Who Are These Cardinals?

It’s early in the season, and yet things with the Cardinals are not looking particularly good.  It happens.  It’s baseball.  The sample sizes are small so the numbers will tell you very little if anything useful about the future.

Invariably every season, however, if things are bad for any length of time, the amateur general managing begins.  It is as predictable as sunrise and sunset.  Something is wrong and someone or multiple someones are to blame.  Finger pointing begins.  Moves that are made are criticized and alleged to be the cause.  On and on, yada, yada.

Hey, we as fans really become emotional about these things.  We want to believe we know how to do better if the Cardinals would just listen to us.  I can’t say how many fans actually believe this, or just act like they do because it’s fun or their bored or whatever.  Having something to analyze and discuss with other fans is part of the experience, with the internet even more so than it used to be because the avenues for discussion are widespread.  It’s a good time be a sports fan.

I am no different than any other fan.  I have a blog, so that reinforces that I have opinions and I am not hesitant to express them to anyone who is willing to listen.  Maybe not so many people are willing to listen, but I can live with that.  It won’t stop me from expressing said opinions as often and as forcefully as I choose.

Okay, so get to the point you are saying to yourself.  As much as I have strong opinions and am willing to exclaim them to the entire universe, I don’t for one millisecond think I have the answers or know more than those in the Cardinals organization who are paid to make the decisions.   Not that they are always right, they are human just like me and make mistakes.  At the end of the day, however, in the aggregate those folks are going to make better decisions than I would likely make if I were in their shoes.

Nevertheless, here is what I think.  The 2016 Cardinals are a less talented team than the 2012-2015 versions were.  I believed at the start of the season that this was not a division winning team and I continue to stand by that assessment.  The “core” players like Wainwright, Holliday and Molina are aging and will never be the players they once were.  The young players are finding their way, and the jury is still out as to whether any of them will reach their potential.  Players like Carpenter are peaking, still have good years left and I suspect will continue to be the stalwarts for a couple of years.  Wong has room to improve, and Matt Adams is, well, an enigma.  I don’t see much improvement in his future, though I could be wrong.  Maybe call this a transition year if you will.  This team is going to be overshadowed by the Cubs, and perhaps the Pirates if they can get their starting rotation to work.

I am a fan of John Mozeliak. I think he has done great things for this organization.  He is fallible, however, as even he, I imagine, would admit.  I think he whiffed on some things in the offseason, to be frank.  The Heyward situation is somewhat murky, as there is some evidence, if you believe what Heyward says, that he was bound and determined to be a Cub, and nothing Mozeliak did was going to change that.

On the David Price matter, however, I think Mozeliak could have done better.  Yes, it is a lot of money to pay for a pitcher, and maybe the Red Sox were going to  be insane and keep bidding until they got what they wanted.  It wouldn’t surprise me, the Red Sox have done many stupid things with their money.  But I think the Cardinals could have, and should have offered more.  Sometimes I think they are a little too conservative for their own good.

I also think the outfield situation could have been handled better.  Once Heyward was a thing of the past, resorting to the “do nothing further” approach didn’t sit well with me.  I think Piscotty, Grichuk and Pham are fine players, Piscotty I like better than the other two, but all are still fine players.  Grichuk and Pham are injury prone, and Grichuk is a weird player who one cannot really count on to be consistent, in my opinion.  I am not saying that keeping Jay and/or Bourjos was the answer either.  I have never  considered Jay to be more than an average player at best, and Bourjos, though I think he was mishandled and undervalued, as he is a better player than most give him credit for, he was not going to work out, as it was clear that Mike Matheny had no use for him.  In an organization that appears to value offense over defense and speed, Bourjos was not a good fit.

As for Matheny, well, he makes bad decisions.  I think he will keep making bad decisions, because I think he is too stubborn and set in his philosophy to take direction from others and change his approach.  Having said that, I don’t think his bad decisions in the aggregate  have a large effect on the performance of the team.  In individual games the bad decisions can make a difference; over the long haul, not so much.  The organization, however, seems satisfied with him and that is what matters.  It is the overall talent of the team that will make a bigger difference, and as I said, I think this is a less talented team.

I am coming to a conclusion, I promise.  My conclusion is that this is not a talented enough team to win the division, perhaps not talented enough to even make the postseason.  I don’t see this as the end of the world, however.  These things tend to come and go in cycles; no team, not even the Yankees, have been able to keep a run of success forever, it just doesn’t happen.  The down times were coming, and as one who lived through the Cardinals of the 1970s, that is not something that I am going to freak out about.  Others can do as they please.

 

Thank you for reading.

 

 

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The Invincible Jon Jay

It’s a magical time to be a Cardinals fan.  This team just can’t lose.  Adam Wainwright, Jordan Walden, Matt Adams, Matt Holliday, all down.  Injuries, sminjuries.  The Cardinals are like a Timex watch—takes a lickin’ and keeps on tickin’.  51 wins before July 1st.  What is there to complain about?

Nothing, really.  Though that doesn’t stop folks from complaining anyway, because no team is perfect and that’s what fans do.  The team may be the best in baseball right now, but there are always ways to make it even better.  The current complaint making the rounds is one that I find a delicious irony in.  Fans are complaining, get this, because Jon Jay is starting in center field instead of Peter Bourjos.  The complaint is based on the fact that Jay is struggling at the plate, as of last night his batting line is .224/.312/.267/.  Yeah, that’s bad.  That’s worse than Allen Craig at this time last year, albeit with less PAs.

The delicious irony in this is that this particular complaint is one that I made consistently all last season, and was basically told to shut up.  Jay was hitting and Bourjos wasn’t.  My complaint was based on overall play and talent, not just hitting, but the hitting was all anyone cared about.  Well this season Jay isn’t hitting, but Bourjos is, and guess what?  He’s still starting over Bourjos.  Ain’t that a kick in the head? (Any Cardinals fan paying attention should get that pun).  Jay starts when he hits, Jay starts when he doesn’t hit.  It must be so great to be Jon Jay.  There is no way to screw up and lose his job.  What employee in America wouldn’t want to be him?

Yeah, it’s ironic as hell.  It also has to be frustrating for Bourjos, because there is apparently nothing he can do to start on the Cardinals.  Even the “grittiness” of being clobbered across the face with a catcher’s leg in a shin guard and then playing the next day was only good for one start.  Maybe the next step is getting butt implants and changing his name to Jon.  Going to have to learn to bat lefty for that maneuver though.

In the words of the esteemed Ryan Theriot (cough), “It is what it is”.  I don’t have anything more to add to the subject, because I pretty much shot all my bullets last season, and I had my temper tantrum about it earlier this month.  Matheny is going to do what he is going to do and John Mozeliak is going to let him, because the team is winning and why rock the boat?  Makes sense.

It is damn funny, though.  It’s all come full circle in a way that only the Universe could create.

The situation will probably change in a few weeks when Matt Holliday comes off the DL and takes his left field spot back.  Then, it won’t be so great to be Jon Jay, because Matheny’s new man-crush, Randal Grichuk, will probably supplant Jay in center field.  I’m not going to open that can in this post, though.  Maybe later.  Grichuk is an interesting topic and one that would use up an entire post.

For right now it’s Jon Jay all the way.  What do you say, the Cardinals are going to win today.

The Cubs still suck and life is good.

 

Thank you for reading.

 

The Upside of Anger

Believe it or not, I promised myself before the season started that I was going to take a different approach with my blogging this year.  I was going to blog less about my frustrations with Mike Matheny and most especially his handling of his outfield situation.  Well folks, it’s June 4, so you can mark this day as the day I lost the battle with myself.

GGGAAAAAAAHHHHHHH!!!!!!!

Okay, that felt good.

Here is what I am SO MAD about.  Jon Jay went on the DL and so did Randal Grichuk.  Peter Bourjos FINALLY saw some consistent playing time.  He was hitting, hitting better than he did last season.  His swing was better, he was making more contact, striking out less.  Bourjos has never been a .3oo hitter nor will he ever be, but with his defense and speed, a league average hitter is all he needs to be to be the best option in CF.  He was doing it too.

Then Randal Grichuk came back from the DL, and the hyperbole that set your teeth on edge started.  Grichuk started playing more, and Bourjos less, even though Bourjos was still hitting.  Then Jay came off the DL, and that was the end of that.  Bourjos has been relegated to the role of street urchin that everyone takes pity on and slips him a few crumbs of bread here and there.  And he did NOTHING to deserve such treatment.

So now we have Randal Grichuk as the favored child  based on 3, count them, 3 weeks of playing.  Yes, he looks good, but looks are deceiving.  Grichuk has a BABIP of .353.  He also has a line drive rate of 17%.  That means he should have a BABIP of around .290.  So that extra 60 points of BABIP means he is hitting into a large amount of luck, and his current batting line is a mirage.  Ground balls and fly balls that he is hitting are finding holes and not getting caught at a rate beyond what they should be normally.  When that happens, regression is the inevitable result.  Grichuk is not going to continue hitting this way, not unless he starts hitting a lot more line drives and less ground balls and fly balls.

Jon Jay, on the other hand, is starting to look a lot like 2014 Allen Craig.  He may just be in a slump, or his wrist injury could be affecting his hitting.  Either way, he does not look good at the plate.  Without his high average bat, Jay contributes nothing that Bourjos doesn’t.

Despite all this, I am not really angry that Grichuk is playing.  It makes some sense that the organization wants to see what they have in Grichuk.  There is no certainty that Heyward will sign with the Cardinals after this season, and Grichuk could be the insurance policy in RF if he doesn’t.  He has to play, and play enough so that the Cardinals can judge if he is the real thing.  The test will come when opposing teams get enough video on him to recognize his weaknesses; will Grichuk be able to adjust to being pitched differently?  Will his defense in CF hold up?  Scouting reports on him have said he doesn’t have the tools to stick in CF as a starter.  Are those reports wrong?  These are all questions that need to be answered.

No, what is making me angry is that Jay is getting starts in CF over Bourjos.  I don’t want to hear that crap about past performance means he’s earned it, blah, blah, blah.  How many times has John Mozeliak said that baseball is a performance based business?  If you don’t perform you don’t play; that was certainly used against Bourjos all last year as the reason he didn’t play over Jay.  So is there a double standard?    Do we have to have Allen Craig, the Sequel?

Matheny talks out of both sides of his mouth.  With one breath he praises Bourjos for his improved hitting, but then his actions don’t match his words.  According to reports in the Post Dispatch, Matheny said he would use the “hot hand” approach to help determine lineups.  Okay, then why is Jon Jay starting in place of Peter Bourjos?  As of this writing, Jay, with a batting line approaching Mendoza territory, does not have a “hot hand”.  His hand isn’t even lukewarm.  Yet he has started in CF in 3 of the last 4 games.  What that tells me is that Matheny’s words cannot be trusted.  Yes, I will say it, Matheny is a liar.

Am I angry?  You bet your ass.

I can do nothing to assuage my anger, however.  I am powerless to do anything except write these words in a blog.  I don’t like being angry.  So these words get written in this cathartic way, and then I must put it away, for my own good.

To use a baseball term, there is no “upside” to anger.  Except in the movies.

Thank you for reading.

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.

 

Of Mice and Men and Beating the Reds

So I have some thoughts about the weekend series against the Reds that I want to jot down.  These are mostly random and in no particular order, but I hope they come together in some coherent, readable fashion.

I was pleasantly surprised to see Mike Matheny be proactive with his bullpen usage.  Rather than leave pitchers in situations where they were not suited, he mixed and matched them quite well.  No unnecessary double switches, no leaving Randy Choate in to face a succession of right handed hitters.  Perhaps he has learned something, (or perhaps he was given offseason marching orders by Mozeliak?).  I hope to see this continue.  No backsliding, please.

As for the aforementioned Choate, I imagine his early season failures have gotten the fan base quite riled up.  Memories are short, though, as many are not recalling how poorly Seth Maness pitched at the beginning of last season.  He turned it around, and I suspect Choate will as well.  If he doesn’t, then Mozeliak will probably take care of it.

One area where Matheny hasn’t shown improvement is his penchant for bunting too much and in the wrong situations.  What in the world was he thinking having Yadier Molina bunt in the 8th with two men on and no outs?  Matheny’s love affair with giving up outs has got to stop.  It has become pathological.

As it is early in the season, I will refrain from making judgments about the Cardinal offense.  There are enough Chicken Little fans on this subject as it is.  Offense has been declining for some time, and that trend is likely to continue.  Fans looking for big offense are just going to be disappointed.  This is not something that is particular to the Cardinals.   Better use of what speed the Cardinals possess would help in the run scoring department.  I am going to be careful here because I don’t want this post to become another rant about Matheny’s use of Peter Bourjos. I think my opinion on this subject is quite clear.  I will only say this; making playing time decisions based on Spring Training numbers is one of the most imbecilic things a manager could do.

However, I will segue that into something else of note.  Quite a few have been making a big deal about the catch Jon Jay made in yesterday’s game.  Make no mistake, Jay is not a bad center fielder; I have never said that he was.  He is about average, which isn’t a bad thing.  On many teams he would be quite an asset.  On teams that have well above average defenders, however, he sticks out like a sore thumb.  As for the catch, it was a good catch, no doubt about it.  Kudos to him.  What is the but, you say?  It is this.  Great American Ball Park has one of the smallest outfields amongst all of the major league ball parks.   Did anyone notice that even Matt Holliday was making catches that he doesn’t normally make?  Let me just end by saying this.  If a ball to the wall had been hit in say, Coors Field, or ATT &T Park, it would have been so far over Jay’s head it would have required a separate zip code.  GABP makes a lot of outfielders look good.

Okay, I have stepped into the Centerfield Wars as far as I am going to.

Pitching.  I thought Carlos Martinez did a very good job yesterday.  He did give up a couple of long balls, but referencing my previous statement about the size of GABP, that isn’t as big of a deal as it normally would be.  I thought his stuff was very good.  He has a ways to go with efficiency and durability, but I think that will come.  His stuff is filthy nasty.

Reds manager Bryan Price was quoted as saying he thought Jason Heyward’s slide into third base was “dirty”.  I think Price needs to stop channeling Dusty Baker before it’s too late.

The Cardinals meet up with the Reds again this weekend at Busch Stadium.  The Reds don’t have a great track record at Busch.  It must be the Clydesdales.  Or maybe it’s that Arch looming over centerfield.  Whatever it is, the Cardinals need to take advantage of Busch’s voodoo magic over the Reds.  I really, really like beating the Reds.  Almost as much as beating the Cubs.

That’s all for now.

 

Thank you for reading.

 

 

It’s Just Getting Started

Day 4 of the MLB regular season has come and gone, and the Cardinals have played 2 games.  With an off day on Monday after the opening game on Sunday, and then a weather postponement on Tuesday (weather that didn’t materialize), the Cardinals played their second game against the Cubs on Wednesday afternoon. Game #2 didn’t end so well, not as well as Game #1 did on Sunday night.

Starting pitcher Lance Lynn looked sharp up until the 7th inning.  Lynn struck out 9 and walked only one, while giving up only 2 hits, a triple to Jorge Soler and an RBI single to Starlin Castro.  Though the Soler triple was ugly, aided by a poor route to the ball by Jon Jay and a weak throw (what else is new), Soler was thankfully left stranded.  What happened in the 7th inning is another story.

Lynn started off the 7th by hitting Anthony Rizzo with a pitch.  Rizzo is not a huge threat to steal, and he didn’t have a very large lead off the base.  So why Lynn threw over to first is a mystery to me.  Generally, throw overs to 1st base are called by the dugout and signaled by the catcher.  If Matheny called the attempted pick off, I am at a loss to understand why.  Nevertheless, Lynn threw to first, threw it wide, and the ball sailed past Matt Adams.  Rizzo advanced into scoring position easily.  Lynn then preceded to throw a hanging slider to Starlin Castro, who tattoed it over Jhonny Peralta’s head into left field, whereby Matt Holliday threw the ball into the infield to a cutoff man who was nowhere to be found. Rizzo scored easily.  Because of the Holliday throw to nowhere, Castro was able to advance into scoring position.  A sac bunt moved Castro to third, and a sac fly brought him home. putting the Cubs up 2-0.

Had the Cardinal offense been able to make any headway off of Jake Arrieta, things might have been different.  The Cardinals managed all of 3 hits, one of them coming from Lynn, and none of them scoring runs.   By the bottom of the 9th, it looked like the Cardinals hitters wanted to get the hell out of Dodge, as both Jon Jay and Yadier Molina swung at the first pitch for outs.

It was only the second game of 162, so the loss is not a big deal (at least for me).  But I do have some thoughts to share.

Lynn pitched a very good game, despite the error on the throw to first.  Anyone who says   different is just picking nits or is a chronic complainer.  Unfortunately there is a lot of that in Cardinal Nation, more so than there should be.  It seems among some fans that the entitlement is so strong that perfection is demanded.  That’s not an enjoyable way to watch baseball.  It’s also annoying as hell for those of us forced to listen to it.

Next thought is that two games is no indication of how the offense is going to perform this season.  Today looked a lot like what we have seen before, granted, but it is too early for panic.  Baseball has it’s ups and downs, and under the circumstances, with two idle days between games and not so habitable weather to play in, the results were nothing to be concerned about.  It isn’t like the Cubs looked all that great either; an error, some defensive miscues, and a little bit of luck were responsible for the Cubs only two runs.

Once the season gets well under way, and the weather cooperates, I suspect things will look much better.  Cardinal Nation needs to get it’s whining under control and let the season play out.

Let’s play ball.

 

 

Thank you for reading.

Beware the Speciousness of Spring Training

On Saturday the Cardinals played the first game of Spring Training that was available on television. If you had an MLB.TV subscription (or you get MASN) it was available live.  If you had access to MLB Network it was available on replay on Saturday evening.   This was the first opportunity for Cardinals fans to get a visual glimpse of their Cardinals playing a live game for the season.

It’s easy to get excited about watching Cardinals baseball after the long off season drought.  What’s also easy, as well as unfortunate, is the understandable tendency to read too much into the performance of our Cardinals players.  Spring Training games don’t count, of course, but they also don’t showcase the players in their regular season form.  For pitchers, you will likely see less velocity on their pitches, and less mixing up of pitches, as pitchers tend to spend more time on those pitches they feel they need more work on (this changes in the last week of spring training, where pitchers are getting closer to their regular season form).  As for position players, they are more concerned with conditioning, and fine tuning their hitting mechanics, than they are about the results of their plate appearances.

As a result, the performances of the players can be misleading.  A pitcher’s or hitter’s results may not seem in line with their past regular season performance or their expected performance.  If a pitcher gives up a lot of runs or walks a lot of hitters, or a hitter doesn’t hit or strikes out a lot, it is not a reflection of how they will perform in the regular season.  As an example, in Spring Training 2014, Jon Jay hit .188 and struck out 1o times in 48 ABs.

Players can overachieve in Spring Training as well.  Where you will see this happening more often is with the fringe players, those players who don’t have an assured spot on the 25 man regular season roster and are trying to get one.  Notable past Spring Training overachievers are Shane Robinson and Daniel Descalso.  If you see one of these fringe players hit like a Hall of Famer in Spring Training, beware.  It would be best to temper your excitement over one of these performances, lest you suffer disappointment when that player either doesn’t make the roster, or makes it but doesn’t meet your expectations in the regular season.

Keep in mind also that the caliber of pitching hitters are seeing in Spring Training is not close to what they will encounter in the regular season at the major league level.  Even good pitchers are not pitching at their regular season levels, especially in the early weeks.  A good hitter may seem bad because he is tinkering with his swing or his approach,  and a mediocre hitter may seem good because he is getting a lot more hittable pitches.  Bottom line—don’t believe what you see.

Spring Training results mean absolutely nothing.  Don’t be fooled.  Enjoy seeing baseball again and seeing your favorite players perform, but keep your head on straight.  You will be much happier when the regular season comes around.

 

 

Thank you for reading.

Jon Jay Gets Paid For Being Okay.

So Cardinals GM John Mozeliak did the one thing I was hoping he wouldn’t do.  He gave a multi-year contract to Jon Jay.  I can’t say I am surprised, just extremely disappointed.  I know Jay is well liked, and a team leader and all that, but he just is not the best player to be the starting center fielder for the Cardinals.  The money is not really the issue, it is not a lot of money, so I can’t complain about that.  I can, however, complain about the fact that he is being paid for a role that he shouldn’t have.  The Cardinals have 3, count them, 3 players who can play CF right now that are either already better than him or have the potential to be better than him.  Jay gets a lot of fan love, and I am sure he is a nice guy and all, but dammit, he is just not that good.  He really, really isn’t.  Yet he is going to get most of the playing time in 2015, while he is blocking players who can give the team more production than he can.

Jay really has only one skill.  His skill is to hit mostly singles and get on base due to an extremely high BABIP (batting average on balls in play).  BABIP is influenced by 3 factors: defense, luck and talent level.  Most of the time very high BABIP’s are unsustainable.  They fluctuate from year.  I call Jay’s ability to hit for a high BABIP a skill because he has been able to sustain an above average BABIP for several seasons.  Most players are unable to do this.  So Jay likely has developed the ability somehow to sustain an above average BABIP.  That does not guarantee he will continue to do so, however.  Moreover, Jay’s BABIP in 2014 was extremely high, even for him, which tells me that 2015 is not going to be a repeat of 2014 as far as Jay’s hitting is concerned.

Jay does not have any other above average skill.  Even though Jay appeared to play defense better in 2014 as compared to 2013, his true talent level as a defensive CFer is no better than average. His base running skills are not good at all, he was particularly bad at it in 2014, making 10 outs on the base paths in 2014 (this does not include caught stealings and pick offs which are a separate stat).  Jay’s arm is one of the worst in baseball. He also hits for no power, not even doubles or triples power.  Eighty percent of Jay’s hits in 2014 were singles.

I suspect Jay’s longevity and popularity as well as his 2014 performance was more of a factor in this deal than they should be.  Rewarding players for past performance instead of likely future performance is something the Cardinals do quite often.  Even when it backfires on them like the Jaime Garcia deal did, and to a lesser degree the Allen Craig deal.  Though Jay’s deal is not a big financial burden, Jay will turn 30 years old very shortly, and most 30 year old players start to get worse, not better.  So whether Jay ends up being worth the deal, and worth blocking better players, remains to be seen.  The deal didn’t really save the Cardinals much if any money, so from a financial standpoint only, it doesn’t seem necessary.  It smacks of a reward for being a good guy and a good teammate while just being okay at baseball.

So no, I don’t like the deal at all.   Not even a little bit.  And as a fan of Peter Bourjos, seeing him get another year of sitting on the bench, when he has the talent to be a starter, doesn’t sit well with me.  It’s a huge waste of talent.

The signing of Jason Heyward was a huge coup for John Mozeliak and was very welcomed by me.  This deal takes a little shine off Mozeliak’s offseason in my opinion, however.

 

 

Thank you for reading.

Show Me The Money

As the time for Spring Training to begin comes closer, the first steps toward getting that new season roster in place began this week.  For those players who have 3 years of service time (less than three but more than two for a small minority) but have not yet reached the 6 years needed for free agency, their salaries will be determined by arbitration.  Yesterday at noon CT was the deadline for players and teams to submit salary numbers for the purpose of a possible arbitration of those players’ 2015 salaries.   For most, this process ends with a mutually agreeable deal being worked out between the parties before any arbitration takes place. For a few, an adversarial hearing before an arbitrator will determine what that player will be paid.  Most teams and players prefer to avoid this part of the process, because it can be unpleasant and contentious.  In a few rare cases it has resulted in hard feelings between player and club.  This is why both sides work very diligently in trying to avoid this outcome.

Leading into this week, the Cardinals had four players who were eligible for arbitration.  Those players were Lance Lynn, Tony Cruz, Peter Bourjos and Jon Jay.  Lynn and Cruz were first time arbitration eligible; Bourjos and Jay are in their second year of this process.  By the deadline yesterday, all but Jon Jay had worked out a deal to avoid the hearing.  As of this writing, Jay does not have a deal, but salary numbers have been submitted.  The passing of the deadline does not mean that a deal cannot still be accomplished; the sides can reach a mutually acceptable deal anytime before the arbitration hearing occurs.  The Cardinals have not had a case go to the arbitrator since 1999, so it is very unlikely that a deal for Jay will not be reached.

The following is a synopsis of the status of the four players:

 

Lance Lynn—Starting pitcher, 3.119 years of service time.

On Thursday, the Cardinals and Lynn reached an agreement for a 3 year, 22 million dollar deal (23.5 M with incentives).  This deal covers all 3 of Lynn’s arbitration years.  There was some surprise that the deal did not go beyond 3 years, it was expected that at least one of Lynn’s free agent years would be bought as well, perhaps with an option.  That did not happen, but the deal is still reasonable and team friendly.  Extending Lynn was a wise move for the Cardinals, given the uncertainty of the future for the rotation.  Lynn has been a solid, durable starter for the Cardinals, so far virtually injury free, and providing plenty of innings for the club.  This deal will insure cost certainty for the Cardinals, something that is welcome in a time of fluctuating payroll. I like the deal very much for the Cardinals.

Tony Cruz—-Catcher, 3.105 years of service time.

Cruz is the Cardinals back up catcher.  Being the back up to Yadier Molina is like being the Maytag Repairman.  Kudos to Cruz for being the sacrificial lamb.  Cruz doesn’t get much love from the Cardinal faithful, but from all accounts he is much liked and respected by his teammates and his manager.  Cruz won’t wow you; he can’t hit much and his defense, though above league average, pales in the blinding light of Molina’s stardom.  Many fans wish the Cardinals had a better back up than Cruz (admittedly I have professed those sentiments myself).  The team is sticking with Cruz, however, for the time being.  Cruz and the Cardinals settled on a salary of $775,000, a modest increase for Cruz over last season.

Peter Bourjos—Center field, 4.062 years of service time.

Similarly to Tony Cruz, Bourjos, in his second year with the Cardinals, spent last season as Jon Jay’s unloved stepbrother, playing around 650 innings in center field.  Bourjos got much more playing time than Cruz,  and unlike Cruz, is talented enough to deserve more.  Whether he will get it remains to be seen, as Jon Jay is again slated to be the starting center fielder.  Bourjos could be a starter on almost any other team, but his position with the Cardinals is murky. Both a better defender and a better base runner than Jay,  Bourjos’ year with the bat was limited by playing time and a nagging hip injury that was corrected this off season with surgery.  Now that he enters 2015 healthy, Bourjos has an opportunity to show what he can do at the plate.

Bourjos and the Cardinals agreed on Thursday to a salary of 1.65 million for 2015.  This is a bargain for someone with Bourjos’ talent; a good 2015 season will help him for next season.

Jon Jay—Center field, 4.134 years of service time.

Jay had a good year with the bat in 2014, though it is a bat with no power.  Jay hit .303/.372/.378, with 16 doubles, 3 triples and 3 HRs.  Jay is an average defender at center field, but he is limited by a very poor arm. Jay also played some time in both left field and right field last season.  Jay is a high OBP, high BABIP offensive player; though he hits 80% singles, he gets on base at a high rate, which is very valuable.  Jay also has a propensity to get hit by pitches, a career high 20 times in 2014, leading the NL  last season in HBP.

The Cardinals and Jay were unable to reach agreement by the deadline.  The Cardinals submitted a salary figure of 4.1 million, an increase of $850,000 over his 2014 salary of 3.25 million.  Jay submitted a salary figure of 5 million.  It is likely that the parties will reach agreement somewhere near the midpoint at 4.5 million.  In the unlikely event that the matter reaches an arbitration hearing, that will take place sometime in February.

 

That is your recap of this week’s arbitration news.   Nothing earth shattering or melodramatic, just business as usual for the Cardinals.

It is 32 days until pitchers and catchers report.

 

 

 

Thank you for reading.

 

 

Not a Good Start to the Offseason

You know, just when you think you know something, the universe has a way of showing you that all is not what it seems.  I got schooled in that fact yesterday when Mike Matheny and John Mozeliak held a press conference to discuss the 2014 season and plans for the offseason and 2015 season.  Nothing Mike Matheny said surprised me because I have come to expect inanities, bromides, and motivational speaker babble as his primary method of communicating.  He is a Tony Robbins wannabe in a baseball cap.  Expecting anything of substance from him would be like expecting a Taylor Swift song to be edgy.

However, I was knocked off my feet by the approach taken by GM John Mozeliak.  Mozeliak has always been more circumspect, more a creature of hedging rather than speaking in absolutes.  So imagine my surprise when he announces that Jon Jay has been anointed as the starting center fielder for 2015, before the World Series is even concluded, and 4 months before Spring Training begins.  Quite surprising considering the first deal Mozeliak made in the offseason last year was to trade for a replacement for Jay.  Mozeliak must have been blown away by all that slap hitting of singles and the “hey, I can catch the ball now” defense of Jay’s in 2014.   That is rather snarky of me I know; Jay had a very good year, I am not discounting that.  But baseball players are notorious for putting up great years and then tanking the following year.  Look at Allen Craig.   Did we learn nothing? So automatically proclaiming Jay CFer for the next season before he has even taken an AB in Spring Training seems like a teeny bit of Fate Tempting to me.

But that little bit of news was only a small part of the festivities.  We also learned that Randy Choate is on the trading block because he can’t do the thing he was never signed to do in the first place, the bench is no place for young players trying to establish themselves— old guys are better, and once again so you don’t forget, Oscar Taveras is fat and oh yeah, he doesn’t have passion for defense.  Maybe in a few weeks we will learn that Oscar kicks puppies and is a closet Cubs fan.

I can’t even talk about the prospect of more Daniel Descalso next season.  It’s too painful.

You want to know how I really feel about the presser?  Imagine Mike Matheny as Edgar Bergen and John Mozeliak as Charlie McCarthy.  If you are old enough to know what I am talking about you will get the rest.  If not, google it.

Part of me wants to believe the whole thing was a giant troll by Mozeliak.  Maybe it was just an exercise in damage control after the beating Mike Matheny took in the media for his awful managing in the NLCS.  If it was, couldn’t a statement by Mozeliak have done the trick?  Did we have to be subjected to that nauseating spectacle yesterday?

If all of it was legit, then I don’t know what to say except that I am hugely disappointed in John Mozeliak.  I don’t have a good feeling about the Cardinals going forward if this is the kind of handling we are to expect in the future.

Thank you for reading.

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