Tagged: Michael Wacha

The D.L could end up being the rotation’s best friend.

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.

 

What to expect from Waino

Once the Cards traded for Marcell Ozuna and we got the corner OF and middle of the order hitter we needed, the buzz was that the Cardinals were going to acquire their new closer. To be sure, the 9th inning was a huge problem for the team last season but I couldn’t get over the nagging feeling that the rotation was a little bit short. The goal certainly was to play deep into the postseason and, if the postseason began today, Michael Wacha would be the team’s starter in game 2. Now, I like Wacha just fine and, in fact, Joe Schwarz over at Birds on the Bat recently discussed how good he actually was last year (hint: nearly as good as Carlos Martinez) but he’s still, in my mind, just a 5-6 inning guy who shouldn’t be pitching to anyone a 3rd time through the order. Maybe he should be on the bump in game 3 but not game 2 against Strasburg, Rich Hill, or Lester or Quintana.

I like the addition of Miles Mikolas and Luke Weaver obviously demonstrated that he’s ready to take the next step and become a regular member of the rotation. Martinez is a borderline ace and there’s lots of depth in the upper minors. There’s a lot to like about the team’s rotation but it also seems that 1.) there may not be much margin for error or injury and 2.) the rotation looks a lot like the rest of the roster with a lot of average-ish guys but lacking the stars it needs to be a postseason contender.

Mo’s declaration a few days ago that Luke Gregerson would be the team’s closer if the season started today wasn’t his first pretty shocking declaration of the offseason. The first shocking declaration of the offseason was that Mo was confident in the team’s starting rotation at this point. There’s no uneasiness about the rotation at all? Maybe I’d get it if Alex Reyes would be part of the rotation when he joins the pitching staff in May but all indications are that the team will need every live arm it can find to bolster the pen.

Now, of course, Mo wasn’t as confident as he declared a month ago because it was revealed this week that he spent a lot of time doing legwork attempting to acquire Chris Archer from the Rays, something I’ve been wanting him to do all offseason. Still, those talks reached an impasse and the rotation still has Mikolas, Weaver, and Adam Wainwright following Martinez and Wacha. As curious as it seems, Wainwright is the biggest question mark.

Despite a horrible ERA, Wainwright’s fielding-independent pitching numbers last year weren’t all that bad. His ERA was a ghastly 5.11 but his FIP was just 4.29, giving him 1.5 fWAR in 123.1 innings. He was OK into July and then had a pretty good start results-wise against the Cubs in mid-July and then 3 pretty bad starts in early August when it was clear to anyone watching him that Wainwright wasn’t OK. Both the eye test and the numbers indicated that something was wrong when the P-D revealed that something was wrong with the soon-to-be 36 year-old’s elbow. Waino rested and when he returned his strikeouts and velocity were way down.

Wainwright had elbow surgery in the offseason and turns 37 in August. Still, Steamer projects Wainwright to reach 1.7 WAR in 142 innings and ZIPS projects him for 1.6 WAR in 127 innings. That’s a pretty good rate for a guy who struck out 1 batter in 13 innings in the last 2 months of the season in 2017. Not only is Mozeliak confident about Wainwright’s 2018, but ZIPS and Steamer are pretty confident as well. Where does that confidence come from?

In August and September, Wainwright faced 61 batters and gave up 18 hits and 10 walks…and struck out 1 batter. His K rate was 1.6% and his BB rate was 16.4%. According to Brooks Baseball, his average 4-seam fastball velocity was 90.44 in July, 2017 and 86.68 in August, 2017. He lost 4 mph on his fastball between July and August. It’s pretty clear that something was wrong and all indications are that it had something to do with his elbow.

So where does all the confidence come from? In order for Mo to be confident about the rotation, he’s got to be confident in Wainwright. ZIPS and Steamer seem to be reasonably confident in him so is that where it comes from? Surely the team’s internal projections must be giving Mo something similar to what ZIPS and Steamer are showing. But aren’t all of those projections based on a lot of historical data? Isn’t it possible (or even likely) that all those projections aren’t weighting the last 2 months of 2017 heavily enough?

If he can produce roughly 1.5 WAR in 120-130 innings, I think most Cards’ fans (and coaches, teammates, members of management) would be pretty happy. The team could supplement the other innings with Jack Flaherty and others from the farm and would have a solid 5th man for the rotation. But what if the Wainwright that shows up on Florida mounds in March is the same guy the team saw in August and September? Then, the team has no 5th starter going into the season?

Or maybe it’s worse if Wainwright is OK in March and suggests that it’s possible he might pitch well during the season and then the team runs him out there 8 or 10 times and he’s awful. The team loses 7 or 8 of those games and Wainwright has an ERA around 8.50 or something and now the team has to find a 5th starter.

It seems to me that the best case scenario is probably something around what the projections are projecting — 1.5 to 2 WAR for somewhere between 140 and 160 innings — but the worst case scenario is probably replacement level or even lower and the team loses a bunch of games while they’re figuring out what to do. That’s not what we normally expect from projections. The projections the public sees are usually something around the 50th-percentile projection meaning that a pitcher who projects for 1.5 WAR could have a best case scenario maybe around 3 WAR. But I just don’t see that as Wainwright’s 90th-percentile projection for 2018. Does anyone?

I don’t think it would be the worst thing in the world if Flaherty ended up getting Wainwright’s innings. In fact, ZIPS actually projects Flaherty to be better than Wainwright in 2018 and worth 2.0 WAR. But if he takes Wainwright’s spot, that still eats into the team’s depth and adds another average-ish piece to an average-ish rotation.

The bottom line is that the team still needs to be trying to trade for Chris Archer. Honestly, I feel somewhat better about the bullpen right now than I do the rotation. I realize most of Cardinal nation right now is up in arms (so to speak) about the pen, but a stronger rotation could help alleviate some of those concerns.

Thanks for reading.

 

 

One of these things is not like the other

It’s 2011.  Albert Pujols, the greatest Cardinal of my generation and the driving force behind 2 World Series titles, is about to become a free agent.  Pujols accumulated 81.3 fWAR in his 11 years in a Cardinal uniform and was well on his way to the Hall of Fame.  He had been the Rookie of the Year, won the MVP 3 times and finished 2nd 4 more (he’d have certainly won 3 more if not for Bonds and the fact that MVP voters love RBI).  He had won 2 Gold Gloves and been an All-Star 10 times.  He was, in every definition of the word, a Cardinal hero…and he was about to become a free agent.

Everyone knew the price for Pujols was going to be high; the obvious question was “how high would the team go in order to re-sign him?”  He had to be re-signed, though, right?  He was, after all, Albert Pujols.  We couldn’t let him get away.  Many were surprised, including Albert himself, when the team didn’t make more of a push to get him signed before his final year in a Cardinal uniform.  In January, 2011, the team offered Pujols a 9 year, $198 million offer which he rejected.  He became a free agent that November and in December, the team upped its offer to 10 years, $220 million.  We, of course, know what happened next. The Angels swooped in with a 10 year, $254 million offer and he was gone.

As it turned out, the team didn’t miss a beat.  The Cardinals installed Lance Berkman and Allen Craig at first base, won 88 games, and was 1 win away from playing in the World Series.  The Angels had a good season themselves, winning 89 games, but finished 3rd in the tough AL West.  Pujols played well, accumulating 3.6 fWAR but it was the lowest total of his career.  And he hasn’t been even that good since.  In his 4 years in Southern California, Pujols has accumulated a total of 9.1 fWAR — less than 2.3 per season.  In 2003 as a Cardinal, Pujols accumulated 9.5 fWAR in that season alone.  Now he’s basically a league average player.

In the 2012 amateur draft, the Cardinals had 2 compensation picks for losing Pujols to the Angels.  They used those 2 picks to select Michael Wacha and Stephen Piscotty.  Craig became a hero for the Cardinals and, when he started to slip, we traded him to the Red Sox for John Lackey.  Now, does anyone think that the Cardinals would trade Wacha and Piscotty for Pujols?  Would any team be so stupid as to make that deal?  I guarantee that the Angels would rather have Wacha and Piscotty than Pujols.

Dave Cameron from Fangraphs does a trade value series each July where he ranks the top 50 players in baseball in terms of the trade value and then he concludes the series with the 5 players in baseball with the lowest trade value.  In other words — the 5 worst contracts in baseball.  In 2013 and 2014, Pujols ranked first — the worst contract in the game.  This year, Pujols made it up to 5th with Cameron estimating that Pujols’s contract had $70 million in dead weight.  Whether or not we agree that Pujols’s contract is the worst, or the 5th worst, or the 10th worst in baseball, it is inarguably a bad contract, one to which we should all be ecstatic the Cardinals never agreed.

This offseason the Cardinals are back in that boat, trying to decide how much to offer Jason Heyward, another free agent who will be seeking somewhere in the neighborhood of $200 million.  Many Cardinals’ fans, with full knowledge of how well the team has done since Pujols left and of how burdensome the contract is to the Angels, will follow the Heyward negotiations with trepidation.  “$200 million for guy who hit 13 home runs last year?  That’s preposterous!”  But is it?

First of all, it’s not 2011.  Salaries have escalated by about 7% per year in baseball over the last 4 years.  So, $200 million today is equivalent to about $153 million in 2011.  Second, when Pujols left for the Angels, he was already 31 years old and his last season was his worst (though still very good).  He had dealt with multiple injuries to his arm and his feet and was basically relegated to first base.  It was pretty obvious that he was not going to age particularly well.  He would soon, undoubtedly, become a DH at least part-time and with the Cards in the NL, it didn’t make a ton of sense to carry a part-time DH on the roster.  As it turns out, Pujols was only in year 4 of his 10 year deal and only played 1B 95 times last year.  Down the stretch for the Angels, Chris Cron played 1B and Pujols was the DH.  Formerly a very good base runner, at least for someone without blazing speed, now Pujols is frequently pinch run for.  And he still has 6 years left on his deal.

Jason Heyward is a very different character.  First, he just turned 26 — 5 years younger than Pujols was when he began his first season in LA.  He’s an outstanding defensive outfielder and base runner.  He’s easily the best defensive right fielder in the game by both UZR and DRS and the team even felt comfortable enough with Heyward in the outfield to put him in CF 10 times.  Fangraphs has Heyward as the 5th best base runner in the game, adding 7 runs to the team just by stealing bases and taking the extra base on singles and doubles.  So even though Heyward doesn’t hit with the power that one would like from a superstar, $200 million player — averaging just under 13 homers per year over the previous 3 seasons — he still accumulates a lot of value other ways.  Once Pujols started to break down, he became basically just a slugger.

Even though he only hit 13 homers in 2015, he was still the 6th best outfielder in the game by fWAR and was the team’s most valuable player as well.  Most importantly, however, many players don’t reach their peaks until they are somewhere between 27 and 30.  Heyward has already hit 27 HR in the big leagues once and with his frame, 6’5″ & 245 pounds, there are a lot of reasons people think that power may return.  In other words, there are a lot of reasons to believe the best is yet to come with Heyward.  That simply was not realistic with the Pujols contract.

Yesterday, Craig Edwards of vivaelbirdos and fangraphs shared this via twitter:

Sure, Holliday had more homers than Heyward at his age but Heyward was still arguably a better hitter at his age than Holliday was (121 wRC+ > 116 wRC+).  And Holliday didn’t provide anywhere near the defensive and base running value that Heyward provides.

So, here’s the point, the Cardinals can’t afford to hand out $200 million contracts to anyone who wants one.  They must be offered judiciously.  Thus, the team should offer a huge mega-contract only to players who:

  • are obviously great
  • are young and can provide value for a long time
  • have the ability to help the team at the plate, in the field, and on the bases
  • may not have yet reached their peak
  • have a good injury history
  • can help the team win when they’re not hitting homers

Jason Heyward meets all of those criteria.  If the team is ever going to bid on the top free agent position player on the market, this is the guy to bid on.  We won’t be able to go after Bryce Harper in a couple of years but we do have as good a chance as anyone of landing Heyward and should push all our chips in to get him.  We have room in the budget and the team is going to get a lot more money when its big contract with Fox Sports Midwest kicks in.  The dollars may be similar, in that they may both start with a 2, but this is not the Pujols contract.