Top 5 Cardinals Stories of 2014

This post is the December UCB project.  It was supposed to be posted yesterday, but life intervened and it got put off.  So I am supposed to name my top 5 Cardinals stories of the 2014 season.  Tough to pick 5 and tough to rank them as well.  I tend to be a non-conformist, so some of my top 5 may be a little different than others, or at least take a different slant on the same story.  Here we go, I start at #5.

5.  Trading Allen Craig and Joe Kelly.

General Manager John Mozeliak is the kind of GM who keeps secrets well.  Not a lot of hints or leaks about what he is doing.  Having said that, this trade really came out of nowhere.  Not that it was a terrible trade, or that something didn’t need to be done about Allen Craig.  I had been hoping that something would be done, but I was thinking along the lines of less playing time for Craig.  So when this trade happened, I was a little bit stunned.  Stunned, but not surprised.  The difference?  I was not surprised that Mozeliak felt he needed to take this level of action.  It is a shame really, because reducing Craig’s playing time and increasing the playing time for Oscar Taveras seemed the simplest solution to the problem.  However, it may be that that solution was not feasible given the circumstances.  One, it would have required Mozeliak to assert greater authority over Mike Matheny’s lineup decisions, something for which he has often expressed his distaste.  Second, it would require a level of effort that Mozeliak probably didn’t want to take on.  Not to mention the PR implications of overruling your manager on basic day to day tasks.  Not a precedent he wanted to set I imagine.  This of course assumes Mike Matheny would not have been on board with reduced playing time for Craig, a fair assumption I would think, given statements made in public by Matheny, both before and after the trade.

Alas, the trade required someone else to go as well, and that someone else was Joe Kelly.  While Kelly was not the best member of the starting rotation, he was the most colorful.  What a fun guy Joe was, and I miss that sorely.  The pre-game interview video bombs, the costumes, the antics (who can forget the National Anthem Standoff?).  Great entertainment was lost by this trade.

Sigh.

4.  The acquisition of Jason Heyward.

Once #2 on this post happened, the need for a RFer became paramount.  Despite Mike Matheny’s great love for Randal Grichuk, having Grichuk as the primary RFer was not palatable on many levels.   The “rumors” of a potential Jason Heyward trade made the rounds for several weeks in November, and as nebulous as most rumors of this kind tend to be when involving the Cardinals, I had my doubts about it happening.  Generally when there is a hot stove rumor about the Cardinals, it more often than not is a red herring.  As I pointed out in #5 above, Mozeliak plays his cards close to the chest.  This one, happily, turned out not to be of the red herring variety.  I had hopes leading up to the trade, as I thought getting Heyward would be a coup.  Despite the fact that Heyward has not as yet lived up to his offensive potential, he is in fact one of the best, if not the best defensive right fielders in baseball.  As anyone who knows me or reads my posts regularly knows,  I am a huge fan of great defense.  Heyward is still young, and with a change of scene he may very well blossom as a hitter as well.  He certainly has the tools to do so.  I am very excited to see what he does in his new home.

Of course,  gaining anyone in a trade of this kind requires losing something.  What we lost is a member of our starting rotation and a pitching prospect.  Losing Shelby Miller is not without its drawbacks.  Shelby had been struggling, and there was no guarantee of a turnaround in 2015, but Shelby was beloved in St. Louis and rightly so.  He had been the Cardinals hot pitching prospect for many years, and hope still remained that he would turn out to be what he promised to be.  In the end, he was deemed expendable (the loss of his best friend, Joe Kelly, kind of muted his light anyway it seemed).  The other player in the trade, Tyrell Jenkins, was more of a lottery ticket, given his injury history and slow development through the system.  Given the pitching depth the Cardinals had, he was not a significant loss.

3.  The 2014 Postseason.

I made this an umbrella category, to combine both the NLDS and NLCS as one story.  One half of this story is the continuation of the Cardinals’ dominance over 3 time CY Young award winner Clayton Kershaw.  The Cardinals, more specifically Matt Carpenter, really appear to have Kershaw’s number.  Whether this is based on anything concrete, or merely just the vagaries of statistical luck, is unknown.  I tend to believe it’s the latter, but who knows.  I have to think at least a small part of Kershaw’s struggles has to be mental given his history with the Cardinals.  Baseball players aren’t robots, and even if the consistent pounding of Kershaw is just luck, the results have to wear on him just a little. Self-fulfilling prophecy?  The mind/matter conundrum is real.  But then again, such “curses” are often broken.  Stay tuned for next postseason (hopefully).

The NLCS.  What can one say? Michael Wacha in the 9th inning of Game 5 says it all.  It will be covered more expansively in #1 below.

Speaking of “curses”, the Giants against the Cardinals in the NLCS?  Is this going to be become a “thing”?

2.  The tragic death of Oscar Taveras.

This one was a blow.  For me personally it hit pretty hard.  I was an Oscar fan for sure, but that wasn’t the only reason.  It was the timing.  My mother had passed away 3 days before Oscar’s death.  The funeral was on the afternoon of the 26th, and I had been traveling back to my home from where the funeral took place, in my hometown, which is a 3 hour drive from my current place of residence.  I arrived home at approximately 6:30 pm CST.  I had been home less than 30 minutes when the first news of the accident broke on Twitter.  The first tweet I saw I thought might just be a Twitter hoax, at least I was hoping it was.  But as time passed and more and more tweets from some credible sources started to come across my feed, I knew it was no hoax.  The enormity of what happened hit me like a slap in the face that brings up a large red welt.  He was so young, and the last game he played in was just a matter of days in the past.  He had no time to even enjoy the off season.  So much promise and hope was extinguished just like that.  Poof.  Not only was Oscar gone, but so was a young woman who had yet to really live her life.

The news several weeks later that Oscar had been excessively intoxicated at the time of the crash made it all the more tragic.  It might have been avoided by more responsible behavior.  Did it make me angry?  Yes, it did, somewhat.  Most of us do some stupid things, though.  Many of us have done things we are lucky to have survived.  That fact doesn’t excuse it, it just makes it more real, and to an extent, explainable.  The hubris of the young, the feeling of invincibility, is a reality.  A tragic one in this case.

As many have rightly said, there is a lesson to be learned from this tragedy.  I hope that lesson has sunk in.

1.  The performance of Mike Matheny:  The birth of Mathenaging.

“Mathenaging” is a term that had its birth in the 2014 season.  Who precisely came up with it is not known to me.  Some say it had its genesis on the Cardinals blog Viva El Birdos.  Could be.  In any event it is a clever term, and one that many, including myself, have adopted.  It is basically a term to describe the bizarre, and often hair pulling inducing, managing style of Mike Matheny.  Mathenaging, in my definition at least, is made up of many parts.  These are some of the components.

1.  An inordinate amount of bunting, more often in the worst possible moments of a game by the worst possible hitters to be doing it.

2.  Improper use of pitching resources.  This includes leaving starting pitchers in too long, or in some cases removing them too soon;  using relievers with specialized skills in the wrong situations (using Randy Choate against right handed pitchers is one example); using relievers over and over excessively (Trevor Rosenthal four days in a row); using relievers to get one or two outs in a double switch when double switches are meant for longer appearances.

3.  Improper use of bench players.  This includes pinch hitting one of the worst hitters in high leverage situations (Daniel Descalso was a favorite for doing this); refusing to pinch hit the back up catcher late in the game when it was warranted (though in the case of Tony Cruz, it often wasn’t such a loss, but it is the principle of the thing); pinch hitting the wrong players in the wrong situations based on small sample size pitching match ups (Mark Ellis against Aroldis Chapman) or nonsensical reasons like “bat speed” (Peter Bourjos against the same Aroldis Chapman);

4.  Unnecessary double switches (see 2 above). Taking good hitters out in close or tie games for no good reason was a particular hair puller for me.

5.  Stubborn and ridiculous adherence to outmoded baseball thinking.  This is where the use of Michael Wacha in Game 5 comes in.  The game was on the line and Matheny had other options available to him other than a rusty Wacha.  Both Trevor Rosenthal and Carlos Martinez were available.  When asked after the game why he didn’t use Rosenthal, Matheny replied, “We can’t bring him in, in a tie-game situation. We’re on the road.”

Using Wacha in the highest leverage situation of the season, was the epitome of Mathenaging.  The cremè de la cremè if you will.  The nuking of all hopes for another trip to the World Series.  The Cardinals may not have made it even if a better decision had been made, but the odds were surely much better.

Don’t ask me about my optimism (or lack thereof) about the 2015 season.  If you do, you will get that quote in response.

So there are my top 5 stories.  Agree with them, don’t agree with them, throw stuff at your computer.  It’s your call.

Thank you for reading.

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2014 UCB Blogger Awards

It’s that time of the year when the UCB does its annual Blogger Awards.  This blog and yours truly are nominated for two of the awards this year:  Best Rookie Blog, and Post of the Year.  If you are a fan of this blog, you can cast your vote here:  Vote .

My ballot is set out below.

 

1) Player of the Year
Nominees: Matt Carpenter, Matt Holliday, Jhonny Peralta.

Winner:  Jhonny Peralta

Peralta accumulated 5.4 fWAR in 2014, the highest by a significant margin of any other position player on the Cardinals.  The remarkable thing about Peralta is that his fWAR was based on both above average offense and above average defense.  This is in contrast to Matt Holliday, whose 3.8 fWAR was all as a result of offense, as his defense was significantly below average.  As one who appreciates good defense as much as good offense, this choice was a no brainer for me.

2) Pitcher of the Year
Nominees: Lance Lynn, Pat Neshek, Adam Wainwright

Winner:  Pat Neshek

This was a tough one for me.  Adam Wainwright is my favorite Cardinal, so a vote for him would always be influenced greatly by personal bias.  Even with that caveat, looking at all three nominees statistically the choice seems clearly Wainwright.  Wainwright accumulated the most fWAR of all the nominees, 4.5, followed by Lynn with 3.1 fWAR and Neshek by 1.9 fWAR.  For pitchers, however, I think the choice has to be evaluated on more than just a strict WAR comparison.  Because a pitcher’s contribution to team wins is concentrated in a smaller fraction of appearances over a 162 game season, and they influence the outcome in a different way than position players, I personally feel I have to consider more than just a statistical comparison.  I feel this way more especially because one of the 3 nominees is a relief pitcher.  For me, the contributions of Pat Neshek stand out this year.  Year in and year out, we expect Adam Wainwright and Lance Lynn to give us excellent performances (Well, maybe for Lynn that is not the case with some Cardinals’ fans, but that is a different argument).  Neshek, however, came to the Cardinals with a rather muddy past and the expectations were not so high for him.  The fact that he performed the way he did given those circumstances, for me, puts him on top.  Sorry Waino, I still love you the most.

3) Game of the Year
Nominees: May 20 (Wainwright one-hitter), May 31 (Taveras debut), Game 1 NLDS, Game 4 NLDS, Game 2 NLCS

Winner:  Game 2 NLCS

Despite how the series ended, this game had it all.  Back and forth lead changes, 4 dingers, Matt Adams leaping.  What’s not to like?

4) Surprising Player of the Year
Nominees: Jon Jay, Lance Lynn, Pat Neshek

Winner:  Pat Neshek

I think I pretty much explained this choice in my Pitcher of the Year response above.

5) Disappointing Player of the Year
Nominees: Peter Bourjos, Justin Masterson, Kevin Siegrist

Winner:  Justin Masterson

This was an easy one for me.  Masterson, though he had the promise, didn’t deliver at all.  Kevin Siegrist just had an injury plagued year, I have to cut him some slack.  Peter Bourjos is a victim of circumstances as far I am concerned, despite what others who didn’t know the player at all before he became a Cardinal may think.

6) Cardinal Rookie of the Year
Nominees: Marco Gonzales, Randal Grichuk, Oscar Taveras, Kolten Wong

Winner:  Kolten Wong

Oh for what might have been (quietly sobs about Oscar).

Kolten Wong is the clear winner here.  Marco Gonzales has promise, but didn’t play enough, and Randal Grichuk really didn’t perform that well overall.  And Oscar, he never had a chance.

7) Acquisition of the Year
Nominees: John Lackey, Pat Neshek, Jhonny Peralta

Winner:  Jhonny Peralta

Had to pick Peralta, because he contributed the most and over more games.

8) Most Anticipated Cardinal
Nominees: Rob Kaminsky, Stephen Piscotty, Luke Weaver

Winner:  Stephen Piscotty

Had to go with Piscotty here solely because he is closer to the majors than either of the other two nominees.

9) Cardinal Moment of the Year
Nominees: Taveras’s first home run as the rains came, “The Big City Leap” in Game 4 of the NLDS, Wong’s walkoff in Game 2 of the NLCS

Winner:  Taveras’ first home run.

This won on sentimentality alone.  I had to go there.

10) Best Individual Cardinal Blog

Winner: C70 At The Bat

Our fearless leader consistently puts out good content every year.  And he does it regularly, which I appreciate.

11) Best Team Cardinal Blog*

*–All members of The Cardinal Conclave are considered individual blogs.  No votes for “The Cardinal Conclave” as a whole should be done here.

Winner:  Viva El Birdos

The best sabermetric analysis out there.  This is important to me.  The quality of the baseball discussion is top notch.  The writers and the community as a whole provides high quality intelligent content that I can relate to.

12) Best Media Coverage
Nominees: Derrick Goold, Jenifer Langosch, Stan McNeal, Bernie Miklasz

Winner:  Derrick Goold

I get more good info from Goold, with a minimum of editorial noise.  That’s what I want from media coverage.  Just the facts.

13) Best Rookie Cardinal Blog
Nominees: Baseball Geek In Galveston, Bird Tales, Cajun Cardinal, Gateway Sports Connection, High Sock Sunday, Red Cleat Diaries

Winner:  Bird Tales

I always enjoy Tara’s take on things, even though we don’t always agree.  She has a much better opinion of Mike Matheny than I do, for starters.  I don’t seek content that always agrees with me, that would be boring.

14) Post of the Year
Nominees: The Dawn of the Stephen Piscotty Era in Right Field (Daniel Solzman), Doctor’s Prescription: A Daily Dose of Baseball (Doug Vollet), The End of a Love and a Season (Marilyn Green), The Lynning: Fact or Fiction? (Daniel Shoptaw), The Outfield Chronicles: A Conversation (Christine Coleman), Thinking of Playoff Baseball (Dan Buffa)

Winner:  The Outfield Chronicles: A Conversation

Really funny, and probably more realistic than many of us might think.

15) Best UCB Project
Nominees: Bloggers As Players, Cardinal Hall of Fame Voting, Mailbag, Roundtables

Winner:  Bloggers As Players

I had a lot of fun with this one.

16) Best UCB Podcast
Nominees: Conversations With C70, Gateway To Baseball Heaven, UCB Radio Hour

Winner:  UCB Radio Hour

17) Best Non-UCB Podcast
Nominees: Best Podcast In Baseball, St. Louis Cardinals Extras (MLB.com), Viva El Birdos Podcast

Winner:  Best Podcast in Baseball

18) Best Twitterer

Winner:  Bob Netherton  @CardinalTales

In addition to many insightful observations, Bob has had a litany of interesting name changes and avatars, which keeps it fun.

UCB Project: Bloggers Play Ball

As a member of the United Cardinal Bloggers I from time to time participate in monthly “projects” with other bloggers.  This is one such project.  The assignment is to put together a lineup (or roster, if one prefers) of a team made up of UCB bloggers.  Now, I don’t know many of the bloggers in the UCB, nor, I must confess, have I read all of the member blogs.  I follow a number of the bloggers on Twitter, so what I know about them comes strictly from interactions there.  I have never actually met any bloggers in person, as I have been unable to attend any of the annual bloggers weekends that occur each baseball season.  So for this project I have put together a lineup of bloggers on just a small modicum of information about them and their blogs.  It’s rough, but here it is.

 

Lead off:  Eliza (last name unknown)  “A Blog of Their Own”  in LF

The lead off hitter should be quick and on the ball (and base).  Eliza is quick-witted, and pulls no punches.  Many of us female bloggers are that way, perhaps it comes with being a sports blogger in a predominantly male world.  Eliza knows what she means, and says what she means.  I put her in left field because the strength of her mind reminds me of the strength of her Cardinal counterpart, Matt Holliday.

Batting Second:  Christine Coleman “Aaron Miles Fastball” at 2B

I believe the hitter in the 2 hole must be someone who can be trusted to get on base in front of the heavy hitters.   Christine and I have been in agreement about many issues this season, so she is someone that I wouldn’t hesitate to rely on to get the job done.  I put her at second base because although Aaron Miles is well known for his heroics in taking one for the team on the pitcher’s mound in out of hand games, Miles was predominantly a second bagger.

Batting Third:  Bob Netherton “On the Outside Corner” at 3B

This spot belongs to a power guy, one who can knock it out of the park.  Bob is the guy who does this on a daily basis with his profound knowledge of the history of Cardinal baseball, his humor, and his ability to get to the heart of the matter.  You won’t find a more knowledgeable guy about baseball than Bob.  Bob and I both grew up on Cardinal baseball and got to know it in the same era, the 60s.  I put Bob at 3B in recognition of that era and of the Cardinal icon from that era, Mike Shannon.

Batting 4th (Cleanup):  Daniel Shoptaw “C70 at the Bat” at Catcher

This spot belongs to your best heavy hitter, and no one in the Cardinal blogger universe exemplifies that better than our fearless leader, Daniel.  Daniel makes it all work, and is our “field general’.  That is why he is my catcher, my Yadier Molina.  Daniel works harder than anyone and is tireless in the amount of time (innings) he puts into the job.  Just don’t go on the DL, Daniel, we couldn’t operate without you.

Batting Fifth:  Kevin Reynolds “StL Cards ‘N Stuff” at 1B

Kevin is very passionate about what he believes in.  We may not always agree on things, but Kevin sticks to his guns, and I respect that a lot.  I put Kevin at 1B, because that position requires toughness and fortitude.  The first baseman has to handle a lot of action from all positions on the field, and Kevin is the guy with the wherewithal to do it.

Batting Sixth:  Tara Wellman “Bird Tales” in RF

Tara is a sports journalist, and for a woman, that’s a tough job.  Tara is also one of the most fair-minded people I have encountered on Twitter, and that will serve her well in her chosen profession.  Tara examines all sides of an issue, and doesn’t jump to conclusions.  I put Tara in right field, because she has the toughness to handle those balls in the right field corner and because she strives to be right in how she deals with things.

Batting Seventh:  Daniel Solzman “Redbird Rants” at SS

Daniel is the rangiest guy I know on Twitter, so that is why he is my shortstop.  Daniel covers a lot of ground, whether it be sports, politics, entertainment or books.  Daniel writes and talks about many subjects and he is tireless at all of them.

Batting Eighth:  Nick Waeltz  “Pitchers Hit Eighth” at P

Come on, you knew I had to do this one, didn’t you?  I don’t know Nick at all, but I do follow him on Twitter.  While he doesn’t tweet a lot (after all, a pitcher only plays every 5th game), when he does, I usually am very impressed with what he has to say.  I usually agree with it too.

Batting Ninth:  Ben Chambers “The View from Here” in CF

I had to do this one too.  Ben is my compadre in defense of Peter Bourjos.  That’s why he’s in center field.  Ben and I might be Peter’s biggest fans (Bob Netherton is a Bourjos fan as well, so he needs a shoutout here too).  We never give up in our quest to see Peter play more.  Ben believes Peter should bat ninth, after the pitcher, so as to give him the opportunity to steal bases, and be driven in by the lead off hitter.  I have put him here for that reason.  Keep the fires burning, Ben.

 

So that’s my UCB lineup in all its glory.  Looks like a winning lineup to me.  Take us to the Blogger World Series, guys and gals.

 

Thank you for reading.

 

 

 

UCB April Project: My Cardinal HOF picks

The April project for United Cardinal Bloggers is to pick your two candidates for the Cardinals’ HOF and explain your choices.  From the first moment I saw the list of candidates, I knew who my two choices were going to be.  I am going to surprise people I imagine, because from the outset I knew I was not going to choose fan favorite Willie McGee.  I love Willie, make no mistake about that.  He was my David Freese of the 1982 World Series.   But while I would have voted for Willie eventually, because he deserves to be in, I could not pick him over the two players that I believe were better players and deserve to be in the first selection year.  My two choices and my rationale for my choice, follow.

 

1.  Ted Simmons

I am an Older American, and therefore had the chance to see Ted Simmons play during his best years.  During my late high school and early college life, 1977-1980 to be exact, I watched Ted Simmons give the best performances of his career (he was no slouch before that either) .  During those 4 seasons, Simmons hit 90 HRs, drove in 360 runs, and OPS’ed  .908, .889, .876, and .880 respectively.  Simmons was a better defensive catcher than he often got credit for.  He never rose to the Yadier Molina level but he had a decent arm, catching base stealers at a career rate of 34%.   That isn’t terrible, by today’s standards that is higher than league average.   Sadly, Simmons was traded to the Brewers after the 1980 season and his career went into a decline after that.  This was probably more normal age related decline than anything to do with the trade, as Simmons was in his age 32 season when he started with the Brewers.

There are many people who believe Simmons belongs in Cooperstown, including me.  His numbers were borderline, and the baseball writers obviously believed they didn’t measure up.  Simmons fell off the ballot in his first year of eligibility, garnering only 3.7% of the vote.  Catchers have traditionally fared poorly with HOF voters.  Many think despite his impressive offensive numbers (He is second in hits all time for catchers, behind Pudge Rodriguez)  his non-elite defensive numbers ruined his chances.  This has always seem short sighted to me, because he was not a bad defensive catcher.  Perhaps the Veterans Committee will right this wrong someday, as they have for 5 other catchers now enshrined in the Hall.

Despite the snubbing from Cooperstown, Simmons belongs in the Cardinals HOF.  The best years of his career were wearing the Birds on the Bat.  Unfortunately, many fans today never saw Simmons play and do not understand what a superior player he was.  It is unfortunate in my opinion that popularity will most likely prevail over actual baseball performance, but there it is.

 

2.  Jim Edmonds

Boy, do I love good defense.  I love good offense as well, and Jim Edmonds provided both in spades.  During his prime years with the Cardinals, 2000-2005, Edmonds provided power from the left side and gold glove defense in center field.  Six gold gloves with the Cardinals, as well as one Silver Slugger award, 3 All Star appearances and one World Championship are Edmonds’ contributions during his Cardinal years.  His offensive numbers during those years were gaudy; 210 HRs, 490 RBIs, OPS’es of .994, .974, .981, 1.002, 1.061 and .918.  On the defensive side, his average UZR for the years 2002-2005 (2000 and 2001 numbers not available), was 7.325, and he had 12 Defensive Runs Saved.

Edmonds was a fan favorite, and for good reason.  The man just dazzled.  In his last two seasons with the Cardinals, health issues, and a public tiff with manager Tony La Russa led to Edmonds being traded in 2007 to the San Diego Padres in exchange for David Freese.  Edmonds’ career never revived, but in 2011 Edmonds mended fences with La Russa and officially retired from baseball as a Cardinal.  Edmonds now periodically does pre and post game shows for the Cardinals on Fox Sports Midwest and remains a part of the St. Louis community.

Edmonds was a top tier center fielder.  He was a better player than his earlier counterpart, Willie McGee, which is why I cannot choose Willie over Edmonds.  Edmonds is a MLB HOF candidate, McGee is not.

 

Those are my two picks for the Cardinals HOF.  Sadly, I don’t think Simmons has a chance this year, despite his superior talents over other candidates.  Hopefully he will get in in a future year.

 

 

Thank you for reading.

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