before the surgery but he still was able to throw nearly 200 innings and, though his ERA was nearly 4, his FIP was just 2.10. By fWAR, he was worth more than 4 wins.
2013 was possibly Wainwright’s best season – at least it was by fWAR where he was worth 6.6 wins. He again led the league in innings pitched with 241.2 and again struck out more than 200 batters. He only walked 35 in those 240+ innings and again finished 2nd in voting for the Cy Young. In 2014, it was more of the same – more brilliance – from Wainwright. Again he threw more than 200 innings and finished with an ERA and a FIP below 3.00. This year he started the All-Star game and finished 3rd in Cy Young balloting. His record as one of the best pitchers of his generation was sealed.
In 2016, after returning from the torn Achilles in 2015, he returned to the rotation but it was clear that age and mileage were catching up to him a little. He was still a solid starter for the Cardinals but he wasn’t a dominant starter the way the team and the fans had become accustomed to. He struggled again in 2017 and to begin the 2018 season before spending most of this season on the disabled list.
Prior to today’s start again the Giants, Wainwright has returned from the D.L. to throw 2 solid, if unspectacular, starts for the team as it pushes for another playoff berth.
Over his 13 year career as a Cardinal, Wainwright has won 148 games and has a 3.30 ERA and FIP. He’s given up fewer hits than innings pitched and less than a homer per 9 innings. He’s struck out 3 times as many batters as he has walked and has more than 1600 strikeouts in more than 1900 innings. Injuries have prevented him from having a chance to become an MLB Hall-of-Famer but he is a no-doubt, 1st ballot Cardinal Hall-of-Famer no matter how, or where, he finishes his career.
Wainwright has thrown 89 postseason innings for the Cardinals and has a 3.03 ERA in those games. He’s averaged more than a strikeout per inning and has struck nearly 6.5 batters for every one he has walked. He has pitched in 2 World Series (2006 and 2013) and has 2 World Series rings. He has been a champion in every sense of the word.
In the clubhouse and dugout he is the consummate teammate. His hijinks are well-known and he’s always done so much to help keep the team loose. We’ve all heard the stories about how he planted the garden for Matt Carpenter while recovering from injury that ultimately led to the salsa that has helped lead the team back into the playoff chase this season. We’ve also heard the story about how Wainwright paid for the rental car so that Ryan Sherriff wouldn’t have to walk to and from spring training last season. He has not only been a leader of the pitching staff. He’s also been a leader of the team for the bulk of his 13 years in a Cardinal uniform.
Off the field, he has become one of the great philanthropists in baseball. He, of course, created the fantasy football network called Big League Impact which has raised millions of dollars for charities across the country. He has also raised hundreds of thousands of dollars to provide water and shelter for the people of Haiti. Because Wainwright puts his muscle where his money goes, he has actually visited Haiti several times and put his proverbial shovel in the dirt to help build homes and dig wells for the people who need it most. Wainwright has been a superstar on the field and remains one off the field in every conceivable way.
I realize that baseball is a business. Cards’ fans have seen the Pujols, Edmonds, and Holliday eras end with those icons in different uniforms. They just don’t look exactly right but we’ve grown accustomed to seeing that and dealing with that without shedding too many tears or being too upset about it. As Wainwright’s contract ends this offseason, it’s easy to foresee his tenure as a Cardinal coming to a close but, because Waino has such a competitive nature, it’s just as easy to see him not quite ready to end his career. Just as it was with the other franchise icons, it’s not going to look quite right to see Wainwright sporting someone else’s colors. And yet, that just might be the way it turns out.
If this is, indeed, Waino’s last start in St. Louis, he will doubtless be remembered as one of the all-time great Cardinals. I’m not a young man and I can say unequivocally that Wainwright is the best Cardinal pitcher of my lifetime. (Technically, I was alive while Bob Gibson pitched with the birds on the bat but I wasn’t alive for his greatness, so I stand by my statement.) He will still probably get 1 more start in Chicago next weekend and maybe it’s fitting, if that’s how his tenure as a Cardinal ends, that he take the mound against the team’s traditional rival. Waino has never backed down from a challenge and facing the division leader – the team’s rival – with a playoff berth on the line will surely bring out his best.
Regardless of how this season ends, or whether or not he makes the playoff roster, if this is it for Wainwright as a Cardinal he will immediately ascend to the pantheon of great Cardinals. He will one day be riding in to the stadium in a red convertible on opening day, sporting the same type of brilliant red sport coat adorned by Cardinal greats like Lou Brock, Ozzie Smith, Bob Gibson, Stan Musial, and Red.
Thank you, Adam, for all that you’ve given Cardinal fans these last 13 years. Thank you for all that you’ve done to make the team better, to comport yourself as a hero both on and off the field, and for all you’ve done for the greater St. Louis community and the world.
Thank you Adam Wainwright.
The data and stats come courtesy of Fangraphs and Baseball-Reference.
Thank you for reading.
In 2003, Cards’ star Albert Pujols was having a lot of trouble throwing the ball and, as a result, Jim Edmonds and Edgar Renteria had to go deeper into left field to help Pujols get the ball back into the infield whenever he had to throw the ball. The team decided that since Pujols was such a great hitter they needed him in the lineup and the only way to “fix” Pujols during the season was for him to undergo surgery that would remove him from the lineup for several months. They basically played with 8 defenders in order to get Pujols’ bat in the lineup everyday. Ben Godar over at Viva El Birdos did a great write-up on this a couple of years ago. Pujols ended up being a win player despite the defensive limitations.
Yesterday during the Cards’ 6-2 loss to the Mets, a fly ball was hit to left fielder Marcell Ozuna with a runner on 3rd base. Since there was an impending throw home, Tommy Pham ran all the way from center field, cut Ozuna off to catch the ball, and threw the ball toward the plate. This was clearly a ball that should have been played by a left fielder who could get behind the ball and make a strong, accurate throw home and yet Pham kept Ozuna from making that throw.
Here’s the field view of the Mets’ outs yesterday.
The second red dot from the left is the fly ball in question. On twitter yesterday, here’s what Derrick Goold had to say:
Goold’s article this morning repeated that quote from Pham.
This wasn’t the only instance where Ozuna’s ability to throw was limited, however, as VanHickslestein pointed out on Twitter during yesterday’s game.
Notice how far Paul DeJong goes out to left field to catch Ozuna’s cutoff throw to the plate. Needless to say, DeJong’s relay was very late which shouldn’t be a surprise since he could probably flag down a cab at LaGuardia from where he’s positioned when he catches Ozuna’s throw.
So it’s clear that this is a pre-ordained plan for Ozuna at least for the time-being, as both Pham and DeJong are in on the strategy, much as it was in ’03 when Pujols was relying on Edmonds and Renteria. When asked whether or not Ozuna should be on the D.L., here was Goold’s response:
It’s true that outfielders just aren’t asked to make all that many really important throws. Ozuna was brought to St. Louis to bat in the middle of the order and, though he hasn’t had any hits in the first two games, he is batting 4th and it is just 2 games. Maybe it would be different if he was a shortstop. Still, it’s also true that the team has a left fielder who can’t right now even make the most rudimentary throws. It’s also true that the Cardinal organization is deepest in pitchers and outfielders. Finally, it’s also true that the team has an outfielder playing 1st base and he’s missed 2 pretty fundamental plays at 1st base in the first 2 games of the season. This just isn’t like in 2003 when the gap between Pujols and everyone else was much greater.
There are, as far as I can figure, 3 possible reasons why the team hasn’t DL’d Ozuna.
- The team wants the new, young star on the roster and in the lineup for the home opener on Thursday. This is stupid. I can’t believe this could possibly be the reason.
- As Goold says, his arm is getting better and he is one of the team’s best hitters and he just doesn’t have to make that many throws from left field. The team can still have his bat in the lineup while his arm heals.
- His “sore” arm isn’t going to heal during the season without surgery and the team needs and wants his bat in the lineup and is willing to make some concessions defensively in order to make it happen. This is the Albert Pujols treatment and is easily the worst-case scenario.
We have to be hoping for scenario 2 above. His arm just needs some time to heal and then he can be a fully functioning left fielder as well as the impact hitter in the middle of the Cardinals order that the team traded for over the winter. Still, 10 days on the D.L. isn’t that long to be without Ozuna and the team can put Martinez in the outfield and Gyorko and Yairo Munoz in the infield and not be that much worse over those 8 or 9 games. The team would surely call up Harrison Bader who is ready anyway and the offensive drop off would be very small while giving the team a left fielder who can throw the ball.
Considering the fact that the team is extremely well-positioned to deal with a short D.L. stint by Ozuna, it raises the question as to why he hasn’t been placed on the D.L. given his current limitation. If it is just going to take a little time for the sore arm to heal, why make any throws at all, especially since the team has the depth to handle a short-term loss? Is the answer really that his sore arm isn’t going to heal on its own at all and that the only solution — as it was in 2003 — is surgery and a very lengthy D.L. stint? Given the questionable history of the team’s medical staff, it’s reasonable to wonder how bad Ozuna’s arm really is right now.
Thanks for reading.
Since we’re sitting here on opening day eve and I know we’re both preparing mentally and emotionally for the Twitter avalanche with millions of little snowballs of criticisms of your managing. I’m willing to make you a deal. Everyone knows how you love to put Yadi in the 5-hole, no matter how much we both know he shouldn’t be there. He does project, after all, the team’s 8th best hitter pretty much no matter who is in the lineup. Regardless, you like him in the 5-hole. Cards’ Twitter is going to go ballistic when the lineup comes out before the game, during the game, and every time Yadi makes an out. Here is my offer, though, Mike…I promise to not say 1 word about it. We all know that, while batting order matters, it really doesn’t matter all that much and we’re all human and make mistakes and I’ll let this one be yours. My offer is to not say 1 word about where you bat Yadi this season — all season long — regardless of where you bat him in the order. Like him 5th? Bat him 5th? Cleanup? I say, go for it. 3rd? Have at it! What about leadoff? Not leadoff? I can’t keep quiet if you lead him off? Wanna bet? Do it, Mike. Do it and enjoy yourself! Go with God!
I do, however, have some conditions:
- You have to allow Jose Martinez to get at least 450 PA’s. Move Carpenter and Gyorko around. Get Martinez to the plate early and often so that he can do what he can do.
- You have to give Yadi a day off every now and then. I’m asking for once every 5 games. That gives him a minimum of 32 games off. I know Yadi wants to play 365 games this season but you still have the boss’ job. Do it, Mike. Tell Yadi how things gonna be!
- Let Jose Oquendo do his thing. He was brought back to the team for a reason. Get out of his way and let him do his job. If he wants infielders to take some infield, let him do it. (By the way, this helps you, too. The team will be better and you’ll be more likely to keep your job. Shut up and get out of the way.)
- While we’re on the subject of getting out of people’s way, let Mike Maddux do his job. If he tells you it’s time to pull your starter, do it. I know you’re not going to want to. People often say “trust your instincts” or “go with your gut.” Don’t do it, Mike. Don’t trust your instincts. Don’t go with your gut. Your gut’s a moron, Mike. You know it. I know it. Mo knows it and, if he doesn’t know it already, Mike Maddux will soon know it.
- When a starting pitcher is struggling, for the love of all that is good in the world, please Mike DO NOT LEAVE YOUR STARTING PITCHER IN THROUGH THE 5TH INNING JUST TO GET THE WIN!!! Al Hrabosky will forgive you in time! There’s a reason this roster is going to open the season with 23 relievers! Use them!
- While we’re on the subject of relievers…use them! Do not just rely on Leone and Lyons and Bowman (we’ll be back to him soon) to get outs. This is shaping up to be possibly the deepest bullpen the Cardinals have ever had. When the team has a 3 or 4 run lead or is down 1 in the 6th, it’s ok to use a reliever who isn’t considered one of the best. The team has other guys who can get outs also! Use them.
- Ok, Mike, admit it. You knew it was coming so here it is. Go right now, pick up the bullpen phone and tell Matt Bowman to stop throwing. He doesn’t need to be warming up right now. We’re still a good 15 or 16 hours away from possibly needing Matt Bowman. I know you’re big into individual records but Matt Bowman doesn’t need to set the single-season record for number of times warmed up and the number of relief appearances. He probably doesn’t want that record anyway. Look at him, Mike. His arm is literally being held together with duct tape and rubber cement! Give him a day off! (And I hate to break this to you, Mike, but there’s a fairly decent chance that he’ll actually be the Cards’ worst reliever this year. This is the guy you should use when the team’s down 7 in the 5th inning, not the one you should use in a tie game in the 7th.)
- Michael Wacha was great last year and you’ve probably already got him penciled in for game 2 of the playoff series. But deep down you and I both know — and we know that Mike Maddux knows — that he struggles MIGHTILY the 3rd time through the order. If the game is close, please use one of our 23 relievers to get outs in the 6th. Pinch hit for him in a close game if the middle of the other team’s order is coming up in the next inning. Please, Mike. Pretty please with sugar on top.
- Ryan Sherriff is a LOOGY. He can’t get righties out. Please use him only against lefties. I know you consider platoon splits to be some sort of character flaw — a sign of weakness that’s beneath a man of your stature. That’s ok. Consider him weak and let him only pitch to lefties. You’ll be a better man for it.
- Listen to Mike Shildt. He’s a smart guy, well-versed in analytics. You, too, are very smart in your own right. (I’m not sure where your genius lies but I have every confidence that you’re a genius about something. It’s not about how to open birthday presents but no one knows everything about everything.) Anyway, Shildt is smart. He’s going to help you position the fielders, select pinch hitters, and lots of other in-game management stuff. Your leadership qualities are beyond reproach (except when they suck, of course) but you need Shildt to help you with the in-game stuff. The best part of relying on him is that YOU’RE THE ONE WHO’LL LOOK LIKE A GENIUS WHEN IT WORKS! It’s foolproof!
- Mike, please do not call out your players in public. Remember how that worked out last year with Yadi? Not good, Mike. Not good. Mike, though it will annoy fans everywhere, you do not have to be honest with fans. It’s ok to tell us that Wainwright looks better than ever when we all know that’s not true because it’s important that you have the players’ backs. Everyone knows that Joe Maddon is as dishonest as the day is long but he’s got this public persona thing figured out. He doesn’t care whether fans or the media believe his unrelenting B.S. It’s his players that need to believe that he has their backs. The same is true for you. So, tell us how strong Yadi is even when he’s bringing his cane out to the dish with him every inning. Tell us how youthful Wainwright is looking and feeling when (I’ll stop here so I don’t get blocked on Twitter.) Tell us lies, Mike. Tell us lies but only lies that tell us how great, strong, healthy, whatever the team’s players are.
- Mike, shut up about Carlos Martinez’s discipline or flamboyance or “focus” or any of the other B.S. that you and others sometimes spew about the team’s best pitcher. He’s one of the best pitchers in baseball and he’s our ace. If he wants to have purple hair, have fun with Matt Carpenter’s batting stance, and pump his fists and scream when he does something tremendous, just shut the (7 second FCC interruption) up. Thank you.
- Be willing to consider anyone other than Luke Gregerson in the closer’s role when he returns. Again, this goes back to listening to Maddux.
- Let Tommy be Tommy. You and I both know what I mean.
- Take advantage of Jedd Gyorko’s versatility. This will help you get Jose Martinez to 450 PA’s. Let him move all around the infield so that Carp can, too, and Martinez can get in the lineup.
- Finally, Mike…and you knew this was coming, but it’s about our favorite all-time Cardinal pitcher, Adam Wainwright. I love the guy. You love the guy. I remember how it felt like he singularly brought us a World Championship in 2006. I have friends who are Mets’ fans who were at that game in ’06 and every time we’re together I mention Yadi’s homer and those 3 pitches Waino threw to future Hall-of-Famer Carlos Beltran. He’s an icon, a Cardinal legend, not just for what he’s done on the field but because of who he is and has been in the clubhouse, the community, and the world. But Mike, sometimes it’s a cold freaking world and there may be no world colder than the frozen tundra of professional sports. Hopefully this doesn’t happen. But if (when?) it becomes obvious to everyone that Waino just isn’t getting it done — either he’s injured and fighting it or his velocity is way down or whatever it is; if teams are just teeing off on him and his walk rate is way up and his K rate is way down — please Mike stop sending him out there. The team has options. There’s a deep farm system with many really good pitching prospects just waiting their turn. All the fans and, let’s be honest, the other players deserve the best players on the field as often as possible. When it becomes obvious that Wainwright shouldn’t be out there — if that means the 5th inning or the next start — please make the right call. This will be so difficult. You played with this guy and he’s a Cardinal icon. He’ll be in the Cardinal Hall of Fame and will wear one of those great red sportscoats and ride in on the back of a convertible when he’s finished. But this is what you signed up for when you took the job. You’ll get all the plaudits when the team wins and that means that you have to have that conversation with Waino when that time comes. Thank you, Mike. Thank you in advance for making this very tough call.
If you can/will do all these very tough but very necessary things — things that John Mozeliak has probably already mentioned to you and things that, deep down, you already know you need to do — then I promise not to say 1 critical word all season about where you bat Yadi. He can hit 5th. He can hit cleanup. He can bat 3rd or you can even put him in the leadoff spot. Mike, I promise you won’t hear 1 word from me about it. Deep down we both want the same thing — the Cardinals to win as many games as possible (and, preferably, the Central division title) and to advance as far in the playoffs as they can. Batting Yadi 5th won’t help, but deep down it won’t hurt all that much either — certainly not as much as doing one of these other things will. These are my terms and I hope that you accept them. You’ll still get a lot of flak about where Yadi’s hitting but what you’ll notice the most is the lack of complaints about all the other stuff.
Thank you, Mike, for considering my offer. I look forward to hearing from you soon.
A couple of days ago I read this article from Derrick Goold where Matt Carpenter was quoted as saying that “he’s done selling his soul for home runs.” I found the article especially strange because in the article Carpenter talks about completely changing his approach at the plate…AGAIN! It was just a couple of years ago when Carp turned himself into a home run hitter by changing his swing and approach at the plate.
This is especially unusual because so many hitters have become well-known for improving their careers by doing exactly what Carpenter did a couple of years ago. Players like Daniel Murphy, Josh Donaldson, and Justin Turner have become stars by trying to hit more home runs and have encouraged many others to attempt the same thing. And now Carpenter wants to do the opposite?
Well, not exactly. With Carpenter’s homers have also come an increase in his strike outs. In 2013 and 2014, Carpenter’s K rate averaged 14.7 %. From 2015-2017, his K rate has averaged 20.7%. Over a 600 PA season, that an increase in 36 strikeouts per season. Now, the sabermetric community has developed many a hand cramp telling people that strikeouts usually aren’t that much worse than every other type of out and, in fact, are actually better than double plays. Nevertheless, 36 additional strikeouts means 36 additional balls NOT in play some of which would inevitably end up in time Carpenter would have reached base.
Carpenter is particularly upset about his .241 batting average last season — look at all the good it’s done that the sabermetric community has begun convincing people that batting average is way overrated! — and wants to increase his batting average and reduce his strikeouts and doing those 2 things would mean sacrificing some homers. The question is then, do we really want Carpenter trading home runs for a higher batting average?
At first, I thought the question was pretty stupid but now I’m starting to come around the idea that the answer is yes.
In the article, Carpenter is quoted as saying that he would be content to hit 15 home runs and 50 doubles instead of the 23 home runs and 31 doubles he had last season, if it also meant reducing the strikeouts. Now, 50 doubles is really difficult to get and would pretty obviously make him a better hitter since it would increase his number of extra base hits while also reducing the strikeouts. What if he gives up those 8 home runs, though, and only gets more singles? How many singles would he have to gain in order to make it worth giving up the 8 home runs?
Last year, Carpenter had a .361 wOBA so, clearly, for this experiment to be worthwhile, he’s going to have to end up with at least the same wOBA this season. Let’s say that this season Carpenter had the same number of everything as last season except for home runs, outs, and singles. He would lose the 8 home run by dropping from 23 to 15 and, in order to keep a .361 wOBA would need to go from 64 singles to 78. He would only need to trade his 8 home runs for 14 singles in order to just break even.
How hard would that be? Last season he had 622 PA’s so if he lowers his K rate by 6% that would reduce his number of strikeouts by 37. Take away those 8 home runs and that’s an additional 45 balls in play. Last year his BABIP was just .274 but a different approach that isn’t so fly ball heavy might increase it to the league average of ~.300 so let’s assume a BABIP around .300. A .300 BABIP on an additional 45 balls in play means an additional 13.5 hits. How about that! Even if we assume all 13 – 14 of those additional hits are singles then his wOBA would exactly be equal this year to what it was last season.
This obviously assumes he can reduce the strikeouts by a lot so that he’s back at his pre-2015 K rate. I don’t honestly know if that’s reasonable. Can he do it simply by changing his approach over the offseason? I don’t know that either but I think that we’ve shown that it’s conceivable that he could trade homers for balls in play and end up at least as good an offensive player as he was in 2017.
Obviously that means that if he turns some of those homers into doubles, presumably his wOBA could actually increase. Carp’s best season came in 2013 when he had 11 HR’s, 55 2B’s, and a 13.7% K rate. His BB rate that year was 10% and last year his walk rate was 17.5% so a lot of those assumptions rely on the fact that this increase in the number of balls in play doesn’t force him to sacrifice any walks.
It’s rare that we hear any baseball player, coach, or analytics guy suggesting a player should try to hit fewer home runs so my first inclination when hearing what Carp wanted to do was to think this had no chance of actually making him a better hitter. But maybe I was wrong. Hopefully I was. The numbers, I think, show that this is doable IF he can actually lower the K rate to his 2013 levels.
Thanks for reading.