Eduardo Sánchez.

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Congratulations to Eduardo Sanchez (no, not Kenny Powers’ long lost father) who graduated from triple-A to the big leagues after only 30 innings in Memphis. His call-up was expedited by the decision to place Tallet on the DL when he fractured his right hand on this outstanding play.

Baseball Prospectus’ Kevin Goldstein ranked Sanchez as the Cards’ 6th best prospect and believes that he has the upside to be a late-inning reliever:

Sanchez shocked scouts by cranking 94-98 mph heat out of a build more reminiscent of the bat boy’s than a power pitcher’s. He’ll flash a plus slider with good two-plane break, and he wants the ball in pressure situations.

Derrick Goold chimed in on Sanchez’s play in winter ball:

In 14 games with the Tigres, Sanchez, one of the top reliever prospects in the system, went 0-1, 10.13 ERA in 14 games. He had command problems, walking 12 and striking out eight in 10 2/3 innings. Sanchez was one of the Cardinals’ reps at last year’s Futures Game, and despite a slight build Sanchez has a fastball with pop.

At Future Redbirds, the robot offered observations you’ll find in the table below:

Sanchez featured the kind of strikeout rates you want to see from a pitcher who (1) projects as a dominant reliever and (2) has average groundball rates.

Eduardo Sanchez
Year/Team IP K/9 BB/9 GB% ERA FIP
2009/A+ 25.0 9.4 1.8 50% 1.44 3.09
2009/AA 50.0 10.1 3.6 52% 2.70 3.09
2010/AA 26.0 9.3 2.8 60% 3.12 3.30
2010/AAA 27.0 10.3 4.0 46% 1.67 3.81
2011/AAA 3.0 9.0 0.0 50% 0.00 1.75

*Thanks to Baseball-Reference and First Inning for the stats.

And, as I type this, the Cardinals are really handing it to the Diamondbacks, 9-0. Maybe we’ll see the 22-year-old’s debut tonight.

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Hello offense!

Game 10

The Good: Kyle McClellan led the team with another strong outing (6.0 IP, 7 H, 4 BB, 4 SO, 1 R; .264 WPA). Despite not having his best stuff – as evidenced by worse control and fewer strikeouts – McClellan pitched two-thirds of the game and minimized damage. So far, he’s defied the odds of maintaining his unsustainable strand rate from last year (89.6% in 2010; 90.4% in 2011). Look for that to change.

Lance Berkman’s home runs didn’t offer much in the way of win probability (.037 WPA), but I think we were all a little relieved to see him poke a couple over the opposite field wall, and without the Crawford Boxes (damn you, Minute Maid Park) nonetheless!

The Bad: Albert Pujols did not join the offensive breakout. He was one of three starters who posted negative win probability… not to mention he grounded into another double play. See Steve’s post about Albert Pujols and small sample sizes from the other day; and Steve Slowinski posted another article at FanGraphs today on the matter (haven’t read that one yet). My analysis? Pujols will eventually be Pujols. There’s no reason to believe otherwise yet. Believe it or not, there really are some fans worried about this… I overheard a 70-ish year-old couple talking about it at dinner last night to prove it.

Game 11

The Good: David Freese had a solid game (2-4, 1 BB, 1 HR, and 2 RBIs; .202 WPA). His home run wasn’t cheap either as it cleared the elevated wall in CF. That was the second day in a row that Berkman hit back-to-back jacks; his wOBA creeped above the .390 mark.

The Bad: The pitching staff as a whole had a miserable performance, combining for -.751 WPA despite the offense’s best attempts to keep them in the game. And their pride wasn’t the only thing hurt since Augenstein and (probably) Tallet are expected to hit the DL. I’m happy for Salas’ promotion given his competence last year; he didn’t do anything wrong in Jupiter this spring either. I’m also excited to see Eduardo Sanchez get an opportunity; he’s struck people out at a pretty decent rate (2010: 9+ K/9 in AA and 10+ K/9 in AAA).

The Ugly: Chris Carpenter was alone responsible for -.495 WPA. I was going to take a look at his pitch f/x stuff compared to his first start to see if there was anything noteworthy, but my internet screwed up, and now I don’t have time. Let’s just chalk that forgettable performance up to a random blip and move on.

Hey, we’re still in Arizona! Maybe the offense will stick around for another night.

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DENVER - MAY 07:  (FILE PHOTO) Albert Pujols #...

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There has been lots of talk about Pujols’ rough start to the season, so I wanted to put it into context using some of his recent history.  First some ground rules, can we all agree that Albert Pujols had good seasons in 2010, 2009 and 2008?  I think it is pretty hard to say anything other than “yes” to that question.  With that in mind I offer some food for thought.  In 2010 Albert had five unique nine game stretches where he hit under 0.200.  He had a 16 game stretch where he hit under 0.200.  In 2009 and 2008 he had two unique nine game stretches each year where he hit under 0.200.  Are his current struggles bad?  Yes.  Are they unprecedented, even for him?  Absolutely not.

 

UPDATE:  As Pujols sits at 0-3 I thought I would update you with some more notes.  If we expand to ten games to match the current season’s number of games, Albert still had five unique stretches of ten games where he hit under 0.200.  His lowest ten game stretch was 0.147 and it happened twice.  2009 and 2008 saw Albert have 1 such stretch of ten games where he hit under 0.200 in each season.

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Game 7

Game 8

 

Game 9

 

Those are a couple of dramatic games at the beginning of the series aren’t they.  Unfortunately both went the wrong direction.  Thankfully Lohse was able to help the Cards avoid the sweep.

 

The Good:

Matt Holliday is back playing.  It doesn’t matter what he did in his first game back because having your second best hitter (and a plus defender to boot) back is a good thing

Colby’s Offense.  He’s getting his share of hits (a lot of singles so far, but the power is clearly not a problem) and most importantly drawing his fair share of walks.  Coming into today’s action he sat 8th in MLB in OBP due to a 20.6% walk rate.

Kyle Lohse had a very solid game, and in general the pitching (even the pen despite the memorable moments) has been good enough.

The Bad:

Colby’s Defense.  He looked skittish on the two plays to end the first two games.  Clearly we don’t have any numbers on his D yet, but I’ll be curious come end of the season what his metrics look like.  Up to this point he’s had one good and one bad year, so it’s hard to tell statistically how good he is.

Albert Pujols is still struggling at the plate, seemingly guaranteed to hit into a DP at all opportunities.  Clearly this is a temporary thing (more on this later in the week probably) but it still falls in the bad category.

Ryan Franklin has had a nightmare start to the season.  I’m not sure there is a clear cut next best option, so I’m ok with him remaining in the closer’s role.  If Motte or Boggs gets on a roll, then we’ll talk.  Ideally one of them will solidify themselves in Tony’s mind soon in case of any additional blow ups out of Franklin.

 

Commentary:

Apologize for the light amount of analysis recently, but look for that to change as we get some bigger samples to start to work with.  There’s a Pujols piece in the hopper and we’ll be able to start looking at some pitch f/x things for pitchers here pretty soon too.

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President Barack Obama warms up with St. Louis...

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Maybe during the government’s shutdown, President Obama can start pitching for opposing teams. The Cardinals may require this type of handicap if they’re going to put any runs on the board this season. What’s that you say? Oh yeah… he’s a southpaw. Nevermind.

All kidding aside, this team seems even less capable of scoring runs than last year. That observation is probably due to the short-term memory nature of sports, but this team was supposed to feature a roster infused with higher offensive potential and better quality of character. Maybe they’re having a blast in the clubhouse, and perhaps they respect the hell out of each other, but fans are unamused.

And you know what? It’s understandable that the fan base is growing restless. After the 2010 club was characterized as underachieving by its own GM, the 2011 version has limped out of the gate with a 2-5 record that already leaves them sitting three games back of the Reds. Yes, it’s too early to panic, but what is going on? The only redeeming factor of this team is that it has been playing real life games in front of a baseball-starved fan base, even if its offense has been of the station-to-station variety. Well, that and they’ve been pitching fairly well.

However, if baseball watching has been more boring than you remembered, it’s probably because the Cardinals have only had 9 extra base hits (2 HR, 1 3B, and 6 2B) in 268 plate appearances. Forget the NL Central, that’s the worst total in all of MLB. To make things worse, they’ve hit into 11 double plays, 5 of which were the fault of Albert Pujols. Again – worst in the league. Even when things have looked promising, runners have abruptly been plucked from the base paths leaving opportunities wasted and rallies killed. We all know how Tony LaRussa loves his crooked numbers, but he’s only enjoyed three frames in which the Cardinals have scored more than one run, and in each of those innings, it was the lowest possible crooked number – two.

Yes, this has been a remarkably terrible opening week for the Cardinals… and history isn’t on their side (as outlined by Pip at Fungoes) when it comes to other teams turning it around after similarly disappointing starts.

But are there any reasons for optimism?

Team Wins Losses Pyth O/U* BB% K% BB/K
Reds 5 2 2.0 9.6% 19.3% 0.57
Pirates 5 3 0.5 8.9 26.2 0.38
Cubs 4 3 0.0 8.6 17.2 0.56
Brewers 3 5 -0.5 8.0 23.2 0.38
Cardinals 2 5 -1.0 9.7 18.1 0.60
Astros 1 5 -2.0 5.4 25.1 0.24

*Does not include games from 4/8/11.

In case you’re wondering, Pyth O/U stands for Pythagorean Over/Under, available at Baseball Prospectus. In short, this stat tells us whether a team is over performing or under performing based on a team’s run differential. The division leading Reds benefit from a record two games better than it “should” be, while the Cardinals “should” have one more tally in their win column.

Things aren’t all bad. The Cardinals boast the highest divisional base-on-ball rate, and compared to other MLB teams, only three have been better at drawing walks. They’ve also limited their strikeouts (2nd best in NLC; 8th best in MLB). So not only have they been one of the best teams at taking free passes, they’ve also consistently put the ball in play.

Other than adding one percent to their walk rate (obviously, a welcome change – we’ll see if it lasts), these numbers aren’t much different than 2010. So what’s happening on these balls in play?

Team GB% LD% FB% HR/FB% BABIP
Reds 39 19.5 41.5 12.0 .354
Pirates 49.8 16.6 33.7 10.1 .302
Cubs 39.7 15.6 44.7 7.9 .302
Brewers 47.7 20.3 32.0 14.3 .286
Cardinals 53.1 16.0 30.9 3.3 .263
Astros 47.2 20.5 32.4 7.0 .289

The Cardinals just won’t keep hitting so many ground balls. It’s been six years since a team has hit 50% grounders (Twins in 2005; also had 49.9% in 2007). I guess the others (line drives and fly balls) are sustainable, but both would be unexpectedly low. We can be sure, however, that more of the Cardinals fly balls will leave the yard (league average is usually 10.6% HR/FB), and more of their balls in play will fall for hits (league average is usually ~.300 BABIP) . Assuming that the type of balls in play remains constant for the rest of the year (which they won’t), the Cardinals offense should improve thanks to the principle of regression alone. And if they loft  some more balls into the air (especially Pujols: 37.0% FB & 11.1% LD), there’s the potential for even more gains.

The bonus silver lining in all of this is that the Reds appear to be just as lucky as the Cardinals have been unfortunate. While their second highest BABIP in MLB momentarily plots them on the opposite end of the luck continuum, they’ll drift back towards the median at some point… and that’ll be a welcome change of narrative for St. Louis fans.

Sticking with the theme of offense, other positive developments:

  • Albert Pujols has never before given us a reason to believe he will produce like anyone other than Albert Pujols.
  • Supposedly, Matt Holliday’s appendectomy will not necessitate a trip to the DL.
  • Colby Rasmus has more walks (7) than strikeouts (4); he’s been playing against lefties.
  • Allen Craig has been given playing time.
  • Lance Berkman still has knees; David Freese still has ankles.
  • Theriot has walked 15.6% of the time. While his .240 BABIP is low, I’m assuming that’s partially due to a higher percentage of fly balls (40%) being generated by a guy with very little pop, no matter what April/May of 2009 tell you.

I’m reasonably comfortable asserting that things will improve for the Cardinals offensively. I’m less comfortable suggesting that said improvements will be drastic enough to offset the team’s sluggish beginning and overcome NL Central foes. But, hey, string a few wins together, and the landscape becomes much less ominous. Such is the beauty of early April amid a season that offers 155 more games.

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FanGraphs‘ win probability graphs for games five and six:

Game Five:


Link to page
I don’t have time to go through the good, the bad, and the impressive for yesterday’s win, but I’ll offer some quick commentary:

  • Clearly, that was an impressive debut in the rotation for Kyle McClellan. Not only did he settle down after giving up two first inning runs, but he added 7 K’s and 1 BB. With that said, it seemed like he left a bunch of pitches over the heart of the plate, especially early… so it’ll be interesting to see how his season unfolds.
  • Pujols led the team with .221 WPA (1-2, 1 BB, 2 RBI). Unfortunately, one of those RBIs came on a ground ball through the left side; a foot in either direction, and it could have easily been another inning ending double play.

Game Six:

Link to page

Again, bullet-point commentary:

  • Again, the offense takes the blame (-.539 WPA). They have only scored 14 runs. Of the seven teams that have played six games, the Cardinals rank last among them in runs scored; they trail the next closest team (Mariners) by 6 runs. I count 8 extra base hits in 218 total plate appearances. Yikes. For perspective, however, the Brewers and Rays have only scored 13 and 7 runs respectively in five games a piece. I have faith in those teams rebounding… so perhaps I should suspect the same of the Cardinals… but it’s easy to feel paranoid about your favorite team.
  • Carpenter had another strong outing (6 IP, 8 H, 0 BB, and 6 K); he touched 95 mph with his four-seam fastball.
  • Believe it or not, Brian Tallet led the team in win probability added (.032) despite only facing one batter. He induced a ground ball from Lyle Overbay with guys on first and third to end the seventh inning. Tallet has looked very capable early on.
  • Though Jason Motte has yet to strike out a batter, his velocity looks fine. According to Brooks Baseball, his four-seam fastball averaged 96 mph; another pitch was qualified as a two-seamer that averaged 94 mph. Spring Training struggles aside, I suspect he’ll be fine going forward.

 

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Another loss, another eh performance by the offense.

 

The Good:

Berkman showed the solid on base skill that the Cards need from him over the long haul drawing two walks to add to his single.

Kyle Lohse got more swings and misses (7 according to Brooks Baseball) than I had anticipated.

 

The Bad:

Berkman made his first error of the year, to continue a trend of less than stellar defense out of the club.  We all knew the defense was going to be rough in some places, but hopefully things will improve some.

Theriot continues to struggle at the plate, as does the team in general.  Is it too early to panic?  Clearly not, but I’m not overly optimistic about Theriot turning it around.

The Ugly:

The 6 and 7 spots in the order (Freese and Molina) combined to go 0-8 and a combined -0.390 WPA.

 

Commentary:

The team seems to be pounding the ball into the ground so far this season, and this game was no exception, 19 of the 24 balls in play were ground balls, including 15 of 17 against Charlie Morton.  Coming into the day the Cards had hit over 51% of their balls in play on the ground, “good” for 5th in baseball.  Nothing to be alarmed about yet, but something worth keeping an eye on as the season progresses.  I’m sure it’s something we’ll look at with pitch f/x if the trend continues.

I told you they’d win at least one game this year. FanGraphs‘ win probability table:

Link to page

The Good:

Yadi’s hits have counted so far this season; he’s only had two singles, but they each brought someone across the plate. His RBI single in the fifth inning (.081 WPA) helped him lead the offense (.062).

The Bad:

The offense didn’t help Jaime’s cause today; the hitters combined for negative win probability (-.123).

The Impressive:

Jaime Garcia dominated the game, contributing .623 WPA all by his lonesome. He went the distance, generating 12 ground balls, 3 fly balls, and 4 line drives; the complete game included 4 H, 2 BB, and 9 K.

Commentary:

Today’s game offered about as clear an indication as any that Spring Training numbers offer zero insight into regular season performance. Despite giving up 25 runs (16 earned) in 23.0 IP down in Florida, Jaime’s 2011 regular season debut was a beauty. As Pip (Fungoes) noted on twitter, his Fielding Independent Game Score (FIGS) was 68. For context, his best performance of 2010 netted a 71 FIGS.

Although Theriot picked up an RBI with a single in the eighth inning, his overall offensive contributions were negative (-.014 WPA). Two of his four at-bats were leading off an inning, and he made an out each time.

We’re three games in and the Cardinals have yet to score more than three runs. That’s partly because Albert hasn’t done much damage, but this roster was constructed in such a way to sacrifice defense in order to offer a deeper lineup less reliant on production from Pujols/Holliday/Rasmus. Of course, it’s too early to tell whether Berkman is poised for a bounce back year, Theriot will be able to revert back to his 2008 form, Skip will be luckier, or Freese will stay healthy all season, but the first three games have been less encouraging than, say, the Texas Rangers, who have scored 28 runs in their first three games.

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Like Steve on opening day, I didn’t get a chance to watch game number two (other than the few highlights available at MLB.com). Two games. Two analyses. Zero minutes of actual live baseball watched. But we have numbers… saber-purists here at Gas House Graphs. The win probability table from FanGraphs:


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Link to page

The Cardinals took the lead twice but couldn’t hold off the visiting Padres.

The Good:

Matt Holliday Allen Craig led the team with .151 WPA; his bases loaded single with two outs boosted the Cardinals’ win expectancy all the way up to 74%.

In the third inning, Pujols put the team back on top with a solo home run (.123 WPA), his first round-tripper of the 2011 season; he finished the game with .093 WPA.

The Bad:

Jason Motte pitched 1.2 innings, gave up one hit, walked two batters (one intentional), and didn’t strike out anyone (-.073).

Yadier Molina was 0-3 with a strikeout (-.059 WPA); he grounded out with a runner in scoring position to end the first inning.

The Ugly:

Jake Westbrook only managed to pitch 4.1 innings while surrendering 8 runs, 6 hits, 5 walks, and 3 strikeouts (-.524 WPA).

Commentary:

Considering he coughed up two early leads, this game’s pretty much on Westbrook. When he left the game, the Cardinals’ win expectancy had already dropped to 11.3%.With the extra innings played in the opener, and mop-up duty necessary today, I wouldn’t doubt if the Cardinals decided to call up another reliever (to take Holliday’s place if he’s placed on the DL) as a way of alleviating some of the stress on the bullpen. I’m not necessarily advocating for that, but I can foresee it happening.

Pujols is no longer on pace to ground into 486 double plays

In his first game as Matt Holliday’s substitute, Allen Craig contributed 2 RBIs. I’m sure Jon Jay will be sprinkled in occasionally, but I hope that Craig gets most of the playing time in his absence. Dude can hit (slightly better than .400 wOBA in 871 triple-A plate appearances).

Boggs’ line (3.0 IP, 2 R, 2 H, 1 BB, 4 K) is pretty good other than the home run. How did he look out there? There must be some positive vibes about his back since he was allowed to throw 42 pitches.

Weakened defense has already been a theme in each of the season’s first two games, and the perpetrator was the same as Theriot made another error. Lucky for him, it didn’t cost the team a run. Unlucky for the team, it didn’t matter; they were already down by six runs playing in the second half of the game.

Prediction:

The Cardinals will not lose 162 games this year.

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According to a team press release, Matt Holliday is scheduled to under an appendectomy procedure that will sideline him anywhere from 2-6 weeks.  As a frame of reference, though, Matt Cassel underwent a similar procedure and returned in 11 days, and Andres Torres did the same and returned in 12 days.  Let’s be cautiously optimistic and say that Holliday will be out 15 days.

Now, the obvious candidate to replace him is Allen Craig, who has done nothing but mash in the minor leagues.  Jon Jay may find some playing time as well, but since the Cardinals seem to be going for an offense-first approach this season, let’s assume that Craig gets the bulk of the playing time.  The obvious question is: What is the marginal downgrade from Holliday to Craig, and what does it do for our playoff chances?

Let’s assume a couple of things:

  • Matt Holliday is a 6.0 WAR player over 162 games
  • Allen Craig is a 2.5 WAR player over the same amount of games and plate appearances
  • Holliday will only be out about 15 days

If these assumptions hold true, then Holliday is worth about .56 WAR over 15 games, while Craig is worth about .23 WAR.  According to Baseball Prospectus’ PECOTA projections, the Cardinals are an 86 win-team (which would lead the National League Central).  If this injury bumps the Cardinals from an 86 win team to an 85.75 win team, then according to danmerqury at Athletics Nation, that would change the playoff probability (this is without context and empirical; an 86 win team in the NL Central in 2011 is much, much more likely to make the playoffs than his prediction accounts for.  BP’s contextual playoff odds are here) from about 16.8% to 15.4%.  For comparison, the Brewers are projected for 85 wins, which would have a 12% chance of making the playoffs, and the Reds are projected for 82 wins, which has a 4% chance of making the playoffs.

No matter what, this injury (assuming it’s not worse than it is. Which, given past Cardinals injuries, might be a stretch) has a marginal effect on our playoff odds, and given the high variance associated with 15 game sample sizes, might even improve our playoff odds.  It does make the margins slimmer and more uncomfortable; having 86 wins compared to the Brewers’ 85 are a lot more comfortable to 85.75.  Ultimately, though, the margins are the only thing that changes; we are still the favorites to win the NL Central

© 2011 Gas House Graphs Suffusion theme by Sayontan Sinha