On the outside looking in

kolten_wong_2017

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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The people vs Russell Westbrook

Westbrook_photo

The claws are out after the Houston Rockets have compiled a 3-1 lead over the Oklahoma City Thunder. Russell Westbrook’s critics now have the requisite ammunition to lower the phenom point guard down a peg.

After reading this article, I feel the need to defend Westbrook; I think the defense is simple — a player cannot average a triple double and be selfish. Wracking up 10 assists a night is easier than it used to be, but it’s still a difficult accomplishment. How many of Russ’ passes would have led to a dunk but the driving player was fouled in the act of shooting? How many times did a Thunder player miss an open look?

Westbrook averaged 10.4 assists per game over the course of 82 games and has averaged 11 assists a night in four playoff games. I implore you to watch the highlights of the 51-point performance in game 2 on the road. How many times did Russ make the wrong play, passing up an open teammate? Twice, maybe it was three times. His fourth quarter was awful, but the Thunder’s fourth quarter was also awful.

Comparing Westbrook to Allen Iverson, as Sean Fennessey coyly does, is not fair to Westbrook or Iverson. Iverson was a more willing passer than I remembered, averaging 7 assists or more in six of his seasons. However, Iverson had one career triple double. Westbrook had 42 this year.

The most assists Iverson ever had in a season was 596 in ’04-’05. Westbrook had 840 assists in ’16-’17. In comparison to one of the greatest point guards of all time, Isaiah Thomas, had four seasons of 800 or more assists. This included the sublime ’84-’85 campaign where Isaiah led the league in assists with 1,123, 13.9 per game. The great Oscar Robertson, to whom Westbrook is endlessly compared, topped 800 assists four times. In fairness to the Big O, the rules were different in the ‘60s. Jason Kidd, one of the best point guards of all time, topped 800 assists twice. Westbrook is just entering his prime, age 28, and he has had back-to-back 800-assist seasons.

Westbrook is as gifted and as skilled a player to have ever played the point guard position, but he doesn’t play the position like Kidd or Steve Nash. One of the characteristics that binds Westbrook, Kidd and Nash was that in their primes they played at a frenetic pace. Kidd and Nash had running mates. Kidd had Kenyon Martin and Richard Jefferson, who loved running the floor with Kidd leading the break. Nash had Shawn Marion and Amar’e Stoudemire.

Russ is not the problem in OKC; the rest of that roster is the problem. I would be willing to shed every player except Steven Adams. It’s not that Domantas Sabonis, Kyle Singler and even Enes Kanter are bad players. I think most of those guys will by snapped up by contending teams looking for role players. None of those guys are athletic finishers.

The ’16-’17 season was the first year Westbrook was truly unleashed. Before he had been tied to Durant and Durant’s needs. I think Sam Presti needs to consider remaking this roster in Westbrook’s image. Kidd did not truly thrive until he had the right pieces around him. Nash was a great player in Dallas, but became an MVP in Phoenix. Well, Westbrook is already the MVP, but you can build a championship team if you build to Russ’ strengths: a relentless need to run the floor at full speed and a desire to toss dimes to teammates on artful cuts to the basket.

Brady vs. Manning

Tom Brady, Peyton Manning

I will not accept Peyton Manning as the greatest quarterback ever, unless he wins the Super Bowl this year.

And that’s completely doable because the Broncos’ offense is loaded and their defense is about equally stacked. However, I think a smart team, maybe the Chargers or the Patriots, will challenge Manning to throw deep and grind out the game on offense. That’s the blueprint to beat Denver. When Manning has the ball, do not let them dink and dunk you to death and keep him off the field whenever possible because with all of their pick plays they will find a way to dink and dunk you death.

Manning’s arm has looked better at times this season. He had a pass a couple weeks ago to Emmanuel Sanders that was a bullet 30 yards down field. Eventually, the Demaryius and Julius Thomas will get open or Sanders or Wes Welker. But, this is Manning’s third year in Denver. There’s no way he avoids playing one brutally cold and possibly snowing game in the playoffs. Can he throw deep in those conditions? It’s hard to make a Super Bowl, as Manning would attest.

I don’t think Manning is the greatest quarterback of his era. I’ve made the case that Brady should be considered the greatest quarterback of all time. It went something like this: Brady won three Super Bowls with terrible wide receivers. Past his prime Corey Dillon was the best offensive player he played with until Randy Moss. The one time Brady plays with another hall-of-fame offensive player, he sets the single season yard and touchdown records, completes a 16-0 regular season and should have completed a 19-0 perfect season except for one of the craziest plays in NFL history. Quick side note, it’s amazing in the clip of the helmet catch how bored Joe Buck is. Jesus Joe you just saw perhaps the greatest play in Super Bowl history; can you get a little more excited than calling a sacrifice bunt on a Saturday afternoon?

Anyway, The Patriots can’t keep that team together because Randy Moss was a head case and got old. A few years later Brady takes his fifth team to the Super Bowl with Welker and two great tight ends. They can’t keep that team together because of the Patriots’ stubborn refusal to pay Welker (even though Brady was practically screaming at Bellichick to keep him) and Aaron Hernandez murdered a guy.

At least later in his career, Montana had Rice. Elway had Terrell Davis and Rod Smith. Manning had Marvin Harrison, Edgerrin James and Reggie Wayne and then went to this Denver squad, which is the most stacked either quarterback has had the privilege of guiding. Excluding Moss, has Brady played with a hall-of-fame player? I don’t think Richard Seymour is going to Canton and he’s the only guy who’s close. Maybe Gronk has a chance but he has to stay healthy, a tenuous proposition at best.

Throw all the numbers at me you want; I think the numbers that still matter are three and five, as in the Super Bowls Brady has won and played in. If Manning wins another, he’ll have two and four and all the stats that matter. But as long as Peyton has fewer rings than Eli (who, the last couple seasons, has shown he is the Frank to Peyton’s Sylvester Stallone), he can’t be the best ever. I’d still take Brady.

States That Could Secede

Economist-Map

With Scotland and Catalonia recently contemplating secession from Great Britain and Span respectively that got me thinking about which states would want to leave the union.

Hawaii

hawaii

The history of Hawaii is pretty messed up if we’re being honest with ourselves as Americans. It was Kingdom from 1810 to 1893, then American and European businessmen booted out the monarchy and it was an independent republic for a few years before being annexed by the U.S. Should Hawaii really be a state? It’s super far away from everything, even more so than Alaska. It has an indigenous population that hasn’t been completely genocided. It’s not like the U.S. still needs Hawaii as a refueling station, and even if that was the case, I doubt the Hawaiians would hate us if they had their own country.

Texas

Texas-Ranch-2

Texas was already a sovereign, recognized country at one time. While we would lose 529 barrels of crude oil, the top cotton-producing state and 7 percent of the U.S. land mass, Texas also leads the country in rampant blowhardetry. I think it would be worth it to allow Texas to secede just to see president Rick Perry in action and not have it affect the entire country. Or president Ted Cruz for that matter, although obviously I would prefer Perry. I’m expecting militarized Mexican border and public executions. I wonder how it would affect college football. Most players come from Texas and the Texas schools are all important. At the very least it would be more difficult for outside states to recruit those players.

California

california-yosemite-river

California basically has everything the country offers in one state — mountains, huge-tree forests, farm land, desert and ocean. It has some of the biggest industries in the country; losing all of silicon valley would be tough. Cali is the number one state for farming. California has an economy equivalent to Italy. I think it is the one state that would force the U.S. government to authorize a military invasion to stop it if it got close to seceding.

The Lackey, Craig and Kelly deal

That's Joe Kelly pranking STL rapper Nelly. Kelly and Allen Craig were locker room favorites.

That’s Joe Kelly pranking STL rapper Nelly. Kelly and Allen Craig were locker room favorites.

I hate the trade the Cardinals made acquiring John Lackey and single A pitcher Corey Littrell from the Boston Red Sox. The Redbirds gave up Allen Craig and Joe Kelly.

I have an emotional reaction to this deal, so I’ll get that out of the way first. Are we trying to get rid of all the guys from the 2011 World Series team that I love? Albert, Craig, Freese, Furcal, Edwin Jackson, Kyle Lohse, Chris Carpenter, Skip Schumacker, Lance Berkman and Ryan Theriot are all gone. I know a lot of those couldn’t be helped but I thought Craig and Freese were part of the young core going forward, those were building blocks.

All that being said, I understand getting rid of Craig. Matt Adams is five years younger and having a great season at first base, hitting .315. Oscar Taveras is eight years younger and a mega prospect we have to play in right field.

And Craig has been horrible this season, hitting .237. In fairness, I think the move to right field has messed with Allen Craig. Second, you’re telling me he couldn’t be valuable as a pinch hitter in the playoffs? Third, we’re losing a veteran position player and replacing him with one of the guys famous for eating chicken and drinking beer with the Red Sox.

Yadi is coming back at some point and he’s an amazing leader. After Yadi though, you have Matt Holliday (who has never struck me as a great leader), Jhonny Peralta (ditto), Jon Jay and Matt Carpenter (neither of whom I’m sure are ready for that role) for veteran leaders. The chemistry of this team has been off this season and I don’t think this move helps.

However, the Joe Kelly decision is the real puzzler here. I’ve never liked John Lackey much but I’ll be fair. Lackey is an older version of Lance Lynn. He does not have great stuff but he is durable and consistent. He’s never had an ERA under 3.00, coming close in 2007 at 3.01, but most of the time he has an ERA around 3.50. This season his field independent pitching is better than his ERA, which is a good sign. We also get him for two years.

But he’s 35 years old; Joe Kelly is 26. Kelly is a valuable player right now, either in the rotation or in the pen. Kelly has great stuff, a fastball that moves and dirty breaking pitches. Joe Kelly’s problem is that he didn’t throw enough strikes and that’s fixable. I wasn’t ready to give up on Kelly as a starter. I would not be surprised at all if he’s like Ervin Santana: starts throwing strikes consistently and becomes a beast.

I think Kelly is going to haunt us. This trade reminds me of the Mark Mulder and Dan Haren swap. Haren was languishing in the back end of our rotation before becoming an ace in multiple stops hence.

Then again, I guess Mulder has a ring from 2006 and Haren does not.

My Philosophy if I was a GM of a MLB team

Chances of me being a major league baseball general manager are about as good me starting in center field for the Cardinals.

However, this will show my perspective as a fan.

Position Players

A guy worth spending money on

A guy worth spending money on

1. I don’t care how we score runs. Singles, suicide squeezes, sacrifice flies, home runs, it doesn’t matter.

2. Why has average become a passe statistic? You give me a team of guys who hit close to .300 and we’re making the playoffs.

3. Left field, right field, first base and third base are positions that must hit. If the guy isn’t doing it with the bat, send him down to the minors. Hitters can be found at these positions for cheap (with maybe the exception of third), prospects or large dollars should only be spent for exceptional hitters (.300 and 30 plus homers or steals) at these positions.

4. I would like at least one legit power threat, someone other teams are afraid of in either cleanup or 3 hole.

5. I would like at least one speed threat. Running disrupts a pitcher. Best way to get a big inning is a one out walk that a guy turns into a double with his legs.

6. A walk is as good as a hit.

7. Catcher, second base, short stop and center field are positions that must be good with the glove. If you can find one of these positions that can hit, now you’re playing with house money. Players at these positions that can hit and field are worth high round draft picks, prospects in trades and big money.

8. (For an AL team) My DH better hit like a monster, .300 and 30 plus homers, or be cheap.

9. (For NL team) I would want my pitchers to be at least passable at the plate, like can bunt a runner over.

10. I want my catcher, short stop, center fielder and best hitter to be smart. Manny Ramirez kind of bucks that last trend.

11. You need a mixture of young guys and veterans, hopefully the clubhouse stays loose but is not carefree.

Pitching

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1. You can never have too many good pitchers.

2. A starter is always more valuable than a reliever, call this the Adam Wainwright principle.

3. Stuff trumps velocity, location trumps velocity but stuff trumps location. Pitch speed is overrated. A 92 mph fastball with late downward movement is just as hard to hit as 100 mph heater. That being said you can teach a guy to locate (although it is difficult). There’s almost no guy with all three; guys who can locate with nasty stuff are worth big money or prospects.

4. I want my starters to be smart or at least the top 2 guys. I want my closer to be dumb as a sack of hammers. There’s a reason that short memory has worked it’s way into the baseball vernacular.

5. Do not draft a projected reliever any higher than round 4, even closers. Every year there’s a new closer who lights every one up. You shake a tree, 10 relievers fall out.

6. A guy doesn’t throw strikes, get rid of him. I can forgive a young guy getting hit hard but loading the bases and then walking in a run earns an automatic demotion to Triple A.

7. Just like batting average, ERA is my stat. My entire rotation has an ERA around 3.00, we’re making the playoffs. Wins for a starter, however, are meaningless.

8. Durable guys are valuable. I’m not sure if pitch count is the right way to do things. It seems to vary wildly from guy to guy.

9. Your ace sets the tone for all your pitchers. He needs to be a hard worker.

Transactions

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1. For buyers, in season trades, usually don’t go well. Do not raid the farm unless your World Series window is quickly closing with an aging or soon to be too expensive club. The Hunter Pence trade is the only one I can think of that helped a team win the World Series.

2. For sellers, trade away, especially if the guys is old. Prospects are valuable.

3. It’s better to make moves in the off-season because that way you get a whole year out of a guy.

4. Be wary of any long term deals. Father time is undefeated.

5. Somewhat contradictory, extensions for young guys are a good idea. It also makes them more valuable in a trade.