Do Not Disturb the Patrons, Please.

So I haven’t been posting much for a while.  There are multiple reasons for that, one is that I am writing some for another site, but I only do that on the weekends, so that is kind of a paltry excuse.  The bigger reason is that I just have not felt like posting.  This season so far has not given me much motivation to blog.

I can’t explain it exactly, but this season feels to me like working everyday in a library checking out books.  You sit around a lot while people read or do other stuff, and once in a while you get a customer to help, but mostly you just sit there and stare out into the vastness of the stacks, or maybe you read something or daydream.  I worked in libraries throughout college and law school, and sometimes now I substitute for the librarian at the high school where I substitute teach.  I know whereof I speak.

Sure, there have been exciting games, the first game in the Pirates series at PNC last week, the one where Waino hit the game winning double, that was pretty dang exciting.  This season has had its moments, but I haven’t felt that anticipation of the division race or the postseason.  The Cubs are running away with the division, and yeah maybe the Cardinals will get into the postseason as a wild card, but that doesn’t excite me a whole lot.

I still watch almost every game, I really love baseball just for itself, and I love the Cardinals even more.  However, I still feel like I am working in a library, a place in which I generally feel very comfortable, as I love books, but still a place that doesn’t get the adrenaline going, if you know what I mean.

This team is plodding along, winning games and then losing some, many of them in frustrating fashion.  The manager continues to annoy me to no end, but I don’t expect that to ever not happen, and I have exhausted my level of outrage over his dumbassery (not a word, but who cares).  It’s not like anything I say in this blog is going to suddenly make the bright light come on in the dim bulb of Matheny’s brain.  He is still going to let the pitcher bat when he shouldn’t, he is still going to play Stephen Piscotty in center field where he doesn’t belong, he is still going to do all those things that make me want to toss something hard in his general direction.

So I just keep watching and waiting, keep reading to see how the novel ends.  I am not inspired enough to write about any of it though.  Sorry dear readers, but I can’t force it.  Perhaps when the trade deadline comes around or something else happens that gets my writing juices flowing there will be more content.

Until then, I will be in the library.

 

 

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In Praise of Stephen Piscotty

The Cardinals returned home to Busch on Friday, after earning a split series (2-2) against the Arizona Diamondbacks in Phoenix during the week.  My topic de jure, Stephen Piscotty, had a nice series in that ballpark, going 9 for 20 with a home run, a stolen base, and six RBI.  I am much more impressed with the home run and the stolen base than I am with the RBI.  RBI are more of a function of circumstance and luck than they are a particular skill, but they are a stat that is still popular with the faithful, so I cite them, but they are not a particularly useful measure of anything.  Nevertheless, Piscotty had a good series there, and well, that is one of many reasons why I chose to write about him.

Piscotty was a first round draft choice by the Cardinals in the 2012 draft, and though draft order doesn’t necessarily have relevance in predicting future performance (ahem…Pete Kozma), it does give some insight into how the Cardinals viewed Piscotty as a potential big leaguer.  You can also give some thanks to Albert Pujols for Stephen Piscotty, because it was his decision to hightail it to Los Angeles for the mucho dinero that made Stephen Piscotty possible, as he was the supplemental pick the Cardinals received for Pujols.

Piscotty moved swiftly through the lower levels of the minors, playing what was left of 2012 after he signed in the Low-A Midwest League, skipping the short season Rookie Leagues entirely (which is not uncommon for college picks of Piscotty’s caliber). Piscotty was drafted as a third baseman, but the Cardinals quickly realized that was not a position he was well suited for so he was moved to the outfield.  He started 2013 in High-A Palm Beach, but finished it in Double-A Springfield.  He unfortunately languished for 1 1/2 seasons in Triple-A Memphis, in part because there was no spot for him in the big league club, and in part because the organization felt he wasn’t quite ready.  He also took a back seat to another outfield prospect, Oscar Taveras, and that is a sad story I choose not to dwell on.

It was in that partial season at Springfield that I first got a glimpse of Stephen Piscotty.  I occasionally travel to Springfield to catch a game, as it an easy two hour drive from my home in Jefferson City, MO.  Brian Walton, who covers the Cardinals minor league system for his site, The Cardinal Nation (who is now my boss, so to speak, as I am a contributing writer there) happened to be at that game also and he mentioned to me that I might want to watch this kid named Stephen Piscotty closely.  I did, and I was impressed.  From that point on, I followed his progress through Memphis and was quite excited last season when he got the call up to St. Louis.

Piscotty had a very good half season in St. Louis, he, along with Randal Grichuk and Tommy Pham, contributed significantly to the Cardinals 100 win season in the second half of 2015.  With the defection of right fielder Jason Heyward over to the Dark Side of Chicago, Piscotty was poised to be an everyday player in right field for the Cardinals this season.  He hasn’t disappointed.

Piscotty has filled in quite nicely for the turncoat Heyward, though the sample size is extremely small, so any defensive numbers for him are quite meaningless (I am talking to you Derrick Goold, you should really know better).  At the plate, Piscotty has more than surpassed Heyward so far, again, small sample size, but I am doing it anyway because I can {raspberry, you Benedict Arnold}**  However, based on the imprecise eye test, I believe Piscotty to be a more than adequate right fielder.

Piscotty, though, has kind of been overlooked in all the Aledmys Diaz/Jeremy Hazelbaker hullaballoo, most probably because he isn’t new and shiny anymore.  Frankly, I see Piscotty as being more of a contributor than either of those guys, most especially Hazelbaker.  Hazelbaker most likely will be boarding the Memphis Shuttle soon, with the return of Tommy Pham, unless someone else gets hurt (knock on wood it doesn’t happen).  Diaz is having a terrific small sample size, but will cool off eventually, when we will see better what we truly have.  Both Diaz and Piscotty are BABIPing the hell out of the ball, so it’s going to take more time to see the true talent level of both.  I just have more faith in a consistent Piscotty, than I do Diaz.

Moreover, Piscotty is a brainiac, for which I am an unrepentant sucker.  An engineering degree from Stanford is nothing to sneeze at, even my law degree pales in comparison (maybe if I had gotten it at Stanford it wouldn’t, but I digress).

So, to conclude this mess, I am declaring that Stephen Piscotty is praiseworthy.  My brand new Piscotty t-shirt is proof of that.  Now if I could just get it autographed, that would be cool.

 

Thank you for reading.

 

 

ST LOUIS, MO - OCTOBER 09: Stephen Piscotty #55 of the St. Louis Cardinals celebrates scoring a run in the first inning against the Chicago Cubs during game one of the National League Division Series at Busch Stadium on October 9, 2015 in St Louis, Missouri. (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)

ST LOUIS, MO – OCTOBER 09: Stephen Piscotty #55 of the St. Louis Cardinals celebrates scoring a run in the first inning against the Chicago Cubs during game one of the National League Division Series at Busch Stadium on October 9, 2015 in St Louis, Missouri. (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)

 

** Seriously, I am just kidding, Heyward is a great player who I like.

 

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.

 

 

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.

Has Mozeliak Hit The Panic Button?

It is less than 48 hours before the non-waiver trade deadline is upon us, and so far the Cardinals have made two deals: 1) acquiring relief pitcher Steve Cishek from the Marlins for minor league relief pitcher Kyle Barraclough; and 2) acquiring OF/1B Brandon Moss from the Indians for lefty pitching prospect and 2013 first round draft choice Rob Kaminsky.  It is possible another deal could be made, but I find it highly unlikely.

I like the Cishek deal.  Chishek, though he struggled at the beginning of this year for the Marlins, has been pitching better since he returned from a stint at AAA.  He’s a reasonable risk and the pitcher we gave up for him, Barraclough, has had some control issues and was not likely headed to the majors anytime soon, if at all.  Cishek was a good reliever for the Marlins, and has a career FIP of 2.68 and xFIP of 3.22.  If Cishek can get back to that level of production, or something close to it, he would be a valuable reliever for the Cardinals, in the Pat Neshek mode.

The Brandon Moss for Rob Kaminsky deal, however, I do not like at all.  It is quite true that pitching prospects are highly volatile, more so than position player prospects.  Pitching prospects are more likely to flame out, are more likely to succumb to injury, and can break your heart.  There was no guarantee that Kaminsky would ever make it to the majors.  Having said that, Kaminsky was a highly touted prospect, unlike Barraclough, and was widely believed to be one of the top prospects in the Cardinals system.  Kaminsky was ranked as the Cardinals #5 prospect, and the #2 pitching prospect, behind Alex Reyes, by Baseball America.

Brandon Moss, on the other hand, was having a tough year with the Indians, batting .217/.288/.407 and had a wRC+ of 94.  Moss is striking out at a 28.3% rate and walking at a rate of 8.5%.  Compare these numbers to those of Mark Reynolds, .227/.309/.390, wRC+ of 96, K% 29.9, BB% 10.1, and it is difficult to see how Brandon Moss is an upgrade over Reynolds.  Moss has more home runs than Reynolds, 15 to Reynolds 9, but this is hardly enough of an advantage to justify giving up a top pitching prospect to get him.    Moss does have a .265 BABIP, which leaves room for some upward regression in his numbers, but even putting the most positive spin on Moss’s chances for improvement, the trade was a significant overpay in my opinion.

Even setting aside the questions about Moss’s bat, defensively Moss is a better OFer (much better) than he is a first baseman.  Will he be spending any significant time in the OF, a position the Cardinals don’t lack depth in?  Moss’s defense at 1B is pretty bad, much worse in fact than either Matt Adams or Mark Reynolds.  Worse even than the majority of first baseman in baseball.  If playing him the majority of the time at 1B is the plan, that plan brings his value down even more, even if he is platooned with Reynolds.

Perhaps this is a tough market, and even marginal players are pricier than usual.  If that is the case, then it seems to me no trade would have been better than this one.  With the addition of Stephen Piscotty into the mix, and with improvement in the performance of the Cardinals current starters, the offensive outlook for this team, in my opinion, is not as doomy as many Cardinals fans have made it out to be.  Offenses go through slumps, and there is no reason to believe that is not the case with this one.

The Matt Holliday injury does add another wrinkle, that is for sure, but it seems to me adding a marginal bat that may not add a lot of additional value to this offense is not the answer to this particular problem.  It smells of desperation, a trait that I don’t generally ascribe to John Mozeliak.  Mozeliak has typically been immune to the hues and cries of the fanbase (thankfully), so what made this move so needed?  More importantly, how does it affect Stephen Piscotty going forward?  Will the Piscotty to 1B experiment be terminated, or will Moss play more in the OF than 1B?  A lot of questions about an acquisition that doesn’t add much value to the mix.  Add in Mike Matheny’s often questionable use of his resources and this trade has the potential to make the situation worse instead of better.  It would seem to me a trade for a first base only player would have made more sense, and would have given Mike Matheny less rope with which to hang the team.

I don’t like this trade one bit.  I give it a grade of D.

 

Thank you for reading.

The Minor Leage Outfield Mambo

The Cardinals won last night against the Pirates.  Just barely.  The Pirates have been playing worse than the Cardinals (yes, that’s possible) or it may have been an entirely different ballgame.  The offense again was practically non existent, a run in the first inning was all they could muster.  Allen Craig shows sporadic signs of life, but then sinks into a coma again.  Jhonny Peralta went 2 for 4 last night; whether this is a sign of better things remains to be seen.  Kolten Wong continues to falter at the plate.  The bench currently consists of Daniel Descalso, who is hitting .115, Mark Ellis,  who is hitting .125, Shane Robinson, who is hitting .100 and the guy who never pinch hits, Tony Cruz, who is hitting .417.  Finally, there is the man formerly known as the Cardinals starting CFer, Peter Bourjos, who is hitting .174 in very limited time at the plate.  Which, if he actually were an official bench bat, would be better than the starting shortstop and the starting RFer, but I digress.

Yep, the bench, sans Tony Cruz, is pretty pathetic.  In fairness, Mark Ellis missed the first couple of weeks of the season on the DL and has only had 16 ABs, so I think a little leeway is in order.  Shane Robinson, usually a decent pinch hitter, has not fared well in only 20 ABs, and Daniel Descalso is, well, Daniel Descalso.  Cardinal Nation, however, in it’s yearly demonstration of panic and paranoia, has issued a fatwa against the bench, and is calling for an immediate call up of someone with a batting average from Memphis.  There is only room for an outfielder, since you couldn’t pry Daniel Descalso away from Mike Matheny with a crowbar and a blowtorch.  There are 5 outfielders to choose from at Memphis, but only 4 of them are hitting.  The 5th, Tommy Pham, is arguably the best defender of the bunch, but his bat has not reached it’s potential as of yet.  The remaining 4 are Oscar Taveras, Randal Grichuk, Stephen Piscotty, and Joey Butler.

Last night on the Fox Sports Midwest pre game broadcast, Cardinals GM John Mozeliak was asked about the possibility of a Memphis call up to shore up the bench, and his response was:  (a) it’s premature (thank you I have been vindicated); and (b) all of the Memphis outfielders except Joey Butler are young and developing and need to stay in Memphis and play everyday.  Mozeliak did not preclude the possibility of using Joey Butler, but he reiterated the premature part, indicating that for the the time being Butler will remain in Memphis.

There is some minor difficulty with the idea of bringing up Butler.  He is not on the 40 man roster, a fact which in and of itself is not particularly troubling if there is room on the roster.  However, Butler has the distinction of having formerly been on the 40 man roster, but he was removed recently by outright assignment to the minor leagues.  Now, it’s not impossible to restore Butler to the 4o man roster, but one of those pesky roster rules would then come into play and complicate matters. A player cannot be removed from the reserve roster by outright assignment more than once in his career without his permission.  If a player receives a second outright assignment, he has the right to refuse said assignment and elect free agency.  If the Cardinals restored Butler to the roster, he would then have the right to refuse being removed again and sent to the minor leagues.  This is significant only in the sense that if the Cardinals believe Butler has any future with the organization, they would be discouraged from removing Butler from the 40 man roster should a need arise for a spot for other reasons (for example, adding Stephen Piscotty, who is currently not on the 40 man roster).    Adding Butler would bring the roster total to a full 40, so any future 40 man roster moves would require someone to come off the roster.

Just as a side note, Shane Robinson, he of our current bench, and likely target of a trip to Memphis should Butler be added, has also had a prior outright assignment in his career.  He can be sent to Memphis without removing him from the 40 man roster, however, as he does have one option year remaining. Joey Butler also could be sent back to Memphis without removing him from the 40 man roster.

Taveras and Grichuk are already on the 40 man roster, as is Mike O’Neill, who is currently manning the outfield in AA Springfield.  Prospect James Ramsey, also at AA, is not on the 40 man roster.  Memphis outfielder Tommy Pham is in the same boat as Joey Butler, having been previously outrighted off of the 40 man roster.

So that is the current crop of outfielders from which to choose should a roster move be made.  Piscotty and Ramsey are pretty much not on the table at the present time due to their lack of 40 man roster status, and Butler and Pham have previous outright issues with which to deal.  Mozeliak has already indicated a desire to leave Taveras and Grichuk in Memphis.  O’Neill is also an option and he is hitting .333 at Springfield, but he doesn’t have any power, a fact which would likely make him a less attractive candidate among the Cardinal faithful.

The minor league revolving door is kind of squeaky.  Perhaps waiting a bit longer, as Mozeliak has suggested he intends to do, would not be such a bad thing.  You never know what might happen.  It is baseball, after all.

 

Thank you for reading.

 

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