Tag Archive | "Consensus"

Pete Kozma is the new Yadier Molina?

PeteKozma

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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Early feedback on Matheny

There is a famous line in the film A League of Their Own where Tom Hank’s character says, “Crying… Are you crying? There’s no crying in baseball.” I have always remembered that line. For some reason, a slight variation of that popped into my head when I read yesterday’s Post-Dispatch article about Mike Matheny. “Sleeping…Are you sleeping? There’s no sleeping in baseball”.

Matheny was too excited to sleep before his first Grapefruit League game as a manager. He decided to pop out of bed at 3 am and was at the park a little after 4 that morning. It reminded me the St. Louis Cardinals went from the game’s most experienced manager to its least within a few weeks of winning the 2011 World Series. While it is too early for any kind of “spring training report card”, I do want to make some early observations regarding the Matheny era, and pose some questions as to what Cardinal fans should keep on their radar early in the season. After all, a two-year contract does not leave a lot of time for learning on the job.

I have generally had good feelings about the Matheny hire. Mozeliak had been grooming him for the position, and Mozeliak certainly has earned the benefit of the doubt on big decisions like this. Matheny seems to be doing all the right things early on in the job; consulting the right people, reaching out to the players, reaching out to former (and estranged) Cardinal legends. He has provided a smiling face to the media, which is certainly a welcome change.

He faces a lot of challenges as well. As previously alluded to, he does not have a lot of time to earn his stripes – losing will not be tolerated with the Cardinals 2012 roster. If the team is hovering around .500 at the All-Star break, you can bet there will be some fans calling for his job. Despite losing Albert Pujols, Dave Duncan, and Tony LaRussa, the general consensus in Cardinal Nation is that the 2012 team is better on paper than the championship 2011 team due to the addition of Carlos Beltran and the return of Adam Wainwright. There is a lot of pressure on Matheny.

Something I have encouraged people to keep a close eye on is the Cardinals first twenty-seven games of the 2012 season. After Opening Day with the Marlins, the Cardinals play twenty-six consecutive games against the NL Central (ranked the worst division in baseball). The schedule is kind to Matheny this season, as interleague play pits the Cardinals against the second weakest division in baseball, the AL Central. While that seems to be an advantage, I put a lot of importance on the early games for so many reasons, not the least of which is Matheny setting the tone for his managerial reign.

Here are a few early observations.

1. Matheny runs a tight ship. The practice schedule runs on airport time. Matheny does not round to the nearest five minutes. If you are a pitcher you better be ready for you session to start at 9:38 am, because that is when the skip has it scheduled.

2. Matheny puts emphasis on player development in spring training. Look at the number of at-bats and innings pitched already for the younger prospects in the first two games of the spring. More than that, I was intrigued at how Matheny worked the prospects into the hitting and pitching groups during the first two weeks of spring training. LaRussa seemed to have a more “show me what you can do” approach in spring training, where he got his key guys a lot of reps and let everyone else try to earn a shot. Matheny is putting a bigger emphasis on the organization’s responsibility to develop the next wave of players that can contribute at the major-league level. Could you imagine LaRussa putting Tyrell Jenkins in Chris Carpenter‘s throwing group on the first day of camp?

3. Matheny is a “hands-on” manager. LaRussa would typically watch Grapefruit League games from just outside the dugout. Matheny is inside the dugout, working and instructing the team. Matheny is out on the field throwing batting practice.

Some intriguing questions to be answered.

1. Game management

How will he use his bullpen when the games really count? What kind of pitch count will the starters be on? Will he bunt and steal? I hear mixed reports. On the one hand, I see where he is working with the team on better base running and stealing, and that he wants to better utilize the bunt and hit-and-run. On the other hand, I hear how he is going to use advanced metrics much more than LaRussa did. In Sabermetricville, bunting is a crime unlike any other….never, never, never give up outs. How will Matheny manage moving runners over in traditional sacrifice situations.

2. Handling veteran players

This, in my opinion, is his greatest challenge as a manager. He is not only managing a lot of guys close to his own age, he is managing some former teammates as well. Will he command the respect of the clubhouse or be a “player’s manager”? Is it possible for him to be both in his first year? Will the veterans show him the same level of respect they showed LaRussa. It is hard to move from a friend and a peer to a boss.

Yadier Molina‘s quote yesterday about Matheny getting to the park so early, was very interesting to me. He said, “It’s OK if he gets a little nervous. I get nervous, too, every time”. I certainly could be reading too much into that, but that is not a comment I would make about or to my boss. Again, I know it is a stretch to read anything into that one comment, but it got me thinking about the relationship between Matheny and the veteran players. If they ever get the sense that Matheny is just Mozeliak’s puppet, he could have a very hard time keeping control of the clubhouse.

With all of that being said, I do expect Matheny to be successful. I want him to be successful. He is a great baseball mind, a hard worker, a man of great integrity, and someone that cares deeply about carrying on the Cardinal Way. He seems to have enough fortitude to handle criticism and the constant questions regarding his experience.

Watching the first two games of spring did cause me to think a lot about the new manager and his role. It really sunk in that someone new is calling the shots from the dugout, and we do not quite have a blueprint for their game management style. While there is uncertainty still in so many areas, one thing is for sure…Matheny is not sleeping on the job.

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Going To WAR On The Trades Of The GMDM Era- Part 5: 2010

On we go, with our analysis of the trades of the Dayton Moore era as General Manager of the Kansas City Royals.  When combined together, the results up until 2010 have not been altogether flattering.  As was mentioned in the previous piece, as we get closer in years to the present day, the data becomes less reliable as many of the players involved in these trades are still in the minor leagues so there are no statistics with which to come up with their WAR.  Due to the number of trades made in the 2010 year, this year will be split into 2 columns with the next and final piece also including the conclusion to this evaluation.  So without any further ado, the GMDM trades of 2010:

May 1, 2010: The Kansas City Royals traded Carlos Rosa to the Arizona Diamondbacks for Rey Navarro (minors).

In 2 forgettable seasons with the Royals, Rosa compiled a 0.3 WAR, which is right around replacement level.  He was clearly expendable, and was out of baseball after the 2010 season.  Navarro spent last season in Double A Northwest Arkansas, and at best, projects out to be a slick-fielding utility infielder who can’t hit.  He will likely spend 2012 in Triple A Omaha.  So while Arizona technically wins this trade on WAR, the Royals have a chance to come out on top still.

Rosa: 0.1 WAR with Diamondbacks (2010)

Navarro: 0.0 WAR (has yet to appear for Royals)

Diamondbacks win trade by 0.1 WAR

July 22, 2010: The Kansas City Royals traded Alberto Callaspo to the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim for Will Smith (minors) and Sean O’Sullivan.

At the time this trade was made, the consensus was that the Royals sold high on Callaspo and made out well.  O’Sullivan was pegged as a solid, young back of the rotation starter, and Smith was a lower level minor leaguer with a little more upside.  A year and half later, the consensus is that O’Sullivan isn’t very good, Smith is still a few years away, and Callaspo has continued to be an effective player for the Angels, sporting a stellar .366 OBP and 4.5 WAR (near all-star level) in 2011.  However, at the time he was traded, the Royals needed to find a way to get Wilson Betemit in the lineup, and knew they had Mike Moustakas coming up soon, so Callaspo needed to be dealt while his stock was high.  While O’Sullivan has shown some flashes, he has been more bad than good.  He is however, still just 24 years old so it is possible he could turn the corner and become a useful major league pitcher.  Smith is just 22 and pitched at Northwest Arkansas in 2011.  He will likely make the jump to Omaha in 2012.  He is not currently on the 40-man roster, but is slated to be a non-roster invitee to spring training.  Just going by the numbers and the productivity that each team has received at the major league level up to this point, this trade qualifies as the single biggest fleecing of the Dayton Moore era…and not the kind of fleecing you want to see if you’re a Royals fan.

Callaspo: 5.0 WAR with Angels (1/2 of 2010 and 2011)

Smith: 0.0 WAR (has yet to appear for Royals)

O’Sullivan: -2.0 WAR with Royals (1/2 of 2010 and 2011)

Angels win trade by 7.0 WAR

July 28, 2010: The Kansas City Royals traded Scott Podsednik to the Los Angeles Dodgers for Elisaul Pimentel (minors) and Lucas May.

When Moore signed Podsednik as a free agent prior to the 2010 season, the best case scenario would have been for Pods to play at a high level for half a season, allowing the Royals to flip him at the deadline for some useful pieces for the long-term.  And that is exactly what happened.  Podsednik, at the age of 34, was in the midst of putting up statistically the second best season of his lengthy career with a line of .310/.353/.400.  Moore then predicatbly found a taker for him at the deadline in the Dodgers.  In return the Royals received Pitcher Elisaul Pimentaul and Catcher Lucas May.  Pimentel spent 2011 at Double A Northwest Arkansas and has yet to establish himself as anything more than organizational depth.  May appeared with the Royals in 2010 for an uninspiring 39 plate appearances, before being dealt in 2011 to the Arizona Diamondbacks.  Podsednik did little for the Dodgers after this trade, but judging off of WAR, the Royals once again came out on the short end.

Podsednik: 0.0 WAR with Dodgers (1/2 of 2010)

Pimentel: 0.0 WAR (has yet to appear for Royals)

May: -0.6 WAR with Royals (1/2 of 2010)

Dodgers win trade by 0.6 WAR

July 31, 2010: The Kansas City Royals traded Rick Ankiel and Kyle Farnsworth to the Atlanta Braves for Gregor Blanco, Jesse Chavez and Tim Collins.

What was said above about best case scenario for Podsednik, can also be applied to the signing of Rick Ankiel.  However, it ends there as Ankiel was far from effective in his half-season with the Royals.  In fact, at times it seemed he might be attempting his best Juan Gonzalez impersonation with all of the time he spent on the DL.  It was a miracle the Royals were able to unload him on anyone.  Farnsworth was brutal in 2009, his first year with the Royals.  However, in 2010, he bounced back in a big way making himself a very attractive chip at the trade deadline.   Of the 3 players the Royals received in exchange for these 2, Tim Collins is the only one still with the Royals and will be battling for a spot on the 2012 opening day roster pitching out of the bullpen.  With him being the only player in the entire trade still on the roster of the team they were traded to, this trade could get even better for the Royals as time goes on.

Ankiel: 0.3 WAR with Braves (1/2 of 2010)

Farnsworth: -0.3 WAR with Braves (1/2 of 2010)

Blanco: 0.4 WAR with Royals (1/2 of 2010)

Chavez: -1.0 WAR with Royals (1/2 of 2010 and 2011)

Collins: 1.1 WAR with Royals (2011)

Royals win trade by 0.5 WAR

Please come back next week for the conclusion of this evaluation.  So far, it is not looking good for Dayton…

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Going To WAR On The Trades Of The GMDM Era- Part 1: 2006

By most accounts, “The Process”, as Kansas City Royals General Manager Dayton Moore has often referred to his vision for the Royals, can be broken down into 3 phases. Phase One would be the rebuilding of the farm system. There is no denying that phase is complete. The second phase is transitioning the talent in the farm system to the Big League roster. Most would agree that this phase is mostly complete as well. The third and final phase to “The Process”, would be to identify the missing pieces and fill those gaps via free agency and trade. The Royals are just beginning to enter this phase now. Since Dayton Moore took over his post as Royals GM in June 2006, the trades that he has pulled off have drawn mixed reviews. So as he and his staff embark on Phase Three of “The Process”, it is important that we review the history of the Royals trades in the Dayton Moore era, so as to help predict the success of the recent and future trades that will be made by this regime.

We will use the WAR (Wins Above Replacement) statistic to determine the positive or negative impact of each trade. For those unfamiliar with this statistic, it is defined as: A single number that presents the number of wins the player added to the team above what a replacement player (think AAA or AAAA) would add. In fairness, we will only take into consideration the production that each player the Royals traded FOR had with the Royals, and each player the Royals traded had with the team they traded that player to. So while this study does have some flaws, it will provide a pretty good snapshot as to how Dayton has fared in the trade department.

In the first of this multi-part column, we examine the trades that took place in 2006:

June 20, 2006: The Tampa Bay Devil Rays traded Fernando Cortez and Joey Gathright to the Kansas City Royals for J.P. Howell.

Before Dayton even had time to pick out the furniture in his new office, he decided to go shopping for a=n athletic, speedy center-fielder. Enter Joey Gathright and somebody named Fernando Cortez, and exit J.P. Howell.

Howell: 3.2 WAR since Trade with Rays(06-11)

Gathright: 0.9 WAR with Royals(06-08)

Cortez: 0.1 WAR with Royals (2007)

Rays win trade by 2.2 WAR

July 19, 2006: The New York Mets traded Jeff Keppinger to the Kansas City Royals for Ruben Gotay.

Keppinger has been a useful starting major leaguer for a number of years, and it is easy to forget that he was even a Royal. And there surely have been plenty of times since July 19,2006 that Royals fans would have much rather seen him patrolling 2nd base rather than whoever they had out there. Unfortunately, for the 3 months he was a Royal, he did prety much nothing

Gotay: 0.2 WAR with Mets (2007)

Keppinger: -0.1 WAR with Royals (2006)

Mets win trade by 0.3 WAR

July 24, 2006: The Kansas City Royals traded Mike MacDougal to the Chicago White Sox for Tyler Lumsden (minors) and Dan Cortes.

Mac the 9th didn’t really do much after leaving the Royals. But at least he actually played for the team that traded for him, unlike the 2 gentlemen the Royals got in return.

MacDougal: 0.4 WAR with White Sox (2006-2009)

Lumsden: 0.0 WAR (never made majors)

Cortes: 0.0 WAR (never made majors with Royals before being shipped to Mariners for Yuniesky Betancourt)

White Sox win trade by 0.4 WAR

July 25, 2006: The Los Angeles Dodgers traded Blake Johnson (minors), Julio Pimentel (minors), Odalis Perez and cash to the Kansas City Royals for Elmer Dessens.

Dessens had been a mediocre at best reliever for the Royals for the first part of 2006, so the fact that they were able to flip him prior to the deadline for a serviceable former all-star starting pitcher like Perez, makes this the first decent trade of the DMGM era.

Dessens: 0.1 WAR with Dodgers (2006)

Johnson: 0.0 WAR (never made majors)

Pimentel: 0.0 WAR (never made majors)

Perez: 1.0 WAR with Royals (2006-2007)

Royals win trade by 0.9 WAR

July 25, 2006: The Kansas City Royals traded Tony Graffanino to the Milwaukee Brewers for Jorge De La Rosa.

This is an interesting one. Because if you consider what De La Rosa has been able, when healthy, to do since leaving the Royals then this one without question swings in the Royals favor. However, during De La Rosa’s tenure wiht the Royals, he was one of the most frustrating to watch and at times ineffective pitchers to wear a Royals uniform.

Graffanino: 1.9 WAR with Brewers (2006-2007)

De La Rosa: 0.8 WAR with Royals (2006-2007)

Brewers win trade by 1.1 WAR

July 31, 2006: The Kansas City Royals traded Matt Stairs to the Texas Rangers for Jose Diaz.

This turned out to be pretty equal trade in terms of Suck for Suck.

Stairs: -0.3 WAR with Rangers (88 plate appearances in 2006 before being shipped off to Detroit for the remainder of the season)

Diaz: -0.2 WAR with Royals (6.2 innings in 2006)

Royals win trade by 0.1 WAR

July 31, 2006: The Colorado Rockies traded Scott Dohmann and Ryan Shealy to the Kansas City Royals for Jeremy Affeldt and Denny Bautista.

Royals fans should remember this one quite well. Affeldt was a maddening pitcher for the Royals. I will never be able to hear about a pitcher having blisters on his throwing hand again without thinking of Jeremy Affeldt. Affeldt has since put it together to become a very effective left-handed reliever, but it didn’t happen with the Rockies. Bautista was supposed to have this “electric stuff” that he just needed to harness. Well, it never happened with the Royals, or anywhere else for that matter. And in Shealy, the word was that the Royals had finally found their 1B of the future and could begin taking the pressure off of Mike Sweeney. And…who is Scott Dohmann again? Whoops…

Affeldt: -0.3 with Rockies (2006-2007)

Bautista: -1.1 with Rockies (2006-2007)

Shealy: 0.2 WAR with Royals (2006-2008)

Dohmann: -0.6 WAR with Royals (2006)

In aggregate, both teams essentially added less than replacement talent with this trade,but in this study, the Royals came out on top.

Royals win trade by 1.0 WAR

December 6, 2006: The New York Mets traded Brian Bannister to the Kansas City Royals for Ambiorix Burgos.

For awhile, this trade was the crown jewel trade of the Dayton Moore era. Bannister immediately arrived in Kansas City and settled in as a steady starting pitcher and finishing 3rd in the Rookie of the Year balloting, while Burgos soon encountered legal issues in his native Dominican Republic and never played again.

Burgos: 0.1 WAR with Mets (2007)

Bannister: 2.8 WAR with Royals (2007-2010)

Royals win trade by 2.7 WAR

December 16, 2006: The Kansas City Royals traded Andy Sisco to the Chicago White Sox for Ross Gload.

It is hard to imagine why Kenny Williams was so interested in taking all of the ineffective relievers off of the Royals’ hands. This should have been a good trade. And for one year it was. But when “Gloady” as Buddy Bell liked to call him, is getting 418 plate appearances in a season and starting 95 games at 1st Base, that says a lot more about your team than it does about a steady utility player like Ross Gload.

Sisco: -0.3 WAR with White Sox (2007)

Gload: -1.4 WAR with Royals (2007-2008)

White Sox win trade by 1.3 WAR

So what does this tell us? Other than the fact that the Royals did quite a bit of exchanging of “junk” with other teams in 2006, Dayton Moore came out slightly on the short end of his trades in by -0.6 WAR, based on this study. The big ones were the J.P. Howell trade, which he lost, and the Brian Bannister trade, which he won.

Next week, we analyze the trades made in 2007…

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It’s All About The Pitching

I love it when the Cardinals are in first place. Absolutely, positively love it. Mostly because it means exactly what it is: The Cardinals are in first place. But, I also love it because it of what it infers: The cubs are NOT in first place, and trail the Cardinals in some capacity. I admit to being a homer, I even said to a friend earlier today that I “am not drunk on Cardinals Kool-Aid, but I do drink the stuff.”. Having said that, I want to look back at the general feeling in Cardinal nation at a couple of intervals, then look forward.

Feb 23rd: Cardinals fans (in general) figured they’d have a fight on their hands, but if things went just right for the redbirds, and just wrong for the Reds & Brewers (and cubs, depending on who you spoke with), the Cards could win the National League Central division. Then came the Wainwright news on the 24th. Hearts in Cardinal nation sank, hearts (and players) in Cincinnati sang, and lines in Vegas shifted. Suddenly, the Cards “had no shot”.

Chris Carpenter talks to Jake Westbrook while Kyle Lohse & Kyle McClellan look on

March 30th: Fast forward five weeks Opening Day. By & large, the general consensus for the pitching staff was: Carpenter (#1) would need to be the Cy Young contender that he’s been in recent years, and with Waino on hielo, the Cardinals could ill-afford to waste a single Carpenter start all year. Westbrook (#2) made sense to move to the second slot, more on that in a moment. He had a solid 2010 second half with the Cards, and with a little run support (4 runs) he very well could’ve been a perfect 8-0 in a Cardinals uniform-he pitched that well. The assumption was that his performance wouldn’t be that different, and having just signed him to a 2-year deal in the offseason, his importance is now huge, with Wainwright out. Garcia (#3) certainly had success as a rookie, but he probably takes more losses in the 2 hole, and to make him third is significantly better in terms of match-ups during the year, not to mention the starting rotation’s only southpaw fits comfortably sandwiched between two righties ahead of & behind him. Then there were two big questions at the back of the rotation. Where on the spectrum of 2003/2008 Kyle Lohse to the Lohse we’ve seen over the past few years, would the 2011 Kyle Lohse (#4) be pitching from? The answer would likely play a big role in the Cards success level this season. Finally, Kyle McClellan (#5) would emerge from spring training as a starter, for the first time in his major league career. Although he “stretches out and acts like a starter every spring training”, we’d yet to see how he would perform in the starting role. Being the 5th man takes a lot of pressure off, and quite frankly, it’s the only realistic slot for him. Speaking of “Frankly”, I think we all knew Ryan Franklin was going to be the closer, and most fans probably thought little of that, until thinking about late August. Other minor chatter surfaced here & there about the ‘pen, but nothing major.

May 11th: Six weeks into the season, and here’s my take on how much things have changed since Opening Day. Carp just notched his first win of the year, and it took him 8 starts to get it. Granted, that’s not entirely his fault (only one of those 8 was in Arizona, after all), and sure we’re looking at Ws & Ls…a somewhat faulty benchmark anyway (SABR Alert!). So much for making every Carp start count. Fortunately, we’re in May, so a lot of the “He’s on pace to…” talk is over, and we don’t have to listen to how he’s on pace for 4 wins this year. (Oops!) Westbrook? Other than the ERA near 7, triple the number of earned runs as Jamie Garcia, less than 40 IP in 8 starts, and a K/BB ratio of 1, he’s been mediocre. Garcia, 4-0 with a 4 K/BB, and sub-2 ERA, has been nothing short of outstanding thus far. Can’t say enough about the job this kid has done to this point-could be a legit #2 guy on a lot of clubs with what we’ve seen so far. #4 guy, Kyle Lohse is healthy, and looks very good! He’s rocking a 2.9 K/BB and 0.860 WHIP to go along with his 4-2 record. One of those losses was a 107-pitch outing where he went 8 strong, scattering 6 hits, giving up only one run. Unfortunately, this was during a 14-inning streak where the Cards were no-hit, and Lohse got no run support in that last outing. K-Mac has also seen the right mixture of lucky & good so far. At 5-0, his control has been less-than-ideal at times, but he’s gotten the job done, and has proven to be as reliable a 5th starter as the Cardinals could have hoped for.

Dave Duncan talks with Molina (left) and Jamie Garcia

Let’s play a game of “which Cardinals starter is worse?” I’ll run down a few pitching categories, and I’ll name the owner of the 2nd-worst stat, then name the only Cardinals starter that’s worse in that category, ready? (It should be noted that at the time I wrote this, the May 11th game was over, but May 12th game, Garcia’s 8th start, had not yet started)

Wins: Westbrook has 2. Only starter worse? Carpenter, 1.
Losses: Carpenter has 2. Only starter worse? Westbrook, 3.
ERA: Carpenter’s is 4.32. Only starter worse? Westbrook, 6.92.
Walks: Carpenter has walked 17. Only starter worse? Westbrook, 23.
WHIP: Carpenter has a 1.46. Only starter worse? Westbrook, 1.82.
Earned Runs: Carpenter’s given up 24. Only starter worse? Westbrook, 30.

So, those are your #1 and #2 pitchers in the starting rotation. What are the 3, 4, & 5 guys up to?

Only combined for a 13-2 record in 20 starts with 95 Ks to only 36 BBs. ERAs are 1.99, 2.24, & 3.30 respectively, with WHIPs of .971, .860, & 1.35.

Looking ahead today: Does this trend last forever, where the 3-4-5 guys in the rotation are putting 1 & 2 to shame? Doubtful & unlikely, if I had to guess. Sooner or later, things will even out over the rest of the season. But, Carp & Westbrook might want to get it together soon–this can’t last forever–the Cardinals staying in first place with pitching performances like this from the front two guys. Carp is relatively old & expensive as it is. Westbrook isn’t much younger, and is only signed for this year & next. 2013 rotation could start with Wainwright, Garcia, Miller…that’s not a bad front three! I could write for a week about theories as to how the current trend could potentially play favorably down the road, and/or how there are more than a few striking similarities between having your better pitchers 3-4-5 in the rotation, and hitting them 8th in the lineup, but let’s be honest, no one could’ve seen this coming. For now, we’ll just have to hope Carp & Westbrook figure it out before the rest of the NL Central does.

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Giving Thanks For Kansas City Baseball

A few things I am thankful for in the KC baseball universe.

1. The Farm

Royals GM Dayton Moore’s ProcessTM of building through the draft took a quantum leap forward in 2010, and the Royals boast the consensus pick for most loaded farm system in the universe. Royals fans could often look past another lost season at the big-league level and find eye-popping performances from kids down on the farm and dream about things to come. 2010 was an unabashed success on the farm, which was more crucial than a successful year in the bigs. It has been repeated many times in Royals-land, but that’s because it is freaking awesome: It is assumed KC will earn Baseball America’s top ranked farm system this off-season, and the last 10 organizations so named have reached the major league postseason within four years.

2. Royals Nerdosphere

Though Royals followers have not been rewarded with great play on the diamond in recent years, we do enjoy more than our fair share of great Royals coverage from both professionals and amateurs. With so much insightful, passionate coverage of a bad team, sometimes reading, writing and discussing the Royals is more fun than actually watching them. My Twitter feed sometimes reads like a support group for us woebegone fans.

I am not sure if it is a paradox or if it makes perfect sense, but the fact is that while the Royals front office has been infamously dismissive of advances in baseball analysis, a large segment of the fan base has swung the other way and make up some of the brightest minds in sabermetrics. Bill James, the grand poobah, grew up a Royals fan. Rob Neyer, a James protégé, was also a KC fan. Joe Posnanski has long covered KC baseball with a saber-tilt. Names familiar to saber nerds such as Rany Jazayerli, Matt Klaassen, Jeff Zimmerman, and many more belong to Royals fans. Jazayerli put it best:

“Sometimes I wonder if the Royals were put on this earth with the express purpose of teaching the world the core principles of sabermetrics…If you want to know why it seems like so much of the Kansas City media—and increasingly, the Kansas City fan base—is so stat-savvy even though the team itself is stuck in the 1970s, it’s precisely because we’ve seen what happens to a team that ignores 30 years of analytical progress. Royals fans understand the value of a walk, because they’ve seen first-hand the consequences of a dismissive approach to plate discipline.”

3. Joe Posnanski

Posnanski is a part of #2 above, but his greatness deserves its own spot. Pos left the Kansas City Star for Sports Illustrated in 2009, and no one was quite sure what that would mean for his unparalleled coverage of the Royals. Thankfully, Pos is apparently a compulsive writer, prolifically commenting about anything and everything at his blog, and since Joe still lives in KC and attends Royals games as a fan, the Royals remain a part of his writing universe. I have a voracious appetite for baseball writing, but if I could only read one scribe, the choice would be easy.

4. Buck O’Neil’s Legacy & The Negro Leagues Baseball Museum

Buck has been gone for four years now, but his legacy thrives in Kansas City. The Royals honor him every home game by awarding tickets to someone who “embodies an aspect of O’Neil’s spirit” through the Buck O’Neil Legacy Seat program. Barbecue baron Ollie Gates has stepped up and is currently funding rehabilitation of the old Paseo YMCA to turn it into the Buck O’Neil Education & Research Center, and on one side of the building is a new mural of Buck keeping an eye on the 18th & Vine district. Buck’s spirit is most alive at the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum, and though the museum has seen turmoil since Buck’s death, we should not lose sight of what a treasure it is. No struggle for power or financial woes can eclipse the vitality of the story the museum tells. Just as baseball itself is bigger than the many scandals it has endured, the inspirational story of Negro Leagues baseball is bigger than any problems at the museum.

5. Zack Greinke

Zack may have ruffled a few feathers this season when he voiced frustrations about waiting on a youth movement that may not blossom until after his current contract is up. But the alternative is someone who does not care about winning and/or puts on a filter to ensure they remain uncontroversial (i.e. boring). If Zack had a stricter filter, he would not have told the New York press that he did not want to win with the Yankees but with the Royals. For a franchise that has gotten so much wrong, Zack is the best current reminder that sometimes things go right. And if you think Zack was not good in 2010, I would suggest you take a deeper look at his numbers. In a year that he was not his best, he was still excellent. Now if Dayton Moore can extend Zack instead of trading him, maybe Moore can make my thanks giving list next year.

6. Unions, Cowboys, Packers, Blues, Monarchs, & A’s, Oh My

1888 Kansas City Cowboys

The history of professional baseball in Kansas City is long and rich, and learning about the teams that preceded the Royals provides context that enhances the present. Pro baseball first came to KC in 1884 in the form of the Union Association “Unions,” and Kansas City has hosted pro baseball every year since with the exception of 1968. We have enjoyed more than our share of great players and personalities: by the count of Curt Nelson, director of the Royals Hall of Fame, 43 members of the baseball Hall of Fame have ties to Kansas City teams.

7. Kansas City Baseball Historical Society & SABR Monarchs Chapter

In that vein, I’m thankful for a couple of organizations geared to people who enjoy the history of the game in KC. The Kansas City Baseball Historical Society formed in 2008, and host an impressive list of Kansas City baseball names as guest speakers at monthly meetings. Moderator David Starbuck does a fantastic job, and the guests relive fascinating and often hilarious stories of KC’s baseball past. The group also puts on a large Kansas City A’s reunion every summer. The Society For American Baseball Research (SABR) is a national institution, represented in KC by the Monarchs Chapter. The chapter meets twice a year, and also pulls in engaging speakers.

8. Kauffman Stadium & Royals Fans Therein

Kauffman Stadium may not get the recognition it deserves on the national level, but Royals fans know what a gem the park is. The recent renovations brought the amenities up to date while maintaining the soul and feel of the park where Royals fans have made memories for 35+ years. On a nice day, there is nowhere else in the world I’d rather be. I am thankful for the Royals fans that keep going to the K and cheering the Royals, losing season after losing season. They are a friendly and good-natured bunch. Relative to the size of our city and the product on the field, I find our attendance numbers impressive. And if #1 on this list pans out the way we all hope, the K will really start rocking again.

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