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.
Of primary interest to Cards’ fans as the team approaches spring training is what the team plans to do with Alex Reyes. Clearly, the team plans to try to limit his innings, and rightly so, since he is just coming off Tommy John surgery. Add to that the fact that Reyes has never thrown more than 111.1 innings in a season and you don’t have to squint too hard to see that Reyes probably isn’t a strong candidate for a 200 inning season.
The team’s goals surely have to be to play as deep into October as possible which means that any starting pitcher who throws 180 innings in the regular season could be in for another 30-40 in the postseason. The team has indicated that Reyes probably won’t pitch in a game until May so that will limit his innings some but the question is how to get the most out of Reyes because he can be so dominant while still reasonably limiting his innings.
If Reyes is in the rotation it’s conceivable that he could be the team’s #2 starter in the postseason. I’d probably have more confidence in him than I would Michael Wacha in game 2 of a series (or game 1 if the Cards have to play in the Wild Card game). On the other hand, Reyes could be a dominant reliever or even closer who could really help the team shorten games in October. I tend to think that he’ll end up in the pen this year because that would give him a chance to dominate in high-leverage situations while still managing his innings. Leaving him in the pen, however, would only give the team maybe half the innings from Reyes that it would get from him in the rotation.
What if the team found a way to get Reyes in the rotation while still limiting his innings by using some kind of modified 6-man rotation? (Pause while I read Craig Edwards’ Fangraphs piece on the Angels and their 6-man rotation. Great minds and all…)
It’s become common knowledge ever since the Angels signed Shohei Ohtani that they were going to go to a 6 man rotation. The logic behind this is two-fold. First, Ohtani is accustomed to pitching in every 6th day in Japan and they want to make the transition as smooth as possible. Second, he’s also going to be DH-ing some and they’re going to want to probably give him the day off immediately before and after pitching so this would give him the days off as well as a couple days to hit in between his starts on the mound.
The Cards’ rotation faces some of the same issues the Angels’ rotation faces. First, not only will the team want to limit Reyes’s innings, but the team has to be concerned about the ability of Luke Weaver, Miles Mikolas, Adam Wainwright, and Michael Wacha to throw 220-230 innings between the regular season and the postseason. Weaver has never thrown more than 138 innings in a season. Mikolas is coming to the Cards from pitching every 6th day in Japan. Wacha’s innings maximum for a season is about 186 and that was in 2015 and every Cards’ fan is aware of the problems Wacha had in the 6th and 7th innings of games last season. Finally, I think every Cards’ fan would be damned-near ecstatic to get about 120 league-average innings from Wainwright. It seems reasonable to think that the team would be better off trying to get about 150 innings from these guys than trying to get 180 innings from any of them.
Carlos Martinez, of course, is pretty close to being an ace and the team is going to need him to go every 5th day but that doesn’t mean that the team can’t use the 10-day disabled list in much the same way as the Dodgers used it last year. In 2017, the Dodgers bounced 6 or 7 (or sometimes more than 7) starters between the 25 man roster and the disabled list in order to keep their rotation fresh for the postseason. So, assuming no major injuries, the team could call up Reyes in early May and put, say, Wainwright on the DL for a couple weeks in order to give him some rest and allow those aches to quit, you know, aching. When the team calls up Wainwright maybe then they give Weaver or Mikolas a rest. If Martinez needs a break at some point, they can disable him for a couple weeks and the team does the same thing over and over throughout the season. If something happens such that any starter needs a much longer stint on the D.L., surely Jack Flaherty will be ready to step in.
Last season the team got 919 innings from starting pitchers and Fangraphs has them projected for 948 in 2018. That includes 142 from Wainwright (which seems a bit high from me but I’ll certainly take it) and 94 from Reyes. If the team used the Dodgers’ DL strategy and got ~200 IP from Martinez, that would leave ~720 or so from everyone else. So maybe the team could get 180 from Wacha, 120 from Wainwright (hopefully), maybe 300-320 from Mikolas and Weaver, 100 or so from Reyes and then 40-50 from Flaherty and others. That adds up to about 750 so if the team only gets 40-50 from Wainwright then it can get maybe more from Flaherty or Reyes (and, perhaps, be better off for it).
This strategy would allow the starters to be (relatively) fresh for any postseason run and would still allow the team to limit Reyes’s innings in his first season since his TJ surgery. Now, how good would the rotation be? It’s clearly behind the Dodgers, Nationals, and Cubs in the NL but Fangraphs still has the Cards for 15.3 WAR from the rotation — 5th in the NL. It would actually be higher if the team got a few more innings from Weaver, Mikolas, Reyes, and even Flaherty and fewer innings from Wainwright.
The team would be using a 6-man rotation starting every 5th day by using the DL creatively the way the Dodgers did last season. This would enable the team to get the most from the young/new guys like Weaver, Mikolas, and Reyes while still keeping them relatively fresh for the postseason.
Thanks for reading.
It’s not profound to declare that the Cardinals had some issues with their bullpen in 2017. In fact, the team made it clear that shoring up the end of the pen was one of its most important priorities this offseason. And yet, as fall turned to winter and we headed toward the day pitchers and catchers report, we all were forced to sit and watch as reliever after reliever was kicked off of free agent island and shipped to their new destinations. Relief pitcher is seemingly the only position where free agents have actually signed, and yet only the estimable Luke Gregerson was signed for the Cards’ roster.
And fans fretted…
The 2017 pen actually wasn’t as bad as it seemed to be. It was 7th in baseball in ERA and 8th in FIP. It was 12th in reliever WAR but the problems the team had with its closer position in particular made it seem like the pen was much worse than that. That’s probably because the team had the 4th most meltdowns in the game. According to Fangraphs, a meltdown “is when a reliever’s WPA is less than or equal to -0.06 in any individual game.” Cards’ relievers did this 90 times in 2017. Combine all this together and we see that, basically, the relievers pitched fairly well but when they didn’t they really blew up.
As we would expect given the team’s concerns about its closers, Seung Hwan Oh and Trevor Rosenthal had a bunch of those meltdowns (11 each) and Matt Bowman had 14. No Cardinal exemplified this meltdown problem better than Brett Cecil, however, who had the 2nd most meltdowns in baseball with 17. (As it turns out, Cecil’s given name is Brett Aarion Cecil, not Brett Fucking Cecil as Cards’ Twitter had led me to believe.)
Cecil actually had a pretty good year in 2017. His K:BB ratio was 4:1 and his FIP was 3.26. The problem was that he got A-bombed 3 times, giving up 4 runs against the Cubs in April, the Reds in June, and the Braves in August. Cecil also projects to be quite good in 2018 as ZIPS loves him.
Tyler Lyons really emerged in relief in 2017 with a FIP below 3.00 and a 31% K rate. He could be a poor man’s Andrew Miller, going more than 1 inning to set up the closer or possibly even becoming the closer, if needed. I think he would be more valuable, however, in that Andrew Miller role.
Last month the team traded for Dominic Leone from the Blue Jays. This guy was deadly in 2017 — another guy with a FIP under 3.00 and a K rate over 30%. He’s a hard fastball, cutter guy who just carved up opponents last season. While he was fantastic against righties, he also pitched extremely well (3.58 FIP) vs lefties leaving open the possibility that he could emerge as a closer.
Gregerson has always been a fastball-slider guy who’s been outstanding against righties but when Mozeliak proclaimed him the team’s closer as of now, I was taken aback. Unlike Leone, he’s never been all that good against lefties due to his arm slot and repertoire. He’s really closer to being a ROOGY than someone who you’d want in the closer role simply because he has a difficult time matching up against lefties. So despite my concerns about Gregerson in the 9th, I’ve always felt reasonably confident about his ability to get righties out in the 6th through 8th innings. Still, Zach Gifford raised some legitimate concerns about what’s happening with his slider but the bullpen’s depth should allow the team to avoid using him in high leverage situations if it turns out he can’t handle them.
Today the team added Bud Norris to the pen, an addition I think could help a lot. His stuff really plays up in relief as he’s added a 90 mph cutter to his mid-90’s fastball which got the K rate to nearly 28% in 2017. He did go through some knee inflammation last year that led to a pretty bad couple of months but he was dominant in the first half and in September for the Angels. Read Jeff Sullivan’s take on this signing to get a sense of high this could really be a coup for the team.
So right now, this pen’s top 5 looks like Lyons and Cecil from the left side and Gregerson, Leone, and Norris from the right side. These aren’t really well-known guys but they’re guys who could be really good.
To that 5 we add Bowman, the ground ball specialist (and Matheny man-crush) who, despite a relatively low K rate, does have a high GB% and had a 3.65 FIP in 2017. If he’s the pen’s 6th best guy, this pen is really good.
John Brebbia was great in 2017 and can definitely contribute if he continues with his 4.5:1 K:BB rate. Because he’s a fly ball pitcher, he’s prone to giving up homers but he showed that he has some promise as well.
Sam Tuivailala might have the best stuff of anyone in the bullpen but so far in the big leagues it really hasn’t translated into the strikeouts that we’ve hoped for. Still, we’re talking about a guy with a good, hard fastball (probably the hardest in the bullpen), a hard slider, and a good curveball. If he can put it together, he could have the kind of season for the Cards that Leone had for the Blue Jays last season. And he’s out of minor league options so he’s going to get every chance to make it.
There’s 8 guys who could pitch for damned near anyone. There may not be another team in the National League with 8 guys in their pen who are this good. There’s no Kenley Jansen or Craig Kimbrel but there’s a lot of depth, some with the ability to emerge as elite bullpen guys.
Maybe the best part is that we still haven’t mentioned the 4 young guys who all have great stuff and could emerge as dominant guys. Ryan Helsley and Jordan Hicks have the ability to dial up triple digits and Dakota Hudson could be that 7th or 8th inning guy who comes in and destroys hitters with that wipeout slider. And then, of course, there’s the elephant in the room, Alex Reyes. I don’t have any idea what the team plans to do with him when he starts game action in May — he could be a tremendous boost to the starting rotation — but if the team decides to utilize him in the pen to better control his innings coming off of Tommy John surgery, he could add one hell of an ICBM to the bullpen’s arsenal. Imagine Matheny being able to turn to Reyes in the 8th or even him emerging as a dominant closer in June or July.
It’s reasonable to be concerned about the team’s starting rotation. Indeed, I’ve been as vocal as anyone in begging Mozeliak to trade for Chris Archer to boost the rotation. But I can envision a scenario where the team only needs all the starters not named Martinez to get 15-18 outs and then turning the game over to the bullpen. If the team needs a starter, then they could trade for one in July.
The trend in baseball is clearly toward expecting less from starting rotations and expecting more from the relievers. It looks like Mozeliak is doing just that. Now, some Cards’ fans will rightly point out that this plan (if I’m correct in identifying it) is predicated on Matheny’s ability and commitment to getting the starters out early and selecting the right relievers to use later on. That’s a big if but that’s also part of why the team added Mike Maddux as its pitching coach.
All that considered, I see the makings of a really good bullpen, one that could help the team shorten the game both in the regular season and in the postseason. It’s short on big names, but long on ability and there’s a good chance that Cards’ fans will take notice of how good some of these guys really are in 2018.
Thanks for reading.
I wanted to add something to my post from yesterday where I advocated for using Jose Martinez to be a major part of the team’s infield during 2018. In it, I essentially made the argument (without supporting it) that the ZIPS and Steamer projections for Martinez are selling him short. I felt that needed to be explained.
Back in September, Dave Cameron — then of Fangraphs; now of the San Diego Padres — came to this conclusion about Martinez. He said:
“But if I’m John Mozeliak, I’d probably just keep Martinez and make him my everyday first baseman next year.”
It was this article that really got me starting thinking about Martinez because he referenced a lot of the same sorts of things I mentioned in my post yesterday — that his exit velocity was among the highest in the league, that his xwOBA was 5th highest in baseball, and that — in contrast to what we normally think about these “fluke” type seasons — Martinez was probably actually unlucky in 2017.
About a week ago, Zach Gifford over at Birds on the Black, authored an article entitled, “Tempering Expectations about Marcel Ozuna.” The main idea of the article was that, if Cards’ fans were expecting Ozuna to have a season similar to 2017 or that his career might be on upward trajectory, they might be bitterly disappointed if he actually turns out to be worse. His xwOBA in 2017 was about 26 points lower than his actual wOBA and that he was only 70th in baseball in barrels, according to Baseball Savant. These numbers indicate that Ozuna was very lucky in 2017 and might not be able to repeat it in 2018. The difference, however, is that the ZIPS and Steamer projections both seem to account for that luck — though Steamer is much more bullish on Ozuna than ZIPS.
The projections for Martinez, on the other hand, don’t really appear to factor in Martinez’s unluckiness in their projections. Truthfully, it’s probably much more likely that Martinez has much less of a track record even than Ozuna and so projecting him is much more difficult than projecting Ozuna is. Still, Martinez was a .379 wOBA guy last year when unlucky and he’s projected for around .336 by Steamer and .331 by ZIPS. Xstats does have him projected for a .370 wOBA in 2018.
So, yeah, I think the projections are selling him short and, if so, he’s going to be a really good hitter for the team in 2018 and should be getting a lot more playing time. If he can put up the kind of batting line he did last year — which, to me, isn’t unreasonable considering the fact that he was so unlucky last season — and the team gives him around 500 PA’s by using Matt Carpenter or Jedd Gyorko as the super-sub, he could add another 1 to 1.5 wins to the team’s total. ZIPS has Martinez pegged for 1.1 WAR in 2018 in just 399 PA’s. Give him another 100 PA’s and another 30-40 points of wOBA and he’s now probably a 2.5 WAR player. The team — now projected for 88 wins by Fangraphs — then becomes an 89 or 90 win team and probably 1 player away from being a strong contender for the division title.
Ultimately, it wouldn’t surprise me 1 bit if:
- Martinez is the team’s leader in wOBA in 2018 AND
- Martinez has more WAR than any of the other Cardinal infielders
But to do those things, Matheny is going to have to write his name in the lineup card regularly.
I’m not a guy who routinely bad-mouths the projections. The people who put those together are much smarter than I am and those projections do a much better job projecting player performance than I ever could. I’m not going to quibble with the projections for Ozuna, Paul DeJong, or any other Cardinal player but I think they’re awfully light on Martinez.
Thanks for reading.