Tuesday, August 31, 2004

Eli Marrero

Maybe I've been living under a rock over the last couple of months, but I was completely unaware as to just how solid of a season Eli Marrero has been turning in. I knew that he stunk in April, then missed most of May with an injury. At that point, I simply stopped paying attention I guess.

Since those two months, however, Eli has put together an impressive summer, giving him season totals of .335/.394/.552, or a 946 OPS over 194 at-bats. Interestingly enough, though, he can't crack the starting lineup due to the fact that:

A. He hasn't caught a game this year
B. The Braves like their outfield
C. The Braves like their 1st basemen

Maybe - or, most likely - Marrero could not keep up his torrid OPS pace if he were in fact playing every day, but he has better numbers than other teammates that play his defensive positions.

Outfield

Chipper Jones 851
Charles Thomas 851
Andruw Jones 838

Catcher

Johny Estrada 876
Eddie Perez 598

1st Base

Franco 812
LaRoche 746

You would think that the Braves would at least consider allowing Marrero to catch over Perez in a back-up role, rather than giving him spot starts in the outfield and outfield only. Of course, I never understood why he didn't catch more in St. Louis, either. I know that defense is important, but it's not like Marrero was horrible behind the plate. And compared to Matheny, Marrero has Johnny Bench with the stick over their careers - let alone this year.

And this brings up another point - were the Cardinals ripped off in their trade with Atlanta? Looking at win shares through August 26th, we see the following totals.

Drew 25
Marrero 12
Total - 37

Marquis 12
King 5
Total - 17

That's a 20 win share advantage for the Braves, which translates to roughly 7 wins on the season. Of course, that doesn't factor in Adam Wainwright, and the fact that the Cardinals were able to free up almost $6 million in the trade. The players acquired with that cash - namely Reggie Sanders, Jeff Suppan, and Tony Womack - have made up the difference quite nicely. Combine that with the fact that the Cards probably would not have been able to lock up Drew after this season, and I think it was a great trade for both teams.

Of course, if the Cardinals could have found a way to have shipped Matheny in the trade instead of Marrero, the cost savings would have been $500,000 more. And could you imagine this offense with Marrero and his 946 OPS hitting 8th instead of Matheny and his 623?

The Return of Calero

Last night Kiko Calero pitched 2 perfect innings for Memphis, striking out 5 batters in the process. Looks like the Cardinals top-notch bullpen is about to get back a key piece of the puzzle. I listed OPS allowed in a previous column, but just look at these ERA's.

Kline 1.86
Tavarez 2.55
King 2.55
Isringhausen 2.57
Calero 3.31
Eldred 3.46

That is a tough - and deep - bullpen. Of course, we all know that Kline is out with a groin injury, and Tavarez is due to serve a maximum of 10 games over the hat incident. Getting Calero back will help the team deal with the loss of those two.

And then there is a certain left hander who should be added to the roster tomorrow...

Monday, August 30, 2004

Cardinals - An Old Team?

As I watched the Fox broadcast on Saturday, Steve Lyons made a statement that made me scratch my head. To paraphrase, he pointed out that the Cardinals “are getting older, so they have a sense of urgency to win this year."

Now, I don’t know about you, but I was perplexed. Cardinals? Old? That doesn’t stack up with my opinion of this team. Yes, there are guys like Woody and Walker. But there are also guys like Molina, Luna, and (some forget) Pujols. So, I decided to look into this situation further.

For starters, I looked up the average age of all 30 major league teams. ESPN has this information on their website, with the average being over the entire 40 man roster. Much to my surprise, the Cardinals are in fact an older team in MLB. The average age of the Cardinals is 30.8 years, 3rd highest in the majors and tops in the NL. The average age across the majors is 29.3, with the median age being 29.4. Interestingly, the oldest two teams are the Yankees (32.5) and the Red Sox (31.4). Do the national media have the same concerns about these teams from the East Coast? Somehow I doubt it. But I digress.

However, there is less reason for concern in regard to the age of the Cardinal team. Rather than kicking out a couple of old guys to bring down the average – one could make the same argument for most teams – let’s break it down by the role of players on the team.

Starting Rotation

Woody Williams 38
Matt Morris 30
Chris Carpenter 29
Jeff Suppan 29
Jason Marquis 26

Yes, I suspect that Woody is at the end of his career, despite the great numbers he’s putting up yet again. Between Woody and Morris, my guess is that if they are back at all, it will be at a reduced cost. More likely, however, the Cardinals will see some combination of Rick Ankiel (25), Dan Haren (23), or Adam Wainwright (26) taking over for one or both of those guys next year.

Bullpen

Eldred 36
Kline 32
Izzy 31
Tavarez 31
King 30
Calero 29

The bullpen is a little older, but still not ancient. Eldred is skewing the age higher here, and I am not too concerned about finding a replacement for the 6th guy in the pen (despite how good he has been since June 1st). In my opinion, bullpen pitchers should be easy to find at a discount rate, and most teams overpay for their services. (See the success of Calero for Exhibit A of bullpen pitchers that can be found on the cheap.) I should also note that Al Reyes is currently driving up the average age of the Cardinals, as he is 34 years old and on the 40 man roster.

Catchers

Matheny 33
Molina 22

If anyone had any doubts about Molina taking over from a defensive standpoint, that collision at home plate on Saturday should erase those doubts. Matheny may be back next season, but I suspect it won’t be at the $3.5 million he’s making this year.

Infielders

Womack 34
Anderson 30
Rolen 29
Renteria 29
Pujols 24
Luna 24

This group should be enough to put the “Need to win this year” crowd at ease. The best two hitters on the team – who are also 2nd and 3rd in the majors in win shares at this writing – have not reached 30 yet. Pujols shouldn’t hit his peak for another 2 or 3 years, which is scary to say the least. Womack has been solid this year, but I am not convinced it hasn’t been a fluke. If he is not back, it will not be the end of the world. I would like to see Renteria back, and suspect we will.

Outfielders

Ah, the true culprits in driving up the age of the Cardinal team.

Walker 37
Sanders 36
Taguchi 35
Edmonds 34
Mabry 33
Cedeno 30

Technically, Ray Lankford is also in this group at the age of 37, even though he is in Memphis for at least another couple of days. I think Walker and Sanders should have enough gas left in the tank to be not only productive again next year, but above average producers. Edmonds shows no signs of slowing down, but age is bound to start catching up with him. And Taguchi likely won’t be back next year – at least, not at $1 million.

Overall, the outfield position is probably the area of most concern for the long term condition of this team. The Cards are set through 2005, but after that Walker and Sanders will be gone, and Edmonds will be getting close to the end. On top of that, the Cardinals are a bit shallow when it comes to outfield prospects other than John Gall.

So, on one hand I stand corrected. The Cardinals are an older team when compared to other teams. But on the other hand, I see no reason as to why the Cardinals should not be back next year in the hunt for their 5th playoff berth over a 6-year span. They will have to make some moves to improve their outfield prospects. (Daric Barton to left field?) With that being the glaring weakness, however, and with Walt having more than a year to work on it? I can’t say that I am losing any sleep over the age of this team.

Friday, August 27, 2004

Johnson still in play?

I tend to get my baseball news from various sources on the internet, including www.rotoworld.com, which does a nice job of scouring various newpapers and websites, thus providing injury news, trade rumors, and general information.

This morning while doing my daily new check, I came across this little snippet on rotoworld:

Randy Johnson - S - Diamondbacks

Padres' manager Bruce Bochy said he expects either the Dodgers or Giants to trade for Arizona ace Randy Johnson before Sept. 1.
On Wednesday, Padres' GM Kevin Towers said there's "zero chance" of the Padres going after the Big Unit, citing the Randy Myers waiver-wire debaucle of six years ago. The bigger news here, obviously, is the belief that Johnson will be on the move. This is the first substantial rumor regarding the Unit since the Dodgers failed to acquire him at the non-waiver deadline. Aug. 27 - 7:45 am et
Source: San Diego Union-Tribune

To say the least, that is an interesting development. The Dodgers or Giants would already be a formidable playoff opponent should the Cardinals find themselves playing them in about 5 and a half weeks. To add a stud #1 starter to either staff would be especially frightening. Especially if it were the Giants, since they already have Jason Schimdt, and the Cardainals would have to play them in a best of 5 series.

For whatever reason, the Cardinals have owned Randy Johnson over the last 4 years (1-2, 6.50 ERA over 27.2 regular season innings, 0-2, 5.14 ERA over 14 playoff innings). And I like the Cards chances against anyone in the playoffs. But I will feel much more comfortable if Randy Johnson is still playing for Arizona come next Wednesday morning.

Monday, August 23, 2004

October Bullpen Importance

In my previous article, I insinuated that a solid bullpen is important in October without providing any proof. Rather than clearing things up in the comment section, I decided to put together a little more information for you.

Tom Tippett at Diamond-mind wrote an article in early 2003 that for some reason or another stuck in my mind. (You can read it at http://www.diamond-mind.com/articles/bprankings.htm) Within this article, Tom talks about the importance of starting pitching, offense, and relief pitching in regard to making and having success in the playoffs. Among the things Tom points out, he includes that among playoff teams between 1998 and 2002:

-Of the ten teams that led their league in bullpen OPS, eight made the postseason, three reached the World Series, and two won it all.

-Of the ten teams that finished second in their league in bullpen OPS, six made the postseason, four made the World Series, and two won it all.

-Of the ten teams that finished third in their league in bullpen OPS, seven made the postseason, two made the World Series, and one of them won it all.

-Twenty-seven of the last forty postseason teams finished in their league's top five in bullpen OPS.

-All five World Series winners since 1998 finished in the top three of their league in bullpen OPS.

-Only seven of the last forty postseason teams were in the bottom half of their league in bullpen OPS, and none of them made the World Series.

There are more details in the article, which is a good read, but you get the gist. A solid bullpen doesn’t guarantee anything, but it is an important factor.

How do the Cardinals stack up in 2004? Currently, the bullpen has a 636 OPS allowed. That’s tops in the NL, and quite frankly, it’s not even close. The Dodgers come in 2nd with a 661 OPS allowed, and they play their home games in a park that favors pitchers slightly more than Busch stadium. Among playoff contender’s, the bullpens stack up like this:

Cardinals 636 (1st)
Dodgers 661 (2nd)
Braves 712 (4th)
Cubs 722 (7th)
Padres 724 (8th)
Giants 830 (16th)

Obviously, this doesn't mean the Cardinals are automatic World Series favorites. However, it does put into perspective just how good the bullpen has been this year. Using the importance of bullpens in the 1998 to 2002 timeframe, Cardinal fans have one more reason to be optimistic as the playoffs come closer.

(For more thoughts from Tom Tippett in regard to the above subject, go to http://www.diamond-mind.com/weblog/2003_05_18_archive.htm and read the May 22nd post.)

What's gotten into Cal Eldred?

I admit it - I was curious as to why Cal Eldred was still on the roster after a horrible April and May. I cringed whenever I saw Eldred coming into games in May, June, and even July, thinking that Tony had given up on a game when Eldred was in.

As it ends up, Eldred has proven to me beyond a shadow of a doubt that he not only deserves to be on the roster, but has become a very trusted member of the pen.

For starters, I need to point out that I like to use OPS allowed to evaluate bullpen pitchers moreso than ERA. I have nothing against ERA, mind you, but it can be misleading, especially over a smaller number of innings like those seen by relievers.

With that being said, Eldred has been steadly improving as the season has went on.

April - 1124 OPS, 6 BB, 7 K
May - 915 OPS, 3 BB, 5 K
June - 564 OPS, 1 BB, 8 K
July - 851 OPS, 1 BB, 11 K
August - 442 OPS, 3 BB, 10 K

Eldred did have a hiccup in July, thanks in large part to him allowing 4 doubles and 3 home runs despite just giving up 15 hits in the month. But all in all, we see an encouraging trend. Fewer walks, more strikeouts, and batters not hitting him as hard.

As a matter of fact, if you break down the bullpen since the All-Star break by OPS allowed, Eldred is near the top.

Tavarez - 413
Isringhausen - 587
Eldred - 595
Kline - 612
Calero - 662
Haren - 664 (both starting and relieving)
King - 677
Simontacchi - 810

So, you say - what's the point? Simply put, it doesn't look like the bullpen has any weak links. As a matter of fact, the bullpen is very, very deep. Especially if and when Calero comes back in a couple of weeks, and you factor in the addition of one of the starters into the mix. A strong bullpen can be more important in the playoffs than a top notch starting pitcher.

Friday, August 20, 2004

Starting Left Fielder (Part II)

Apparently outfielders are on the minds of Cardinal fans today. Josh at www.go-cardinals.org wrote an article this afternoon questioning the makeup of the Cardinals backup outfielders. Josh comes to the conclusion that Taguchi deserves to be on the roster over Cedeno based upon his defensive prowess, which I tend to agree with. However, his article made me think - does the defense that Taguchi brings to the table make him a more viable option than John Mabry?

To answer this question, I looked up some defensive statistics. Yes, I realize that it is hard to measure the effectiveness of an outfielder using stats, but it is all we have to work with.

Looking at left field stats, and left field only, the difference between Mabry and Taguchi is surprising.

Mabry 194.2 innings, 1 error, .974 fielding %, 1.76 Range Factor, .878 Zone Rating
Taguchi 167.7 innings, 2 errors, .943 fielding %, 1.77 Range Factor, .882 Zone Rating

I don't know about you, but I did not expect to see Mabry sporting similar range with a slightly better fielding percentage in left field this season over So Taguchi. Due to the similarity, I attempted to increase the sample size using www.baseball-reference.com. Using statistics over their entire careers (in America, I might add), the results are once again quite interesting.

Mabry 111 games, .987 fielding %, 1.39 Range Factor
Taguchi 19 games, .900 fielding %, 0.47 Range Factor

Once again, Mabry appears to be a better defensive left fielder than So Taguchi.

Finally, I used http://www.hardballtimes.com/main/stats/ to find the defensive win shares that each player has posted this season. Win shares stats had only been updated through August 12th, and do not differentiate between outfield positions, but the information should still give us some insight into who may be the better fielder.

Mabry - 0.8 win shares through 281 outfield innings
Taguchi - 0.9 win shares through 322 outfield innings

In other words - Mabry comes out on top again!

So not only do we have Mabry sporting a 910 OPS before today's game and a 1062 OPS after the AS Break, but a guy who appears to be better at manning left field defensively than So Taguchi. Add on top of that a pinch hit home run in the first game of today's double header which ended up being the difference in the game.

I like Taguchi on the bench, getting spot starts for Edmonds. I like Reggie Sanders playing for the Cardinals. But John Mabry is looking more and more like a guy that really might deserve to be starting in left field more often than anyone else on the roster.


Starting Left Fielder

Last night during the rain delay, Fox Sports Net decided to take a few calls from Cardinal fans and allow their in-studio hosts to field some questions. One of them that came in left me scratching my head, and I thought I would serve as a good article for today.

The question asked was basically "who should the Cardinals start in left field in the playoffs - Marlon Anderson or So Taguchi?"

Now, maybe this guy that called in works two jobs, has 6 kids to feed, and a mother-in-law in the hospital, and thus can't commit as much time to the Cardinals as some of the rest of us. With that being said - how in the world did Anderson and Taguchi rise to the top of this guy's depth chart?

Right now, between the major league roster and AAA, the Cardinals have 6 players that qualify for the post-season roster and can play left field. (In Anderson's case, I use the term "play left field" lightly) Ignoring defense and just focusing on the bat, those guys rank as follows when sorted by OPS (On base percentage Plus Slugging percentage.) Statistics shown are AVG/OBP/SLG - OPS.

John Mabry .318/.397/.513 - 910
Reggie Sanders .250/.300/.479 - 779
Ray Lankford .258/.353/.425 - 778
Roger Cedeno .298/.363/.412 - 775
So Taguchi .276/.307/.394 - 700
Marlon Anderson .229/.269/.368 - 638

I just find it interesting that some random fan that manages to get a phone call in to the FSN studio can actually suggest that the worst two options for left field should start in the playoffs. Especially when you consider that So is in Memphis, and Anderson has been horrible after getting off to a hot start. As a matter of fact, if we just focus on the same statistics since the All-Star break:

Mabry .389/.470/.593 - 1062
Taguchi .314/.333/.486 - 819
Cedeno .322/.394/.424 - 818
Sanders .227/.314/.480 - 794
Anderson .137/.151/.216 - 367
Lankford .125/.111/.250 - 361 (8 at-bats)

If Anderson doesn't get things straightened out in the next 6 weeks, not only should he not be starting games for the Cardinals in left field in October, but he should not even be on the playoff roster. And while Taguchi has been solid with the bat in limited duty since the break, it is impossible to ignore the numbers that John Mabry has been putting up. That Post All-Star OPS ranks just behind the amazing trio of Jim Edmonds (1198), Albert Pujols (1170), and Scott Rolen (1074), with Larry Walker right behind (1040). People can rave about So's defense as much as they want, but it is not going to make up for a 137 points of OBP.

Welcome to my blog

I suppose a bit of introduction is in order.

I was born and raised in a small town in Southeast Missouri - Puxico, namely. Never heard of it? You probably aren't alone. (In the off-season sometime, if you're interested, I can give you a town history. ) Anyway, I - like many other people growing up in the 1980's in Missouri - became a die hard Cardinal fan at a young age.

After graduating from college in 1995, I moved to the Chicago area. During my time there, my interest in the Cardinals only became stronger as they provided me with a link to my childhood memories.

In late 1999, I began posting on message boards in an effort to be as closely tuned in to Cardinal roster moves and rumors as possible. I figured - what better and quicker way to stay informed than to have instant access to individuals living in the St. Louis area? To this day I am still active in posting on internet message boards, and see it as a great opportunity to share information, learn new things, and vent frustration from time to time.

Earlier this year, I had the opportunity to move to the St. Louis area. Now that I myself have access to more information on the Cardinals than any time in my life - local TV, radio, newspapers, etc. - I have decided to start my own web log. I had actually considered starting one up after the season, but how can I pass up a chance to write about what may be the best Cardinal team of all time? (More on that in a later article.)

What can you expect to read here? During the season, I plan to attempt to write articles at least 3 times a week, along with at least once per week during the off-season. Having a master's degree in engineering, my writing is going to usually focus more on the analytical side of things. To paraphrase William Hung of "American Idol" fame - "I have no formal training." As a matter of fact, I think I graduated from college with a total of 2 classes in English.

When it comes down to it, I plan to use this blog as a place to put down my thoughts, analysis, ideas - or in other words, my reasoning. If no one else ever reads this site, it will still be valuable to me. If, however, by some chance someone out there ends up liking to read my thoughts, then all the better.

So, with that being said, welcome to my weblog!