Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Wrapping it up

It what has become blatently obvious over the past 3 months, I am going to have to officially shut down my blog. Between work, hobbies, and going back to school for another degree, I don't have the time required to committ to writing on a regular basis. And rather than having a few of you check in from time to time to see if I've finished up my Jocketty trade analysis - I haven't - I would rather just close shop.

I've been enjoying reading Cardinilly and Viva el Birdos - they do a much better job of writing than I ever could, and are much more committed to consistently providing content. You'll see me sticking my head in to both of those blogs and posting comments from time to time. (Robb is the name that I post under.)

Friday, October 21, 2005

Not Quite

I actually was fortunate enough to go to Game 6 on Wednesday night, thanks to a friend who got tickets and offered me an extra. ("Well, I'll think about it....") We were sitting 12 rows behind home plate and were so jacked about the game that we got there more than 2 hours before game time - in plenty of time to see the Cardinals take batting practice.

Before the game started, I realized that we were sitting right behind Greg Mathews. I didn't say anything to him all night, as I just kind of assumed that he'd want to be left alone. I will note right now, though, for the record, that no one appeared to come to him and say anything all night (other than his friends, of course.) And I must further admit that I didn't remember him having such a solid year in 1987 - so solid, in fact, that he started (and won) Game 1 of the NLCS that season. So I honestly felt kind of bad for not saying something to him during the game. You'd think that a key part of an NL champion team in St. Louis should have at least been recognized by someone. Whatever the case, you'll see that I'm now sponsoring his page on baseball-reference.com. Call it my small part to help remind people. And if any of you happen know Mr. Mathews, send me his email address. I'd like to say something to him properly.

Anyway, I'm not going to break down the game or the series with much, if any, detail. That's been done to death already. I will, however, say that the game was somewhat surreal last night. When Marquis allowed the 4th Astro run of the game, it was pretty obvious that the Cardinals weren't going to get it done. That's when - at least, in my section - people seemed to shift gears from thinking about 2005 to thinking about Busch stadium. Yes, there was still hope that the Cardinals would come back, but it didn't seem all that realistic, or maybe even important.

Once the final out was made, the entire crowd just kind of stood around in silence. People were taking pictures of each other in the stadium for one last time, saying their good-byes. Many stuck around for the video presentation of highlights of Busch (complete with cheesy music - think NBC and the Olympics.)

The post-game mood in the stadium reminded me of a funeral for a long-suffering relative. Fans knew this day was coming, and had known so for a long time. Once the inevitable had finally happened, they were choosing to remember the good rather than focus on the sadness - not only of the stadium, but of the 2005 season. In fact, my personal impression was that the season being over was minor in comparison to the loss of Busch Stadium, the only home that many of us have known for the Cardinals.

My friend and I left shortly after the video presentation, before the players came back onto the field. It felt like the end of an era - and, in reality, I guess it was.

Look for me to finish up the Walk Jocketty trade series sometime over the next few weeks. Yes, I know - I've said that before. And then we'll start looking at contract situations, free agents, and 2006.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Win Expectancy

Many of you have probably seen this little tool floating around. In a nutshell, Phil Birnbaum took the time to gather the boxscores for every game between 1979 and 1990, with the help of retrosheet. Chris Shea then put together this nifty little calculator that allows you to put in the game situation as an input. It then gives you, as an output, the number of games between 1979 and 1990 that had the same situation, the number of times the team won, and thus a percentage of liklihood that a team can win a game in a certain situation. Check it out for last night's game.

9th inning

Start of the Inning - 5.6% Chance of a Cardinal Victory
John Rodriguez strikeout - 2.4%
John Mabry strikeout - 0.9%
David Eckstein single - 2.7%
David Eckstein steal - 1.1%
Jim Edmonds walk - 5.3%
Albert Pujols Home Run - 82.9%
Reggie Sanders strikeout - 81.1%

Obviously, the system isn't perfect, and the numbers shouldn't be looked at as pure odds. Not every team during the 11 year span in question had Brad Lidge as a closer, or Albert Pujols as a hitter. And the fact that Eckstein actually hurt the teams chances of winning by stealing 2nd is a fluke in the data.

But the fact remains. The Cardinals, with none on and 2 outs, had less than a 1 in 100 chance of winning that game according to this data. On the road, in the playoffs, facing a team that hadn't blown a 9th inning game all season? It was likely even more improbable.

Wow.

Monday, October 17, 2005

Well...

That was fun.

I said this earlier today:

The truth of the matter is, the wins are more enjoyable when they are earned.
How much fun was it to see the Cardinals win Games 6 and 7 in the NLCS last year
when they appeared dead after Game 5? Not to mention the walk-off home run by
Edmonds in Game 6, the game saving catch by Jimmy in Game 7. None of those
moments would have been nearly as memorable had they come in Games 3 and 4 of a sweep. You have to walk the rocks to see the mountain view, as they say.



For those of you that turned off the game after the Berkman home run - you didn't go through the pain, so you can't enjoy the pleasure nearly as much.

Un-freaking-real.

Keep the Faith

I'm starting to wonder if I have the mental make-up to enjoy the playoffs. I mean - the Game 2 loss kicked my butt. The Game 3 loss didn't hurt as badly, but only because I thought the Cardinals would win Game 4. Which, in turn, really got me in a great mood last night/this morning...

I think, in a nutshell, the Cardinals recent trends in the playoffs has conditioned me to think this; once a trend starts, it seems to continue. Call it La Russa's law of playoff dynamics. Look at what La Russa's playoff teams have done in history.

1983 (White Sox) - 1-3 in the ALCS
1988 (Athletics) - 4-0 in ALCS, 1-4 in WS
1989 (Athletics) - 4-0 in ALCS, 4-1 in WS
1990 (Athletics) - 4-0 in ALCS, 0-4 in WS
1992 (Athletics) - 2-4 in ALCS
1996 (Cardinals) - 3-0 in NLDS, 3-4 in NLCS (after winning 3 of the first 4)
2000 (Cardinals) - 3-0 in NLDS, 1-4 in NLCS
2001 (Cardinals) - 2-3 in NLDS
2002 (Cardinals) - 3-0 in NLDS, 1-4 in NLCS
2004 (Cardinals) - 3-1 in NLDS, 4-3 in NLCS, 0-4 in WS
2005 (Cardinals) - 3-0 in NLDS, 3-3 in WS

What do you see? Very few La Russa led teams do anything half way. They tend to either sweep or be swept. Which is especially strange when you consider that four of those teams (1988, 1990, 2004, and 2005) were 100 win teams. The teams that appear to be outliers to "Tony's Law" were the 1992 A's (2 wins in a series?), the 1996 Cardinals (who built a lead then blew it), the 2001 Cardinals (just missed winning that one), and the 2004 Cardinals (dug out of a 3-2 series deficit in the NLCS.)

It gets even stranger if you break it down a bit further. The 1996 Cardinals, as I mentioned above, actually had a 3 games to 1 series lead in the NLCS before dropping 3 straight. Which means, they went 6-1 to start the playoffs, 0-3 to finish. 2004? Similar. They started the playoffs off by going 5-1, only to go 2-7 over the last 9 games of October. In fact, if you break all of his playoff teams into "hot" and "cold" categories, it looks like this.

Hot, 37-3 (.925 winning percentage)
Cold, 10-39 (.256 winning percentage)

There you have it. Tony's teams have gotten off to hot starts, winning 93% of their games. Once this hot streak lasted through the World Series. Three times it never started. Generally, however, it ends during the LCS. Why? Anyone? I have trouble thinking that the manager can guide a team into the playoffs, as well as (usually) past the 1st round, only to forget how to win.

OK, so enough of that stuff. Back to 2005. Carpenter goes tonight, and if there's anyone on the staff that you'd want going in a must win, it's him. And you know if the Cardinals can send this thing back to Busch, anything can happen.

Which brings me back to my initial train of thought. I'm not sure if I can handle the playoffs. The truth of the matter is, the wins are more enjoyable when they are earned. How much fun was it to see the Cardinals win Games 6 and 7 in the NLCS last year when they appeared dead after Game 5? Not to mention the walk-off home run by Edmonds in Game 6, the game saving catch by Jimmy in Game 7. None of those moments would have been nearly as memorable had they come in Games 3 and 4 of a sweep. You have to walk the rocks to see the mountain view, as they say.

In 2004, the Red Sox were down 3-0 in the ALCS before going on to win the World Series. In 2003, the Marlins were down 3-1 in the NLCS before going on to win the World Series. Both of those teams had 2 must-win games on the road in their respective LCS', with the Marlins having to do so in Games 6 and 7. By comparison, the Cardinals having to win one in Houston pales.

Of course, there is the final thing of having to beat Pettitte, Oswalt, and Clemens in consecutive starts. That's not going to be easy - but it's been done as recently as 3 months ago by none other than the Cardinals.

July 15th - Pettitte Start, Cards win 4-3
July 16th - Oswalt Start, Cards win 4-2
July 17th - Clemens Start, Cards win 3-0

Yes, I'm grasping at straws here. In a nutshell? Win tonight. Worry about Game 6 if that happens.

Friday, October 14, 2005

What a Difference

Funny how one's mood can be drastically different over a 12 hour (or less) period.

Yesterday, before the game, I was the fan of a 4-0 playoff team that hadn't trailed in a game. They were getting ready to face a starter they'd beaten up on this year, and countering with a guy that had given the Astros problems. I was wondering, at the time, if the Cardinals would win the NLCS in 5 games or 6!

Last night, by about the 8th inning, I was resolved to the Cardinals losing the game, potentially losing Sanders, and hoping they could find a way to win a game in Houston to send this series back to St. Louis. Talk about a roller coaster.

I don't have a bunch of stats or theories to pour over this morning. I'm more interested in venting a little frustration and getting my mind back into focus.

First, the Cardinals played very un-Cardinal like last night. It started in the first inning, when Grudz didn't cover 1st base on a Taveras bunt. That worked out just fine, but it was a sign of things to come.

As in, the 1st Astro run was scored on a passed ball, which was very un-Molina like. Things like that happen, but the game would have had a different feel in the 8th if it had been a tie game instead of a 2-1 Houston lead.

Julian Tavarez continued his crappy post-season by pitching horribly in the 8th inning. (I thought Marquis was the new 8th inning guy?) After the leadoff double to Berkman, Tavarez regrouped a little by getting Ensberg and Lane to ground out. (Side note - Tavarez has been lit up by left handers all season, as I mentioned in a previous post. Having him pitch to the switch hitting Berkman was a bad move off the bat.) Personally, I'm not sure why they didn't intentionally walk Burke at that point to set up force out at any base, but that call could go either way. Whatever the case, Burke singled him in, padding the lead. Then Adam Everett put the game out of reach, and potentially put Reggie Sanders on the shelf - even though that should have been a routine catch.

So...passed ball allows a run. The Cardinals pitch to Burke with a runner in scoring position and 2 outs and it burns them. And Sanders blows a simple play. The Astros took advantage of Cardinal mistakes, basically - just like the Cardinals have been doing to everyone else before last night.

And on one final negative note - let's hope that Sanders is in the lineup and healthy on Saturday for Game 3. It's bad enough that the Cardinals have been reduced to depending on (basically) 4 hitters to score runs for them in October with Walker struggling again. If they can only count on Eckstein, Edmonds, and Pujols for the rest of the playoffs, it could get ugly.

On the plus side - Mulder is obviously fine after taking a liner off the bicep. Edmonds made a great catch, even though he came up short with 2 men on twice last night. Marquis actually got the job done in relief. (Maybe Tony will move him ahead of Tavarez now.) And the Cardinals made Lidge work, even if it was only slightly.

I went into this series thinking the Cardinals should win it, and do so in 5 or 6 games. On top of that, I was only expecting a split of the first 2 games - which makes it even funnier that I'm upset over the loss, since I called it. (Of course, I also thought it would be Morris in Game 2, Mulder in Game 3.) So - like I said before this started - Game 3 is the swing game of the series. If the Cardinals find a way to win, they'll go up 2 games to 1, be looking at facing Backe in Game 4, and bring back Carpenter in Game 5. Driver's Seat City.

If the Astros win Game 3. Well, it won't be over, but it will set up a must win situation on Sunday. As in - while the Cardinals could beat Pettitte, Oswalt, and Clemens in 3 straight games to win the series, it wouldn't exactly be a given.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Nice Win

Fun fact for the night

Houston record vs. left handed pitching in 2005:

19 wins, 22 losses

Go Mulder!

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

NLCS Preview: Starting Lineup

Cardinals vs. Astros (2005)

Here is what will likely be the regular lineup during this series, with Walker and Sanders likely flipped vs. Andy Pettitte.

Eckstein - .294/.368/.338, 707 OPS, 68 at-bats
Edmonds - .262/.324/.459, 783 OPS, 61 at-bats
Pujols - .302/.397/.524, 921 OPS, 63 at-bats
Walker - .340/.407/.553, 961 OPS, 47 at-bats
Sanders - .429/.529/1.179, 1708 OPS, 28 at-bats
Grudzielanek - .246/.246/.377, 623 OPS, 69 at-bats
Nunez - .200/.226/.200, 426 OPS, 30 at-bats
Molina - .245/.260/.367, 627 OPS, 49 at-bats

What you see there is a tail of two lineups. The first 5 have given the Astros fits this year, with the exception of Edmonds, who can't exactly be pitched around. You especially have to like the line sported by Sanders, who's entering this series with 1 or more RBI's in each of his last 9 games. (While I know that RBI's are a team dependant stat, that's still a nice trend.)

Once you get past Sanders, the bottom 4 (including the pitcher) have been automatic outs against Houston this year. (Other than Marquis and his .500/.538/.917 line over 12 at-bats, of course.) With that being said, if the top 5 hit anything close to the lines shown above, the bottom 4 will just be needed to provide solid defense and pitching. Everything else will be gravy.

Let me just say - a healthy Rolen in the lineup and on the field sure would be nice right about now.

No one on the Cardinal bench had any real success against Houston this year other than Einar Diaz (2 for 5 with a home run) and John Gall (1 for 1).

Astros vs. Cardinals (2005)

Biggio - .217/.269/.350, 619 OPS, 60 at-bats
Tavarez - .299/.319/.313, 632 OPS, 67 at-bats
Berkman - .263/.378/.605, 983 OPS, 38 at-bats
Ensberg - .339/.369/.629, 998 OPS, 62 at-bats
Lamb - .233/.273/.433, 706 OPS, 30 at-bats
Lane - .327/.375/.519, 894 OPS, 52 at-bats
Everett - .258/.288/.323, 610 OPS, 62 at-bats
Ausmus - .222/.300/.289, 589 OPS, 45 at-bats

Not quite as fearsome as the 2004 NLCS lineup with Beltran, Kent, and Bagwell, is it?

While the Cardinals offense vs. Houston is top heavy, the Astro offense vs. St. Louis is middle heavy. Based on these numbers, the Cardinals basically need to make sure that Berkman, Ensberg, and Lane don't beat them. Everyone else can be gotten to. Which, really, isn't a big surprise.

The best pinch hitting options for the Astros (based, once again, on head to head stats) are Raul Chavez (3 for 8) and Jeff Bagwell (4 for 16).

Here are how the lines match up if you look at the entirety of both teams head to head.

Astros - .250/.306/.378, 684 OPS
Cards - .265/.321/.428, 749 OPS

Yes, the Cardinals get on base more, but extra bases are the real difference seen.

The Cardinals clearly have an advantage in this series with the bats. The famous "they" always tout the mantra "good pitching beats good hitting." We'll see if it holds true.