Friday, October 30, 2009

The St Louis Rams

I'll take a break from my normal wall-to-wall Cardinal coverage to talk about the Rams. The Rams are in the midst of a truly historic season. Not only are they 0-7, and arguably the worst team in the league, but they are building quite a legacy of awful.

Since the start of the 2007 season, they are 6-33. The Lions, losers of every game last season, are 8-32 over the same span.

Their offensive ineptitude has put them in range of two records for futility:

Fewest points scored, 16-game season: 143 (1991 Colts)
Fewest touchdowns scored, 16-game season: 14 (same Colts).

In 2009 the Rams have scored 60 points and 6 touchdowns. The Colt averaged 8.9 points per game in 1991; St Louis' average currently sits at 8.6.

I shield my face with my hands and watch this team through the space between my fingers to see if they'll break those two records.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Bloody Brilliant

If Tim McClelland's blown double play call during ALCS Game 4 was the worst call in the history of umpiring, Jimmy Rollins' deke around second base in the bottom of the fifth ining, World Series Game 1, is the greatest piece of baseball deception in the history of the universe.

It was so good Robinson Cano ran hard to first even though he was already out.

It was soo good Hideki Matsui made no attempt to get back to first to avoid being doubled off.

It was sooo good the umpires had to confer for 5 minutes to make sure they understood what they saw.

It was soooo good 55K+ Yankee fans were completely fooled.

It was sooooo good Fox had to run through the replay 3x before they accurately reported what happened.

Yeah, that was awesome.

UCB Radio Hour TONIGHT - 8:00 pm Pacific (new time)

A quick note that I will be hosting a 30 minute version of the UCB Radio Hour, along with Dan Shoptaw, tonight. The fun starts at 8 pm Pacific time.

Please note that's 30 min later than our usual start time. Hope you can join us! We've a lot to talk about:

- McGwire as hitting coach
- LaRussa, Duncan return
- Carpenter voted comeback player of the year by peers
- Wainwright voted most outstanding pitcher by peers
- Bill DeWitt III interview
- Roster construction

And whatever else comes up.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Mark McGwire Returns to the Crosshairs

Man, what a strange off-season this has been so far. Nothing, absolutely nothing, on the Cardinal front for two weeks, straining the available subject matter for bloggers.

Then everything happens at the same time.

My Blogger Round Table Post.
My NL MVP award Post at the BBA site.
Interview with Bill DeWitt III this afternoon on the UCB radio show.

Then, the Cardinals announce the return of Tony LaRussa for 2010. Dave Duncan is expected to return as well, as is virtually all of the coaching staff. Except for the hitting instructor; Hal McRae to be replaced by Mark McGwire.

Wait, hold up: THAT Mark McGwire? Living in exile in Orange County these past 5 years, following his appearance before the Senate Select Committee on Steriod Use in Baseball?

Get ready for the firestorm and recrminiations, folks.

There will be lots of voices out there demanding McGwire come clean about his steroid use (see here), and some voices saying who cares if he doesn't talk about it (see here). You want my opinion? Either McGwire shouldn't talk about it at all, or he should say something like this:

"I was asked by Tony to be the hitting coach for the Cardinals. It's a great opportunity, and I'm grateful he thinks highly enough of me to ask me to be a coach. There are a lot of great hitters on this team, and I hope in some small way to make them better.

"Because I've been out of the spotlight for a number of years, and the allegations of my steriod use during my playing days, many in the media and general public believe that, as part of my stepping into this coaching position, I owe an updated answer on what, if any, supplements I used during my career. I'm here today to say I won't be responding to those questions, now or ever.

"Enough time has passed, and enough ink has been spilt speculating on what I did or did not do, that everyone who cares to form an opinion on this has. If I say 'Categorically, I didn't use steriods', some will believe it, some won't. If I state I used steroids, I won't be able to coach effectively because players can say 'I can't do what you did without cheating'. That's before and after the media and bloggers 'spit on my grave' over the statement.

"So you can print and believe whatever you want. I'm here to help this team be more productive offensively in 2010. Judge me on that, question me on that, not on what might or might not have happened while I was playing baseball in Oakland and St Louis."

(Update #1: Or, he could fly into a rage, flip the podium over, and tell everyone to kiss his not-as-big-as-it-used-to-be white ass. You know, whichever works for him.)

McGwire doesn't owe me an explanation and he doesn't owe the BBWAA an explanation. How they're going to vote on his HOF resume is already well documented; he's not going to change any minds now. What they should judge him on is his performance as a hitting instructor. I for one look forward to seeing what he can do in that regard.

Update #2: Some bonehead at Cards Clubhouse wondered why the Cardinals would hire a .263 career hitter. Consider:

- St Louis as a team ranked 18th in MLB in wOBA.
- McGwire has a career .415 wOBA.
- McGwire's average wOBA would have been fifth best in the majors in 2009.

Maybe that's why.

UCB topic - Blogger Round Table

The United Cardinal Bloggers are in the midst of their semi-annual roundtable discussions. Our focus at this time of the year is on roster construction for next year. Or, at least, that's the gist the questions have taken.

Links to the transcripts for the first 4 questions can be found here.

Friday I posed the following topic for discussion:

Let's look at the starting rotation. Currently the Cardinals have 3 names penciled in for 2010: Carpenter, Wainwright, and Lohse. For the last two slots:

Do the Cardinals promote from within? Given LaRussa/Duncan's seeming preference for veteran arms in the rotation, is this a workable plan should they come back for 2010? Who has the best shot of winning a starting slot (and if you could estimate the odds or percent chance of someone making it, like Jamie Garcia - 80%, that'd be cool)?

Or, do the Cardinals sign a veteran arm on the cheap? How much would constitute cheap (years/dollars)? Who should they target?
It didn't generate as much discussion as I had thought/hoped, but anyway, here are some Cardinal Blogger opinions:

Dan (C70 at the Bat):I think, due to the two slots, the Cards do both.

I really think that John Smoltz is going to return to the Redbirds. If he wants to play, it'll be in St. Louis, probably on a one year deal. That takes care of your #4, at least initially. The odds of him making it through the whole season without some down time are pretty slim, but that's where he'll be Opening Day.

The fifth slot will be someone from within the organization. I think you are about right on with your example. I'd say there's at least an 80% chance that name is Jaime Garcia. He's the obvious frontrunner. It'll be interesting to see if bullpen stalwarts Kyle McClellan and Blake Hawksworth get a shot. I'd guess the odds of either one of them getting the job, though, are around 10%. There could be someone that impresses in the spring and wins the fifth starter slot, like a Lance Lynn, but I wouldn't count on it.

Nick (Pitchers Hit Eighth): In my mind, there are four names to fill the two slots. Jaime Garcia. Mitchell Boggs. PJ Walters. John Smoltz.

Garcia’s performance in his rehab from Tommy John surgery was very impressive, and another off-season of conditioning and preparation should put him in a fantastic position to win a rotation spot come spring. How nice will it be to have a lefty back in the rotation in St. Louis? I hesitate to be too bold, but I’d put Garcia’s chances of being in the 2010 rotation at about 95%.

Boggs and Walters are both in the same boat, in my opinion. Either one could put together a really strong spring and make a case for the rotation, or at least a Brad Thompson-ish role with long relief and spot starts out of the bullpen. Neither has created any distance from the other, nor really embarrassed. Chances of either one breaking camp in the rotation? 25%.

If Smoltz wants to pitch in 2010 (and it seems he does) and the Cards want him back as a starter, I envision it being an easy deal to get done. Probably a one year, $5mm contract or something similar. Smoltz could be a serviceable 4 or 5 while bridging the gap to some of the youngsters still developing (as well as providing some sage advice).

I hesitate to speculate on any other free agents that may be signed, because I feel like they have enough options internally or re-signing Smoltz that may preclude them from entering that market. As we are all aware, they are clearly focusing their payroll money elsewhere for the time being.

One wild card I want to throw out there… Mike Parisi. Parisi is also coming off of a Tommy John procedure, and is pitching out in Arizona. For some reason even unbeknownst to me, I’ve rooted for the guy since his first call-up with the big club. He apparently had the stuff at one time to warrant a promotion, and if his elbow is right, he just may surprise some folks. At the very least, expect his name to be discussed at spring training.

Following Nick's response, I followed up to the group with a specific question about going after Ben Sheets:

Just for the sake of argument, and realizing their money priorities are elsewhere, would Ben Sheets be someone they could consider? After a full year off, he might sign for $5M per year.
Unfortunately, no one had a chance to respond to that thought before we went to post.

Update: Josh from Pitchers Hit Eighth weighs in with:

For me the rotation is already set so I guess you can put my % at 99.9 just so I can be viciously laughed at in March.

I want Smoltz back in the 4th spot, just because he was one of the very few bright spots to the end the season. He is also a perfect player coach to keep Wainer grounded, Lohse thinking positive, and mentor for my fifth starter.

Garcia adds not only a lefty to the rotation but a shot of youth into a fairly vet-laden staff. Even Hawk has seemingly been around the Cards forever, so call it a competition with every and all Memphis starter for the remaining spot.

St. Louis a real chance to have all five starters in double digits with Garcia and a little luck on the health side. With that and LaDunc back in the fold, I smell a much longer run than just the NLDS.

Update #2 Matt from Fungoes adds:

While Adam Wainwright and Kyle Lohse are generally healthy, Chris Carpenter still represents a lot of risk in the injury department. As such, the Cardinals would be wise to hedge their bets with the rest of the rotation and aim for players without a lot of injury baggage (read: younger pitchers).

Furthermore, it seems doubtful that the team would be able to sign someone with as much upside as any of the pitchers currently in their system. Blake Hawksworth started a majority of his minor-league games, and though his BB and SO rates have declined in his last two minor-league seasons, he showed a Pineiro-like propensity for ground balls in his rookie campaign (53.8%). He'll need to improve on his BB rate and K/BB (1.33) rate, though, and his low HR rate was perhaps misleading due to a below-normal HR/FB rate (5.3%). Ditto Mitchell Boggs, who is in a similar position as Hawksworth and had a similarly unimpressive K/BB rate (1.39)

Jaime Garcia is probably the most talented of the in-system options, but may need some AAA time to sharpen his arsenal before returning to the bigs. If he doesn't come north out of camp, he'd be an excellent midseason addition and/or Carpenter fill-in. Another option would be for him to make the team as a midrange reliever.

Assuming Smoltz a) wants to pitch again, b) wants to do so for the Cardinals and c) wants less than his 2009 salary, he -- on an incentive-laden deal -- would be a fine choice for one of the open slots.

My personal thoughts on this are mixed. If John Smoltz really enjoyed his time as a Cardinal, and there's been nothing (to my knowledge) indicating he didn't, then bringing him back on the cheap is a distinct possibility. He signed a 1-year, $5.5M contract to play with Boston in 2009. I would think something in that ball park, with the $5.5M figure being as high as the Cardinals would go, would get him in the rotation for 2010.

However, as Nick accurately points out, the Cardinals intend to spend their money elsewhere this off-season, so there might not be enough cash available to sign Smoltz. In that case they build from within. Jamie Garcia is the popular name to throw out as an early front-runner for a slot, but it will come down to who performs in Spring Training. I would expect Kyle McClellan, Blake Hawksworth, Brad Thompson, PJ Walters, Garcia, and probably someone we don't know yet to compete for the two open slots.

Regarding my follow-up question: I think Sheets would need to be approached much like Smoltz might be - with a max salary ceiling of about $5M for a 1-year deal. I would think, after a year off, Sheets would want a short-term deal just to re-establish his bona fides as a legitimate Staff Ace, then seek fame and fortune elsewhere. Why not sign with a playoff contender?

As always, your comments are welcome.

Friday, October 23, 2009

BREAKING: Bill DeWitt III to appear on the UCB Radio Hour

I just got word from Dan at Cardinal 70 that St Louis Cardinals team president Bill DeWitt III will appear on a special edition of the UCB Radio Hour Monday, 26 October, at 3:30 pm Pacific time.

As always, if you have a question you'd like to propose we ask Mr. DeWitt, leave it in the comments or email it to me at

Not sure how much time Mr. DeWitt will be able to give us, so I can't guarantee all questions will get on the air, but we'll try.

I'm pretty excited about this. I know Dan is too. Not often the 'common man' gets a chance to interview someone this high up in any organization.

Link to the UCB Radio Hour page
Link to C70 at the Bat
Bill DeWitt bio

The Post Where I Agree With Everybody

Much like Dave Cameron over at Fangraphs, I'm glad the Angels won last night. This means there'll be baseball on Saturday night. In my Plato-ideal world, the California Angels will win tomorrow night too, forcing baseball on Sunday.

At some level, the AL teams should be happy their ALCS is extended another game, shortening the time off they will have between the conclusion of this series and the start of the World Series. Remember the 2006 Tigers? They had a week off, and it showed during their WS loss to St Louis - they were rusty. Hard to believe after a 6-month season a team could get that far out of whack with 7 days off, but remember: the only break of comparable length is the 4 days off around the All-Star Break. These guys are used to playing every day.

Which is another reason why the long breaks between series, and the indefensible off-day between Games 4 and 5 of the LCS, is so exasperating. I believe MLB is actually hurting the competitive nature of the playoffs by artifically extending the schedule. No I don't have any hard statistical evidence to back that up; I hope to develop this thesis during the off-season. But philosophically, here's the jist of my argument. If MLB teams craft their rosters to compete over a 162-game season, negate that team aspect of the game during the post-season? Specifically with starting pitching. I don't know if this will just be me proposing another unpopular opinion that has no basis in fact. But I hope to soon.

Phillies the best team in the NL. Obviously we say that now since they've won the League title. But based on how the playoffs played out, Philadelphia has the best team. Best lineup, best pitching staff, deepest bench, solidifying bullpen. If the NL is to win the World Series for the third time in 4 years, this Philadelphia team gives the league its best shot. And for those who think the Yankees will win the LCS and roll over the NL in the Series: I believe this will be a better Series than you do. I believe it will go at least 6. And I believe the Phillies has a good shot at repeating.

Oh, the wonders of pitch selection. In two key situations during the ALCS, the pitch thrown has made me question what the pitcher/catcher were thinking. The first was the 0-2 fastball Fuentes left up in the zone to A-Rod in Game 2. I still can't get over this. Behind A-Rod was Guzman and Gardner. A-Rod was the only bat in that inning that had even a remote chance of hurting the Angels (of the three scheduled hitters). YOU'RE AHEAD 0-2. Why throw him anything in the strike zone, especially after throwing 2 fastballs for strikes. Now, A-Rod might have gotten a pitch later in the at-bat to hit; we don't know. But that pitch was ridiculous.

The other was Hughes' 1-2 fastball to Vladimir Guerrero last night. Tim McCarver went on and on about how lousy this pitch choice was, especially after Guerrero looked really bad on the 1-1 curveball the pitch before. As near as I can tell, of the 18 pitches Hughes threw in the seventh 3 were curveballs, and on all three he got a swinging strike (I can't seem to get GameDay on to come up from work. Crap.). Seeing as Guerrero is a dead fastball hitter, WHY throw a fastball in that count? And as it turned out, why throw a straight 4-seam fastball in that count?

Intentional Walks. Joe Posnanski is on record for hating the intentional walk on principle, in almost any instance. I've never thought much about the intentional walk per se; I believe there are times when it is called for, if used properly. However, I don't believe Fuentes' intentional walk of A-Rod was one of those times. Why? Because:

- There were two outs in the ninth and no one on.
- Scioscia basically admitted, 'I don't trust my highly-paid closer to get A-Rod out with the game on the line.' What happens when, tomorrow or Sunday night, Fuentes has to get A-Rod out with no where to put him? Is Scioscia going to take Fuentes out in that situation?
- It seemed to get into Fuentes' head. He couldn't find the plate to the next two hitters, walking Matsui and hitting Cano. He jumped ahead 0-2 to Swisher because Swisher went to the plate with his head up his ass. I mean, seriously: Fuentes suddenly has command issues, so why are you hacking at the first two things he throws up there?

The Angels were lucky to survive and win last night's game.

At any rate, the UCB is conducting a round-robin this week. I'll have a question and responses up on Monday here and at the UCB Home Page. Also, the BBA is voting on MVPs, so I'll have that story up over there Monday as well (there'll be a link to the BBA site here Monday afternoon).

Monday, October 19, 2009

BBA Topic: The Cy Young

One of the cool things that has happened to me over the four years of writing here is the chance to interact with other passionate fans of baseball. Recently I joined the Baseball Bloggers Alliance (BBA), which gives me the chance to interact with bloggers from across Major League Baseball, in addition to the knowledgeable Cardinal bloggers you're used to me talking about here.

The BBA is leveraging that knowledge to suggest winners of the various end of the year baseball awards, and posting those stories both on their home blogs, and at the Alliance web site. Already the group has discussed NL and AL Managers of the Year and Rookies of the Year. Next will be the Cy Young, and the MVP, of each league, and I have the opportunity to offer an opinion on both.

National League Cy Young

We'll start with the NL because that's the home league of this blog. I've long thought the NL Cy Young will be awarded to one of three men: Tim Lincecum of San Francisco, or Chris Carpenter or Adam Wainwright of St Louis. Looking at specific accomplishments and NL pitching statistics, Javier Vasquez of Atlanta was a surprise addition to the discussion. Let's get into the specifics, starting with the standard metrics.

Wainwright - 19
Carpenter - 17
Lincecum - 15
Vasquez - 15

Lincecum - 261
Vasquez - 238
Wainwright - 212
Carpenter - 144

Carpenter - 2.24
Lincecum - 2.48
Wainwright - 2.63
Vasquez - 2.87

If you needed another reason to think wins isn't a great metric anymore for deciding who the best pitcher in the league is, Bronson Arroyo finished with 15 wins. Anyway, using the standard measuring sticks, each of the contenders led in one of the categories. We're going to need some additional fidelity. The advanced statistics I looked at were ERA+, FIP, and WAR. ERA+ turned out to not be that great a choice, because the rankings using that metric matched those for ERA by itself. So what about Fielding Independent Pitching, and Wins Above Replacement?

Lincecum 2.34
Vasquez 2.77
Carpenter 2.78
Wainwright 3.11

Lincecum 8.2
Vasquez 6.6
Wainwright 5.7
Carpenter 5.6

Based on these two metrics, Lincecum was the best pitcher in the National League in 2009. Vasquez pitched better than his ERA would lead you to believe; his defense actually cost him (his ERA is higher than his FIP). So, in a bit of an upset for a Cardinal blogger, my NL Cy Young votes are Lincecum (1), Javier Vasquez (2), Carpenter (3), Wainwright (4).

American League Cy Young

Most observers think Zack Grienke was the best pitcher in the American League this year. Let's see if the same statistics back that up.

Hernandez - 19
Verlander - 19
Sabathia - 19
Halladay - 17
Grienke - 16

Verlander - 269
Grienke - 242
Lester - 225
Hernandez - 217
Halladay - 208
Sabathia - 197

Grienke - 2.16
Hernandez - 2.49
Halladay - 2.79
Sabathia - 3.37
Lester - 3.41

Grienke - 2.33
Verlander - 2.80
Halladay - 3.06
Hernandez - 3.09
Lester - 3.15
Sabathia - 3.39

Grienke - 9.4
Verlander - 8.2
Halladay - 7.3
Hernandez - 6.9
Lester - 6.0
Sabathia - 5.9

Lincecum may have been the best starting pitcher in the NL, but Zack Grienke was the best starting pitcher in baseball based on FIP and WAR. I think these selected statisics, when compared to the standard set, bring home how much of a penalty Grienke paid for playing on a lousy Royals team. Verlander had a better year than I thought, as did Jon Lester; Sabathia, who is a good pitcher, and is pitching well in the post-season, wasn't as good as the rest of the guys on the list.

I will give a little more weight to pitchers who worked for teams finishing below .500. Felix Hernandez had a phenomenal year for Seattle. If Halladay had continued to pitch as well after 31 July as he did before the All-Star break, this would have been a much closer vote for first. So, based on these numbers, my vote for 2009 AL Cy Young are Grienke (1), Hernandez (2), Verlander (3), Halladay (4), Lester (5), Sabathia (6).

Discuss amongst yourselves. I look forward to your comments.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Well... So Much For That

First, a Public Service Announcement: the United Cardinal Bloggers Radio Hour will continue on through the off-season, at least for now, and specifically for tonight. Dan Shoptaw will host today's show, scheduled for 7:30 PM Pacific time. Adjust your schedules accordingly. I hope to dial in and talk with him, as always, but that's contingent on a few other things lining up tonight.

It's been 4 days since the Cardinal season finished with a thud. I thought the Cardinals had a good chance of winning this series. I remember looking at various predictions of the NLDS, both at ESPN, CBS Sportsline, and other places, and virtually everyone picked the Cardinals to win in 4 or 5 games. That kind of uniform thought started me thinking something had been missed. For me, I didn't fully appreciate, until the series was over, how razor-thin the Cardinals' margin for error was. Their roster contained 4 players - Carpenter, Wainwright, Pujols, and Holliday - who in 2009 were arguably better than anyone the Dodgers could run out there at any position. However, looking at roster slots 5-25, the Dodgers were better. Better bullpen, better bench, better.

In order for the Cardinals to have won that series, their 4 studs had to play at their A-game level every game. Objective analysis indicates only Wainwright succeeded (8 IP, 3 H, 1 BB, 7 K). AP (3-10, zero extra base hits) was largely neutralized, Holliday had a HR in Game 2 but was 1-11 otherwise, and Carpenter pitched poorly. With 3 of their 4 big guns scuffling, the team just didn't have enough to compensate.

I think the fact Troy Glaus got 2 post-season at bats underscores that point.

I said before Game 3, that when you find yourself pinning all hope to Joel Piniero (after August 1: 4.64 ERA, .738 OPS against), you're in trouble.

So the off-season started Sunday. I would expect there won't be much activity on any front until after the playoffs end around Christmas. As an aside, isn't is asinine all 4 LDS series are over but we still have to way until tomorrow for the LCS round to start? The Yankees will have had 5 days off between games, the Angels 4, the Dodgers 4, the Phillies 3. Why can't MLB run their playoffs like hockey does - once the two series winners are known, start the next round no more than 2 days later. All the excitement that had been generated last week is gone. No wonder MLB is losing the next generation of fans.

There are already reports that Ankiel probably won't be re-signed. Dave Duncan is leaning towards returning if LaRussa returns. LaRussa hasn't decided if he wants to manage yet next year. Then there's Molina being sued for failure to make contracted autograph appearances and other minutiae.

Anyway. This will be the fourth off-season for the ol' blog. I've got some things lined up - there are Baseball Bloggers Alliance award justifications to write, a fantasy baseball wrap, roster analysis, and so on - that will be up over the coming days/weeks. Not to mention stories as warranted about the ongoing playoffs. So check back - hopefully you'll find something worth reading.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

NLDS Game 2 Recap - Dodgers Get Early Holliday Present

It's been a number of hours since the ninth inning unfolded, which is enough time to reflect. It looked, on the replay, like Holliday lost the ball as it descended. He said as much after the game. I haven't played a lot of baseball recently, but I still play a LOT of softball, and I can completely understand what Holliday went through. When a ball gets lost in the lights or in the sun, you put your glove up where you think the ball is going to come down and hope it lands in your glove.

Most of the post game reaction around the Cardinal blogs and sites I frequent focused in on Holliday's failure to catch that ball. And make no mistake, it was a big play. But it wasn't the only play that led to the 3-2 loss.

- After Holliday's HR, Ludwick and Molina singled. But DeRosa struck out and Rasmus hit into a double play to end the threat.

- Again numerous runners left on base. St Louis was oh for nine with runners in scoring position.

- Rasmus getting thrown out at third in the seventh. Yes, he was being aggressive, and yes Loney made a great play to cut the throw off and nail Rasmus at third. But there was no one out when Rasmus rapped the double - why try to take the extra base, with Wainwright on deck? One, Adam would probably be asked to sacrifice and get Rasmus to third. Two, even if he can't get Rasmus over, Rasmus is one of the fastest men on the roster; I still feel good about my chances.

Now, it's impossible to predict how the rest of that inning would have played out, but just for argument's sake. Wainwright sacrifices Rasmus to third. Torre, who's watched Wainwright manhandle his lineup, brings the infield in. Lugo's single scores Rasmus to give St Louis a 3-1 lead. Inning develops from there.

- Then we get to the ninth. Even after Holliday muffed the ball, there were still 2 outs, and the Cardinals still had the lead. But the Cardinals self-destructed. Give Blake credit for the nine-pitch at bat that turned into a walk. Franklin lays a pitch in to Belliard who sends it back up the middle. The passed ball. The walk to Martin. The Loretta jam job hit. Ball Game.

St Louis had, arguably, two of the best 3 pitchers in the NL this season. They lost both games with those guys on the mound. It's a huge hill they have to climb now.

Let me leave you with some hope. On October 11, 1985, the Cardinals flew back to St Louis down 0-2 to the Dodgers. They had played poorly in the first two games, and looked dead in the water. They came back to win all their home games and the series. That's what this team needs to do.

Colleen Dominguez reported on SportsCenter (at 2214 Thursday night) that Adam Wainwright said, "If anyone thinks this series is over - think again." Enough said.

NLDS Game 1 Recap - Gridlock

One of the biggest concerns I had going into the playoffs was the Cardinals' offense, in that as a team they had trouble getting guys on base. Well, much like the traffic in Southern California streaming onto the highway, St Louis really had no issues getting guys on last night. Bringing them around became another matter; again just like traffic in So Cal during rush hour, Cardinal baserunners just sat there. Fourteen baserunners left on. Ouch.

On a night when Chris Carpenter clearly did not have his best stuff - I can't remember him recently leaving as many pitches over the middle of the plate as he did in the first inning - a lift from the offense would have really helped. Didn't happen.

Some thoughts from last night:

1. Four. Hours. Post-season baseball, everybody!

2. St Louis had two early chances to hammer Randy Wolf, and let them slip away. The first three Cardinal hitters reached to start the game and only one scored. Molina's DP was a killer, although Holliday striking out looking was the out that turned that inning for the Dodgers. Then the Dodgers assisted by helping St Louis load the bases in the fourth (AP intentional walk, Holliday hit by pitch). But Ludwick let that get away with a weak tap to the pitcher. I know he's down 0-2 and needed to protect, but from my living room Weaver's pitch looked clearly outside; why offer at it?

3. I evaluated the Cardinal bullpen as better than the Dodger pen based on IP and % of inherited runners scoring. Last night:

Dodger bullpen: 5 1/3 IP, 2 hits, 5 K. They would have held the Cardinals scoreless except for a horrendous decision by Matt Kemp on DeRosa's ball in the ninth.

Cardinal bullpen: 3 IP, 3 H, 4 BB, 3 K. High wire act. The fact they only gave up 1 run was something of a miracle.

Advantage Dodgers.

4. Why pinch hit Glaus for Rasmus with 2 on and 2 out in the seventh? Consider this:

Rasmus vs Kuo (career): 0-2, 2K
Glaus vs Kuo (career, before last night's AB): 0-3, K, BB.

Rasmus vs LH (career): .160/.219/.255 in 115 PA
Glaus vs LH (2009): 4 PA, 0-3. Career: .277/.399/.578 (1523 PA).

Yes Kuo is a lefty and Glaus a righty. However, IMHO, Glaus hitting there was more of a genuflection at the altar of 'The Book' then a smart baseball move. Why do I think it wasn't a smart substitution? Because Glaus' been hurt all year and has faced virtually no LH pitching in 2009. He couldn't get around on the high gas, and the one pitch he had to hit he fouled straight back. Rust. Oh, well.

5. On that note, how short handed the Cardinals are on the bench was never more evident than watching Glaus hit in the seventh, then waiting for the inevitable Ankiel strikeout to end the game.

6. Did DeRosa air mail that throw to second in the third inning or what? It was so bad a throw it was funny. Too bad, because he made a great play to get to Blake's ball in the first place.

7. You know it's not your night when Pierre screws up the sac bunt, but Molina can't field it cleanly and then can't get Belliard at third. Molina's frustration was clear on the replay.

8. One final reason for renewing your Maalox prescription. This is LaRussa's eighth NLDS as Cardinal manager. How did he fare in the previous 7 Game 1's?

1996 - Beat San Diego (home), won series 3-0
2000 - Beat Atlanta (home), won series 3-0
2001 - Lost to Arizona (road), lost series 2-3
2002 - Beat Arizona (home), won series 3-0
2004 - Beat Los Angeles (home), won series 3-0
2005 - Beat San Diego (home), won series 3-1
2006 - Beat San Diego (road), won series 3-1

Yep - the only NLDS LaRussa's lost as the Cardinals manager started with a loss on the road in Game 1. Granted they lost that NLDS largely because the Cardinal bullpen collapsed in the seventh inning of Game 3, and the Cardinals provided 1 run of support in Matt Morris' two spectacular starts, but still.

Most prognosticators, myself included, looked at last night's starters and penciled Carpenter in for a win. Didn't happen. Now, we have the best pitching matchup of the series - Wainwright vs Kershaw - and need to win. Make no mistake, tonight is a must win for St Louis. Wainwright better bring his A+ game. If he's the best pitcher this season, we need him now.

Otherwise, the Cardinals will turn to Pineiro and Lohse to save their season. I think we're all pretty OK with Pineiro starting Game 3 in St Louis, but given the physical issues Lohse has fought all year, sending this series back to LA would be a tall order indeed.

We need you Adam.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Steve Phillips - open mouth, insert foot

I love the NLDS round, because games are actually played during the day. Which means I can follow the games on line at work (work allowing, of course), and listen to the games during the drive home. Tonight I spent about 25 minutes in the car, so I heard the beginning of the Yankees/Twins game.

And in those 25 minutes, Steve Phillips managed to say three dumb things. Three! He must be the most limber man in America, because his foot is always in his mouth.

To wit:

(a) Steve and his broadcast partner, the normally savvy John Miller, were discussing Justin Morneau's absence and how the Twins have played very well since Morneau went down for the season with a stress fracture in his back. Phillips commented that Kubel (who led the Twins in RBI this year, by the way) had been the DH while Morneau was in the lineup, but now that Morneau was out Kubel had shifted to the OF because Cuddyer was now at first. Then the money comment (paraphrased; remember I was driving): and that puts your power in the field, which is not what you want to do.

Apparently, according to Phillips, teams would be better off if their best hitters only had to concentrate on hitting and not that pesky fielding thing. I guess this is why the NL is considered inferior.

Of course, the BEST HITTER IN BASEBALL currently plays first base for the Cardinals, which would seem to blow a hole in this theory. Strike One.

(b) I think Jorge Posada is a future Hall of Famer. Wow. Just wow. Posada has never won an MVP (he's received votes twice, finishing 6th in 2007 and 3rd in 2003) and never won a gold glove behind the plate. He's won the All-Star popularity contest 5 times, which is not a good metric for HOF worthiness anyway. He has won the catcher Silver Slugger 5 times, which is noteworthy.

Posada's career line: .277/.379/.480. Know who Baseball Reference compares him to? Rich Aurilia, Ken Caminiti, Jose Valentin, Mickey Tettleton, Mike Lieberthal, and Joe Ferguson. None of those guys will ever be included in a document listing potential Hall of Famers.

Playing for the New York Yankees, by itself, does not qualify a player for the HOF. Strike Two.

(c) Regarding Robinson Cano (paraphrasing) - what a luxury to have a guy like this hitting seventh, with his 200 hits and 25 HR. He can hit higher in the order.

The reason Cano is hitting seventh is because his OBP is eighth best of the 2009 Yankee starters. Yep, of the regulars, only Melky Cabrera (.336) has a lower OBP. Cano had a great year, and one could argue it was a career year, although his 2006 and 2007 seasons are comparable. But let's give Girardi credit for understanding on-base percentage and crafting his lineup accordingly.

Cano hits low in the Yankee order because that's where his OBP dictates he should hit. Strike Three.

Enjoy the Sole Sandwich, Steve.

NLDS Preview - Los Angeles

At long last, the second season is upon us. St Louis will play the Dodgers in the NLDS. Winner gets the winner of Philadelphia/Colorado. Loser thinks of ‘what might have been’.

Los Angeles has been the best team in the National League this season. St Louis turned a fantastic run from late July through early September into a National League Central Crown.

End of the Year Snapshot

St Louis: NL Central Champions, but lost 8 of their last 10 games, including getting swept at home by Milwaukee.

Los Angeles: NL West Champions, best record in the league. Lost 6 of their last 10 games, but won on Saturday and Sunday.

Playoff History

The Cardinals and Dodgers have met three times in the playoffs since the advent of the divisional format in 1969. They played a memorable NLCS in 1985, won by St Louis in 6, which included two of the more memorable HRs hit in Cardinal playoff history – the ‘Go Crazy, Folks!’ Ozzie Smith HR to win Game 5, and Tommy Lasorda’s famous last words to Tom Niedenfuer (‘Don’t give him anything good to hit’), which led to a fat fastball deposited high up the LF bleachers by Jack Clark. They’ve met twice in the Divisional round – 2004 (Cardinal sweep), and 2005 (Cardinals in 4).

So to summarize: 3 series, all won by St Louis. St Louis is 3-3 in Chavez Ravine and 7-0 in St Louis against the Dodgers.

Team Metrics

wOBA. Los Angeles finished tied for 4th in the NL in weighted On Base Average. Ronnie Belliard (.446), Manny (.396), Andre Ethier (.370), and Matt Kemp (.367) lead the way for the Dodgers. It will be interesting to see if Joe Torre continues to play Belliard over Orlando Hudson (.342). Guys dragging them down include the formerly formidable Russell Martin (.307), Blake DeWitt (.271), and Mark Loretta (.265).

St Louis finished 8th in the league, paced by Albert Pujols (.449). Of the potential starters Holliday (.423), Molina (.337), and Schumaker (.336) come next. Julio Lugo (.351) has put up good numbers, but as we’ll see, his defense is, shall we say, suspect. Guys not getting on include Rasmus (.311) DeRosa (.304), and Ankiel (.288). LaRussa hasn’t gotten much out of CF with the bat this season.

Just for the heck of it, here’s a comparision of individual hitters (standard AVG / OBP / SLG format) by position.

1B Loney (.281/.357/.399) Pujols (.327/.443/.658)
2B Belliard (.351/.398/.636) Schumaker (.302/.364/.393)
3B Blake (.280/.363/.468) DeRosa (.228/.291/.405)
SS Furcal (.269/.335/.375) Ryan (.292/.340/.400)
C Martin (.250/.352/.329) Molina (.293/.366/.383)
LF Ramirez (.290/.418/.531) Holliday (.353/.419/.604)
CF Kemp (.297/.352/.490) Rasmus (.251/.307/.407)
RF Ethier (.272/.366/.508) Ludwick (.265/.329/.447)
PH Thome (.249/.366/.481) Ankiel (.231/.285/.387)
BN Hudson (.283/.357/.417) Lugo (.281/.357/.399)
BN Pierre (.308/.365/.392)

Comments. Thome’s numbers are for his time with the Chisox and Dodgers, since he only has 32 PA as a Dodger. Lugo’s numbers are with the Cardinals only, he has 170 PA. Belliard is hitting WAY over his head (career line: .275/.339/.418). He is the hot hand at the moment, but I wouldn’t expect it to continue in the playoffs and I would expect Hudson to get playing time. The Cardinals have no real threat off the bench, especially from the right side. Ankiel has not been a good hitter this season and is unreliable at best as a pinch hitter. Your right side options are LaRue, Lugo, Glaus, and Thurston. Wow.

Lineups are a wash. LA has the better bench. Advantage LA.

UZR. LA is 7th in fielding based on UZR, with a 4.4 rating. STL comes in just behind them (8th), but with a -8.0 rating. If we normalize the defensive metric to UZR/150, the Cardinals and Dodgers switch places (-1.2 to -0.2, respectively). In other words, they are average defensively.

Let’s look at individual fielders:

1B Loney (1.5) Pujols (1.8)
2B Belliard (-0.9)/Hudson (-4.1) Schumaker (-4.9)
3B Blake (7.6) DeRosa (-0.2)
SS Furcal (8.1) Ryan (12.4)
C Martin (.994 fielding pct) Molina (.995 fielding pct)
LF Ramirez (-7.8) Holliday (-1.8)
CF Kemp (4.4)/Pierre (6.2) Rasmus (9.2)/Ankiel (6.4)
RF Ethier (-14.1) Ludwick (1.5)

The Dodgers are better at 2B, but frankly that’s not a surprise seeing as Schumaker is playing his first season as a middle infielder. DeRosa has been average at 3B (LF/2B are his natural positions), and Blake is pretty good with the glove. However, St Louis has defensive advantages everywhere else on the diamond. UZR is not calculated for catchers, so I went with the archaic fielding percentage. Two interesting things stand out:

- Loney has been Pujols’ peer with the glove this season
- Ethier is a terrible defensive RF.

Give the edge to St Louis. The Cardinals are a better defensive club.

FIP. Fielding Independent Pitching gives a better measure of pitching prowess than ERA, because it (as the name implies) attempts to take the defense effect out of the equation. The mathematical definition can be found here.

The Dodgers and Cardinals are a virtual dead heat in FIP, 3.80 to 3.82, respectively. How do the starters stack up?

1 Wolf (3.96) Carpenter (2.78)
2 Kershaw (3.08) Wainwright (3.11)
3 Padilla (3.40) Pineiro (3.28)
4? Billingsley (3.82) Lohse (4.55)

Very similar starting staffs. Here’s another argument for using Smoltz in the rotation instead of Lohse: Smoltz’s FIP is 2.73 as a Cardinal.

Bullpens. Looking at the bullpens, I evaluated innings pitched and stranded runner percentage for each. To me, stranded runner percentage is a better metric of how good a bullpen is; if they can prevent inherited runners from scoring, they are pretty effective. Innings pitched gives some indication of how tired the pen is, and perhaps whether or not their effectiveness will be diminished.

LA: 553 IP (2nd most in NL to San Diego), 71% of inherited runners stranded (6th in NL)
STL: 437 IP (lowest in NL), 77% of inherited runners stranded (best in NL).


Joe Torre.
This will be his second foray into the playoffs as the Dodgers’ manager. As you probably recall, he advanced to the NLCS last year, but lost to Philadelphia and was really derailed by Matt Stairs’ mammoth HR in game 5. He’s been to the playoffs 15 times via 13 division titles (1 with ATL, 10 with NYY, 2 with LA), and 2 wild cards (both with the Yankees). He’s also been to the playoffs for 14 consecutive years as a manager, which I believe ties Bobby Cox’s major league record. He hasn’t won a league pennant since 2003, and last year was the first time since 2004 he’d taken his team to the LCS. A savvy, experienced manager, Torre’s won 6 League Championships and 4 World Series, all with the Yankees.

Tony LaRussa. LaRussa returns to the playoffs for the first time since winning the World Series in 2006. This will be his 13th post-season appearance overall. Tony’s had a lot of success in the Divisional Round, but not so much at the LCS/WS level, however, he does have 5 League Championships and 2 World Series titles to his credit (3 and 1 with Oakland, 2 and 1 with the Cardinals). There’s not much, if anything, Joe Torre can dream up that LaRussa hasn’t either thought of or implemented.

Pitching Matchups

Game 1: Chris Carpenter (17-4, 2.24) vs Randy Wolf (11-7, 3.23).

Carpenter: 37-24 career on 5 days rest. He’s never lost to the Dodgers (5-0, 2.24), and won both starts against them in 2009. In Chavez Ravine, he’s 2-0, but with a 4.85 ERA – and that’s including his 8-inning, 1 run masterpiece on August 17. He has handled the current Dodger roster – .216/.282/.344 against in 245 PA. Best hitters against him: Manny (.267/.371/.533, 2 HR) and Thome (.292/.393/.708, also 2 HR).

Wolf: Left-handed pitcher. Pitching on regular rest (58-49 career on 4 days rest). He’s 3-5, 3.64 career vs St Louis, and 4-3, 3.63 in 18 starts at home in 2009. He faced the Cardinals once in 2009, losing in St Louis on July 27. Best Cardinal hitters against him: AP (.313/.368/.375), and Holliday (.313/.389/.688, HR). Cardinals as a team have hit .255/.331/.362 in 162 PA.

Game 2: Adam Wainwright (19-8, 2.63) vs Clayton Kershaw (8-8, 2.79). Rematch of 19 August game won by St Louis.
Wainwright: 15-9 career on 5 days rest. He faced the Dodgers twice in 2009, winning in St Louis on July 28, getting no decision in LA on August 19. Career he’s 2-2, 3.13 against the Dodgers, but 1-1, 5.60 in the smog. Best Dodgers against him: Furcal (.438/.438/.563), Martin (.500/.563/.643), and Belliard (.400/.400/.700, HR). Dodgers as a team are .257/.297/.414 in 149 PA.

Kershaw: Left-handed pitcher working on regular rest (8-5, 3.13 in 30 starts on 4 days rest). Kershaw’s .3-4, 1.83 ERA at home this season. He’s not lost to the Cardinals (1-0, 1.82 ERA in 4 starts), and faced them twice this season, getting no decision in both starts (July 29 and August 19). Best Cardinal hitters against him are Holliday (.400/.571/.400), and AP (.571/.727/.857 – 4 for 7). Cardinals as a team are .216/.326/.257 in 88 PA.

Game 3: Vincente Padilla (4-0, 3.20 as a Dodger) vs Joel Pineiro (15-12, 3.53).
Padilla: The Dodger Padilla more closely resembles the 2002 version as opposed to the Texas Ranger version. He’s 24-22, 4.56 career on 5 days rest. He did not face the Cardinals in 2009, and hasn’t started a game against St Louis since August 15 2003. That’s also the last time he faced them. The Cardinals have only 73 PA against him. AP is 4-9.

Pineiro: 31-25, 4.08 career on 5 days rest. Pineiro is 2-0, 3.38 career (3 starts) against the Dodgers, and 7-6, 2.87 this year at Busch. Joel beat the Dodgers in St Louis on July 27. Manny has owned him (.424/.560/.788, 4 HR), and Blake (.450/.476/.750, HR) likes his pitches too. As a team the Dodgers have hit .305/.340/.463 in 201 PA.

Game 4 (if needed): Chad Billingsley (12-11. 4.03) vs John Smoltz (3-8, 6.35)
Billingsley: Hasn’t pitched since September 29. On 6 or more days of rest, he’s 5-2, 3.76 in 8 starts. He’s 1-2, 4.40 in 6 games (5 starts) against St Louis, and was 1-1, 6.17 this season against the Cardinals. His loss came in St Louis on July 28. He’s never won in St Louis. Only Yadier is hitting over .300 off Billingsley, but Matt Holliday has hit 3 HR off Chad. Cardinals are .212/.330/.376 in 101 PA.

Consider this a strenuous vote for Smoltz to start Game 4 if LaRussa goes with 4 starters. I think the body of his playoff work, as well as his much better FIP this season, make him a better fit at this point. Smoltz did not face the Dodgers in 2009. Career he’s 16-14, 2.89 against LA, and 1-1, 3.12 ERA in 4 starts at Neo-Busch. Current Dodgers are hitting .268/.301/.401 in 169 PA; Thome has 4 HR and Hudson is 4-9 against him.

This should be a great series. I can’t wait – let’s START already!

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Comeback Player of the Year and Roster moves

Chris Carpenter's outstanding season has been recognized by Major League Baseball with his selection as NL Comeback Player of the Year. Carp put aside all the questions about his health this season and won 17 games, led the majors in winning percentage (.810), and led the NL in ERA (2.24) and ERA+ (185).

Carp also had a 3.79 strikeout-to-walk ratio (144 K vs 38 BB), and allowed 7 home runs this season. Seven. The same number he allowed as a 22 year old rookie in half a season with Toronto. Braden Looper allowed five times that many.

Congratulations, Chris. I hope that's not the end of the post season awards for him.

The Cardinals are finalizing their post-season roster, and although some slots remain to be decided upon, the Post-Dispatch is reporting Khalil Greene has been left off the roster. Khalil did not have a good season by any measure, and would not have contributed much in the playoffs. It's curious he was replaced on the roster by Troy Glaus, who hasn't exactly lit it up either (.250 OBP? Two XBH in 32 PA?). A bench of Jason LaRue, Julio Lugo, Rick Ankiel, Joe Thurston, and Troy Glaus won't strike fear in the hearts of Joe Torre, Charlie Manuel, and Jim Tracy. Unfortunately, this team doesn't have many other attractive options for the bench.

Thirteen position players leaves 12 pitchers. Carpenter, Wainwright, Lohse, Pineiro, Smoltz, Franklin, Miller, Motte, McClellan, and Reyes are most likely locks to make the squad. That leaves Hawksworth, Boggs, Wellemeyer, and Thompson for the last two slots.

There's no good reason to include Wellemeyer on the roster. He has been awful this season both as a starter and a reliever. Hawksworth's been great, but he's also walked 15 hitters in 40 innings, which is not a good ratio for a reliever in the post-season. Boggs is a spot starter and long man, as is Thompson. So the question becomes Boggs or Thompson? Boggs' fastball topps out at about 93 MPH, and he has a 7.14 K/9 ratio. Thompson topps out at 88 MPH, and he has a 3.83 K/9 ratio.

If missing bats is important in the post-season, and current conventional wisdom says yes, Boggs will make the club. However LaRussa is loyal to his veterans, so I could see Thompson making the club too. I'll go with Boggs.

There'll be a series preview up tomorrow.

Monday, October 05, 2009

The Society for American Baseball Research

I thought I'd take a moment, especially since the regular season has wrapped up and my hands need a break from all the wringing they've endured the last 7-10 days, to talk about the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR). You may have noticed the SABR logo in the right-hand margin. It's not there just because I dabble in statistical analysis here. I'm also a member of the organization, and have been since 2005.

I was introduced to SABR by a co-worker of mine, who was also a big baseball fan. My interest in the game predates this blog by a long way, and although I had heard of 'sabermetrics', I hadn't had much exposure to it. Turns out, the local chapter (Ted Williams) has its share of stat heads, but mostly it's made up of people who truly love the game. The Padres don't have the storied history a ball club like the Dodgers, Red Sox, Yankees, or Cardinals has, but there are lots of baseball fans here, and they know the game and like to talk about the game, even if its not always about the local nine.

Our chapter typically runs two meetings a year, and we get somewhere between 30-50 folks for those meetings. Those meetings aren't limited to just the membership, but more advanced notice is given to members so they can plan their schedules accordingly. For us, they are on a Saturday morning from say 0900-1300. Our meeting locations move throughout the greater San Diego area; we've met in the Hospitality room in Balboa Park, in one of the auxiliary rooms at Petco Park (courtesy of the San Diego Padres), and our most recent meeting was at the Public Library in Carlsbad. The agenda typically includes members who have been published or are working on a book project, whether it be print books (ex: Bill Nowlin, who's written several books on Ted Williams - here's one), or photo journalists (which seems to attract Cubs fans, as we've had a couple of photo montages presented on the Cubs). We've also heard from San Diego Padres front office personnel (including Paul DePodesta, whose remarks I discussed in some detail), as well as former ML players.

At our last meeting, Irv Noren, John Green, and Andy McCue spoke to the chapter. Irv played in 3 World Series (1952, 1953, 1955) for the Yankees, and shared some great stories about those teams. John is a local author working on the SABR bio project, which is an effort to get the personal story of baseball players of years past, so they don't just turn into a page at Baseball Reference. Andy is the current SABR National President, and he gave a very interesting brief on the personalities and events leading up to Major League Baseball's expansion in 1961/62.

Additionally, SABR puts out periodic newsletters, The National Pastime, a collection of articles with a little less statistical bent, and The Baseball Research Journal, an annual that is also the organization's flagship publication. Published since 1972, it contains all sorts of research findings, articles, statistical analysis, and the like - something for virtually every baseball fan's interest.

So as you can probably tell, I've very much enjoyed my time and association with SABR. I've gotten a lot out of it, and it's enhanced my understanding of both the game as it is played today, and the history of the game leading up to the present. It may do the same for you.

Interested in joining? You can find more information about SABR at their official website. I've also bookmarked the membership page on the SABR site, because I'm all about customer service. You join the national organization, but you become a part of your local chapter, and will receive as much or as little information from them as you want.

Hopefully I've piqued your interest. Check SABR out. You'll like what you find.

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Before you panic...

Last 10 games:

Cardinals 2-8
Dodgers 4-6
Phillies 4-6
Colorado 6-4

The playoff teams haven't exactly been tearing it up these past 2 weeks. And Colorado may have lost their hottest pitcher (De La Rosa) for the playoffs with a groin injury.

Also, there's this:

Last 10 games - 2006

Cardinals 3-7
Padres 8-2
Mets 5-5
Dodgers 9-1

Remember how that ended?

Saturday, October 03, 2009

NL Playoff matchups set. Finally

By virtue of the Dodgers 5-run seventh inning, the playoff positions are finally set.

Los Angeles wins the NL West and has the best record in the National League.
Philadelphia won the NL East and will finish with the second best NL record.
St Louis, as you know, won the NL Central.
Colorado settles for the Wild Card.

So, here's your NLDS pairings. Los Angeles hosts St Louis, and Philadelphia gets Colorado, starting Wednesday 7 October. Times of those games are still TBD. I will have an in-depth preview of the Cardinal/Dodger NLDS later this week.

Interesting that these are rematches of recent playoff series. St Louis defeated the Dodgers in the 2005 playoffs 3-1, although in that series the team seedings were reversed. Colorado swept the Phillies in 2007 with the same seeding.

The Dodgers are probably a good team for St Louis to play, given the current swoon the Cardinals are on. LA hasn't exactly lit it up in their drive to the post-season. I think Colorado is the hottest team in the league right now (not named Cincinnati or San Diego), and the Phillies owned St Louis this year.

Friday, October 02, 2009

Cardinal Pitching, Defense - Good Enough to win the NL?

In our last post, we looked at the Cardinal offense as compared to the rest of the NL playoff teams, and the last few NL champs, to see how they stacked up.

The results were not encouraging.

However, unlike rec softball, playoff baseball is not just about scoring runs. It's also about preventing runs from being scored by your opponent. OK, that's true in rec softball too, but its not as critical (You can win a softball game 35-29. Don't know if any playoff game has featured a score that ridiculous). So let's look at Cardinal pitching and defense.

Team Pitching

It's a well-documented fact the Big 3 (Carpenter, Wainwright, Pineiro) fueled the Cardinals' August surge to the NL Central pennant. They won't throw all the innings in the playoffs, however, so this will be a team comparison. I looked at ERA for the casual fan, and BABIP and FIP for the more statistically-inclined (and by way of explanation, BABIP is Batting Average for Balls In Play, which does have a defensive component, and Fielding Independent Percentage, which tries to take the defensive effect on ERA out). All stats are from the Fangraphs database.

Number in parens is the team's NL rank.

BABIP: LA - .283 (1), STL - .297 (5), PHI - .303 (8), COL - .306 (11).
ERA: LA - 3.45 (1), STL - 3.62 (4), PHI - 4.14 (6), COL - 4.23 (8).
FIP: STL - 3.80 (2), LA - 3.81 (3), COL - 3.98 (5), PHI - 4.38 (11).

If sports reporting is to believed, Los Angeles' starting pitching at the moment is in disarray (less Randy Wolf), but the body of their work doesn't support that. Based on their ERA and BABIP numbers their pitchers have benefited from good defense behind them, but their FIP says the pitching's been good too (for what it's worth, ATL leads the league in FIP at 3.65). St Louis' pitching has benefited slightly from their defense, but their pitching as we've seen has been outstanding.

The interesting thing to me is Colorado's staff has pitched better than ERA would imply. Philadelphia's staff has been worse than their ERA indicates, despite the addition of Cliff Lee, and Joe Blanton being one of the best pitchers in the NL since 1 June.

Looks like the Cardinals/Dodgers series will be a low-scoring one, and the Colorado/Philadelphia might be a high scoring affair.

Comparing the last 5 NL Champions in these categories, here's what we find:

All these teams were in the top 5 of National League teams in BABIP; only LA and STL rank in that range with 3 to play. Everyone's in the top 8 in ERA (all of the 2009 teams are too), with 3 of the 5 winners in the top 4 (again only STL and LA). There's a lot of variation in the FIP numbers, driven by the 2006 and 2007 champs; the other teams are top 5, and in 2009 that's Colorado, Saint Louis, and LA.

If any conclusion can be drawn from this small sample, it would indicate St Louis and Los Angeles most closely fit the profiles of most of the previous NL Champs, so they would have a leg up. Of course, this year's Phillie pitching staff looks a lot like the 2006 Cardinal staff, although that Cardinal team hit better than this year's Phillie team based on the stats I'm using in these posts.

BABIP indicates that good defense is a factor too (duh, right?). Let's look.

Team Fielding

Fangraphs defensive data is a bit limited, so I've looked at UZR. Their UZR/150 data was +/- 1 place of the UZR data.

UZR: PHI - 4, LA - 7, STL - 8, COL - 9.

As expected, UZR data tracks with the difference between ERA and FIP discussed above. PHI is a lot better defensively based on UZR than I thought prior to looking at the data.

Looking at past Champs:

2008 - PHI #1 in NL
2007 - COL #6
2006 - STL #5
2005 - HOU #5, STL #6
2004 - STL #4

Small sample size conclusion: Teams winning the league were ranked no lower than 6th in the NL in team defense (as evaluated by UZR). That would suggest only Philadelphia has the defensive chops to win the NL this year.


Cardinal Pitching is definitely good enough to win the NL. Their defense is decidedly average, and might not be good enough.

To summarize these 2 posts:

1. Need to be in the top 3 in wOBA. All playoff teams but STL meet that requirement.
2. Need to be top 5 in BABIP. LA and STL meet that requirement.
3. Need to be in top 6 in UZR. Only Philadelphia meets that metric.
4. Small sample size makes these conclusions suspect.

What we can say is, going into next week, the Phillies, Rockies, and Dodgers have better offensive numbers than St Louis, and only Los Angeles' pitching staff is comparable to St Louis'. And although Philadelphia has the best defensive numbers of the four, that advantage is offset by their overall below-average pitching. And it gives some credence to the belief the playoffs under the current format are ultimately a crapshoot; the team that just barely qualifies has just as good a shot at winning the whole thing as the team that's played .600 ball all year.

If good pitching stops good hitting, then LA or STL will win the league. If good hitting is more important, then Colorado is the team to beat.

Let's start already.

Well That Was Fun

Nothing like a mid-morning romp to lift your spirits. Nothing like scoring a baker's dozen to make you forget about offensive struggles.

Chris Carpenter's team record for RBIs in a game by a pitcher (6) was only 3 off the major league record. Tony Cloninger holds the record, with 9, set on 3 July 1966. That day he hit not one but TWO grand slams against the San Francisco Giants. Atlanta won 17-3.

Some other random thoughts:

- Carpenter is the seventh Cardinal hurler to win an ERA title. He's the first since Joe Magrane in 1988 (2.18), and the first right-hander since John Denny in 1977 (2.34). Here are the other winners:

Gibson (1968) - 1.12
Harry 'the Cat' Breechen (1948) - 2.24
Howie Pollet (1946) - 2.10
Max Lanier (1943) - 1.90
Mort Cooper (1942) - 1.78
Bill Doak (1921, 1914) - 2.59 and 1.72, respectively

- Molina left the game with a strained quadricep, but it's being reported as not serious. I would expect him to miss tonight but play Saturday and Sunday.

- The Cardinal rotation is set for the NLDS - Carpenter/Wainwright/Pineiro. Now all we need is an opponent.

- St Louis pulled within a game of Philadelphia for second best record. They trail LA by 2 games. Cardinals and Rockies have the same won/loss record at 91-68. By my read of the standings, should LA win tonight they clinch both the NL West and best record in the league. They could only be 2 up on Philly with 2 to play, but LA won the season series from Philadelphia 4-3 so they hold that tiebreaker.

Everyone stay healthy this weekend. The real season starts Wednesday.