Erik Manning

Erik became addicted to Cardinals baseball as a young lad growing up on the mean streets of O'Fallon, MO. He moved away to Tulsa to attend Bible College, where he met his wife, who talked him into moving to Cedar Rapids, Iowa, also known as the Bermuda triangle of baseball. His dream is to see the MLB.tv blackouts end, and his other interests are theology and philosophy of religion. He is the parent of two young boys.

Before the season, CHONE projected the Cardinals were on course to win 91 games and enjoy a cake walk in a relatively easy division.  Someone will run off with this and say, “see, this is why projections are worthless”.  But before you go off an anti-metrics rant, let’s remember what projections are. In a nutshell, among other things, projections  use regression to the mean, age adjustments and weighted averages to derive their results. Projections are “50th percentile” projections; there are always players who are exceptions to the rule due to good or bad luck, or some sort of overhaul to their swing mechanics (hello, Jose Bautista!) or injury. It’s not divination.

It’s common for a team to have several players under or overshoot their projection. It’s just that in the Cardinals case, the under achievers have been particularly damning to the team. For this post, let’s just take a look at the hitters. The cut off is 100 plate appearances. I took the players individual CHONE projections and then adjusted them for their plate appearances and not their projected PA’s. Then I did a little color scaling for your eyes, because I’m a nerd like that.

  • The infield trio of death of Brendan Ryan, Skip Schumaker and Felipe Lopez has really hurt this team. All three were not expected to be some sort of offensive force behind Pujols-Holliday-Rasmus, but neither were they expected to hit for sub-.300 wOBAs, either. (Schumaker is at .301, being fair). I thought Flip was a good Freese-insurance signing, and instead he pooped the bed. Ryan and Schumaker picked a bad time to do the same thing.
  • Molina and Pujols also both were one WAR apiece worse than projected. Molina’s bat backslid after two good seasons, and Pujols has been a little off from his normal numinous standard. And yet he’s still an MVP candidate.
  • The sheer waste of roster space of the likes of Feliz, Winn, Miles and Stavinoha has been pretty frustrating to watch.
  • The most pleasant surprise has been Matt Holliday, who is doing his best to show that he earned the ginormous contract he got this past winter.

All told, the Cardinal’s hitters are five wins worse than we would have expected. Combine that with losing Brad Penny for the year, and Kyle Lohse being hurt and then horrible, you have a recipe for a pretty disappointing year. It’s really not that hard to figure out.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OQSNhk5ICTI&fs=1&hl=en_US&color1=0x5d1719&color2=0xcd311b]


Steve gave his Top 7 Cardinal prospects earlier today
. You didn’t think the godfather of FR was going to sit idly by and not chime in, did you? Without further adieu -

1. Shelby Miller – One year removed from high school, Shelby Miller struck out 32% of the batters he faced in the Midwest League while posting a walk rate under 3 per 9. That’s tremendous. He predominantly threw his fastball, which may account for some of his .366 BABIP. As he gets more of a feel for his breaking stuff and as luck corrects itself, I have a feeling that number will drop. I’m glad the Cardinals were careful with his workload.

2. Zack Cox – I really liked the Cox pick, and I’d like to believe there’s a good chance that he’s the everyday third baseman of the future. My only concern is the lack of power in his sophomore season at Arkansas, but from what I read about Cox, it seems like he has the aptitude to make adjustments. I’ve read mixed reviews about his glove, and I almost can’t help but wonder if he’s not Brett Wallace 2.

3. Carlos Matias – I’m going to go bananas here and buy into the the hype. 99 MPH with control? I need some oxygen. The Dominican Summer League isn’t somewhere to look for reliable statistical information, but 78 K’s in 59 innings is pretty good.

4. Lance Lynn – I seem to remember a period when Lynn was getting consistently hammered, but truth be told, he put together a pretty solid season. Triple-A has swallowed up some other Cardinal pitching prospects in the past in their first go (Ottavino, Hawksworth), but Lynn posted decent walk, strikeout and ground ball rates in his first season in Triple-A. There’s nothing really spectacular about Lynn, but he’s gotta be at least a win (maybe two better) than the monster that is Lohssan.

5. Seth Blair – I saw him pitch in the College World Series, and his change-up is a sight to behold. His fastball velocity wasn’t at the as-advertised range of 94-95; it was more in the 89-91 range, but I’m willing to chalk that up to fatigue for now.

6 . Eduardo Sánchez – I’ve fallen into the trap of rating relievers too high in times past, but Sánchez continued his success in the higher levels of the minors. He should be a solid set-up man, and could possibly be the closer of the future.

7. Matt Carpenter – He fell to the 13th round as a senior in last year’s draft, but has done nothing but produced. He has a line-drive, contact oriented type of swing and doesn’t have a ton of power, but that’s OK so long as he continues to walk at a good clip. I’ve seen him on one occasion and from what little I could gather, his glove was a plus.

Personal cheeseballs: Oscar Taveras, Tommy Pham, Joe Kelly. Oscar Taveras and Pham are cut from a similar cloth, while Taveras is the hype of the day while Pham has been languishing until this past season. Both have tools out of the ying-yang, power, speed and arm strength. Taveras probably has better power, while Pham has shown the ability to take a walk.

Joe Kelly is a ground-ball machine with his 93-96 MPH sinker of his, and he has a good slider. His numbers at the QC were a little underwhelming, but this was his first full season starting since high school, and if all else fails, he should do well in relief.

Just missed: Dan Descalso, Tyrell Jenkins.

A picture of Dusty talking to Chris Welsh (off...

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I’m going to be Captain Understatement and say that this 2010 season has been a disappointing season for Cardinal fans. The team is now 8 games out of 1st and has less than a 1% chance of making the postseason. Most projections and pundits had the Cardinals running the table in an easy division. As it has turned out, the Cincinnati Reds are pretty darn good at baseball. They were the only team I feared could win, and as in the case of  Job, that what I have greatly feared has come upon me.

But have the Cardinals really been outclassed by Dusty Baker’s Reds?  Are they really 8 games better than the Cardinals?  There’s a few ways we can look at this and make some guesses from there. One is by looking at each team’s BaseRuns to date. I won’t get into the math behind BaseRuns, but suffice to say it is a kick-booty run estimator. It’s designed to give a more exact model of the process of scoring runs and its accuracy holds up extremely well, even in the craziest of contexts. You can read up on it more here and here.

Anyway, according to BaseRuns, the Cardinals’ actual record should be 76-67. The Reds’ record should be 78-67. So they really only should have a .7% better winning percentage than the Cardinals, but thanks to randomness the Cardinals should be happy to win 85, while the Reds are on pace to win more than 90 games. Due to bad luck, bad breaks, bad timing or whatever you want to call it, the Cardinals look a lot worse than the Reds than they probably are.

We could also look at WAR to give us an idea of how big or small the gap is between the two teams. The Reds’ hitters have 24.5 WAR.  Their pitchers have 7.5 WAR. The Cardinals have 19.6 WAR for their hitters,  and11.2 WAR for their pitchers. Yep, the difference between the Reds and Cardinals is 1.2 WAR. This is according to Rally’s WAR found on Baseball Reference, to be specific. I’m not saying this is the perfect way to solve this problem, but you get the basic idea.

To put it plainly, I think the difference between the two teams talent-wise isn’t worlds apart. If time stood still and the players somehow could magically play the 2010 season ten thousand times in a row, I wouldn’t be surprised if the Cardinals and Reds finished with near identical records. But a lot of weird things can happen over 162 games. Sometimes standard deviation can be a cruel mistress.

In terms of the future of the franchise, Rasmus>La Russa. The impact of a manager hasn’t been something I’ve seen nerds really be able to penetrate; it’s something that is made murky by secondary factors and the human element.  If you follow me on Twitter, you probably have come to conclusion that  I would like to roll La Russa up in a carpet and throw him off of a bridge.

I honestly don’t believe he’s a bad manager, as he didn’t get his reputation as a Hall of Fame manager for no good reason at all. But I do tend to think that his overall value to the team is greatly inflated in the minds of pundits and fans (thanks, Buzz!). What irks me is all silly personality clashes with players, the need to use his favorite pets, and his odd machinations and weird lineup cards.

The rub is that as La Russa goes, so might Pujols go. The Mang must be appeased because we need the Mang to stay in St. Louis. The Mang likes Tony. The Mang doesn’t like anyone who doesn’t like Tony. Therefore Rasmus must go.

It’s completely stupid, but you get the feeling that despite the public hugging-it-out we’ve read about between Colby and La Russa in the press the past few days, we’re going to read about Colby being jettisoned away some cold January morning if La Russa comes back for another season. And that thought is very depressing.

So to brace myself for the pain of witnessing my all-time favorite Faberge egg being moved, I am going to play this scenario out and then go back to soothing myself with false comforts that all is going to be well between the Raz and the Genius.

Using Sky Kalkman’s Trade Value Calculator, here’s what I conservatively (?) estimated Rasmus’ surplus value as. The Raz has averaged 3.5 WAR per 625 plate appearances. (Hint: Give him 600+ PA’s per season, then everyone is happy.)

What kind of a player could Rasmus fetch? The club isn’t in the place to trade him for a player making more than Rasmus, so we’re talking about trading prospects. Prospect surplus value has been studied by Victor Wang, and then smoothed out by this quick study based on some discussions with Matt Swartz. Click the link, eyeball the tables.

In a straight value for value trade, Rasmus could bring the Cardinals anything outside of a top ten hitting prospect.  The problem is, as Jayson Stark has pointed out, is that if a team perceives the Cardinals have to move Rasmus, they’ll only be willing to pay 60 cents on the dollar. That might get the Cardinals one really good pitching prospect. That may mean a Shelby Miller-type if the Cardinals were willing to wait, but given the Cardinals’ needs, someone closer to the majors and more polished makes a lot more sense. I’m not going to speculate about who that might be, but here is BA’s mid-season Top 50 for your perusal. I’m sure a lot has changed since it was published, but it gives you some ideas.

Moving Rasmus also leaves a big, gaping hole in the OF. No more fire burning in the outfield. :_(

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to find a happy place.

Takeaways: Personality clashes are dumb. Rasmus is good. The team could get a good player for Rasmus, but probably not a player as good as Rasmus. Also, personality clashes are dumb.

I’m sure you’ve all seen or heard the rumors by now – Mozeliak loves Roy,  Roy loves the Cardinals and the only thing that stands between the two getting together is this man:

The General Manager of the #30 org

No doubt that man wants our favorite Faberge egg, Shelby Miller. There’s a reason Shelby causes hyperventilation to exposes prospect geeks, but let’s face it – players of his ilk frequently flame out and few reach their potential.

Roy Oswalt is about as sure of a thing as you can find as far as 32-year-old pitchers go. The rub is that he’s extremely expensive. Including this season and next, he’s owed about $27 million dollars, and he may or may not want whatever team that acquires his services to guarantee his $15 million option for 2012, depending on who you listen to. For a team that is trying to re-sign the best player in baseball, finding a way to fit in Oswalt’s contact could take financial finagling, or some supernatural assistance.

So is this deal worth doing?

According to studies, pitchers of Miller’s prospect status on average give their teams $20 million worth of production above their salary during their cost-controlled years, that is their first 6 years before they’re eligible to hit the open market. Miller is a very valuable commodity.

What kind of trade value does Roy Oswalt offer? Given his salary, pretty much nada. Using Sky Kalkman’s User-Friendly Trade Value Calculator, here’s what I get for Roy-O.

If Oswalt forgoes his demand for his option to be picked up, then his value goes up about a million. Not a big difference. Included in his worth is free agent compensation in the draft, but that’s only if the Cardinals were to offer him arbitration.

So Oswalt’s bloated contract sucks away a lot of his trade value. $20 million > $1 mil. So Shelby Miller for Oswalt on paper is a pretty lopsided deal for Houston, and we don’t need Ed Wade to start to feel good about himself. Houston really needs the salary relief – they should be willing to take Eduardo Sánchez and maybe Jon Jay and be plenty thankful for it. I think Moz knows this and that’s why nothing has been done yet. That, or Wade is hoping Ruben Amaro loses is mind and trumps the Cardinals’ offer of Miller.

Remember too that we need to include the boost in the team’s playoff chances that Oswalt would add to the Cardinals in this equation. The Reds don’t seem to be going away, at least not yet. And we can be sure that Jocketty is trolling the market to find some help. I would guess the increase in playoff odds being worth another $5 million or so. Perhaps Steve can chime in on this, he knows more about that than I do.

Sorry to get all nerdy on you; getting down to brass tacks: If the Cardinals are willing to part with Miller, they should probably do better than Roy Oswalt, unless Houston is willing to eat some salary.

(Full disclosure: In my opinion, the FAIL meme needs to die. Sorry for my usage of it, but I don’t know what else could accurately describe the relief outings discussed here.)

DanUp took a quick look at Cincy’s monumental meltdown against the Phillies last night, which somewhat mirrored Franklin’s epic, failtacular night against Colorado. It was clearly a 10.5 on the Swampgas scale, but how does it stack up against other bullpen failures in Cardinal history?

Rk Player Date Tm Opp Rslt App,Dec IP H R ER BB SO HR WPA ? RE24 aLI
1 Herm Wehmeier 1957-09-21 STL CIN L 8-9 8-10f,BL 2.0 3 3 3 2 1 2 -0.992 0.117 2.863
2 Ryan Franklin 2010-07-06 STL COL L 9-12 9-9f ,L 0.1 6 6 6 0 0 2 -0.981 -4.570 2.476
3 Dennis Eckersley 1996-05-18 STL COL L 8-9 9-9f ,L 0.1 4 5 5 1 0 2 -0.973 -2.672 2.958
4 Phil Clark 1958-04-23 STL SFG L 7-8 9-9f ,BL 0.0 2 2 0 0 0 1 -0.960 -1.927 3.725
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 7/10/2010.

Franklin didn’t quite reach Herm Wehmeier’s level. Wehmeier blew a save in the 9th on a game-tying HR, was given the lead back in the 10th and then lost it in the 10th on a homer.  But at least he recorded more than an out.

Hall of Famer Dennis Eckersley also had his trouble with the Rockies, coughing up a four run lead in the ninth back in the pre-humidor days at Coors.

The lesson: Poop happens in Denver.

Used as the Cardinals’ lead-off hitter the past two seasons, Skip Schumaker is finding himself in one of the worst funks of his career. His .292 wOBA combined with sub-par defense (-6 runs according to UZR) means that he’s been a replacement level second baseman so far on the season, not at all what we were hoping for out of Skippy this season, to say the least.

So what’s wrong? Looking at his plate discipline numbers, it doesn’t seem he’s seeing the ball very well. His strikeout rate is up 1% and his walk rate is down 1%. That doesn’t sound like a big deal, but digging a little deeper we see that he has been hacky, so this trend of more K’s and less walks could continue to get worse. Schumaker is swinging at 33.1% pitches out of the zone so far this season, a 6% increase from the season earlier. What’s he swinging at?

By the looks of things, Skippy is having trouble discerning letting a few pitches that are wide outside and low outside. It’s particularly amusing to how low some of these pitches are that he’s swung at.

If Schumaker wants to go back to leading off, or for that matter keep his job as the every day second baseman when Freese returns, he’ll need to show a little better discipline than he has this year so far.

Few players are having a tougher season at the plate than Brendan Ryan. The lovable and sometimes mustachioed shortstop is still making Wizard-like plays in the field, but he also is now the shameful owner of a .257 wOBA. That’s 12 runs below the average hitter and we’re only at the midpoint of the season. Ryan isn’t the only Cardinal hitting that’s experiencing a slump. Yadier Molina and Skip Schumaker both are hitting for a wOBA under .300. Just when we thought Yadi was over his all-glove, no-hit ways, we see him struggling this season, although that didn’t hinder him from being named to the All-Star team.

These hitters have enjoyed better days, to be sure. Is some sort of regression due? Can bad luck be blamed for their slumps, or are these struggles a genuine backsliding?

To find out, I tinkered around with The Hardball Times’ xBABIP calculator. Often times in sabermetric analysis we see writers cite a low or high batting average of balls in play as a reason player A will regress to the mean. If a player has a high BABIP (.330 or higher) then they’re expected to come back to earth. If a player has a low BABIP (.280 or below, usually, we’d call them unlucky. (See here for further explanation)

xBABIP takes it a step further by looking at batted ball times and other components in a regression model to give us a luck-neutral BABIP. In other words, this is what a player’s hit rate would be sans the flukiness. Sure enough, Ryan, Skip and Yadi have been the victims of some tough luck. Freese and Rasmus have particularly benefited from some good luck.

Player BABIP xBABIP xBABIP-BABIP
Brendan Ryan .230 .316 .086
Yadier Molina .249 .330 .081
Skip Schumaker .286 .340 .054
Felipe Lopez .322 .326 .004
Albert Pujols .296 .299 .003
Matt Holliday .326 .314 -.012
Ryan Ludwick .313 .296 -.017
David Freese .376 .341 -.035
Colby Rasmus .351 .310 -.041

As much as I think Tyler Greene could surprise some people, I wouldn’t write Boog off just yet. Teasing out the luck, and he should be hitting around .270,  not below the Mendoza line.

We get a reprieve from the endless Penny puns, at least for a couple of weeks. The Cardinals rosily think Penny will require just the minimum 15 day stay on the DL.

In the meantime, we get to see PJ Walters, one of my old pet prospects. After taking a break after the tragic death of his infant daughter, Walters has been on a tear ever since coming back to Triple-A Memphis.  In 19 and 2/3rd innings, PJ has 23 K’s, 3 walks and has allowed just 9 hits.

The biggest chink in Walter’s armor has been his fastball velocity. Back in his halcyon days when he was demolishing the Florida State League with an 86 MPH fastball and his screwy-changeup, but since then he’s up to a respectable 89-90MPH.

The aforementioned change-up is Walter’s claim to fame, although I think saying it has screwball movement is a stretch, although outside of Danny Ray Herrera, we have no real screwballers to compare him with.

That is a fair amount of drop with the pitch, and he gets 15.4% whiffs with the offering. His slider was even more impressive, getting 25% whiffs with the pitch. Walters hopefully will carry over his early season success while holding it down for Penny. I’d like to see Walters give the Cardinals no reason to rush Penny back. With his ability to miss bats, maybe he’ll be impressive enough to stick as a reliever.

Oh joy. Sean Smith’s WAR (Wins Above Replacement) is now at Baseball Reference.com. If you have play index, you can do all sorts of fun sorts. I’ll share a few.

Here are Cardinal center fielders with 5+ WAR seasons.

Rk Player WAR/pos Year
1 Willie McGee 8.5 1985
2 Jim Edmonds 8.4 2004
3 Stan Musial 7.7 1952
4 Jim Edmonds 7.3 2003
5 Jim Edmonds 7.2 2002
6 Jim Edmonds 6.8 2005
7 Jim Edmonds 6.8 2000
8 Jim Edmonds 6.4 2001
9 Johnny Hopp 6.0 1944
10 Ray Lankford 5.9 1998
11 Ray Lankford 5.5 1997
12 Ray Lankford 5.4 1996
13 Emmet Heidrick 5.3 1901
14 Curt Flood 5.1 1967
15 Curt Flood 5.0 1963
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 5/17/2010.

Here are the top baserunning run contributors of the Whiteyball era.

Rk Player Rbaser
1 Vince Coleman 60
2 Ozzie Smith 51
3 Willie McGee 32
4 Lonnie Smith 16
5 Tom Herr 15
6 Andy Van Slyke 11
7 Milt Thompson 5
8 Terry Pendleton 4
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 5/17/2010.

Here’s the top players in fielding runs saved above average.

Rk Player Rfield From To Age G
1 Ozzie Smith 197 1982 1996 27-41 1990
2 Marty Marion 132 1940 1950 22-32 1502
3 Albert Pujols 108 2001 2010 21-30 1436
4 Curt Flood 103 1958 1969 20-31 1738
5 Brian Jordan 85 1992 1998 25-31 643
6 Terry Pendleton 85 1984 1990 23-29 927
7 Arlie Latham 78 1883 1896 23-36 847
8 Ken Boyer 75 1955 1965 24-34 1667
9 Jim Edmonds 71 2000 2007 30-37 1105
10 Keith Hernandez 67 1974 1983 20-29 1165
11 Yadier Molina 65 2004 2010 21-27 703
12 Charlie Comiskey 64 1882 1891 22-31 1034
13 Red Schoendienst 61 1945 1963 22-40 1795
14 Scott Rolen 60 2002 2007 27-32 661
15 Jose Oquendo 56 1986 1995 22-31 989
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 5/17/2010.
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