Cardinals news from a Sabermetric point of view

Why Mark Reynolds? Blame the Giants

December 13th, 2014 by Pip

Wondering why the Cardinals signed Mark Reynolds? Blame the Giants.

Think back  to the very last series of the 2014 season that the Cardinals played. After dispatching the league’s best team in the Dodgers, the Cardinals —with their lineup looking invincible against left-handers — faced the San Francisco Giants and Madison Bumgarner. To paraphrase Ralphie Parker, “Madison Bumgarner! What a rotten name! We were trapped. There he stood, between us and the World Series.” He went on to shut down the Cardinals with a 1.72 ERA and 12 strikeouts in the NLCS, then became the face of the World Series, omnipresent and omnipotent. But what does that have to do with Mark Reynolds, you ask?
In his book Thinking, Fast and Slow, Daniel Kahneman describes the availability heuristic:
People tend to assess the relative importance of issues by the ease with which they are retrieved from memory — and this is largely determined by the extent of coverage in the media. Frequently mentioned topics populate the mind even as others slip away from awareness.
It is possible that the Cardinals’ direct experience with the lefty, combined with the indirect experience of his exploits in the World Series, created a dominant impression: We need strong right-handed options to combat such left-handed pitchers.
But that’s not the only recent memory that could’ve influenced the deal. Recall the Cardinals’ final game of the season: The biggest play of the game was when the Cardinals’ Pat Neshek, trying to protect a 3-2 lead in the eighth inning, surrendered a game-tying home run to Michael Morse. If, as a coping mechanism, you’ve managed to put that traumatic even out of your mind, let us remind you who Morse is:
  • 32-year-old righthanded slugger
  • Steamer-projected ISO for 2015: .183
  • Steamer-projected strikeout rate for 2015: 25%
And the Cardinals’ latest hire?
  • 31-year-old righthanded slugger
  • Steamer-projected ISO for 2015: .193
  • Steamer-projected strikeout rate for 2015: 28%
Mark Reynolds is essentially Michael Morse without the skanky hair.
Well, that’s not the only difference. One important distinction is the price tag. At $2 million for one season, Reynolds will certainly make less that Morse will in his next contract (though likely not for as much as Morse fancies he should) and for shorter time. With Randal Grichuk and Stephen Piscotty in the wings, the Cardinals didn’t need to go nuts with a long-term bench signing.
As an aside, we think it’s a bit disingenuous for reporters to use Reynolds’s striking out “122 times in 378 at-bats” formulation. That’s technically true, but it distorts reality. The sophistic “at-bats” obscures the reality of total plate appearances, which includes walks, something which Reynolds collects at a decent clip (11.6%). (To his credit, Bernie Miklasz points out Reynolds’s walk rate.)
Okay, so the availability heuristic might explain why the Cardinals sought a right-handed slugger this winter. But why Reynolds, in particular? Again, the ease with which memories come to mind is at play; Reynolds’s career numbers compared to his performance against the Cardinals:
OBP SLG HR%
Career .324 .457 5.1%
Vs. Cardinals .342 .533 6.5%
It would appear that the trio of available memories — Bumgarner’s 2014 playoff run, Michael Morse’s outsized impact in the playoffs and Reynolds’s “in-person” play against the Cardinals — conspired at least in a small way to give John Mozeliak the impression that he needed a right-handed slugger this winter, and that that slugger should be Reynolds. It causes us to consider how things this offseason might’ve different if the 2014 had ended differently. If the final memory of the season had been the epic slaying of Kershaw, would Mark Reynolds be on the team today? It’s all academic, of course, and likely. But it’s worth remembering that the availability heuristic — to borrow Bill James’s phrase — is real and virtually universal. Not even the shrewd John Mozeliak is immune to it — or likely even to be conscious of it in himself. As we have postulated for Ty Wigginton and John Lackey, it may be that the Cardinals have more than simply scouting and stats to thank for some of their recent personnel.

Bumgarner finishes playoffs with most win-probability added

November 16th, 2014 by Pip

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Recap: 2014 NLCS Game 1

October 12th, 2014 by Pip

Top Plays by WPA

  1. Travis Ishikawa singled, scoring Pablo Sandoval (-.098 WPA): Essentially an infield popup out of the reach of Matt Carpenter, who for some reason didn’t dive for the ball.
  2. Gregor Blanco reached on error to third, scoring Hunter Pence (-.097 WPA): Instead of the Cardinals exiting the second inning down 1-0, the second Giant run scored needlessly and cast a pall on the rest of the game.
  3. Brandon Belt singled, scoring Pablo Sandoval (-.081 WPA): Another softly-hit ball that found a landing spot, raising the Giants’ game BABIP to .250.

Top Players

  1. Madison Bumgarner: While the Cardinal ace failed to pitch like one, the Giant ace succeeded, mowing down the Cardinals like everyone expected Clayton Kershaw to, with seven strikeouts in 29 batters.
  2. Pablo Sandoval: Reached base four of five times and led the Giants with a .751 wOBA.
  3. Travis Ishikawa: The Giants’ left fielder knocked the biggest hit of the game and made a super running catch on which he left his feet in the fourth inning.

Telltale Stats

  • .167: Cardinals batting average on balls in play. With a line-drive percentage of 21.7%, their expected BABIP was more like .299.
  • 14: Outs recorded by Adam Wainwright. It was the second consecutive start in which the Cardinal ace failed to set down at least 15 batters.
  • 3: Plate appearances in the game by Cardinal pitchers (Adam Wainwright and Marco Gonales) and pinch hitters with a career wOBA of .270 (Tony Cruz). With all other bench options available to pinch hit as the potential tying run, Cruz was perhaps the worst choice.

Notes:

  • As it often has in the 2014 playoffs, St. Louis waited until the seventh inning for a high note. Unfortunately for the Cardinals, it was only from “God bless America” singer Generald Wilson.
  • Yes, Bumgarner technically appeared to balk. But Cardinal fans and Matheny diminish themselves by fussing over it. If you have to score a run via balk — and a ticky-tacky one at that — it’s a bit pathetic. Champions don’t hassle over niggling matters when they’re not keeping it close through their own actions. Ditto the “Bumpgarner” play on Wong at first. Embarrassing challenge.
  • The Cardinal defense, hitting and starting pitching were not sharp. When one team’s BABIP is .167 and the other .250, that’s more than enough to make the difference.
  • Bumgarner’s xFIP for the game was 3.70, nearly two points higher than Kershaw’s in Game 4 (1.75).
  • Sandoval doubled to right in his first at-bat on a pitch low and inside. His next at-bat? Same pitch, another hit. It may have been bad execution by Wainwright — he walked 13% of the batters he faced — but no pitch call should’ve allowed for such a miss in the first place.
  • Even with an extra batter on the bench for this round, the Cardinal bench looks awfully understaffed. We’d love to know why Peter Bourjos or even Pete Kozma or Daniel Descalso weren’t options. Too bad Carlos Beltran wasn’t available.
  • Matt Adams looked awful against the left-handed Bumgarner, making his home run off Kershaw look like a distant memory.
  • The Cardinal lineup featured four lefties, perhaps an overconfident response to the success against Kershaw.
  • Bumgarner’s consecutive scoreless road innings is nothing to sneeze at, but we can’t help thinking that it’s a byproduct of a statistically over saturated world, feeling as it does a bit contrived. Giving up runs at home is kind of an important thing to overlook. Why road runs only? It’s like saying a pitcher has a streak of consecutive scoreless odd-numbered innings.
  • Just when we thought Hunter Pence couldn’t get any stranger, he wears his pants hiked above his knees. Guess it’s to be expected from a guy who eats sub sandwiches sideways.

NLCS features four of league’s most valuable players

October 11th, 2014 by Pip

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Explaining Kershaw’s demise

October 9th, 2014 by Pip

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