Tag Archive | "Consecutive Season"

St. Louis Cardinals need Lance Lynn in starting rotation despite struggles

St. Louis Cardinals starting pitcher Lance Lynn may have saved his spot in the starting rotation with a solid six innings Wednesday when he held the Milwaukee Brewers to one run in a game the Cardinals eventually won 5-1.

LanceLynn

But his spot in the rotation should have been safe regardless, even if he might not have deserved it with his recent performances.

Lynn has a 13-10 record but had been awful or close to awful in his five previous starts before Wednesday as the second half of his season fell apart for the second consecutive season.

He began the season nearly the same way he did his rookie year in 2012. He won 10 of his first 12 decisions in 2012 and won 10 of his first 11 this season, but what happened next is what keeps Lynn from being a force in the rotation.

Lynn went 3-3 after the All-Star Break in 2012 until the Cardinals sent him to the bullpen in late August to rest and work on his mechanics.

That decision helped, as Lynn all four of his starts in September as the Cardinals made their push to qualify for the second wild-card spot. Of course, the Cardinals could afford to let Lynn regroup in the bullpen for a couple of weeks because they had a rotation that still had Kyle Lohse and Jaime Garcia, and Chris Carpenter was on the way back from the disabled list.

They had no such luxury this season when Lynn lost five of six decisions between Aug. 4 and Sept. 5 and saw his earned run average jump from 3.78 to 4.37.

Lohse signed with the Brewers in the offseason, Garcia blew out his shoulder in May and Carpenter never could get back from his arm injuries. Plus, manager Mike Matheny does not yet have enough confidence in Jake Westbrook to move him back into the rotation from the bullpen, which is where he’s been since he returned from a back injury.

The Cardinals also have two rookies already in the rotation with Shelby Miller and Michael Wacha, and their only other options are rookies Tyler Lyons or Carlos Martinez, who have both been inconsistent in their first seasons in the major leagues.

So Matheny must continue to give the ball to Lynn every fifth day regardless of his performance. The pressure in this situation is not on Matheny; it’s squarely on Lynn, who must consistently pitch well for the Cardinals to maintain their slight lead over the Pittsburgh Pirates and Cincinnati Reds in the National League Central Division to avoid having to play in the winner-take-all Wild Card Game, as they did against the Atlanta Braves in 2012.

Lynn often gets frustrated when his outing does not go perfectly. For example, he gave up three homeruns and four runs total in five innings Sept. 5 against the Reds in Cincinnati, and his body language after each was terrible.

It’s fine to be frustrated. The Cardinals certainly wouldn’t want their pitchers to be happy after they give up a homer, but they also need their pitchers to refocus immediately and get the next hitters out to avoid a bad at bat becoming a bad inning and a bad game. The Cardinals lost Lynn’s latest start against the Reds 6-2 in part because he struggled to bear down and push through the adversity that is part of nearly every Major League Baseball game.

He was much better Wednesday against a much weaker lineup. The Brewers don’t have near the quality hitters of the Reds, who could easily be a playoff opponent for the Cardinals this year.

But the Cardinals don’t necessarily need Lynn to be a postseason starter. They can find three pitchers to take care of the starts in October. They instead need Lynn to be at his best in September so they are positioned for success once the playoffs begin.

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Previewing the Cardinals 2014 Schedule

Yesterday afternoon, the Cardinals released the details of their schedule for the 2014 season. After some of the adjustments made to the scheduling process in the first year of the balanced schedules, there were plenty of new elements to get used to. Constant interleague match ups, two game “natural rivalry” series, an increase in four-game stands and increased divisional play all changed the course of the season and the weight of each ballgame.

stldt_phototour80

Next spring will be the ninth season for Busch Stadium III, as well as the inaugural year for Ballpark Village. But looking ahead inside the park, there are new challenges on the horizon for the Cardinals. Most notably, the interleague alignment will pit the baseball’s two most competitive divisions from this season against each other, as the National League Central will face off against the American League East.  This will undoubtedly create a much tougher road throughout the season, yet create a number of attractive match ups, both a current and historical sense.

Also, the I-70 Series vs the Kansas City Royals will remain in the fold, as the two-and-two format will remain in place, with two consecutive series in each team’s home ballpark.

Unlike this year, the team will play a heavier home schedule before the All-Star Break with 48 home games at Busch Stadium before the July 14-17 Mid-Summer Classic, and another 33 after. While announcements on ticket availability, promotions and game times will come in the future, here are a few of the highlights and series of note for the upcoming season.

  • The season opens March 31 in Cincinnati with a three game series against the Reds, before moving on to Pittsburgh for a three-game weekend set.
  • Opening Day in St. Louis is Monday, April 7 versus the Reds for the second consecutive season
  • April 11-13: First home series versus the Chicago Cubs
  • May 2-4: First weekend trip to Wrigley Field
  • Longest Homestand: From May 12-June 3, the team plays only three games away from Busch
  • Interleague visits to Busch: The New York Yankees visit Busch from May 26-28, the Tampa Bay Rays for a two game series July 22-23 and the Boston Red Sox from August 5-7.
  • Interleague Travels: The Toronto Blue Jays June 6-8, Tampa Bay Rays June 10-11 and to Baltimore to face the Orioles August 8-10.
  • I-70 Series: The Kansas City Royals come to Busch from June 2-3, and the Cardinals go to Kansas City June 4-5.
  • Holiday home stands: Memorial Day versus Yankees, Fourth of July (vs. Miami Marlins) and Labor Day (September 1 vs. Pirates)
  • The final home stand of the season is a nine game stand against the Colorado Rockies, Milwaukee Brewers and Cincinnati Reds from September 12-21.
  • The season ends visiting the Arizona Diamondbacks on September 28.

 

 

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Is this progress?

Barring a complete collapse, it looks as though the Kansas City Royals will not finish in fourth or fifth place for the first time in ten years and the second in fifteen. They need to play one game over .500 in their next 32 to finish with their best record since 2003. They should comfortably surrender their lowest run total since 1995 while posting an improvement in wins for the third consecutive season, something they haven’t done since 1992. All of this begs the question, is this progress?

In terms of “The Process”, you would have to say that yes, this is progress. The Royals will head into 2013 with nearly an entire line up of players that are either homegrown or traded for while they were still unknown quantities. Nearly all of these players will either be locked up under a club-friendly deals or not yet eligible for free agency. The only real exception is Jeff Francoeur, who will most likely get one last chance to start in right field and prove exactly who he is toDaytonMoore…at least until after next year’s Super Two deadline. Francoeur and Bruce Chen will both be back in 2013 at a combined cost of $12 million. Still, what Moore has always told us is that once you have a majority of the team composed of your guys, under contract on your terms, then you can have the resources to go out and spend free agent money on one or two pieces where you need them. Mr. Moore, you have exactly that heading into 2013 with a club that I’m certain you’ll sell to us as improving, so where do the Royals need pieces?

In terms of position players there are two clear weaknesses in the Royals lineup. One of them we’ve already mentioned, right field, will be manned by Jeff Francoeur, and has a clear succession plan in Wil Myers. In other words, there is absolutely no reason to go add a right fielder. The second, and more glaring, weakness is at second base. Johnny Giavotella would have to hit a ton to make up for his defense, and to this point he hasn’t shown the ability to do that in the majors. Chris Getz, the likely starter in 2013, would have to be a gold glover to make up for his bat and he is not. The most prominent free agent at second base is Robinson Cano…even if the Royals had all the money in the world; I don’t think he’s coming toKansas Cityunder any circumstances. There are no other guaranteed upgrades over Getz available on the free agent market so it seems unlikely the Royals will add a major contract for a position player in 2013.

Obviously, the Royals major hole is in the rotation. In fact, their two biggest holes are in the rotation. They have a nice collection of 4 and 5 starters, but no one that figures to be a 3 or better in 2013. With a bullpen that is set and a lineup that isn’t changing, this is where all of Dayton Moore’s attention should be focused this offseason and he’s said as much. There is no telling how much money Moorehas to spend, but let’s just use $20 million. Why that number? That’s the prudent estimate of profit for the club in 2012, and you know David Glass has always said he’s just looking to break even. There are a lot of Royals fans dreaming about Zack Greinke, not only do I think that would be a pipe dream, it would also be ill-advised. Greinke will cost somewhere in the neighborhood of $20 million, best case scenario about 100% of the Royals free agent budget. One pitcher with a 2.3 WAR does not make this pitching staff that much better. The Royals need to go out and get two pitchers at approximately $10 million a piece. I’m not going to get into who they should or shouldn’t be until the offseason, but the Royals should have them all scouted and should go hard after the two pitchers in that range they think best fit this rotation. Just throwing out two names off the top of my head, a rotation of Shaun Marcum-Jeremy Guthrie-Bruce Chen-Mendoza/Hochevar-Odorizzi/Smith could be a competitive rotation. Even better, the club would have the possibility of Danny Duffy or Felipe Paulino in July. That would be progress. But back to the question, is this progress? 2012? It is, but like everything else involving the Royals, it won’t mean a thing unless Glass and Moore take advantage of it.

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Comeback Puma Of The Year

Major League Baseball announced the winners of the Comeback Player Of The Year Award in both the National and American League today. Below is the official Press Release from Major League Baseball:

Lance Berkman of the St. Louis Cardinals and Jacoby Ellsbury of the Boston Red Sox are the recipients of the 2011 Major League Baseball Comeback Player of the Year Awards, it was announced today. The Comeback Player of the Year Award is officially sanctioned by Major League Baseball, and is presented annually to one player in each League who has re-emerged on the baseball field during the season.

Berkman, who hit a combined .248 with 14 home runs and 58 RBI between the Houston Astros and New York Yankees in 2010, batted .301 with 31 home runs and 94 RBI in his first season with the Cardinals in 2011. The 35-year-old added 23 doubles, two triples and 90 runs scored while posting a .547 slugging percentage and a .412 on-base percentage. The 23 doubles marked his 12th consecutive season with at least 20 doubles while it was his sixth career season with 30-or-more home runs and his eighth season with 90-or-more RBI. The switch-hitting Berkman finished the season ranked among National League leaders in home runs (T-9th), RBI (T-11th), walks (92, 4th), slugging (5th) and on-base percentage (3rd).

Berkman, who led the N.L. with 22 home runs on the road, now ranks fourth all-time among switch hitters with 358 career home runs and his 31 homers this season were the second-most by a switch-hitter in St. Louis history behind the 35 hit by Rip Collins in 1934. Berkman, who was originally selected by the Astros with the 16th overall pick in the 1997 First-Year Player Draft, registered four multi-homer contests this season and now has 29 for his career. The Texas native appeared in 145 games, including 107 starts in right field, 16 in left field and 16 at first base. The 145 games marked his most since playing in 159 during the 2008 season. In July, the Rice University product was elected by the fans to his sixth career All-Star Game (also 2001-02, 2004, 2006, 2008) and made his third career start.

Ellsbury, in his fifth Major League season, posted career-highs in nearly every offensive category after being limited to just 18 games in 2010 due to injuries. Ellsbury hit .321 with 32 home runs, 105 RBI, 46 doubles, five triples and 119 runs scored. He also added 39 stolen bases to go with his .552 slugging percentage and .376 on-base percentage. The 28-year-old led the Majors with 364 total bases and 83 extra-base hits while ranking among the A.L. leaders in hits (212, 3rd), RBI (T-6th), runs (3rd), batting average (5th), slugging (T-5th), multi-hit games (T-5th), stolen bases (4th), doubles (T-3rd) and home runs (T-5th). The Madras, Oregon native became the first Red Sox player to have a 30-homer, 100-RBI season while serving as the club’s primary leadoff hitter, and the first Major League leadoff hitter to accomplish that feat since Alfonso Soriano did it for the New York Yankees in 2002.

Ellsbury, the 23rd overall selection in the 2005 First-Year Player Draft, became the first Red Sox player ever to achieve a 30-homer, 30-stolen base season and the 12th player in A.L. history to accomplish the feat (16th time). In addition, Jacoby became the fourth player in Major League history to reach 200 hits, 100 RBI, 35 stolen bases and 30 home runs in a single season, joining Vladimir Guerrero (2002), Alfonso Soriano (2002) and Alex Rodriguez (1998). Ellsbury, who was named an All-Star for the first time in his career this year, joined Carl Everett (33 homers as a center fielder in 2000) as the second Boston center fielder in the last 25 years to top the 20-homer mark, and his 364 total bases were the most ever by a Red Sox center fielder, eclipsing the previous mark of 339 set by Tony Armas in 1984. The only Boston center fielder to collect more hits than Ellsbury’s 212 was Hall of Famer Tris Speaker, who recorded 222 hits in 1912.

The 30 Club beat reporters from MLB.com, the official web site of Major League Baseball, selected the winners for the 2011 Major League Baseball Comeback Player of the Year Award. Past winners of the Award include: Jason Giambi and Ken Griffey, Jr. (2005); Jim Thome and Nomar Garciaparra (2006); Carlos Peña and Dmitri Young (2007); Cliff Lee and Brad Lidge (2008); Aaron Hill and Chris Carpenter (2009); and Francisco Liriano and Tim Hudson (2010).

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July 3, 1967 – Broken Teeth, Stitches, and a Cardinals Win

The only thing hotter than the temperature in St. Louis was the battle for the 1967 National League pennant. It had suddenly become a three team race, two of which were the St. Louis Cardinals and the visiting Cincinnati Reds. The Reds had led the league for most of the season, but the Cardinals kept pace, never falling more than 4 1/2 games behind. It had been a two team race until the Cubs went on a tear, winning 16 of their last 19 games, including a recent 3 game sweep of the Reds. That knocked the Reds out of first place and put the Cubs into contention for the first time in several years.

At the start of this series, the Cardinals and Cubs were tied for first place and Cincinnati was starting to fade, now 5 games behind. The Cubs would give back nearly all of the ground they gained over the next two weeks, but it was this Independence Day series between the Cardinals and Reds that would set the tone for the remainder of the 1967 season.

The Cardinals seemed to be in good shape entering the series. Orlando Cepeda (.348) and Tim McCarver (.346) were chasing Roberto Clemente for the batting title, and were second and third in the league, respectively. Curt Flood was also in the mix, batting .306 at the time. Lou Brock, Roger Maris and and Julian Javier were also flirting with .300.

Milt Pappas

If that wasn’t enough for the Reds to deal with, the Cardinals starter on the night was Bob Gibson (9-6). But it wasn’t just any Bob Gibson. This was Gibson at his absolute meanest, and that meant trouble for the Reds. Gibson was coming off the worst outing of his career, giving up 9 runs in just 2/3 of an inning against the San Francisco Giants. When he took the mound, it looked like he had something to prove – we just didn’t quite know what it was.

Facing the Cardinals was veteran right hander, Milt Pappas. Pappas had recently come over to the National League after an impressive stint with the Baltimore Orioles. This was his 9th consecutive season with more wins than losses, and 10th if you are willing to include his rookie season where he went 10-10 as a 19 year old. In spite of all of his success, he always seemed to have trouble with the Cardinals.

A quick start

Gibson made quick work out of the Reds in the top of the first, as he would do for most of the game. A strikeout, an infield ground out and another strikeout and it was the Cardinals turn to hit.

And did they hit. And hit. And hit.

Lou Brock would lead off with a double, followed by singles by Curt Flood, Roger Maris and Orlando Cepeda. Before Pappas could even work up a sweat, the Cardinals had a 2-0 lead and were threating for more. Tim McCarver would hit a sacrifice fly, scoring Maris for the 3rd Cardinals run. Infield singles by Mike Shannon and Julian Javier would load the bases and end the day for the Reds starter. Don Nottebart, a former starter turned long reliever, would take over and he would be greeted rudely by light hitting Dal Maxvill who would clear the bases with a loud double in the right field gap. An errant throw allows Maxvill to score and the Cardinals now had a commanding 7-0 lead, with still only one out. Bob Gibson would extend the inning with a single.

What happens next united a team that was lacking a bit of identity, and they would need that over the coming months as they faced enough adversity to demolish a lesser team.

Thrown out

Lou Brock

Lou Brock would make the second out of the first inning with a fielders choice, forcing Gibson at second base. There was no chance of doubling up the speedy Brock. With a 7 run lead, Brock attempts to steal second base and is thrown out, ending the inning. He also angered the Reds in the process. Apparently the Reds did not appreciate Brock running in that situation, and would soon retaliate. Not once, but twice – and that was just one too many.

Gibson would shut down the Reds quickly in the second and third innings, striking out seven of the first nine batters he faced. The Cardinals would go quietly in the second, but started another rally against Nottebart in the third.

Tim McCarver and Mike Shannon would start the inning with singles, putting runners at the corner. Deciding this was the time to make a statement, Nottebart brushes back Julian Javier, inviting the ire of Cardinals fans that remember Javier paying a similar price in 1965. Javier would ground into a fielders choice with McCarver being thrown out at home. The inning would end without a further incident, but tempers were clearly heating up.

In the fourth inning, Gibson would strike out two more Reds, bringing his total to 9. He was also throwing a perfect game, retiring the first 12 Reds rather quietly.

Once too often

Nottebart would again voice his displeasure of Brock’s running in the first inning by hitting the Cardinals left fielder to start the home half of the 4th inning. If he had not dusted Javier in the previous inning, that might have passed without a response. One was fine, but two batters could not be tolerated. Somehow, the Reds forgot who was on the mound for the Cardinals.

A return message was clearly delivered in the top of the fifth inning. Bob Gibson would throw one of his best fastballs behind the head of Tony Perez, one of the leaders of the young Reds team. Just because he didn’t hit Perez didn’t mean he wasn’t sending a loud and unambiguous message: this ends here and now. But it didn’t. Far from it.

Tony Perez would fly out, but while heading back to the dugout he yelled something at Gibson.

There are two things you can’t do to Bob Gibson: cheat on the inside of the plate and bark at him. Tony Perez must not have gotten that memo.

Tony Perez

Perez and Gibson would share several verbal exchanges, both men getting more animated as they went on. The situation escalates when Orlando Cepeda comes over from first base to try to intervene, according to Cepeda’s version of the story. This move is misinterpreted by the Reds reliever, Bob Lee who comes running in from the Cincinnati bullpen.

Lee is a mountain of a man, listed at 6ft 3in and 225 pounds, but he looked much bigger at that particular moment.

Both teams ran out on the field and punches were thrown, hard and repeatedly. The scrum moved quickly into the Reds dugout and players started jumping in just as quickly as others were being thrown back onto the field of play. Even some fans got in on the conflict, helping out the home team. St. Louis police officers were soon dispatched to break up the fight, and they were eventually able to restore order, but not before several players were hurt, as was one of the officers.

The Reds manager had to be treated for lacerations from being spiked. The Reds reliever, Don Nottebart, received several facial cuts, but would stay in the game and pitch the bottom of the inning. Bob Gibson would jam the thumb on his pitching hand and it would bother him later in the game, prompting a call to the bullpen in the 8th inning. The most humorous of the injuries was to Tommy Helms, who broke a tooth – presumably the result of a Gibson punch. Helms would end the night 0-4 causing a sports writer to note that Gibson got more hits on Helms than Helms did on Gibby.

When play resumed, only one player was ejected: Bob Lee. While his actions had led to the escalation, the reason for his ejection was that he had entered the field of play illegally.

Back to the game


Orlando Cepeda

The game would continue, but it was clear that the fight had taken a toll on both teams. The Reds went quietly until the top of the 8th. Gibson was starting to struggle with his control, and the Reds started hitting him hard. After giving up 3 runs, manager Red Schoendeinst would go to his bullpen and Nelson Briles would quickly shut things down. Perhaps this was an omen as Briles would be called on to fill the spot in the rotation when Gibson lost two months to a broken leg.

The Cardinals would end up splitting the 4 game series, winning the first and last games while dropping the middle two. More important than this series, something had awakened in the Cardinals clubhouse. In a few weeks, Orlando Cepeda would stand up on a trunk and proclaim “Viva el Birdos”, and the Cardinals would go on to win the pennant and defeat the Red Sox in the fall classic. Looking back at the season, that bird might have taken flight in the 5th inning of this game. July 3, 1967.

Bob Netherton covers Cardinals history for i70baseball.com and writes at On the Outside Corner. You may follow Bob on Twitter here or on Facebook here.

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Press Release: Blue Rocks, MiLBaseball, and Kraft Partner

The following is a press release provided to us by the Royals Class-A Affiliate, the Willmington Blue Rocks:

Minor League Baseball™ and KRAFT Singles partner for third consecutive season
Wilmington Blue Rocks will honor the “Tuesday Night Tickets” deal at Frawley Stadium this season

April 13, 2011
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla.–Minor League Baseball (MiLB) announced today it will once again partner with KRAFT Singles on the popular “Tuesday Night Tickets” deal. From April 12 through September 6, 2011, fans are encouraged to bring any KRAFT Singles package wrapper to participating teams’ ballpark box offices on Tuesday nights to buy one ticket and get another ticket free courtesy of KRAFT Singles.1

This season’s program features several elements, both in and out of the ballparks. The core of the promotion revolves around the “Tuesday Night Tickets” program. Other elements include ballpark signage and in-game promotions and a Tuesday-specific program that will take place in a select number of participating clubs’ ballparks. Promotional items such as radio ads will also be placed by KRAFT Singles, while an array of promotional pieces will be positioned in-market by participating teams.

The ongoing association between Minor League Baseball and KRAFT Singles not only brings the two properties together for another fun-filled season of America’s favorite pastime and great food, but fans will continue to benefit from the relationship.

“Thousands of families look forward to celebrating a baseball outing together where they can cheer on their local team and enjoy a cheeseburger with KRAFT Singles hot off the grill,” said Marisa Zimmerman, senior associate brand manager for KRAFT Singles. “The Tuesday Night Tickets deal is a homerun, bringing savings and smiles to Minor League Baseball fans and families across the country this season.”

“Minor League Baseball and KRAFT Singles naturally go hand-in-hand,” Minor League Baseball’s Vice President of Sales and Marketing Rod Meadows said. “Whether it’s backyard barbecues complete with KRAFT Singles or taking in a game at a Minor League Baseball ballpark, both brands are an iconic part of the American fiber.”

Meadows further added, “When consumers think of affordable, family entertainment, they think Minor League Baseball. The same applies when consumers think of THE American cheese; KRAFT Singles immediately comes to mind. ”

Promotional wrappers are another exciting addition to this year’s program. As part of the sponsorship, it is estimated that the “Tuesday Night Tickets” promotion, including the Minor League Baseball logo, will soon appear on up to one million KRAFT Singles wrappers.

The partnership is also a unique opportunity for both parties to increase brand awareness, showcase their companies and target large audiences of fans and consumers.

About Minor League Baseball

Minor League Baseball is the governing body for all professional baseball teams in the United States, Canada and the Caribbean that are affiliated with Major League Baseball through their farm systems. The Minor League Baseball Office is located in St. Petersburg, Fla. With 174 teams in the United States, Canada and Mexico, fans are coming out in unprecedented numbers to this one-of-a-kind experience that can only be found at our ballparks. From the electricity in the stands to the excitement on the field, Minor League Baseball has provided affordable family-friendly entertainment to people of all ages since its founding in 1901. In 2010, more than 41.4 million baseball fans went through the turnstiles to see the future stars of the sport hone their skills at Minor League Baseball ballparks. With Minor League Baseball, “It’s Fun to be a Fan!”

For more information about Minor League Baseball, visit www.milb.com
Visit Minor League Baseball on Facebook. Follow Minor League Baseball on Twitter.

About KRAFT Singles

With its perfect melt and consistently creamy texture, KRAFT Singles (www.kraftsingles.com) has been THE American cheese at the dinner table, in school lunch boxes and more for 45 years. KRAFT American Singles are an excellent source of calcium and a good source of vitamin D. KRAFT Singles are also available in 2% Milk and Fat-free varieties. Look for KRAFT Singles Pasteurized Prepared Cheese Products in the dairy aisle of leading grocery stores.

About Kraft Foods
Northfield, Ill.-based Kraft Foods Inc. (NYSE: KFT) is a global snacks powerhouse with an unrivaled portfolio of brands people love. Proudly marketing delicious biscuits, confectionery, beverages, cheese, grocery products and convenient meals in approximately 170 countries, Kraft Foods had 2010 revenue of $49.2 billion, more than half of which was earned outside North America. Eleven of the company’s iconic brands — including Cadbury, Jacobs, Kraft, LU, Maxwell House,Milka, Nabisco, Oreo, Oscar Mayer, Philadelphia and Trident — generate revenue of more than $1 billion annually, and 40 have been loved for more than a century. A leader in innovation, marketing, health & wellness and sustainability, Kraft Foods is a member of the Dow Jones Industrial Average, Standard & Poor’s 500, Dow Jones Sustainability Index and Ethibel Sustainability Index. For more information, visit www.kraftfoodscompany.com and www.facebook.com/kraftfoodscorporate.

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2010 Year In Review: Royals Player Of The Year – Billy Butler

Since about halfway through the 2010 season the main focus of Royals fans shifted away from Kansas City and down to the farm. It is time to recognize a youngster who has already proven his abilities on the MLB level, Billy Butler. For the second consecutive season Butler, 24, took home the Royals’ Les Milgram Position Player of the Year Award. Butler joins Hall of Famer George Brett as the only person to win the Les Milgram Award in back-to-back seasons.

Butler has been a standard of consistency since breaking into the MLB, on a team which has been anything but. In 2010, Butler led all Royals in every offense category except home runs. He had a career high 189 hits, causing a career high batting average, .318, which has steadily risen since his 2007 rookie campaign.

The greatest sign of Butler’s consistency is his well documented streak of hitting safely in 103 straight series. Butler was the Royals’ most productive player on the roster, compiling a WAR of 4.5. His 2010 WAR is the highest for a Royals’ position player since Carlos Beltran’s 7.4 WAR in 2003. Despite having fairly similar stat lines in all four of his seasons, his WAR has continued to increase significantly.

2007/ 0.2 WAR

2008/ -0.9 WAR

2009/ 1.5 WAR

“The toughest thing in baseball is the consistent aspect,” Butler said in an interview with Dick Kaegel of MLB.com. “You struggle out there to put the barrel of the bat on the ball every day and, with what the pitcher is trying to do, you try to stay ahead of him and make adjustments. You can’t control where the ball goes, but if you put the barrel on it, it’s going to find some holes.”

Many would consider 2009 his best offensive season. Considering he hit six more doubles, six more home runs, and 15 more RBIs, it’s hard to understand how Butler was worth more wins this season. One of the biggest factors is his continuing progress as a first baseman.

According to Baseball Reference, using the rTot stat (total fielding runs above or below average based on the amount of plays made) Butler improved his defense at first base from -13 in 2009 to 2 last season. The 15 RBIs he lost on the offensive side, he made up by playing essential 15 runs better at first base.

The rise in WAR is in direct correlation with Butler’s defensive prowess. Check out his single season rTot/yr, which is the same statistic projecting a player’s defensive opportunities over a 1,200 inning span.

2007/ -75

2008/ -22

2009/ -13

2010/ 2

“I’ve got nothing against Kila Ka’aihue, I’ve played with him for a lot of years and I’ve gotten along with him. He’s proved a lot in the Minor Leagues and he deserves a shot,” Butler said. “But I feel I’ve only improved my chances and gotten better every single day at first base and will continue to get better. This was only my second full season at first base; I didn’t do it that much in the Minors because I played third and the outfield. I’m only 24 and I’ve got better years ahead of me, even defensively. I want to play first base every day, that’s the bottom line.”

Despite the improvements in nearly every facet of Butler’s game the two biggest knocks on him are the amount of double plays he hits into and his lack of power.

In 2010, Butler rolled into the pitcher’s best friend 32 times. Statistically, Butler cost the Royals almost six runs over the season solely because of his double plays, more than any other player in the league.

Butler’s high contact rate, along with a line-drive/ground ball swing, and his agonizingly slow feet make him the perfect candidate. Matt Klaassen, of Fangraphs, discusses Butler’s double play problems here, and suggests if the problem continues the best spot for Butler may be in the leadoff spot.

Many other fans were disappointed to see Butler only go deep 15 times last year. Considering his position and frame many feel his high contact rate isn’t enough, to become a superstar he must find some power.

Consider this; the only Royals since 2004 to eclipse Butler’s 21 dingers (2009), at the age of 23, were Miguel Olivo (23) and Mike Sweeney (22). Butler’s also knocked 96 doubles over the last two seasons, more than any other Royal in history during a two year span. Butler is continuing to learn how to drive the ball to all fields, take a quick look at his spray chart of homers since 2008, courtesy of Hit Tracker.

2008

2009

2010

Butler may not hit 30 home runs a year, but it doesn’t take a top flight scout to recognize how his ability to drive the ball to all over the park has progressed.

When Butler hit his career high home run total, 21; he also struck out a career high 103 times. In 2010, Butler struck out only 78 times while taking 11 more walks, good enough for a 12 point boost in his OBP.

It’s worthwhile to note the best offensive player in Royals’ history, George Brett, also played an infield corner and hit over 25 homers only twice in his career, at ages 30 and 32. The start both had as prospects are actually very similar, with Brett hitting for a higher average and Butler showing more power.

1974-77

George Brett (21-24) – .311/.357/.458, 122 2B, 45 3B, 42 HR, 291 RBI, 171 BB, 147 SO, 2,300 AB

2007-10

Billy Butler (21-24) – .299/.359/.457, 141 2B, 3 3B, 55 HR, 278 RBI, 187 BB, 293 SO, 1,975 AB

The biggest difference between these two performances, Brett was a two-time All-Star and finished in the top 15 of MVP voting three times. A lot of those accolades can be attributed to Brett playing a more vital position, while also playing on a competitive squad.

It will be interesting to see how Butler’s numbers progress as he grows into his prime. Some speculate he will ‘grow’ into his power. But, it if means him hacking for the fences, raising his fly ball and strikeout totals like in ’09, I’d rather him stick to his natural line drive stroke.

As more of the hitting prospects find their way to the big leagues, Butler’s numbers should get a boost from having more capable hitters to protect him in the lineup. Any team with Yuniesky Betancourt as their second most productive offensive player is in trouble. The 2011 season will offer Butler a platoon between first base and DH with the presence of Ka’aihue.

Eric Hosmer’s debut will most likely cause a more permanent shift to DH for Butler. A move like this could make a significant change in his offensive production as well. Having to solely focus on the stick for a professional hitter like Butler could prove beneficial.

One of the best examples of this reminds me of another right handed hitter, with slow feet who was criticized for his lack of power and defense, Mariner legend Edgar Martinez.

Martinez, a third baseman, was celebrated for his amazing contact skills and is now widely considered as one of the best DHs of all-time. Martinez and Butler took very different paths to the big leagues, considering Martinez didn’t play his first full season until he was 27, but they still offer many comparisons. Check out Martinez’s first three full big league seasons compared to Butler’s last three seasons.

1990-92

Martinez (27-29) – .318/.402/.477, 108 2B, 6 3B, 43 HR, 174 RBI, 212 BB, 195 SO, 1,559 AB

2008-10

Butler (22-24) – .300/.362/.459, 118 2B, 1 3B, 47 HR, 226 RBI, 160 BB, 238 SO, 1,646 AB

I don’t think Butler will ever hit for as high of an average Martinez did mainly because of the differences between their strikeout and walk rates. Besides those factors, Butler’s numbers are almost a dead ringer for Martinez’s.

Martinez didn’t hit more than 18 home runs in a season until he was 32, his eighth season in the MLB. After his power break through, Martinez posted six seasons of 23+ HR and 100+ RBI. The biggest changes in Martinez’s game can be attributed to becoming primarily a DH, and a boost of batting talent around him.

Bill James has already produced his 2011 projections, putting Billy Butler with numbers like these:

2010 – .318/.388/.469, 15 HR, 78 RBI, 77 R

2011 – .307/.377/.476, 18 HR, 89 RBI, 78 R

James’ projections are fairly credible, although creating a projected stat line for a consistent hitter like Butler shouldn’t be rocket science. Just look at his four season stat lines and they are nearly identical.

Whether or not Butler reaches the level of Brett or Martinez, he is the lone standout hitter on a team searching for a turnaround. Butler’s presence in the middle of the lineup is one of the biggest reasons the Royals finished second in the MLB in batting average. It’s hard to believe a team with the second highest batting average can only manage 67 wins.

Butler’s performance and steady improvement offer a perfect example for the next crop of prospects coming through Kansas City. Butler is up for arbitration this winter and is in store for a well deserved raise from the league minimum.

GM Dayton Moore needs to recognize if the Royals are going to make an extended run at the playoffs, Butler needs to be at the center. He has proved his worth and his dedication to a team normally playing for nothing. More important than anything else, unlike Zack Greinke, Butler has been open about wanting to be a major part in the future of the organization.

“I don’t want to go anywhere else.”

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Bo Knew What the Fans Wanted

After Sunday’s overtime loss to the Raiders most minds in Kansas City shifted to thoughts of a division title slipping through their hands. With a chance to take a commanding lead, maybe even have the division wrapped up by Thanksgiving, they are suddenly in a half game dog fight with the Raiders who just stole a win from them.

My mind shifted to a bruising Raiders back of old that always played a factor in the division race. He was an imposing and bruising runner, a comic book superhero in a real-life game. Vincent Edward Jackson was notorious for causing mayhem, from the grey ‘Nike’ checks on his cleats, to the looming big block ‘34’ on his L.A. Raiders jersey.

Bo, as he’s more commonly known, earned his nickname for constantly finding trouble as a kid. The eighth of ten children, his mother would often call him a ‘wild boar hog.’ Apparently, it became so frequent she trimmed it down to ‘Bo.’

Any journalist can attest, whenever writing an article you always refer to the person your speaking of by their last name. For some reason, writing ‘Jackson’ just doesn’t seem right. His legend and lore have grown so much he’s gained single name status, with the likes of Elvis, Madonna, and Cher.

Before Bo made two Sunday’s out of the NFL season hell for Chiefs fans, he was worth the price of admission for Royals fans.

Not to demean Billy Butler, he actually just took home the Royals Position Player of the Year home for the second consecutive season, but the baby blue ‘16’ uniform never looked so forceful after Bo wore it.

In 1985 the prodigy took home the Heisman Trophy for his 1,786 yards as an Auburn running back. A few months later, Bo went for .401, 17 HR, 43 RBI on the diamond.

Bo was taken with the first selection of the 1986 NFL Draft by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The Buccaneers informed Bo they didn’t want him injuring himself playing baseball. In the fourth round of the 1986 MLB Draft the Royals selected Bo. When news broke Bo’s eligibility was in question because of a jet ride with Buccaneer executives, the Royals seemed like a logical choice. The fact Kansas City was coming off a World Series Championship the previous season didn’t hurt either.

The Royals assigned him to the Memphis Chicks farm team. It only took 184 at-bats for Bo until he was out of a Chick uniform and into the baby blues.

Bo made his debut with the Royals on September 2, 1986. A few weeks later, in true Bo fashion, he rocked a delivery for his first big league homer. It went a reported 475 feet, the longest in the history of Kauffman Stadium. Bo’s landing destinations would often be around the second tier of fountains.

Later in his career, the free swinger lashed his ‘Hulk’ arms through the zone pounding the ball to dead center off Hall of Famer Nolan Ryan. At the time the blast was the longest in Arlington Stadium history.

1989 proved to be the apex of Bo’s MLB career. The left fielder hit .256/.310/.495, 15 2B, 32 HR, 105 RBI, and 26 SB. Good enough to earn him his first All-Star appearance. Bo introduced himself on the national stage like only he could. In the top of the first Bo snared a liner, saving two runs. In his first All-Star at-bat Bo cranked a majestic shot landing 448 feet away in center.

“It was a sound I’ll never forget,” says Mark Gubicza, Bo’s teammate with the Royals. “It was like an explosion. Then you heard all of the oohs and aahs like they were watching fireworks. It was something they had never seen in their lives.”

Against the Mariners, in the Kingdome Bo ran down an extra base hit in left-center. He picked up the ball took one step and made a flat footed laser throw from the warning track. The missile beat out the fleet footed, All-Star second baseman Harold Reynolds at the plate. After Bo gunned him down he smiled and looked toward the Royals bullpen. He extended his index finger and thumb to mimic a gun, blew the smoke from his rocket and put it back in the holster.

Much has been said recently about the crop of prospects coming through the system. Often many times prospects are overhyped, Reynolds puts Jackson’s talents into perspective in a USA Today interview.

“People following the game already knew what he could do,” former All-Star second baseman Harold Reynolds says, “but that (All-Star home run) was a coming-out party for the rest of the world. He did things no one has ever seen before. We talk about Stephen Strasburg and LeBron James and all of the hype with those guys. Can you imagine if Bo Jackson played now what the hype would be?”

When Bo wasn’t injuring fans in the nose bleeds from his bombs, he would showcase his world class speed. During the 1986 NFL Combine Bo ran a 4.12 forty. Once against Oakland, Bo banged a ball of the angled right field corner of Kauffman Stadium. As Jose Canseco chased the ball down Bo raced around the bases and slid easily in for the home run. After a brief second to catch his breath Bo did a kung-fu ninja flip to propel himself off the dirt onto his feet.

If the things he had done on the field weren’t proven by video, people wouldn’t believe the stories about Bo. The miraculous plays he made might as well been out of a low budget sports film.

It didn’t matter if Bo got a bad jump on the ball, his speed would make up the difference. Then he would levitate for a brief second, a la Superman, and make an acrobatic twist just in time for the white ball to hit the black leather of his mitt.

While playing the White Sox, Bo ran down a sure double in the left-center gap of Kauffman Stadium. After banging into the wall, he spun all in one motion and hurled a frozen rope towards first, where Chicago catcher Carlton Fisk was racing back to tag. The ball one hopped first baseman George Brett who put the tag on Fisk to complete the double play.

Even when Bo got out he put on a show. When frustrated after a poor at-bat Bo would snap his bat over his knee. If you were lucky enough, sometimes you could witness Bo break a three foot long, two and a half pound piece of wood over his head like a toothpick.

His strength, speed, coordination, and agility had never been seen before.

Once Bo decided to play baseball the Buccaneers rights to him began ticking away. By the time the 1987 NFL Draft rolled around the Bucs were forced to give up the rights. In the seventh round an owner well known for taking chances on players made him a Raider, Al Davis. Davis’ relationship was vastly different than that of Tampa. Davis allowed Bo to play baseball, he even supported it.

Many in the NFL circles questioned the move, considering Bo let everyone know his feelings during an interview, “Football after baseball season is a hobby.” Bo’s talent was undeniable though. A month into his NFL career Bo rushed for 229 yards on November 30, 1987, still a ‘Monday Night Football’ record.

In his four NFL seasons Bo ran for 2,782 yards and 18 touchdowns. The NFL All-Pro dislocated his hip during a 1991 playoff game, the last of his career. The Royals released him the same year.

Bo recovered from his hip injury and amazingly made it back to the big leagues earning the 1993 ‘Comeback Player of the Year’ with the White Sox.

Bo offered more highlight reel plays for Chicago fans, but called it quits in 1994, after playing for the California Angels.

Bo’s four years in the NFL and eight seasons in the MLB didn’t prove enough to get him into either Hall of Fames. Making a commitment to be a dual sport superstar probably ruined his chances at a long career in either sport. But, Bo was the first person ever to be an All-Star in two professional sports.

What Bo did doesn’t belong in a Hall of Fame. Bo is in a league of his own. Being honored with the hundreds of former players already in the Halls, wouldn’t have given justice to Bo’s skills. Bo created his own legend with the help of Nike. Bo is the proclaimed the ‘godfather’ of Nike for his ‘Bo Knows’ advertising campaign.

Often it’s difficult to separate the myths and truths about what Bo did in stadiums across the country. So whether you’re slacking off at work or just sitting on your couch at home, check out these links and remember the greatness Kansas City witnessed in Bo’s five seasons as a Royal.

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Grading Mark McGwire as Hitting Coach

How does one evaluate a hitting coach? Most guys on a Major League roster already know how to hit, otherwise they would not be on a Major League roster (there are execptions, of course; we’re talking about the every day players here). Coaching hitting at that level seems to be more of an investigative and cheerleading effort. Sure it helps if your coach has the chops of a George Sisler, but he needs to be equal parts Jack Ryan and Stuart Smalley: Ryan to figure out what’s gone wrong with your approach if a slump develops, and Stuart to be relentlessly positive.

Into this position stepped Mark McGwire. He seems to have a sunny disposition, uses video to break down the swings of his charges, and was a hitter of some renown during his playing days. Based on the opening paragraph of this treatise, he was a good fit and we are done with the discussion. However baseball is a results based business, so let’s take a look at some offensive numbers.

Cardinal Team Offensive Production

Comparing traditional statistical metrics for 2010 with 2009, we find they are quite similar.

  • 2009: 4.51 runs/game, 294 2B, 29 3B, 160 HR, 528 BB, 1041 K, .263/.322/.415.
  • 2010: 4.54 runs/game, 285 2B, 18 3B, 150 HR, 541 BB, 1027 K, .263/.322/.402.

The Cardinals as a team had 76 more plate appearances in 2010 than 2009, or 1.2% more; that’s not statistically significant. The one trend we can pull from this small data set is the Cardinals hit for less power in 2010 than 2009 across the board (based on extra base hits); the caveat to that statement has to be their 2009 2B total was the highest since 2004, the 2009 3B total was the highest since 2003, and 2010 marked the second consecutive season the team’s HR total dropped when compared to the previous season.

I calculated the team’s average XBH production (a) since Albert Pujols joined the team, and (b) since they moved into Neo-Busch, as well as the standard deviation for each metric.

  • Average (2000-2010, 2B/3B/HR): 291/25/182; 1 standard deviation for each is 22.4/5.6/27.9 (rounded)
  • Average (2006-2010): 287/23/162; 1 standard deviation for each is 6.3/6.8/17.4 (rounded)

What does that tell us despite the small sample size? That the 2010 team was right where we would expect them to be XBH production wise when compared to previous teams (within 1 standard deviation of the average calculated). So McGwire’s hiring neither helped nor hindered the team’s offensive production.

Cardinal Individual Offensive Production

Although team strikeouts dropped a small amount from 2009 to 2010, among the individual starters strikeouts went up. Cardinal starters struck out more often in 2010 than 2009. The Cardinals walked slightly more frequently in 2010, but other than Rasmus’ big jump the starting 8′s walk rates seem to have gone down. Yadier Molina’s stats look worse in 2010 than 2009, but he did miss the last 2 weeks due to his knee; really his numbers look the same. Albert Pujols numbers were down but he still had a good year. Skip Schumaker and Brendan Ryan, as was highlighted in this Post-Dispatch article, had bad years. Colby Rasmus seems the only player upon whom McGwire had a positive influence based solely on the numbers, but how much of that was McGwire’s coaching and how much was the advice Colby’s dad gave him will probably never be known.

The argument can be made Mark McGwire did not help nor hinder the Cardinals offensive production as a TEAM, but may have negatively impacted INDIVIDUAL players based on these counting statistics.

Conclusion

More data is obviously better, and it is unfair to rate McGwire as a failed hitting coach after only 1 season. As was also pointed out in that Dispatch article, some of McGwire’s philosophies, like adjusting in-game to what the pitcher is doing without running to the video room, are significant departures from previous philosophies and it will take time to change that behavior. It is easier to focus on one individual hitter and evaluate his strengths/weaknesses; it is somewhat more difficult to juggle 25+ hitters over the course of the season and give them the same attention to detail. Hopefully Mark learned how to do that over the course of last season and will apply whatever lessons he learned to 2011.

McGwire deserves a passing grade if only because the Cardinal offense did not regress in 2010. Improvement in how well they drive the ball should be a focus area for the 2011 team, and we as observers should evaluate how well he’s doing that as the 2011 season progresses.

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It Is (Not) Okay To Cheer For Stats

It is hard to describe how frustrated I was to have missed all of Adam Wainwright’s twentieth win this past Friday in Chicago. It is just one win in a season that people have been referring to as everything from disappointing to perplexing, but to this fan, it was frustrating to miss this win in particular. 20 wins in a season seems to be a benchmark for pitchers, much like hitting .300, hitting 30 home runs or driving in 100 runners would be for a hitter. Speaking of…

Despite a year in which Albert Pujols has had some rather disappointing stretches (at least by his standards), he yet again finds himself near the top of the statistical leaderboards. He currently sits in the top five in batting average, slugging percentage, on-base percentage, on-base plus slugging percentage, home runs, runs, runs batted in, hits, extra base hits, walks, and intentional walks. Just for good measure, he could probably throw in a strong bid to win another Gold Glove.

Holy smokes.

I think I have reached acceptance with the fact that this Cardinals team is not going to be playing in October. The ‘tragic number’ has not yet hit zero, so the optimist in me is still holding out hope, but the realist in me took over a few weeks ago. However, winter is long and cruel, and I refuse to accept its closing in until baseball is over. For me, baseball is not over until the last pitch of the World Series. So for the past few weeks, what has there been to cheer for as a Cardinals fan?

The stats. I have been cheering for the team, the players, the standings all season long, but down to the wire, all that has been there is the stats. It was cheering for Albert Pujols to make his tenth consecutive season of hitting .300 with 30 home runs and 100 RBI. It was cheering for Adam Wainwright’s 20 wins. It was hoping that Matt Holliday could continue his 16 game hitting streak (which ended Saturday in Chicago). On those days where it seems like the team is laying (another) egg, why not find something else to cheer for?

Invariably, whenever someone mentioned this topic, the cynics and extreme realists will angrily shout about baseball being a team game, statistics meaning nothing when the team is not winning and in the playoffs, and wasting the prime years of various superstars’ lives by not bringing home championships year after year. To that I say those people are not wrong in the slightest. It is frustrating to see the team lose, and it will not make things better just because someone finds their name on a plaque at the end of the season. Individual achievements are not the goal.

What if this team had not had so many expectations placed on it at the beginning of the year? Would the stellar play of the teams’ various superstars seem more amazing then? Would fans be able to appreciate a 20 win Cy Young-caliber season, .300/30 HR/100 RBI, 5 All-Stars and a solid Rookie-of-the-Year candidate? Possibly.

In 1998, Mark McGwire hit 70 home runs. Does anyone even remember where the Cardinals finished that year? 83-79, in third place, and well off the pace set by the division leading Houston Astros, who finished 102-60. I certainly did not remember that of my own accord. What I do remember is being captivated all season long by long home runs, heart-stopping swings, and the joy of following the stats.

That was a fun season to be a baseball fan. 2010 had some fun in it too. I seem to recall an eight game winning streak, strong debut seasons by several individuals such as Jaime Garcia, Jon Jay and Fernando Salas, and the aforementioned years by Wainwright and Pujols. We smiled and cheered and clapped for every win, every stolen base, and every ‘meaningless’ statistical marker. I know the end result is not what we fans were hoping for, but admit it, you had some fun along the way.

If you didn’t, why are you still reading?

Angela Weinhold covers the Cardinals for i70baseball.com, BaseballDigest.com and writes at Cardinal Diamond Diaries. You may follow her on Twitter here or follow Cardinal Diamond Diaries here.

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