Friday, April 29, 2005

Braves Mini-Preview

This weekend is going to provide some fun baseball in Atlanta as the Cardinals and the Braves face off. Looking at the schedule so far, one could argue that this is the first playoff caliber team the Cardinals have faced all year. (Unless, of course, Derek Lee and Neifi Perez can hit around .400 all year long - but I digress.)

Rather than getting too wrapped up in tonight's exciting pitching match-up, I simply wanted to take a quick look at the Braves offense. Atlanta enters play tonight with the 14th best offense, based upon OPS, in the NL. Overall, the team is hitting .243/.310/.385, 695 OPS. Granted, a team featuring Brian Jordan and Raul Mondesi as regulars shouldn't be expected to be an offensive powerhouse (this is, after all, 2005, not 1995), one would expect Chipper and Andruw Jones, Marcus Giles, and Rafael Furcal to provide some help offensively. That just hasn't been the case so far.

As of right now, the Atlanta offense only features three hitters - two regulars - with an OPS of 800 or better.

Chipper Jones - .381/.513/.698, 1211 OPS
Wilson Betemit - .231/.444/.538, 983 OPS (13 at-bats)
Marcus Giles - .316/.391/.474, 864 OPS

I'm no expert, but that tells me that Chipper should be avoided like the plague until someone else steps up and proves they can beat you as well.

Against left handed pitching, however - as will be the case tonight with Mulder on the hill - the Braves have fared much better. In limited chances this season vs. southpaws, the Braves are hitting .339/.409/.527, 936 OPS over 112 at-bats. That includes 7 position players with an OPS of 900 or greater.

Wilson Betemit - .500/.600/1.500, 2100 OPS, 4 at-bats
Eddie Perez - .429/.429/.857, 1286 OPS, 7 at-bats
Marcus Giles - .556/.600/.667, 1267 OPS, 9 at-bats
Pete Orr - .500/.750/.500, 1250 OPS, 2 at-bats
Chipper Jones - .444/.545/.667, 1212 OPS, 9 at-bats
Rafael Furcal - .333/.333/.600, 933 OPS, 15 at-bats
Andruw Jones - .308/.286/.615, 901 OPS, 13 at-bats

(No, that's not a typo - Andruw has a lower OBP than AVG. Remember that sacrifice's don't effect batting average, but do affect OBP.)

That's not a lot of at-bats to judge by, but Mulder may have his work cut out for him tonight. Especially considering how dominate Hudson has been so far this year (0.96 ERA).

With that being said - even if the Cardinals do lose tonight, I like their chances of being able to out-score the Braves in the other two games of this series. If Mulder can come up big again tonight, a sweep wouldn't be hard to imagine.

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Defense at Catcher

Similar to the situation at shortstop, much was made this off-season about the perceived downgrade the Cardinals were going to have at the catching position.

Most felt that Yadier Molina would likely be able to match the offensive production of Mike Matheny (although we're still waiting.) Most even felt that, eventually, Molina would be as good or better than Matheny with the glove. But in 2005? A 21 year old starting catcher trying to take a veteran team back to the playoffs? The Cardinals were all but certain to miss the veteran leadership, the handling of pitchers, blah blah blah. I didn't bother to look up any of these gloom and doom quotes last night - after all, the season is barely at the 10% mark and the Cardinals could still end up being wrong on this one. But I have looked up the defensive statistics, and the results may surprise you a bit.

"Normal" Defensive Statistics

First, let's look at the old standby numbers of Fielding Percentage, Range Factor, and Zone Rating. I'm not going to spend much time on these since, frankly, range factor and zone rating for catchers doesn't really tell you a whole lot.

Matheny - 1.000 FP, 6.35 RF, 1.000 ZR
Molina - .983 FP, 7.42 RF, 1.000 ZR

Molina has committed two errors which actually ties him with 5 other catchers for most in the majors. With that being said, one of the guys he's tied with is Brian Schneider who has a great glove. In other words, 2 errors this early may just be a fluke - we'll see.

Molina's RF is the 9th best in baseball, with Matheny coming in 21st. How important of a factor is RF for a catcher? Mike Piazza ranks 1st. This from the guy that's allowed 20 steals while throwing out just 1 base runner.

Zone Rating is equally useless. Out of 27 catchers listed on ESPN's defensive website 23 have a ZR of 1.000. Next.

Caught Stealing

This is the area that first caught my eye and caused me to write this article.

Molina - 2 Stolen Bases Allowed, 4 Caught Stealing, 67% CS
Matheny - 11 Stolen Bases Allowed, 3 Caught Stealing, 21% CS

We all know that Molina has a cannon for an arm, but he's only allowed 2 steals this year? That's pretty amazing, as is his MLB best 2/3 rate for throwing out base runners. His great arm, combined with a high early success rate, may deter teams from even thinking about running on him.

Meanwhile, Mr. Matheny has already allowed 11 stolen bases. At that pace, he'd allow in the neighborhood of 90 steals this season. Over his career, he's allowed as many as 69 in a season, but had kept teams to 44 or fewer since coming to the Cardinals in 2000. Interestingly enough, his CS percentage isn't much worse than it had been over the past 2 seasons when it was under 30%. Supposedly, teams were afraid to run on him because his arm was so good, thus only top notch base stealers were running on him and skewing his caught stealing rates. Maybe the NL West didn't get the memo that he couldn't be ran on?

Handling of Pitchers

Ignore Matheny's bat. Ignore is ability to block balls in the dirt and (supposedly) throw out base runners. The real, real aspect of Mike Matheny that the Cardinals were going to sorely miss was his ability to handle the pitchers. After all - how could anyone reasonably expect a mere kid like Molina to know how to call the right pitches, settle down the hurler, etc?

CERA
Matheny - 5.28
Molina - 3.11

Molina has the 2nd best CERA (catcher's ERA) in the majors, while Matheny comes in at his uniform number of 22. In other words - every 9 innings that each of them catch, Molina's pitcher's are allowing 2 fewer runs than Matheny's.

Obviously this isn't a great comparison, considering that they have two different pitching staffs to work with, not to mention 2 different parks to play half of their games in. Heck, for that matter the Giants may have played a few games in Coors Field already, thus skewing the numbers. On the other hand, Matheny is playing his home games in more of a pitcher's park than Molina.

To take it a step further, I looked up the starting pitcher's for each team. Listed below are each player's current ERA, along with their career ERA.

Giants
Jason Schmidt - 3.41, 3.90 Career
Noah Lowry - 5.09, 3.57 Career
Bret Tomko - 5.70, 4.53 Career
Kirk Rueter - 7.20, 4.18 Career
Jerome Williams - 6.48, 3.77 Career

Cardinals
Matt Morris - 2.45, 3.53 Career
Jason Marquis - 2.77, 4.16 Career
Mark Mulder - 3.10, 3.92 Career
Jeff Suppan - 3.42, 4.80 Career
Chris Carpenter - 4.15, 4.59 Career

Interesting, don't you think? The Giants rotation is worse than their career across the board, while the opposite is true of the Cardinals. Disclaimers abound, of course. Mulder, Suppan, and Carpenter spent the bulk of their careers in the AL, thus should have better ERA's in the NL. Not to mention, when you're talking about 3 to 5 starts per pitcher, one lousy one can badly inflate an ERA (thus Carpenter's rotation high ERA in St. Louis...for now.)

With those things being said - if a catcher really, really has an effect on the performance of a pitcher (which is open for debate), and if Matheny really, really is so gifted in that area - wouldn't you expect at least 1 or 2 of the Giants rotation to be showing an improvement over their career marks? Or better yet, wouldn't you expect more than 1 member of their rotation to have an ERA under 5.00?

Wrapping it up

Overall, there are still a lot of games to be played. I suspect the pitching will get better in San Francisco, and likely will get a little worse in St. Louis (unless you think Marquis and Morris can keep it up all year.) What will really be interesting to keep an eye on will be if teams continue to run on Matheny like mad. Even if they don't - Yadier is showing in the early going that his $323,000 2005 salary is very likely to be a much, much better value than the $10.5 million the Giants are paying Matheny over the next 3 years.

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Origins of an Article

This morning, while looking through some team stats, I noted that the Cardinals rank 21st in the majors in walks drawn, and even worse, 14th in the NL. Furthermore, I saw that the Cubs - a team loaded with non-walking players - had drawn 3 more walks thus far. Yes, I realized that they had also played in 2 more games, but was this a sign of a Cardinal team still getting it's footing? Or worse yet, is the new hitting coach (Hal McRae) having a negative effect on the Cardinals and their desire to draw walks?

Well, after looking up a few more team stats, I convinced myself that this isn't the case. But rather than throw it out, I decided to go ahead and share what I found with you in the event that someone else is starting to worry about the Redbirds and their slow starting bats.

BB/PA

Thus far this season, the Cardinals have drawn 0.86 BB/PA, which is the 14th most in MLB. While being middle of the road may not sound all that great, consider that in 2004, en route to winning 105 games, the Cardinals drew 0.87 BB/PA, good for 12th most in the majors. Something tells me that one less walk every 1000 trips to the plate isn't going to ruin the Cardinals playoff hopes. Here are the BB/PA numbers over the past few seasons.

2005 - 0.86
2004 - 0.87
2003 - 0.90
2002 - 0.87

Not much has changed over that time span. And, of course, the year the Cardinals drew the most walks is the only year in that grouping that they didn't go to the post-season.

Individual Walk Rates

Curious to see how players are looking in regard to getting on base, I looked up walks per at-bats for the 8 regulars in the Cardinal lineup. Note that I'm using at-bats instead of plate appearances simply because it's a bit easier to look up, while still conveying the same general information - even though a walk is not an at-bat. Listed are each players 2005 BB/AB rate, along with his career entering this season following in parentheses.

Eckstein - 0.153 (0.075)
Walker - 0.145 (0.132)
Pujols - 0.87 (0.129)
Edmonds - 0.245 (0.144)
Rolen - 0.91 (0.137)
Sanders - 0.102 (0.109)
Grudzielanek - 0.053 (0.051)
Molina - 0.019 (0.096)

Basically, Sanders and Grudz are a wash. Of the other six players, 2 have improved slightly, 2 have declined slightly. That leaves Edmonds, who's almost doubled his rate, and Molina, who's cut his by around 80%. In other words - a wash. I think everything listed there can likely be explained by early season hot and cold streaks. Although, I must admit I'm hoping that Eckstein's rate is for real as that will bode well for the Cardinals during the season.

Finally, out of curiosity I looked up a couple of more measures.

K/AB

I thought that maybe the Cardinals and their new hitting coach was putting more emphasis on not striking out, so I looked up their K rates for the last four seasons.

2005 - 0.145
2004 - 0.195
2003 - 0.168
2002 - 0.168

In other words, Cardinal hitters are striking out in 5% fewer at-bats this year than in 2004. While that sounds good on the surface - are the Cardinals adjusting their swing, either with 2 strikes or not, in order to make contact more often, and thus not getting as many extra base hits?

SLG

2005 - .418 (7th in NL)
2004 - .460 (1st)
2003 - .454 (2nd)
2002 - .425 (2nd)

Many will probably laugh at me suggesting that the Cardinals are not hitting for as much power as in years past. After all, they have the 3rd most home runs in the NL despite playing 2 to 3 games less than most other teams. However, they have only hit 29 doubles as of yet, the 2nd fewest in the NL.

Conclusions

How many disclaimers can I fit into this wrap-up? The Redbirds have only played 17 games, Pujols and Rolen have been heating up, and Walker is likely to follow. Pujols and Edmonds are both on pace to hit around 50 home runs this season. And to be honest, I'm not exactly sure how much of an impact a hitting coach actually has on veteran players - especially guys like Albert Pujols who tend to end up being the teacher rather than the pupil.

With those things being said, I started looking into the Cardinal offense expecting to see a team not getting on base as much as it has been in recent history. Instead, I found a declined K rate, combined with a SLG that is down quite a bit year over year. This may point to a new team methodology, inspired by their new hitting coach, to avoid striking out more, which is in effect limiting their doubles.

Or, it could be the fact that the Cardinals have already faced Oswalt, Zambrano, Sheets, and Clemens once each this season - 23% of all games played.

Either way - keep an eye on the team SLG to see where it goes. (Hopefully, this has the same effect as my Scott Rolen article.)

Oh - did I mention that the Cardinal pitching staff is leading the majors in walks allowed (50) and home runs allowed (8)?

Monday, April 25, 2005

2005 MLB Playoffs - NFL Style

The NFL is deemed by most to be the most popular team sport in the United States. Whether you measure it by Super Bowl TV ratings, TV dollars, national interest - it seems to come out on top. One of the reasons for this is supposedly the fact that the NFL has a salary cap, and thus more parity, which in turn holds more fan interest during the regular season.

While I think it is likely true that the salary cap does at least partly help promote a more even playing field in the NFL, I personally don't believe that the credit can all be given to that. (We won't go into the fact that, despite so-called parity, the NFL Champion has been the same team 3 of the past 4 years.) No, I think that the 16 game season, combined with 12 teams making the post-season, allows teams to go on hot streaks just long enough to make the playoffs. Why am I writing about this today? It just so happens that every team in MLB has now played 16 or more games, allowing us to look at who would make the playoffs under this kind of a system.

AL East - Red Sox, 10-6
AL Central - White Sox, 12-4
AL West - Angels, 9-7

Wild Card - Twins, 10-6
Wild Card - Orioles, 9-7
Wild Card - Athletics, Rangers, Mariners, 8-8

(Note - ESPN doesn't have their team vs. team standings updated for 2005, and I didn't want to look at 3 weeks of scores to sort it out.)

Your 1st round playoff match-ups would be the Angels vs. the #6 seed (either Oakland, Texas, or Seattle) with the Twins getting home field advantage over the Orioles. The White Sox and Red Sox would have the 1st round bye, with the White Sox having the overall #1 seed.

NL East - Marlins, 9-7
NL Central - Cardinals, 11-5
NL West - Dodgers, 12-4

Wild Card - Nationals, 9-7
Wild Card - Braves, Mets, Cubs, Reds, Diamondbacks, 8-8

A little bit more "parity" in the NL. The Marlins and Nationals would get to host 1st round playoff match-ups, each playing teams with an 8-8 record among those listed. The #1 seeded Dodgers and #2 seeded Cardinals would be resting for the 2nd round.

Using these criteria for picking and seeding playoff teams, you see that the Yankees don't even come close to making the playoffs. Granted, they aren't exactly off to a great start, but do you think they will finish the season without finishing in the top 8 in the AL? It's also hard to imagine the White Sox finishing the season tied for the best overall record in baseball, but with a short season the improbable becomes possible.

The NL doesn't provide any huge shocks among the division winners, but the rest of the playoff pool is very interesting. The Washington Nationals not only making the playoffs, but having home field in the first round? And what about the Reds and/or the D-Backs making the playoffs this year? Neither are very likely in MLB, but would be very possible in the NFL.

This post isn't meant to tear down the NFL, so much as to show that too much credit is given to the salary cap. Anyone who claims a cap is needed in baseball and uses the NFL as proof? Well, a cap may or may not be the answer for baseball, but the NFL isn't the right example to use in their argument.

Friday, April 22, 2005

Defense at Short

We're only 13 games into the season, but I'm ready to take a cursory look into the defense we're getting from David Eckstein.

Much was said (and printed) this off-season in regard to the downgrade the Cardinals were going to have at shortstop with the departure of Edgar Renteria and the addition of Eckstein. We heard plenty of sources pointing out that he has sure hands, but not much range, and even less of an arm. Of course, I personally pointed out that Eckstein's defense from a statistical standpoint was hard to judge due to him playing on fly ball, strikeout pitching staffs (thus fewer balls to make plays on.) Here's how the two shortstops stack up here in the early going.

Fielding Percentage
Renteria - .972
Eckstein - 1.000

Eckstein obviously isn't going to go all season without giving up an error, but he's always been steady, only having 14 errors over the last 2 years, or 2176 innings in the field. Renteria, by comparison, had 11 errors just last year over 1307 innings. Renteria's fielding percentage is actually about what one would expect, as he has a .970 FP over his career at short.

Range Factor
Renteria 4.62
Eckstein 5.14

Range Factor, or RF, is simply the number of assists and putouts a player averages every 9 innings in the field. In other words, Renteria is averaging 4.6 assists and/or putouts per game, with Eckstein at 5.1. Yes, that's right - thus far, Eckstein has been getting to 1 extra ball in play every 2 games when compared to Renteria. That current RF for Eckstein is far and above his career mark of 4.23, and even more so than his 2004 mark of 3.83. While it's too early to say how much better his RF is this year, it shouldn't surprise anyone that's looked into the numbers if he does improve in this area. In fact, when you look at his career 4.23 mark, consider his new pitching staff, then compare it to Renteria's career RF of 4.44 - well, it's still not impossible to imagine Eckstein getting to as many or more balls in play as Edgar did as a Redbird.

Zone Rating
Renteria .857
Eckstein .813

STATS, Inc. provides Zone Rating (ZR) data by noting the percentage of balls in play that a defensive player should get to. Looking at these two players, they're saying so far this year that Renteria is getting to 86% of the balls that he should, while Eckstein is getting to 81%. Renteria's numbers are in line with his career mark, which is .851. Eckstein, on the other hand, has been quite a bit below his career average of .868. (Yes, that's right - over their careers, Eckstein has a better ZR than Renteria. Go figure.) ZR is a nice statistic to use in conjunction with RF (and FP) as it is not as dependant upon the pitching staff. In other words, a player can have an inflated RF on a groundball staff, but his ZR will help one to determine how often he's getting to the balls that he should be.

According to the Fox Sports Midwest broadcasters, Rolen has been playing farther off the line this year to help make up for the (perceived) smaller range provided by Eckstein. That, combined with the fact that Rolen is so awesome with the glove, might explain why Eckstein is showing a decreased ZR in the early season. It will be interesting to see if Rolen starts playing closer to the line as the Cards gain confidence in Eckstein.

Conclusions

So far, so good with Eckstein at short. Watching him play, I completely understand why his arm has been questioned. Visually, you can tell that he has to really put his entire body behind his throws to get them across to first base. With that being said, the more I see him play (and dig into his stats) the more I think that the improved error rates, along with the potential for range as good or better than Renteria, is going to end up replacing Renteria's gloves quite nicely.

Addendum

For those of you not living in the St. Louis area (or in a region with local broadcasts) you may have missed this little nugget of information on Eckstein. According to the FSN broadcast team, Eckstein - he of the 3 year, $12 million contract - is currently driving the same car he's had since he started in the majors. That would be, of course, a 1999 Nissan Maxima. Talk about someone that appears to be well grounded.

I wonder if he'd take a challenge to drag race me in my 1998 Mazda 626?

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

This, That, and the Other

Amazing how a 5 game road trip against the two worst teams in the division can change the outlook of a team so quickly. Concerns about Rolen, Mulder, Molina, and even Morris have been reduced greatly over the past 5 days. The rotation has turned in 5 consecutive quality starts, showing signs of the 2004 Cardinals back in action. The offense has scored 18 runs over the past 2 games, showing signs of coming out of their funk. And while I'm excited about those developments, I'd like to show you all something that you might not see somewhere else. Take a look at the bullpen over the past 7 games.

14.1 innings pitched
0.00 ERA
.113 Average Allowed
.175 OBP Allowed
.170 SLG Allowed
.345 OPS Allowed
16 K's
4 BB's
6 Hits Allowed (1 Double, 1 Triple, 0 Home Runs)

There was much wringing of hands going on among "Cardinal Fans" about the bullpen, especially during the horrific opening weekend against the Phillies. Some were claiming that there was no way the Cardinals could replace Calero and Haren in the pen, and that they were a big downgrade over the 2004 version. While I realize the Brewers and the Pirates aren't exactly offensive juggernauts, a .345 OPS allowed over 7 games is still pretty impressive. If the rotation can continue to limit the workload of the pen like they have recently, you're going to continue to see great results out of the relief core.

Some other thoughts

- Am I the only one who notices that Tony La Russa cannot win? Yes, this isn't exactly a revelation for Cardinal fans, but it's taken a new turn lately (in my eyes at least.) In the last week I've heard La Russa railed on for using statistics too much in his decision making, especially with lineups and bullpen use. Yet at the same time, his managing style (via "Three Nights in August") is described as "Anti-Moneyball" in just about every review of that book I've seen. Which is it? Does he use statistics too much or too little?

- Yadier Molina has a .139 OBP over 35 at-bats, and hits 8th. David Eckstein has a .438 OBP over 37 at-bats and hits leadoff - yet both have scored 3 runs. Eckstein is going to have to learn how to be more of a clutch OBP guy like Molina if he's going to have an impact for this team.

- The Cardinals now have a 7-2 record against the NL Central, and a 6-1 road record. It's great to see them warming up in April instead of late May this year. (Which probably doesn't exactly make the rest of the division feel good about their chances in the early going.)

- Heading into today's game, the Cardinals had played opponents with a .502 winning percentage, while the Cubs had played teams with a .423 mark. Considering how badly the Cubs have played against crumby teams, the Cardinals have a chance to make a huge statement on Wednesday and Thursday. (Keep an eye on RPI standings here.)

Friday, April 15, 2005

Cardinals Schedule

After suffering through 4 off-days during the first 11 days of the regular season, the Cardinals are going to play a lot of baseball over the next few weeks.

Over the next 13 days, counting today, the Cardinals will not have a single day off as they churn through the entire NL Central (if you count the last 2 days against the Reds.) After getting a day off on Thursday April 28th, the Redbirds play on 17 straight days, giving them 30 games over the next 31 days (barring rain). That's quite a stretch with not much downtime.

We're going to find out a lot about the team during this 31 day span - especially the first stretch of 13 games. How is Jimmy Journell going to look this time around? Could Journell and Cali be this year's version of Calero and Haren? Is Morris going to be in 2004 form, or pre-2004 form? How will Mulder look vs. the Pirates on Monday? Stay tuned...

Thursday, April 14, 2005

Rolen's not Rollin'

I'll ignore the Mark Mulder thoughts for now. I'll give him a few more starts before I allow his rough start (combined with his 2004 finish) to give me visions of Haren, Calero, and Barton over the next few years to keep me up at night. For now, Scott Rolen has me a bit concerned.

As you all know, Rolen missed some time in September last year with a calf strain. The injury went from a day to day thing, to Rolen missing two weeks during prime tune-up time for the playoffs. Rolen did come back to play the last week of the regular season.

2004 Regular Season (After Injury)

.167/.318/.333, 652 OPS, 0 doubles, 1 home run, 18 at-bats

Okay, so that's only 18 at-bats. No big deal. No one should expect Rolen to turn on the switch when coming back from an injury. He needed time, right? Sure. Except he didn't tear it up during the playoffs, either.

2004 Playoffs

.161/.277/.357, 634 OPS, 2 doubles, 3 home runs, 56 at-bats

To Rolen's credit, he had a very good NLCS, including the 2 run homer in Game 7 off of Clemens to give the Cardinals the lead. In that series he hit .310/.355/.690 with all of his post-season extra base hits. (In fact, he didn't have any hits in the other two series.) The fact that he put up those kinds of numbers in the NLCS with Clemens and Roy Oswalt starting for the Astros provides a glimmer of hope.

Then comes the Grapefruit league, in which Rolen continued to look rusty. Maybe he was just working on some new things, although La Russa specifically mentioned his concerns with the way both Rolen and Edmonds looked this Spring.

2005 Spring Training

.232/.328/.357, 685 OPS, 1 double, 2 home runs, 56 at-bats

Granted, Spring training isn't exactly a great indicator of talent when it comes to veterans - not to mention small sample sizes - but the OPS looks very much like those posted by Rolen at the end of 2004. Enter the regular season.

2005 (First 7 Games)

.143/.172/.179, 351 OPS, 1 double, 0 home runs, 28 at-bats

Not a great start, obviously. In fact, he's been even worse getting things started this year than he was at the end of last year. If you take the above sections of statistics and combine them, you get a line like this:

.184/.283/.323, 606 OPS, 4 doubles, 6 home runs, 158 at-bats

Over the last four seasons he's averaged 548 at-bats per year. If you adjust his doubles and home runs for a 548 at-bat season using the above rates, Rolen would project to hitting 14 doubles and 21 home runs. Not exactly what the Cardinals need out of him.

Obviously, Scott Rolen hasn't forgotten how to hit. Last season he hit .314/.409/.598. And it's also very unlikely that he'll keep hitting at a 351 OPS level this regular season. My main concern is that he is actually still injured and is still trying to play through it for whatever reason. He's made some great defensive plays already this year, so that would lead me to believe that he's just off to an extra cold start. I'd just be more comfortable about it if he had displayed a better Spring.

Monday, April 11, 2005

Rough Start

To say the least.

The last 4 games - and especially the last 2 - are what tends to happen when the offense isn't hitting and the pitching isn't getting people out.

Pitching Bright Spots

Ray King, Cal Eldred, and Al Reyes have all looked good in relief. Reyes has been especially tough after a rough first outing, having now struck out 8 batters over 4.1 innings. Overall, they have a 2.07 ERA with 12 K's and 3 BB's over 8.2 innings pitched, giving the Cardinals a few relievers in the early going that appear as if they can be counted on.

Starting Staff Woes

Jason Marquis would appear to also be a bright spot, but his stats are misleading. He does have a K:BB ratio of 4 and an ERA of 1.50, but his 9 hits allowed over 6 innings is less than impressive.

Overall, the starting staff has a 1-3 record with a 6.50 ERA. They've struck out 13, walked 8, and given up 42 hits - over 26.1 innings. Obviously that's got to improve.

Hitting Bright Spots

David Eckstein is off to a great start, sporting a .476 OBP after 5 games. Unfortunately, he's only been driven in twice despite being on base almost half the time, showing how weak the offense has been.

Reggie Sanders has his power stroke going, sporting a .733 SLG thanks to 2 home runs and a double. It's nice to have him in the 7 slot (assuming the rest of the lineup starts producing soon.)

The Cardinal bench is off to a nice start as well. John Mabry, So Taguchi, Einar Diaz, and Abraham Nunez are hitting a combined .385/.429/.769 with 1 double, 2 home runs, and a walk.

Not So Much

Albert Pujols, Scott Rolen, and Jim Edmonds are not quite in mid-season form just yet. So far they are hitting a combined .218/.283/.364 with 2 doubles, 2 home runs, and 5 walks. When your bench has the same number of home runs as the "MV3's" over 1/5 the number of at-bats....well, a 2-3 start is not only unsurprising, it's welcome.

Conclusions

After a great opening day, it's been a disappointing start to the season. The silver lining in my opinion is basically - they've played about as bad as imaginably possible yet still managed to go 2-3. Last year they also got off to a 2-3 start, with a major exception - they did so against Milwaukee and Arizona, both teams that were bad last year. This year they've done the same against teams that have a shot at the playoffs, especially Philadelphia. I have no doubt the hitting will get on track. (Jim Edmonds indicates that pitchers have been coming inside more, including the World Series last year - which he claims will be fixed.) I also have no doubt that the starting pitching will get on track - especially Carpenter and Mulder.

That doesn't make it any more fun this Monday morning, though.

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Miscellaneous

On the plus side, I'm on a business trip doing work that got finished up early today. Thus, I am able to watch the Yankees and Red Sox on ESPN during the day!

On the negative side, I'm in Pittsburgh, the Pirates played earlier today so I can't get to that game, and I won't be able to see the Cardinals on TV tonight. Again. Thankfully, MLB.com has a cheap audio package.

- Interesting feelings watching the Yankees and Red Sox play for the 2nd time this week. (Gee, those poor East Coast teams never get any coverage, do they?) I used to love to see the Yankees lose to the Red Sox, but ever since the World Series....well, I've about had my fill of Bean town. Can I root for both teams to lose at the same time?

- Adding to the interest, I find myself happy every time Edgar Renteria hits into yet another out (or in his case, 2 outs as he's hit into 2 double plays today.) I'm all for a free market economy. I believe that everyone should attempt to negotiate the best salary possible for themselves. But there's just something about Edgar continuing to say the Cardinals "didn't respect" him. Let's see, the Red Sox are paying you approximately 8% of their total payroll, while the Cardinals offered you 11% of theirs. Respect?

- The Ying to Renteria's Yang is Tino Martinez coming off of the Yankee bench. I hope he's happy back in New York. God knows that all he seemed to talk about during his 2 years in St. Louis was New York.

- Of course, there is Tony Womack as well. Man, am I glad the Yankees "stole" him from St. Louis! I suspect he'll get the Javier Vazquez treatment this off-season.

- For a nice article on the Cubs loss last night, head on over to The Cub Reporter. They, as always, do a good job of holding Dusty Baker's feet to the fire.

Friday, April 01, 2005

Early Indications (Pitching Edition)

Yesterday we looked at hitters, so I thought I'd follow suit today with the pitchers. See yesterday's article for disclaimers on sample size, park factors, etc.

Starting Pitching

Mark Mulder - 3.60 ERA, 25 innings, 17 K's, 8 BB's, 1.56 WHIP
Woody Williams - 7.20 ERA, 15 innings, 8 K's, 6 BB's, 1.73 WHIP

I liked the "Woody Williams era" in St. Louis as much as anybody else, maybe more. With that being said, I was glad to see the Cardinals paying Mulder $6.75 million in 2005 over Woody's $8 million in 2004. Anytime you can improve your staff and cut costs, you're doing something right.

Looks like Woody is off to quite a rough start, even when you account for the extra offense in the Cactus league. Mulder, on the other hand, seems to be rounding into shape despite a high WHIP during the Spring.

Left Handed Relief

Bill Pulsipher - 0.00 ERA, 10 innings, 7 K's, 3 BB's, 1.10 WHIP
Randy Flores - 6.52 ERA, 9.2 innings, 8 K's, 2 BB's, 1.65 WHIP
Steve Kline - 1.64 ERA, 11 innings, 9 K's, 2 BB's, 1.27 WHIP

Bill Pulsipher has been great....until he had his toe broken on Wednesday. Speaking as someone who broke a toe three weeks ago, I can say that A. it's quite painful and B. it should heal quickly. (Of course, I wasn't trying to throw a baseball 90 MPH as mine healed, so....).

If Pulsipher can come back quickly, he looks primed to step into the #2 lefty role. Flores has some work to do, but him striking out the side in last night's game was at least a sign of hope.

Right Handed Relief

Al Reyes - 2.61 ERA, 10.1 innings, 9 K's, 4 BB's, 0.87 WHIP
Kiko Calero - 0.66 ERA, 13.2 innings, 11 KK's, 4 BB's, 0.88 WHIP
Dan Haren - 6.65 ERA, 23 innings, 12 K's, 7 BB's, 1.65 WHIP

I liked Calero (and Haren for that matter) a lot. With that being said, I thought entering this Spring that Reyes could replace him. So far so good, as this Spring he had a lower WHIP and a better K/9 ratio. Haren has been starting, and looks like he's still a bit on the rough side.

Conclusions

Between today and yesterday we looked at comparisons for departed players vs. those joining the team. In the early going - and there is a long time to go - the Cardinals appear to have replaced everyone quite nicely from a production standpoint, including the so-called "power righty" in the bullpen that some still seem to think the Cardinals need.

Of course, you'll still read some experts out there talking about how much "leadership" and "veteran presence" the Cardinals lost in the off-season. I know the guys lost - Matheny especially - were great in that role, but don't you think the "intangibles" lost have been a bit overblown?

1. Of the currently projected 25 man roster, 20 players spent time with the Cardinals for at least a portion of last season, including 6 out of 8 position regulars and 4 out of 5 rotation members. It's not like there are a lot of new faces needing to learn how to fit in with the defending NL champs.

2. The Cardinals did lose 3 players with World Series rings (Edgar Renteria, Woody Williams, and Tony Womack), but added 1 (David Eckstein) to go with the retained Reggie Sanders.

3. 20 players on the current roster have played in the Fall Classic (Randy Flores was not on the playoff roster last year.)

4. The 5 players on the current team that have not played in the World Series include Mark Grudzielanek, who has played in an NLCS with the Cubs, Einar Diaz, who has played in the playoffs 3 different seasons with the Indians, and Mark Mulder, who has 4 career playoffs starts with a 2.25 ERA.

Leadership is great, and I know it has more of an impact than we stats geeks can fully understand at times. But the Cardinals aren't exactly a ship without a rudder.