Knee-Jerk Reaction: Clayton Kershaw and his millions

Note: As you’ve noticed – the majority of posts at McGeeTriples are long, detailed, and stat/fact based posts. However, from time to time it’s fun just to let loose and respond with your gut. That’s what my “Knee-Jerk Reaction” posts will always be. Fun and full of strong opinion minus all those facts that get in the way.

 

Over the last day or so I’ve seen, read, and heard a lot about Clayton Kershaw and his new 215 million dollar contract extension. There are a lot of theories and opinions about this deal. Ranging from the curmudgeon ideology that I personally subscribe to “200 million dollars for a starting pitcher is asinine” all the way to “Kershaw signed the extension he deserves.”

I mention the deserves theory for a reason: it’s the dumbest, most illogically formed argument in professional sports.  Bear with me here, a players performance, whether it be good or bad, does not  entitle him to any particular contract or forbid him from signing any other contract. Players get what they can get. Period.

It can be tough for some of us to understand because professional athletes are compensated much differently than most of us. A lot of us work, do a good job, successfully produce a quality project or presentation or whatever the case may be. And for this, we often “earn” bonuses, pay raises, etc. We are not owed this money (unless it’s written into your contract), but rather our employers offer it to us as an incentive.

At’aboy.

They do this because if you’ve proven yourself to be a valuable commodity they generally want you to hang around. And as long as you continue to do good work and not cause problems chances are they are going to continue to want you to hang around. This is true, because unlike professional athletes, your performance is unlikely to tail off dramatically so long as you’re satisfied. Likewise, if your performance does tail below an acceptable level you’re likely to find yourself kicking a tin can down the street sooner rather than later. The company will owe you nothing.

The Dodgers owe Clayton Kershaw 215 million dollars. No. Matter. What.

They agreed to pay Clayton Kershaw 30 plus annually because they will believe he will be worth that much to them over the next seven years. Not as a thank you for what he has done in seasons past. And not because they’re an altruistic employer trying to do right by those who have helped them in the past.

Clayton Kershaw has already been paid for the work he did in the past. Whether or not he was overpaid or underpaid does not matter. He had a contract, and his only job under the terms of that contract were to pitch for the Dodgers when healthy enough to do so.

His incentive to pitch well and to perform at a Cy Young Level? His next contract.

Once a player has played out the length of his contract – the team owes him nothing. Loyalty in sports is a joke. It doesn’t exist and it shouldn’t be expected by either party. The player was paid for a service and they provided a service. Period. The team owes no sentimentality to the player and vice versa.

Carl Pavano did nothing wrong and owed nothing to the New York Yankees despite signing one of the worst (for the team) contracts in MLB history. He was paid by the Yankees to do exactly what he did. There were no performances clauses in his contract-unless they were incentives to be earned-in which case he simply did not earn them. Pavano did not steal money from the Yankees. The Yankees got exactly what they paid for – Pavano’s seasons from the first year of his contract until the last year of his contract.

Pavano did not pitch well and barely pitched at all..

 and this fact was reflected in his next contract.

                Teams who pay players for what they have done are rarely successful and they set the standard for unoriginal, uninventive thought. In the long-run, their fans pay the price. The Cardinals, the A’s, the Rays, the Red Sox, the teams that have it figured out have removed the human emotional element from their decision making processes and that is why they are successful.

                When a car stops running and continues to break down over and over and over – it does not deserve to keep being repaired when the repairs cost more than the value remaining in the car – simply because it was once a good car.

It deserves to be replaced by a younger, sleeker, more highly performing model.

This principle is true in baseball as well. It might be cold hearted-but players get what they get. They didn’t “steal it” when things go badly and they don’t “deserve it” when they perform well. Once they’ve signed the contract the performance thereafter is irrelevant. They g0t what they got –

…and “deserves” got nothing to do with it.

Cardinals’ sorted by WAR

Image

Below I’ve sorted a somewhat arbitrary list of Cardinal greats by their career Wins Above Replacement as determined by fangraphs. I don’t know if this is a complete list of the top WAR’s in Cardinal history or not, but it does encompass what I would assume is a collection of the majority of Cardinal greats and a few current players who still have plenty of time to add to their totals.

Rogers Hornsby—130.1
Stan Musial– 126.8
Bob Gibson – 91.1
Albert Pujols—87.4
Scott Rolen – 70.1
Johnny Mize—68.6
Ozzie Smith – 67.6
Jim Edmonds— 64.2
Ken Boyer – 54.8
Joe Medwick—54.6
Enos Slaughter – 51.4|
Matt Holliday – 46.4
Lou Brock—43.2
Chris Carpenter – 38.9
Dizzy Dean – 38.2
Red Schoendiest— 37.4
Yadier Molina—28.9
Adam Wainwright—27.9
Willie McGee – 27.6

  • The first thing that jumps out at me is that Rogers Hornsby tops the list. Before I started doing my research I had assumed that Stan Musial would rank first. I know all of Hornsby’s raw numbers, but I had figured the offensive era in which he played would have offset them to a greater extent.
  • Scott Rolen’s WAR number is very high. Considering his defensive greatness, as defined by subjective awards like gold gloves, etc, I think it’s safe to say that he is a deserving hall of famer. It also makes me wonder what might have been if it were not for Hee Sop Choi and the collision that wrecked Rolen’s shoulders. Without that play, Rolen could possibly have ranked as one of the greats by WAR measurements. As it is, he should be a HoF’er.
  • Ken Boyer is being robbed of the HoF. His WAR number is sufficient. His raw numbers hold him back. He played in a pitcher’s era-high mound, etc
  • Ozzie Smith has a much higher WAR than I anticipated. 67.6 WAR for a below average offensive player is a testament to how great his defense truly was.
  • Willie McGee – just for fun.
  • Matt Holliday if he remains healthy and productive for a few more seasons is going to pass some Cardinal greats and Hall of Famers. My money is on him to surpass Edmonds’ total before he is done.
  • Lou Brock is/was overrated.
  • Yadier Molina’s true value is not expressed in these numbers. Will probably end up a 40 win player for his career. He’s better than that – even though that probably makes him a HoF’er.

Jimmy Ballgame and the Hall of Fame

I was reading a piece written by the incomparable Dan Moore over at Mad Em Dashes  on Scott Rolen ( http://www.em-dash.es/med/2013/12/scott-rolen-hall-of-fame-oddsand ) it really got me thinking about another former member of the MV3 and his chances of making the the Hall Of Fame. Many of the same arguments outlined by Dan also apply to Jim Edmonds. That is to say, many of the arguments in favor of Edmonds’ greatness are anecdotal. Throngs of St. Louis Cardinals’ fans will tell you that Jim is the greatest defensive center fielder that ever graced the outfield – whether or not metrics bear that out remains to be seen.

As we’ve seen over the past week the Hall of Fame voting process, and some of its voting body, is a broken and flawed entity. As a result, this article won’t be able to tell you for certain whether or not Jim Edmonds will ever be enshrined in Cooperstown or not. Yet, for those of whose heart will forever be romantically linked to a child’s game, the uncertainty of our findings does not invalidate the pursuit of understanding.

Rather, for some of us, knowledge and perspective are its own reward. I, for one, long to provide context to the moments of my youth. To know (at least to the extent that it is possible to really know) whether or not our memories can really stand up to the unrelenting test of time. To come to grips with the fallibility of our consciousness – the deceptiveness of the human eye.

Regardless of the findings of this article – Jim Edmonds will always be a personal hero of mine. He will always be that man. The one who glided into the gap to run down a liner. Or leaped onto and over that wall against the Reds. He is and will forever be Jimmy Ballgame.

Yet, with loss of our youth we also lose the innocence that makes athletes larger than life. We grow wiser and we come to realize that the giants of our minds are just men. And as men, it is our nature to rank and compare, to debate and decipher. Children are afforded the ability to believe that their hero is the greatest of them all. That he will always rise above. As adults, we see things differently. We’re forced to seek truth. We desire to know whether or not our heroes are just one among many and then we must consider their place in history. We come to know, for better or worse, where our heroes stand in relation to all of the other heroes.

The Hall of Fame is a place for only the greatest of baseball heroes. So, where does Jimmy Ballgame rank among the greats? Does he deserve a place among the pantheon of baseball immortality?

Let’s dig in..

Jim Edmonds patrolled a major league outfield for 17 seasons. He was an all-star 4 times, won 8 gold gloves and won a silver slugger award. He pretty much did it all. Edmonds’ collected 1949 hits, scored 1251 runs, knocked in 1199, and ended his career with 393 homeruns.  He won a world series ring, hit a walk-off winner in game 6 of an NLCS, and authored some of the greatest catches in the history of the sport.

As for rate stats, Jimmy ended his career with a .284/.376/.527 slash line. He had a RC+ of 127, wOBA of 132, and over the course of his career he was worth 64.2 runs above replacement. For comparisons sake, Lloyd Waner has the lowest career WAR among outfielders currently in the hall of fame at 24.3 WAR. The Greatest Cardinals of them all- Stan Musial – had a career WAR of 126.8.

Edmonds’ 64.2 WAR stands up well against his contemparies. Sammy Sosa hit 609 homeruns, but only accounted for 60.4 WAR. Current Hall of Famers Kirby Puckett (44.9)isn’t even in the same WAR ballpark . Harmon Killebrew (60.4),Dave Winfield (59.9), Richie Ashburn (63.4)  and Billy Hamilton (63.1) are among the additional hall of fame outfielders who fall short of Jim’s career mark for wins above replacement.

Many hall of fame voters and enthusiasts consider a player’s peak to be as important as the compilation of numbers over a long career. Edmonds’ stacks up well in this regard too. During a six year period from 2000-2005 Edmonds totaled 39.7 WAR or 6.61 WAR per season. For context, 6 WAR players are considered all-stars and 8 WAR players are considered MVP level. In 2004, despite finishing fifth in the National League Most Valuable player award voting, Jimmy Ballgame posted a WAR of 8.0.

So, now that we know he’s deserving of serious consideration, I think it’s a useful exercise to compare Jimmy to a very similar player who also played the same position- Duke Snider. Snider is one of the most closely related players to Edmonds according to baseballreference.com. Although their offensive numbers are very similar Snider holds slight edges in many categories. Duke hit 407 career homeruns compared to Edmonds’ 393, bested Jim’s RC+ 139 to 132 and his wOBA .404 to .385.

Edmonds’ defensive metrics in CF (a key defensive position) out-distance Duke’s by a wide margin. According to fangraphs Snider’s defense was worth -45.7 for his career and Edmonds’ worth +73.3. As a result of this disparity, Edmonds career WAR of 64.2 is superior to Snider’s 63.5.

The players are linked by how closely their career stats mirror and no one questions whether or not Duke Snider is a deserving hall of famer. Those who saw him play rave about how great he was. Those who analyze these things, have stated that his numbers stand up to the eye witness accounts.

So, by osmosis, the only questions that remain as to the hall worthiness of Jim Edmonds are the same questions hampering so many deserving hall of fame candidates at present. Edmonds’, though never implicated himself, played in the “steroid era” and many of the game’s all-time greats from that era have been spurned by the BWWAA’s spite. If Jeff Bagwell , Roger Clemens, and Barry Bonds can’t get in then it seems unlikely that Edmonds’ will be seriously considered in spite of the fact that he is undoubtedly qualified.

However, the road blocks in the way of Jim Edmonds’ path to the hall of fame have more to do with the system than they do with Edmonds’ himself. To those that saw him play, Edmonds’ is one of the underappreciated greats. To dinosaurs like Ken Gurnick, he’s likely just one more opportunity to turn their noses up at a younger generation so they can crow to their contemporaries “Remember when?

Yeah, we remember, Ken. We remember when black players were barred from the game. When greenies ruled the day. When pitching numbers were inflated by a mound much higher than the one used today. We remember that the perfect game has always been, in fact, imperfect.

Now. Let. Our. People. Go.

Whether Jimmy’s greatness is really appreciated and immortalized with a bust in Cooperstown is not really the point. His numbers signal that he belongs. And those of us that watched him will always have these memories…

On October 22nd, 2004 my heart sank, along with many of yours, when light-hitting Houston Astros’ catcher Brad Ausmus sent a second inning line drive into the left center-field gap. An expletive escaped my lips as the life of a 105 win juggernaut hung in the balance. “No way anybody’s getting to that”.

Our team, the St. Louis Cardinals’ were down in the series 3 games to 2, and trailed 1-0 already in game 6. Ausmus’ blow threatened to prematurely derail one of the greatest seasons in Cardinals’ history. All was about to be lost. We needed a savior. And then..

Edmonds

…that’s the greatness of Jim Edmonds. He would later hit a walk off home run to send the series to a deciding game 7.

The Hall of Fame serves as a way for us to find the context to our lives that many of us have been longing for, to understand our experiences, our passions, and as a representation of the final breaths of our innocence – my self-indulgent poetic waxing gives way to numbers and facts and a reality of which the results only kind of matter. They only matter in the macro. As for the micro? All I have to say is..

Thank you, Jim.

The Next Matt Carpenter

By: Jared Simmons @mcgeetriples

The 2009 Amateur Draft will forever be remembered as one of the greatest in the history of the St. Louis Cardinals’ proud franchise. The Cardinals scored early and often throughout the draft. Hitting it big with their first round pick (Shelby Miller), third round pick (Joe Kelly), they scored again in the thirteenth (Matt Carpenter), 21st (Trevor Rosenthal), and yet again in the 23rd round (Matt Adams). Today, the Cardinals are the model franchise in all of Major League Baseball and appear poised to embark on a sustained run of success for years to come. You need look no further than the 2009 draft to understand why.

Shelby Miller is a front of the rotation starting pitcher who finished 3rd in the rookie of the year voting for the National League in 2013, Joe Kelly was the most reliable starting pitcher down the stretch for an eventual pennant winner, Trevor Rosenthal became a shutdown closer who made opposing hitters look like they had been dipped in molasses, and Matt Adams showed impressive power by belting 17 homeruns while being limited to only 319 plate appearances.

The 2013 season is a testament to the greatness of the Cardinals’ 2009 draft, and the players selected shine like a beacon of light guiding they way to the team’s future.  Perhaps, no other player underscores the importance of this draft more than Matt Carpenter. Selected in the 13th round out of Texas Christian University, Carpenter, a gangly third baseman had a lot to prove. According to scouts, Carpenter was a tall, wiry coach’s son who would never hit for enough power to impact the game at the highest level.

The Cardinals liked Matt Carpenter more than most. They liked his baseball intelligence, his drive and desire to succeed, but most importantly they liked the fact that the one tool that everyone could agree he possessed – was the most important tool of all – the ability to hit. Carpenter worked his way through the minor leagues and made his major league debut in 2011.

Matt Carpenter began his first full-season with the Redbirds in 2012 and the rest, as they say, is history. His ability to square the ball gelled with his long, lithe frame as he filled out into the 6’3”, 215 pound man that led the National League in hits(199), runs(126), and doubles(55).  In 2013, Carpenter was an all-star, finished 4th in the National League MVP voting and became one of the league’s biggest surprises. His wRC+of  147 is a testament to a disciplined approach, incredible batting eye (walk rate of 10%), and ability to square the ball up. Carpenter’s .318/.392/.481 slash line makes him an undeniable offensive force from the leadoff spot.

He is also the kind of player whom, the thought of acquiring with a 13th round pick, makes organizations salivate.

Yet, regardless of where they are drafted, players as good as Matt Carpenter are what make organizations thrive. His skill set is both very effective and hard to find. Perhaps, that is the reason that  in 2012 the Cardinals didn’t wait around until the 13th round to draft Stephen Piscotty. Piscotty, a tall slender third baseman, was drafted out of the University of Stanford with the 36th overall selection. Piscotty is listed at 6’3, 195 and like Carpenter is seen as a great contact hitter with gap to gap power. Piscotty has a short, compact swing and mature approach at the plate that the organization and this blogger believe will translate from level to level as he climbs through the system.

The Cardinals also liked Piscotty’s athleticism while playing at Stanford. In recent years, the Cardinals have shown a pension for drafting athletic, 2 way players because history has shown that athleticism is the number 1 trait most likely to translate to the big leagues. Piscotty threw in the 90’s from the mound during his time at Stanford and thus fits both of these criteria well.

In spite of their similarities, there are obvious differences between Carpenter and Piscotty. Carpenter is a left-handed hitter who was able to move up the defensive spectrum (moving from 3rd to 2nd) and play that position at a major league average level. Conversely, Piscotty on the other hand, is a right-handed hitter who’s limitation in lateral movement have seen him transition down the spectrum (from 3rd base to right field). However, Piscotty is a major league average runner with a good arm – both tools that should play well in right.

So, while Piscotty won’t be able to offer the same positional value to the Cardinals that Carpenter has there are also striking similarities between Matt Carpenter and Stephen Piscotty that should have Cardinal fans extremely excited. Both Carpenter and Piscotty were drafted as lanky third basemen who’s primary tool is the ability to hit a baseball squarely. Scouts questioned whether or not either of these two players would hit for enough power to contribute in the big leagues, but with big league homerun totals falling and 50 homerun hitting behemoths no longer the norm, Matt Carpenter has proven that players with his skills are able to succeed in a big way at the highest level.

That is to say, players who can get on base, make solid contact, and hit for enough power to find the gaps can produce wins even without gaudy homerun totals. In 2013, according to fangraphs, Matt Carpenter was a 7 win/WAR(wins above replacement) player. For context, 6 WAR players are generally considered all-stars and 8 WAR players are considered MVP’s.

The Cardinals hope that as Stephen Piscotty matures his frame will fill out and he will produce more power. In 2013, Stephen hit a combined 15 homeruns and 23 doubles between Palm Beach (A+) and Springfiled (the Cardinas’ AA affiliate). Piscotty did his damage with only 471 combined plate appearances. Like Carpenter, homerun power will likely never be his calling card, but he does possess the ability to make hard, consistent contact much like Matt Carpenter . Piscotty struck out only 47 times in those 471 combined plate appearances. He also walked 36 times.

Below is a comparison (thanks to fangraphs) between Matt Carpenter’s 2010 season at AA Springfield and Piscotty’s 2013 season at AA Springfield. During their respective AA seasons, Carpenter was 24 years old and Piscotty, 2 years younger, was 22.

Carpenter (2010)- 472 PA’s, .316/.412/.487 with 12 homeruns.
wRC+ of 151, wOBA(weighted onbase avg.) .409
Isolated Power(ISO) – .172, K%-18.6%, BB% 13.6%

Piscotty(2013)- 207PA’s, .299/.364/.446 with 6 homeruns.
wRC+129, wOBA-.360
ISO: .147, K%9.2%, BB%9.2%

Piscotty’s numbers fare pretty favorably with Matt Carpenter’s when put into their proper context. Both players hit for gap power while maintaining solid walk and strike out rates. Carpenter’s biggest advantages appear in the areas most associated with physical growth, experience, and maturity (ISO, walk rate, etc). That is to say that Carpenter was 2 years older than Piscotty while playing at the same level  -and it can safely be assumed that most players with similar builds will experience an increase in power and strike zone discipline as they mature and approach their prime years.

Despite being 2 years younger at the same level, Piscotty actually made contact at a much higher rate than did Carpenter – striking out in only 9.2% of his at bats compared to Carpenter’s 18.6%. Piscotty will likely never produce huge power numbers, but he does possess better than average bat speed, and a frame that should comfortably hold more weight and his ceiling could be as a high average, 20 homerun hitting, corner outfielder who is a solid defender with a plus arm. Not to mention, the rate at which he makes contact, alludes to the possibility that he will be a doubles hitting machine at the Major League level ala Carpenter.

In addition to his success at AA, Piscotty also had a very strong showing in the Arizona Fall League this year. The Arizona Fall League is often considered a finishing school for the game’s top prospects, and Piscotty looked like a polished gem when the fall league wrapped up in early November.  Piscotty hit .371 (good for 4th in the league)and posted an excellent .936 On-base plus slugging percentage. Piscotty ranked as one of the Fall League’s top statistical performers in a number of offensive categories.

It is due to Stephen’s success this year in high A, AA, and the Arizona fall league that Piscotty will likely get a chance to start the season at AAA Memphis in 2014.

Matt Carpenter’s success at the Major League level has surprised many, but the Cardinals have become experts at identifying traits which translate to success from level to level and ultimately lead to quality major league production. Matt Carpenter possesses those skills.

Stephen Piscotty possesses those same skills, similar physical attributes, and an athletic body that should allow him to play at every level of the game just as Matt Carpenter has done. Piscotty is blocked by a logjam of talent in this organization. and would be an excellent trading chip.

But you can count me in among his biggest fans and among those who hope that when he makes his impact in the big leagues –  he is still wearing the Birds on the Bat.

John Mozeliak: Magic Man

MO

Drafting kids between 18 and 22 years of age is a perilous, unforgiving endeavor. The pursuit of creating a science for something that can be described at best as inexact -has made men- and it has ruined them. The Cardinals under Walt Jocketty were a win now, at all costs, sort of team. This approach guided them to one of the best eras in team history. During Jocketty’s 13 seasons as the General Manager of the Cardinals, St. Louis won six NL Central titles, one wild card and two National League Pennants. Oh, and a World Series Championship.

But the cost of success, the cost of doing business in Walt Jocketty’s world, is that eventually poor drafts and trading prospects for veterans depletes a farm system and leaves an organization thin. This model makes a team susceptible to injuries and to age. It’s inefficient and unsustainable over the long-term. Not to mention that even the masters of trading for big league talent, and Jocketty was a master, get burned eventually. See: Dan Haren for Mark Mulder. As a result of this business model the Cardinals, as much as some fans might not want to hear it, were headed for some barren days without a change.

Cardinal Nation was in an uproar on October 4th, 2007. Walt Jocketty had been fired. The man that had lead the Cardinals out of the wasteland (See early to mid 1990’s) and back into the light had actually been let go just one season after winning a World Series Championship.  Tony LaRussa, Jocketty’s friend, and sure-fire Hall of Fame Manager of the Cardinals was reportedly ticked off about it to boot.

The organization was seeking a new direction. What was next for this proud franchise? Were the Cardinals going to once again be wandering aimlessly through the desert?

Enter John Mozeliak.

Since taking over the Cardinals during the Winter of 2007 John Mozeliak has distanced himself from almost every other executive in baseball and established himself as the game’s shrewdest operator. Mozeliak, in just over half the time at the helm, has already matched Jocketty’s impressive level of success. In just 7 seasons since Mozeliak took over, the Cardinals have won a World Series, and 2 National League Pennants the same feats that they reached in 13 seasons under Jocketty.

While it must be said (because it’s true) that Mozeliak inherited an organization in much better shape than the one Jocketty took over upon his arrival in St. Louis. It is equally true, and undeniably so, that the success the Cardinals have enjoyed under John Mozeliak is much different than the success they enjoyed under Walt Jocketty.

And when I say “different” what I mean to say is that it’s better.

It’s better because it is efficient, financially responsible, sustainable, flexible, and effective. This model of success, John Mozeliak’s model, has steamrolled through the National League and has shown no signs of slowing down. In fact, this offseason makes you believe that the gap between the Cardinals and most of the rest of the National League is likely to continue to expand – not dissipate.

It makes you believe (even if foolishly) the same way that summer fling made you feel in your youth – like it can go on like this forever.

Like, the Cardinals are an organization who rule by divine right and others get a slice only by happenstance.

All thinking people know that this isn’t true. The Cardinals will have more rough years and downturns.  And there’s too strong a sense of entitlement in this city already.  But up until this point, John Mozeliak has replaced some of that logic with fool-hearted belief: maybe this is the way it’s always going to be; maybe John Mozeliak really did make a deal with the devil; and maybe just maybe the Cardinals will rule like this forever.

After all, can anyone PROVE that Mozeliak is not really superman in disguise? Seriously, he does sort of look like Clark Kent. Supernatural, wizardly, lucky, brilliant – you name it- and right now no one could argue or rather present an intelligent argument based on his track record that it’s not true.

He is baseball’s magic man.

John Mozeliak, Dan Kantrovitz, and Jeff Luhnow rebuilt the farm system and have been responsible for some of the best drafts in Major League Baseball since 2008. They have also created a system of player development that is universal throughout the Cardinals’ farm teams, from level to level, and coach to coach.

John Mozeliak has embraced the analytical player analysis model(s) that have revolutionized the front offices of nearly every successful major league organization. Perhaps, more than embrace it he has innovated within the structures created by others. The Cardinals, under Mozeliak, have blended the new school with the old school and have identified players and attributes within players that can be understood. They have used this information to assign values to players based upon their specific skills, age, ability, and deficiencies.

The Cardinals have been emotionlessly shrewd, placing a value on individual players within the context of the team’s budget and refusing to deviate from that plan (See: Pujols, Lohse). As a result, the Cardinals have maintained flexibility to strike when the deal is right (See: Matt Holliday, Yadier Molina, Allen Craig, Peter Bourjos) while other teams have doomed themselves to bad contract purgatory (See: New York Yankees, Los Angeles Angels).

This logical approach has had the Cardinals always looking forward and never backward. Valuing players for what they will do and not what they have done. It has lead to the departure of hometown hero David Freese and legendary Cardinal, Albert Pujols, as well as once highly touted prospect Colby Rasmus. It has prevented the big mistake if not all mistakes (See: Ty Wigginton).

Under Mozeliak the Cardinals have become self-reflective. Following the 2013 season, the Cardinals were able to identify their own weaknesses and create a plan to attack them. Outfield defense? Check. Offense from Shortstop? Check.

Mozeliak and his Cardinals have remained steadfast in their approach even when local media and a large selection of the fan base have not understood the moves that have been made. The signing of Jhonny Peralta has been widely panned both locally and nationally. There are still those that believe, in spite of all evidence, that he won’t be the same player after his PED suspension.

And I must’ve heard a thousand times about how the Cardinals should’ve traded this or that for X player or Y player. But the hype behind Tulo and Andrus couldn’t persuade Mo to break from his value based approach. Is Tulo a better player than Peralta? No doubt. But are the Cardinals better with Tulo minus Oscar Taveras, Shelby Miller, and Kevin Siegrist than they are with Peralta and all three of those guys still in the fold?

Umm… NO and it’s not close. Mozeliak, as usual eschewed the big move in order to make the right move. Ho hum.

Many have argued that Peralta is overpaid. His history and projected WAR numbers say differently. Not to mention a frontloaded contract, which might signal an intent to trade Jhonny away if his defense is no longer able to handle the demanding position of shortstop. And to his defense, every available metric suggests that he is not the albatross he has been portrayed to be by some. He is, for all intent and purposes, a league average defensive shortstop.

In short, Mozeliak has done throughout this offseason, pretty much the same thing he has done every day since his first day on the job in St. Louis.

He has improved upon the weaknesses of the big league club without sacrificing big league pitching depth, minor league depth, or draft pick depth. In fact, the Cardinals have added a first round draft pick (for Beltran) without sacrificing a pick for any of their acquisitions. Mozeliak has made short-term improvements, maintained long-term flexibility, and hoarded assets like no other.

He has created a reality in which his team is so deep, so well-put together, and maintained the ability to fill any hole or make any move that he wants that it is hard to envision the turn of events that would have to happen for this team to not succeed.

This year, next year, and every year.

He has made a mockery of all of the things we thought we knew about being a great GM. While Phillie fans toil away – doomed to Ruben Amaro Jr. – Cardinal fans have the opportunity to witness true ingenuity and execution. True greatness.

Innovative. Forward thinking. Self-reflective. John Mozeliak has turned the Cardinals into Frankenstein: a living, breathing nightmare for every other team in the National League.

He is a mad scientist who is creating beautiful art.

Superman

A Role for Carlos Martinez

A Role for Carlos Martinez
By Jared Simmons @McGeeTriples

CMART

            The glut of young, power arms possessed by the St. Louis Cardinals has been well documented. Some fans have called for the organization to maximize the value of their assets and relieve the rotations logjam through a trade. However, I have always believed the old cliché about never having too much pitching. So, how then, can the Cardinals get the most value out of all their young arms when they can’t all fit into a five man rotation?

Adam Wainwright, Shelby Miller, and Michael Wacha are locks for the rotation with Jaime Garcia, if healthy and effective following shoulder surgery, destined to be in the mix as well. That leaves Joe Kelly, Lance Lynn, and Carlos Martinez vying for the final starting spot. There’s been talk from John Mozeliak himself about C-Mart potentially starting the year in AAA if he cannot crack the rotation. This line of thinking is very pragmatic and follows the conventional wisdom. But I believe that there’s another, less conventional way for Carlos to dramatically impact the Cardinals season without 1) being in the starting rotation or 2) being the “eighth inning guy.”

The odds of Martinez beating Kelly or Lynn out for the 5th and final rotation spot appear slim and honestly, seems undesirable. Where can Martinez impact the game the most? I would argue that the gap in production between any of these three in the 5th starter role would be negligible over the long season. Further, the 5th starter is unlikely to see a start in postseason play and therefore asked to step into a role that he has not performed in all season. And I want Carlos Martinez to pitch early and to pitch often when the postseason rolls around.

The late inning relief roles are stocked with good pitchers. Trevor Rosenthal, Jason Motte, and Kevin Siegrist are flame throwers and should be able to hold down the fort in the 7th, 8th, and 9th innings pretty efficiently. As a result of these surpluses the Cardinals have the luxury of breaking the mold or returning to the old mold – if you prefer – and using Carlos Martinez and his electric arm as a super reliever.

Let’s define “super reliever” for the purposes of this blog post: a super reliever is a relief pitcher who’s role is not tied to a particular inning. Today, closers pitch the 9th and setup men pitch the 7th or the 8th  innings. If anything different is asked of these players they lose or their agents lose their minds on their behalf. Saves and holds earn dollars.

Meanwhile, games are lost in the 5th inning when a starter loses his mojo and gets in a jam. Or the sixth with the bases loaded and a two run lead, does the manager call the bullpen for his best guy knowing that this is the confrontation that will likely determine the outcome of the game?

No.

Instead, the manager calls for Seth Manness. Or Fernando Salas. Or Maikel Cleto. When this happens, the odds of losing the game skyrockets – all because the manager is paralyzed by fear and handcuffed by convention.

The “super reliever” eliminates this scenario because his role is to put out the fire whenever the flame sparks. The super reliever is just like the closer – only more flexible, more durable, and more valuable. If the game is on the line in the 6th this man (Carlos Martinez) will slam the door. If Trevor Rosenthal has pitched 3 straight days, Carlos Martinez will save the game without breaking a sweat. If a game goes into extra innings and all other bullpen options are exhausted the super reliever will go 3 innings, shut the door, and send the crowd at Busch home happy.

The super reliever is also not tied to an arbitrary 1 inning limit. He pitches as needed, and gives way when the situation dictates that he should. And because he’s not tied to an inning or a particular situation he is free to do this – as tomorrow the setup men and the closer will still be there to do the overrated, overvalued, and overpriced task of coming into their predefined inning with a 3 run lead, no one on base, and retiring the opposing 7,8,9 hitters for the 29th best team in baseball.

The super reliever is the leverage reliever. The man to pitch anywhere, anytime as long as the outcome hangs in the balance. The bullpen arm who can count for two roster spots and determine the difference between winning and losing.

For the Cardinals this man is  or rather should be Carlos Martinez with his electric fastball and devastating slider. A man with a reliever’s arm and the starter’s stamina. His career ahead lies in the rotation, but for now, with the excess of young arms already on the roster his most potential impact is in this unconventional role.

I believe Carlos Martinez has a rare gift in his right arm. In my view C-Mart has the stuff to become a legendary figure in the annals of Cardinal pitching lore – if only he is able to refine his command and remain healthy. As such, I hope the Cardinals will utilize him in as many game-deciding situations as possible. With the traditional bullpen roles in good hands and the long-relief/mopup being handled by the odd man out of the rotation (Lynn or Kelly) the most efficient way to capitalize on C-Mart’s talent will be in the same way that old school closers were used: 100-120 innings of flame throwing, season defining, leverage relief.

Shortening the bullpen with C-Mart in this manner does a lot of things for the Cardinals:

  • It allows the greatest number of the team’s bullpen innings to be pitched by the team’s best pitchers.
  • Gives Manager Mike Matheeny the ability to ration the workloads of Motte, Siegrist, Rosenthal, and even Seth Manness (whom Matheeny loves for some reason). This is important because for the 2014 St. Louis Cardinals the goal is winning a World Series. And NOT in the same way that it’s the goal for every team in the MLB. Really winning a World Series. Barring catastrophe the regular season is just a formality the Cardinals have to wade through on their way to October. So, having your power arms fresh and peaking at playoff time is of more concern than how well they can play in April.
  • Rations C-Mart’s innings. The Cardinals, like most teams, are concerned with preserving their young arms for the long-term (Note Shelby Miller’s disappearance from the playoff) and being able to manage Carlos’ innings throughout the season will hopefully eliminate any desire to hold him back in October.
  • Ensures that the bridge from the starter to the shutdown portion of the bullpen is as smooth as possible. There’s value in the middle innings. Close games are lost in the 5th/6th innings. Big leads are lost nearly every time Fernando Salas steps on to a major league mound.  It also limits the desire of modern managers to trot every member of a bullpen into every single game until they find the one guy who is going to have a bad day. C-Mart is easily capable of going 2-4 innings at a time on any given night.
  • Gives the Cardinals roster flexibility. Martinez’ ability to pitch so many innings out of the bullpen means the Cardinals don’t have to carry as many pitchers if they don’t want to. Or if they choose to carry 12 pitchers – they don’t have to use them as often.

The Cardinals have a lot of different ways they can go with Carlos Martinez in 2014. They afforded themselves this luxury because of half a decade’s worth of smart decisions in free agency, the draft, international pool, and with their own players. Carlos Martinez is a weapon they can use from the 5th inning to the 9th inning. He should be used in tight games and he should be able to rack up a ton of innings. If you make him the “eighth inning” guy you are unnecessarily limiting him and are probably only going to get 60-80 innings out of him. More innings = more value. Pitcher’s with elite arms like Martinez has have not generally been used in this manner since the 80’s, but the presence of Motte, Siegrist, and Rosenthal means that they can deploy Martinez anytime, anywhere and still be covered at the end of the ballgame.

On Jay Versus Robinson

On Jay Versus Robinson

                It says a lot about your organization when one of the biggest questions you have about your team on December 30th is which solid bench guy should be the 4th or possibly 5th outfielder on the roster. But that’s the position the St. Louis Cardinals and their fans find themselves in as 2014 beckons. With the bulk of the roster written in blood and holes in its construct harder to find than Tim Tebow at a key party – there’s little left for Cardinal diehards to deliberate.

                Be that as it may, St. Louis is a town where baseball sits ever on the conscious, and thus a debate rages among the more far gone addicts about who the better player and fit will be for the Cardinals in 2014: Jon Jay or Shane Robinson.

                There is a strong contingent among us running the flag up the pole in support of Shane Robinson. Among that group there are two sub-groups: those with intelligent, well-reasoned and valid arguments for backing Shay Rob and a second group of BFIB’s racing to be first in line to support any diminutive, “gritty”, white guy who gives them warm fuzzy feelings, and makes them believe that THEY TOO can become great.

You can count me out of both groups.

                While I acknowledge that Shane was a better defender than Jay in 2013 (and by a wide margin) it is clear to me that Jon Jay is the better baseball player and the better fit for the Cardinals’ roster as presently constructed. This argument is built on analytics, advanced baseball metrics, and old-school eye test reasoning. I respect Shane Robinson and what he has accomplished in life. Most of us would be lucky to get out of our gifts what Shane has produced from all 5 feet, 5 inches of his body.

                That said, Major League Baseball and professional sports, in general ,are a zero sum game. There are no points for being the best pound for pound, no moral victories, feel good stories are made for TV only. ESPN will nauseate you to death with heart-wrenchers and baby-mamma drama. Yet, the fact remains that in the business of baseball the sole measure of success is winning and losing.

                So let’s get into it…

 Jon Jay’s defense drew much ire in 2013 and rightfully so. He had a UZR of negative 7.3 (beyond terrible). By contrast, Shane’s UZR was a positive 4.0. While defensive numbers can be hard to quantify – the stark contrast in those zone ratings is hard to ignore. The questions that all concerned parties must answer for themselves is whether or not, at the age of 28 (generally considered to be a prime year in a player’s career) has Jon Jay completely lost the ability to play defense? After all, in the prior year he played a solid CF and his UZR was a respectable 3.7 (nearly identical to Robinson’s 3.6). I tend to think that the awfulness that was Jon Jay’s defense in 2013 was an outlier and that given playing time in 2014 he would be more slightly below average and less albatross than he was in 2013.

                Shane Robinson also has a decent arm and Jon Jay terrifies no one with his wet noodle. I won’t offer you any numbers here, but ask yourself this question, how often does an averaged armed starting outfielder impact a game with a throw? The answer is rarely. And if that guy isn’t playing very much, this impact is almost nonexistent. And let’s not kid ourselves, Shane Robinson is an averaged armed outfielder. Rick Ankiel he is not.

                The best fit for this team is going to be the player that hits the most. Matt Holliday, Peter Bourjos, and Allen Craig are going to patrol the outfield for the Cardinals for the most part in 2014 and if one of those three (or Matt Adams) suffers a long term injury, then the bulk of the playing time created will likely fall into the lap of Oscar Taveras. As a result, the opportunities for either Robinson or Jay to impact games are going to be few and far between and they are also going to come in the form of pinch-hits.

                There’s a reason a player (Robinson) makes it to age 29 and has amassed only 386 plate appearances for his career. Robinson’s career slash line is .246/.316/.327. Robinson has also posted a career RC+ of 80 (100 is average).  Three leading projection sites project Robinson’s 2014 numbers to be:

Rotochamp – .255/.349/.355 (OPS: .704)
Steamer – .265/.339/.384 (.723)
CAIRO – .241/.312/.355 (.647)

                I tend to favor CAIRO’s projection for Robinson as I believe that given full-time at bats he would struggle to post a .700 OPS. Just one man’s opinion.

                In contrast to Robinson, Jay is 28 (younger than Robinson) and has compiled 1956 plate appearances throughout his career. His career slash line of .293/.356/.400 dwarfs Robinson’s. He also has a career RC+ of 112. Jay’s projection:

Rotochamp – .294/.366/.388 (.754)
Steamer – .282/.350/.398 (.748)
CAIRO – .274/.340/.374 (.714)

                I like the middle ground here with Steamer’s projection for Jay in 2014. In case you haven’t noticed, Jon Jay is also left handed and the Cards’ entire projected starting OF is full of RH hitters. Coveting a roster composition of diverse skill sets is another feather in Jay’s cap.

                But perhaps the most decisive reason for Jay over Robinson is potential value. In short, Robinson has none and is never going to have any. Perhaps, only Jeff Luhnow in Houston would covet Shay Rob’s services. After all, he also wanted Tyler Greene.

Jay on the other hand, has established value in the major leagues. Even last year, as his defense completely tanked, Jay was basically a league average player. According to fangraphs he had  a WAR of 1.9. Robinson posted a WAR of just 0.9 in limited playing time and would likely have seen that number decreased had he seen extensive exposure. Jay’s bat, and likely defensive rebound offer the most upside both in terms of tangible value to the Cardinals and speculative value as a trade chip mid-season.

Jon Jay is a fringe starter and solid 4th outfield option. Shane Robinson is a AAAA player. We all want to cheer for the little guy and pull for the underdog, but the Cardinals are best served by making calculated decisions. Not emotional ones. John Mozeliak has wreaked havoc on professional baseball by remaining steadfast in this approach (buh-bye David Freese) and we can only hope that he continues to do so.. and maximizes the assets at his disposal. Jon Jay is an asset.

Feel free to cheer on the best story if you like; I’ll be rooting for the best team and hopefully..

a world series championship.

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