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 Brotherhood of Baseball

I have not posted here for a while.  I haven’t abandoned the blog, I have been both dealing with some personal health issues and have been doing some writing for another site that has taken my concentration away from the blog.  I haven’t had much to say lately anyway, most of my thoughts these days about the Cardinals are repetitious of many of the thoughts I have had all season.  But last night’s events have provoked me to speak up.  This will be a short post, I don’t want to bloviate about this topic but I do want to say something.

What I am talking about is last night’s horrible collision between Stephen Piscotty and Peter Bourjos in the seventh inning.  Like everyone else I watched in horror as Stephen Piscotty lay motionless on the ground, after colliding with Peter Bourjos on a fly ball to the left center field gap.  Bourjos made a spectacular catch there, but the greatness of it was lost in the horrible events that followed.  It was right that the catch was not noticed, the well being of Stephen Piscotty had to be paramount.  Peter Bourjos knew that, it was clear that his first thought was to go to his teammate and summon help immediately.   As we all watched silently, one could not help but be concerned about the mental state of Piscotty’s teammates as well.

Baseball players are paid a lot of money, more money than many of us will ever see in a lifetime, to play a kid’s game for six months out of the year.  The hugeness of the salaries often leads to fans taking cynical views about players.  Many see them as overpaid divas, men who are pampered and spoiled, who think of no one and nothing but all the dollars in their bank accounts.  What gets lost in all this cynicism, I believe, is the notion that these men are like brothers to each other, like soldiers on a battlefield who protect and fight for each other.   These men spend months with each other, in clubhouses and hotels, long plane rides together, day after day.  They spend more time with their teammates than they do with their own families for half a year.  When one of them gets hurt, they all hurt with him.  They have to, the humanness of them mandates it.  It could just as easily be them, each of them, lying motionless on the grass, and they know it as profoundly as it is possible to know it.  There can be nothing more terrifying than that.

Matt Carpenter sat kneeling on the ground, as did Tony Cruz, and Kevin Siegrist.  The bullpen stood staring, wondering whether their teammate was going to get up, or even move.  Kolten Wong looked ready to burst into tears at any moment.  Jason Heyward comforted Peter Bourjos as he roamed, no doubt agonizing over what his tumbling body had done to his teammate.  Can any of us imagine what it must have been like to these men as they waited, hoping and praying that their brother was going to be alright?

Do we ever even consider the human side of these men we watch play this kid’s game?  Or do we just see them as a means to entertain us?  We praise or we condemn them based on what they do on the field, but do we think for even one second that they may be as vulnerable and emotional as the rest of us?  Do we even consider the possibility that the amount of money they make doesn’t define who they are?  These are a lot of questions, but I believe they are questions worth asking ourselves, especially before we make assumptions or say things about players that might be hurtful.

Stephen Piscotty lay motionless on the outfield grass last night and we all collectively held our breath.  When things like this happen, I like to think it is a good time to reflect on what it means to be a fan and what responsibilities we bear.  It’s a self reflection worth doing.

My thoughts and prayers are with Stephen Piscotty, his loved ones, his friends, and his teammates.

 

Peace.

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.

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

In Praise of Matt Carpenter

The joys of beating the Reds is a gift that keeps on giving. As my last post was about this subject, I don’t want to spend too much time on it. Suffice it to say that beating the Reds never gets old. But then again, beating the Cubs, the Brewers and the Pirates never gets old either. Not to mention beating every other team in the National League, but most especially the Nationals (who the Cardinals play next), and of course the Dodgers (the postseason drubbings are especially meaningful). The Giants are the one team that remains a particular nemesis. It’s an odd numbered year though, so hopefully they will not be an issue in the Cardinals’ quest for the trophy.

I want to talk about Matt Carpenter. Who doesn’t want to talk about Matt Carpenter? I suspect Mr. Clayton Kershaw would like to forget he exists, seeing as how Carpenter has been the main antagonist in his postseason melodramas, but Mr. Kershaw doesn’t have to read this post (and if he did, I would be shocked all the way down to my old toes).

So yes, Matt Carpenter. Hitter of many doubles, scorer of many runs, lead off man extraordinaire and possessor of the best five o’clock shadow in the major leagues. I can’t get enough of Matt Carpenter (with apologies to his wife, who has nothing to worry about, as I am old enough to be his mother). The Cardinals found themselves a gem in that 13th round pick in the 2009 draft (that was a very good year). He isn’t perfect, but who is? Not much of a base runner, and I worry about that arm throwing all the way from third base. He seems to have to put a little too much effort into many of his throws, which is why if there was no Kolten Wong, I would worry less if he still played second base. I hope the arm holds up and he doesn’t end up like Ryan Zimmerman of the Nationals.

I love watching Matt Carpenter play baseball. When he comes to bat, you know you are not going to get cheated. Even if he strikes out, he does it with panache and an indomitable spirit. That cheeky grin is a winner too. His most recent imitation of Ozzie Smith at home plate was a sight to behold, but one has to cringe at the thought that he might have been injured. Best not to try that again, Matt. We get you, we really do, and we don’t need reminders of your tenacity that potentially come with a trip to the DL. Ease up, dude.

I could go on, but I don’t want to appear stalkerish. Suffice it to say that I enjoy Matt Carpenter as much as any old woman with a baseball fetish. Maybe more, because I have a blog to talk about it. Heh heh.

I end this post with some Cardinals news. Randal Grichuk has been put on the 15 day DL with a weight room injury. I think the Cardinals either have poor trainers (I doubt it) or way too enthusiastic weight lifters. I sincerely hope this does not become an epidemic. Seriously, if you must get injured, at least do it on the field making some spectacular baseball play or something. Geez. So now the guy who engenders comparisons to expensive foreign cars is in the shop for repairs. That’s what happens when you invest in expensive foreign cars. Of course, I think the comparison to expensive foreign cars is ridiculous and stupid, but I guess some folks just need hyperbole to make their day worth living.

Till we meet again, gentle reader.

Playoff Thoughts and Ruminations

This post is a little delayed.  I have some family issues going on that will keep me from posting as often as I would like.  I don’t know how many games I will be able to see for the rest of the postseason, but I will keep up as best I can.

I didn’t see the last game of the NLDS.  I have watched highlights and I have a general idea of what went on.  What stands out to me is the proliferation of home runs in these playoff games.  It seems almost as if the offense has been sandbagging all season, doesn’t it?  Well, even if that were true, I hope they keep up the offense, it is surely going to be needed.

Matt Carpenter has been a beast.  He has an ability to turn it on when he needs to that I have not seen much.  I really think the guy has been a treasure.  He certainly gives the opposition fits, which is quite a weapon to have.  Clayton Kershaw probably never wants to see him again in his life.

I have made no secret that I intensely dislike Mike Matheny.  However, he has so far not screwed things up as much as I feared.  He seems to have let up (for now) with all of the interference and has let his players just play.  I am not entirely pleased with his lineup choices, but as long as they win, I will keep my complaints to a minimum.  Not having to put up with Daniel Descalso starts has kept me calmer.

Playing the Giants has me quite nervous, considering the Cardinals’ past experience with them in playoff games.  What might appear to be a lesser team has a Cardinal-like ability to take it to another level in the playoffs.  Their offense is not scary by any means and their pitching, outside of Madison Bumgarner, is not particularly imposing.  That doesn’t mean this series will be easy.  This is the team that took the Washington Nationals, considered  by many to be the best team in baseball (on paper, at least), to the woodshed in 4 games.  Of course the Cardinals did the same to the Dodgers, another on-paper superior team.  I think these two teams match up quite well, which will make it an interesting series.

The weather forecast has quite a bit of rain in it for the next several days.  I haven’t heard what the contingency plans are for rain outs in this series.  The possibility of rain outs could prove key to the pitching rotations of both teams.  If either or both of the first two games are rained out it might get interesting.

However it all turns out, I can not help but smile at the idea that all of the “powerhouse” teams in the playoffs have been eliminated (unless you put Baltimore in that category.   I don’t).  It must  be making the national media crazy that all of the big market teams and media darlings are gone.

As for the proliferation of Cardinal hate, I will say what I have said all along.  It doesn’t matter.  I ignore it all.  Please understand, Cardinal Nation, that you feed it when you pay attention to it and respond to it.  The teams that play the best are the ones that make it, and if there are teams that just play better in the playoffs, well so be it.   There are no rules that say the same teams can’t be in the playoffs every year.  Baseball is not a socialist institution.

It’s a great time to be a baseball fan.  GO CARDS!

Thank you for reading.

Ugly Is Not Virtuous, It’s Just Ugly

Yeah, I was pretty angry and frustrated.  This was tweeted early in the game, when the score was 2-1 and the offense was non-existent (as it often is).  After the Cardinals were up 6-2, I was feeling better and a little sheepish about my outburst.

But then the 8th inning happened.

Up until then I figured to own up to my premature acrimony and admit I was wrong.  This entire maddening, frustrating season has turned me into a shrew.  Then everything that kept me in a constant state of exasperation happened again in the 8th inning.  The manager who can’t get out of his team’s and his own way, did it again.  While we all watched in horror as he allowed Pat Neshek to continue to give up hits and runs until the lead was gone.

The game was won eventually, but at what cost?

Mike Matheny always has some eye-roll inducing, quixotic profundity to impart to the Cardinal faithful after one of these types of games.  As if to smugly inform us that there is always a method to his seeming madness, and we just don’t understand his genius.  Bah.  His screw-ups are often saved by sheer luck, or a determination on the part of his players to prevail despite him.

His luck is going to run out soon.  We all have felt it coming on.  It’s just a matter of when.

John Mozeliak says he has an ulcer.  Well get in line, baby.  Perhaps the Cardinals might spring for the antacid for all of Cardinal Nation.  Or better yet, get us a manager with a better functioning cerebral cortex.

Oh, there is all kinds of blame to go around.  This team has looked like it has been on life support for most of the season.  The players don’t get off that easy.  Matt Carpenter played like he didn’t know what a baseball and a glove were for.  Matt Adams has functioned at the plate like that wooden thing in his hand was a poisonous snake.  Our darling Yadier Molina treats the first pitch like it’s the only one he is going to get.  The Cardinals are the worst base-runners in baseball.  They couldn’t bunt properly if their life depended on it.  The Cardinals have coaches for this sort of thing, right?  You could have fooled me.

Yes, I am extremely frustrated.  The relief of last night’s win is not enough for me.  The playoffs are looming, and the ability to comeback against the worst team in baseball is not going to be a virtue worth a plug nickel then.

I envy the composure of the eternal optimists.  I hope they are not disappointed.  I really do.  I do not have the ability to be like them though.  I call them like I see them, and I don’t hold back. That is either a vice or a virtue, depending on how one views the world.  So be it.

I leave you with my parting tweet of last night.

Thank you for reading.

Adam Wainwright Is Good At Hurling Baseballs

Last night’s game against the Dbacks was fun to watch.  It was fun to watch in a different way than Saturday’s game against the Braves was fun to watch.  It wasn’t bunts and fast legs this time, but absolutely masterful pitching.  We’ve pretty much come to expect pitching gems from Adam Wainwright.  I think sometimes that expectation mutes the celebration somewhat in a way the celebration of the bunts and fast legs wasn’t.  We as Cardinals fans are not used to speed winning games; we are quite used to pitching doing so.

Nevertheless, the performance of Wainwright last night was arguably the best of his career.  It was his first career one hitter, and the game score of 94 was the highest in his career.  The one hit was a double by Paul Goldschmidt to center field that Jon Jay played off the wall.   Goldschmidt was the only Dbacks player to reach base in that game.  Nine strikeouts, 6 of them looking, tied Wainwright’s season high.

Wainwright had pinpoint command of all of his pitches.  His curveball was sharp and his cutter and sinker were moving well.  Even a 15 minute delay when the home plate umpire had to leave the game because of illness wasn’t enough to shake Wainwright out of his groove.  From the first pitch to the last, Wainwright was in control of the game.  He was helped by an offense that appears to have gotten its extra base hit mojo back.  Five double and 2 HRs (yes, HRs; I know it’s a shock), were the order of the offensive day.  Peralta hit his 9th homerun, and Matt Adams, sans elbow brace, hit his 3rd.

The one not so bright spot of the game was the continued struggles of Allen Craig.  Craig went 0 for 4 with two strikeouts.  Craig looks uncomfortable at the plate most days, and the reason for this is unknown to Cardinals fans.  Many speculate about injury, though Craig denies it.  He has moments where he looks like the Craig of old, only to fall back into his current pattern of flailing at breaking balls outside the zone, and hitting down on the ball, resulting in weak ground balls that don’t get out of the infield (Craig has seen an increase in sinkers pitched to him, which could account for some of the ground balls).    Craig has an anemic batting line of .220/.275/.345, more reminiscent of Pete Kozma than Allen Craig.

Matt Carpenter continues to confound people as well.  I wouldn’t say he is struggling exactly, he is hitting .264 and went 1 for 4 in last night’s game, he just doesn’t look like the Matt Carpenter we are used to seeing.  Maybe it’s just a sluggish start and he will pick it up as the season goes on.  For an interesting article addressing Carp’s issues read here.  There seems to be no obvious answer to the puzzle of Carp.  I miss him; come back please.

Tonight we see Michael Wacha take on Brandon McCarthy.  Given the competitive nature of the Cardinals’ starting rotation, will we see a no hitter tonight from Wacha?.  Will it rain?  Will Matheny make a double switch?  Will we hear Al Hrabosky say, “You never embarrass yourself when you hustle” ?  These and many other burning questions will be answered tonight starting at 7:15 pm  CDT at Busch Stadium in downtown St. Louis, Missouri.

 

Thank you for reading.

Does Matt Carpenter Need Repair?

There is concern in some quarters that so far the Matt Carpenter of 2014 does not look like the Matt Carpenter of 2013.  It is very early in the season, so the concern is likely premature, but there are some signs that something is different.  Whether those signs are indicators of something gone amiss with Carpenter or are merely the result of a sluggish start that will even out over time is indeterminate.  Nevertheless, the following are the anomalies that I have noticed about Matt Carpenter’s first month of the regular season.

 

1.  He is striking out more.

Carpenter has 28 strikeouts in the month of April.  That is the highest amount on the team.  In 2013, Carpenter struck out a total of 98 times.  At his current rate, Carpenter is on pace to strikeout 156 times this season.  That is an alarming increase if it holds true.

Looking at Carpenter’s pitch data for 2014, his swinging strike percentage is up about 2.4% over 2013,  and his looking strike percentage is up about 5%.  His contact percentage is down about 5.6%.  It appears from this data that Carpenter is swinging slightly more than last season and making less contact.  It also appears that he is getting more strikes called looking than before.  Perhaps his reputation of having a keen batting eye and being patient at the plate has umpires calling more close pitches as strikes.  Why this would be the case is unclear (other than I sometimes think some umpires are spiteful).  The normally calm Carpenter was recently ejected for the first time in his major league career for disputing a called strike.  One could take this as a sign that perhaps Carpenter is not getting the benefit of the doubt from umpires and that in fact he is getting hosed on close pitches.

The good news is that Carpenter is taking walks at a higher rate than 2013.  It appears his keen batting eye is intact (which leads credence to my suspicion that some umpires are just being douchebags with his strike zone.)

 

2.  He is not driving the ball as much.

Carpenter’s slugging percentage is way down from last season.  He ended the 2013 season with a slugging percentage of .481.  His current slugging percentage is .318.  Of Carpenter’s 29 hits, 25 are singles.  Carpenter had 55 doubles in 2013; he currently has 3, which is a pace of 17 doubles for the season.  Again, an alarming change if it holds.  Of course, Carpenter had a career year in 2013, so some regression in his numbers is to be expected.  This amount of regression, however, is not expected.

 

3.  His defense is not as sharp.

Carpenter has 5 errors at 3B.  I hate errors as a stat generally, because they are too subjective, but for the purpose of this post they are necessary.  His UZR/150 is also much worse than last season; it was +5.7 in 2013, it is -15.5 so far this season.  UZR data this early in the season is not very reliable, so I am not too concerned about it quite yet, but visually Carpenter has looked a bit sluggish on defense during April.  Third base is his natural position, but he only had 253 innings played at the position in 2013 in contrast to 1108 innings at 2B.  Perhaps the re-acclimation to playing 3B is slow to develop.

 

These are the 3 main areas of possible concern that I have noticed.  I am not alarmed by any means, as I said before, some regression from 2013 is to be expected.  Also, the entire team has had a slow start to the season, so Carpenter’s numbers are not out of proportion to the performance of the rest of the team.

I wouldn’t panic about any of this this early in the season.  If come June his numbers haven’t rebounded into a more normal zone for him, then perhaps there is a cause for concern.  I don’t think repair is in order, just patience.

 

 

Thank you for reading.

 

Defense, Defense, Defense

Today’s Cardinals’ loss to the Nationals didn’t have to happen.  It happened because for the umpteenth time in this early part of the season, the Cardinals’ defense didn’t do its job.  Two mistakes at 3B by Matt Carpenter and a botched double play ball by Daniel Descalso led to the Cardinals’ loss.  One could try to pin it on the pitching—Carlos Martinez gave up some pretty hard hit singles— but what was a classic double play ball was misplayed by Daniel Descalso, and it kept Martinez from getting out of the inning unscathed, and allowed the tying runs to score.

The frustrating part in my mind is that Daniel Descalso was playing 2B at that time in the first place.  If Matheny had to take Ellis out, he had a much better defender in Kolten Wong sitting on the bench.  Why Matheny persists in his delusion that Descalso is a good fielder is beyond me.  Surely the Cardinals’ analytics department has pointed out that Descalso’s defensive metrics are very poor.  Descalso’s career UZR at 2B is -4.6.  That is below average.  He should never be relied upon for defense in a close game.  Ever.

I know some folks don’t like sabermetrics.  When I say that Descalso is a bad defender, I sometimes get people arguing with me using errors and fielding percentage as their authority.  I am willing to give some leeway to most traditional stats, because most of them have some merit, but two traditional stats that I think are completely worthless are errors and fielding percentage.  Errors are totally subjective.  They are based solely on the opinion of an untrained official scorer.  The only requirement to become an official scorer is to pass a test on baseball rules.  That’s it.  I know the baseball rules pretty well, why not create a stat based on my opinion?  It would be just as reliable as the errors stat.  Fielding percentage relies in part on errors, so as a stat it is just as unreliable.

So if you get into an argument with me about whether some player is a good or bad defender, and use errors and/or fielding percentage, please be warned that you will get nowhere.  You might as well tell me that the player is a good or bad defender based on the phases of the moon, because that is just as reliable an indicator as errors and fielding percentage.

Matt Carpenter is not a bad defender.  He has a career UZR at 3B of +3.  Why he has uncharacteristically made some major mistakes in the field in such a short time is a mystery to me.  Maybe it is related to why he has struck out 18 times, which is also out of character for him.   Hopefully it is just a bad stretch that will resolve itself with time.  I am patient enough to wait it out.

As we have painfully seen in several games in the last few weeks, bad defense will lose you games.  I know that many believe that a poor defender can make it up with offense, and in some cases that is true, but you have to be a superior offensive player for that to happen.  Not only that, you have to be a superior offensive player who doesn’t go through major slumps.  That is a tall order.  I tend to believe that relying on offense to overcome bad defense is a losing proposition over time.  You can have some poor defenders on your team and hide them with offense, but you can’t have bad defense overall and expect to win a ton of games.  Defense does matter.

I do believe the Cardinals’ defense on paper is an improvement over what they had last season.  The players just have to execute in relation to their abilities. Games like today cannot happen with any regularity.  I am sure the players know this and will take steps to correct the problem.  If they don’t, it is going to be ugly.

 

Thank you for reading.

 

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