Much has been said about the success of the Cardinals’ bullpen this postseason. It’s hard to imagine Saint Louis-ans  still enjoying baseball this late in October had the likes of Ryan Franklin, Miguel Batista, P.J. Walters, Brian Tallet, and Trevor Miller still been employed. But then again, the Cardinals never would have made the playoffs without drastic upgrades in the bullpen (Dotel and Rzepczynski), rotation (Edwin Jackson), and at shortstop (Rafael Furcal). Per Buster Olney on Twitter yesterday, TLR echoed these sentiments by conceding that the team would have struggled to stay above .500 without said reinforcements.

Let’s take a look at the impact of these guys down the stretch. For the pitchers, I’m choosing to use rWAR (baseball-reference) since it uses ERA instead of FIP. This is appropriate for evaluating the impact these players had in August and September. Fangraphs’ WAR (fWAR) would be better suited for evaluating future value since it uses FIP, a better predictor of ERA than ERA itself (unless you’re talking about larger sample sizes).

Edwin Jackson: Accumulated 0.8 WAR in 12 games started (78.0 IP). Despite boasting a lower ERA after switching to the National League, other statistics suggested he actually pitched worse. Jackson struck out fewer batters (5.9 K/9; 7.18 K/9 with Sox) and generated 7-8% fewer ground balls. He did maintain his improved control (2.65 BB/9).

Marc Rzepczynski: Accumulated 0.1 WAR in 28 appearances (22.2 IP). In contrast to Jackson, Scrabble’s (tired of carefully typing his real name) ERA inflated after joining the Cardinals. However, he struck out more batters (11.12 K/9; only 7.55 K/9 with Jays) and maintained an impressive ground ball rate (63.2%). He did struggle a little with his control, adding an extra BB/9 to his walk rate. Even though he suffered 5 meltdowns (4 shutdowns), he was clearly a better option than Miller or Tallett, both of whom were eventually released by the Jays.

Octavio Dotel: Accumulated 0.2 WAR in 29 appearances (24.2 IP). Dotel pitched out of his mind after arriving in St. Louis as his modest 3.28 ERA doesn’t even begin to tell the story. He’s always been able to miss bats (career 10.91 K/9), but he improved his strikeout rate on the Cardinals (11.68 K/9) while also drastically improving his control (only 1.82 BB/9 compared to career rate of 4.01 BB/9). All of that combined for a stellar 1.57/2.31 FIP/xFIP.

Arthur Rhodes: Accumulated 0.1 WAR in 19 appearances (8.2 IP). Rhodes signed on to fill the other obligatory left-handed specialist spot in the bullpen and pitched like you’d expect a 41-year-old to pitch in the big leagues (5.90/4.77 FIP/xFIP).

Rafael Furcal: Accumulated 0.9 WAR in 217 plate appearances. Furcal’s .323 wOBA didn’t exactly light the arch on fire, but it didn’t need to when he was replacing Ryan Theriot (.292 wOBA) at shortstop. And the offensive upgrade wasn’t as obvious as the defensive improvement. While FanGraphs’ UZR ranked them closer than expected with the glove, Total Zone graded Theriot to be worth 8 runs below average while Furcal was good for 2 runs above average in considerably fewer innings at the position. Furcal accumulated more WAR for the Cardinals despite having 250 fewer plate appearances than Theriot.

Total: All in all, 2.1 WAR is represented here. That sounds pretty modest, but when you consider the guys they were replacing (arguably below replacement level talent), the impact was likely more profound. Trever Miller and Brian Tallet combined for -0.5 WAR during their time in St. Louis. And it wasn’t just the Cardinals that gave up on them: Tallet threw all of 0.1 inning before being released by the Jays while Miller only logged 3.2 innings before his release. Miller caught on with the Red Sox but he only threw two more innings in Boston. Dotel replaced P.J. Walters who spent most of August and September with Toronto’s triple-A affiliate.

What about the position players?

Furcal’s predecessor at shortstop (Ryan Theriot) had a 0.5 WAR through July. While his offense never significantly improved, defensive metrics (UZR and Total Zone) graded him as above average at 2nd base. So Theriot was transformed from an everyday liability into a serviceable part-timer. FanGraphs’ UZR grades Furcal to be nearly as bad defensively as Theriot. Honestly, that seems way off. According to Baseball-Reference – which incorporates Total Zone Rating into its WAR system – Furcal had a much larger impact in his short time with the Cardinals (1.4 WAR).

In center field, the Cardinals replaced Rasmus – who played below replacement level for the remainder of 2011 (-0.5 WAR) – with Jon Jay, who racked up 0.8 WAR over the season’s final two months. That’s a pretty significant swing in terms of 2011 outcomes. Now, as Marc Normandin outlined yesterday at SB Nation, Rasmus does have a much higher ceiling than Jay, so he may still develop into the better player, but that didn’t happen this season. Time will have its say.

Earlier in the season, I had this to say following Rasmus’ departure:

Do the Cardinals have a better chance of winning the NL Central in 2011? Probably. Have they sacrificed their ability to do so in 2012 and beyond? Perhaps considerably.

Given Colby Rasmus’s ceiling, I’m not ready to abandon that statement, but it is hard to imagine things falling into place any nicer for John Mozeliak. Having considered all of the above factors, I think it’s reasonable – if not conservative – to suggest that the above moves added 3 or 4 wins to the Cardinals’ 2011 record. At the same time, I’m not sure that Mo’s activity at the trade deadline should serve as a blueprint for other GMs around the league.

Jayson Stark had an article at ESPN earlier today that contained the following quotes from Mozeliak:

“So we just had so many questions about what 2012 would look like,” Mozeliak said, “we felt like now was the time to go for it.”

and

“I felt like it was aggressive, to try to do it. I know it wasn’t the most popular move. And I’m sure, if we don’t qualify for the postseason or we’re not playing here in mid-October, then yeah, you’re open to criticism. But I also know, if we don’t take risks, we’re probably not here, anyway.”

Mozeliak’s concern about the future should have provided all the more initiative to keep Colby Rasmus. He is under control for three more seasons and has the potential to develop into an impact player. In general, it’s not prudent to ransom the future by selling off one of your only cost-controlled position players when you’re worrying about where all of your other chips may fall.  It’s easy to wonder if Mo’s hand was forced by TLR who openly criticized Rasmus one day before the trade. My guess is that TLR is likely to return in 2012 since he has the chance to rank 2nd in all-time managerial wins. Did Mo really want to manage this volatile relationship for another year? And Rasmus didn’t exactly help his cause when he requested a trade in 2010 anyways.

If you can’t tell, I still have mixed feelings about this whole thing. I worry about TLR’s ever growing influence in the front office and his ability to strong arm players out of the organization. There’s still the sense that something isn’t right between the player development system and big league personnel. And I’m still not confident in Mo’s overall decision making process or negotiating abilities. For every solid trade/signing (Holliday), there’s been some real head scratchers (Pedro Feliz) thrown in there.

I don’t know. All of these anxieties seemed much more valid before the Cardinals were about to play the Texas Rangers in the World Series. Now it just makes me seem like a killjoy. Mozeliak’s moves allowed the team to make a run this year. And even the most ardent critic of TLR has to pause for a moment and wonder how they got here, right? The man – and this team – deserves some serious credit. You’re familiar with all of the hurdles they encountered along the way. Wainwright’s injury. Franklin’s implosion. TLR’s shingles. Holliday’s injuries. Pujols’s wrist. Craig’s knee. Duncan’s extended absence to comfort his wife who had a brain tumor removed. And yet here they are. It’s time to put the nay-saying aside. And enjoy the ride. I know I am.

For the sake of efficiency, I’m abandoning the usual format of discussing each game’s “good, bad, and/or ugly/impressive” moment. Instead, I’ll just make some brief comments before the NLCS kicks off today.
Game Four

True to form, the Cardinals continue to trick me into writing them off. Before Edwin Jackson had even recorded an out, their win expectancy dropped to 27.9%. Thanks to a strike-em-out, throw-em-out double play, Jackson quickly escaped from the inning and proceeded to lead the pitching staff by adding 12.7% win probability while striking out four and only walking one batter – good for 2.19 FIP.

Some have likened Edwin Jackson’s role in 2011 to Jeff Weaver’s in 2006 (only have one link). Is that true? How do they compare as pitchers? Well, 28-year-old Jackson is probably better right now than Jeff Weaver was at any point in his career, though it was admittedly closer than I would have guessed. While their overall FIPs are comparable (Jackson – 4.34; Weaver – 4.41), Weaver peaked in his early years while Jackson has improved with age. At first glance, you’d probably think Weaver posted the best overall season in 2002 when he performed 16% better than league average (FIP- of 84), but he didn’t give up as many homeruns that year as he probably should have since pitcher’s have relatively little control over the amount of homeruns they surrender per fly ball allowed. Weaver was 25-years-old in 2002, and his performance steadily regressed thereafter. Considering his post season success, it’s easy for Saint Louis fans to forget that his performance was pretty terrible leading up to October (5.71/5.11 FIP/xFIP for Cardinals in 2006′s regular season). While he did pitch somewhat better in October (slightly improved K/BB ratio), his results were exceedingly improved, suggesting that there was probably some luck involved. Maybe the defense helped him out, but the Cardinals weren’t exactly a great defensive team that year. He also had an unsustainable strand rate (84.4%).

Point? While their overall numbers might not be too far off, the Cardinals acquired Jackson at a much more favorable point in his career. In contrast to Weaver, Jackson struggled as a young pitcher but has spent the last three years improving his strikeout to walk ratio and has started coaxing more ground balls. He has career best numbers to show for it (3.55 FIP in 2011).

28-year-old Edwin Jackson is not the same as 29-year-old Jeff Weaver. Edwin Jackson may not end up with better results than Jeff Weaver’s memorable October in 2006, but he is the better pitcher.

Take a look at the above graph and you’ll notice that two of the largest swings in win probability have little notes about the hometown hero, David Freese. His 2-run double in the 4th and 2-run homer in the 6th added 38.2% in win probability alone.

As the 2011 season has unfolded, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about how strange Freese’s career has looked thus far. I’m not the only one who thinks so; see Dan Moore’s late-September post at VEB. After posting a .538 slugging percentage in more than 700 triple-A plate appearances, his power has dropped 100 points as a major-leaguer. You’d think that such a power drop-off would lead to less productivity, but that hasn’t really been the case as he’s still been well above average with the bat (.348 wOBA in 667 plate appearances). While his impressive line-drive rate might allow him to float above the usual .300 BABIP watermark, his career .356 BABIP just seems unreasonable. Having said that, statcorner’s wOBAr adjusts for batted ball rates and park effects… and Freese still looks pretty good (.332 in 2010 and .355 in 2011). Maybe I’ll take a more in-depth look at this in the future.

Game Five


When the green line hovers right around the 50% mark, you know you had yourself a pitcher’s duel. Sometimes, Chris Carpenter just looks like he makes a decision to throw a shut-out… and then does it.

Objectively, I’m not sure Carp really outpitched Roy Halladay. He certainly left more to chance as Halladay allowed fewer balls in play with 7 strikeouts (compared to Carpenter’s 3). At least two of those balls looked like serious trouble off of the bat, but instead of being game-changing home runs in late innings, they fell safely into the gloves of Lance Berkman and Jon Jay who each had to retreat to the warning track.

Overall, however, one might say that Carpenter’s balls in play were less dangerous since 66.7% of them stayed on the ground while Holliday only induced 40% grounders.

This all resulted in a fantastic pitchers duel and, for Cardinals fans, it was a special moment to behold.

Tony La Russa

Image via Wikipedia

After viewing Tony LaRussa’s interview with Frank Cusumano yesterday, I tweeted, “TLR’s a control freak, Colby’s slightly hard-headed, and T-Raz is always sayin’ sh*t. This isn’t going to stop, is it?” Much to my dismay, it ended quicker than anticipated in a deal that seems unnecessarily expansive.

I worked today, so it’s hard to know which reporter was first to break the news, but Joe Strauss had the details at STL-Today:

The Cardinals have traded center fielder Colby Rasmus and relievers P.J. Walters, Brian Tallet and Trever Miller to the Toronto Blue Jays in a multi-player package including starting pitcher Edwin Jackson, relievers Octavio Dotel and Marc Rzepczynski and outfielder Corey Patterson.

There you have it. Fear realized. Your favorite team just traded a promising 24-year-old outfielder who was under team control through 2014 in a deal centered around Edwin Jackson, a talented pitcher who will be a free agent at the end of the season.

As I wrote Saturday, it’s not that I opposed trading Colby Rasmus. It’s just that I hoped Mozeliak would resist organizational pressure to pull the trigger on a deal unless he secured cost-controlled talent in return. It’s fair to wonder if whatever leverage Mo had in negotiations involving Rasmus was negated by LaRussa’s criticism of Colby last night. On the other hand, it’s likely that the parameters of the trade were already in place, and TLR’s knowledge of the impending trade influenced his decision to publicly air frustrations about Colby.

Either way, LaRussa’s organizational influence has become increasingly apparent in recent years. And we’re left with another transaction fueled by player personality and intangibles rather than raw talent. That’s how we ended up with Ryan Theriot booting balls all over the infield. Meanwhile, Brendan Ryan has outperformed Theriot offensively and defensively, and this decision has cost the Cardinals more than 2 WAR to date.

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