New and Exciting ways to .500

When last we spoke, the Cardinals had turned a corner. They were on a 5 game win streak. They swept the Pirates, and they were headed into 5 games against AL teams who wouldn’t have the advantage of the DH. Things looked promising, but whatever corner they turned, they found a way to turn back, losing all 5 of those games at home and finding themselves almost right back at .500.

But as luck would have it, the Cardinals were able to stop the skid against the team everyone wants to beat the most, the Cubs. Not just because they’re the Cubs like every other year, but because they are leading the division, too. With a little bit of talent and a little bit of luck, they made it out of Wrigley with a W last night.

The talent came in the way of 3 runs from a 3 different players, most notably Moss’ absolute bomb that he hit out to right. The luck came in the 9th. Rosenthal putting 2 on and 1 out only to throw a wild pitch off the foot of the ump, the backstop, and the foot of the batter so that Yadi could get the guy out running to 3rd by about 6 inches. Lucky bounce.

I don’t know how much longer Rosenthal will be the closer. Some of the few saves he is managing to pull out have been by the skin of his teeth. Many people are calling for Oh to close, which I don’t think would be a bad thing, but something does need to shake the bullpen out of the funk that they’re in because they are the main reason for the recent skid that hopefully they started to pull out of last night.

Hello Old Friend!

Ahh, the Astros. Every time we play them I’m reminded of the 2004 NLCS. Biggio, Berkman, Beltran vs. Pujols, Edmonds, Rolen. Ahh. Those were the times. We won’t talk about what happened after that series…

Now that the Astros have shifted over to the AL, it’s a rare sight to see the teams play each other, and it’s definitely fun to reminisce, but now it’s Altuve, Correa, and Rasmus going up against Carpenter, Piscotty, and Diaz. Times sure have changed.

The Cardinals sure have changed, too. I don’t think just about anyone could have predicted that the Cardinals would be anywhere near the top of the leaderboards when it comes to home runs, but they are tied for most in the NL with the Nationals so far this year. (we won’t count the AL teams anyway because they get an extra position player in their lineups. Cheaters.) Last night was no exception. Moss and Adams both sent baseballs over the outfield wall, but it was to no avail.

The rotation seemed to turn a corner, going through one full turn and not having lost a game, but I’d be lying if I didn’t tell you there were still some kinks in the armor. While I think everyone enjoyed the sweep of the Pirates that put the Cards in second place and a wild card spot, I am not convinced that the Cardinals are ready to be a winning team yet. They may still get there, but I’m sure that the best the Cardinals can reach is a wild card spot unless the Cubs still find a way to Cub their way out of first place.

The last of my quick hits is to speak about the depth of the team. There is a little gap of prospects in the system where there are still more coming, but none ready to make the jump to the majors. Depth was a real concern coming into the year because of that, but now there are players in Memphis that could be on the roster. Pham isn’t hitting well there right now (.222/.330/.323), but with what Hazelbaker did early in the season (even though he’s cooled off), Pham doesn’t have a spot right now. Wong is lighting it up in Memphis, hitting 2 homers just last night, but doesn’t have a spot in the lineup because Diaz has been good enough to move Peralta to 3rd and Carpenter to 2nd to make room for him in the lineup and Wong needs consistent playing time right now.

I’m not as confident on the pitching depth, as Reyes is just beginning to get into the swing of things after his suspension, Gonzales is gone for the year, and Cooney still has yet to make his debut. Here’s to hoping the major league arms hold up this year!

 

 

Leake-proof

I was just reading through my Twitter feed of last night’s game (since I was asleep for most of it) and ran across this tweet:

It’s interesting that is how we’re referring to Mike Leake already. He signed what I would consider a middle-of-the road contract with the Cardinals this offseason: 5 years and $80 million. Not too hefty, but not a cheap contract. A good amount of controlled years, but not too long to be tied up in one player. That said, it was the largest contract the Cardinals have ever offered to a free-agent pitcher from outside the organization. That just goes to show how good the farm system has been for the Cards and the way that the market is trending for players as well.

But the thing about any new player is that they have to earn the trust of the fan base to an extent. Rookies usually get a little bit of leeway. They are in their first year in the majors or they have very little experience there, so they are given some time to adjust. Free agents or players that the Cardinals trade for are expected to contribute almost immediately and when they don’t, fans start becoming leery of them. They start wondering if the signing was a good one or not. I mean, this is a results-oriented business.

Leake is now 7 starts into his time as a Cardinal, and this is the first win he’s gotten. In his first 6 starts, he gave up at least 3 earned runs, while if you add in the unearned ones, the opposing teams scored either 4 or 5 runs each time he stepped on the rubber. None of those times, did the offense pick him up enough to get him the W. Last night, he could have given up 4 or 5 runs and been fine, but on any given night that might not be good enough.

After last night’s game, Leake said that his approach is to “Make good pitches. Get bad contact.” That and a defense that will make the plays behind him is all he should need to do well. I hope that maybe he figured out how to best get that to happen and we will see this Mike Leake going forward.

 

Spring Roundtable – Bench Musings

Yesterday was my turn in the spring roundtable discussions, and I decided to focus on the players that will make up the bench. We all know what the starting lineup will be on opening day (so long as nobody gets injured in spring training, knock on wood). There are going to be a couple spots on the bench that may be up for grabs. Let’s see what the other UCBers thought before I give my thoughts.

Doug Vollet – Baseball Geek in Galveston

I think Ty Kelly should make it over Dean Anna or Kozma given his OBP skills, but I’ll bet he starts out at AAA while Kozma gets the “he’s a veteran, he deserves to be up here” tag.

As a fan, I’d like to see what Piscotty could do against big league pitching. As a GM wannabe, I know it makes more sense for him to start out the season at AAA, given our pair of extra OF-ers in Grichuk and Bourjos.

Cruz is our de-facto backup catcher, but as last year proved, we don’t rrust him for long stretches, so we should look into acquiring someone we *can* trust. As last year proved, yadi isn’t invulnerable. One more awkward slide and we might be scrambling again.

That’s my two cents.

Bill Ivie – I-70 Baseball

I think the bench is fairly well set, despite what fans may hope for. This roster looks pretty settled, barring any injuries.

With that, I would anticipate a bench of – Mark Reynolds, Pete Kozma, Tony Cruz, Randal Grichuk and Peter Bourjos.

That said, if Piscotty tears the cover off the ball in spring and Grichuk or Bourjos stumbles, I could see that changing. Anna or Kelly will have to play their way on to the team out of spring and, similar to what Doug said, I’m not sure they can overcome the “veteran” tag on Kozma.

I’m excited to have baseball back but this spring may be pretty vanilla if you’re a Cards fan.

Dathan Brooks – Go Crazy, Big Boy

It seems like it always happens during these roundtables…but I agree with Bill.  (Still hard to make myself type that–LOL)

Given MLB rules prohibiting Matheny from doing it, we need a backup catcher, and Cruz is it, for better or worse.  RG & PB give OFers days off when needed, or allow Holliday to DH when the time comes, ratcheting the OF defense up a notch or five.  I think Reynolds HAS to be on the bench.  There’s been a glaring lack of power off the bench the past couple of years, and while there are obviously several holes in his bat, if a pitcher makes a mistake to a veteran guy with power like him, it could be the difference in the game.  That said, mark my words, there will be fans calling for Reynolds’ crucifix by the ASB, due to those Ks.  Kozma might be the only guy who could get bumped.  Maybe Scruggs, maybe Piscotty, who knows…I agree that it’s probably less probably for that, though.

Matt Whitener – Cheap Seats Please

I believe the bench to be fairly set as well, with some fairly defined roles.

Catcher is Cruz’s because while he certainly has some limitations at the plate, he does call a good game and has a proven rapport with the staff. And that is really all that I want from a backup catcher. Everything else is a bonus. The team is making succession plans for Molina currently, but with Cody Stanley and Carson Kelly still in the oven, Cruz fills a low-cost/relative value need.

Mark Reynolds is the shoe in, and said that he is comfortable with spelling Carp at third as well. So he kills three birds with one stone in regards to value.

Peter Bourjos and Randal Grichuk are the obvious fills in the outfield, and a pretty nice surplus to have. In some regards, I would like to see Grichuk get more at-bats to develop still (his progress with secondary pitches will be something I’ll be watching closely this spring/early in the year), but there’s a need for him with the big club so I see why he is here. However, I would not be surprised if there is a strong push from a Stephen Piscotty or Tommy Pham that Grichuk’s spot is not as secure as it may seem.

The infield is the interesting part, but I think by a device of both contract status and purpose that Kozma is the guy. There is still a need for a ranging middle infielder at both shortstop and second and Kozma fills that role. Also, I do not see the team simply releasing him at the end of camp either. I would like to see more of Dean Anna and Ty Kelly, but versatility is a strength for both as well and Greg Garcia has not played bad when given the opportunity either. However, I think that Kozma has the more defined and superior skill in his glove which holds more specific value here now. The only way I am against him making the club early on is if the team can get back a piece of value elsewhere in a trade.

So, I believe a bench of Reynolds, Kozma, Cruz, Bourjos and Grichuk gets the job done, for now.

However, as an addendum. I believe this will be a very busy year for guys from Memphis making their way onto the Cardinal roster as well, with Kelly, Anna, Piscotty, Pham, Scott Moore, Mike O’Neill and Xavier Scruggs all seeing some time here. And probably shaking up the scene significantly by the time its all said and done.

Mark Tomasik – RetroSimba

I expect the backups to be Tony Cruz at catcher, Mark Reynolds at first base and third base, Pete Kozma at shortstop and second base, Randal Grichuk and Peter Bourjos in the outfield.

Daniel Shoptaw – C70 at the Bat

I’ll add to the echo chamber. I really can’t see the bench being anything but what everyone else has listed, especially given the fact Kozma is out of options.  If they could send him to Memphis, that might change the equation a bit, but I don’t think they want to lose his glove.

I really can’t see where, barring injury, any of this could change.  As noted, this is a roster that’s not at all in flux right now.

Eugene Tierney – 85% Sports

I agree with everyone else. Cruz,  Reynolds, Kozma, Bourjos, and Grichuk will probably be the bench. I’d like to see Garcia over Kozma, but the option thing goes in Pete’s favor.

Scruggs, Pham, Kelly, and Anna all are bound for Memphis and will only see MLB time for an injury or some major struggling.

Dan Buffa – Cardinals Farm

The bench is the most stable thing going into the season but I think there could be some shakeups along the way.

Mark Reynolds was brought in to back up the Matt’s on the infield but he is a primary bench power threat at all times. He will strike out a lot but for a guy with seven straight 20 home run seasons like Reynolds, sometimes it hurts not to swing.

Pete Kozma is a Matheny guy, takes the de facto Descalso spot on the roster as the utility infielder/third catcher/blowout bullpen pitching option and I am fine with it. Kozma is a superb infield defender and his bat can catch fire here and there. What more do you want in a guy off the bench? Kelly and Anna will keep Kozma honest throughout the season.

Randal Grichuk has the leg up on Stephen Piscotty because of his playoff home runs, outfield defense and the fact Matheny likes what he brings to the table. Bourjos is there as well. I do expect Stephen Piscotty and Xavier Scruggs to make John Mozeliak’s job hard throughout the season especially if they both sizzle in the spring. Tommy Pham isn’t getting any younger and is a strong all around player when healthy, so expect him to knock on the door.

Due to the lack of challengers, Tony Cruz is the guy behind Yadier. Sure, he knows the staff and supplies good defense, but if Molina goes down Mo has to find a backup because Cruz simply isn’t a starter. That is the one position where I worry about but it’s tricky. Molina never sits unless he gets seriously injured, so it’s not easy to find a guy and tell him he is going to sit a lot. This will come up stronger in 2016 and 2017 when Molina’s innings and age start to factor in.

The bench is ready but spring could flip the tables a bit if certain players surprise with their performances. Piscotty, Pham and Kelly could challenge the proposed seat holders which makes it all the more fun to watch.

Daniel Solzman – Redbird Rants

I expect Tony Cruz, Mark Reynolds, and Peter Bourjos for sure to head north with the Cardinals.  These three are the no-brainers.

Either Pete Kozma or Greg Garcia will, too, seeing as how the emergency backup catcher is now with the Rockies.

Either Randal Grichuk or Stephen Piscotty makes the club as the fifth outfielder.

My thoughts…

I agree with pretty much everyone here. I think that it will end up being Cruz, Reynolds, Kozma, Bourjos, and Grichuk on the bench to start the year.

I would prefer Grichuk to get another year at AAA, though. Last year was his first above AA, and if you add up the two years that he was at AA and AAA, 1014 PAs total, he’s hitting around .257 with an on base percentage around .308. Not exactly great numbers. He needs more seasoning, especially against breaking balls. He may be able to launch fastballs quite far when he gets ahold of them, but I he needs more time to develop, and then he may be a good 4th outfielder in the future.

I’d like to see what Ty Kelly could do, especially since he’s an on-base machine. The guy still has some pop, but with the way he’s hit the last couple of years at the high levels, I’d prefer him as a bench bat instead of Grichuk. If we’re not paying any attention to positions (and really trading a 2nd outfielder for a 3rd infielder, neither are going to see the field very often unless Matheny plays them when he shouldn’t, which is very likely), then the only thing I care about is hitting, and comparing AA and AAA numbers, Kelly is a better hitter than Grichuk, hands down.

Those are just my thoughts. If you have any, feel free to leave them in the comments below.

Lance Lynn inks new deal.

Well, as usual, it takes a disagreement to get me to write something. Not a heated disagreement, but I don’t necessarily like hashing these long discussions out on Twitter because it’s very quick and lots of people can jump in very quickly, and also because 140 characters aren’t enough for someone like me that routinely has 2000 words or more to say on a subject.

It was announced today that Lance Lynn has signed a deal for 3 years and $22 million. I am very, very weary of the deal. I have not been a fan of Lance Lynn in the past, and I have been pretty vocal about it. Until the second half of his 2014 season, I didn’t think he was really worth much at all. Many people talk about his wins, but if you want me to talk about how little wins mean, then I will, but let’s just assume that I think wins don’t account for much.

Many people put alot of value on his innings, and I do like a guy who can get innings as much as the next guy, but I’d take quality innings over non-quality innings. There was his near-4 ERA. I guess I can’t technically call it a 4 ERA, but 3.97 is about as close as you can get. If you were to ask Fangraphs, a 4.00 ERA is “average”. I’d say it sorta depends on what you’re looking at, but Lynn’s 3.97 in 2013 was 58th of 79 qualified pitchers. That’s not exactly right in the middle.

The reason I note quality innings was because of something I wrote back on May 14th, 2014. When I was talking about Lynn, I said: “Since 2012, if you look at everybody who has pitched in a Cardinal uniform, and you eliminate the guys who have less than 5 starts (Carpenter 3, Gast 3, Martinez 1), then Lynn has the third lowest percentage of quality starts. Lyons is 5/12 (41.7%), Miller is 17/40 (42.5%) and Lynn is 39/71 (54.9%). That said, Lynn is really close to a few others, notably Kelly (55.9%), Westbrook (55.3%), and Garcia (55.2%).” Other than Miller, who the Cardinals did trade, all of the other guys are persona-non-grata among most of the Cardinals fans.

Then, he had a good 3-4 months, and I appreciated that. I just don’t know if you can stake a whole 3 year contract on what essentially was one great year at best, and I do think that they overpaid him somewhat significantly.

Last year, two notable pitchers in their first year of arbitration (just like Lynn was this year) both signed long term contracts to buy out their arbitration years. Madison Bumgarner signed a deal for 5 years – $35 million and Chris Sale got a deal for 5 years – $32.5 million. Those are close to the average yearly value as Lynn’s deal, but both are lower, and if you look at the pitchers named, Lynn is by far the worst of the bunch. I think a good deal for Lynn would have been about $15 million. $4 mil for 2015, $5 for 2016, and $6 for 2017. You could maybe add $1-2 million to that, but anything over $18 million ($4-$6-$8) is more than I would have paid.

Mo knows what he’s doing, and he’s been great, so I’m not questioning the deal, only the amount. If Lynn can keep up what he was doing for the last few months, it’ll turn out to be a good deal. If he reverts back, not so much. I’m not sold that his 2014 is going to be how good he is going forward. It may turn out that it is or it may turn out that 2014 was his best year and he’ll never hit that again in his career. That’s the risk inherent in any contract, but we’ll just have to monitor the progress going forward.

If you want other peoples’ perspectives on it, you can check Bill Ivie’s on I70 and (this was written before the contract actually came out as he missed it by a day) Bob Netherton’s view on On the Outside Corner.

2014 Cardinal Blogger Awards

It’s that time of year again. Well, a little past that time of year baseball-wise, but music just had the AMA’s and didn’t they have some kind of film awards recently? So, I’m still claiming it’s awards season. Every year, the bloggers put together a ballot mixed with moments from the season, and some for the bloggers themselves. Last year, my post might have been one of the longest out there at a few words over 2000, let’s see if I can keep this one shorter, but I make absolutely no promises!

1) Player of the year: Jhonny Peralta
This might be because he’s one of my personal favorites, but I really wanted to give Matt Carpenter this award. I was trying to think of ways to give it to him over Peralta, and the more I tried to find a way that Peralta wasn’t worth it, I just couldn’t find anything. Jhonny Peralta had a good year. In fact, a much better year than I had originally anticipated. The power was there in the beginning of the year, and the average eventually caught up, even if he didn’t get as high as I like. Ge had much better defense that I thought he would have, too. Depending on what metric you wanted to look at, possibly the best year defensively he’s ever had.

2) Pitcher of the year: Adam Wainwright
If this was a different category, the other two would have been a better fit. Lance Lynn and Pat Neshek (like Peralta above) were both very, very much better than I expected, but if you’re looking for the best pitcher on the staff, it’s still the ace. He had a bit of a dead-arm period that hurt his stats a bit, even though I don’t think anyone would have beaten the season that Clayton Kershaw had, Wainwright still was the third best pitcher in the NL according to the Cy Young vote….or second best according to the MVP vote…. That’s not confusing.

3) Game of the Year: NLDS Game 1
I really wanted to pick Oscar’s debut, as his tragic death is still fresh and raw in my mind and probably will be for a while, but it really came down to the NLDS games. It was hard to choose between the two, but I knew they were the ones mainly because it was when the Cardinals knocked down the NL MVP and Cy Young winner. I am choosing Game 1 over game 4 because two reasons. 1. They were down 6-1 before they came back on Kershaw, and 2. I can barely remember many games (if any) that the Cardinals scored 10 runs in any game, much less one against Kershaw.

4) Surprise Player of the Year: Pat Neshek
Neshek’s contract barely made me think it was much of anything at all when it was signed. The guy got a minor league contract, and I just assumed he would be insurance on the bullpen. Didn’t think his numbers were that impressive or anything. Then he goes out and has the year that he did. His end of the year numbers were great, but if you look at how he did for most of the year, it’s even better. Until August 25th, he had a 0.81 ERA and a WHIP of 0.596. That’s incredible.

5)Disappointing Player of the Year: Kevin Siegrist
This one was relatively easy because of the company that Siegrist was in with the other nominees. Justin Masterson was a terrible pitcher, but to say that he was disappointing is a small stretch because I already had such low expectations when he came over to the club. That was a HUGE head-scratcher because I didn’t think he was good before getting him and then he wasn’t doing good after, either. Peter Bourjos was pretty good when he was getting consistent playing time after his early-season woes. He was far from being utilized correctly, and it’s hard to say that the player who I consider to be the best center overall center fielder on the team really disappointing. I had big expectations for Siegrist going into the season and although he was injured, it was really disappointing to see his year be wasted.

6) Rookie of the Year: Kolten Wong
Wong is the clear choice here. Although he had a couple of times that he went to Memphis (once by injury and once by Matheny’s choice), he came back, and he came back strong. I did expect his average to be a bit higher, but I think that’ll come in time. He just finished his first full season as a major leaguer. There’s plenty of time to improve. 12 home runs was nothing to scoff at, and he was pretty solid defensively. Also, getting third in rookie of the year voting has to count for something here, too.

7) Acquisition of the Year: Pat Neshek
If you go look at two of the people on the nominees for this award – Peralta and Neshek – that I also voted for other awards in this ballot, then you’d think it comes down to those two. The reason I picked Neshek over Peralta is $$$$. Both had fantastic years, but Peralta was paid so much that he needed to have at least a marginally good year or he wouldn’t have been worth his contract. Neshek was paid little and played well above his contract. That’s a great acquisition!

8) Most Anticipated Cardinal: Stephen Piscotty
I am a huge fan of Piscotty. I liked him a ton in last year’s spring training. Part of it is his hitting, but much of it is having something out there that other than Beltran, we haven’t had much of in the outfield: a cannon for an arm. It’ll be great to have someone that people who are at least a little afraid to take the extra base on to tag up against. And other than a poor July where he hit .200 last year, he hit .308 the rest of the year in Memphis. With Heyward taking right field, it’s a bit more up in the air on when we’ll see him as Heyward will be a free agent in 2016, but they say they want to sign him to a long-term contract. Holliday won’t be a free agent until 2018 and has a no-trade clause, but they could see if he’d waive it. Piscotty is the team’s top-rated prospect, so I don’t know if they’ll just let him rot on the bench or in AAA, so let’s see what the plan is.

9) Cardinal Moment of the Year: “The Big City Leap”
I really, really wanted to vote for when Oscar brought the rain. It was the most iconic moment from his career that I will always cherish. That said, the knock-out blow to Kershaw in NLDS game 4 was a beauty of a moment. Not only that but it was the moment where he initially thought it was gone, but then started running a little thinking he hadn’t gotten all of it, and finally the euphoria of watching it go over the wall. I think it was the giddy jump and the big smile on his face that clinched it for him. A big man jumping around like a little kid with so much excitement was too fun not to smile along with him.

10) Best Individual Cardinal Blog: C70 at the Bat
It’s hard to vote against the Godfather. He’s a great writer and his passion comes through when he puts his pieces together. It’s hard to even try and live up to the gold standard that he sets. His blog is what my grandparents would call “an oldie but a goodie”. Or at least it’s an oldie in our realm.

11) Best Team Cardinal Blog: Redbird Rants
I still really enjoy the blog that got my vote last year – Aaron Miles’ Fastball – but now that Tara has branched out and gotten her own individual blog, it’s no longer a team blog. So, now my vote shifts to Redbird Rants. Daniel Solzman always does a great job over there, and his piece that was nominated for best post of the year on Piscotty was not only a great read, but a well-researched article. He’s really good about reaching out to people for his pieces as well. Adding on Miranda Remaklus and Doug Vollet is just adding to the good work they do over there. Definitely worth going and reading.

12) Best Media Coverage: Derrick Goold
I’m a big fan of Jennifer Langosch. She’s a great writer, and before I really branched out to the other people in the Cardinals Media, I got most or all of my news from the Cardinals website and her work. That said, when I followed Goold on Twitter, that all changed, and much of it has to do with the fact that he’s good about interacting with fans on Twitter. If I had a question, more times than not if I asked him, he’d at least give me a short reply. I also did have one extended discourse with him on Facebook over I can’t even remember what it was so long ago. That, along with the quality of his work, helps to put him over the top and get my vote.

13) Best Rookie Cardinal Blog: Baseball Geek in Galveston
There were alot of good blogs on here, including ones that I completely forgot that are only a year old. Red Cleat Diaries is one of my favorites. Cajun Cardinal and Gateway Sports Connection are run by a couple of young guys that have some great talent. Bird Tales and High Sock Sunday both seem like pillars of Cards Conclave in their short time there. If you don’t know me, though, then you don’t know that I’m always rooting for the underdog. This is one of those times. Doug Vollet may not be the most active guy on Twitter or the most social in general, but he puts out consistently good work. He’s worked his way from his own blog to Redbird Rants and onto the Cards Conclave as well in just these short few years.

14) Post of the Year: The Outfield Chronicles: A Conversation
As much as each one of the nominees were deserving, I felt this one kinda stood above the rest. You have a personal and moving story from Doug, the Piscotty article by Daniel Solzman that I alluded to earlier, and many others, each worth mentioning. This piece by Christine had it all, I thought. An interesting fantasy conversation that came from a candid moment in a baseball game that just seemed like it could have just been two guys hanging out. I loved it. Made me chuckle a little, and also pretty smart way to get your thoughts out there. I could never pull it off myself, but Christine did a great job with it.

15) Best UCB Project: Mailbag
I think that of all the projects, the mailbag was probably the best one because we got to ask some questions where you could get to know each other and some of the questions were able to get to know people as a person and not just what their thoughts are about Cardinals baseball. The Roundtables are great to find out what people think about specific questions about the team, but we don’t make the connection past their views on baseball and see there is a person behind those things, if we can do that, it can change your perspective completely.

16) Best UCB Podcast: UCB Radio
This is the only one that I’m on, and so that made me not want to vote for it because I don’t like voting for myself, but I like it for so many reasons. One of the biggest is that the rotation of hosts and guests can be nice to see the wide range of views within the blogosphere. There is no wrong vote here, though. All of the podcasts are great.

17) Best non-UCB Podcast: Best Podcast in Baseball
Goold and Bernie are two of the smartest minds in the Cardinals media-sphere (I mean if there’s a blogosphere, is there a media-0-sphere or something?). They have the access to the Cardinals that lets them have a unique perspective on the things that are happening on the inside as well. Goold has also been great with his weekly chats, but this takes it to a new level. I can’t say I listen every time, but I try to listen when I can.

18) Best UCB Twitterer – Wes Keene
Wes is one of the most active guys during the year, and especially during games. Although we may disagree sometimes, he’s a nice guy who understands me most of the time, has the same sense of humor, and just gives an all-around nice Twitter game.

And look at that, I was shorter-ish. Last year, you had to suffer through 2571 words, and this year you only get 2158. Good luck trying to get me to go much shorter than that. I can go on and on about pretty much anything.

Questions with Mo

The Cardinals are a great organization and I feel like we as bloggers are very blessed to be fans of and cover such a great organization. Not only because of the team, but because the front office recognizes us and what we do. They give us opportunities to speak with the top brass and give us a great game experience for free once each year. This year, John Mozeliak gave us the opportunity to do a sort of “mailbag” type of project with him. We gave our questions to the leader of the UCB, Daniel Shoptaw, with the promise that he would try to make sure and answer a question from every blogger. In the end, he commented on not only a single question for every blogger, but answered all our questions to the best of his ability. Below are the answers he gave to my questions.

Ben Chambers: What is your general approach to an offseason?

John Mozeliak: Typically in August we build our offseason strategy, understanding we have to be flexible and subject to change.  Then once we understand what our strategy looks like we try to execute.  And what that means is we have to understand the trade market, free agent market and understand how to arbitrage each one to better position our club for the following year.  

BC: Yadier Molina is one of the team’s most valuable players. He’s starting to get older and has spent significant time on the disabled list the last couple years. Some catchers around the league get a few starts at first base throughout the year and we’ve seen Molina play there before. Is there any chance he gets some starts in a semi-platoon with Adams and possibly save some wear on Molina’s lower body during the season?

JM: A perfect question for the manager.  I would say that is a good idea.

My final thoughts: I didn’t realize that prepping for an offseason started so early, but it does make sense. I bet for those guys in the front office, there is little to no down time. I know there are deadlines and meetings all throughout the winter, but it sounds like it’s a full time job all year round.

As for the question on Molina, I’m not surprised that he pointed me towards Matheny. Mo sounds like a guy that doesn’t like to meddle with in-game decisions and lineup decisions. I was mainly just hoping that asking the question would maybe let the question trickle down to the manager. I don’t have access to Matheny and was hoping that the opportunity to ask Mo would open that door.

Heyward’s a Cardinal.

I live only a 2 hour drive from Atlanta. Needless to say, that means that I see a lot of and talk quite a bit about Braves baseball. Each of the last two years when the Cardinals had their series in Atlanta, I’ve been there to see at least 1 of the 3 games. Not gonna say that I haven’t picked up some peaches on the way down there either a couple times.

I’ve been big fan of Heyward. He’s an above average defender who can get on base at the top of the lineup and set the table for the rest of the lineup. His slugging was down this last year, but his average and on base percentage were right on track with what you would expect. He did have a few less home runs last year, but that could have just been for the one year, and it may come back.

As much as I do like what he gives the lineup, I love his defense even more. If you have read anything from me, you know that I’m a Bourjos fan because I like defense. Heyward brings alot of value to the team on both offense and defense.

Let’s not forget about the other part of the deal. Jordan Walden is a quality reliever that can fill the hole that losing Neshek will open up. I’m certainly glad that they got a right-handed arm because the team is stacked with lefties, more than many other teams in the league are. They needed to pick up another solid right-hander and they did.

And Mo took the players for the trade out of the Cardinals’ excess. The Cardinals have more starters than they have spots for, and even more coming. I will hate to lose a fan favorite like Miller and I don’t have much of an idea what Jenkins will look like, but heard mostly good things about him. That said, I was asking the question earlier this month of who is going to be left out of the rotation because of how many arms they have, and I think now we have an answer.

The other part of the trade is that the Cardinals gave up many years of control of young guys to get a couple guys that will hit free agency soon and the payroll got a big hit. Miller has 4 years until he hit free agency. Jenkins will have 6 if and when he makes his debut. Heyward is in the last year of his contract, and Walden has 2 left in arbitration.

The big deal to me is what to do with Stephen Piscotty. There’s been talk of re-signing Heyward already. Some people think it’s as good as done. He’s young, he’s talented. Just the kind of guy who I would love to have on the team long-term. But you also have your top prospect in the minor leagues sitting in AAA for a second year in a row.

Now, some people think that Piscotty needs more time in AAA because he had a “down year” this year in AAA. His average was slightly down this year, but it was a very small dip. It’s not .299 to .288 was a huge drop off. Even then, if you look at his monthly splits, you can easily see that it was July that let him down. Piscotty hit .200 in July and .308 in the rest of the year.

Piscotty is also not a big bat. He is a high contact guy who has gap power. That doesn’t translate into being a great bench bat. You can’t really expect him to come up with a big pinch-hit homer in late inning. Piscotty needs to be a starter, and if you sign Heyward long-term, then you are blocking him from moving up.

Holliday is under contract until 2017. Heyward would be signed through at least then if they make a deal. So if Piscotty wants to make the jump to the majors, something needs to happen there or he’ll be stuck in AAA for 4 years or rotting on the bench in the majors. If they don’t sign Heyward to a long-term deal, then this is all moot, but if they do, then I would advocate trading Holliday after this season.

Holliday isn’t getting any younger, and although the defensive decline due to his age has been steadily creeping downward, until 2014, I didn’t really see any dip offensively. If he has another solid year at the plate, he’ll have some trade value. I know that he has a no-trade clause, but they can ask him to waive it or threaten a move to the bench to make Piscotty the starter and he might waive it with the promise that he’ll be the starter wherever he goes.

Anything that happens with Heyward has to factor Piscotty’s development into the decision. Although I love having Heyward on the team, unless they have a plan to move Holliday in order to make room for Piscotty. Blocking your top prospect and leaving him to rot in AAA or the bench is not ideal by any means.

UCB Roundtable: What to do with the Rotation

It seems like every offseason we have this conversation: too many starters for too few spots in the rotation. It also seems like every year they somehow end up needing most or all of them, proving the old adage that you can’t have too much good pitching.
That said, the starting pitchers currently on the roster are:
Jaime Garcia
Marco Gonzales
John Lackey
Lance Lynn
Tyler Lyons
Carlos Martinez
Shelby Miller
Michael Wacha
Adam Wainwright

Which 5 do you think make the 2015 rotation? In what order? And where do the rest of them end up at least to start the year?

Daniel Shoptaw – C70 at the Bat

Well, Adam Wainwright will be the opening day starter.  I know, I’m going out on a limb here, but I’m pretty confident it is a thick one.

Most likely, Lance Lynn is the next one in line.  That said, Joe Schwarz did point out last night that Lynn’s value might not ever get higher than it is right now.  With this depth, you can perhaps deal him for whatever is needed and know that four of that mix will help cover any shortfalls.  I don’t think they’ll go that way, but it’s an interesting line of speculation.

Wacha’s three, assuming that a winter of rest heals up the stress reaction, at least enough for him to go on Opening Day.  If it doesn’t, there’s going to be a lot of questions about Wacha, questions I don’t want to ask right now.

As attractive as some teams might find his price tag, I’m having trouble thinking that John Mozeliak would deal John Lackey.  One, because he’s cheap and two, because he gives those veteran innings that the team could need, especially if Wacha’s shoulder flares up again.

That leaves a lot of folks for the fifth spot, but it’s difficult to see anyone but Shelby Miller getting it, again assuming he’s not packaged.  Miller flashed brilliance, but wasn’t consistent enough for you to trade him at value, I don’t think.  Teams would be interested, but they’d be interested in getting a deal, not paying market value.

As for the rest, Gonzales and Lyons likely wind up in Memphis, Martinez will wind up in the pen and Garcia will wind up on rehab.  If he’s healthy, they’ll slide him into the rotation somewhere, but they probably won’t make a major move to do it since they can’t trust he’ll be there all year long.

Bill Ivie – I70 Baseball

It is hard to be a fan of a team that always seems to have surplus pitching, isn’t it?

To me, the rotation looks like this:

Adam Wainwright
John Lackey
Lance Lynn
Shelby Miller

From there, it gets interesting, but I see one of two options. Michael Wacha is there if he is healthy. If not, I expect to see Marco Gonzales in the role.

Carlos Martinez and Trevor Rosenthal are interesting cases to me on this subject. Both want to start. Neither will in the near future. While they may be successful in their current roles, they are not happy by any means. That could impact the club’s chemistry.

Also, just to throw this out there: we all know that I am not the biggest fan of Lance Lynn. That said, he had a solid year and showed a ton of maturity. In my mind, now is the best time to shop him. His stock is high, he could net a decent return and we have the pitching to replace him if necessary. Don’t be surprised to hear his name come up in rumors soon.

Doug Vollet – Baseball Geek in Galveston

My Opening Day starting 5:

Adam Wainwright
Lance Lynn
Shelby Miller
John Lackey
Marco Gonzales

In the Bullpen:

Michael Wacha: I want to treat him with kid gloves and ease him back into things, so I’ll start him out in the bullpen, eventually working him into the rotation in place of whichever of the trio of Lackey, Miller or Gonzales is having the weakest season.

Carlos Martinez.: Unless we sign somebody like Andrew Miller, I think Carlos slots in as the 8th inning setup man.

Tyler Lyons: Right now I view him as a bullpen arm. Depending on his performance there, maybe he’ll earn a spot start or 3.

Jaime Garcia: I’m not really sure what to do with him. I guess I’ll put him in the ‘pen, but he’s been so fragile, part of me wants to release him and let him earn a spot on another team. Of course, if I did this, he’ll be fully healthy and win 20 games for that team…

Marilyn Green – Red Cleat Diaries

What I want to know is whether there is going to another bogus competition in Spring Training for the 5th starter spot, and if so, who is going to be the guy Carlos Martinez pitches better than and then loses out to?

The first 4 guys in the rotation are easy.  (assuming none of these 4 are traded in the offseason)

1. Waino
2. Lynn
3. Miller
4. Lackey

The number 5 spot depends substantially on health.  The health of Michael Wacha and/or Jaime Garcia.  If both are healthy and pitching effectively, I would go with Wacha.  If it’s Wacha I would move him ahead of Lackey in the order.

I would really like to see Martinez get a rotation spot, but with the guys we have he is going to be low on the list.  I don’t expect Garcia to be a viable long term rotation option, and I think Lyons and Gonzales are bullpen arms for now.  When/if trades or injury take guys off the list, I would put Martinez ahead of both Lyons and Gonzales for the next rotation spot.  While having a lefty in the rotation is nice, I still like Martinez’ stuff better than either of them.

Daniel Solzman – Redbird Rants

Wainwright, Lynn, Miller, and Lackey are all locks.  The 5th spot goes to either Wacha or Gonzales depending on Wacha’s health.

Martinez takes Neshek’s spot and hope there are no issues with control or mechanics.

Lyons can be a long reliver of sorts out of the pen.

As far as Garcia goes, I expect this season will be another bust.

Bob Netherton – On the Outside Corner

Adam Wainwright and Lance Lynn are the 1-2 punch that anchor the rotation. Wainwright is pretty obvious, but Lynn has taken the next step and should be a formidable member of the rotation for a long time.  I might have to start a new Kyle Lohse crow thing with Bill since he doesn’t seem to be a believer just yet.

Jaime Garcia is my number 3 starter.  When healthy last year, he was pretty effective.   I see no reason to expect differently this year, except that he will have prolonged good health, which makes this rotation significantly better than it was last year.  He probably made the front office mad by the way he handled his injury, and that might prevent another contract extension, but he should be lights out in 2015 (final year of a contract).

Unless the Cardinals ship out Shelby Miller in a deal for Jason Heyward or Jose Bautista, he should be a very solid number 3 guy pitching in the 4th spot.  I can’t ignore Miller’s performance at the end of the season, though he was pitching against some expanded rosters.  That alone can’t explain a 3 run drop in ERA.  Like Lance Lynn last year, this could be the season where Miller finally puts together all of pieces and gives us 200 solid innings of work. I’m good with that, though I wouldn’t complain too loudly if John Mozeliak decides to do a little high selling on him right now.

My fear is that John Lackey and his club friendly contract and veteran resume will put him high in the rotation over Carlos Martinez.  I see Lackey as a 12-10 guy during the regular season without a lot of long term upside, where Carlos Martinez could put up a lopsided win-loss record.  I would trade Lackey and put Martinez in the rotation, but I just don’t see that happening.

It will be a very unpopular opinion, but Michael Wacha’s injury should make the front office take a long look at his future.  Even though he has been dominating at times, I want to see that happen over a 200 inning season.  Perhaps the easiest way to do that is to spend a year in Memphis, throwing a consistent 7 innings per start.   He was never really given the chance to do that and it could have been a factor in his early breakdown.

Marco Gonzales becomes the lefty ace of the staff in Memphis, developing another breaking pitch to go with his fastball and changeup.  He does not have enough right now to go through a batting order three times.   He also has the upside of a starter, so a full year at AAA working on secondary pitches is the goal here.

Tim Cooney also returns to Memphis, something of the lady in waiting.   He is more complete than Gonzales at the moment and should be a realistic plan B should Garcia break down.

I still remain very high on Tyler Lyons, and consider him one of the best kept secrets in the Cardinals system.   For 2015, I would have him as the Ferrari in the garage, err long reliever.  He can give Mike Matheny some spot starts if needed, and they will be at some point.  He adds another quality lefty to the bullpen, one that can retire lefties as well as righties.  Perhaps with some success, Mike Matheny can return Randy Choate to the role in which he has been most effective – the veteran LOOGY.

Dan Buffa – Cardinals Nerve Center

It’s hard to follow up Bob’s brilliant response but I’ll echo a few of his statements.

Waino
Lynn
Lackey
Miller
Garcia

Those are the guys for a variety of reasons. Michael Wacha is someone I am worried about because of the recurring element of his stress reaction in his throwing shoulder. I would start him out in the bullpen or possibly in Memphis to make sure he has all his strength back. Why not? He is young and too important to run out there with so many viable options.

Garcia can’t pitch out the pen and when healthy he is a very good. He’s a potentially dominating lefthander who pitched 194 innings in a season and a guy who is angling for a big contract. He won’t be in Memphis because he is a 7 million dollar arm and if healthy he has to be utilized right.

Like him or not(I do), Lackey is in there unless you can ship him in a deal. His contract is team friendly so maybe it could happen. I like his abilities but he is clearly heading down the other side of the hill.

Lance Lynn is someone I would lock up. Sure, you can trade him and get high value but why do that and lose a potential #2 anchor who is going to keep getting better and better. He traveled a long way in 2014. He went from back end of the rotation worthy to potential ace in a season.

Miller is there unless you trade him. He also showed a lot in the last month of the season and in the playoffs(to a certain extent), and he is still a young arm. It’s obvious but I would trade Miller before Lynn. Unless he is traded, Miller starts.

Carlos Martinez has tons of potential but is still young and will end up setting Trevor Rosenthal up. Marco Gonzales can join Wacha in Memphis or go the Wainwright route and work his way through the pen. Tim Cooney isn’t far behind. Tyler Lyons is a valuable weapon, a utility harness if you will for the team when a starter is needed right away.

Unless something drastic happens, that’s my rotation and settings starting in 2015.

Daniel Shoptaw – C70 at the Bat

From what I understand (and I freely admit I could well be wrong), this stress reaction isn’t something that is caused by overuse more than by mechanics.  In fact, this article tends to suggest the problem comes from overthrowing, not the number of pitches, but what he puts on them.  Which, if that’s the case, might argue against a bullpen role for Wacha, since he’d be more likely to overthrow knowing that he wouldn’t have to be out there long.

I also don’t know that a trip to Memphis helps him out.  Again, if it’s mechanical, it’s going to be as likely to get him at AAA as it is the bigs.  Maybe if he has to do a large overhaul of his mechanics some ribs and blues could help him out, but I’m just as inclined to let him throw the innings in the bigs if it’s a minor tweak.  We know he can get big league hitters out and I’m not sure he gains a lot pitching in Memphis.

That’s my two cents, though.  I understand why some would feel differently, but my feeling is if he’s healthy enough to pitch, he should be doing it in St. Louis.

Cole Claybourn – High Sock Sunday

My rotation seems to be in line with what John Mozeliak suggested it would be, which is Adam Wainwright, Lance Lynn, Michael Wacha, John Lackey and Shelby Miller, with Carlos Martinez and Marco Gonzales as long relievers and guys who would be waiting in the wings if someone is hurt.

I don’t see how you can trust Jaime Garcia at this point. He’s appeared in just 16 games the last two seasons and has been dealing with nagging injuries throughout. When he’s right, his stuff is good but he can’t seem to stay healthy. The Cardinals ought to seek out a way to move him this offseason.

Mark Tomasik – RetroSimba

Starting rotation: Adam Wainwright, Lance Lynn, Michael Wacha, Shelby Miller, John Lackey. I think Lackey is the most vulnerable to breakdown or ineffectiveness. I can see Tim Cooney emerging from the minors as a fifth starter at some point.

Tyler Lyons could surprise as an effective long reliever or No. 2 left-handed short reliever. Carlos Martinez and Marco Gonzales are needed for the bullpen. Jaime Garcia gets dealt to the Astros or Marlins near the end of spring training.

My Personal Thoughts…

There are definitely a few locks for the rotation. Namely Wainwright, Lackey, and Lynn. It’s the other two spots where it begins to get a little messy.

Unless Jaime Garcia gets dealt or they just don’t think he’s going to do much and send him to the minors to start the year and call it a rehab, then I don’t see how he’s out of the rotation. If he starts the year on the 25 man roster, he’ll take one of the rotation spots. I wouldn’t mind seeing him go elsewhere, but I’m going to assume that at this point, he’s not.

The last spot really comes down to Wacha and Miller because both of those guys have been starters for St. Louis before. I think Lyons will start out in the Memphis rotation. I’d like Gonzales to join him there, but I think that Matheny and Mo are going to want him in the bullpen, joining fellow could-be starter, Carlos Martinez.

I think Wacha has a higher upside, and while I like Miller, I think if it came down to the two, Wacha would start and Miller would be the long man in the bullpen. I hope that the Cardinals can move on from Garcia and give both of them a spot in the rotation. I also think that shopping Lynn might be a good idea, too. As others have pointed out, Lynn – like Jay – might be at their highest value, and each guy also is in an area of the team where there is a surplus.

Hope you enjoyed this discussion. If you have any thoughts, you can add them in the comments section below.

Are games too long?

I found some fun new tools on Baseball Prospectus that I was just messing around with the other day, when I decided to look at how the average time of game has evolved over the last 50 years. Here’s a graph of length of an average MLB game in hours each year.

ToG_vs_Year

For as long as I can remember, I’ve been expecting a game to last about 3 hours. I was born in 1989, and ever since then, the average length of game has been about 2.9 hours or longer except for a small dip in the mid-2000s. That was just after the steroid era had just ended, and the dip might be associated with that. I can’t imagine watching baseball before the 80s when a game only took an average of around 2 and a half hours. Wow.

In the last few years, though, the rise has been astronomical, such as the rise that happened in the 80s, but with games starting to average well over 3 hours, it’s getting too long for many people’s tastes. I am one of the people who wouldn’t mind a game going over 3 hours occasionally, but I would definitely prefer most games to be at or below 3 hours. Others may disagree or have their own opinions, but what I wanted to do is look at what they’re doing in the Arizona Fall League to help the pace of play go a little quicker.

Some of these I’m a fan of. The first of which is the fact that pitchers don’t have to throw 4 intentional balls to walk someone. The manager just has to tell the ump to send the player to first. That’s how it’s always worked in the co-ed softball leagues that I’ve played in. Makes sense to me. It won’t help the overall pace of play much, but I’m a big fan of the rule. Just makes too much sense to not have that in there.

Another rule that I like is the three “time out” limit. This means that there can be only 3 meetings a game (including extras) that the game can be stopped for a meeting, whether that is just the catcher and the pitcher or a pitching coach to the mound, and this is also includes coaches meeting with hitters as well. Meetings for injuries and taking pitchers/players won’t count towards the limit. I know that people have been complaining about this in the AFL because the pitchers and catchers don’t really know each other at all, but this will be easier in the regular season when players know each other much better. I do think it needs to be changed a little. For example, I think that there should be more allowed in extras. Maybe you gain an extra meeting every 3 extra innings. So, you get a fourth when the game reaches the 10th inning, a fifth in the 13th inning, etc. that can be used at any time. That only seems fair.

Another rule that I like is the players having to keep one foot in the batter’s box unless there is an exception, such as a foul ball or foul tip, pitch inside that moves the batter out of the box, time is called, etc. This will help along the pace of play quite a bit, too. I’m looking at you, Skip Schumaker. You do not need to step out and adjust your batting gloves after every pitch. This is another one that players say is disrupting their rhythm, but this is actually a old rule that’s just no longer enforced. I’m good with enforcing it.

The last thing that I have to mention is this pitch clock nonsense and the in-between innings clock. First, the in-between innings problem is caused by TV. Make them cut out a commercial or two between innings and then move the game along appropriately. That’ll solve that problem. As for a pitch clock, I’m not a fan. If a pitcher is trying to throw a specific pitch and the catcher can’t figure that out in time, then what will happen? He can’t come to the mound and discuss it. Hope he calls time and is granted it in time? If they can just enforce the other rules, then the pace of play will hopefully be improved enough that a pitch clock and in-between innings clock won’t be necessary.

Hope that at least a couple of these things will be implemented in the majors in a short time, and I hope the pitch clock is sent to die a slow painful death in a deep, deep hole.

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