Goodnight, Sweet Friend

It’s over.

It has taken me some days to get past the fact that the Cardinals made a too early exit from the playoffs in 2015.  For me, writing when the pain is new is a recipe for disaster.  Things are said that I will later regret, my thought processes jumbled by emotion.  I am an emotional person on the best of days, so one can only imagine a post-loss next day would be armageddon with a keyboard.  I am mostly blessed with self-awareness, thank goodness.

Now that I have had time to settle down and process, I have accepted all postseason occurrences, one way or the other.  There were some bright spots, not many, but some.  I have moved on in the most important ways from the bad.  That doesn’t mean I won’t talk about it, just that I won’t talk about it like a shrew on steroids.

Why did we lose?  If you want a clever and humorous look at the possible reasons, here is a tool for that.  But seriously, what are the reasons why the Cardinals lost three games in a row for the fourth season in a row?  We all have our ideas and theories, some more valid than others.  For me, it is a combination of things.

First off, it is not a state secret that I am not a fan of Mike Matheny.  This post is not going to be a War Crimes Trial for Matheny.  As a matter of fact, I think this year’s devastating loss is less of an indictment of Matheny than past postseason losses have been.  There were some screw ups, like leaving Wacha in too long in Game 3 and pinch hitting Greg Garcia for Randal Grichuk in Game 4 because of Garcia’s small sample size success against Pedro Strop (Really, Mike?).  Those mistakes were costly, especially the Wacha one, but they had less of an effect on the overall picture than other factors.

Primarily, I think injury and fatigue were the culprits this time.  This team was playing on borrowed time, and I think deep down we all knew it.  The Cardinals won 100 games with a team chock full of the Walking Wounded, and that fact in and of itself was amazing.  However, what goes up must come down, and the laws of physics, probabilities, and just plain common sense tells us the good times weren’t going to last.  Unfortunately, it all came down in the postseason, but who among us didn’t honestly think that was a distinct possibility?  Come on, don’t lie to yourself.

These guys were hurt and tired.  We can certainly admit that the injuries were not Matheny’s responsibility, not in the most direct sense.  Sure, many of us have issues with Matheny’s roster usage, myself for sure, and overwork can lead to injuries.  Players like Jhonny Peralta and Yadier Molina should have had more rest, but consider the alternatives that were before Matheny.  Pete Kozma and Tony Cruz are replacement level players or worse.  Peralta wasn’t injured and Molina has to take some of the blame for not being more responsible for his own health.  How many times have we heard stories of Molina talking himself back into the lineup after the initial idea was to rest him that day?  Should Matheny have put his foot down?  I would say yes, but I am not the one having to deal with Molina on a daily basis.  All I am saying is that there is blame to share.

I could spend 1000 words talking about each injury and what may or may not have helped to prevent it.  I am not going to do that because it is in my view irrelevant, and speculative at best.  I think we can all agree that we don’t have all the information available from which to draw any conclusions, and let’s just leave it at that.

I will say that roster issues were a concern from the very start.  This is an area that needs to be evaluated and worked on.  Players are going to need more rest from here on out and there needs to be back ups at those positions that are adequate and that Matheny will use.  The latter is a sticky subject, and one that I have, shall we say, bombastically expressed my opinion on in the past?  Mozeliak intervenes but rarely in how Matheny uses his roster (the Allen Craig trade is an example of where I think he did).  He no doubt has reasons that I don’t understand or appreciate, but that doesn’t stop me from expressing frustration about it nonetheless.  If Mozeliak has firm and unwavering views on not getting involved with Matheny’s roster usage, then he needs to be more proactive in putting together a roster that is in line with Matheny’s views and usage patterns, as much as it pains me to say that (I don’t think Matheny is particularly skillful at player evaluation).  For instance, Mozeliak should try very hard not to put a player on the roster that Matheny is just going to waste (Peter Bourjos is a painful example).  Just Matheny-proof the roster as much as possible, please.  No more wasted roster spots.  Mozeliak has to know Matheny’s tendencies by now.

I am not going to expound on what players should or should not be acquired for the 2016 season.  That will be another post.  I will, however, pause here to say, SIGN JASON HEYWARD.

Okay, now that that is off my chest, I will conclude by saying that I look forward to 2016 and another chance at the [World Series] ring.  Until then, may we have a productive Hot Stove season.

And please God, don’t let the Cubs win the World Series, I am begging you.

 

Over and out.

 

 

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Baseball Is Stupid

I’ve come to the realization that sometimes baseball is just a stupid game.  There are times when it makes about as much sense as trying to light a candle in a wind tunnel.  Right now, two of the best pitchers in the National League are Aaron Harang and Edinson Volquez.   If the Cubs win the World Series this year, I swear I am entering a convent.  This kind of stuff shouldn’t be happening.  Do you want to know why it is happening?  It’s called SMALL SAMPLE SIZES.

Yes, folks, small sample sizes are a thing.  Strange things do happen in the vacuum of the small sample size universe.  They happen all the time, every year after year after year, yet many people are still consistently fooled by them.  It’s like when Charley Brown still tries to kick the football, knowing Lucy is going to yank the thing away at the last minute.  He just can’t help himself.

We all know Allen Craig can hit.  He didn’t hit for a long time, but now it looks like he is breaking free from the small sample size hole he was in.  Some people take longer to conquer the small sample size.  Some people play really well for short periods of time, better than their history would suggest, but eventually they will regress to their mean.  It happened most painfully to Pete Kozma.  There were people who fell for it though, when Pete Kozma was hitting 400+ in September of 2012.  I bet they won’t admit it now.

The regression will likely come for Aaron Harang and Edinson Volquez.  The hot hitter will get cold and the cold hitter will get hot.  It’s not what they do in those short periods of time that matter as much as what they have done over their career.  When decisions are made based on small sample sizes is when the trouble begins.  Those decisions do get made; those wrong conclusions are drawn.  We just can’t help kicking the football.

Baseball can be a stupid and frustrating game.  I am always very wary of the small sample size.  It will chew you up and spit you out and then stomp on you for good measure.  Conquering the small sample size takes patience.  A whole lot of patience.  Patience is something that many people don’t have.  Patience is hard, often too hard for most people.  So they kick the football.

I do have patience.  It’s the only thing that keeps me sane in a world where baseball is stupid.  In a world where Aaron Harang pitches a no hitter and Allen Craig couldn’t hit water if he fell out of a boat, patience is a necessity.   A necessity that will prevent your head from exploding the next time baseball happens and you want to throw something through your TV screen.

Stop kicking the football.  You will be better off for it.

 

 

Thank you for reading.

 

 

The Bench Debate

Every year during Spring Training the talk starts concerning what 25 players are going to make the roster to start the season.  Often the debate centers less around the starting eight, or the rotation, or even the bullpen, and more around who are going to be those five players on the bench.  There is always going to be a back up catcher in one of those bench positions; for the last few seasons that catcher has been Tony Cruz, and likely will be again this season.  The remaining four spots are generally divided among infield and outfield spots, depending on where the need is the greatest and the best allocation of resources can be made.

This season is no different, though the players themselves always have a different mix.  This season, the likely faces on the bench will include newly signed infielder Mark Ellis, and probable 4th outfielder Jon Jay.  Jay, the starting center fielder for the last two seasons, has a history of streaky hitting and less than admirable defensive skills, possessing a weak throwing arm and limited range.  Enter Peter Bourjos, arguably the best defensive center fielder in baseball; his career Universal Zone Rating per 150 games (UZR/150) of +20.2 leads all of MLB since 2010 among center fielders with at least 2000 innings.  Bourjos also possesses a strong arm, and blazing speed, a talent the Cardinals have lacked for many seasons.  Bourjos has been hampered on the offensive side by injuries that have sidelined him for the past two seasons.  His last full season, 2011, leaves with the promise of what he can do at the plate if he’s healthy.  Bourjos is having a good Spring Training, hitting a robust .343/.425/.486, with 3 doubles, a triple and 3 RBIs in 35 ABs.  Jay has not fared well at all this Spring, hitting .174/.208/.196, a performance that will likely relegate him to the bench as the back up outfielder.

With Cruz, Ellis, and Jay on the bench, there remains two additional spots left to fill.  One of those spots, per manager Mike Matheny, is going to be another outfielder.  With Oscar Taveras out of the mix, and Stephen Piscotty likely returning to the minors, Shane Robinson looks to be the fairly obvious choice to return to the bench this season.

Now we get to the crux of the bench debate, that 25th man.  Is it going to be utility guy Daniel Descalso, or glove man Pete Kozma?  As we get closer to that inevitable decision, it appears that choice has already been made, just not officially.  Due to his weak bat, Kozma will be returning to Memphis rather than making the trip to St. Louis for Opening Day.  This move will be welcomed by most of Cardinal Nation; however, I won’t be one of them.

No doubt you are thinking I must be crazy.  Well, I’ve been called worse, but no, I am quite sane.  You see, I value defense in the infield more than most, and I value it highest in the shortstop position.  Despite Kozma’s glaring deficiencies with the stick, he is by far the best defensive shortstop the Cardinals have had since they shoved Brendan Ryan out the door.   Kozma’s career UZR/150 at shortstop is + 9.9.  Daniel Descalso on the other hand, sports a career UZR/150 at shortstop of -19.4.  Even giving Descalso a little leeway for less total innings at the position than Kozma, the difference is still rather stark.  Daniel Descalso is a bad shortstop, let’s not even quibble about it.  Yes, he hits better than Kozma, but not significantly better; if he did, I wouldn’t even be writing this.

Now, for those who care not for sabermetrics, or believe defensive metrics are just not that persuasive, this argument is going to fall on deaf ears.  Those who care not for defense at all, well, then we are not even on the same planet anyway.  It’s not going to matter to the Cardinals, they’ve made their decision already.   It’s going to be Descalso, terrible fielder that he is, backing up Peralta at shortstop.  A starting shortstop who was signed for his offense, not his defense, Peralta is going to look good to me with the specter of Descalso as the alternative.

Now lest you think I am being overly harsh toward Descalso, I say none of this with malice in my heart.  I don’t know Descalso personally but he seems like a nice guy who I would probably like if I did know him.  I just don’t want him playing shortstop on my team.  But play it he will, and I will not like it, but I will lump it, as my mother used to say.

The bench debate, as it were, is for all intents and purposes, over.  If were a judge I would bang my gavel and say “next case”.

Thank you for reading.

 

 

 

 

 

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