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.

When I started writing this post, the season hadn’t quite ended so it might seem a little out of place but I had already set the foundation so here’s a belated entry in which I lament the Rockies inability to reach the post-season despite an incredible performance by their SS. After that, we’ll turn our attention towards 2011 and John Mozeliak’s ambitious checklist.

2010 Ends Fittingly
When it became clear that the Cardinals truly had went “poopy in their pants,” as Jack Clark so eloquently put it, I started rooting for the patented late-season Rockies surge. Troy Tulowitzki appeared to be on a mission in September when he accumulated 40 RBIs and 15 HRs. Don’t like counting stats? Me neither. That’s good for a ridiculous .492 wOBA (twenty-six points better than the second place guy who also happens to play for the Rockies; Carlos Gonzalez). Tulo hit 14 HRs between 9/3 and 9/18; according to Hit Tracker, all but two of them would have left a majority of MLB parks and none were considered lucky. He also plays a premiere defensive position well (6.1 UZR/150 on season) and features a mullet that he’s promised to keep growing as long as fans continue donating money to charity. Other than my soul, what wouldn’t I be willing to trade for Troy Tulowitzki?

The Phillies were the only NL team that had a better cumulative wOBA for September as a whole but the Rockies offense faded in the second half of the month with a .306 wOBA in the past fourteen days. Don’t blame Troy; he stayed strong with a .396 wOBA. The Rockies pitching simply couldn’t match the crazy awesome Giants staff that posted a 2.75 Team FIP and 4.03 K/BB. The Rockies ended the season having lost thirteen of their last fourteen games. It was kind of fitting then, that the Cardinals and Rockies were left to face off in the season’s final week to see who ended 2010 with the dirtier trousers. Unfortunately for the Rockies, they had an above .500 record which meant that the Cardinals would inevitably win the series.
Mozeliak’s 2011 Checklist
Looking toward 2011, John Mozeliak provided a check list of sorts in Bernie’s not-so-recent column:

  1. “…a couple of guys who can hit 15 to 20 homers.”
  2. A number two catcher who can provide more offense.
  3. Cleaning up middle-infield defense.
  4. Improving overall poor base running.

Let’s break down each bulleted point and compare the Cardinals’ top offensive performers against all postseason teams (Phillies, Giants, Reds, and Braves) within the parameters established by Mozeliak (at least 15 HRs).

2010 Postseason Teams Vs. Cardinals
Player HR wOBA
Giants
Huff 26 .388
Uribe 24 .322
Posey 18 .368
Burrell 18 .371
Torres 16 .363
Reds
Votto 37 .439
Rolen 20 .367
Bruce 25 .363
Stubbs 22 .345
Phillips 18 .332
Gomes 18 .330
Phillies
Howard 31 .367
Werth 27 .397
Victorino 18 .339
Utley 16 .373
Ibanez 16 .341
Braves
McCann 21 .361
Heyward 18 .376
Glaus 16 .331
Prado 15 .352
Cardinals
Pujols 42 .420
Holliday 28 .396
Rasmus 23 .366

Yes, I’m aware how ugly that table looks compared to the width of the page. Turns out all of the division winners had at least five such players (Reds have six) while the Cardinals only had three (Pujols, Holliday, and Rasmus). Although that sounds like a significant difference, when you consider numbers that encapsulate a more complete offensive picture, only the Giants(!) had more players with at least .360 wOBAs. Maybe the Cardinals don’t have as large of an offensive chasm to fill after all. With that said, there are already Rasmus trade rumors swirling and we haven’t even made it out of October yet. Yikes. Let’s hope that the Cardinals resist the urge to placate a manager only willing to go year-to-year and look beyond HR totals when signing/acquiring new players this hot stove season. Beware of guys like Uribe who, despite hitting at least 15 HRs since 2004 (exception of 2008), has only managed to post above average wOBAs twice.

Next on the list is a back-up catcher who can provide more offense. Of course, this is not the type of player that will make or break a team’s competitiveness but it would be nice to have someone capable of posting an OPS+ of at least 75. That’s something the Cardinals haven’t had since, well, Yadier Molina in 2004. Speaking of Yadi, Brian McCann is the only NL catcher that has logged more innings behind the plate in the past three years. At just 28-years-old, we’re starting to see the physical repercussions of such a demanding work load. Maybe the Cardinals are recognizing this as well and they’d like to give him more rest in future seasons. Despite this indication, I remain skeptical that they follow through with pursuit of an offensive minded back-up catcher. Exhibit A: In Molina’s absence, Matt Pagnozzi (.586 OPS in minor league career) has been given regular playing time over Bryan Anderson (.782 OPS in minor league career). That Anderson can’t accumulate AB’s in meaningless September games despite offering this exact skill for the major league minimum price is perplexing; would it be that surprising to see him packaged in a trade this off season?

Mozeliak’s vow to shore up the middle-infield defense seems to be an indictment on Skip Schumaker. See this video for proof. Brendan Ryan doesn’t really care which defensive metric by which you judge him: 11.6 UZR/150, 15 total zone total fielding runs above average, and 27 BIS defensive runs saved above average. Boog’s glove appears to have bought him at least one more season to put things together offensively. The effort and professionalism with which Skip tried to convert to 2B from the OF was much undoubtedly won him points in the clubhouse and made him a fan favorite but the Cardinals appear ready to abandon the experiment. And that seems like the right move. According to UZR, Skip’s defense was actually worse in 2010 (-17.7 UZR/150 in 2010; -8.5 UZR/150 in 2009). Combine that with an unfortunate offensive season (.299 wOBA) and he’s essentially become a replacement level player (-0.2 WAR).

Last on Mo’s agenda is to improve the team’s value on the base paths. According to Baseball Prospectus, however, the Cardinals were in the top third of the league, ranking 9th in equivalent base running runs (EqBRR). Of the top eight teams, only three made the playoffs. In fact, the league overall seems to be pretty bad at adding runs via base running. Only the top ten teams had positive EqBRR and the Cardinals were one of them. Fungoes has more on this topic here. Not that they couldn’t improve in this area, but base running doesn’t appear to be one of the team’s greatest needs.

The positive? John Mozeliak appears to know his team well. I wouldn’t argue with his assessment of team needs. If the Cardinals were able to improve in these four areas, we’d likely have a better team to root for in 2011.

The negative? I’m not convinced that he understands how to make these improvements. In Derrick Goold’s “Thrills and Spills” article, Mozeliak is quoted as desiring, “a more experienced presence,” on next year’s bench and roster. In 2010, the Cardinals added experience to the roster in the form of Aaron Miles, Randy Winn, Jeff Suppan, and Pedro Feliz. These players “helped” the club in the form of the following WARs: 0.0, -0.2, 0.1, and -0.5 (respectively). Maybe triple-A guys like Tyler Greene and Allen Craig wouldn’t have helped much more offensively, but they certainly had the upside that warranted giving them an extended chance. And now the Cardinals will go into 2011 with these guys still needing to wet their feet in the big leagues. 2010 was a wasted opportunity to learn more about guys that the Cardinals need to contribute in the future. The Cardinals don’t need experienced, seasoned, or veteran players. They just need more talent… and their failure to utilize that talent in 2010 even when freely available was (and is) disconcerting.

I’m not sure why Mo would agree to chat with the nuts that hang out at stltoday.com given the general mood over there, but hilarity ensued. 

I Hate Bill Dewitt!!: Mo, Please describe what it’s like living in your little land of make believe where you honestly believe that Cardinal fans should be excited about this team. If you wouldn’t mind, go into details, about how in MO’s world people are celebrating are three horrible new lefty relievers, and the signing of our awesome new .213 hitting shortstop.

John Mozeliak: First of all, I would rather would live in my world then yours…it is sunny out today??? No, you’re right it is 30 something degrees, my girlfriend dumped me, and my car won’t start. It is not as if we stink (unless you ask yourself these questions in the mirror) and we make decisions based on scouts, stats, and other information. If we thought Greene was going to hit .213 we would not, I repeat, not make the deal. Go back to your world and I hope by mid summer you’re ready to come out for air.

I LOVE it!

This cartoon sums it up well. What ever happened to being the The Best Fans in Baseball(TM)? Right now, the dumbest fans are squawking so loudly that it is drowning the rest of us out.

© 2011 Gas House Graphs Suffusion theme by Sayontan Sinha