Tag Archive | "Baseball"

Remembering Burwell For The Man He Was….And Is

Bryan Burwell

I would not profess to say I knew Bryan Burwell for a long period of time at all. In reality, it has now become fact that I only knew him in a short window towards the end of his life, which sadly came to be on early on Thursday morning. I met him just a few years ago at the annual Cardinals Care Winter Warm Up early in the morning in a media breakout room. Bryan would record interviews with many of the members of the team and other attached figures in our room, so essentially I had a front row seat to watch him do what he did remarkably better than anyone else I have ever seen do firsthand: effortlessly produce a comfortable, yet productive conversation out of anyone. It did not matter whether he was discussing a first trip to spring training with a promising minor leaguer, or talking through the real-life impact of reaching the Hall of Fame with Tony LaRussa. The man simply had a common touch that was unmatched in my eyes.

This could probably be attributed to the way that I truly became acquainted with him myself back in early 2013. While we were in the media breakout room he had come in and he made his presence felt in an immediate sense, simply by speaking to one person he may have identified in the hallway before even stepping into his destination at the table in the media room. I knew it from hearing it for years on ESPN’s ‘The Sports Reporters‘, as well as narrating local televised stories in my native St.Louis, where he worked for 12 years as a member of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Yet, in a room full of noteworthy voices, it was that distinctively deep voice that was instantly recognizable even if you even turned to identify who it was.

It would be inaccurate to say that he worked the room, because he never went out of his way to announce his presence. Mainly, because he did not have to. Most every conversation that he had was one you could tell was a continuation of one previously. This was a man that genuinely knew everyone, and that gravity like pull to him was returned from the recipient as well. Myself being easily the youngest and most unaccomplished writer at the time in the room, I stayed to my work in the corner that I enjoyed working from, being slightly seen but definitely not heard whilst earning my stripes I was not even quite sure if I deserved yet.

The next time I looked around I saw that the sudden Master of Ceremonies of the room, Bryan, had set up shop at an adjacent table just behind me, while setting in on working with his cameraman about what interviews he would be going after that day. In a day where my job was to speak with and connect with some of the most famous figures in the city and in sports, I was more stunned by the fact that I would be working in the same proximity with one of the most noteworthy writers of my time.

When the member of the Cardinal media staff that comes in the room to let us know that another player would be taking the podium to field questions soon came into our room, we moved over to take our spots in the adjacent room where the media sessions take the place. On the way out of the room, Bryan looked over at me and I nodded back in initial direct recognition, but then he made his way by and put his hand on my shoulder, which of course set my nerves into overdrive. I had hoped that I had not broken some unspoken rule of the room that I had no knowledge of, but was about to be baptized in the parameters of.

But as quickly as those nerves flared up, he dosed them with a quick recognition that changed the course of my day immediately. He looked down at my laptop bag and had noted KappaAlphaSithat it shared the coat of arms of my collegiate fraternity, which unknowingly to me Burwell was affiliated with. Instantly the entire course of my experience that day—and many times after—changed.

We immediately began a discussion on a number of topics that ranged from my work and background, to his as well. He had questions ranging from what my goals were with writing and opinions on the Cardinals, all the way down to sharing fraternity stories and just general conversation. All in all during this first conversation, we ended up talking for close to a half hour, while a number of people who knew him came to speak to him and therefore met me as well.

Afterwards I would often stand next to him in the media sessions, where he would sometimes turn to me with an off the cuff comment or to offer some context that always helped to get a grasp on either what question to ask or even down the road inspire a story. It was one of the most unexpected, yet meaningful professional relationships I had ever cultivated.

It was the beginning of one of the most useful and beneficial relationships of my life. After this initial meeting, we remained in contact occasionally. While I never asked him for anything directly regarding jobs or information, if something came along that he thought was a good opportunity, he would reach out to me with it, usually via Twitter or a quick text. Anytime we would run into each other at either a Cardinals or Rams event or practice, we would have that same conversation where he would check in on what I was doing, and then in his own generous way, let me know the best way to go about making the most of it.

I can recall the last time I worked with Bryan having lunch with himself and Joe Strauss at a restaurant in downtown St. Louis. As the three of us sat in the mostly empty establishment, there was a Mizzou basketball game on the corner. And while the lunch only lasted about 45 minutes, I learned more in the exchange of bantered between the two seasoned writers than I probably could have in the rest of the year combined. Those two were longtime coworkers, and did not have to welcome me to that privy of a conversation. But with his always welcoming style, Bryan gave stock to my opinion on both the game and other random topics just easily as he did the much more seasoned Strauss. That is just the type of guy he was, a true man of the people.

As an African-American writer, many times in this industry you do not see many people that resemble yourself or that you can relate to on that level. While Burwell was a nationally famous figure for both his written efforts as well as his televised work, he was not far from Earth in this culturally shared feature for us either. He related to me as well on that very basic and shared perspective. I came to find it was bigger than just a relationship built from a happenstance meeting over a laptop bag, that it was the gateway that showed the often-immediate bond that occurs between African-American journalists who are charged with the responsibility of shedding light in ways it may not have the opportunity to be shed through any other medium.

Bryan let me know that there is no reason to get away from who I truly am to write a sport that does not reflect me as often as it could. A purpose that I understood before meeting him, but was sharpened even greater by being able to watch and associate with him.

I am saddened to see my part-time mentor/fraternity brother/stylistic mentor pass on for the standard reasons that one is impacted to see anyone pass. There is a family with a void in it and friends that have lost a genuine one in return. I am also saddened because the city and country has lost the type perspective provider that never goes out of style. One unafraid to face up to tough issues and tackle them with his head up and head on.

Bill Ivie, the founder of this website, shared his thoughts on Burwell’s passing:

Burwell was a guy that I very seldom agreed with. His opinions often differed from mine pretty greatly. But I always appreciated the way he went about his business, the way he presented his information and the respect he had for the industry. He took time to work with our reporters from i70 anytime we were on the same assignment. Never once did he look down on anyone from this site for not being “traditional” media. The man had my respect and the industry lost a great voice, a talented writer and a mentor. He and his family will remain in our prayers during what is now a hard holiday season for them all.

But in his passing, he has also instructed another indirect lesson that can reverberate as long as the ones that he voiced to me as well: that your work and the ethic to create it can be your legacy, but to carry a common touch and strong dignity through what you produce can truly make you immortal, just has Bryan has become.

Thank you for what you represented, and later became, for me. From a representative work to read, and then an actual personality to model myself after.

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KC Royals’ Spring Training Report: Full Update of Surprises, Busts and Injuries

The Kansas City Royals have had an eventful spring.  For the first time in recent memory, the team is feeling the stress of a team that is expected to win.

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Winning brings its share of scrutiny, and The Royals have certainly found themselves in the spotlight.  Some players have excelled and been a pleasant surprise for the team.  Some have fizzled under the pressure and face uncertain futures.  Others have found themselves injured, either seriously or mildly, and have many questioning the team’s depth.

Some teams simply hope for a quiet spring to prepare for the long season.  If that was the goal for the Royals, it may be a difficult road ahead.

Mike Moustakas Leads a Group of Positive Surprises

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The surprises of the spring start with the production of a young man that the team desperately needs to perform well this season. Mike Moustakas, a player that the team has been anticipating to be a big part of the offense for multiple years, has seemingly arrived with the chip on his shoulder that the team wants him to have.

Moustakas leads, or is tied for the lead, with all regulars this spring in hits, doubles, home runs, runs batted in and batting average. He is slugging an amazing .921 and is second on the team with six walks. His offensive performance this spring has the team very hopeful that he can be a breakout star in the regular season.

Moustakas is not the only surprise this spring, however. On the mound, Yordano Ventura came in to camp ready to compete for the final spot in the starting rotation. The electricity that flowed through this young man when he took the mound this spring was something very few people could have predicted.

Ventura proceeded to pitch just over 15 innings to date, striking out 15 hitters while only walking one. He has held opposing batters to a .185 batting average, and he has posted a 0.72 WHIP. Ventura, according to Barry Bloom of MLB.com among others, has been named to the team's starting rotation after his dominance in spring training.

Bill Ivie is the founder of i70baseball.com.
Follow him on Twitter to talk baseball all season.

Posted in RoyalsComments (0)

Cardinals Winter Warm Up Progressive Blog—Day 2

The second day of the Cardinals Care Winter Warm Up getting underway today, with a new slate of Cardinals set to make appearances and visit with the media as well. As was the plan yesterday, I-70’s coverage will be a four-tiered experience, shared through the site, Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.

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Today also marks the one year anniversary of the passing of Stan Musial, which will surely be a moment of note at today’s event, and in the Cardinal community at large.

Follow I-70 on Facebook here, while coverage on Twitter will be shared between @I70Baseball and @CheapSeatFan. The Instagram account for content is also ‘CheapSeatFan’.

The scheduled players to appear today are: Allen Craig, Shelby Miller, Jason Motte, Matt Carpenter, Matt Adams, Joe Kelly, Shane Robinson, Lance Lynn, Kolten Wong, Jon Jay, Tony Cruz, Eric Fornataro, Tyler Lyons, Jermaine Curtis and Carlos Martinez

 

9:50—Matt Adams

He stated that he has continued working on redefining his weight and diet balance with team physicians and is doing team monitored workouts. Yet in regards to his overall health, he feels good and his elbow is in shape again. However, he could continue wearing an elbow brace for precautionary purposes.

“The big thing I’m working on is seeing lefty pitching better and seeing the lefty slider down and away.” He began swinging just before Christmas and has even employed college left-handed pitchers come to throw live pitching and sliders.

On combating the shift, he does not anticipate a very radical change in approach, and believes that is the deception that the alignment is meant to create. “You’ve just got to go with the ball wherever its pitched, and not fall in the trap of trying to hit it based on where guys are playing me.”

Regarding his opportunity to be the everyday first baseman, it is “a huge opportunity. You’ve just got to go with it, run with it and go down ready to perform and fight for a job.”

Shane Robinson—10:52

Despite the growing number of outfield candidates, it is business as usual for Robinson in his regard to competing for a spot on the club. “I’m positive about it. I don’t really think about it too much, but the addition of another outfielder makes it more complicated.” He states he is accustomed to being in competitions to make the team, and this year should be no different.

Joe Kelly—10:56

In regards to his place in the starting rotation, he is taking the same approach as he did last year, and doesn’t see any change in what he needs to do. “Spring training is a very long time, and having your body healthy and arm healthy is most important.”

In regards to competing for a rotation spot, he continued that it is not a way that he looks at the team “Everybody else puts numbers behind pitchers, but I don’t do that. I don’t look at a pitcher and say he’s a one or he’s five. But I’m not going to cut myself short, I’m going to go out there and try to take Waino’s spot.”

About his success late last year, “it gave me confidence,” Kelly said. “It gives you some swagger out there and you go out to do the best that you can.”

He had a busy offseason, which featured him getting married, but experiencing an earthquake at his offseason home, in nearby Fontana, California. In addition to this, there were brush fires which burned 1200 acres of land close to his home as well—less than 10 miles away in Glendora.

Mark Ellis—11:08

In regards to the Cardinals as a fit for him in free agency: “The biggest attraction was the young pitching staff, anchored by Adam Wainwright.” He said the experience of facing them in the National League Championship Series was a big influence. “I’ve never played in a World Series, and I feel this is my best chance to do it.”

He was surprised that the Cardinals contacted him, due to the presence of Matt Carpenter and the season he was coming off of. He continued that when the team contacted him, it did change his plans and outlook on the market.

While being a mentor is a part of being a veteran that he acknowledges and is s, it is not his goal to be solely that and he will compete for time. “I don’t think that anybody still playing wants to be a mentor. The club told me they are high on Kolten (Wong), but you want to go out there and compete and help the team get to the ultimate goal.”

While second base has been his primary position, he is open to playing other positions as well if the scenario comes up. “I was a minor league shortstop all the way through and played third base in college, so I can play anywhere needed.” He said the team talked to him a bit about it, but not extensively.

On former teammate Clayton Kershaw’s landmark contract, he stated that while being careful about what he says regarding him since he will be playing against him now, he is “as perfect of a ballplayer as you can have”, and he works as hard as any player he’s ever seen and is an incredible teammate. He continued on to compare his approach and personality to what he knows of Adam Wainwright.

 

Carlos Martinez—12:42

Regarding what his role will be with the team this year and what he is preparing to be, he is working hard to be a part of the mix for the starting rotation, a role that he has used the winter ball in the Dominican Republic. “I wanted to pitch to more quality guys so that I would be ready to compete for a spot,” he said via an interpreter.

Martinez was not mix on what role he would like to have in the upcoming season. “Being a reliever is easier. As a starter, it’s a different mindset. I have to pace myself a little bit more, but I always wanted to be a starter and hopefully I get that opportunity this year.

In regards to the difference in his success late in the season upon returning to the majors, he gives credit to more comfort with his off speed pitches. “(I’m) trying to grow confidence on it to throw it in any count, and be a lot more effective and grow with it.”

Shelby Miller—12:59

(There will be more on Shelby’s comments on the 2013 postseason in a separate piece)

He did an aggressive strength building program throughout the offseason, building more muscle span than he had previously.

In regards to his innings pitched span last year, which set a career-high, he felt he limited himself some in that regard, over any effort from the team to do so. He put blame on his innings count being low due to outings where he threw too many pitches to get through a sort amount of innings, and that reaching 200 innings pitched this year is his personal goal.

While he hasn’t worked on expanding his arsenal at all, he does intended to potentially work on a sinker in the spring to create more groundballs.

Jason Motte—1:25

He intends on starting the process towards throwing this Tuesday, and will build from there. He does not anticipate a normal Spring Training regime. It is truly a day-by-day process, and the next step will be based on the result from the previous one with no timetable on the long end.

Despite the time away from the game, he said it was not a difficult experience, due to the time he got to spend with family and working with his Foundation. “If you’d asked me a couple of years ago, I may have been chomping at the bit, but it is not that tough now.”

He stresses the difference in the rehabilitation process for a relief from a starting pitcher, in that there is a more constant need from a reliever, thus making being prepared for complete comeback very critical. “Relieving is a bit different, as once you’re in it, you’re in it. And if a need comes up for you again the next day, you need to be able to say you feel good to get out there.”

He has consulted with both Adam Wainwright and Chris Carpenter on the expectation of returns, and what to expect in the process.

He stated that he was informed by Mike Matheny before the decision was made to make Trevor Rosenthal the closer to enter the season, and that it is a decision he is in line with. “He hasn’t done anything any different; it’s not a surprise that he has been able to pitch the way he has.” He said that Matheny called him directly to tell him first, before making the announcement official.

Matt Carpenter—2:42

While he said he felt good throughout the postseason, he did take a longer time off than in any other year.

He regards the move back to third base as a “homecoming” and he doesn’t anticipate much transition period at all, due to his comfort at the position. “I’m excited. Third has been home for me my entire career except for last year and I’m looking forward to it.”

While he has moved on from second base, he regards the experience at his now former position as “rewarding”, and that it aided him in learning pitches and moving along with the game from a new position.

On repeating his breakout season, he places it as a strong motivating factor. “Obviously the expectation has been set, and I am looking forward to meeting it and exceeding it.”

The Silver Slugger was a high for his season, ranking it as a season high point along with the All-Star Game. “It was a surreal, can’t believe I accomplished it, type of thing.”

Jon Jay—2:50

Regarding the trade to acquire Peter Bourjos, “It’s the same it has always been, I’m going to show up and be ready to compete. It is one of those situations where we are trying to do whatever it takes to win.” He states that Matheny reached out to him about the deal, and he was receptive to the situation. “As a player, you want to win and I’ll go out there and be prepared to win.”

About his production decline last season, he stressed “The effort was there, and the while the results weren’t there as they’d been in the past, in the second half my numbers got back to where they were in the past.”

Allen Craig—2:57

About his shift to right field, he has no reservations about his foot injury and that he feels fine now compared to October. However, he did take an extra month off to give it time to heal, which delayed his time to start training for the spring.

About the switch from an everyday perspective, “I’m excited to get out to the outfield and run around a bit. As long as I’m healthy, it doesn’t really matter to me what position I play.” He anticipates doing a bit more long toss to prepare for more throws, but also taking groundballs to stay ready to work at first base as well.

Regarding the changes to the everyday lineup, “One thing we have been able to do well is adapt over the last few years.”

Lance Lynn—3:08

About whether he sees himself as a starter or a reliever, he is absolutely clear on that he sees himself as only a starter “I’m a starter, so that’s it.”

About if he considers himself a veteran part of the rotation, he stressed that “I am a bit older than some of the guys, but nobody is a veteran in this league at 26.”

 

That’s it on the new news front today. Come back tomorrow for the final installment of the Progressive Day Blog with content from Matt Holliday, Mike Matheny and Michael Wacha among others.

 

More to come shortly….

Posted in Cardinals, I-70 Special Reports, MLBComments (1)

The Past Meets The Future—Matheny Extended, Carp Retires

It was a day of coming and going for the Cardinals. In the first major personnel announcements of the offseason, General Manager John Mozeliak announced that the organization was furthering its leadership on the bench with Mike Matheny, while also making official the retirement of Chris Carpenter.

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In the current, the decision to continue on further with manager Matheny was affirmed over the long-term—not that there was ever any question regarding it. In his second year, the Cardinals finished with a National League-best 96 wins, going to win its first National League Championship under his guide, before reaching Game 6 of the World Series. For these efforts, he finished fourth the voting for NL Manager of the Year and saw it come to a head today with a three-year contract extension that will keep him in St. Louis through the 2017 season. Before the 2013 season, his third year option that covers the 2014 season was previously picked up.

Matheny has played a pivotal role in keeping the organization afloat after future Hall of Fame manager Tony LaRussa retired two years ago. In a time where the team could have slipped into a minor rebuilding phase, under his watch it has instead returned it to the NLCS two consecutive years and won its first NL Central in four years. In his first two seasons on the bench, Matheny has a record of 185-139, which is the third best two-season start to managerial career in Cardinal history.

             HISTORY IN THE MAKING

Matheny has quietly climbed into elite company in Cardinal history in his first two years as manager. His 185 wins bring him in a third all-time in team history for manager wins over the first two seasons:

Billy Southworth (1941-42): 203-104

Frankie Frisch (1934-35): 191-116

Mike Matheny (2012-13): 185-139

Johnny Keane (1961-62): 177-147

Joe Torre (1991-1992): 167-157

Perhaps what has been most impressive has been the handling of the young guard of Cardinal prospects that Matheny has embraced. They have become an important foundation of the team, both now and in years to come. Armed with a ready to win, yet continually developing roster, the move to secure Matheny over the long-term is yet another strong early investment in continued Cardinal success.

 

Yet, while the club was securing its future, it also announced the newest part of its past. The biggest announcement of the afternoon was Mozeliak confirming what was long assumed to be coming: the retirement of Carpenter. Injuries curtailed the last two seasons for the 38-year-old pitcher, and he mustered only three starts since 2011. After mounting a final comeback attempt in mid-June, only to see it derailed in Memphis after the same nerve issues that ended his 2012 in Spring Training returned. Ultimately, it became clear there was nothing left to pursue in regards to continued attempts to return, and as his contract also expired with the club at the end of the season as well, it became clear that it was time to move on.

Injuries often kept Carpenter from being the regularly dominant presence at the front of the Cardinal rotation, but when he was there, he was among the best hurlers to ever wear the Birds on Bat. After beginning his career with the Toronto Blue Jays, Carpenter signed with the Cardinals in December 2002, but missed his first season in St. Louis with an elbow injury.

But from the time he made his Cardinal debut in 2004, on through 2006, he was as good a pitcher as the National League had. Over that time span, he posted a record of 51-18, including winning the first Cardinal Cy Young in 2005 since Bob Gibson hoisted the award 35 years before. In 2006, he anchored a Cardinal staff that salvaged a failing season to win the team’s first World Series since 1982.

While he missed all but five games in 2007 and 2008 due to a second elbow surgery, he played an important role as mentor to the young Adam Wainwright, becoming a critical part of launching a career that has seen him join Carp among the elite Cardinal hurlers all-time. He returned to the top of his game in 2009, joining Wainwright in the top three of the NL Cy Young vote, a third such finish for Carp.

His final great hurrah was in the 2011 postseason, when he authored one of the great postseason games in history, winning a 1-0 dual with Roy Halladay. Overall, he posted a 4-0 record that October, including two World Series wins over the Rangers, including the decisive game seven victory.

Overall, he finished with a career record of 144-95, and a 10-4 postseason record, the seventh most wins in playoff history. With the Cardinals, his career record finishes at 95-44 with a 3.04 ERA and finished in the top ten in strikeouts, winning percentage, WHIP and postseason wins. He fought through a litany of injuries during his career: a torn shoulder labrum, torn ulnar-collateral ligament, and finally thoracic outlet syndrome, that led to the nerve and circulatory problems that ultimately brought his career to a close.

Due to time lost, Carpenter will not reach Cooperstown, but will loom large in the lore of his era. He is likely to be a quick inductee into the forthcoming Cardinals Hall of Fame when the Ballpark Village-based Cardinal museum is completed. Nobody will ever wearing his number 29 again most likely, despite the fact it is not eligible to be “officially” retired under current team rules. As for his future in the game, there has been continued dialogue between him and Mozeliak on finding a place for him with the club, most likely in a coaching capacity. Because, for one of the game’s great warriors, a suit-and-tie front office gig will not do. Rather, keeping him close to the dirt and the players that continue the legacy that he so intensely embraced is the only way.

As it has always been, its only goodbye for now for Carp.

 

Matt Whitener is a staff writer for i70 Baseball. He can also be found at The Sports Fan Journal and Cheap.Seats.Please, as well as on Twitter at @CheapSeatFan and WhitenerCSP@gmail.com

Posted in Cardinals, Featured, MLBComments (0)

Cardinals Drop Three From 40-Man Roster

In the continued offseason evolution of the Cardinal roster, the team parted ways with three players on Tuesday, as the free agent free-for-all continues to inch closer. The team parted ways with outfielder Adron Chambers, first baseman/outfielder Brock Peterson and catcher Rob Johnson.

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The decision was made to outright each from the club’s 40-man roster, which each followed by electing for free agency. Each played bit parts with the team throughout the year, with Chambers playing the furthest into the season with the club, as he was a part of both the Wild Card and NL Championship Series rosters. He was also the most tenured member of the team to leave the organization, as he was drafted by the team in the 38th round of the 2007 draft and appeared in parts of three separate seasons. For his career, he is a .216 hitter in 88 career at-bats, after turning in several promising seasons while rising through the system. The most promising of those years was 2012, when Chambers hit .319 for Memphis and saw his longest look in the majors as well. However, despite his plus speed and defensive ability, he was buried by Shane Robinson’s hot spring and then never showed the bat to be able to put his best asset to work.

Johnson was brought in as an experienced backstop to share the spring load, and to guard against any potential regression from Tony Cruz. Yet when Cruz proved capable of handling the load when needed, especially during the absence of Yadier Molina to injury, Johnson eventually became not much more than an emergency fallback option than anything else. The 31-year-old hit .171 in 20 games in St. Louis, after a .236 effort in Memphis across 59 contests.

Peterson was one of the best stories of the season, reaching the Majors after 11 years spent in the minors. He hit 25 home runs in his All-Star season for Memphis, he made his long-awaited MLB debut, but managed only two hits in 26 at-bats afterwards, and never carried over into being the type of right-handed power threat the team had hoped for.

With the release of the Chambers, Johnson and Peterson, along with the elections for free agency by Chris Carpenter, Rafael Furcal, Edward Mujica and Carlos Beltran, three spots on the Cardinal 40-man roster are open. Jason Motte was activated from the 60-Day disabled list as well, taking another open spot on the roster.

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Pete Kozma is the new Yadier Molina?

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This Labor Day weekend I was doing what I do pretty much every weekend during the season, watching baseball. I was listening to Dan McLaughlin and Ricky Horton call a Cardinals/Pirates game, which oftentimes is a chore. Now I realize the play-by-play guys are not there to get too analytical about what’s right and wrong with the Cardinals. I understand they are there to entertain and help add something to the game for people who just want to watch baseball. If you are reading this article, or any article online that you had to search for because you have a longing to learn more about baseball, you probably do not find the broadcasters of any team to be particularly deep. So I’m not picking on them. I understand their role. But regardless, they kept repeating something about a certain player that I found to be especially appalling. The same player who I cringe at when I hear any defense for.

Pete Kozma.

I don’t get Kozma. More so, I don’t get what St Louis feels it owes him. I was one who wanted The Cardinals to go after Stephen Drew in the off-season, as Rafael Furcal was aging and becoming too injury prone. After Drew signed with The Red Sox, and a few months later Furcal was reported to miss the entire ’13 season, the general consensus seemed to be that The Cardinals would be okay with Kozma at shortstop.

The season starts and the talking point with McLaughlin and co. was that he was going to surprise everyone, he was going to be better than we expect and any production we get from him will be a benefit (whatever sense that makes). Kozma started off relatively hot, and his defenders felt justified. But soon after, reality caught up. His numbers started plummeting. But, if you squinted, they at least weren’t  completely horrible. Then the talking point from McLaughlin and co. was that he was a number 8 hitter and his numbers were in line with other number 8 hitters, so what do you expect? Stop complaining. They basically made it clear that if anyone complained about him, they were picking on the poor guy.

But of course his numbers kept getting even worse and worse. Writers such as Bernie Miklasz of The Post-Dispatch (who has anyone noticed he is going through a full transformation into a sabermetrician this last year?) decided they were done defending him. The die-hard Cardinal fans decided that he was slumping too much to defend. Everyone was done with the guy. What he did late last year and in the post-season was fine and all, but he has squandered all goodwill he earned. There finally was a universal consensus:

Pete Kozma is absolutely terrible.

Except for McLaughlin and group who decided they were going to still defend the guy with a hail mary pass of a defense. They decided that:

“Pete Kozma was Yadier Molina from a few years ago.”

They claim he is a high defense, low offense player who will get better. They compare Molina’s poor 2006 season to this year for Kozma. The implication is that if The Cardinals stick with Kozma and continue to start him, he will became what we have now with Molina.

My jaw dropped when I heard this. And every time they repeated it, my jaw dropped even further. After the game, I went online to see if anyone picked up on it. Viva El Birdos jumped on it before I did. I was originally going to not write about it after I saw they covered it, but decided I still wanted to because I want to add to what they said. And it’s such an egregious statement, it needs to be covered even further.

There are so many things wrong with comparing Kozma to Molina. For instance:

Kozma is not Molina defensively, no one really is. 

Molina is just incredible at catcher. He is the best defensive catcher in baseball today, and makes an argument for the best of all time. Kozma is a decent defensive shortstop. Compared to his hitting, it’s his strength. But compared to other players in the league, he’s slightly above average. To even compare the two is a joke. In 2006, Molina’s Fielding Runs Above Average (based on UZR) was 6.3. And that was especially weak for him, as in 2005 it was 9.0 and in 2008 it was 10.0. But even in a weak year for Molina, it still trounces Kozma. This year his FRAA is 2.2. Comparatively, the best shortstop in baseball defensively, Brendan Ryan, posted a 13.8 last year (he’s only played 86 games this year).

In all honesty, I kind of wish we still had Ryan. As he is probably a much better comparison to Molina than Kozma is.

Molina was good prior to 2006, this is probably the real Kozma

In the Viva article, comparing both player’s minor league stats, points out:

In the majors, this year, Pete Kozma is hitting .215/.272/.272 in a league that’s hitting .251/.315/.390. In 2012, he hit .232/.292/.355 in a league that hit .278/.345/.430. 2011 was undoubtedly worse than 2013: .214/.279/.289 in Memphis while the Pacific Coast League hit .286/.359/.448

Yadier Molina, as a 20-year-old in the AA Southern League, hit .275/.327/.332. That’s not a .700 OPS, either, but it did come in a league that hit .255/.329/.374, and that struck out 19 percent of the time while he struck out 11 percent of the time. The year before that, as a 19-year-old in full season ball, he hit .280/.331/.384 in a league that hit .251/.325/.363, and that was, in aggregated, 21-and-a-half.

At 21-and-a-half, Molina was called up to the majors and hit .267/.329/.356 in 51 games.

Their article stops at that, but I would even extend it to his first full year on the team. In 2005, Molina hit a pretty bad .252/.295/.358 with a WAR of 1.2. But in comparison to Kozma this year who is hitting .212/.268/.268, Molina looks like a slugger. His slugging pct is still almost 100 points higher than Kozma’s. Even in 2006, Molina’s slugging is .321, much higher than Kozma’s.

Even when Molina hit rock bottom offensively, he was better than what Kozma seems to be as a player.

Molina was an anomaly, you should not count on that.

What Molina has done is incredible. He has gone from being a defensive ace with no speed and no bat to a hitter battling for the batting title. It’s unbelievable and rarely happens. So the idea that you should count on it at all is silly. Because how many players have come up and weren’t very good, worked endlessly with their hitting coach, never improved and left MLB forever? A majority of replacement level players. Even the aforementioned Brendan Ryan was a project of former hitting coach McGwire that didn’t produce the results of Molina. To say that anyone can do what Molina has done is both a logical stretch and a minimization of what Yadi has done.

At this point, The Cards are stuck with Kozma on the team for the rest of the year. Maybe Ryan Jackson comes up with the September call ups and takes over at short. Maybe Descalso. Maybe in the off-season, The Cardinals get another player. Maybe with Jose Iglesias playing so well for The Red Sox, Stephen Drew will be available again. Or maybe not.  But whatever happens, we cannot physically stand another season of Kozma.

He is not a major league shortstop. I wish he was, but he’s not. And he definitely is not Yadier Molina.

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The St. Louis Cardinals Acquire Reliever From Milwaukee

BREAKING – The St. Louis Cardinals have acquired John Axford from the Milwaukee Brewers in exchange for a player to be named later, according to the team and first noted by Kary Booher of the Springfield News Leader.

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Axford, the once mighty closer for the Brewers, has served as the team’s eighth-inning guy for the majority of the 2013 season.  His performance has been far from his former, dominant self.  He is allowing greater than 1.5 runners per inning pitched and has already surrendered as many home runs this year as he has in any other year.  His strikeout rates are down, though his walk rates appear to be steady.  He is a work horse type pitcher that has already appeared in 62 games this season and does add some veteran relief to the back end of the bullpen.  He does produce a solid ground ball rate just below 44% and the Cardinals are probably hoping to catch lightning in a bottle by putting him back into meaningful ball games.

Axford is in his arbitration years as a “Super Two” player, which leaves him under team control through 2016.

Far from the move that most fans or pundits believe to be the one the Cardinals needed to make, it does inject a new and steady arm to the bullpen for a relatively low cost, depending on the prospect heading to Milwaukee.

Bill Ivie is the founder of i70baseball.
You can find his work on Yahoo!InsideSTL, and here on i70.
Talk baseball with him on Twitter @poisonwilliam

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Flopps: The 8 Bit Baseball Card

I am a sucker for this stuff, I admit.

Flopps

Craig Robinson is the author behind one of the best infographic style books I have ever read, Flip Flop Fly Ball.  Where the book left off, the website took over.

Craig continues his great work over at his site keeping track of what hat he wears everyday and all kinds of graphically represented statistical anomalies.  We’ve featured some of that work here on i70 before, bring you galleries of his Lego Baseball Players and his infographic on Albert Pujols.  Just last week we brought you other 8-bit baseball players from another site.

Today we bring you a sampling of Craig’s newest creation, Flopps.  The Flip Flop Fly Ball baseball cards dedicated to all things baseball.  Browse the images in the slideshow below and then head on over to the site to see the entire collection.  (Don’t miss the Steve Bartman card below)

Use the “next” and “previous” buttons below the slides to browse through all the images.

Albert Pujols

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Albert Pujols is one of the greatest hitters in recent memory. Perhaps he will forever be remembered as he is depicted here, in a St. Louis Cardinals uniform.

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George Kottaras is Much Better Than You May Think

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I’m going to say something which may ruffle some feathers. Salvador Perez is a little overrated. But I’m going to follow that up with something that hopefully will win everyone back, George Kottaras is very, very underrated. He’s also the best back-up catcher in baseball and is as much the reason The Royals are on this hot streak as anyone else on the team.

The praise for him online has been around for a while, long before he was on The Royals. Here is a Fangraphs article from last year, criticizing The A’s for using Derek Norris over Kottaras at catcher.

Meanwhile, Kottaras, in his incredibly limited amount of time, has outproduced Norris offensively.  Norris may have the edge defensively, but it’s really not by that wide of a margin.  Not wide enough to play an offensively inept guy in lieu of, that is.  And while the offensive difference between the two hasn’t been that significant in August, the overall numbers for the season show that Kottaras is better suited to play during this home-stretch playoff run.

Kottaras is an incredibly modest guy who admits he tries to puts team first. He claims getting on base and trusting the guy behind you is the best philosophy to play with. Being quoted in this article:

“The whole ‘Trust the guy behind you’ really made sense finally,” he says. “It’s about patience and doing the little things. You don’t always get a pitch to bring in the guy from third with less than two outs. So if it’s not there, let it go. Take the walk and let the next guy have a shot at it.”

Originally I wanted this article to be a comparison between The Cardinals and The Royals and how they were doing (or did, now that Perez is back)without their starting catchers. Essentially comparing Kottaras to Cruz. But two paragraphs in I realized it was no contest, Kottaras was much better. So the comparison I want to make now is Kottaras versus Perez.

If you look at standard statistics, Perez is much better. Kottaras is hitting .176, 5 hrs, 12 rbis. Those stats place him statistically in line with other back-up catchers, and would indicate he is possibly one of the worst. Perez on the other hand is hitting .278, 4 hrs, 43 rbis. Perez is clearly better right? Not so fast.

When you evaluate their slash lines, it tells a different story. Kottaras: .176/.384/.432 verses Perez: .278/.309/.382. Kottaras is a walking machine. I realize his sample size is much smaller than everyday starters, but if Kottaras was able to maintain that as a starter, he would be 12th in all of baseball with on base pct. He’d also lead The Royals, just over Billy Butler. But what’s more impressive is his slugging pct. Kottaras slugging is about 50 points higher than Perez. Kottaras only has 13 hits this year, but 5 of them are homeruns and 4 of them are doubles. Kottaras’ objective at the plate seems to be to take a walk. But when he does decide to swing for a hit, he really makes it count. In his career, he has 143 hits. 40 have been for doubles and 29 for homeruns. His 2013 ISO is .257. And not to be accused of small sample size, his career ISO is .200. His career slash is .215/.328/.414. He has never posted an on base pct under .300 and has only finished twice with an on base under .310. But even with an impressive career .328 on base pct, it’s been even higher the last 2 years as a result of him coming to terms with what he does best. From the same article as above:

“Just keep the line moving,” Brett says(about Kottaras). “Each guy just keeps it all moving. Don’t be that guy that tries to win it all yourself. You have guys behind you.”

Still, Kottaras, 30, wasn’t able to connect that philosophy to his game right away. In his one full season in Boston and his next two in Milwaukee, his on-base percentages were a modest .308, .305 and .311.

“It took me a couple of years to totally understand that because when you’re in the minors or when you just get up to the big leagues,” he says, “you’re always searching and finding what you do right.”

Also, for the last 3 years, his slugging has been well over .400.

Since the All Star break, Kottaras has an OPS of .853. He is as hot as anyone else on the team, yet the general consensus in the media is The Royals were dying to get Perez back. When Kottaras was starting at catcher with Perez out, The Royals were 5-2. I’m not saying that Kottaras is necessarily better than Perez. In fact, he probably isn’t. But I do think he is much more in the conversation than people think.

Losing Perez for a while should have been a bigger blow. But Kottaras was there to really soften that blow. And unfortunately, to a much larger degree than he gets credit for.

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Baseball, Beautiful Women, and Robots

The folks at Fox Sports are preparing to launch the newest sports network, Fox Sports 1.

As they prepare for their launch, they are sending a tour bus around the country loaded with the Fox Sports Robot and a group of “Fox Sports Girls”.

Matt Whitener of i70baseball had a chance to visit with the group as they stopped in St. Louis this past weekend and he will be bringing you all of the details of that event here on the site this week.  In the meantime, here are some pictures that Fox Sports Midwest asked us to share with our fans.

After all: if it has robots, Fredbird, baseball, and beautiful women, it would be hard to go wrong.

Use the navigation buttons below to see each picture individually.

Fox Sports Robot and Girls at Busch Stadium

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Photo courtesy of Fox Sports.

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