Wednesday, November 17, 2004

Filling in the Gaps

Now that the 2004 season has been reviewed, we can look towards 2005. As documented in previous posts here, the Cardinals are in need of filling the following positions.

2 Starting Pitchers (To replace Williams and Morris)
2 Relief Pitchers (To replace Kline and Eldred)

1 Starting Shortstop (To replace Edgar Renteria)
1 Starting 2nd Baseman (To replace Tony Womack)

1 Backup Middle Infielder (To replace Hector Luna)
1 Backup Catcher (To replace Mike Matheny)
1 Backup Outfielder (To replace So Taguchi)
1 Bench Player (To replace Marlon Anderson)

When I say "To replace Player A", that does not mean that I am ignoring the fact that said player may be re-signed by the team. Edgar Renteria may in fact be back in 2005 (Although, if the Christian Guzman and Omar Vizquel contracts are any indication, he could be expensive.)

Rather than address every option in today's post, I'm going to only cover internal options the Cardinals have to consider heading into 2005. After all, the easiest way to replace departed talent on a major league team is to simply bring up a player already in the farm system when possible. They will have low salaries, and will not require giving up players in a trade. What's more, I am going to focus on pitching today, rather than hitting all 10 positions with needs. Later articles will deal with free agent and trade options.

Starting Pitchers

Internally, there are really only two options for the rotation in Dan Haren and Rick Ankiel. Adam Wainwright could be a long shot for 2005, but for the purposes of this post I am not going to consider him.

Dan Haren

Dan Haren was solid for the AAA Memphis Redbirds in 2004, although there were some blemishes. First, the negatives. Over 128 innings, he had a 4.15 ERA and gave up a whopping 19 home runs. While 4.15 isn't horrible, it's not the kind of ERA you want to see out of a player in AAA who you are considering as a rotation candidate. However, park factors are not as readily available for minor league teams. Does the Memphis club play in a hitters park or a pitchers park? Is the International League tough on hitters or pitchers?

The answers to those questions are most likely available with some digging, but I'm not going to take the time here. Rather, I will focus on three key statistics in which can tell us something about Haren regardless of park or league factors: Innings pitched, walks, and strikeouts.

Over those 128 innings, Haren struck out 150 batters while walking only 33. Rule of thumb to evaluate a solid pitcher in the minors is to strike out more than one batter per inning (check), walk less than one batter every three innings (check), and strike out a minimum of 2 batters for every one batter walked (check). In fact, Haren's K/BB ratio of 4.5 is very impressive.

For St. Louis, Haren pitched 46 innings with a 4.50 ERA. In his time in with the big club, he gave up 4 home runs, struck out 32 batters, and walked 17. While his strikeout rates and walk rates were both worse than he experienced in the minors (as expected), his home run rate did in fact improve.

As a reliever, he had a 2.61 ERA over 20.2 innings. As a starter, he had a 6.04 ERA over 25.1 innings (5 starts). If we take away Haren's first start of the season against the Cubs, in which he gave up 10 earned runs over 3.2 innings, then his starter's ERA actually drops to 2.78. While I usually do not advocate ignoring certain statistics, especially in the case of small sample sizes, I think the emergency start for Jason Marquis truly does qualify as an outlier in this case.

Overall, I do believe that Haren is ready to be given a shot at a rotation slot this Spring. Some argue that he has a better future as a relief pitcher, and they may in fact be right. But I personally feel that Haren has shown that he is ready to step into the rotation, and will likely be better for the Cardinals in 2005 than Morris was in 2004.

Rick Ankiel

While there wasn't much playing time to base an opinion on, Ankiel was so good in the minors this season that he made me drool. 23.2 innings, 0.76 ERA. He struck out 23, walked 2, and gave up 9 hits. That's a WHIP of 0.46. In his lone AAA start, he only gave up 1 hit and 1 hit batsman over 6 shutout innings.

In the majors, Ankiel wasn't as dominant, but was still very impressive. Over 10 innings, he posted a 5.40 ERA, striking out 9 while walking just 1. Of the 6 earned runs he gave up this season, 5 of them were in one game at Coors Field. Not exactly something to be worried about.

We only have a total of 33.2 innings from Ankiel in 2004 in which to make assumptions for the 2005 season, which obviously is not a large body of work. With that being said, it's hard not to be optimistic about his chances to make a comeback to the rotation in 2005. I suppose the biggest question would have to be - how many innings could he safely pitch without running the risk for injury? By opening day of 2005, his Tommy John surgery will have been roughly 18 months in the past. He should be healthy enough to start, but would likely need to have a somewhat light workload during the season.

Bullpen

There are always multiple options to fill out a bullpen each and every season. This is especially the case for the Cardinals in 2005, where they have 4 above average relievers returning in Isringhausen, King, Tavarez, and Calero. For the sake of simplicity, I'm only going to focus on three options - Al Reyes, Randy Flores, and Carmon Cali.

Al Reyes

For Memphis, Reyes went 2-2 with 23 saves over 39.2 innings, posting a 2.95 ERA. He struck out an impressive 47 batters, walking just 14. Reyes then got a late call up with the Cardinals and really turned it on, posting a 0.75 ERA over 12 innings pitched. He struck out 11 batters, while only walking 2, and posted a 558 ERA+. Yes, I realize that he only got 48 outs, but a 558 ERA+? Unreal.

Reyes has been around the block, having pitched every season in the majors since 1995. Here's what I don't understand, though - the guy doesn't seem to stick anywhere.

2001 - Los Angeles, 25.7 innings, 104 ERA+
2002 - Pittsburgh, 17 innings, 163 ERA+
2003 - New York (AL), 17 innings, 138 ERA+
2004 - St. Louis, 12 innings, 558 ERA+

You would think that a guy posting those kinds of numbers, especially in 2002 and 2003, would have been playing in the majors the entire 2004 season. Instead he was a AAA closer, playing for the league minimum, and an eventual September call up (who did, of course, get to pitch in the World Series.)

To me, Al Reyes should be a no-brainer signing for the Cardinals. To have the ability to replace Cal Eldred with Reyes automatically improves the bullpen, and would help offset the likely decline in production that will be seen from Julian Tavarez. What's more, Reyes would help give the Cardinals the flexibility to trade Calero, if the Randy Johnson trade rumors have any substance.

Randy Flores

Flores, a lefty, was a teammate of Al Reyes in Memphis this year, posting a 3.82 ERA over 122.2 innings. Flores pitched in 36 games, including 15 starts for the AAA club. He struck out 99 batters, walked 46, and gave up 10 home runs. With the Cardinals in September, Flores was impressive. Over 14 innings he posted a 1.93 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, and a 217 ERA+.

Flores, who will turn 30 next year, appears to have been a success in the majors this year due to small sample size. Even with his 217 ERA+ this year, his career mark is now at 83 over a mere 43 major league innings. Flores could be an ever so popular LOOGY for the Cardinals - Lefty One Out GuY - since his OPS allowed to lefties was 610 over a mere 17 at-bats. If he would sign cheap, he would be worth the risk (as he was for the 2004 season.)

Carmon Cali

Cali, another lefty from the farm, had a solid 2004 campaign. In AA for the Smokies, Cali posted a 2.91 ERA over 46.1 innings, striking out 47 batters while walking 19. Moving on up to Memphis, Cali got another 20 innings with a 2.70 ERA, striking out 20 and walking 4. Overall, that gave him 66.1 minor league innings with a 2.83 ERA, more than a strikeout per inning, a 2.9 K/BB ratio, and one batter walked per 3 innings - all good numbers.

With the Cardinals, Cali wasn't quite as successful. Pitching in 10 games and getting 7.1 innings of work, Cali had an 8.59 ERA, 49 ERA+. Righties killed him, lefties killed him - it just wan't all that pretty. Basically - Cali was likely hurt by small sample size as much as Flores was helped by it. This was his first chance to play in the majors, as he just turned 26 this month. And unlike Flores, the Cardinals have the rights to Cali in 2005.

Conclusions

I personally believe that both Haren and Ankiel could be big parts of the rotation in 2005, and that they could combine to be better for the Cardinals than Woody and Morris were in 2004. Both pitchers have a history of getting strikeouts, which is supposedly one of the goals the Cardinals have this season - to add a power pitcher to their staff. Compared to Matt Morris (2004 version), Rick Ankiel would in fact be a power pitcher. Ditto for Haren compared to Williams.

This brings us to the issue of team depth, however, If Ankiel and Haren are in the rotation along with Carpenter, Marquis, and Suppan - who do the Cardinals have in the minors to use in the event of an injury? Will Adam Wainwright, Brad Thompson, or Anthony Reyes be ready next year? Can the Cardinals even go into Spring training counting on Ankiel not to have a relapse?

In my mind, counting on Ankiel, along with the afore mentioned prospects, is risky. Yes, it could work out great. And it could all explode in the Cardinals face. As I mentioned in the rotation review, I think the Cardinals would be wise to bring in a free agent starting pitcher to bolster the rotation. I don't think it would necessarily have to be someone of the quality of Pedro Martinez. However, a proven starter would provide stability to the rotation, and allow room for error should Ankiel not make it back, or Carpenter to continue struggling with his injury problems.

From a bullpen standpoint, I really liked Al Reyes this year. The Cardinals should in fact attempt to sign him, potentially for a couple of years. He's proven himself more than once over the years and would provide the Cardinals with an upgrade over Cal Eldred.

For the 2nd lefty in the pen, I feel that the Cardinals have a couple of decent options. Cali was great in AA and AAA before hitting a road block in the majors. I suspect, however, that he would be fine as the 2nd lefty out of the pen, with the potential to be very good in the future. What's more, if the Cardinals do in fact add a free agent starting pitcher, then someone has to be bumped into the bullpen. In my mind, Ankiel is likely the natural choice for that. One, it would allow him a full season in the majors with fewer innings pitched, allowing him to build up arm strength. Two, it would provide the Cardinals with a 2nd lefty in the pen that has proven MLB success, albeit in the past for the most part.

Plenty of arguments could also be made for Haren to be the starter pushed into the pen. He was great in relief this year, and allowing Ankiel to start would give the Cardinals that lefty starter that they were missing the last 2 years. Either way, the team would be deeper with either Ankiel or Haren in the bullpen, as they could be used in emergency starts or long relief roles.

By simply building from within the organization, the Cardinals could post a pitching staff in 2005 that looks like this:

Rotation
Carpenter
Suppan
Marquis
Haren
Ankiel

Bullpen
Isringhausen
King
Calero
Tavarez
Reyes
Cali

My only personal suggestion for the team, as mentioned, would be to sign a free agent starting pitcher who could provide a bit of organizational depth. That would make the staff look more like this:

Rotation
Carpenter
Free Agent
Suppan
Marquis
Haren/Ankiel

Bullpen
Isringhausen
King
Calero
Tavarez
Reyes
Haren/Ankiel
(Cali in the minors)

We'll address the candidates for the free agent rotation slot at a later time. For now, what you see is a very deep rotation, which likely would be slightly better than the 2004 version. What's more, the bullpen would also be deeper, with one difference - you might end up with just 1 lefty in the pen instead of 2 under this scenario. While that wouldn't be the end of the world, two left handed relievers worked very well for the Cardinals in 2004. Regardless if the Cardinals had 1 or 2 left handers to relieve, though, the bullpen should be a strength yet again next season. All of this by simply re-signing Al Reyes, and landing just one free agent starting pitcher.

(Note - this entire analysis goes out the window if the Cardinals give up Haren, Ankiel, and Calero for Randy Johnson. If that were the case, the Cardinals would have Reyes and Cali in the pen, and would have to additionally find another starting pitcher to replace Haren/Ankiel).




3 Comments:

At 9:33 PM, Blogger Brian said...

Man, great stuff, Robb. For the record, Memphis' home park suppresses offense quite a bit, so Haren's ERA this past year is, as you suggest, not very impressive.

 
At 7:06 AM, Blogger Len said...

However, park factors are not as readily available for minor league teams. Does the Memphis club play in a hitters park or a pitchers park? Is the International League tough on hitters or pitchers?As someone who attends a few games in AutoZone Park every season, I will pick a tiny nit and point out that the Redbirds play in the Pacific Coast League, not the International League.

I know, news to me too that Memphis is on the Pacific Coast....

:-)

 
At 7:38 AM, Blogger Robb said...

Thanks for the comments guys.

I'll see if I can track down some AAA park factors today, just for fun.

And I swear - I knew they were in the Pacific Coast league. I did! (I don't know why they are, mind you...)

 

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