Cardinals news from a Sabermetric point of view

Game 5 Recap: Cardinals 7, Reds 5 (11)

April 13th, 2015 by Pip
Quotable
“There’s a lot of things about this series that were upsetting, and not necessarily the fact that we didn’t win more than one.” — Bryan Price
Players of the Game
  1. Matt Carpenter: Two run-scoring hits, five total bases and a walk (.625 wOBA); diving stop in the second
  2. Jhonny Peralta: Game-high .750 wOBA with five total bases and a walk
  3. Jay Bruce: Home run and two walks (.590 wOBA)
Plays of the Game by Win Probability Added (from Cardinals’ point of view)
  1. Matt Carpenter homered, scoring Kolten Wong (+.431)
  2. Todd Frazier singled, scoring Kristopher Negron and Zack Cozart (-.425)
  3. Jhonny Peralta homered, scoring Matt Holliday (+.324)
Notes
  • Entering the game, Mark Reynolds had a 50% strikeout rate. We’d also give him a 50% chance of being on the roster in September.
  • In his first outing of the season, Carlos Martinez pitched well but did little to dispel the concern about his platoon disadvantage:
    vs LHB vs RHB
    K% 27% 44%
    BB% 13% 0%
    K-BB% 13% 44%
    HR 2 0
    OBPA .400 .000
  • The Cardinal staff struck out 17 Cincinnati batters, only two away from its club record. The Cardinal hurlers fanned 19 on 8/19/2012 in 19 innings and on 9/15/1969 in nine innings (all 19 were by a single pitcher).
  • For their part, the Cardinals — typically one of the toughest teams to whiff — are fifth-highest in MLB with a 24.2% strikeout rate. The smart money expects that number to regress, though we wonder if some underlying realities may exist.
  • The Cardinal staff also walked eight. Until Sunday’s game, the staff had been fairly misery giving out free passes — the starting staff, that is. Cardinal starters had a 1.48 BB/9 (second in the NL), but the bullpen at 3.72 BB/9 was 13th. The pattern continued Sunday, with relievers Randy Choate, Trevor Rosenthal and Carlos Villaneuva combining to walk six. Choate’s was particularly egregious, since it was the only batter he faced (Joey Votto) and led to the Reds’ momentary lead in the seventh.
  • Speaking of Votto, why did Villaneuva walk him in the 10th with runners on first and second? Perhaps because Votto has a .350 BA against him in 22 plate appearances.
  • Mike Matheny got his first challenge overturned. It’s a good start for the worst manager in the National League last year at using the challenge.
  • Speaking of Matheny, he explained his start of Mark Reynolds against a rookie right-hander, saying “I think Mark needs to know that we believe he’s a key part of our offense.” If Reynolds is a key part of the offense, the offense is in trouble.
  • One of our chief complaints about the video challenge is that it takes the skill and action off the field and into hidden places in the ballpark where “video guys” work. Indeed, Matheny’s challenge was instigated by off-the-field personnel, and Matheny was simply a puppet. Is this what we want?
  • Another is the time for the review — nearly five minutes in this case.
  • And if that weren’t enough, there’s the silliness caused by the inability to “recreate” a play after players conduct it according to the initial ruling on the field, as was the case when Molina hit into a double play that, through the magic of instant replay, turned into a sac bunt. As Price noted afterward, “you can almost deal with a missed call by an umpire [better] than the ambiguity of instant replay.” We feel for him. Baseball has sacrificed everything else at the altar of “getting it right.”
  • Matheny deserves one clap for bringing in his “closer,”Rosenthal, in a tie game. The reason it’s only one clap is because, had the Reds scored off setup man Jordan Walden in the eighth, the bottom of the ninth never would’ve come. Then again, Matheny was likely saving Rosenthal for the Reds’ main men — Votto, Frazier, Phillips and Bruce.
  • It’s a treat to see Jumbo Diaz pitching, though not because of any particular skill the Reds’ reliever possesses. According to Baseball-reference.com, the last “Jumbo” in the game was Jumbo Jim Nash, who last played in 1972. And of course St. Louis had one of the most famous Jumbos in the legendary George Washington McGinnis.

Five Questions for the 2015 Cardinals

April 12th, 2015 by Pip
1. Will Carlos Martinez fulfill his promise?
We’ve heard a lot the last few years about Carlos Martinez. But his control problems — both on and off the field — have inhibited his growth. Will 2015 be his breakout season? The biggest questions are his role and whether he can be effective against lefties; the gap in his splits — .355 career wOBA against vs. LHB, .282 vs. RHB — may help answer the first, as Mike Matheny may opt for a chance to use him more advantageously as a reliever if Martinez can’t sufficiently fill in for the injured Jaime Garcia in the rotation. Cardinal fans have reason to be hopeful, regardless of his role, since Mike Podhorzer figures that Martinez’s walk rate will decline in 2015 based on his expected walk rate.
2. Will the offense’s lack of power matter?
The Cardinals were dead-last in in the league in home runs in 2014, and observers are concerned that the team’s paucity of  power this spring will be a problem come April 5. Will it?
One can answer that question in a couple of ways. First, last year’s success despite the lack of power is a strong argument against it mattering. The club won the division on the strength of their defense, pitching and an above-average ability to reach base, so assuming that those other aspects of their game remain intact, the power dearth is a secondary concern. The only real change to the lineup is Jason Heyward instead of Allen Craig in right field, so their defense is only improved, even given  some expected degradation from Matt Holliday. The pitching staff is also better, if anything.
Another response to the question is to question the premise: After all, the Steamer projection system forecasts that the Cardinals will improve to a 19th rank in home runs this year. Heyward, who projections systems variously expect to knock 16-20 long balls, almost singlehandedly accounts for the upgrade.
3. Does the team have enough depth to support the vets?
Although the team has been getting steadily younger over the last five years, three of its key starters — Matt Holliday, Yadier Molina and Jhonny Peralta — and two of its rotation — Adam Wainwright and John Lackey — are on the wrong side of 30. The Cardinals have an ascendant Randal Grichuk backing up the outfielders. However, his 2014 postseason highlights notwithstanding, he offers the on-base skills of Pete Kozma. Speaking of, Kozma is the team’s lone backup for Peralta at shortstop (as well as at second base). As for catcher, the Cardinals thought so much of backup Tony Cruz that they opted for AJ Pierzynski last year, as one blogger noted. Bottom line: If the team’s 30-somethings miss much time, the Cardinals will be hurting.
4. What will become of Jason Heyward?
The on-the-job interview — for both parties — begins tonight at Heyward opens the season in right field. Will he follow in the footsteps of Matt Holliday, convincing the Cardinals to make a rare nine-figure long-term investment? Will he rediscover the offense to go with his prodigious defense and price himself out of the Cardinals’ market? We expect that Cardinal fans will do their part to woo the 25-year-old, and that the club’s success in 2015 will be sufficient to engender goodwill toward the franchise. Even if Heyward doesn’t revisit his early-career power, his defense and on-base skills should warrant a new Cardinal contract. Indeed, the Cardinals may be wishing for a productive but not flashy — as in ESPN home-run reel — season from their new right fielder.
5. Will Matheny mature as manager?
Mike Matheny enters his fourth season as big-league manager. Will he remain on his current plateau of conventionalism or ascend a new path to give the Cardinals strategic and tactical advantages? Joe Maddon’s transfer into the division decreases the margin for error, meaning Matheny needs to tighten up his game, whether it’s with pitcher deployments or sacrifice bunting. A manager’s role pales in comparison with the players, but in a division in which one or two games may be the difference, Matheny can help be a difference maker — in a positive way.

Game 2 Recap: Cubs 2, Cardinals 0

April 9th, 2015 by Pip
Quotable
“It was a big win, especially the way that Lynn threw the ball today. He was sharp.” — Jake Arrieta. Lance Lynn out-pitched his counterpart, but the Cardinals couldn’t convert any runs.
Players of the Game
  1. Lance Lynn: Improved on Adam Wainwight’s start by posting a 0.86 FIP on the strength of nine Ks and only one walk.
  2. Jake Arrieta: Struck out seven, walked three across 27 batters; 2.11 FIP.
  3. Jorge Soler: Tripled in fourth, accounting for game-high .553 wOBA.
Plays of the Game by Win Probability Added (from Cardinals’ point of view)
  1. Starlin Castro‘s run-scoring single in the seventh (-.159)
  2. Jorge Soler’s triple in the fourth (-.094)
  3. Jon Jay’s groundout with runners on second and third in the sixth (-.088)
Notes
  • Lynn singled in the third, meaning he’s racked up a quarter of his likely season total. One of the team’s worst hitters, the righty has totaled only four safeties each of the last two seasons.
  • Speaking of pitchers at the dish, Jake Arrieta bats barehanded, making him an early candidate for our 2015 All-Barehanded Batting Team. Not that there’s a lot of competition.
  • The Cardinals hit six line drives, the Cubs three. Only two of the Cardinals’ liners fell for hits, the same as the Cubs.
  • Matt Adams looked like he didn’t read Lynn’s pickoff throw, initially leaning to his left before lunging right to try to retrieve the errant throw. The throw was pretty bad, but perhaps a more adroit player would’ve caught it.
  • We’re glad to see Matt Belisle with a successful Cardinal debut, but his #37 really needs to be retired.

Game 1 Recap: Cardinals 3, Cubs 0

April 6th, 2015 by Pip
Quotable
“There are just guys like that who, when they get into tough situations in big games, they’re able to make the big pitch when they need to.” — Mike Matheny on Adam Wainwright. This observed “clutchiness” is perhaps no different from hitters — Wainwright makes big pitches in big games not because they’re big games, but because he’s a great pitcher.
Players of the Game
  1. Jason Heyward: Had a game-best .761 wOBA on strength of five total bases.
  2. Adam Wainwright: Pitched a crisp, 23-batter 1.06-FIP opener.
  3. Matt Holliday: Reached base three times (.488 wOBA) and had marvelous sliding catch in the sixth.
Plays of the Game by Win Probability Added
  1. Matt Carpenter singled, scoring Wong in second (+.102)
  2. Matt Holliday singled, scoring Heyward in first (+.090)
  3. Chris Coghlan doubled in second (-.068)
Notes
  • Orlando Cepeda used to get a new bat after every hit, believing that each bat had only so many hits in it. When we watch Mike Olt, we can’t help but think that, with Kris Bryant biding his time in the minors, Olt’s career with the Cubs has only so many games in it.
  • The game was evidently not a sellout, because the bleachers weren’t ready.
  • Heyward is now 7-for-12 in his career against Lester. As Joe Maddon would say, “bring ‘em on!”
  • Cardinal lefties’ reached base in seven of 12 plate appearances off Lester. Their success off one of the game’s top southpaws is a hopeful harbinger for the season.
  • For all of their running last night, the Cardinals netted only +.029 WPA for their stolen base attempts (three success, one failure).
  • Yadier’s throw was off-target, allowing Tommy La Stella to swipe second base in the third inning.
  • Good to see Jason Motte work a 1-2-3 inning, even if it was for the Cubs.
  • Whatever Jorge Soler’s strengths may be, defense did not appear to be one Sunday night.
  • Give Trevor Rosenthal his first Nen of the year.

Our 2015 MLB predictions

April 4th, 2015 by Pip

[Note: We’re not big into the prognosticating game, especially picking teams in the postseason, but we do make exceptions in the name of group participation. Following are our picks for ESPN’s 2015 MLB predictions, along with a brief word of rationale.]

2015 MLB Award Predictions

Who will win the:

American League Playoff Races

Which team will win the:

  • American League East? Boston Red Sox
    What a difference a year makes. The arrivals of Pablo Sandoval and Hamley Ramirez help make the Sox respectable enough to win a division in which no team figures to clearly distinguish itself.
  • American League Central? Detroit Tigers
    Despite ace David Price, the Tigers’ rotation is no longer the strong suit it once was. However, their lineup is still potent, especially with the addition of Yoenis Cespedes.
  • American League West? Los Angeles Angels
    The Angels don’t have much behind uberstar Mike Trout, but their cast of semi-stars like Albert Pujols, Matt Shoemaker and a recovering Garrett Richards can keep them ahead of a middling AL West.
  • First American League wild card? Seattle Mariners
    King Felix may finally taste the postseason, as a rag-tag collection of Mariners — including newcomers Nelson Cruz and Seth Smith — may actually vie for the playoffs. Their lineup projects to be 5.0-WAR better than last year.
  • Second American League wild card? Tampa Bay Rays
    Yes, they’ve lost Joe Maddon, David Price and Ben Zobrist. But their pitching staff still has some quality in Alex Cobb, Drew Smyly and Jake McGee.

National League Playoff Races

Which team will win the:

  • National League East? Washington Nationals
    The Mets may surprise, but the Nationals are simply too strong. Their best-in-baseball rotation alone — with newcomer Max Scherzer — makes them the prohibitive favorite.
  • National League Central? St. Louis Cardinals
    The Cardinals improved their defense and lineup with Jason Heyward — a projected 7.0-WAR improvement at right field — and expect to have perhaps their second-best pitcher, Michael Wacha, back for the season. They return a lineup virtually unchanged from last year’s division winner. Even with a resurgent Chicago team and the declining Matt Holliday and Yadier Molina, that should be enough to repeat in baseball’s strongest division.
  • National League West? Los Angeles Dodgers
    Even with losses like Hanley Ramirez and Matt Kemp, a rotation with Kershaw and Greinke — not to mention hitters like Yasiel Puig — is enough to easily carry a team to the postseason tournament.
  • First National League wild card? San Diego Padres
    Sleeper pick or charity pick? If we’re going by projections, the lineup from southern California’s other team stands to improve the most in the league — an anticipated 4.2-WAR upgrade from 2014. With the addition of James Shields, Justin Upton and Matt Kemp, coupled with the Giants’ key losses, the Padres should contend.
  • Second National League wild card? Chicago Cubs
    As strange as it feels to type “Cubs” here, we have to admit that they’ve got a good-looking club, even if Kris Bryant never bats once at the major-league level. After all, their offseason netted them a projected 2.8 in their lineup, to say nothing of their pitching upgrade. They’ll have to hold off the Pirates, who are still tough but for whom the loss of Russell Martin may be too much.

MLB Postseason

Which team will win the:

  • American League title? Detroit Tigers
  • National League title? St. Louis Cardinals
  • Which team will win the World Series? St. Louis Cardinals
    The postseason tournament is a crapshoot, so, assuming that they get in, why not the Cardinals?