What Do You Do With Struggling Talent?

The great thing about twitter is that it can freelance as an open bar for writers needing help breaking down a topic. Every once in a while, I head there, toss out a topic with heavy artillery attached to it in the open waters and wait for a few bites. When trusted scribes like Corey Rudd(@CoreyRudd), Cole Claybourn(HighSock_Sunday), Art Lippo(@ArtLippo), John Nagel(@CardinalsFarm) and Matt Whitener(@CheapSeatFan) come to the table with ideas, I am in good company.

If they don’t answer, I sit down at the kitchen table and break down the issue with my 2 year old Vincent. As any dad would attest, that fight doesn’t get far unless you are stocked with treats. So let’s cover some ground here without hurting anyone’s feelings.

The Cards completed the first half of the season in thrilling fashion. It’s isn’t a Rogues in Red season if your blood pressure is steady from July through October. In their last four games, the Cards completed their best comeback all season, blew out the opposing team and got blown out twice themselves. This is where the real fans commit or they hop off the bandwagon that includes 11 World Championships and safe passages towards the 2015 season. The 2014 season is up for grabs and the National League Central is finally living up to its calling. After spending the first few months in average play doomed hibernation, The Cincinnati Reds and Pittsburgh Pirates are back in the game and hunting the Cards and Milwaukee Brewers. The Cards are only 1 game out after losing Sunday’s finale because the Brewers decided to lose 6 in a row. The four team race will launch the second half of the season when it resumes July 18th.

While the Cards did take pivotal series wins from the Pirates and Brewers in the final week to back their loyal fanbase away from the edge of the bridge, there are still issues in Cardinal Nation. When are there not? Lingering roster casualties. Struggling young talent. Tiresome decisions. In order for this team to fly high in the second half, certain moves need to be made. Now, anyone can sit here and demand the outright departure of Daniel Descalso and Shane Robinson. Descalso doesn’t deserve pinch hit appearances but manages to sneak into the lineup via Mike Matheny covert affairs every week or so. Robinson is barely heard from these days, and is often seen engaging Peter Bourjos in high stakes scrappy guy chess. Those are moot points. What else can be done? There are two guys are come to my mind and those players are Shelby Miller and Allen Craig.

What do you do with Shelby Miller?

After starting the season 6-2 and pitching very well, Miller has gone 1-6 with a 5.65 ERA since May 23rd. He has 33 strikeouts and 25 walks in that time and surrenderedWashington Nationals v St. Louis Cardinals 62 hits in 57.1 innings. He’s 23 years old and a young talented pitcher, so some might say leave him in the rotation and keep handing him the ball. That would be great if this were San Diego. Miller has been struggling since the latter stages of 2013. His swing and miss rate plummeted after July last season and hitters started figuring out a pretty juicy idea. Miller has one great pitch and a couple of others he doesn’t trust much. When in doubt or need, Miller will throw his sneaky fast four seam fastball. If he can’t spot that, the wheels come off and hitters destroy him.

He pitched decently towards the end of 2013, got left off the playoff rotation and came into 2014 with fresh wheels. After 8-9 starts, the hitters reached the same conclusion. Like a computer taking time to load up before it can be properly used, hitters now have adjusted to Shelby again. What does he do in return?How does he adjust?  Young pitchers are the most complex athletes in sports to figure out.  Should he figure out his troubles here or take a break and catch a few starts in Memphis? If he is so young, why would Memphis be such a bad idea? He can work on his secondary pitches there and not feel like he is holding a stick of dynamite. He can throw the changeup and curveball more and see if they improve.

The team can handle his departure too. With the three off days in the second half of July, the Cards can work with a four man rotation or call up Tim Cooney to see what the young lefthander has got. If Mozeliak wants to call up Marco Gonzales from AA ball, it should be fine to see what Cooney has to offer. The team could just go with four arms until early August or Mozeliak could look into a trade possibility if the innings limitations of Joe Kelly and Carlos Martinez worry him. As long as Lance Lynn and Adam Wainwright are eating innings in their starts, a Miller road trip shouldn’t be harmful.

I am not casting Miller out when I say this. A lot of responses from my social media gathering made it look like I was pushing Miller out the door. Quite the opposite when you look at it. Shelby has the talent to eventually become a top of the rotation arm and shouldn’t be toyed with. Miller needs a different place to work on his pitching arsenal and not see things blow up in his face. This isn’t a rough 2-3 start stretch. This is six bad starts in a row for the young righthander. A trip to Memphis may just help him.  There’s that.

Allen Craig Struggles

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Craig’s case is a lot more complex and where I needed some clarity from Art, Matt and Corey. It would be unwise to simply give up on Craig and trade him for loose change. He was very productive for 2 seasons and that can’t be shoved to the side when one looks at his 2014 struggles. Craig isn’t right and hasn’t been since the last part of May. You don’t sell a luxury car once it starts to act up. You take it to the shop. Driving it more doesn’t help much either.

Matheny keeps running Craig out there and my noble stand to keep him in in the lineup isn’t working. The Cards need to free Allen Craig in a different way and that should come from placing him on the disabled list(thanks for the tip here, Jared at @McGeeTriples). Craig’s swing is a wreck and that could be from adjusting it to take the pain away from a foot that still hasn’t healed. When have you seen Craig consistently drive the ball well in 2014? He has 7 home runs and 43 RBI, but nearly half those RBI came in May when Craig hit .291. Sure, home runs aren’t Craig’s game but his overall production has been dwindling. He has 1 HR and 5 RBI since June 18th. Does this sound like a man who is in a slump or someone who isn’t healthy?

Baseball is hard and players are tough. They don’t want to sit out. Craig could be battling through a down year or he could be hurt. Lippo suggested adding onto my twitter question this morning. I asked, “When have you seen Allen Craig drive the ball consistently in 2014?” Art added this bit to the end of the sentence…”to right field.” When has Craig solidly bashed the ball to right field like he did for 2 straight years? Something is wrong down there and Craig won’t say it so the team must. Take this All Star Break to look over Craig’s foot and get him checked out. If he checks out clean, think about putting him on the DL anyway. You can’t tell me teams don’t do that to give players mental breaks so spare me the ethics chat.

Allen Craig was so money for 3 straight years(200 at bats, 11 HR, 40 RBI in 2011) and suddenly, he has lost it. Is he David Freese 2.0 and relegated to a lesser player because teams figured him out finally? Or is the foot that took him out of the 2013 season barking again? I don’t think pitchers solve hitters suddenly so the best possible theory is Craig is hurt and needs the disabled list more than people want to admit. In his his last 10 games, Craig is 5-37 with three times the amount of strikeouts(9) as RBI(3). He needs a rest.

This isn’t banishing Craig or casting him out. It’s helping him. Like Miller, Craig needs to get right because the Cards depend on his bat to make their lineup click. Miller needs to get right so the bottom of the rotation doesn’t fall out and Mozeliak doesn’t reach out for a guy like Jake Peavy. Both these guys are vital to the success and to keep marching them out there hoping for better results isn’t smart managing.

Sure, Allen Craig could go out there and maybe start to hit. Shelby Miller might suddenly refine his curveball in a bullpen session and start shutting teams down. I doubt it. They need new plans.

As the unofficial team doctor, I prescribe 2 weeks of minor league hitting for Shelby Miller to refine his secondary pitches and figure out the issues he is encountering on the mound. I prescribe Allen Craig a medical exam and 15 day stint on the disabled list. Bring up Tommy Pham, Stephen Piscotty, or James Ramsey. Randal Grichuk could work as well. Just get Craig the rest.

Have a good break Cardinals fans. Take the 4-5 days to get away from baseball maybe. Going outside may help or a good run could suffice.

I will more than likely stay right here in my office, pounding away at a keyboard that doesn’t like me this summer in order to come to some greater meaning with this team.

Have a great week and follow me on Twitter, @buffa82.

  • Jeff Moews

    I totally agree miller need to go to the minor, but for two reasons one to try and fix is problem on the mound and second for a kick in the ass. sometimes he needs that. a couple of years ago when he was messing up down in the minors and the team suspended him for a couple of games he came back strong and better. And Craig i dont know what is wrong there but i hear alot on the broadcast on tv that he dont look right on that foot.And time off would give Oscar playing time to get used to major league pitching.

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