Cardinals news from a Sabermetric point of view

Keys to the NLDS

October 4th, 2014 by Pip

As the Cardinals reprise their 2013 playoff matchup with the Dodgers in the NLDS, here are a few keys to the rest of the series:

  • Short series: As with any short series, it benefits the lesser team (if we’re honest, we’ll admit that the Cardinals weren’t quite the team the Dodgers were in the regular season). Or, more accurately, the flukiness that it introduces (as opposed to, say, a seven-game series) levels the playing field and reduces the superior team’s advantage.
  • Matheny’s use of Rosenthal: Mike Matheny needs to be willing to use Rosenthal optimally: The teams have split their past 20 meetings, and 12 of the games have been decided by one or two runs. After Game 1, make that 13 of their last 21. Though the Cardinal closer has been anything but absolute in his duties, he’s still the most reliable reliever available; Matheny needs to be comfortable using him in tie games, and possibly even down a run, when he provides true value.
  • Dodgers’ speed kills: Unlike the Royals, who wisely steal bases, the Dodgers like to run but aren’t very adept at it. They were second in MLB behind the Royals with 138 stolen bases. But they were third in caught stealing, making 50 outs trying, for a 73.4.
  • Platoon differential: As Bill James wrote, “The platoon differential is real and virtually universal.” See Randal Grichuk’s home run off Clayton Kershaw in Game 1. And Oscar Taveras’s ugly plate appearance against the same. But as James notes, the advantage is virtually universalPresumably, right-hander Pete Kozma made the NLDS roster because of lefties Kershaw and Hyun-Jin Ryu starting. But despite a strong record against the Dodgers’ ace, Kozma will likely regress to his mean — indeed, after going 0-for-3 with a strikeout. Matheny needs  to be careful to not miss the forest for the trees — Kozma is still a career .264 wOBA hitter against southpaws.

Cardinals are dislikable, but not for reasons WSJ gives

October 2nd, 2014 by Pip

The biggest pre-postseason news for Cardinal fans was that their team earned the ignominious distinction of being the Wall Street Journal’s most hated team in the playoffs. The Cardinals are indeed dislikable, but not in some of the ways that the WSJ judges.

For example, we found it ironic that a journalistic bastion of free trade would lament the Cardinals’ honestly gotten and hard earned successes over the years, which to us seems the perfect reason to love and appreciate them. Also, that Cardinal fans travel well is another feather in their cap, not a reason for disdain. After all, without all of those red-clad guests filling seats in other stadiums, teams wouldn’t fare nearly so well at the gate.

The Journal is right to include in its criteria the number of players suspended for PEDs (the Cardinals have one, Jhonny Peralta). However, honest observers will admit that, despite some big-name suspensions, MLB’s cheater dragnet has enough holes to make it impossible to claim that all or even most have been caught. (To be sure, for all we know, Peralta may not be the only Cardinal.)

The Cardinals do give fans (including their own) reason to dislike them — they’re just not all listed by the WSJ. Allow us to provide a few:

  • Boring manager: Mike Matheny surely has his respectable qualities. Creative style and entertaining insights aren’t two of them, though. Matheny is as much “by the book” as you can find these days. For example, he sac bunted 41 times with non-pitchers, including six with his top on-base man, Matt Carpenter. He used closer Trevor Rosenthal 22 times in games with below-average leverage index. And his postgame pressers are now a doctor-ordered antidote to insomnia. In short, Matheny makes Tony La Russa seem like Casey Stengel.
  • Loathsome players: The Cardinals score a double play here with AJ Pierzynski, one of the game’s longtime most-hated players, and Carlos Martinez, who specializes in alienating his home fans, not an easy task. Though he’s not on the NLDS roster, Pierzynski is still technically on the team and is going to be seen on the bench. Sorry, everyone.
  • Bad baserunning: The Cardinals ranked last in baseball in Fangraphs Baserunning score. They had the lowest bases gained to outs on bases ratio, taking fewer that two to every one they lost. Not pretty to watch. It took its toll in scoring, too: Despite finishing in the middle of MLB in wOBA (.308, tied for 14th), they were in the bottom in runs per game (3.82, 23rd). Their monstrous baserunning is an affront to any fan who knows the basics of the game and the preciousness of outs.

Even with those reasons to hate the Cardinals, we’re not tempted in the slightest to drop them for the Dodgers. That’s because, whatever the Cardinals’ peccadilloes, the Dodgers have as many or more. You want loathsome players? Yasiel Puig somewhat redeemed himself with his kindness toward Jimmy Erskine, but he’s a legitimate menace to society, with two incidents of reckless driving in an eight-month span earlier this year, not to mention the fact that he’s annoying as heck to watch play. Ditto, Brian Wilson.  And don’t forget Hanley Ramirez. The Cardinals may be the worst baserunning team in MLB, but the Dodgers aren’t far behind. And as boring and conventional as Matheny is, Don Mattingly gives him a run for his money. Mattingly sac bunted with Puig (career OBP: .386) three times in the first inning this season. And Mattingly’s suboptimal use of his close Kenley Jason (24 outings in below-average leverage index) makes Matheny’s deployment of Rosenthal look like Whitey Herzog’s strategic use of Bruce Sutter.

And although the WSJ believes that a team whose fans comprise a “nation” is hatable, we take a different view: It’s not how many fans a team has, but what percentage of them are legit. It seems to us that the Cardinals have a relatively high percentage of people who wear their colors and caps and can at least name the regular lineup. Dodgers’ fans, on the other hand, strike us as having a higher percentage of poseurs — those who rock the Dodger-blue lid, but haven’t a clue who Mattingly has on his lineup card, beyond Yasiel Puig, of course. And that’s only because he’s the one who returns their beach ball when it accidentally bounces onto the field.

Looking for smart baserunning? You won’t find it in the Cardinals-Dodgers series

October 2nd, 2014 by Pip

Best baserunning teams 2014 | Create Infographics

2014 Playoff Teams by Weekly Power Rankings

September 30th, 2014 by Pip

2014 Playoff Teams by Weekly Power Rankings | Create Infographics

2014 Cardinals’ regular season review in power rankings

September 29th, 2014 by Pip

[Note: Each week, the various bloggers of the ESPN SweetSpot network provide input into ESPN's MLB Power Rankings. Following are our weekly comments for the entire 2014 regular season.]

Date Rank Record Trending Comments
Mar 31 1
0-0

Last Week: NR

The Cardinals are ready and eager to defend their National League pennant as super sophomore whiff kids Shelby Miller and Michael Wacha follow in staff ace Adam Wainwright‘s footsteps.
 Apr 7  3 3-3 -2
Last Week: 1
 The Cardinals have yet to find a rhythm on the mound (1.90 K/BB is 14th in the NL) and groove at the plate (.281 OBP is 11th), but they’ve managed a 3-3 start against division foes Cincinnati and Pittsburgh.
 Apr 14  5  7-5 -2
Last Week: 3
 The Cardinals went 4-2 on their season-opening homestand behind new stars Michael Wacha, Matt Adams and Kolten Wong, even as closer Trevor Rosenthal works out the kinks.
 Apr 21  2  11-8 +3
Last Week: 5
 The Cardinals won a series against the division-leading Brewers but managed only a split against the Nationals due in part to shabby fielding. The Cardinals’ offense, ranked 12th in NL with .302 wOBA, has yet to fully blossom.
 Apr 28  8  14-12 -6
Last Week: 2
 The Cardinals’ offense continues to sputter, averaging fewer than two runs per game for the week until erupting for seven on Sunday against the Pirates to win the series as Adam Wainwright bounced back from a knee-injury scare.
 May 5  13 16-16 -5
Last Week:8
 Little has gone according to plan for the Cardinals so far, with their starting pitchers walking a league-high 3.28 batters per nine innings, and the team demoting promising rookie second baseman Kolten Wong to Memphis and narrowly avoiding a sweep by the Cubs to remain at .500 on the young season.
 May 12  14  19-19 -1
Last Week: 13
The Cardinals narrowly avoided getting swept by the Pirates to return to .500 (19-19), which belies the fifth-best Pythagorean record in the NL (21-17). The club hasn’t lost more than two games in a row this season, but also hasn’t won more than four straight.
May 19  5  23-21 +9
Last Week: 14
 The Cardinals won four in a row last week as Shelby Miller appears to have straightened himself out. The bad news is that reliever Trevor Rosenthal, who walked in the tying run Sunday, still hasn’t.
May 26 5  28-22
Last Week: 5
 Jaime Garcia returned to the rotation to help the Cardinals go 5-1 last week and pull within 1.5 games of the Brewers.
Jun 2  7  30-27 -2
Last Week: 5
 Top prospect Oscar Taveras walloped a home run in his major league debut, but it was one of the few highlights of the week. The Cardinals lost five of seven to open their homestand and lost first baseman Matt Adams to the DL.
 Jun 9  13  33-31 -6
Last Week: 7
 The Cardinals rediscovered confidence by taking two of three from the AL East-leading Blue Jays in Toronto on the strength of shutouts from starters Shelby Miller and Jaime Garcia.
 Jun 16  8  37-32 +5
Last Week: 13
Matt Adams hit a home run in each of his first three games back after coming off the disabled list, and Cardinals pitchers (and defense) conspired to throw their MLB-leading 14th team shutout.
 Jun 23  6  41-35 +2
Last Week: 8
The Cardinals lost key hurlers Michael Wacha and Jaime Garcia to the disabled list and will ask flamethrowing reliever Carlos Martinez to step into the rotation.
 June 30  8  44-39 -2
Last Week: 6
 The Cardinals dropped into a second-place tie in the National League Central after getting caught in the Clayton Kershaw buzzsaw. The Cards are also still seeking long-term help in their rotation after losing Michael Wacha and Jaime Garcia.
 Jul 7 11  47-42 -3
Last Week: 8
 Second baseman Kolten Wong returned from the DL, but he wasn’t enough to help the Cardinals avoid losing a series at home to the Marlins. Will GM John Mozeliak pull the trigger on a deal for a pitcher?
 Jul 14  5  52-44 +6 Last Week: 11  The Cardinals suffered their biggest blow yet when Yadier Molina tore ligaments in his right thumb. He’s expected to miss 8-12 weeks. The Cardinals rallied, however, and momentarily pulled even with the Brewers for first place in the NL Central and now head into break one game back.
 Jul 21  6  54-45 -1
Last Week: 5
 In his second game back from the DL, Joe Kelly helped the Cardinals return from the break to take two of three from the Dodgers and climb into a first-place tie with the Brewers.
Jul 28 10  56-48 -4
Last Week: 6
Catcher A.J. Pierzynski arrived in time to help the Cardinals take two of three from the Cubs and — at least for the time being — endear himself to his new teammates.
 Aug 4  11  59-51 -1
Last Week: 10
 Newcomers John Lackey, Justin Masterson and A.J. Pierzynski helped the Cardinals take two of three from the Brewers and pull within one game of the NL Central lead; the team will face Boston and recently traded Allen Craig and Joe Kelly this week.
 Aug 11  11  62-54
Last Week: 11
 The Cardinals avenged their World Series loss by taking two of three from Boston, but the Orioles lit up newcomers Justin Masterson and John Lackey as the Cardinals failed to gain ground on the Brewers. Meanwhile, Kolten Wong (1.4 WAR) continues a quiet campaign for NL Rookie of the Year.
 Aug 18  10  66-57 +1
Last Week: 11
 The Cardinals survived a rough start to last week by taking three of four from the Padres; the team is feeling the loss of Yadier Molina and will continue to as they host Billy Hamilton‘s Reds to begin this week.
Aug 25 9 70-59 +1
Last Week: 10
First place continues to be asymptotic for the Cardinals, who drew within a half-game of the Brewers with a sweep of the Reds but then finished the week 1½ games out after losing the rubber match to the Phillies on Sunday.
 Sep 1  12 73-63 -3
Last Week: 9
 Matt Holliday put the Cardinals on his back with three home runs and nine RBIs in the final two games of their series against the Cubs. The Cards are now in a first-place tie with Milwaukee in the NL Central.
 Sep 8  7  79-64 +5
Last Week: 12
 After taking over the top spot in the NL Central a week ago, the Cardinals went for the knockout of their nearest competition, sweeping three games from the Pirates and beating the Brewers in three of four to open a 4½-game lead in the division.
Sep 15 6  83-67 +1
Last Week: 7
 The Cardinals won three games from the Rockies over the weekend and reduced their magic number to 10. Matt Holliday is now up to a season-high .456 slugging percentage. Meanwhile, health questions about rotation horses Michael Wacha and John Lackey have surfaced.
Sep 22 5 87-69 +1
Last Week: 6
The Cardinals clinched a playoff berth after eradicating the Brewers and Reds. But the flu bug has bitten multiple players, including lineup stalwarts Matt Carpenter and Matt Adams, as the club heads into the final week of play looking to clinch the NL Central.
 Sep 29  6  90-72 -1
Last Week: 5
On the final day of the regular season, the Cardinals clinched their second straight NL Central title (and their fourth straight playoff berth). They head into the NLDS against the Dodgers as healthy as they’ve been all year.