Cardinals news from a Sabermetric point of view

Losing with your best reliever on the bench

September 28th, 2014 by Pip

When the Pirates lost one of their most important games of the year Saturday in 10-6 in 10 innings to the Reds, they used six relief pitchers. Not one of them was Mark Melancon, their best reliever and one of the top firemen in the league.

Why would a manager lose a close game with his best reliever on the bench?
It wasn’t as though Pittsburgh manager Clint Hurdle lacked occasion: The game was tied as early as the fifth inning, and other than a brief Pirate lead, was knotted up from the seventh inning on. But Hurdle, like many other old-school skippers, was loathe to his his closer in a tie game. The “strategy” is suboptimal, as the Pirates found out.

It’s not as though the Cardinals, whom the Pirates are chasing for a meaningful NL Central title, are any smarter. If not for providential mercy Friday night, they would’ve wrought the same fate as the Pirates. With the game in Arizona on the line, Cardinal manager Mike Matheny went with his second-best in Pat Neshek and later, with the game tied and the Diamondbacks batting, well down the pitching depth chart with rookie Marco Gonzalez, who pitched to five batters but escaped without allowing a run. Only after his team took the lead in the top of the 10th did Matheny summon his best reliever, Trevor Rosenthal, to close out the game in a relatively low-pressure half of the inning with a one-run lead, no one on base and the likes of Didi Gregorius (.301 career wOBA), Tuffy Gosewisch (.230) and Ender Inciarte (.306) due up.

To be sure, Rosenthal hasn’t been his shutdown self in 2014, his walk rate double what it was the previous two seasons. Still, he sports the bullpen’s best strikeout rate (28.3%) and best career K%-BB% at 21.3%. Interestingly, that’s the same number that Neshek boasts this season, which may explain Matheny’s confidence in the resurgent righty. But with Matheny giving Rosenthal most of the save opportunities, it’s safe to assume that the manager believes Rosenthal is his best reliever (and we agree). However, Matheny has used him suboptimally. The Cardinals have lost 34 games by two runs or fewer, yet Rosenthal has pitched in only 10 of them. Surely the Cardinals could’ve used their fireman in more of those high-leverage moments. Conversely, Rosenthal has appeared in 17 of 23 games that the Cardinals have won by three or four runs — not exactly high-value situations requiring that level of firepower.

The good news for the Cardinals and Matheny is that they won the NL Central despite of their suboptimal bullpen management. And they still have time to rectify the situation: They’ll have at least three playoff games to get it right. With the Dodgers’ Clayton Kershaw and Zach Greinke lining up for the NLDS, chances are better than usual that the Cardinals will find themselves in late innings without a lead. Will Matheny give them an improved chance of winning by using his best reliever — or will he, like Clint Hurdle, lose games with his best man watching, waiting for a save opportunity that will never come?

Brewers-Cardinals Preview

September 17th, 2014 by Pip

The Milwaukee Brewers stagger into their three-game series at Busch Stadium having found the finish line of the NL Central title a bit farther than they expected. After trailing the Brewers for most of the race, the Cardinals have less sprinted by their foes and more simply kept running. Now Mike Matheny hopes to put impossible distance between his nine and Ron Roenicke’s.

The Cardinal manager reoriented his rotation to feature Lance Lynn, Adam Wainwright and Shelby Miller. But the questionable health of John Lackey and Michael Wacha make the decision more of necessity than killer instinct. That trio will square off against Milwaukee’s Wily Peralta, Mike Fiers and Kyle Lohse.

The Brewers bring the league’s fourth-most potent offense, featuring a .317 wOBA. They pack a lot of punch, ranking second in the NL in ISO (.152) behind only the Rockies. Darkhorse MVP candidate catcher Jonathan Lucroy leads the lineup with a .372 wOBA, while Khris Davis, Mark Reynolds and Ryan Braun all boast ISO rates above .200. The Cardinal lineup has no one above a .200 ISO, but several players with above-average on-base rates: Jon Jay (.385 OBP), Matt Carpenter (.373), Matt Holliday (.372), Yadier Molina (.343) and Jhonny Peralta (.340).

What to watch for

  • Matt Clark: The Brewers recently called up the journeyman first baseman who once hit 25 home runs in the Japanese League. The big lefty will likely start all three games against the Cardinal right-handed starters.
  • Matt Holliday: The understated left fielder has quietly reached a season high in his slugging percentage, something that has been on the steady rise.  Jhonny Peralta leads the club’s everyday players in WAR at 5.5, a tremendous accomplishment, to be sure. But Holliday has been the player whose hits have mattered the most: He leads the club with 3.96 Win Probability Added, currently 10th in the majors in WPA among hitters.
  • Mike Fiers: It’ll be his first start since blasting Giancarlo Stanton (and Reed Johnson) last Thursday. (Future trivia players will note that Fiers did not record an official hit-by-pitch in the game.) Those high-and-tight pitches are part of the Brewer righty’s success — after all, he leads the team’s starters with a 25.3% K-BB% (the next-highest is Marco Estrada at 12.7%).

Around the horn

The Cardinals lead the majors in defensive runs saved with 59. They had -39 last year. They’re sixth in MLB in overall Defense (23.8)… The Brewers, despite the ham-handed Ryan Braun (-14.6), are still average (0.6, 16th)… Trevor Rosenthal has entered only 10 tie games of the 68 total games in which he has pitched … He has entered while trailing only twice… One batter that Rosenthal should probably not face with the game on the line is Braun, who is 4-for-5 with a home run against him.

First place an asymptote no longer for Cardinals

September 2nd, 2014 by Pip

After 136 games in which they never enjoyed the spoils of being alone at the top of the National League Central Division, the Cardinals finally ascended to the top spot with a 5-4 win over the Pirates in game #137. Contrary to what we wrote in last week’s ESPN Power Ranking comment, first place is no longer an asymptote for the Cardinals.


ESPN Forecast: 2014 MLB predictions

August 31st, 2014 by Pip

[Note: We participated in the ESPN experts' forecast for the thrilling conclusion of the MLB season. We leave the reader to judge for himself just how expert our picks are, chosen more with the head than the heart, alas.]

American League Playoff Races

  • Which team will win the American League East? Baltimore Orioles
  • Which team will win the American League Central? Detroit Tigers
  • Which team will win the American League West? Los Angeles Angels
  • Which team will win the first American League wild card? Oakland A’s
  • Which team will win the second American League wild card? Kansas City Royals

National League Playoff Races

  • Which team will win the National League East? Washington Nationals
  • Which team will win the National League Central? St. Louis Cardinals
  • Which team will win the National League West? Los Angeles Dodgers
  • Which team will win the first National League wild card? Pittsburgh Pirates
  • Which team will win the second National League wild card? San Francisco Giants

Postseason Winners

  • Which team will win the American League title? Los Angeles Angels
  • Which team will win the National League title? Los Angeles Dodgers
  • Which team will win the World Series? Los Angeles Dodgers

Award Predictions

Cardinals walk off via hit-by-pitch for second time this season

August 20th, 2014 by Pip

Jon Jay helped the Cardinals win their second straight game in their final at-bat last night when he drew a bases-loaded plunking from Reds reliever JJ Hoover. The Cardinals hadn’t had a walk-off hit-by-pitch in more than 25 years, but now — including Greg Garcia back on May 13 — they’ve had two in 2014. It’s not surprising that the two dottings would be to Jay and Garcia: Strictly by percentages, they’re the most likely to be hit. Garcia has been numbered an amazing three times in only 14 career plate appearances; Jay gets hit roughly every 42 plate appearances. Following is a list of walk-off HBPs over the last 25 years:

Date Batter Tm Opp Pitcher Score Inn Out
7/23/89 Wally Joyner CAL DET Brad Havens tied 4-4 b9 1
6/11/91 Alex Cole CLE TOR Ken Dayley tied 1-1 b12 1
8/9/91 Kevin Mitchell SFG LAD Kevin Gross tied 0-0 b13 1
4/23/92 Daryl Boston NYM STL Juan Agosto tied 0-0 b13 1
7/8/92 Rey Sanchez CHC CIN Rob Dibble tied 2-2 b10 1
8/4/93 Mike Bordick OAK SEA Jeff Nelson tied 4-4 b9 1
9/27/93 Gary Gaetti KCR CLE Jerry Dipoto tied 5-5 b9 2
8/30/95 Archi Cianfrocco SDP MON Greg Harris tied 2-2 b9 1
5/1/96 Paul Molitor MIN KCR Jeff Montgomery tied 5-5 b10 1
4/15/97 Tony Womack PIT SDP Sterling Hitchcock tied 2-2 b9 1
6/16/97 Troy O’Leary BOS PHI Ricky Bottalico tied 4-4 b10 2
8/3/97 Luis Gonzalez HOU NYM Greg McMichael tied 2-2 b9 2
8/8/98 Richard Hidalgo HOU PHI Mark Leiter tied 6-6 b9 0
8/20/99 John Flaherty TBD KCR Scott Service tied 4-4 b9 0
9/3/99 Mark Loretta MIL STL Juan Acevedo tied 4-4 b11 0
6/20/01 Eric Karros LAD ARI Erik Sabel tied 3-3 b9 1
7/20/02 Olmedo Saenz OAK TEX Dave Burba tied 5-5 b9 2
7/21/02 Raul Ibanez KCR CLE Heath Murray tied 12-12 b10 2
8/23/02 Paul Lo Duca LAD ATL Kevin Gryboski tied 3-3 b9 1
9/16/05 Manny Ramirez BOS OAK Keiichi Yabu tied 2-2 b10 1
4/5/07 A.J. Pierzynski CHW CLE Roberto Hernandez tied 3-3 b9 0
5/27/07 Juan Pierre LAD CHC Carlos Marmol tied 1-1 b11 0
6/5/08 Paul McAnulty SDP NYM Scott Schoeneweis tied 1-1 b9 1
6/12/08 Reed Johnson CHC ATL Jeff Ridgway tied 2-2 b11 0
7/19/08 Jose Molina NYY OAK Lenny DiNardo tied 3-3 b12 1
9/11/10 Jeff Francoeur TEX NYY Mariano Rivera tied 6-6 b9 1
6/22/11 Justin Turner NYM OAK Brad Ziegler tied 2-2 b13 2
8/9/11 Kosuke Fukudome CLE DET David Pauley tied 2-2 b14 1
8/21/11 Jonny Gomes WSN PHI Brad Lidge tied 4-4 b10 1
4/11/12 Jonny Gomes OAK KCR Jonathan Broxton tied 4-4 b12 2
5/26/12 Matt Hague PIT CHC Rafael Dolis tied 2-2 b9 2
4/11/14 Hank Conger LAA NYM Jeurys Familia tied 4-4 b11 1
5/13/14 Greg Garcia STL CHC Justin Grimm tied 3-3 b12 1
8/19/14 Jon Jay STL CIN J.J. Hoover tied 4-4 b9 0