Bio: I am a Cardinal fan, from a small town in Missouri and grew up listening to the Whiteyball teams of the 1980s (but still love the Tony LaRussa version). Currently living outside of St. Louis, I am a partial season ticket holder with a great group of friends. I hold the position of Director of Sales and Marketing for a hydraulic press manufacturer and serve on a local youth baseball board of directors. Follow me on Twitter at: http://twitter.com/mriehn
Posts by mriehn:
by Michael Riehn
I recently had a chance to preview a cool new Cardinal Baseball App from the Post Dispatch on my iPhone. If you have a smart phone device, and like to stay connected, it is a must download. The App includes articles, blogs, breaking news and photos from the Post-Dispatch’s baseball coverage team. Features include Twitter updates, player-by-player news updates, schedules, photo galleries and more.
The main benefit I’ve seen is faster upload time for articles on my phone. If you like to follow the post dispatch, it can be a pain to upload the articles from a cellular device. I follow many different baseball websites through RSS feeds downloaded to my phone, but the Post Dispatch has always been difficult. The feed makes you link to the site (instead of sending the article to you), which can take awhile to upload and view (especially if you aren’t connected to the web).
This app is easy to use and articles are downloaded fast in an easy to read format. It saves time over anything else I’ve used.
It’s a great start, but I hope there are further updates made. Possible improvements include: video of interviews and highlights from the games, in game box score updates and standings. It would also be nice to see team statistics. This would be icing on an already great cake.
How to Get the App:
Available on the iPhone, Android, BlackBerry, Palm webOS and Windows Mobile platforms.
Download it for: $2.99
SEARCH your phone’s app store for Cardinals Baseball 2010
TEXT cards to 46275
by Michael Riehn
Imagine a gorgeous summer day with temperatures in the low 80’s. You sit down next to some of your closest friends talking baseball in anticipation of an upcoming game, the first one you’ve seen this year. A warm breeze carries the smell of barbecue as you take a pull from a cold beverage and smile at your good fortune.
I attended my 8th straight St. Louis Cardinal home Opening Day this year, but this one seemed more special than usual. The last couple of seasons, we’ve had rain, snow and overall terrible weather. Attending opening day has almost been more like survival than enjoyment. We hadn’t seen a Cardinal win since 2006 and each of the teams had major flaws that made you doubt how far they’d go.
This year, everything has come together. After a spectacular offseason in which the Cardinals filled their most glaring weaknesses (Holliday, Lopez, Penny, Garcia, Rasmus 2.0), the Cardinals are 15-7 to begin the season and are showing why they are one of the best teams in baseball.
We Have It Good
I was lucky enough to attend the Cardinals away opener in Cincinnati and the difference couldn’t be more striking. Cincinnati was great, but there is added electricity to the air in St. Louis. From the Cardinals pregame ceremonies with the Clydesdales, introductions of Hall of Famers and players to the massive fan support downtown, you figure out how special we have it in St. Louis.
This doesn’t just stop on opening day. The Cardinals routinely have 40,000 strong at the ballpark while other teams struggle to draw 20,000 fans. It doesn’t hurt that the Cardinals have a strong team, but even good teams are feeling the economy around Major League Baseball.
After a Winter hiatus, I will be back to blogging around once a week. It’s been a busy time preparing for new beginnings as my son was born April 28th (the same birthday as David Freese).
I also had the opportunity to write for a great Cardinal pre-season magazine (Maple Street Annual). Check it out if you get a chance. It is full of great information about the 2010 team. You can find the magazine at many St. Louis (and Southeast Missouri) grocery stores and newsstands or go here.
The United Cardinal Bloggers have been doing our regular roundtable, so I thought I’d spark a little debate with an unpopular question: Is Pujols worth the contract the Cardinals will have to give him? To be honest, my answer would be “yes”, but I thought I’d look at the other side of the equation. With numbers being thrown out like $25 or $30 million for 10 years, you can easily find ways in which the contract won’t work.
While the future Hall of Famer has two years remaining on his contract, signing him has been cause for concern for many in Cardinal nation. In order to preface this question, I brought up a cautionary tale. Frank Thomas may have been a better hitter than Albert Pujols through his age 29 season. Really:
Thomas: .330 BA/ .452 OBP/ .600 SLG/ OPS+ 182
Pujols: .334 BA/ .426 OBP/ .628 SLG/ OPS+ 171
OPS+ normalizes on base plus slugging for league average. Thomas played in a league where it was more difficult to hit than Pujols (due to variables such as baseball parks). While he isn’t anywhere close to the same fielder as Pujols, this comparison shows what a great hitter he was and how comparable the right handed hitters really were.
If Thomas were the Cardinal player instead of Pujols, we would have been talking about signing him to the same contract (or slightly less due to his fielding issues). After Thomas turned 30, he only hit .276/.389/.515 with 264 homers and a 134 OPS+. He had quite a few injuries and performed much worse than before 30.
From 2002-2008 (which would be the last 6 years of a 10 year contract), Fangraphs had Thomas worth $51.2 million dollars. A $25 million a year contract in the last 6 years would be $150 million or a net deficit of ONE HUNDRED MILLION DOLLARS. Mid market clubs can’t eat $16.6 million per year in performance deficits.
Alex Rodriguez is another good comparison for Pujols. In his age 30-33 seasons, he has been worth 102.9 million. Over 4 years, this is worth $25.725 per season (per Fangraphs). What is Rodriguez going to be worth over the next 6 years with regression?
Now you may say that Albert is going to be different. Thomas fell off a cliff in his age 30 season and nobody projects Pujols to fall that much (or any) this season (age 30). Rodriguez is still a great player and has never had Pujols’s contact rate or plate discipline, but you have to realize that Pujols best seasons are probably behind him.
Is Pujols worth 10 years 25 million dollars? Would you sign him for 10 years $30 million? Are you confident he will be worth it? If so why? What would he have to produce over 10 years as a break even? I’d have a tough time going over 10 years at $250 million, and while I’d pay that due to what Pujols has done for the franchise, I think 10 at $230 million is closer to what he will be worth (though he will probably sign for somewhere in between 10 @ $25 million and 10 @ $30 million.
The responses were typically one sided for Pujols, with some wishfull thinking that he will sign a below market contract. Hopefully, our esteemed bloggers are correct…
by Michael Riehn
On Saturday afternoon at 3:00 PM Central, the United Cardinal Blogger Radio Hour, will have the Cardinals minor league director John Vuch on as a guest on another special edition of the show. Dustin from Whiteyball and Nick from Pitchers Hit Eighth will quiz him about St. Louis’s farm system and who we should keep an eye on this season.
You can also download the podcast by going to iTunes and searching for the United Cardinal Bloggers
The United Cardinal Bloggers have been in existence since 2007 and work together on various projects and discussions. The UCB Radio Hour came out of that in 2008, providing yet another forum for talking Cardinal baseball.
by Michael Riehn
The Cardinals have been blessed with fantastic teams in the 2000’s. A World Series Championship, 2 pennants and 5 division titles, 7 playoff appearances, 1 Cy Young Award and 3 MVPs are just a small list of accomplishments for the organization. The United Cardinal Bloggers are doing a best players of the decade review.
So who gets to be on the list? The criteria for me:
- I’m not looking at who was best for the decade, but who did the best in a specific season
- Decade is defined as 2000-2009
- Each position will be accounted for with a full starting 5 (pitchers) and a closer.
- Players can’t be listed multiple times, so while Albert Pujols may have had the best season as a third baseman, left field and first base, I’m only taking his best season (which happens to be at first base)
- Must have 400 plate appearances to qualify (Sorry Matt Holliday 2009)
First a primer on OPS+: OPS+ is OPS adjusted for the park and the league in which the player played, but not for fielding position. An OPS+ of 100 is defined to be the league average. An OPS+ of 150 or more is excellent and 125 very good, while an OPS+ of 75 or below is poor.
First Base: Tino Martinez 2003, er, I mean Albert Pujols 2009.
The Tino joke aside, it wasn’t hard to pick who the best Cardinal player of the decade was, at first base or any other position. It was difficult picking his best season. He’s been so good for so long that almost any season he’s had would be the best at any other position for the Cardinals (or any other team). Technically, 2010 had a higher OPS+ with 190, but the 59 more plate appearances and a career high in stolen bases put him over the top (in my opinion).
Second Base: Fernando Vina 2001
Honestly, Skip Schumaker’s 2009 was close, but Vina gets the edge due to his Glove Award Winning defense and base running. You don’t remember it now, but Vina had a fantastic pivot on the double play.
Shortstop: Edgar Renteria 2003
Renteria had an amazing season in 2003 that would have looked good in a corner outfield spot. What makes it even better is that he played Gold Glove caliber defense at the most demanding position on the field and stole 34 bases.
Third Base: Scott Rolen 2004
Rolen always had an amazing glove, but he improved his game with MVP caliber offense in 2004.
Left Field: J.D. Drew 2001
This was the toughest call out of every position (and technically this was right field). Not because Drew didn’t play well (he did), but because he was injured so much. The talent was real though, and he didn’t have much competition.
Centerfield: Jim Edmonds 2004
The third member of the MV3 with Pujols and Rolen, it is amazing to think back to the time when we had 3 players in the top 5 of the MVP voting.
Rightfield: Ryan Ludwick 2008
After battling injuries throughout his career, Ludwick finally got healthy and won a silver slugger award in 2008. Hopefully, he will regain some of this form for a repeat in 2010.
Primer for ERA+: ERA+ adjusts a pitcher’s earned run average (ERA) according to the pitcher’s ballpark (in case the ballpark favors batters or pitchers) and the ERA of the pitcher’s league. Average ERA+ is set to be 100; a score above 100 indicates that the pitcher performed better than average, below 100 indicates worse than average.
Starting Pitcher 1: Chris Carpenter 2009
How could I not take the year he won the Cy Young? I provided both for comparison. This was the most difficult pitching decision that I had to make. In 2005, Carpenter threw over 240 innings, led the league with 7 complete games and had 213 Ks (and more K’s per 9 than 2009). In 2009 he had a slightly lower walk rate and almost NEVER gave up a home run. I’d take either, but I think Carp’s 2009 was SLIGHTLY more dominant.
Starting Pitcher 2: Adam Wainwright 2009
A workhorse season, it wasn’t quite as good as Carp’s (and would rank behind Carp’s 2005), but fantastic nonetheless.
Starting Pitcher 3: Darryl Kile 2001
I know that 2000 is considered his better year because he won 20 games (and was 5th in the Cy Young voting), but 2001 sticks out as a better season to me. He kept the ball in the ballpark better and had an improved ERA because of it. Either season is great, and he left us far too soon.
Starting Pitcher 4: Matt Morris
Matt Morris in his prime was a beautiful thing to watch. In 2001 he put it all together for a brief peak at the top.
Starting Pitcher 5: Rick Ankiel 2000
It’s hard to remember how good Rick Ankiel really was. His cartoon curveball and electric fastball took the league by storm in 2000. Along with Darryl Kile, these two should have been leading the Cardinals through the early to mid 2000’s. Instead, both of their careers were cut short. 10 strikeouts per 9 innings is sick.
Honorable Mentions: Joel Pinerio 2009, Woody Williams 2003
Closer: Jason Isringhausen 2002
For all of the grief that Issi took in Cardinal Nation, you would think he wasn’t very good. On the contrary, Isringhausen was DOMINANT at times, especially during 2002. Look over the stats and you will see something amazing. Along with his 9.4 strikeouts per nine innings and low walk rate, he DID NOT ALLOW A HOME RUN in 2002. Wow.
by Michael Riehn
“The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.” Mahatma Gandhi
Mark McGwire finally talked about the past yesterday, and a flood of perfect people have opened the gates to chastise him on their moral high ground. (/end sarcasm).
I’ve seen the hour long interview (If you haven’t, you can find the basics through the McGwire’s interview with Bernie Miklasz at the Post Dispatch.). Costas was fair but strong. 95% of what McGwire said is right on target, and is much better than anyone’s else “confession” from steroids. There are comments to disagree with to be sure, but everyone is focusing on the negative and not giving any thought to the positive.
For once, we seem to have someone actually telling the truth about steroids (as opposed to A-Rod, Pettite, Clemens, etc.). He didn’t say: “I only did them once to try them” and “What a coincidence I happened to get tested!”
You may not agree with the timing, but it takes a lot of bravery and moral character to lay it all out like he is doing. He seems to be telling the truth and his admissions give it plausibility. McGwire has admitted to using them throughout his career, even through his record breaking 70 home run season.
He has a great explanation for the 2005 hearings (that I agree with) and there should be great points for telling the truth. McGwire has shed light on the issue instead of telling ‘just enough’ to get the public off his back. He seems genuinely sorry for his actions and deserves to have this issue die (after this post).
What are Steroids and Why are They a Problem?
Steroids have proper uses, and are legally administered by doctors to help patients heal more quickly. This is why your doctor prescribes steroids when you are sick. Abuse from the drug occurs when someone misuses them to ”self-medicate” injuries or to get stronger. Not only is this dangerous, but it is illegal due to the long term side affects that can range from mild to life threatening problems.
Steroids can cause depression or rage, damage your heart or ligaments and has been linked to some cancers. That’s a broad and generic definition, but the main issue is that short term gains can cause long term health problems.
McGwire explained that he took steroids for his myriad of injuries, and did not take them for strength. He’s not using this for an excuse but for an explanation. The apologies and anguish he shows in the interview are heart-wrenching, and you can tell that he has suffered greatly from his abuse.
Does this mean that I condone his actions. No, he messed up and there are consequences. He’s paid a great price for hiding this secret, and his admission has been embarrasing and difficult. He won’t go into the Hall of Fame and a public flogging is tough for anyone to go through.
The main problem critics are having with the confession is McGwire’s belief that steroids did not help him play better baseball. I find this hard to understand too, but he isn’t lying. He truly believes his statement. Instead of dismissing this issue on its face, let’s see if it has any merit. The two main advantages of steroids are quicker muscle recovery and healing.
Maybe McGwire didn’t need steroids for the strength to hit home runs. He was never a strong doubles hitter that just barely missed the warning track. He probably would have lost some, but his shots were mamoth and prolific. Saying this, there are studies that show how increased strength improves home run output (and that steroids can produce this increased strength).
The main issue is that recovering from the day to day, is part of why he hit all of those home runs each season in the first place. This is the biggest advantage he received from the drug, and the main reason why he probably wouldn’t have hit 70 without them.
Many people also believe that it makes you quicker to the ball, but this is just a theory. Strength doesn’t necessarily mean quickness, and McGwire is right that his swing got shorter and he had better mechanics later in his career. This WAS part of what made him a good hitter. Dismissing McGwire’s beliefs are just like dismissing beliefs that it COULD have an effect. PEDs probably make you quicker, but by how much and to what effect is still in doubt.
Now to the final part that hasn’t been explored. McGwire took steroids long term. Isn’t it possible that they HELPED him break down? Remember, he wasn’t taking the new steroids from today, or going through a doctor who specialized in baseball players. He was taking steroids from a gym. Yes they may have helped him short term with strength or recovery, but could he have hit MORE home runs over time if he had left the stuff alone?
You can’t say steroids are bad for you and dismiss this statement out of hand. McGwire’s physical abilities may have been hurt by his abuse along with his legacy. This adds another layer of sadness to the issue. What could McGwire have done without the juice? 600 home runs? A longer career?
Say it Ain’t So
I can see WHY McGwire took steroids. He was injured a lot in the early 90’s, and it is easy to see why/how he took the wrong path. He was a gifted athlete that kept breaking down with freak injuries. Players that didn’t have his talent or work ethic (he was always one of the players who worked the hardest) had greater success, and were passing him up. He looked for a way out and unfortunately found a shortcut.
In choosing drugs to help him level the playing field, he did the opposite, and gave himself an unfair advantage. Anytime you can stay on the field without taking time to heal, and recover more quickly (think day game after a night game), it gives you more opportunity at consistent production. This isn’t fair to other players who didn’t take the long term risks, and gave him a distinct advantage.
I can see why people have a hard time with McGwire’s beliefs on his career statistics, but he is entiled to his OPINION. We don’t have to force him to believe what we think in order to “win” our forgiveness (even if “we” are probably right). Say you disagree with him and move on. Don’t make him out to be a terrible person. He’s not, nor ever has been a terrible person (just ask teammates, friends, charitable organizations and other people around baseball).
Let the man have his peace. It’s time to stop the eternal damnation and get on with our lives. Of course, if he isn’t a good hitting coach, I will be outraged!
by Michael Riehn
I wish the Cardinals ownership would get off their fat wallets and do some… (voice from a distance is inaudible) What is that you say? (he turns away from they keyboard) They just spent 17 million a year at 7 YEARS for Matt Holliday? Wow.
Wow is a good place to start when discussing the deal the Cardinals gave Matt Holliday. The ownership has done their part, now it’s time to roll the dice and see what happens.
As first reported by Sports Illustrated’s Jon Heyman on Twitter, the Cardinals will be paying the perennial All-Star $17 million a year for 7 years with an (unattainable) option for an 8th year at $17 million. He has to finish in the top 10 of the MVP voting in year 7 (as a 37 year old) to reach the 8th year option. That’s probably not going to happen, and is in the contract so Holliday’s agent , Scott Boras can say he has a player option for year 8.
ESPN’s Buster Olney is reporting that the Holliday’s contract in 2010-’16 will actually be $15 million a year annually (present day value) with another $2 million a year in deferred payments (for $17 million total). He’ll also have a 2017 buyout for around 1 million dollars, for a total contract value of $120 million.
My opinion is that the Cardinals paid what they needed to. Did they overbid a little bit? Probably, but not egregiously so. Many people are saying they bid against themselves, but I don’t buy it. There was always the option of Holliday changing demands to a 1-2 year contract for over 20 million. In this scenerio we would have been bidding against the Yankees and Red Sox, and our chances would have shrunk dramatically. Boras had a few tricks up his sleeve and the Cardinals handled the process well (in my opinion).
Would I rather have Jason Bay and his contract? Actually, no. Matt Holliday is a much better player (offensively AND defensively) and will probably age well in comparison.
Playoff Chances and Needed Parts
This improves the Cardinals playoff chances dramatically. The central division has probably become worse this off-season, and in some metrics I’ve seen, Holliday’s signing improves our odds by almost 25%. With the health of the team as a major caveat, the Cardinals should be the division favorites for the next 2-3 years (at least).
With all of the Cardinals dead money easing off of the payroll this year (Greene, Glaus, Wellemeyer, etc.), the flexibility was/is there for 2010-11. They will be paying around $90-$95 million in salaries for 2010 with only a few needs.
The club must find a left handed bat off the bench (Ryan Church?), 5th starter (John Smoltz?), third baseman (Joe Crede?), backup centerfielder (Ryan Church?) and possibly a reliever (Kiko Calero?). Some of these spots will have to be filled from within (David Freese, Joe Mather, Allen Craig, Jamie Garcia, Fernando Salas, Jon Jay?), but you may see another short term contract on a veteran player or two.
The Future Problems
Things will become difficult in 2012. The Cardinals will have a lot of money tied up in their top stars, and many of the “cost controlled” players right now (Schumaker, Rasmus, Ludwick, Molina), will be hitting free agency or arbitration. They won’t be able to keep all of their core players without a significant increase in payroll at this time, and you won’t see any big money free agents (aside from Albert) for awhile. The Hot Stove League will be pretty cool for the Cardinals over the next 5 years.
So What is Holliday Worth?
The best way I can show you what Matt Holliday is worth is through a statistic called Wins Above Replacement (WAR). The definition of WAR can be found at Beyond the Boxscore, but in summary
WAR relies on counting stats (HRs, 2Bs, etc.) to be translated into rate stats (OBP, wOBA) and then combines these factors into value stats. The great thing about WAR is that it takes into account a player’s value both at the plate and in the field, adjusting it for position (left field/ 1st base bad, shortstop centerfield good) and park (St. Louis is virtually neutral, but Colorado is not), and compares it to a replacement player.
They key to the definition is the replacement player. It is roughly someone who could be called up from the minors for league minimum and do the same job (0 WAR). How much is the minor league player worth compared to Matt Holliday? Chuck Brownson from the Hard Ball Times and Viva El Birdos wrote a nice article with a pretty spreadsheet on Matt’s annual value over the life of the contract via a projection system called CHONE:
|Holliday’s projected WAR through 2016|
|Year||WAR||$ Value/Year||Total Value||Team’s Annual Surplus|
|2010||4.6||$4.4 M||$22.88 M||$5.88 M|
|2011||4.1||$4.7 M||$19.30 M||$2.30 M|
|2012||3.6||$5.0 M||$18.14 M||$1.14 M|
|2013||3.1||$5.4 M||$16.71 M||-$0.29 M|
|2014||2.6||$5.8 M||$15.00 M||-$2.00 M|
|2015||2.1||$6.2 M||$12.96 M||-$4.04 M|
|2016||1.6||$6.6 M||$10.57 M||-$6.43 M|
|Total||21.7||—-||$112.91 M||-$6.09 M|
These are projections (or educated guesses) so anything could happen, but the Cardinals have to use projections to figure out a player’s worth when attempting to sign them. We might as well use what we have to evaluate the deal. The caveat is that the Cardinal statistical system is probably better than anything freely available to the public. I bet their system shows he is worth it.
The table shows that CHONE thinks Holliday will be worth roughly what the team is paying (though 2015 and 2016 will probably be difficult to stomach).
The Value of Elite Talent
Some people will say that paying Holliday what he is worth is neither good nor bad (it’s just average), but I disagree. I think there is a value in elite talent that is difficult to quantify. For instance, would you rather have Lohse and De Rosa or Holliday and Allen Craig on the roster? We’ll have both options, but the dollar values are roughly the same.
Holliday/ Craig will be making slightly less each year (over the next 2 years) and will help a team out much more effectively than those two players. The Cardinals have a good chance to develop talent that replaces Lohse and De Rosa (in the next 2-3 years). They have next to a zero chance (barring injury) that anyone from the minors will preform like Holliday during that same time period. He’ll be in decline after that, but could still be a very valuable player (worth more than De Rosa’s WAR estimations in 2010-11 for instance).
All systems are pretty conservative. They have to take into account injury and the history of how players age, but there is some cause for optimism. Holliday’s WAR value over the last 4 years was 4.4, 8.0, 6.3, 5.7. He probably won’t ever match his career year again, but he has a decent chance at 5.7-6.3.
If Holliday can manage to duplicate what he did last year (5.7), for a year or 2, and age less dramatically than the conservative estimates, we could see a surplus in value that would make this contract a good one. Of course if Holliday gets injured in year one, or hits like he did in the beginning of 2009 for the A’s, we’ll have our own Barry Zito, Alfonso Soriano or Vernon Wells contract that will hamstring the Cardinals for years.
As a fan, you have to be optimistic about the signing. Anything can happen and you can’t dwell on the negatives. As an added bonus, this should also help us with negotiations for a certain first baseman who’s contract is up after 2011. Anything that gives us a better chance to keep our future Hall of Famer in Cardinal red for life, is a major plus.
What do you think?
by Michael Riehn
My son had a birthday yesterday and reminded me how much I missed Cardinal baseball… with a TV commercial. He’s been running around the house letting everyone know that “6… is a serious number“. I’ve taken a brief hiatus from blogging since then end of the season (aside from my hydraulic press blog), but it’s time to get serious. Could 6 be the key to the Cardinal’s hot stove league season?
The Heat is On
The Cardinals kicked off their free agency by signing Brad Penny to a one year contract. Penny replaces Joel Pineiro’s innings in the rotation and is an upgrade AND downgrade wrapped into one (round) package. Penny won’t replicate the season of the ground ball machine circa 2009, but he may be better than Peneiro in 2010.
Penny has one of the best fastballs in the league (his 93.4 MPH average is top five in the league) and will have Dave Duncan’s tutelage without the extra 3-4 years on the contract. Bill James predicts 12-11, 4.17 ERA, 205 IP for Pineiro and 10-11, 4.01 ERA, 182 IP for Penny.
A good sign.
A Buyer’s Market
At the beginning of free agency, it looked like the Cardinals didn’t have a chance at re-signing Matt Holliday. The numbers were scary (and true), like 8 (the number of year’s Scott Boras was wanting), 39 (the age of Matt Holliday the year after an 8 year contract) and 22 (the average annual value that Scott Boras was originally looking for).
Scott Boras was doing what he always does, but for once, the numbers being floated around scared EVERYBODY, even the large market teams. The Cardinals offered a 5 year 80 million dollar contract (16 million) and the Red Sox followed it up with a 5 year 82.5 million (16.5 million). Boras turned them both down and watched the market collapse. The Red Sox went a different way and used their money to sign free agent pitcher John Lackey.
The Yankees are the elephant in the room that make Scott Boras who he is. They are always driving up the market, but have not helped Boras this year. He didn’t count on the trade for Curtis Granderson, and the Yanks have showed a modicum of restraint, holding their budget to around 200 million (though they may still sign Johnny Damon).
This isn’t just a bluff. The Yankees cost for free agents aren’t like other clubs due to a steep luxury tax. They spend a lot of money, but they lose a lot every year too. If they sign Holliday to 18 million, they are taxed 40%, meaning they are really signing him for 25 million (plus their first round draft pick). This looks like it is even too rich for their (cold, heartless, greedy) blood.
The smaller market teams are pulling back (aside from Seattle, who signed Chone Figgins), and have become conservative due to the econony. Mark DeRosa signed a 2 year deal with the Giants (12 million) and Atlanta had to trade Javier Vazquez to cut costs.
The Cardinals have been keeping costs down in years past once they identified Holliday as their target for 2010. They’ve got enough dry powder to compete with the big boys, especially with the poor economy, but they don’t want to fall into a classic Boras trap. The only serious player in the hunt for Holliday’s services was the Mets… until they signed Jason Bay to his 4 year 66 million dollar deal (16.5 million per) with a vesting 5th year option for $14 million.
So what do the Cardinals do? They can’t wait forever on Holliday as they still need a right handed reliever and a backup centerfielder (along with their left field bat). Contrary to popular belief, their isn’t much of a plan B on the market.
The best player available (not counting Holliday) is Adrian Beltre, and most of his value is through his superb defense at third (think Scott Rolen). Jermaine Dye and Xavier Nady may have intriguing bats, but they give it all back through poor defense in this stage of their career.
The real plan B is Felipe Lopez, who provides a great on base percentage and terrible glove at multiple positions. He won’t provide any protection for Pujols, or help for our groundball staff, but he would get on base in front of the machine and be a big addition to the offense. Johnny Damon is the only other impact bat on the market, but he is over priced and a Scott Boras client (making it tough to use him as leverage).
The Cardinals need Holliday and Holliday needs the Cardinals, but if the team increases the value of their offer, they are bidding against themselves. Unfortunately, Scott Boras will want to save face and he’s not going to take less annual value than Bay.
Bay has crystallized the market for Holliday. To get the deal done, Boras will want an offer of 5 years with a vesting option for a 6th year at almost 16.67 million per year. The 6th year is the key. That will get his contract above Bay’s and make him a 100 million dollar player (with the option). Think 5 years 16.5 million per year with an option year for $17.5 million. At the very least, he won’t make less than $16.5 million over 6 years.
The 100 million dollar deal wouldn’t be a bad contract, especially in the beginning (Holliday is worth around 24 million next year with most projection systems), but I don’t see how the Cardinals can increase the offer on his contract without someone else pushing the deal.
The Cardinals have the highest contract on the table at 5 years 80 million (16 million per year) and they would be foolish to increase it without another bidder. That won’t get it done, because it is basically what Bay signed for. This means that we won’t see a resolution soon.
Without a second team, Holliday will remain unsigned until Spring Training. The only other option for Boras is to change his tactics and have Holliday sign a 1 year deal to hit the market again next year. If he did this, you would see the Yankees and Red Sox back into the picture, and the deal would be for over 20 million. This option will happen before Holliday accepts the 5/80 contract and is the only way I see the Cardinals not ending up with the slugger.
Will the Cardinals increase their offer to get a deal done or will Boras change tactics? It will be interesting to see who blinks first.
by Michael Riehn
“I’m here to talk about the past.” Those are the words Cardinal fans are longing to hear from their fallen slugger. Will Big Mac finally clear the air and put the issue behind him (and the rest of Cardinal Nation)? For the first time in many years, this enlightenment could happen soon, and the Cardinals may get a top hitting coach in the process. So what’s the issue? It sounds like a win/ win right?
The Greatest Show on Earth
McGwire was the most entertaining player in baseball for a period of time in the late nineties… and he was a CARDINAL! The majestic home runs, midwestern values and a soft heart for charity were a staple to his character long before Albert Pujols was a gleam in a Cardinal fan’s eye.
It is said that when they opened the books to the Sammy Sosa foundation, Mark McGwire donated more money than Sosa did to his own organization. He seemed to do things out of the kindness of his heart, instead of playing for the public and media. His fierce privacy was a nice attribute instead of the curse that it is today.
Big Mac even left the team before the fans could sour on him, walking away from a huge contract when he knew he couldn’t play at a high level anymore.
That Was When I Ruled the World
He could do no wrong… until that fateful day before congress. McGwire looked foolish on capitol hill and everyone could see it. He took the most heat and abuse on the steroids issue, and became the face of the problem. He was subjected to ridicule from the public and media alike.
In retrospect, he now looks like the only person who didn’t incriminate himself on that fateful day. We now know the problem was everywhere. What he didn’t admit to is most likely very bad, but it was more common than we were led to believe. It’s obvious that he did something wrong, and that taints his accomplishments as a player.
McGwire has honored many of the commitments from that day, but he has done things in his typical low key fashion. Don Hooten has stated that McGwire has given a lot of money through his steroid awareness foundation (Taylor Hooton Foundation), but he has not worked to build awareness regarding the situation through his stature. He’s largely been a recluse from the spotlight, and this works against his “public redemption”.
Is it Worth the Trouble?
Why would we want the circus of McGwire as a hitting coach? Shouldn’t we just let him fade into the sunset? The answer is this: He may be good at the job. Players swear by his teachings (and video work) and he has had a lot of success. The Cardinals weren’t the only team interested in his service, as the Rockies had made him an offer too.
What if he’s able to help our underachieving hitting team get better? Players respect him even more than La Russa (which is saying a lot). You won’t get someone tuning him out (like Hal McRae last year) and there are many techniques this team needs to work on.
While the PED issue should be taken into consideration, it is just a portion of who McGwire is as a person and he can still be a contributor to the organization. Many of the great values he showed as a player, would be perfect for this team.
The mistake should be taken into context. If McGwire talks about his involvement with steroids (like A-Rod, Andy Petite, Jason Giambi, Manny Ramirez and Rick Ankiel), this will be a minor footnote by mid-season. If he doesn’t, it MAY be a circus, but after awhile it will probably die down too (it will just take longer).
Remember, he is not chasing records and is not a player out in front of the fans anymore. He will be more visible, but more along the lines of Dave Duncan (who rarely gives interviews) and not Tony LaRussa or Albert Pujols. Admitting his demons in public would be nice (especially since he pledged to help fight the issue), but it is not necessary to do this job.
I Do Solemnly Swear to Tell The Whole Truth…
I don’t think McGwire needs a full confession of everything sin he has committed to get past this. An apology, a vague reference of what he did (ala Giambi) and some show of humility would be enough to end the constant media speculation and put the past behind him with a majority of the people.
His employer (the Cardinals and MLB), coworkers (Cardinals) are what are important, and they seem to respect him and have moved past the issue. The fans are overwhelmingly supportive with over 80% in favor of the move (out of 6,000) in a recent Post Dispatch poll (and he hasn’t even apologized), but fan (or even media) support doesn’t matter as much for a coach.
I think it is worth a shot to see what he can do. The distraction could prove detrimental, but there is so much to gain from having him part of the organization again. Hopefully, he will start out with a confession, and then work to make the Cardinals a more patient hitting team than last year (Bottom third in walks, bottom half in on base percentage). At the very least, he makes next year that much more interesting.
(Plus, it wouldn’t hurt if he talked his buddy, Matt Holliday, into resigning with the team.)
by Michael Riehn
Inside Pulse’s Question:
Is it time to let Tony LaRussa and Dave Duncan walk?
Each year, more people begin to ask this question. It’s gotten to the point where other teams are waiting to announce staff changes until the Cardinals to; rumor had it the Reds were waiting to announce Dick Pole’s replacement until the Cardinals were eliminated from the playoffs, in case they could get Duncan. It was also rumored that they’d have no problem dismissing Dusty Baker if Tony LaRussa was available.
LaRussa is a hall of famer; Duncan is the highest paid pitching coach in baseball. Both are great for the team; both also have faults.
Whiteyball Comment (Michael Riehn):I think there is one simple way to answer this question: Who has proven to be a better manager and pitching coach (that the Cardinals could go out and get) that would replace La Russa and Duncan? I don’t see anyone that has proven to be better.
The popular answer is Oquendo, but why? Does anyone have any insight into his managing of the Puerto Rican team that gives them confidence in his abilities? We know he has not shown the greatest media abilities (see the Joel Pineiro situation). His language skills have improved, but I don’t see him spinning yarns ala Whitey Herzog.
He has been schooled by La Russa and Herzog. He’s not going to be much different than them. Why do we think he will (in his first managing job) buck the industry trends for more new age thinking (La Russa is still on the leading edge of this). Why do we want to give up one of the best third base coaches in the business (we’d have to replace him) and give him less time to spend with the infielders? (Oquendo hasn’t exactly been on the fast track to manage)
Successful managers (Joe Maddon?) are signed to their teams for long term deals or wouldn’t want to leave their current situation.
For all their foibles, we often time forget La Russa/ Duncan’s many strengths (veteran pitchers, keeping bench players active and starters fresh, protecting players, keeping everyone playing hard, respect from players, etc.). They aren’t great with bad bullpens or young pitchers (though they HAVE developed some), but they also build character in their young players (you may call it the doghouse, I call it letting them prove themselves). We seldom see a La Russa player dogging it.
La Russa may be the best manager in the business for Brendan Ryan (he’s more serious and dedicated) and Colby Rasmus seems to have checked his cockiness into a more “quite confidence” tone. You earn your loyalty with his regime and he will return it in spades.
Change for change sake is almost never a good idea. If we are going to replace them, we need a solid reason for doing so. I haven’t seen this reasoning yet, and La Russa/ Duncan have proven to be successful (even with their admitted quirks).
by Michael Riehn
The United Cardinal Bloggers are having our annual roundtable discussion with questions and debate from several of our authors over the next 10 days. The blogger of the day proposes a question on e-mail, everyone takes a day to respond to it and offer responses to the question. The first question was from yours truly regarding the value of Matt Holliday. Question and Answers from the group are below.
How much should the Cardinals spend to sign Matt Holliday? (Please give your answer in total value and average annual value.) What is your Plan B if they don’t resign him?
Does the fact that we gave up Brett Wallace+ to add Holliday, or that he qualifies as a type A free agent (First round draft pick plus supplemental pick between first and second round), factor into your decision?
Remember, that Holliday IS one of the top players in the league and will be paid as such. He’ll be 30 years old in 2010 and is in the prime of his career. He had the 16th highest OPS+ last year, the 13th best in 2008 and the 12th best in 2007. The fielding metrics have him above average. You can’t say that he is only worth 12 million dollars per year (in value or to the Cardinal team).
His WAR (wins above replacement) value was 5.6 in 2009 per Fangraphs. Fangraphs estimated (in 2008) that each WAR point is worth 4.5 million dollars (4.5 x 5.6= $25.2 million). In 2008: 6.2 WAR (28 million), 2007: 7.9 WAR (32.2 million). This gives you a frame of reference for what the advanced statistics say he is worth (and you know Scott Boras knows the advanced statistics). The highest money an outfielder has made (per season) is Manny Ramirez (at 22.5 million).
Resources (Cot’s Baseball Contracts)
Highest Paid Players of all time
Total Contract Value:
1. Alex Rodriguez, $275,000,000 (2008-17)
2. Alex Rodriguez, $252,000,000 (2001-10)
3. Derek Jeter, $189,000,000 (2001-10)
4. Mark Teixeira, $180,000,000 (2009-16)
5. CC Sabathia, $161,000,000 (2009-15)
6. Manny Ramirez, $160,000,000 (2001-08)
7. Miguel Cabrera, $152,300,000 (2008-15)
8. Todd Helton, $141,500,000 (2003-11)
9. Johan Santana, $137,500,000 (2008-13)
10. Alfonso Soriano, $136,000,000 (2007-14)
11. Vernon Wells, $126,000,000 (2008-14)
12. Barry Zito, $126,000,000 (2007-13)
13. Mike Hampton, $121,000,000 (2001-08)
14. Jason Giambi, $120,000,000 (2002-08)
15. Carlos Beltran, $119,000,000 (2005-11)
16. Ken Griffey Jr., $116,500,000 (2000-08)
17. Kevin Brown, $105,000,000 (1999-2005)
18. Carlos Lee, $100,000,000 (2007-12)
19. Albert Pujols, $100,000,000 (2004-10)
20. Carlos Zambrano, $91,500,000 (2008-12)
21. Mike Piazza, $91,000,000 (1999-2005)
22. Barry Bonds, $90,000,000 (2002-06)
23. Torii Hunter, $90,000,000 (2008-12)
24. Chipper Jones, $90,000,000 (2001-06)
25. Scott Rolen, $90,000,000 (2003-10)
Average Annual Value (all time):
1. Roger Clemens, $28,000,022 (2007)
2. Alex Rodriguez, $27,500,000 (2008-17)
3. Alex Rodriguez, $25,200,000 (2001-10)
4. CC Sabathia, $23,000,000 (2009-15)
5. Johan Santana, $22,916,667 (2008-13)
6. Manny Ramirez, $22,500,000 (2009-10)
7. Mark Teixeira, $22,500,000 (2009-16)
8. Roger Clemens, $22,000,022 (2006)
9. Manny Ramirez, $20,000,000 (2001-08)
10. Miguel Cabrera, $19,037,500 (2008-15)
11. Derek Jeter, $18,900,000 (2001-10)
12. Carlos Zambrano, $18,300,000 (2008-12)
13. Andruw Jones, $18,100,000 (2008-09)
14. Barry Bonds, $18,000,000 (2002-06)
Roger Clemens, $18,000,000 (2005)
Ryan Howard, $18,000,000 (2009-11)
Torii Hunter, $18,000,000 (2008-12)
Sammy Sosa, $18,000,000 (2002-05)
Ichiro Suzuki, $18,000,000 (2008-12)
Vernon Wells, $18,000,000 (2008-14)
Barry Zito, $18,000,000 (2007-13)
15. Jake Peavy, $17,333,333 (2010-12)
16. Jason Giambi, $17,142,857 (2002-08)
17. Jeff Bagwell, $17,000,000 (2002-06)
Carlos Beltran, $17,000,000 (2005-11)
Carlos Delgado, $17,000,000 (2001-04)
Alfonso Soriano, $17,000,000 (2007-14)
The highest-paid active outfielders, by average annual value:
Manny Ramirez, $22,500,000 (2009-10)
Manny Ramirez, $20,000,000 (2001-08)
Andruw Jones, $18,100,000 (2008-09)
Torii Hunter, $18,000,000 (2008-12)
Ichiro Suzuki, $18,000,000 (2008-12)
Vernon Wells, $18,00,000 (2008-13)
Carlos Beltran, $17,000,000 (2005-11)
Alfonso Soriano, $17,000,000 (2007-14)
Carlos Lee, $16,666,667 (2007-12)
Magglio Ordonez, $15,000,000 (2005-09)
J.D. Drew, $14,000,000 (2007-11)
Vladimir Guerrero, $14,000,000 (2004-08)
Johnny Damon, $13,000,000 (2006-09)
Hideki Matsui, $13,000,000 (2006-09)
Bobby Abreu, $12,800,000 (2003-07)
Kosuke Fukudome, $12,000,000 (2008-11)
Jose Guillen, $12,000,000 (2008-10)
Aaron Rowand, $12,000,000 (2008-12)
Matt Holliday, $11,500,000 (2008-09)
Nick Markakis, $11,016,667 (2009-14)
Jermaine Dye, $11,000,000 (2008-09
by Michael Riehn
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times… That’s how I feel about the Cardinals in 2009. This season was unlike any other we’ve experienced as Cardinal fans. Unlike 2008 or 2007, the team actually looked great for long stretches of the season. This was the best regular season since 2005, and the team may have a lot to look forward to in the coming years… or they may not.
So What Went Wrong?
The first half of the season, the Cardinals were weighed down by huge drop offs in expectations from the hitters. This is a list of batters by positions that were doing worse than their counterparts from the year before ( first half): LF, CF, RF, 3B, C, SS, P. That’s virtually everyone. Only second baseman Skip Schumaker, who was a huge drop off in defense from Adam Kennedy, and Albert Pujols (who was having a career best first half) were hitting above the positions from the previous year.
Khalil Greene was traded for Luke Gregorson who promptly turned into the right handed middle reliever that we needed in 2009:
|162 Game Avg.||2||4||3.24||68||71||29||88||115||1.240||0.4||3.7||11.2|
Then we traded for Mark DeRosa, who went Oh for his first 10 and promptly got injured. While he rebounded and gave the Cardinal lineup some punch, his overall numbers in St. Louis were not good (though an upgrade from the 3rd basemen of the 1st half), and he was a below average fielder at third base.
In Chris Perez’s last 29 games he had a 2.90 ERA, 31 IP, 36 Ks, 11 BBs and held batters to a ridiculous .574 OPS. (He would have looked nice in the playoffs closing out game 2). In that time, Mark DeRosa hit .241/ .311/ .432, .743 OPS. I like Mark DeRosa (and liked the trade at the time) but in hindsight, you can say that his trade, and the one for Greene, did not work out for the Cardinals. One of the team’s biggest needs going forward is a closer, and we may have let two good (and cheap) ones slip away.
Kyle Loshe signed a big contract in the offseason and promptly found himself on the disabled list (multiple times) for the first time in his career. He was mediocre in between each DL stint. Todd Wellemeyer may have been the worst starting pitcher in the majors last year (after being so good the year before).
The right handed middle relief was inconsistent and several players had nagging injuries (including a scare at the beginning of the year for Chris Carpenter).
Then there is the debacle of the playoffs…
What Went Right… (Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Trades)
Albert Pujols was a monster in the first half and good in the second. He put the team on his back in the early going and kept them in the race. It’s almost passe to talk about how good his future Hall of Fame career is, but he is worth the price of admission all by himself.
If the trades have anything to do with Pujols signing a contract to stay with the team for the rest of his career (this offseason), they were a success, no matter how poorly they turn out to be.
The Cardinals found some spare parts lying around that became useful players. Brendan Ryan showed that he may be one of the best fielding shortstops in the game, and wasn’t a liability with the bat.
Skip Schumaker showed vast improvement at second base throughout the year, and may even become a league average glove (with an above league average bat). We traded a useless (this year) Chis Duncan for a very good backup middle infielder (who is virtually free next year).
Colby Rasmus was rushed, but showed flashes of great promise with the glove and the bat. He will only get better, and is our biggest hope for sustained greatness. Ryan Ludwick rebounded to have a solid season. He’s probably not the 2008 version that we saw, but the 2009 player is pretty good.
Ryan Franklin became one of the best closers in the league before the clock struck midnight and it all came crashing down over the last month. Hopefully he will be more like the first 3/4 of the year than the last month (though it would have been nice to have Gregorson and Perez as backup plans).
All of these things paled in comparison to the 2 biggest stories of the year:
The Three Headed Monster
Chris Carpenter and Adam Wainwright combined for over 400 innings of Cy Young caliber pitching. Not since Bob Gibson and Steve Carlton have the Cardinals had such a fantastic 1-2 punch. Joel Pinerio was very good and helped form a sturdy 3 headed pitching dream team. When John Smoltz was signed, it made the staff even more formidable.
Going “All-In” with Matt Holliday
We gave up a lot for Matt Holliday. If we don’t sign him, those 4 for 5 nights in the box scores that Brett Wallace puts up are going to hurt quite a bit. Saying that, he did what he was supposed to. He carried the Cardinals to the playoffs and put up numbers reasonably similar to Pujols. If we sign him, it gives us the type of production we’ve been lacking since Scott Rolen’s shoulder was run over by a Chinese freight train and Jim Edmonds got old.
Nobody talks about the 2 biggest reason for the trade. 1. Matt Holliday would not have signed here as a free agent. The only shot we had to sign him was to trade for him, and hope he liked St. Louis enough not to chase the top dollar. That race is on right now and will go a long way to deciding the Cardinals chances over the next 2 years.
2. Pujols is watching and trying to decide if he’s going to sign a new long term contract. There is nobody else on the market like Holliday (especially that will sign with us), and Albert wants to win more than anything. He’s not going to sign a 10 year contract and miss the playoffs for the life of the deal.
Why I’m not Worked up About the Great Crash of 2009 (anymore)
I like to think of 2006 versus 2009 in terms of poker hands. We went into the playoffs in 2006 with a pair of deuces (the team) and a King (Pujols). We caught a pair of deuces on the turn and the river and won the whole thing. Improbable? Yes. Should it have happend? No.
This year we had a pair of Aces (Wainwright and Carpenter) and a King. We went all in on another King (Matt Holliday) and lost. Is it fair? No. The management was right that we had the odds to go for it, they just didn’t turn in our favor. That doesn’t mean it was a bad bet, it didn’t work out. Luckily we have 2006 to balance it out. Most teams don’t have that (ahem, Cubs), so we have to be thankful for the year of the 4 deuces.
by Michael Riehn
With the playoff races winding down, I thought it would be a great time to look at the playoff scenarios and the top pitchers for each team. The only race that is still somewhat close is the Rockies/ Braves for the wildcard. The Rockies have a 2 game lead with 6 to play.
The Cardinals are currently tied with the Phillies for the 2nd best record in the National League. Who will the Cardinals face in the first round?
If the Cardinals have the 2nd seed:
Scenerio 1: If the Rockies get in, the Cards would play the Rockies.
Scenerio 2: If the Braves get, in the Cards would play the Phillies
If the Cardinals have the 3rd seed (and Philadelphia has the 2nd seed)
Scenerio 3: If the Rockies get in, the Cards would play the Dodgers
Scenerio 4: If the Braves get in, the Cards would play the Phillies
What do the Phillies, Dodgers, Braves, Rockies and Cardinals have in common? Great starting pitching. All of these teams have an ERA that is within the top 8 of the major leagues. Even more interesting (to me at least) is to look each team’s top 3 starters. All but the Rockies have a 1-3 that is among the best in the league:
Late edit: Per a comment below, I’m adding the Braves other two starting pitching. While I still believe the Braves will start Lowe in game 3, the commenter had a good point that he should probably not be in the Braves starting rotation for the playoffs. Long story short, the Braves have scary good pitching
As you can see all four teams are built on top of the rotation starting pitching and the Cardinals compare well to each team. Even the players that have pitched poorly have good peripheral numbers and have a chance to be dominant at any given time.
The Rockies are the anomaly in this scenario.
|Jorge de la Rosa*||28||16||9||4.45||31||182.0||83||189||101||1.401||8.5||1.0||4.1||9.3|
They are similar in the fact that they are built on good starting pitching, but they don’t have quite the same 1-3. Jimenez and de la Rosa look like future star pitchers (and Jimenez is probably already there), but they are not on quite the same level as the other 3 teams.
Even their ace, Jiminez, wouldn’t be the top starter on any of the other teams (and actually has an ERA+ that is less than the Cardinals 3rd starter. Marquis has had a good season, but has fallen off in the second half and is nobody’s idea of dominant. What the Rockies have are 5 starters who are all above average.
Cook was an all-star last year and Hammel is a good young starter. This works well for the regular season, but not quite as well for the playoffs. Saying this, they are the team that seems to have the Cardinals number this year as the Cardinals are 1-5 against them.
We are going to see a lot of great pitching matchups in this year’s playoffs and I’m looking forward to seeing what the Cardinals can do.
by Michael Riehn
The United Cardinal Bloggers are kicking off their annual Top 7 Cardinal prospect list for 2010. I’ve decided that 7 isn’t enough to show the breadth of the system, so I’m making a top 10 list with “honorable mentions” of those who were considered. Plus, this site is about baseball, prospects and a little more. I rarely write about prospects due to Dustin Mattison’s expertise as a certified scout. It’s about time I contribute my (relatively amateur) opinion to the discussion.
With the absence of many of last year’s banner crop of Colby Rasmus, Brett Wallace, Chris Perez, Jess Todd and Jason Motte, this list “ain’t what she used to be”. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t intriguing players in the system. The Cardinals still have quality organizational depth, even if the upper crust is not near the 2009 quality. We are still far removed from the dark ages of the system’s early 2000’s. Saying that, Wallace and Todd would have made this system elite.
1. Jamie Garcia, AAA, SP: Many bloggers will have a certain number 1 draft pick from the 2009 draft ahead of the man named ‘Heime’, but I believe his minor league body of work and domination after injury should make him the top prospect on any Cardinal list.
He, along with Shelby Miller, are the only two Cardinal pitchers with the chance of being a top of the rotation starter. Garcia is comparitively further along with a little less upside but he get’s bonus points for pitching from the sinister side.
Coming off of Tommy John surgery, he has been lights out in his comeback late this year, and even better in the AAA playoffs. He should at least achieve mid-rotation status, and is the best candidate to be the Cardinals number 5 starter in 2010.
2. Shelby Miller, Rookie League-SP: The ‘Chosen One’ was drafted in 2009 to fill the gap of power throwing, top of the rotation, high ceiling starting pitcher. He’s all of that, and his potential is real, but he still needs a lot of time to develop. As with most top prospects, a lot can go wrong from now until the majors. He just has more time for something bad to happen than a top tier AA or AAA prospect.
Starting pitching prospects with 95-98 mile an hour fastballs don’t grow on trees though, and he’s got a lot of time to develop into a monster pitcher. His secondary stuff isn’t that bad for his age group and he’s shown a bulldog approach and poise on the mound.
A great gamble by the Cardinals, but it is still a gamble.
3. Darryl Jones, AA, OF: The ‘tool shed’ has taken a step back after a monster campaign as a 21 year old in A and AA ball. He’s shown speed, plate discipline, defense, a good arm and a modicum of power, as he has surged through the minors at a young age.
Along with Brett Wallace, he represented the team well in the future games, but was set back after the All-Star break with an injury. He’s still young enough to develop into more than a fourth outfielder in the major leagues, but you’d like to see the 2008 power return in AAA next year. If all goes right, he could be a future leadoff hitter for the Cardinals with good defense.
Is he the player from 2008 that scouts and stat heads love, or the proverbial 5 tool scout player that never lives up to his potential?
4. Lance Lynn, AA, SP: The 2nd round draft choice from 2009 has played well in the minors at an appropriate age at each level. Does he have top of the rotation potential? Probably not.
His ceiling isn’t great, but neither is his floor. He has a low nineties fastball with good sink and a solid slider. He’s still working on his third pitch (curve or changeup), but should become a decent 3-4 starting rotation guy or dominant middle reliever.
Lynn has pitched well everywhere he has played and has yet to struggle, so he could surprise.
5. Wagner Mateo, International Signing, 3B/OF, 16: Picked by many scouting services as one of the top 3 international prospects in 2009, the Cardinals shelled out over 3.1 million dollars to sign the 16 year old Dominican prospect. He will have time and room to grow in the Cardinals system, but it will be a while before we see him in Cardinal red (or AA ball for that matter).
The ceiling for Mateo may be the highest in the organization, so many prospect gurus will have him rated higher, but he was born in 1993 so I believe you must temper your expectations. (See Shelby Miller and subtract 2 more years as to why this can be bad.)
Projections get more sketchy the farther out you go, but he has shown a nice ability to hit, with a compact left handed swing and is a scout’s 5 tool dream.
6. Eduardo Sanchez, AA, RP: He has electric stuff with a mid nineties fastball and a good breaking ball. He dominated AA at a young age and shows the competitive fire of a possible closer.
Even with the trading of our top right handed relief, the Cardinals have shown the ability to find and develop this type of player. While nobody in the system has the upside of Chris Perez. Sanchez and a few others have a chance to be very good.
Sanchez could help the Cardinals as early as next year.
7. Casey Mulligan AA, RP: Mulligan is another player that the Cardinals have turned from catcher to pitcher, but he has done so at an earlier age. He has not disappointed with the conversion.
Mulligan is armed with a low to mid nineties fastball, solid changeup and curveball (some scouts have referred to his third pitch as a forkball). He also features two arm angles, over the top and side arm. What gets everyone excited is that his strikeouts per nine innings are off the charts at age 21.
He’s a young middle reliever with upside, and one to watch.
8. Robert Stock Rook-A, C: The Cardinals second round pick out of USC acquitted himself well to the low levels of the minor leagues. He’s got a great pedigree as the 2005 Baseball America Youth Player of the Year, but he struggled in his last season in college (Thus, the reason why he fell to the second round).
Stock has an intriguing fallback option in his path to the majors, as he was additionally a top college pitching prospect with a lively arm. The Cardinals have a lot of experience in this conversion and he was drafted by the right team to take full advantage of whatever potential he holds.
So far, that doesn’t need to be explored, as great hitting catchers are very valuable. He has hit well as a 19 year old in rookie ball and has time to develop into a top prospect.
9. David Freese, AAA, 3B: He has hit at every level in the minor leagues and plays a very good third base. Starting the season on the Cardinal roster, he lost almost the entire season to a myriad of injuries, but has come back strong.
So why isn’t he higher on this list? He’s old for a prospect and doesn’t have a high ceiling. He could be an average major league third baseman, with good defense and a little pop, but he’s probably not going to be more than that. If he reaches his potential, a few cost controlled years of that production does hold nice value.
10. Allen Craig (AAA, OF/1B/DH?): There is no question that the man can hit, but can he field? Probably best at 1B, there is a small roadblock to his path to the majors in St. Louis.
He can also play a little corner outfield and third base in a pinch, but does not have the defense you want at third for a starter, and he’ll have to continue to progress as a hitter to be a corner outfielder.
So what’s to like? He has hit everywhere he has played and isn’t too old for a prospect in AAA. He’s probably already better than 3-4 players the Cardinals currently employ in St. Louis and is cost controlled. He could/ should be a valuable utility man/ pinch hitter in the coming years.
Honorable mentions: Fernando Salas (AAA, RP, 24, 3.43 ERA), Jon Jay (AAA, CF, 24, .732 OPS) Mark Hamilton (AA-AAA, 1B, 24, .927 OPS), Daniel Descalso (AA-AAA, 2B, 22, .832 OPS), Pete Kozma (A-AA, SS, 21, .625 OPS), Roberto De La Cruz (Rookie-GCL, OF, 17, .546 OPS), Jarrett Hoffpauir (AAA, 2B, 26, .843 OPS), Bryan Anderson (AAA, C, 22, .692), Adam Ottavino AAA, SP, 23, 4.75 ERA)
by Michael Riehn
Albert Pujols will hit a home run if you pitch to him. Seriously.
Everyone with eyes and and a brain
At what point do managers think that pitching to Albert with a man on base isn’t a good idea? The man has been ridiculous this season, and 3 home runs in the past couple of days have put him on pace for his first 50 home run season and in the ballpark for the RBI lead (one behind Prince Fielder).
Question: What do you get when you have a lineup with Albert Pujols, and you add another Albert Pujols to that lineup?
Check out the on base, slugging and on base plus slugging percentages on the following two tables:
Albert Pujols in 2009 (bold denotes leading the league)
Matt Holliday with the Cardinals
Answer: A team that has gone 32-11 since the trade (.744 winning percentage).
Albert Pujols is having the best season of his career. Since he was traded to the Cardinals, Holliday has matched him. He has done so with an unsustainable batting average, but this shows you how good he has been. He’s been matching the best player in baseball, stride for stride.
In fact, Holliday has outhit Pujols since that July 24, 2009 date (barely). This is Pujols numbers since the trade:
The first thing I take away from this is that Albert is as consistent as a metronome. The second is that Matt Holliday has a pretty nice upside.
No matter what the prospects accomplish that the Cardinals traded away, this trade has been a success. Anytime you trade for a player and he does an Albert Pujols impersonation for a couple of months, you have something special.
It is always a risk trading good prospects, but most of them don’t turn out like Danny Haren (Cardinals to A’s) or John Smoltz (Detroit to Atlanta). Most of them turn out pretty even, and some turn out like Mark McGwire (A’s to Cardinals).
That doesn’t mean that you constantly trade away your best prospects, but I believe the league currently overvalues its young players too much .
As the A’s showed us in the early 2000’s with on base percentage, you look to find undervalued players wherever you can get them. Whenever there is a market that overvalues a commodity, you can exploit it by taking advantage of the undervalued (i.e., trading for an All-Star player).
Now Holliday is talking about sticking around past this year, and you have to think the additional revenue and “front office support” will make Albert more likely to sign with the team (this is the offseason to sign him, in my opinion).
The team is poised for a playoff run, and could be set up for years to come. It’s a great time to be a Cardinals fan.
“It takes pitching, hitting and defense. Any two can win. All three make you unbeatable”.
The Cardinals have the best record in the National League. Let that sink in for a moment. Since August 1st, our local nine has accumulated a 22-6 record. That’s SIXTEEN games over .500. They are now 27-9 since they acquired Matt Holiday for a .750 winning percentage.
Forget the annihilation of the Cubs and the rest of the division for a moment. The Cardinals have gained EIGHT and a half games on the Dodgers for the best record in the National League (since August 1st) and are now tied for the second best record in baseball. Only the Yankees have more wins (85), and they have a 200 million dollar payroll.
Autograph Night at the Ballpark
I was fortunate to be at the game last night to watch the Cardinals methodically win another game. After a slow start, I’ve seen them win 9 games this year (versus 5 losses). It was great to see the continual revival of the offense, and I had a great time hanging out with my son and father in law.
It was autograph night at the ballpark and my son was able to meet and get his hat signed by Jason Motte and Mitchell Boggs. He is 5 years old and had a great time talking to the players. His excitement continued during the game, as he witnessed the Cardinal fun 6 run inning. Games like this are what turns a young kid into a fan.
The offense is finally catching up to the hype and the defense and pitching were good enough for another W. The current lineup makes you forget how bad it was before the trades. There are no easy outs
The hitting is hard to define due to the relatively small sample size since the trades, but what about the pitching and defense?
The Art of Pitching
The pitching has been phenomenal this year. The Cardinals are 3rd in ERA (4th in fielding independant ERA), 1st in BB/9 (walks per nine innings), 1st in GB% (ground ball percentage), 3rd in HR/9 (home runs allowed per nine innings) and sixth in K/9 (strikeouts per nine innings).
This means that when they aren’t striking hitters out, they are keeping the ball on the ground and not allowing a lot of extra baserunners. When they do allow baserunners, they are hitting a lot of singles, meaning it is tough to drive in runs. The walks and ground balls aren’t a surprise, but when was the last time the Cardinals had a pitching staff with so many strikeouts? This isn’t luck, the pitching staff has quantifiable evidence that it IS this good.
Catch Me if You Can
So what about the defense? Let’s look at UZR/150 to find out. (UZR stands for Ultimate Zone Rating: (The number of runs above or below average a fielder is in both range runs, outfield arm runs, double play runs and error runs combined. The 150 is averaged out over 150 games)
The Cardinals started out the year as one of the worst defensive teams in the league. They have improved dramatically… to where the defensive metrics say they are average for the year. This means there has been vast improvement.
Let’s look at the defense by position:
P The pitchers are 2nd in the league in UZR/150. For all of their accolades, this is another attribute they do extremely well, and it goes largely unnoticed.
1b Albert Pujols is having a down year defensively. He’s usually one of the top 1st basemen according to UZR, but has been an average player this year. He has had the most range, double plays, assists and putouts in the league, but a lot of this is due to our ground ball pitching staff. He’s had a lot of work, so his sample size is much bigger.
2B Skip Schumaker is 4th to last in UZR/150 for qualifying second basemen this year. What this doesn’t take into account is how dramatically he has improved. He started out -30 runs below average after the first 2 months, and is currently at -7.4. His range to his right has been great, but he’s still having issues to his left. He has shown that he is a quick learner that works through every weakness. Beyond any conventional wisdom, he may actually prove to be an average second baseman as early as next year.
SS Brendan Ryan is good. He doesn’t quite have enough innings to qualify, but if he did, he would be 3rd in the majors for UZR/150 at the shortstop position (Right behind our old friend Cesar Izturis).
3b This is our weak spot on the field. Mark DeRosa has been a below average third baseman this year and we don’t have a good fielding backup on the roster. DeRosa has a -6.9 UZR/150 would put him at 7th worst in the Majors if he qualified. I think the injury has something to do with this, because he was pretty good the last 2 years with the Cubs (in limited playing time), but he will probably be a below average fielder the rest of the year. If only Scott Rolen were here (and had Mark DeRosa’s power and personality).
LF: Matt Holliday does well on the UZR/150 scale. His 4.5 UZR/150 is 4th and a huge upgrade over what we previously had in left field.
CF: Colby Rasmus has scored the second highest UZR/150 in baseball this year for centerfielders. His 15.9 UZR/150 is behind only the gifted Franklin Guetierrez from Seattle. Again, this means he’s saved almost 16 runs over 150 games in center field. That is a great weapon to have in one of the most demanding fielding positions.
RF: Ryan Ludwick has been a slightly above average fielding right fielder this year (0.3 UZR/150, 8th in the majors among those who qualify).
While we have accumulated an average fielding rating for the year, I think you can see how the Cardinals current starters have the upside to have a great defense. The Cardinals have accumulated a well rounded group of starting players. Their potential for pitching, defense and hitting gives this team a real shot to contend for the title.
by Michael Riehn
The Cardinals won the National League pennant in 1926 and met the New York Yankees in the World Series. Grover Cleveland (Pete) Alexander had the greatest moment of his illustrious career. He pitched complete game victories in Games 2 and 6. Bob O’Farrell was his teamate on that squad. He recounted a story for the book “The Glory of Their Times”.
After the game six victory, Alexander went on a bender and was still feeling the effects when he went into the game to pitch. Alexander came to the game in the seventh inning of Game 7, after starter Jesse Haines developed a blister, with the Cardinals ahead 3-2, the bases loaded and two outs. Facing Yankee slugger Tony Lazzeri, Alexander struck him out and then held the Yankees scoreless for two more innings to preserve the win and give St. Louis the championship.
- In 1926, the Cubs sold Pete Alexander to the Cardinals for the waiver price. He was 39.
- In 2009, the Red Sox put John Smoltz on waivers at the end of the season and the Cardinals paid the prorated portion of the major league minimum salary. He is 42.
Two Hall of Fame Pitchers picked up off of (or after they clear) waivers by the Cardinals. Will they both end up with World Series rings with the club? Hopefully they won’t take the same track to get there, but the team getting Smoltz reminded me of this great moment in Cardinal history.
by Michael Riehn
Evaluating the Trades So Far
The Cardinals are fun to watch again.
A team that was having trouble scoring runs can now hit and pitch with the best teams in baseball. The recent moves have really been paying off… so far. Is the short term gains worth what we’ve given up?
The team has been on a roll and is 11-6 since acquiring Holliday. Lugo has batted 64 times with a .362/ .397/ .603/ 1.000 slash line*, giving us middle infield depth that we were lacking and a reliable bat against left handed pitching.
DeRosa hasn’t been on base a lot, but he’s had big hits and has been slugging the ball with authority: .226/ .291/ .495/.786. This has been a big improvement over what we were trotting out to play third base before, and has given our lineup some real depth. Look for the home runs to drop but the on base percentage to go up.
Ted Williams Holliday has been unreal and has batted .470/ .506/ .788/ 1.294 since the trade. He’s given us better team speed and has played plus defense to go along with his big bat. He won’t hit like this forever, but he’s one of the top players in the league and he’s been enjoyable to watch.
These players have unquestionably made the Cardinals better in 2009. Is it worth it? What if we don’t make the playoffs or sign our pending free agents (no). What if we win the World Series but still lose our free agents (Yes, Flags fly forever). What if we don’t make the playoffs but are able to sign Holliday? (Probably)*Slash Line: (Batting average, on base percentage +.340 is above average, slugging percentage +.450 is good, on base plus slugging: .750 is average, .800 is good, .850 is All-Star, 1.000 is MVP territory)
The Cost of Trades
Brett Wallace will be good. He will also be a cheap source of run production for 6 years after he makes his major league debut. That adds a TON of value to a team. Does everyone remember when Albert was making league minimum and putting up Hall of Fame numbers? Shudder.
The only problem Wallace has had in the minors (aside from below average defense at third) is that his power has been down this year. He is young, has a lot of time to develop, and still projects as a great player in the majors. Will he be an All-Star? He’s got a good shot, but a lot of that depends on if he sticks at 3rd base or ends up at first.
Either way, his ceiling is high and we will miss him. He’s got a chance to be “Danny Haren” good, but he could also end up the next “Daric Barton” (who?). Somewhere in between is where he will probably end up and if we don’t make the playoffs or sign Holliday, the Mulder trade will have some serious competition.
Clayton Mortenson, Shane Peterson, Jess Todd and Chris Duncan are not A level prospects, but all have value and could have helped balance the Cardinal’s future budget. Out of the 4, Todd could be helping the Cardinal bullpen right now. He projects to be a decent middle reliever.
Chris Perez is the wildcard. If he becomes a closer (his strikeouts per 9 are outstanding) he will be tough to lose. Closers are hard to find, expensive and the man possess great stuff. If he becomes a good middle reliever (his walks per nine innings are a concern) then he will be expendable. It all depends on if he can develop more control.
Free Agency Isn’t Free
So what’s good about this trade, besides the obvious gain of helping our team make the playoffs this year and giving us a better shot at another ring? Do these trades possibly make us better into the next decade?
Payroll is fluid with the Cardinals. It’s not always going to be 100 million dollars, nor should it be. They don’t like to make bets on players that are overpriced talents (Alfonso Soriano) and are always looking for complete players (defense, running, hitting, good player in the clubhouse). That’s why you see them pick up the scrap players or reclamation projects that are cheap (Khalil Greene, Todd Wellenmeyer) or the players that fall through the cracks (Kyle Loshe) instead of always going for the best player on the market.
They want to save their “dry powder” for players like Scott Rolen, Larry Walker, Chris Carpenter, Albert Pujols, Matt Holliday, Jim Edmonds, Mark McGwire. When the Cardinals go “All In”, you can bet that they aren’t doing it with a 7-2 offsuit. They are making a calculated risk.
That is why it was foolish to look at the Cardinals payroll this year and say that the Cardinals were cheapskates. Yes the payroll was down, but there wasn’t anything on the market that could have made them appreciably better. If they would have spent money just to appease the fans, they would have ended up with a lot of dead weight (Edgar Renteria, Milton Bradley, John Smoltz, Derek Lowe, Brad Penny) or overpriced talent (A.J. Burnett, Mark Teixera, C.C. Sabathia).
St. Louis: THE Holiday Destination
But we are the Cardinals, doesn’t everyone want to sign with us for less than they are worth? Who wouldn’t want to play for a team with temperate humid climate that is close to an ocean a river with one of the best worst night lives in the major leagues? We’re the Yankees Cardinals, so we can outbid all of the large mid market teams like the Mets, Angels, Dodgers, Red Sox, Cubs, Tigers, White Sox, Reds and Pirates. Plus we have an Arch!
This is a common misconception that our fans have. One of the ideas that people don’t seem to realize is that good free agents have their pick of where to go. It’s not a fantasy league and we aren’t the 1st pick of most players. We can’t just pick the free agent and he will automatically sign with us. Brian Fuentes is a great example. We outbid the Angels for him, but he wanted to play closer to his home town in California. There is nothing you can do about this, so the fans that complain are off base.
A great fanbase and winning history are nice, but players look for other things. How much money can I make there, is the city close to my home town, will they win with me there, what kind of endorsements can I make there, would my wife and kids like living there, will my girlfriend, how much money will I make there, what is there to do in the city, do I like playing there, do I have any friends on the team, how much money will I make there?
A trade like Holliday does a few things that help in resigning him. He builds friendships, the family gets used to the area and he can see how he will fit in with the team. Instead of having to bid the most amount of money, we have a time period where we aren’t bidding against everyone. If we are around the amount he thinks he can get, we don’t have to OUTBID for him. We can sign him BEFORE he reaches free agency and the Yankees and Red Sox come calling.
This is a HUGE reason for trading a player before free agency. This doesn’t mean that we can pay him a lot less money, but it does mean that we can try to agree on how much he is worth BEFORE other teams start increasing that total. This is important. The Cardinals chances of signing a difference maker (Holliday) went from 5% to 60% or more. It’s not a sure thing, but they are playing the percentages (which worked for McGwire, Rolen, Edmonds, etc.).
The Cardinals may have made a good bet, but that doesn’t mean it will work out. Even if we don’t sign Holliday, it is best to put your “future” blinders on and enjoy the season. It has been fun to watch so far, and you don’t have many chances as fans to see a team this good.
by Michael Riehn
It felt like May. Beautiful weather, punctuated by thunderstorms and the occasional rain, it was not like most July weekends in St. Louis. The All-Star Game and it’s festivities cast a national spotlight on St. Louis, and the city was up to the challenge. I was fortunate to be a part of these memorable days, and had a fantastic time with family and friends.
On Friday, I met up with my wife and son at the America Center for the All-Star Game Fanfest. When we walked up to the building, we were greeted cheerily by fanfest employees and ushered into an area with a giant ball signed by Hall of Famers and All-Stars. You were immediately impressed with the enormity of the event and the inundation of advertising. There were booths everywhere to play games, view amazing artifacts or win/buy memorabilia. We only spent one afternoon at the event, but could have stayed for much more.
My son ran in the Reebok Fan Race and took part in the Run/Hit/ Field clinic. In between these events, we walked around viewing the amazing artifacts and played games that he would enjoy. The lines were long at many of the booths but they were worth the wait. They had a “how to fill out a scorecard” training, which my son was mesmerized by (They were acting out each play) and memorabilia from Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb, Stan Musial and Lou Gerhig. My son and I were even interviewed by Channel 5 News during our visit to the Cooperstown collection (Which was on TV Friday and Saturday) and I might have even strung 3-4 coherent words together while the camera was on.
On Sunday, my Dad and I went to the Future’s Game and sat through a 3 and a half hour rain delay with fellow blogger Matt Wilson (and his family). The stadium was virtually empty by the time the game started (maybe 10,000 fans), but the game was a good one. Darryl Jones was 1 for 2 and Brett Wallace made a great play at third and had 2 walks (and two great at bats). Francisco Samuel was a little shaky in his 1/3 of an inning of work and couldn’t find the strikezone, but overall the Cardinal kids did well (The World Team won).
We also stayed for an inning of the celebrity versus legends softball game. I was impressed with Nelly. He had a diving catch and a home run in the first inning. Ozzie Smith was great as usual, making a diving catch at shortstop and looking like he could still be an everyday shortstop. It was cool seeing local celebrities like Nelly, Billy Bob Thornton, Jon Hamm (if you havn’t seen the great AMC series MadMen, you are missing out) and Jenna Fischer. The Mike and Mike team did their part to entertain and did a nice job emceeing the event.
On Monday, my Dad and I went to the Home Run Derby. David Cook (from American Idol Fame) led off the night with a couple of songs, but the pregame festivities belonged to Pujols. He was given rousing ovations and was the star of the stars.
The best part of the night was seeing Pujols hit 2 home runs with only 1 out to go to make it into the second round. He didn’t have a great night, but I will always remember how the crowd got behind him and he came through. You can tell that he’s searching a little bit for his swing right now, but Albert on his worst day is still a machine.
Prince Fielder was deserving of the win. He was hitting moon shots, with one of them traveling over 500 feet to the right field bleachers. The ball landed in the area where I have my season tickets (second to last row of the right field bleachers). I have always wondered how far it would take to get a ball to our seats, and was amazed that someone could actually hit it that distance The derby wasn’t as exciting as last year’s event, but it was fun atmosphere nonetheless.
Last night was the main event and was worthy of my high expectations. The pre-game All-Star game festivities was worth the price of admission (which was steep) and the entire night was memorable and entertaining.
My brother in law and I arrived at the stadium at 3:45, only to find a line stretching from the left field bleachers to the first base entrance (which was closed). The security was tight, with metal detectors and professional guards scanning everything you were bringing in, but it was only a minor incovenience to be a part of history.
We were able to walk down to the seats by the field and caught the American League’s batting practice. It was fun seeing the MLB network broadcast, while taking pictures and chatting with other fans. After grabbing some overpriced food (it was even higher than usual) we went to our seats to find free All-Star Game seat cushions. (We even picked up 2 more as the 2 seats beside us remained unfilled).
Around the ballpark there were multiple attractions to view. The video screen was constantly recapping the All-Star festivities and showing many interesting programs that baseball fans would enjoy. We were particularly amazed by the show Ichiro was putting on in the outfield. He was catching baseballs behind his back that were hit from home plate!
You could see the beefed up security everywhere you looked. There were Snipers on the roof and security guards all along the field. I was not happy that they covered up the hall of famers on the wall with State Farm signage, but I guess that is the price you pay to have an All-Star game.
The pregame festivities were amazing. From the stealth bomber flyover (it is quieter than you would expect) to the largest American Flag I’ve ever seen, Major League Baseball did it right. The ‘All-Stars among us’, highlighting regular people who have contributed interesting feats of community service was a nice touch and Sheryl Crowe did a nice job on the National Anthem (Sarah Evans also did well on God Bless America).
My only complaint is that they did not do enough for Stan Musial. The Man deserved a bigger tribute, and the golf cart ride from right field to deliver the ball to the President was not enough. I’ve seen better tributes to him at opening day and I was not impressed.
Yadier Molina and Ryan Franklin received great ovations (as did the other Hall of Famers), but the fans did the loudest cheering for Albert Pujols. He received a fantastic standing ovation, and you could tell that he was moved. The crouds chant of MVP was a nice touch.
The game itself was tight, and had some great rallies in the beginning, but did not quite live up to the admittedly high expectations. It would have been nice to see a National League win, but the Carl Crawford catch was one of the best I’ve ever seen in person. He definitely deserved the MVP. The American League’s 3 headed closer attack of Joe Nathan, Jonathan Papelbon and Mariano Rivera is just too much if you are not winning by the 6th inning. That is a big advantage that I didn’t factor into my initial evaluation of the AL versus the NL.
I was surprised the bench played such a key role. At one point, I looked at the National League Lineup and felt like you could get better lineups from the Dodgers, Yankees or Red Sox. The NL had the better starters, but the AL had the better bench and bullpen (especially with Matt Cain and Jonathan Broxton bowing out at the last minute).
I’m somewhat fine with 32 players making the team, but I don’t think the game should be about ‘letting everyone play’. That’s not what I paid my money to see. I’d love to see the game become more like a regular season affair, where both teams are trying their best to win (with their best lineups).
Overall, it was a memorable 4 days that will live in my memory for a lifetime.
by Michael Riehn
I have a confession to make. It’s a horrible little secret that I’m afraid to talk about amongst my friends and fellow Cardinal Bloggers: I like the All-Star game deciding home field advantage for the World Series. (gasp!) It makes the game more enjoyable for me, and adds a level of excitement to my viewing experience (everyone turns to shun our blogger as he continues). To me, it is the difference between following the Cardinals during spring training and the regular season. There is no comparison to watching a game that means something.
Let’s face it, exhibitions are usually a snoozefest. I don’t watch the Pro Bowl (does anyone?) and I’m pretty meh about the NBA and Hockey All-Star events. I can’t tell you the last time I watched another All-Star event. Baseball is different. The game really means something more than just “league pride” (whatever that is). I don’t want to see a lovefest, I want to see a battle of the best players. I want my National League team to break their losing streak, and if that means a player has to be taken out at second base, so be it (As long as Albert Pujols is not the player breaking up the play, he should be wrapped in bubble wrap at all times to protect from injury).
I know the argument, “How is it fair that the best team doesn’t get home field advantage?”. I counter that argument with “How do you determine the best team before the World Series is played”? Remember, before “this time it counts” happened we were rotating the home field advantage each year. Nobody cared about this randomness. The All-Star game deciding home field advantage is MUCH better than this.
Some people believe the team with the best record should have the home field advantage, but there are problems with this too. Say the American League is 10% better than the National League. Now factor in the differences between schedules (The Cardinals play the Royals every year, the Yankees play the Mets). Would the Cardinals deserve home field advantage for having one more win than the Yankees? How many more wins would they have to have to make it legitimate?
So if you can’t make home field advantage “fair”, why not have the All-Star game decide it? That is just as random as anything else, and it makes the game more enjoyable. I know it is one game and anything can happen in a one game series (the Nationals could even beat the Dodgers!), but there is a reason why the AL has beaten the NL 11 out of the last 12 years (and tied the other time). They have been that much better. Letting the league with the best players (and thus the tougher schedule play) isn’t a bad way to decide the World Series home field.
Does the National League have a chance this year? The pitching and bench match up well, but I thought it would be fun to look at the two starting lineups and see who has the advantage:
Note: Per usual, the slash line is batting average/ on base percentage (.340 is average) / slugging percentage (roughly .450 and above is good)/ ultimate zone rating (Zero is average, anything above zero is above average, below zero is below average)
AL: Joe Mauer (.388/.462/ .656), NL: Yadier Molina (.288/ .359/ .397)
This is no contest offensively. Mauer is one of the best hitters in baseball, regardless of position, and has been torching American League pitching this year. Molina has been a good hitter (for a catcher) and gets the nod defensively, but even the defense is closer than you might think. Both players have gold glove awards and are regarded as great game callers. Molina’s biggest advantage is with the arm, but it is not enough to offset Mauer’s huge offensive advantage.
Catcher advantage: American League (by a wide margin)
AL: Mark Teixera (.281/.388/ .546, -4.3 UZR150) , NL: Albert Pujols (.331/.459/ .725, -2.3 UZR150)
Offensively there is no comparison. Albert and his .725 slugging percentage are on a different plane than anyone else in baseball this year, and that doesn’t even count his 71 point advantage on Teixera in OBP (on base percentage). The best player in the game is having a career year with the bat. Both Teixera and Pujols are having down years defensively, but both are regarded as plus defenders for the position.
First base advantage: National League (huge advantage)
AL: Dustin Pedroia (.296/ .374/ .402, 8.6 UZR/150), NL: Chase Utley (.306/ .427/ .570, 1.8 UZR/150)
Utley is normally one of the best defensive 2nd basemen in the game. His last 2 years, his UZR/150 was over 20. Pedroia had a slugging percentage close to .500 last year in his MVP season. While both of the players are having down years in some respects, Utley is having another fantastic year with the bat and has been above average with the glove. Pedroia is not in the same stratosphere as Utley on the whole. Utley is a top 5 hitter/player in the majors, and the best second basemen in the game.
Second base advantage: National League (again, by a wide margin)
AL: Derek Jeter (.315/ .393/ .457, 1.4 UZR/150), NL: Hanley Ramirez (.346/ .409/ .574, -.4 UZR/150)
Derek Jeter is a Hall of Fame shortstop having another great season. He is not Hanley Ramirez, who has an unparallelled combination of speed and power at the most difficult fielding position. Neither of them are great with the glove, but are having average seasons with the leather this year. Ramirez may be the second best player in the game today (behind Pujols, and grouped with Utley and Mauer), and is one of the game’s top stars.
Shortstop advantage: NL (by a wide margin)
AL: Evan Longoria (.287/ .364/ .533, 14.1) NL: David Wright (.328/ .416/ .468, -10.3)
This is the first tough call. Both players are among the best young talent in the game. Longoria is in the midst of a terrible slump, Wright has lost his power stroke this year and is having a terrible defensive year (he’s normally above average). Longoria leads Wright in OPS and fielding this year, so I have to give the slight edge to the AL.
Third base advantage: (slight) AL
AL: Jason Bay (.264/ .377/ .535, -9.8), NL: Raul Ibanez (.312/ .371/ .656, -0.4)
Bay is having a normal Jason Bay Season, though he’s probably a better fielder than he’s shown. Ibanez has been injured over the last month but is having a career year at the ripe old age of 37. He’s a lot worse fielder than he’s shown so far, but you can’t ignore that slugging percentage.
Outfield 1 advantage: NL
AL: Ichiro Suzuki (.361/ .392/.481, 13.4), NL: Ryan Braun (.321/ .403/ .550, -6.2)
This is a great case where batting average can be misleading. Ichiro is hitting .361, but has a worse on base percentage than Braun (with 69 points less in slugging percentage). He’s generally regarded as one of the best fielding right fielders in the game, while Braun is regarded as a good bat who wears a glove every once in awhile between at bats. I think the fielding difference is enough to call this a draw, but they are both good players. I’d probably rather have Braun, but this is too close to call.
Outfield 2 advantage: Even
AL: Josh Hamilton (.248/.301/ .447, 19.9), NL: Carlos Beltran (.336/ .425/ .527, -7.5)
This may be the biggest gap between players in the game. Hamilton was fantastic in 2008, but does not deserve to be an All-Star this year. He’s having a career year with the glove, but Joe Thurston has been getting on base more often (let that sink in a minute). He’s missed a lot of time, and is generally not that good with the glove. Beltran is having another good year but has battled injuries himself. He is generally regarded as a good fielder, but injuries have caused him to have one of his worst years with the leather.
Outfield 3 advantage: NL
Overall, the National League has the better lineup than the American League 5-2-1 and has a better chance for home field advantage. The NL team has a real shot to win for the first time in 12 years (The AL is 11-0-1 in the past 12). They have the best starting pitcher in the game today in Tim Lincecum and the best closer in Francisco Rodriguez.
I’m looking forward to taking in the All-Star events in St. Louis. From the Fanfest to the All-Star Game, and everything in between, I’ll be right there enjoying an experience of a lifetime.