Filed under: Baseball | Tags: Dave Duncan, Joe Pettini, John Mozeliak, Jose Oquendo, Mike Matheny, St. Louis Cardinals, Tony La Russa
I don’t know if anyone noticed, but something’s been going on over in the sports section of STLtoday. It began a week ago, with reports that former Cardinals catcher Mike Matheny would be interviewed as a possible replacement for Tony La Russa.
Perhaps this didn’t come as a huge surprise to a lot of people. Matheny was a well-respected leader on the team many years ago. He was hard-nosed and competitive. Even then, there was talk that he would make a good coach or manager some day. But on closer examination, it was a little unusual.
Matheny hasn’t been a manager in the minors, like Ryne Sandberg, Chris Maloney, or even Joe McEwing. He hasn’t been a coach with the current Cards club like Jose Oquendo or Joe Pettini. And he certainly doesn’t have the big league pedigree of Terry Francona or Joe Maddon.
Matheny’s coaching experience, as far as I know, is limited to a few years as a spring training instructor and a series of videos for Protege Sports. Does that mean he’d be a bad manager? Of course not. I’m actually an advocate of signing an inexperienced manager because someone without a history is going to cost less. And I don’t think that the manager is terribly important. As long as he gets along with his players and doesn’t make too many horrible mistakes, he probably has less effect on the success of the team than the backup catcher or mopup reliever. There’s no reason to break the bank on a manager.
I’m in a pretty small minority with that viewpoint, however. So it was a bit unusual to me that the Cardinals, fresh off a WS victory, would consider replacing a high profile manager like La Russa with a complete rookie. I didn’t think too much about it, though. I honestly thought that they were interviewing Matheny as a courtesy or a curiosity. At that point, I assumed that Oquendo, Sandberg, and Francona were the real candidates.
Then STLtoday featured an article which detailed Matheny’s interview with the Cards. This piece highlighted his positive attributes, addressed his lack of experience, and was quick to point out Matheny’s bonds with Dave Duncan, Yadier Molina, and of course Albert Pujols.
Once again, this was only slightly unusual at the time. But now, almost a week later, there haven’t been any similar articles about the other candidates. There have, however, been stories considering the merit of hiring an inexperienced manager as well as a Bernie Miklasz article contemplating Matheny as a potential choice.
If you’re as cynical as me, you realize that STLtoday might be floating a trial balloon. They might be preparing Cardinals fans for what they already know or suspect: Mike Matheny is the frontrunner to replace Tony La Russa. We’ve certainly seen it before. Rasmus’s departure came on the heels of various stories about his difficulty with the Cardinals coaching staff. McGwire was floated as a potential hitting coach in the news before he was hired. Are we seeing that same thing now? And why?
Why Matheny? Why would the Cardinals–who have spent the last 16 years demonstrating that they value the position of manager far too much–hire a completely inexperienced skipper?
Two possibilities come to mind:
1. This may be an unfortunate response to a crisis of leadership. The Cardinals have been Tony La Russa’s team for so long that they might not know how to live without him. Perhaps they hope to keep his reign alive as long as possible by hiring a figurehead manager, and allowing Duncan and McGwire to make the real calls. This isn’t a particularly flattering analysis for Matheny, but it is something that should be considered. Matheny is a blank slate, and perhaps the Cardinals want to shape his future with the help of La Russa’s old coaches.
Of course, if this was the goal, why not hire Joe Pettini? He’s filled in for La Russa numerous times. He probably knows La Russa’s style better than anyone but Duncan. He’d be the natural fit if you wanted to ensure maximum continuity. Which leaves me with…
2. This is Mozeliak’s power play. And it’s really goddamn interesting. When Walt Jocketty was dismissed following the 2007 season and replaced with Jon Mozeliak, I assumed the new GM was nothing but a puppet for Tony La Russa. Jocketty left over disputes with management. Mozeliak was an org team player. Throughout his time with the Cardinals, he’s been at La Russa’s beck and call. He traded Brendan Ryan and Colby Rasmus. He acquired Matt Holliday, Ryan Theriot and Lance Berkman. The media made no attempts to conceal where these moves truly originated. La Russa wanted these players (or he wanted them gone) and Mozeliak made it happen.
Now La Russa’s gone. There’s a power vacuum. And I think this is a surprising move from Mozeliak to come out of the shadows and establish that he’s no longer just an apparatus of a larger-than-life manager.
How do I figure this? A little tidbit that has come out into the public eye since this search began. Mike Matheny has been working for Mozeliak, in the GM’s office, for the last year or so. Think about this quote from the above-mentioned Miklasz article:
“He’s also served as an adviser to Mozeliak. An unofficial assistant GM, if you will.”
Interesting, right? Pettini and Oquendo are acolytes of La Russa. They worked on the field with him. McEwing and Sandberg are managerial prospects from the White Sox and Phillies, respectively. Terry Francona would bring his own people in. But Mike Matheny? He’s been working with Mozeliak.
There is still no predicting who will be the Cards’ manager in a few days. But I think that Matheny’s sudden ascension to front-runner shows that Mozeliak is ready to make the Cardinals his team. For better or worse.
Filed under: Baseball | Tags: baseball, St. Louis Cardinals, Tony La Russa
Tony La Russa retired today. He decided to leave baseball on a high note, stepping down as the manager of the Cardinals after leading the team on a thrilling, improbable streak to a world championship.
This move leaves me with a lot of mixed feelings. Sometimes I like La Russa. Sometimes I hate him. Even when he’s winning, he can be infuriating. Even when he’s losing, he can be fascinating. No other manager sticks Skip Schumaker at second base, then leaves him there even after he’s proven he can’t play the position. But, then again, no other manager is willing to try batting the pitcher eighth. I still think that’s a good idea.
No matter how I feel about La Russa at the moment, there is no denying that he shaped the face of the St. Louis Cardinals. For better and for worse.
He took over as manager in 1996. That was back when Bill Clinton was campaigning for a second term, the Macarena was a hit song, and Hailee Steinfeld–the actress who played Mattie in 2010′s “True Grit”–wasn’t even born.
La Russa took the team from the fading embers of the contact-and-speed Ozzie Smith era to the electrifying tape-measure Mark McGwire era. It wasn’t a graceful transition, and ended up alienating Smith as well as a legion of Cardinals fans. There are still those who, to this day, yearn for the slaps and steals of Whiteyball.
La Russa guided the team through the days of the MV3: Pujols, Edmonds, and Rolen. But he also broke up the band. His bizarre feud with Scott Rolen cast a dark shadow over what should have been a pleasant run at a title repeat in 2007.
The next few years were rough, but La Russa remained as the Cardinals built a new sort of team. Pujols remained, but instead of being surrounded with elite hitters, he was paired with a couple of aces. Chris Carpenter and Adam Wainwright were not always healthy at the same time. But when they were, they made the Cardinals a team to be feared.
And now the Pujols years may be coming to an end. It’s too soon to be sure, but there’s a fair chance that next season is an entirely new beginning. If so, Tony La Russa took us all the way from the end of Whiteyball to the end of the Pujolsball. That’s sixteen years.
It’s almost impossible to judge the skill of a manager. There are too many factors. If we want to be traditional–look to wins, postseason appearances, and titles–La Russa may be the best manager the Cardinals have ever had. In his sixteen years, the Cardinals made the postseason nine times. They went to three World Series. They won two of them. Only a Yankees fan could find those results unacceptable.
Of course, La Russa was gifted with incredibly talented players during his time with the Cardinals. Lankford, McGwire, Drew, Edmonds, Pujols, Kile, Rolen, Carpenter, Wainwright, Holliday, Berkman… Just to name the standouts. La Russa also had the benefit of the best pitching coach in baseball. I’m not sure Dave Duncan isn’t the one really responsible for La Russa’s success in St. Louis. There is no one like him and I suspect he will be missed even more than Tony in 2012.
Considering the folks surrounding La Russa, it’s damn near impossible to give him full credit for everything he did for the Cardinals. But he shouldn’t be overlooked. Chances are, La Russa had a finger in acquiring many of the players I listed above. He was more than just a manager. He exerted control over the team far beyond the confines of the dugout.
That was part of the reason Walt Jocketty–another talented person who lent his skill to La Russa’s legacy–left in 2007. The Cardinals weren’t his team. They were Tony’s team. And they were handed over to John Mozeliak. Outside of the surprising Chris Duncan trade, Mozeliak has largely been seen as an apparatus of La Russa’s influence.
When La Russa wanted Matt Holliday, Mozeliak got Matt Holliday. When La Russa wanted Brendan Ryan gone, Brendan Ryan was gone. After Tony expressed a desire to improve the “character” of the clubhouse, Mozeliak brought in Ryan Theriot, Lance Berkman, and Nick Punto. When Colby Rasmus wore out his welcome, he was shipped off for veteran pitching depth.
Things are going to change now. Tony La Russa is no longer in charge. What does that mean? Is that good? Is it bad? I don’t have the answer for that. When you look at the decisions La Russa made–and the fact that he was being paid millions to make them–it’s hard not to think the team is better off without him. But when you look at his tenure in St. Louis–the years between 1996 and today– it was, overall, an amazing time to be a Cardinals fan.
I often disagreed with Tony La Russa. I often hated his decisions. I often wanted him gone. But the Tony La Russa era was far more than the sum of its parts. It’s very possible that I will never see a more prosperous stretch of Cardinal baseball.
So I want to thank Tony La Russa for the last sixteen years. I don’t know if he’s responsible for any of it. But I also don’t know if that matters anymore.
Filed under: Baseball | Tags: Allen Craig, baseball, marc rzepczynski, St. Louis Cardinals, Texas Rangers, Tony La Russa, World Series
I wish that I could convince myself that what I am about to write is simply hyperbole. I don’t want to feel this way. I don’t want to be this reactionary and short-sighted. But it’s impossible. I can’t stop thinking it. Tonight may have been the worst-managed baseball game I’ve ever watched. Feel free to correct me. Tell me about a game that was managed worse. It would make me feel better.
Tonight I watched the St. Louis Cardinals make a series of awful decisions that cost them the lead in the World Series. And it sucked.
Earlier this evening, I made a very quick post about Mike Napoli’s stats versus righthanded and lefthanded pitchers. It was brief, and I only made it because I couldn’t fit my point into a single tweet. Basically, Napoli’s had a strong platoon split for his entire career. He hits righthanders fine, but he crushes lefties. This season especially, he’s been one of the best hitters in baseball against lefthanded pitching. Leaving in noted lefty Marc Rzepczynski to face Napoli with the bases loaded was painfully foolish. It’s reminiscent of allowing Lohse to face Howard in game 1 against the Phillies. La Russa loves matchups, and he’s been manipulating them like crazy throughout the playoffs. Here, he sat in the dugout and watched as a mediocre lefty faced a batter who eats lefties for breakfast. The result was predictable. 4-2 Rangers.
If only that was all we saw tonight. Instead, we also witnessed Ryan Theriot pinch-bunt. Bunting isn’t a great move in general. There are few situations where it improves the chances of scoring a run. Most of those situations involve a pitcher at the plate. There’s no reason to insert a player into the lineup specifically to bunt. That’s insane. I thought about citing statistics to prove how insane that is. I don’t think that’s necessary. The insanity is self-evident. And I wish it was the most insane thing we saw.
No, the most insane move of the night was bringing Lance Lynn into the game to intentionally walk Ian Kinsler. This was the calling card of the catastrophe. It was how we all know that something was truly wrong. There’s no explaining it. Bringing in a pitcher, issuing an intentional walk, then pulling that pitcher should never happen. Never. I can contrive an elaborate situation to justify almost any managerial move–even the pinch bunt. Not this one. Clearly, the Cardinals management was lost in one of the most important games of the year.
Then to top it all off, in the top of the ninth the Cardinals send Allen Craig while Pujols (who can hit the ball a long way) is batting and Neftali Feliz (who can barely find the strike zone) is pitching. It wasn’t just predictable that Albert would swing at a ball out of the zone and Craig, slow as his tortoise, would be thrown out at 2b. It was damn near fated. Craig can’t run. Feliz is probably one of half a dozen pitchers in baseball that Pujols can’t be trusted to make contact with. Why? Why hit and run there? Craig crossing the plate doesn’t win the game for the Cards. It doesn’t even tie the game. The only reason to hit and run is to prevent the double play. DPs have been a problem for the Cards, but consider this:
Albert Pujols has struck out 704 times in his career. He’s only hit into 232 double plays. That’s actually a lot of double plays and not that many strikeouts. But the K is STILL far more likely than the GIDP.
Neftali Feliz has struck out 164 batters in his career. He’s allowed 150 ground balls. That’s right, Feliz is more likely to strike out a hitter than allow him to make contact and produce a ground ball.
There’s no reason to just expect a DP. There’s no reason AT ALL to hit and run.
After the game, the excuses came fast and furious. There was something wrong with the bullpen phone. Albert himself put on the hit-and-run. The speed at which this team covers for Tony La Russa is phenomenal. If Allen Craig could run as fast as the Cards spin their failures, the team would be coming home up 3-2.
I really don’t know what else to say about what we saw in game 5. It was atrocious. It was like watching a car accident, except car accidents are usually over much quicker.
One week ago, the entirety of sports media was fawning over La Russa’s brilliance. I wonder how many of those same writers dare question him after tonight?
Filed under: Baseball | Tags: marc rzepczynski, Mike Napoli, St. Louis Cardinals, Tony La Russa
Mike Napoli versus righthanders in his career: .253/.343/.498
Mike Napoli versus lefthanders in his career: .294/.400/.555
Mike Napoli also has the 10th best OPS in the majors this year against lefties.
Filed under: Baseball | Tags: National League, St. Louis Cardinals, Tony La Russa, Wild Card
After 161 games, the St. Louis Cardinals and the Atlanta Braves are tied in the NL Wild Card race at 89-72.
I haven’t posted in over two months. There are reasons for that.
Some of my reasons are good: I was in the process of studying for, then taking, and finally agonizing over the bar exam. I was also writing a novel. Posting my thoughts about baseball on the internet took a back seat to other things. It’s really too bad, as there have been so much drama and intrigue over the last few months. The Colby Rasmus trade alone, along with the performance of the involved players after the move, would have given me plenty to write about.
Some of my reasons are bad: I haven’t been following the team as much as I did earlier in the season. It’s been forever since I’ve paid this little attention to a Cardinals team. I’ve been distracted, but it’s been more than that. Up until this month, the Cardinals have been a frustrating mess that I simply couldn’t deal with. Because of this, I felt rather unqualified to make any intelligent observations about them.
I’ve been watching over the last few weeks, however, and I’ve seen a Cardinals team with a new lease on life. Over the season, they have turned victory into defeat. Tonight, they turned defeat into victory. That’s been this year in a nutshell.
No matter what happens, the comeback to tie for the wild card was amazing. But, at the same time, it is something of a disappointment.
The fact that the Cardinals managed to get this far only underscores everything that went wrong. Where would this team be with a healthy Adam Wainwright? Where would they be if not for the persistent, random injuries to Matt Holliday?
And where would they be if not for some atrocious management early in the season? One game is one game, and the Cardinals gave away several games this season. If not for Tony La Russa’s fanatical devotion to Ryan Franklin, game 162 might just be a tune-up for the playoffs. If not for a mind-boggling infield of Ryan Theriot and Skip Schumaker behind a groundball pitching staff for half the season, many of us Cardinals fans would already have our NLDS tickets in hand.
I don’t know what will happen tomorrow. The Cardinals deserve to be in the playoffs. The Cardinals front office and management staff…maybe not so much. But it doesn’t matter. It’s almost like a whole new season. One day, two games, and everything will be decided.
Or not. If the Cardinals and Braves both win or lose, we’ll see game 163. Wouldn’t that be something?
Filed under: Baseball | Tags: Albert Pujols, Allen Craig, David Freese, Infield Defense, ryan theriot, St. Louis Cardinals, Tony La Russa
There are a whole lot of things I could write about Sunday’s game against the Braves. Most of them have already been covered earlier at some point in this blog. Ryan Franklin is a bad pitcher, Ryan Theriot is a bad shortstop. Trying to wring anything more out of these subjects would be agonizing. I think everyone knows my opinion about the two Ryans at this point. Frankin is a long reliever and Theriot is a second baseman. Relying on them in critical innings or at shortstop respectively has led to predictable disaster. The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. Et Cetera. Et Cetera.
But that’s not all that happened. The Ryan-fueled collapse wasn’t the biggest loss the Cardinals suffered on Sunday. David Freese was hit by a pitch and suffered a broken bone in his hand. Once again, the St. Louis Cardinals do not have a third baseman.
Freese getting injured and missing significant time was almost as predictable as a Ryan Theriot error or a Ryan Franklin walk-off loss. Yes, HBP injuries are unexpected. Yes, it has nothing to do with his ankle. But we’ve seen this before. Think back to June 17, 2001, when J.D. Drew lost 6 weeks to a broken finger when David Wells drilled him in the hand.
These two injuries, combined with the bizarre career of Nick Johnson, almost make me want to believe that avoiding the DL is an innate talent that certain people simply lack. But I won’t go that far. It’s far more likely that this is just confirmation bias rather than some incredibly mild form of osteogenesis imperfecta that allows the victim to play baseball and live a normal life but makes HBPs, foul tips, and bad baserunning far more dangerous.
Whether or not an injury to David Freese can truly be unexpected, the injury still happened. And it caught the Cardinals off guard. In fact, combined with an earlier precautionary exit from David Freese, TLR was forced to move Albert Pujols to third base for the first time since–
Wait. That’s not how it happened. That’s not why Albert Pujols had to take his surgically reconstructed elbow across the diamond, where he actually has to use it. That’s not why a player who hasn’t played 3b in nearly a decade was put there during a tie game.
All of that happened because Tony La Russa pinch hit Jon Jay for Tyler Greene. AFTER both of the injuries. The decision was made to pull Greene from the game with the full knowledge that someone would have to play out of position at either 2b, SS, or 3b. (And Ryan Theriot was already playing out of position at SS.)
It was one of the most unbelievable things I’ve seen from TLR. And that’s saying a lot, because I can still remember the day he brought in Jeff Tabaka to face Lance Berkman, and when he double switched Matt Holliday out of the lineup during a 20 inning debacle. There’s a reason Albert Pujols is not the Cardinals’ 3b. It isn’t like we’re keeping him at first because of the fantastic options we have at third. He’s a 1b because he’s been diagnosed with a bad case of Fucked Up Elbow. And last I checked, throwing across a baseball diamond is not part of the recommended physical therapy for Fucked Up Elbow.
Unsurprisingly, TLR has backed himself into this corner before. On April 22, 2008, an injury to Cesar Izturis coupled with typically poor bench management by the Cards front office left the team with a deficit of infielders. That time, however, TLR made the right decision. He put Pujols at 2b.
Okay, maybe it wasn’t the right decision. But if you start from the assumption that “moving Pujols off 1b” is a critical part of the solution, 2b is the best place to stick him. Throws at second base rarely require much force, and it’s probably the second best position on the diamond for a player with a halfway reconstructed elbow. Yes, Pujols wouldn’t have any range at 2b, but neither does Skip Schumaker and that never seems to bother La Russa.
If TLR moved Pujols to 2b for a couple innings, I might have made a few jokes. It would have been funny. It would have made a few fantasy baseball teams with very low playing time requirements juggernauts. But it wouldn’t have been particularly dangerous for the Cardinals’ season, or Albert Pujols’s career.
And now, of course, the team has to make do without David Freese. From the sounds of it, the Cards are activating Allen Craig rather than calling up Matt Carpenter. What does this mean? It means we’re going to have to fill three spots in the lineup (and the entire infield defense minus Albert) with the following players: Ryan Theriot, Nick Punto, Tyler Greene, Daniel Descalso, and Allen Craig.
How terrifying is that?
Filed under: Baseball | Tags: Dave Duncan, Lance Berkman, Positive Post, skip schumaker, St. Louis Cardinals, Tony La Russa
I don’t like TLR. I don’t think he’s a particularly good manager. He’s stubborn and wrong-headed, his bullpen management is puzzling, and he bunts way too often. Of course, this is true of most managers. It’s rare to watch a game where both teams don’t make some inexplicable move that flies in the face of common sense and/or advanced baseball statistics.
Perhaps TLR’s biggest sin is the leeway he’s given. On his own, he’s no worse than a run-of-the-mill bad manager. He makes too much money to make the same mistakes as everyone else in baseball. He seems entirely invulnerable from criticism, even when he does insane things like leak a private trade request from Colby Rasmus to the media that wasn’t actually a trade request.
But I’ve been entirely too pessimistic on this blog lately. I’d like to try and write a positive post about the Cardinals, because outside of Ryan Franklin (and TLR’s misplaced faith in him) the team has been really quite good lately. So I’m going to do the hardest thing I can think of: I’m going to talk about the good things TLR brings to the Cardinals.
First off, there is Dave Duncan. I generally don’t believe that coaches at the major league level have a huge effect on the performance of their players. Most major leaguers are fully developed, most coaches think alike and use similar systems… And most of the time there’s no data to back up the impact a coach has on individual players. Duncan is somewhat of an outlier. He’s helped several pitchers resurrect their careers, and even overseen the transformation from journeyman to ace a few times. I don’t think anyone could have anticipated what he did for Woody Williams and Chris Carpenter. A cursory look across the usual stat-head baseball sources reveals that, for example, fangraphs and Tom Tango, author of The Book via a link to 3-D baseball acknowledge that statistics are consistent with the existence of a Dave Duncan Effect.
Keeping Duncan and losing TLR doesn’t seem like a possibility, so we have to count him among TLR’s positive attributes. Admittedly, it’s really fun to watch Cardinal pitching, and to speculate about which pitchers Dave Duncan could “turn around”. Without TLR, we wouldn’t have that.
Second, TLR is willing to take certain chances that are rare in baseball. They don’t always work, but they show a creativity that is sorely lacking in other managers. TLR’s creativity may lead to mistakes, but I’d rather see a team fail because the manager was thinking outside of the box rather than because the manager was conforming to established thought.
The pitcher hitting eighth? Fantastic idea. I’d like to see it more often. The Book, which I seem to be citing a lot in this post, agrees that it’s the best position to put the pitcher in the lineup. TLR was the first person to try it and the only one who dares return to it, even though it’s the right thing to do. That’s worth something.
Skip Schumaker to 2b? It turned out to be a disaster, but I really respect the Cardinals and TLR for trying. I don’t respect them for sticking to the experiment even though it failed, but I’m glad they tried. Schumaker was a hitter with marginal value in the outfield but a plus if he could play 2b. If it worked, it would have been a coup. Given Schumaker’s willingness to try, his athleticism, and the dearth of 2b options over the last couple of years… I think it was a bold attempt, and there are few managers who would have pursued such an unorthodox move with enthusiasm.
Lance Berkman back in the OF? Okay, the jury is still out on this one. He doesn’t look good out there. He’s been party of 2-3 really bad plays. When we signed him to play RF, we essentially punted defense for a good hitter with the potential to be great. And his hitting has been great. It’s worked so far. He’s made up for his defensive shortcomings by being a much better hitter than Jon Jay or Nick Stavinoha, or whoever else we might have put out there.
There have been other good unconventional things that TLR has tried. The Batista/McClellan fakeout during the Friday rain delay comes to mind. That was a great move, and it’s rare for me to think that any move is particularly great.
Of course, this is all offset by TLR’s problems. Whenever I start to reflect on the good aspects of TLR, I go back and look at this article, Joe Posnanski’s excellent take on the 20 inning game last year: For baseball’s great overmanaging artist, this was his Mona Lisa . La Russa is terrible at times, and he’s unapologetic about it.
But, just once, I felt like looking at his positive qualities. Even if one of those qualities is Dave Duncan, and the other is a fortunate side effect of his hubris.
He certainly makes baseball in St. Louis more interesting.
Filed under: Baseball | Tags: Boos, Bullpen, Eduardo Sanchez, Fernando Salas, Ray Lankford, Ryan Franklin, St. Louis Cardinals, Tony La Russa
Normally, I don’t like it when Cardinals fans boo Cardinals players. It’s usually stupid. I can’t help but remember Ray Lankford’s 2000/2001 seasons, when the crowd at Busch absolutely turned on the only player who was worth a damn for the team in the early 90s and one of the best Cardinals outfielders of all time. He wasn’t even playing badly. His OPS was around .840, which isn’t fantastic for a corner OF, but it’s certainly not bad.
But that was ten years ago, before OPS was on the scoreboard of almost every stadium and overlay of almost every broadcast. All most people saw was his .250 average and his abundant strikeouts. Suddenly Ray Lankford, who was the face of the Cardinals before McGwire, was greeted and ushered from the plate with boos. It was ridiculous, and I was thankful that the Cards brought Lankford out of retirement for one more season in 2004. Not because he still had talent–though a 99 OPS+ is fairly impressive for a guy who took a year off–but so he could get a more fitting send off from the Cards and their fans.
This is different. I understand why Cards fans are booing Ryan Franklin. It’s not disgraceful. We haven’t turned into New York or Philadelphia. We’re fed up, and not just with Franklin.
Saturday’s game was nationally televised. Anyone who knew when to turn the television back on after the rain delay watched it from coast-to-coast. And I’m fairly certain the Tony La Russa was the only person in the country who believed that Ryan Franklin should come into a tie game with the bases loaded against the division-rival Reds.
Being a baseball fan can be very frustrating, especially in situations like this. I guess I’m used to the occasional moment where I want to slam my head into my computer out of frustration. For example, bunting Chris Carpenter over in the third inning with Ryan Theriot. Or, for that matter, bunting Yadier Molina to third so that Tyler Greene can “bat” against Aroldis Chapman. That stuff annoys me, but I’ve accepted it. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. In the big picture, I know that it hurts the team more often than it helps, but I can at least get excited about the possibility that it will work. I can still appreciate small ball even if I think it’s stupid.
But I can’t appreciate what is happening with Ryan Franklin. A few days ago, I indicated that Franklin would get better. He’s always depended on luck, and he’s had a lot of it the last couple of years. I wasn’t arguing that he should stay in the closer spot–he should have never been there to begin with. But I thought he could get better and have some value in long relief. Maybe he still can, but now that I’ve had a couple more chances to watch him pitch…something is wrong. He never had great stuff or location, but he had just enough to put himself in a position to benefit from good luck. I don’t think he has that any more.
TLR should see this. Duncan probably does see this, and I’d be very curious to hear what he had to say about Franklin, but the organization has kept him on a tight leash with the media ever since his “adventure” posting on one of the stltoday.com message boards. But today, despite mounds of evidence against such a move, TLR put him in a tie game. In fact, he put him in during a higher leverage at bat than most save situations ever see. And, of course, we all know what happened.
So, yeah, fans are going to boo. They are not booing Ryan Franklin the Person. This has nothing to do with him. Outside of maybe a few people who have problems with unruly facial hair, every one of those booing fans would much rather be cheering Franklin. They are booing out of frustration. They know that he shouldn’t be pitching in a high leverage situation. Everyone knows that. And yet it keeps happening. The only thing they can do is voice that frustration.
It’s only going to get worse. In a few days, Brian Tallet will be eligible to come off the disabled list and TLR/Mo will have a tough choice to make. It’s not really a tough choice. Neither Tallet nor Franklin should have roster priority over Fernando Salas and Eduardo Sanchez. Unfortunately, we all know TLR wants multiple lefthanders in the pen, so dropping Tallet is not an option. Miller and Motte are understandably safe. That leaves three spots for Ryan Franklin, Miguel Batista, Salas, and Sanchez.
The decision should be between Franklin and Batista. Maybe Franklin is hurt. It’s entirely possible. Even if he’s not, the Cards FO could say he has an “oblique strain”, DL him, and then send him down on rehab to recover. If that’s impossible, for whatever reason, Batista should go. Unfortunately, I think everyone knows that the real choice will be between Salas and Sanchez. One of them will go down. Franklin will remain in the majors. And the boos will continue. They will intensify.
Maybe they should. Maybe that’s the only thing the fans can do in the face of the obstinance of Cardinals management. TLR and Mo need to realize that the fans aren’t satisfied. We don’t want to see TLR’s friends play baseball, damn the results. We want to see wins. And we’ve all noticed that Ryan Franklin is giving us only losses.
I promise this will be my last Ryan Franklin entry (at least until Salas or Sanchez is sent down and he remains and I lose my mind).
Filed under: Baseball | Tags: Closers, Ryan Franklin, St. Louis Cardinals, Tony La Russa
Bernie Miklasz wrote something in his column this morning that got me thinking:
A St. Louis team that’s 8-8 could easily be looking at a 12-4 record if not for the frequent ninth-inning pyrotechnics.
A lot of people say that it is early, that you cannot draw overarching conclusions about the entire season based on 16 games. That’s true, and a lot of what we’ve seen in these 16 games proves that. We can’t expect the offense to be as terrible as it was in the first week or as amazing as its been in the last week.
However, the first 16 games matter just as much as the last 16 games. Four games in April have the same effect on the standings as the last four games in the season. It is still the difference between a 88 win team and a 92 win team. Often, it is the difference between playing in October and sitting home in October.
Enough people, including me, have slammed Ryan Franklin. He was never a great closer, or a good pitcher. He survived on a steady diet of luck but I don’t think anyone expected him to regress this quickly. And he’s not this bad. Guys who “pitch to contact” and give up a lot of fly balls are easily swayed by the winds of fortune. In 2009, they helped him glide to a 1.92 ERA. In 2011, they’ve battered him for a 11.57 ERA.
There are other issues, such as the fact he’s either throwing his cutter more often, which is exactly what we saw in the Great Jason Isringhausen Debacle of 2008. His location isn’t good, but it’s never been. It’s possible that age is catching up to him, which can be devastating for a guy who throws just hard enough to get outs with his fastball.
But unless he’s hurt, it’s very likely that if TLR keeps running him out there, he’ll end up with an ERA right in line with his 4.5 xFIP. He might even have another string of scoreless innings and successful saves that convinces everyone that he’s “bacK” or “regained his bulldog mentality” or something equally ridiculous.
Hell, if not for certain weather conditions–pressure systems, humidity, and yes, gusts of wind–we might not even be having this discussion. Those fly balls would have hung up and found their way into gloves, and Ryan Franklin wouldn’t have to look over his shoulder at Mitchell Boggs. The sportswriters would be praising him for his toughness and playfully joking about tightrope antics.
But that’s not what happened, and now we’ve lost four games we probably should have won. We don’t know what those four games mean yet, but if we’re one game back of the Reds in September, those errant fly balls are going to hurt.
Something good has to come out of this run of bad luck, bad weather, and bad pitches. Ryan Franklin needs to be taken out of the closer role. Not because he blew four saves in a row. Save percentage is bullshit. It doesn’t mean anything. He could have easily saved all four of those games. Because he shouldn’t have been the closer in the first place, and now everyone can see it. Franklin’s problems are no longer the realm of the sabermetric and the predictive. We’re no longer talking about unsustainable BAbips or suspiciously high xFIPs. Those stats have given way to an atrocious WHIP and a disastrous ERA.
Franklin doesn’t “pitch to contact”. He pitches to the warning track. He shouldn’t be facing the best hitters in one run games. He should be pitching long relief, handling RH batters, eating innings.
This isn’t on Franklin. This is on TLR now. Just like in 2008, when Izzy was faltering, and even the most basic stats reflected it, you can’t blame the pitcher. Everything is there for the manager to see that something has to be changed.
The damage is only four games now. Hopefully TLR has learned something from those four games.
Filed under: Baseball | Tags: Charlie Morton, Extra Bases, Hitting, St. Louis Cardinals, Tony La Russa
Tony La Russa threw a tantrum during his post-game press conference today. Reporters were asking him the questions that were on the minds of Cards fans everywhere. Why isn’t the team hitting? His response, via this STLtoday.com article:
For everybody listening out there (TV audience), you think I’m being unreasonable? It’s the FIRST WEEK OF THE SEASON. I don’t understand this. Are you going to tell me Yadier doesn’t drive in big runs? Are you going to tell me Albert can’t hit? Are you going to tell me the second baseman and shortstops haven’t hit? David Freese? You don’t think he’s going to hit? You think Matt’s gong to hit? You think Colby’s going to hit? You think Berkman’s going to hit? The answer is ‘no’ to all those things?’
Did you (interrogators) accomplish your goal? Three, four times, you ask so I get excited and get upset? That’s not fair. It really isn’t.
Then he walked away. You could say he was a little irritated.
I understand that this is a frustrating time for TLR. It’s a frustrating time for everyone who wants to see the Cardinals win. And I’m sure that TLR wants to see them win as much as anyone, though playing Skip Schumaker at 2B is a funny way of showing it. The anger, however, is uncalled-for. That’s because this slump is absolutely mystifying. Every pitcher we face has turned into Bud Norris.
The reporters have every right to ask their questions. Yes, it is only the first six games. But the first six games count just as much as the last six games. This has also been the first six games for the Padres and Pirates pitchers. Maybe they didn’t get the memo that these games don’t matter.
It’s a small sample size, obviously. But the numbers are so bad and the pitchers in question are so bad that it has to call something into question. Let’s look at some of the lowlights:
In these first six games, the Cardinals had 8 extra base hits. This number is remarkably low. The Houston Astros, the worst hitting team in the NL last season, averaged about 2.4 XBH a game. Houston slugged .362 last year, the Cards are struggling around .300. In this same time, the Cards have 10 GIDP. They are more likely to get doubled up with a man on first than drive him home with a 2b, 3b, or HR. Last year, the Giants led the league by hitting into a double play almost once a game. The Cardinals are on pace to double that.
But as I already pointed out, it’s a small sample size. The Cardinals won’t slug below .300 or hit into 300 double plays. That would be historically terrible. Even the 1899 Cleveland Spiders slugged .305. BUT consider the starting pitchers the Cardinals have faced in these six games:
Tim Stauffer: A 28 year old with 39 career starts. Stauffer has spent most of his career in the bullpen, amassing a 4.04 ERA and 1.36 WHIP in spacious Petco. He throws around 90 mph. A former 4th pick overall, he’s got a nice breaking ball but not much else.
Clayton Richard: Arguably a left-handed Tim Stauffer. Has similar stuff and has put together a career 4.28 ERA, 1.44 WHIP. Struggles with control a bit more than Stauffer, but has a slightly better K/9. Relies more on his fastball. Richard at least had a decent season in 2005 (again, getting his home starts in Petco). In fact neither Stauffer or Richard are particularly bad pitchers. They’re just mediocre.The real crap starts with…
Dustin Moseley: 5.13 ERA, 1.49 WHIP in his career. 4.57 xFIP. K/9 under 5. Doesn’t have any dominant pitches. Doesn’t make up for it with stellar control. Shut down the Cards completely for 7 innings.
Charlie Morton: Maybe the worst. 5.88 ERA, 1.59 WHIP, 4.54 xFIP. Hits around 91-92 with his fastball and according to fangraphs, he threw 85% fastballs in his game against the Cards. Despite this, he walked 5 batters. He only gave up 1 run. He’s not a power pitcher. He was throwing mainly one pitch. He wasn’t locating that pitch. Five walks, two strikeouts, one run. FUCK.
James McDonald: The fact that he’s the Pirates 5th starter should say everything. The Cardinals didn’t figure him out, but they didn’t get shut down like he was Charlie Morton. They managed 2 runs in 4.2 innings. Still… He’s the Pirates 5th starter.
Kevin Correia: 4.55 ERA, 1.44 WHIP, 4.47 xFIP. Gives up a lot of fly balls. Unlike the other guys the Cards faced, has a much longer record of mediocrity. There’s probably a decent amount of video tape on him in the Cards’ library, too. Still managed to shutout the Cards.
So that’s it. Those are the six starters who have given the Cardinals fits over the last six games. Yes, TLR, it’s only six games. It’s only the first six games of the season. But what is this team going to do when it faces Roy Halladay? Cliff Lee? Tim Lincecum? We put up historically bad numbers against six mediocre-to-awful pitchers. We didn’t hit a single one of them hard. Not one.
That’s why there were so many questions at the press conference today. The reporters’ goal wasn’t to get TLR upset. They were concerned, because this “FIRST WEEK OF THE SEASON” has been absolutely terrible.