On the outside looking in

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In the first game of a double header against the Blue Jays, the Cardinals played the field the way I want them to play it the rest of the year. The results were mixed.

The positions were as follows: Molina behind the plate, Carpenter at first, Wong at second, Gyorko at third, Diaz at short, Jose Martinez in left, Fowler in center and Piscotty in right.

Through two innings Diaz made a competent play in the hole and Gyorko made a barehanded play up the line. Wong also committed an error on a ball hit up the middle.

Thus far, the Cardinals have committed nearly an error per game. The Cardinals committed 107 errors in 2016, the sixth worst mark in the majors. Atlanta, Cincinnati and Oakland all played better defense.

I believe the reason the Cardinals were so bad last year, and have been even worse on defense this season, is that the team is not playing a regular defensive lineup. As an example, Diaz made a diving stop on two-foot hop about 7 feet from the second base bag in the game on Tuesday. He gets up, hesitates and then throws the ball past the outstretched glove of Martinez. The error goes to Diaz, but Rick Horton commented that Martinez should have gotten off the bag and played the ball, sacrificing an out for security.

Carpenter may have made that play. Matt Adams probably would have made that play. Martinez has never played first in his pro career and he is under the added pressure of trying to prove himself in the big leagues. Diaz is still a young player and he should be throwing to the same guy in nearly every game.

With a set lineup, certain position players will be on the outside looking in. Well, I have an opinion about who those players should be.

Jhonny Peralta

 Jhonny is on the disabled list with a torn ligament in his thumb. I think he should be the next victim of the curse of Wally Pipp. Jedd Gyorko is a better player than Peralta in every way.

Last year in 289 at bats, Peralta hit .260 with 8 homers, 29 RBI and 37 runs. His on base was .307 and his slugging was .408.

Gyorko in 400 at bats hit .243 with 30 homers, 59 RBI and 58 runs. His on base was .306 and his slugging was .495. Jedd is off to a hot start this season, hitting .340 with 3 home runs.

You would think that Peralta being a converted short stop he would be a better fielder, but Gyorko has just as much range and more consistent hands.

Randal Grichuk

 There’s a scene in “The Natural” where Pop Fisher is talking to Bump Bailey, trying to convince Bailey that he better shape up because Roy Hobbs is going to take his job. I hope Mike Matheny has already had this conversation with Randal Grichuk.

There is no indication that Jose Martinez is going to stop hitting. He’s currently batting .375, more than 100 points better than Grichuk. Martinez deserves Grichuk’s job in left field.

Unlike Gyorko and Peralta, Grichuk is a much better defensive player than Martinez. While a good athlete at 6-foot-5, Martinez has looked very stiff in the outfield. Grichuk could play major league center field.

But, Martinez is much better in left than at first. The Cardinals were willing to put up with an occasional brain fart from Matt Holliday. I am willing to bet that Martinez defensive play will smooth out with regular playing time.

Matt Adams

 I feel bad for Matt Adams because the guy has worked really hard. He lost a ton of weight in the offseason and he looked sharp in spring training. However, Matt Carpenter has to play somewhere and the best option is at first base.

Adams, 28, has had plenty of opportunities over the past three seasons to win the first base job and he has failed to hit consistently. Teams need their first baseman to hit and hit both lefties and righties.

On the other hand …

 In the first game of the double header on Thursday, Kolten Wong committed an error and made a bonehead, base-running mistake by the sixth inning. Wong hit a double and then got picked off by Russell Martin at second.

Kolten Wong is the guy I want to step up. It was my feeling that the constant platooning over the past couple of seasons hurt him more than any other player. His talent at the plate and in the field is undeniable.

Of any of the Cardinals that can play second base, he has the most range. The team can’t wait forever and there may be a point where playing Greg Garcia every day may be the better options. Garcia’s ceiling is much, much lower, but he does not make these types of mistakes.

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Transaction Traction

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It’s become about a every other month tradition. The Cardinals make some type of trade. I don’t like it and whine but eventually except it.

It’s a little bit different this time though. With this most recent trade I really do understand the logic, even though I’m still not completely on board.

The trade with the Atlanta Braves was that the Birds sent Shelby Miller and pitching prospect Tyrell Jenkins to Atlanta for Jason Heyward and reliever Jordan Waldon.

Let’s just throw Waldon out right now. He was the extra cheese on this trade pizza. Any reliever (any reliever) who is not a closer is only so valuable. But, Heyward is the type of guy you take a chance on. He’s only 25 years old and his numbers aren’t awful — .262 average, 20 homers, 153 hits and 87 runs, nothing to scoff at. He’s been disappointing considering his pedigree, especially taking into a account that he’s a power hitter playing in a hitter’s park. In comparison, Justin Upton’s numbers are only marginally better.

The trend recently with baseball is that pitching is the more available resource. Teams have scratched together competent rotations without having a bonafide ace. I would say both teams in the ALCS fit that bill. God help me because I’m about to say something positive about the Cubs, but the Cubbies, under the tutelage of ace GM Theo Epstein, have a smart franchise building strategy. With a variety of great starting pitchers in the league, the Little Bears have stocked up on hitting prospects. Everyone suspects the Northsiders will now use their molding mounds of cash on any one of the available starters on the market — Max Scherzer or Jon Lester as just two examples.

Heyward is also just like Oscar Taveras, smooth lefty power hitter, pretty good fielder. Obviously the Birds don’t think Randal Grichuk is ready to take over in right full time (plus he’s center field insurance if Jon Jay regresses). The downside (or upside if you think Grichuk just needs one more season of incubation) is that we only have Heyward locked up for just one year.

Still, the baseball traditionalist in me does not like the Cardinals giving up on young starters with good stuff. Miller wasn’t great last year but he wasn’t bad either. It was a decided advantage going forward that the Redbirds could throwout Miller and Wacha for years to come. With Jenkins, who was drafted the year after Miller, the Cardinals have three opportunities to get burned by pitchers; that includes Joe Kelly in Boston.

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This current trade with Atlanta reminds me of another swap with the Braves back in 2003. That offseason the Cardinals traded young, talented, power-hitting, smooth-fielding right fielder JD Drew and backup catcher Eli Marrero for two pitchers. Those pitchers were Jason Marquis, who won 15 games multiple times as the Cardinals built a NL Central winning machine in the middle aughts, and Adam Wainwright, who has now won 20 games twice. I think the Braves wish they could have that trade back especially because Drew only played with them one year (albeit a very good season for the oft injured pretty boy).

Adjusting a little bit for the difference in eras, Drew and Heyward’s numbers at that point are very similar. Pluses though for Heyward is that he is younger and has been injured less.

Tyrell Jenkins is not as lauded as Adam Wainwright. Waino was the Braves best prospect at that point and was already in double A. Thus far Jenkins has not risen above single A, but was impressive in the Arizona Fall League. There is a very good chance, that with a new team, Miller is at least serviceable if not ace level. If Jenkins hits too, the Cardinals lose that trade regardless of what Heyward does.

Well, I’ll qualify that. If Heyward hits .300 with 30 homers and the Cardinals win the World Series next year, I won’t care what Miller and Jenkins do. If Heyward can hit 30 home runs, again somewhat dubious because he’s moving to a pitcher’s park, it’s worth resigning him — although, hopefully at something reasonable.

Obviously no one knew Taveras was going to die in the Dominican before the World Series even ended but I think it’s worth mentioning how all these trades relate. Although John Lackey helped the Cardinals get to the playoffs and past the first round, he is what he is. As Jalen Rose always says, Father Time remains undefeated. Lackey is only going to get worse. Along with Kelly, the Cardinals also gave up Allen Craig, who could play right field.

Not enough offense in baseball?

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Now that the Cardinals have been defeated, my enthusiasm for the playoffs has waned somewhat. But, I don’t mean to be dismissive, this year’s playoffs have been some of the most entertaining in years.

It’s distressing to me that I heard a lunkhead on sports radio deride baseball for it’s lack of offense. This is something I’ve heard a few times actually. First, he was trying to figure out why there’s less scoring and I’ll address all those reasons.

What everybody says: bullpens now are too good

“It’s really difficult to hit when every pitcher out of the pen throws 95 miles per hour,” quote from the aforementioned lunkhead. This is totally true. Bullpen specialization is a trend that continues to increase but it’s not new. I would say bullpens have been used like they are today dating back to 2000. Pitchers threw hard back then too.

Really, when are the most runs scored in baseball games? I would say it’s almost always innings one through six before the pen gets involved.

There are a lot of really good pitchers right now

When Justin Verlander is the fourth best starter on his team that tells you how loaded the starting pitching market is right now. Every team has a bonafide ace.

There are more pitchers parks than hitters parks

The split is probably about even but the trend since 2000 has been one of creating more pitcher friendly parks — Miami’s new stadium, Comerica, Safeco, whatever the Angels park is called, Citi Field, Petco and Nationals Park. Now, Target Field seems to be a band box and some notable hitters parks do not feature very good teams right now — Wrigley, Fenway, Ballpark in Arlington, Enron and Citizens Bank in Philly.

Steroids

I think baseball has done a good job of cleaning up the game of steroids. The testing is tough and the penalties are harsh. The downside of cleaning up the game is that there is less offense — bats get slowed down, there are fewer hits and way fewer home runs. You really want to increase offense, get rid of steroid testing. Oh, you don’t want to do that because of the sanctity of numbers. OK.

All the people that bemoan that lack of offense in baseball need to shut the hell up. Think about it, what’s more exciting a 2-1 game or a 10-5 game? Give me the former every time. See the same people who will complain about a lack of offense will also cry foul when the games are too long. You know what games take a long time, the 10-9 contests with 77 walks. Pitcher’s duels are fast.

Really, baseball is in a transitional period and if the Royals win the World Series there might be a jump start in changing baseball thinking. The Money Ball era theories were home runs are great, walks are good, double plays are bad and strikeouts are the cost of doing business. But when there are so few guys who hit for real power, all those strikeouts look way worse. For like the 10th year in a row, there was a new league-wide record for strikeouts.

The Royals don’t walk but they also don’t strikeout. I’m guessing the Giants, with free swingers like Hunter Pence and Pablo Sandoval, also have high batted balls in play totals. The Royals also manufacture runs with base running. Speed might become a more valued commodity. The best way to increase offense is to cut down on strikeouts. The Giants motto should be put the ball in play and good things will happen.

Who Do You Hate?

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Orioles vs. Royals is a win-win for baseball fans. Both teams feature long-suffering fan bases, cool uniforms, great stadiums and likable rosters. So far game 1 lives up to that belief, producing a 10-inning classic.

The NLCS on the other hand, I’m guessing it’s producing groans from anyone not from the Bay area or eastern Missouri. The Cardinals and Giants have represented the National League five consecutive years in the World Series. This is the Cardinals fourth NLCS in a row and if not for Marco Scutaro in 2012, the Redbirds would be vying for a fourth-consecutive World Series birth.

The Giants are working on their winning the World Series every even-numbered year streak; 2014 would make it three even-numbered years in a row. The Giants and Cardinals are remarkably similar. Despite roster turnover since 2010, both franchises have continued great success. For the Cardinals, gone are Albert Pujols, Chris Carpenter, David Freese, Allen Craig, Rafael Furcal and Carlos Beltran and replaced with Matt Adams, Lance Lynn, Matt Carpenter (kind of), Randal Grichuk, Jhonny Peralta and Oscar Taveras.

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I know it’s partially because of injury but the Giants are playing without Matt Cain and Tim Lincecum in the starting rotation — I would argue the foundation of their sustained success — and they still have a great pitching staff anchored by underrated Madison Bumgarner. While Buster Posey continues to impress with his sustained brilliance both behind the plate and swinging over it and Kung Fu Panda is still his streaky, free-swinging self, the Giants lineup has been remade as well. Brandons Belt and Crawford have more prominent roles now. Scutaro is out and Joe Panik is in.

Yadier Molina

The backstops for both teams are sources of consistency off which to build. Yadier Molina is Posey’s counterpart and equally strong on defense and offense. Both teams generally play strong defense. Both teams have been frustrating on offense this season. The Cardinals struggles kept the Birds with a negative run differential most of the year. Both teams seem to get breaks to go their way all the time, like it’s predestined.

All that said, if I polled 100 baseball fans, all 100 would be rooting against the Cardinals. It’s gotten to that point.

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When I first figured out the Cardinals were becoming universally loathed, I was in straight denial. It took me long enough anyway not coming to the realization until the beginning of the 2013. I thought it might be a fad, something that would go away. The backlash has only intensified since then with “the Cardinal Way” being shoveled down fans throats and the Cardinals faithful being unwavering in their pitch as the greatest fans in all sport.

Realizing what was happening I tried to downplay my association. I became wary of announcing I was a Cardinals fan and avoided talking about the team in front of my friends, or at least that was after my former college roommate (and Rangers fan) pointed out that he hated the Cardinals. I was part of something I hated in other franchises — who thought they were better because they rooted for a perpetual winner. The Cardinals have made the NLCS 9 out of the past 14 seasons. I don’t know what it’s like to root for a losing baseball team.

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Now though, I’m embracing the hate. Bring it on. I think it makes an I-70 series (even though I’m sure the MLB front office is rooting for an all black and orange World Series) rematch more interesting. The Cardinals will play Darth Vader, Freddy Krueger and baseball fans better hope this is act 3 of that movie.

Hall of Fame or Not

On this installment of Hall of Fame or Not, I examine the careers of two big guys and diminutive and productive shooting guard.

Baseball — David Ortiz

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Pros:
-He’s 43 homers away from 500 and he averages 42 over a 162 game period. He’s 38 now but he’s probably playing until he’s 40.
-Career .284 average, 1511 RBI, hit 30 home runs seven times and 54 once in 2006. Career OPS of .925. Had WARs over 4 five times.
-Arguably the best DH of all time with Edgar Martinez.
Won perhaps the greatest game of all-time with a walk off dinger.
Then he did it again the next night in 14 innings.
Boston strong

-He has three rings

Cons:
-He’s a career DH. Some baseball writers have a real problem this.
-His career as we know it, hitting 30 home runs and close to .300 didn’t really start until 2003. He had two pretty bad years back-to-back in 2008 and 09. Still hit 23 and 28 home runs with 89 and 99 RBI but his averages were .264 and .238.
Has some PED talk swirling around him

Final Verdict: He should get in even if he doesn’t get to 500 home runs. In a few years, the National League will have a DH and the DH stuff will die down. The Hall-of-Fame is meant to cherish moments like that 2004 World Series run and giving Big Papi a bronze bust is a perfect way to do it.

Football — Orlando Pace

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Pros:
-He was a seven-time pro-bowler and three-time all-pro.
-His contemporary Jonathan Ogden is already in the Hall.
-The Greatest Show on Turf never gets off the ground without Pace. Pace’s play was absolutely essential for keeping stone-footed quarterbacks Kurt Warner and Marc Bulger from getting murdered on the long posts that were a staple of the Mike Martz offense. The Martz years in Chicago are a good example.
-Has a ring.

Cons:
-There aren’t really stats for offensive linemen.
-There was no doubt of his prowess through 2005 and then his career fell off a cliff.
-Played 12 years, which is the same number as Ogden.

Final Verdict:
-I would think he gets in but the voters for Canton are a hard group to judge sometimes. He’s the second best left tackle of his era and the best guy is already in the Hall.

Basketball — Allen Iverson

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Pros:
-He averaged 26.7 points per game in his career. He averaged 30 five times. He’s 22nd all-time in scoring.
-He’s a better defender than he gets credit for, averaging 2.2 steals per game and leading the league in thefts in 2002-03 and 2004-05.
-Has a career PER of 20.9.
-He took Eric Snow, George Lynch, Theo Ratliff, Aaron McKie and Dikembe Mutombo to the finals in 2000-01.
Then he won game 2 of the finals by himself.
-The killer cross over.
Hates practice.
-Tough as nails, was always undersized and got beat up on drives.

Cons:
-A huge ball hog. He led the league in field goal attempts four times. His highest shooting percentage was .461.
-He shot below 40 percent from field two years in his prime in 2001-02 and 2003-04.
-When he was on a good team, late in his career with Denver, they lost in the first round of the playoffs each year. When they traded him to Detroit in 2008-09 they made the western conference finals and the Pistons lost in the first round.
-Doesn’t have a ring.
Not the best attitude.

Final Verdict:
-I think Iverson is going to get in, but should he? I don’t think AI was a good team player and thus his teams were flawed by his constant lust for the ball. Who would have been the ideal teammates for Iverson en route to a title? I don’t know if anyone group of players would have worked. That doesn’t sound like a hall-of-famer to me.

Hall-of-Fame or Not

It’s time to play America’s favorite guessing game, say it with me folks, “Hall-of-Fame or Not.” I’ll give you an athlete from each of the major American sports (yes, I’m counting hockey) and then an arbitrary assessment of their hall-of-fame validity.

I’ll start with the inspiration for this post.

Baseball — Adrian Beltre

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Pros:
The best defensive third baseman of his generation. Almost unbelievable he only has four gold gloves.
-He has solid career offensive numbers: .284 average, 392 homers, 2,548 hits, .336 on base, 1,368 RBI, .479 slugging, and 75.3 total WAR.
-His seasons in Boston and Texas have been insane, posting WAR over 7 twice and 5 twice and hitting over .300 and 30 home runs in each of those years.
-Has has a shot at 3,000 hits if he plays until he’s 40.
Laughs at cameramen when they fall down and hates being touched on the head.
This is one of the greatest hits I’ve ever seen.

Cons:
-His early years with the Dodgers and Mariners are very pedestrian, hitting over .300 just once. Is that due to ideal park situations later?
-Doesn’t have a ring, although that doesn’t matter as much in baseball and he played in the World Series twice.
-Is Beltre one of the best third base defenders of all time or just extremely good? Arguable.

Verdict:
-He gets to 3,000 hits, he should be first ballot. If he decided to retire at the end of this season, no.

Football — Brian Urlacher

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Pros:
-One of the best players at his position in a very consistent career. He made eight pro bowls and was a four-time all-pro. Had two 100 tackle seasons and over 90 tackles four times.
-Was the leader of one of the best defenses of his era. A defense dominant enough in 2006 to make a Super Bowl with Rex Grossman as it’s quarterback.
-One of the best linebackers ever at defending passes.

Cons:
-Not the best linebacker of his era. That distinction would go to Ray Lewis.
-Played on good defenses with other borderline hall-of-famer types like Peanut Tillman, Mike Brown (a stretch with him), Lance Briggs and Julius Peppers.
-Plays a position that is historically significant but becoming devalued over time. Middle linebacker is a position designed to stop the run. As the league becomes more and more pass happy, linebackers become less valuable. Just like running backs, teams should be wary of drafting non-pass-rushing linebackers with first round picks.
-Doesn’t have a ring.

Verdict:
-He should get in if for nothing more than pro number two.

Basketball — Shawn Marion

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Pros:
-He has a ring with the very entertaining 2011 Mavericks team.
-He was a key cog with the very entertaining 7 Seconds or Less Suns.
-One of the best defensive players ever. A Swiss Army knife who could defend Kobe and Dirk.
-Career stats are interesting: 15.8 points, 9 rebounds, 1.9 assists, 1.6 steals and 1.1 blocks per game. Has a career PER of 19.
-The Matrix, great nickname.

Cons:
-Was never a scorer, although he did have two seasons with 20-point averages.
-Was known for being mercurial.
-Piled up great stats for those Suns teams playing with a great point guard.
-If you’re ranking the top players from the past 10 years, how long does it take to get to Marion?
-Has one of the ugliest jumpers in Association history.

Verdict:
-He should definitely get in from stats alone.

Hockey — Chris Pronger

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Pros:
-The second best defenseman of his era after Niklas Lidstrom.
-Led the league in plus/minus twice with insane seasons in 1997-98 of +47 and +52 in 1999-2000. He played 30 minutes a game during his prime with the Blues.
-Had more than 30 assists 10 times.
-Has a ring with Anaheim. Took a terrible Oilers team to the finals in 2005-06.
Once was hit in the chest with the puck, had his heart stop and was back four days later.
-He didn’t fight often but he was devastating when he did.

Cons:
-Like Urlacher, he was one of the last of a dying breed. You don’t see the monster-sized defensemen much anymore. Zdeno Chara is really the last of the Mohicans there.
-Stats are good but uninspiring when looking at wings and centers.
-Career really didn’t get going until the 1997-98 season.

Verdict:
-He’s in, probably not much of an argument.

The All Underrated Team

This is my opinion but I feel like all of these guys aren’t talked about enough. This is current players, and I’m going to avoid Cardinals.

1. Pitcher — Johnny Cueto

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This season Cueto is 12-6 with a 2.05 ERA, leads the National League in innings pitched at 162.2, 166 strikeouts (9.2 per nine), and .916 WHIP. He’s receiving no attention though because he’s playing for a fourth place team and there’s Clayton Kershaw and Adam Wainwright in the same league. Since 2011, he’s had an ERA under 3 every year.

2. Catcher — Russell Martin

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He’s streaky at the plate from year to year but having a nice season in 2014: .281 average and .409 on base. He got some credit last year but I believe a lot the Pirates improvements with their pitching staff, defense and hitting can be attributed to Martin’s steady influence.

3. First Base — Paul Goldschmidt

Spring Training

He was monstrous in 2013 — 36 home runs, 125 RBI, .302 average, .401 on base and .551 slugging. Until he was recently placed on the DL, he was following that up with 19 home runs, .300 average, .396 on base and .542 slugging. The guy is a beast but he plays for a bad team on the west coast, always a recipe for being ignored.

4. Second Base — Jose Altuve

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Did you know Altuve leads the American league in hits (155), steals (43) and batting average (.339)? If you did, you should get a cookie. I had no idea until I looked this up. He’s the best player on what is becoming a frisky Astros team (just swept the Blue Jays) but being the best player on an AL bottom feeder won’t get you much love.

5. Third Base — Ryan Zimmerman

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He struggles to stay healthy, including this season, but when he’s right he gives you a .286 average, .352 on base, .476 slugging, 150 hits, 25 homers and 96 RBI. He’s also very good with the glove, except for that inexplicable stretch last season.

6. Short Stop — Alexei Ramirez

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Will I take a short stop who hits .288 with 73 RBI and 77 runs each year? Yes, yes I will, especially if he picks it as well as Alexei. He does commit quite a few errors though.

7. Left Field — Brett Gardner

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This off-season the Yanks basically tried to push Gardner out of the starting lineup. He responded by doing what he always does — hit about .280, steal some bases (18) and score a bunch of runs (70). I guess they don’t like him because he actually came up through their crappy system.

8. Center Field — Adam Jones

Adam Jones

He doesn’t put up crazy stats like Trout or McCutchen and he’s not as flashy as Carlos Gomez but he’s very consistent. This year he’s hitting .284 with 21 homers, 128 hits and 68 RBI. Last year, he hit, .285 with 33 dingers, 108 RBI and 100 runs. The year before, he hit .287 with 32 long balls, 82 RBI and 103 runs. And he’s pretty good with the leather, too.

9. Right Field — Ichiro Suzuki

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It seems crazy that I have two Yankees on this list. Ichiro has been pretty good this year, hitting .271, but this is a legacy selection. I believe Ichiro is the most underrated player of all time. Ichiro had 200 hits and a .300 average for nine consecutive seasons. If he would have started his career in the U.S., he would be the all-time hits leader.

Closer — Kenley Jansen

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Probably the one thing about the Dodgers that is underrated. Ignore his ERA, currently at 3.20; Jansen has developed into a lock down closer. Teams have to do their work in the seventh and eighth because Jansen owns the ninth.