In Search of First

Good morning, good afternoon, good night, gentle readers (I want to be apropos to my readers in whatever time zone they may be).  I haven’t been posting as often as I have in the past, partly because I have been somewhat busy, but more so because I have found myself searching for something new to talk about.  It’s not that I don’t have concerns or frustrations with this year’s Cardinals team, I do. It’s that those concerns and frustrations are virtually the same as I have always had.  After a while, even I get tired of listening to myself.

So, the one clear difference so far this season from last season, is the changes at the top of the Cardinals’ lineup.  Last season, no matter what lineup shenanigans were pulled by Mike Matheny, the one thing Cardinal Nation COULD count on was the comforting presence of Matt Carpenter in the first place spot.  Well, no longer.  Carpenter has been moved down one spot to number 2.  That change was welcomed by some, not so welcomed by others.  For myself, I don’t have an issue with Carpenter batting second, it’s a good spot for him, but moving him leaves the important spot of lead off bereft of a natural occupant.  Matheny has played musical chairs with the top spot ever since, and the last one standing each time has left much to be desired.

There have been as many difference of opinion as to who should be in that spot, as there have been bodies in that spot.  We have had Jon Jay, Kolten Wong, Peter Bourjos, Randal Grichuk, and Jason Heyward.  Jon Jay is now on the DL and the rest have not cemented themselves in that spot.  The differences in opinion have been differences in approach more than anything else.  There is the old school thought that speed should be at the top of the lineup; 4 of the 5 aforementioned occupants fit that mold.  There are those who view OBP as the deciding factor.  Others want a combination of both speed and OBP.  Still others look at the offensive profile of the hitter; the top spot gets the most PAs of any other spot in the lineup, so it follows that that post should be occupied by one of your best hitters.

For myself, I see speed as the least important factor of these to consider.  Speed is nice to have and it certainly makes a big difference in scoring runs.   But speed only matters once that speed is on base.  If it doesn’t get on base at a healthy clip, it’s wasted.

I see the ideal lead off candidate as a hybrid of getting on base and getting on base with a vengeance.  That means consistency, for one, and getting into scoring position as quickly as possible, for another.  It’s one thing to get on base, but you have to get on the right base to score runs.  This is where speed can be helpful, if you can stretch a hit into extra bases, or steal a base.  Doing this has its dangers, however, as we have so painfully seen with our bunch of base runners.  The other way to do it is to hit for extra bases, meaning hit the ball hard and far.  So my criteria is two fold: OBP and hitting profile.

Matt Carpenter fits my ideal lead off candidate better than anyone else on the squad.  He both gets on base and gets on base with a vengeance.  He is also the most consistent hitter on the team.  Prolonged slumps are very rare for Carpenter.  Unfortunately, Carpenter no longer occupies that spot.  I would like for him to move back there, but it doesn’t look like that is going to happen. Therefore, another candidate must be found.  So let’s look at who we have.

I am going to start by addressing those who have been occupying that spot in Carpenter’s stead.  Jon Jay is currently on the DL, but is expected back soon.  I don’t like Jay in the lead off spot for one clear reason, he doesn’t get on base with a vengeance.  He gets on base with a whimper.  When Jay gets an extra base hit, it is cause for a National Day of Thanks.  Jay has the distinction of having the least amount of power of pretty much anyone in major league baseball who qualifies as an everyday player.  Jon Jay has an ISO (Isolated power) of .020.  There isn’t a word in the English language for how awful that is.  Jay’s ISO has steadily declined for several seasons, and with the issues he has with his wrist, the likelihood of it getting any better is pretty slim.  So, NIX on Jay as a lead off hitter.

Kolten Wong, Peter Bourjos, and Randal Grichuk all have the same problem; they don’t get on base enough.  Career OBP for each:  Wong .297, Bourjos .306, Grichuk .282.  Is it possible for their OBP to improve?  Sure, it’s possible, more so for Wong and Grichuk because they are young.  Is it likely?  I wouldn’t count on it.  I give Wong a better shot than Grichuk, because Grichuk, though he has plenty of raw power,  has very poor contact skills.  He is basically a mistake hitter, throw him a juicy fastball and he is going to hit the crap out of it.  Otherwise, he is going to strike out, or hit a weak grounder.

Jason Heyward is an intriguing possibility, he has a career OBP of.349, good speed, and the ability to hit for extra bases.  The issues with Heyward are that he is currently struggling quite badly, and he has demonstrated an aversion to hitting lead off.   Neither of those things are immutable, so he remains an option, if not now, perhaps at a later time.

So who does that leave?  Well, someone who doesn’t seem at all like a lead off hitter, and one who is probably not going to get that spot as long as Mike Matheny is the manager.  That person is Matt Holliday.  Yes, Matt Holliday.  Matt Holliday both gets on base and gets on base with a vengeance.  Blessed with a career OBP of a whopping .386, and enough power to hit for extra bases, Matt Holliday is my candidate for lead off hitter in the place of Matt Carpenter.  Holliday’s  power has declined somewhat, but he still has enough to fill the role.

I imagine a lot of people think I’m crazy, but a lot of people are mired in the past ways of thinking about baseball.  IT FITS, people.  Get with the program.  You want to win lots of baseball games?  Then stop thinking like you can’t wait to drive your Edsel to the General Store.

My work is done here.

 

 

Thank you for reading.

 

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Our Warrior Is Down But We Must Soldier On

The Cardinals have had some rough news about the health of players lately.  First it was Adam Wainwright going down with a season ending achilles tendon injury.  That was bad enough.  Then came the news that Jordan Walden was out 6-10 weeks with an arm injury.  Now we hear that something possibly mysterious is wrong with the Cardinals’ best hitter, Matt Carpenter.  It could be something that rights itself in a few days, or it could be something more serious.

What’s more alarming about Matt Carpenter’s “illness” is just that it is an illness and not an injury.  An injury, for the most part, is more easily diagnosed and a timetable for recovery can be established.  The injuries to Wainwright and Walden give some level of closure and an expectation for return.  Carpenter’s health is more ambiguous; the symptoms that have been described could be the manifestation of many conditions, some of which are very serious, even life-threatening.  Now I don’t want to be an alarmist here, the chances of him suffering from something life-threatening are pretty slim.  I tend to be more optimistic considering Carpenter’s age and overall physical health.  It is likely he is just suffering from overwork or a mild virus.

The not knowing is of course, the worst.  Many fans get angry when something like this happens and the information that we get is so vague.  I don’t see this as a major issue because many fans don’t know, or forget, that there are privacy laws that prevent the Cardinals from giving out much information about a player’s health.  Some information is given out, because the Collective Bargaining Agreement requires that players sign a release for the dissemination to the public of some health information. The information that is allowed to be released is minimal, however.  The privacy laws are there for a reason, and let’s be honest, do we really NOT want health information to be private?  Do professional athletes deserve much less privacy than the rest of us?  I think not.

It’s maddening not to know, I get that.  We worry and that causes anxiety, and  well, it isn’t good.  But the individual player deserves to not have his physical limitations and bodily functions broadcast to the entire world.  Those of us who worry will just have to suck it up and wait.  We will know what we need to know eventually.  Hopefully, what we will know is that Carpenter just needed some rest and he will come back in a few days healthy and ready to resume being awesome.

In the meantime, the Cardinals are still winning, and players are stepping up to fill the gap.  Let’s rejoice in the players that we do have healthy and doing their thing to the best of their ability and beyond.  This is a wonderful time to be a Cardinals fan, let’s enjoy it while we can, and hope for Matt Carpenter’s speedy recovery.  There is plenty more baseball to play, and likely more injuries to come.  It’s all a part of baseball.  The Cardinals have shown a remarkable resiliency in the face of injury (and illness) and there is no reason not to expect more of the same.

Get well soon, Matt.

 

 

Thank you for reading.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Cubs Are One Percenters

It was a grueling weekend at Busch Stadium for the St. Louis Cardinals.  Three games against the Pittsburgh Pirates all ended in wins, but they were hard fought, exhausting wins.  Not since 1987 have the Cardinals won 3 consecutive games in extra innings, by only one run, and in walk off fashion.  It was as if the Gods of Baseball decided after the Phillies series that the Cardinals needed to earn it the hard way.

They earned it.  Boy, did they earn it.

I must confess I was a little disturbed (no, I was a lot disturbed) by the recent roster moves that resulted in stuffing the bullpen with extra arms, more extra arms than seemed necessary to me.  Given what transpired, either someone in the Cardinals organization had a Nostradamus moment, or the Universe was sending me a message that I needed to keep my trap shut.  If it was the latter, the Universe doesn’t know me very well.  I have never once cared about being wrong about anything, especially if I was wrong in a good way.

It has to be excruciating for the Pirates and their fans to lose 3 games in a row in that fashion.  All of that hard work and determination and nothing to show for it.  You have to admire the Pirates, they fought every bit as hard as the Cardinals did.  Despite all the hype and hoopla the media has been giving the Cubs, it is the Pirates, in my view, that deserve it more.  The Cubs are just the entitled rich kid flaunting his wealth and getting all the attention while the middle class kid works his keester off to get a slice of the pie.  I want to have a beer with the Pirates;  the Cubs can take their cognac and their cigars and stick them where the sun don’t shine.

Yes, I know the Cubs have this Curse thing going on and the over a century long drought of having not won a championship.    I get that there is a lot of sympathy for the Cubs and this sense of entitlement comes from finally having a realistic chance of achieving the dream.  The Pirates have had a long drought as well, not Cubsian (sic), but a drought nevertheless.  The Cubs just don’t do it for me in the Have to Root for the Underdog category. I can’t work up the enthusiasm for them that I can for the Pirates.  The Pirates have likable players like Andrew McCutchen; the Cubs have overly hyped prodigies who, even if they are nice kids, make you want them to fail just so the media would shut the hell up about them.

This is not a popular opinion in many quarters of the Baseball Universe.   In addition to not caring about being wrong, I also don’t care about conforming either.

The Cardinals play the Cubs in a 4 game series at Busch, starting tonight.  I do not want any extra inning nail biters against the Cubs.  I want complete and utter domination.  Please give me that, Cardinals.

The Cubs are the 1%.  They must be crushed and demoralized.

Thank you for reading.

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