Riding The Pine

The Cardinals pitching hasn’t been quite as strong as it was last year, and there are more than a few reasons why. One thing I noticed was the middle innings were most troublesome for the team.

I started by looking at the ERA per inning:
2016 ERA Inning

The middle innings are pretty hard for the team, which makes a lot of sense. Think of it this way – you split the game into thirds.

Innings 1-3, a pitcher will be facing the lineup for the first time in a good start; most starts, the 3rd inning is where guys will start to cycle through a second time. In the first third of a game, the ERA is 3.63.

Innings 4-6, the pitcher will be through the lineup for the second to third times. Hitters are a little more familiar with what a pitchers is throwing; they are more likely to get hits after seeing more pitches. The Cardinals ERA jumps to 5.97 in the middle third of a game.

Innings 7-9 have pretty much been the bullpen this season, and they’ve generally been pretty good. You’ll get fresh arms that hitters haven’t seen as frequently. The final third of the game has the Cardinal ERA at 2.12.

How bad has it been for the middle innings? The Cardinals have had 4 games where the starter went into the 7th inning, and only 1 where the pitcher went past the 7th.

With a majority of the starters leaving the game in the 6th, that just happens to be the worst inning for the Cardinals; their ERA is 5.84. What’s worse is the bullpen; their ERA is 12.14 in the 6th.

Now these are small sample sizes, but it shows the trend of the issues with the Cardinals starters this season. It’s even moer worrisome when you compare it to 2015:
2016 vs 2015 ERA Inning

Outside of the first inning, the pitching was pretty consistent last season; it’s not the case so far this year. Part of this is the loss of John Lackey and Lance Lynn; the other part is the early ineffectiveness of Adam Wainwright (which I’m going to dig into soon).

Tomorrow, I’ll look at the offense each inning.

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The system goes 4-1 on the day, with the big league club completing a sweep of the Braves. That was a big series after being swept by the Pirates. Outside of Memphis, it was wins across the system.

Cardinals 12, Braves 7
Hitter Pos AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB/ATT BB Avg
Aledmys Diaz SS 1 1 1 1 0 0 2 0/0 0 0.500
Greg Garcia SS/3B 2 2 1 0 0 0 1 0/0 3 0.600
Jeremy Hazelbaker CF/LF 5 1 2 0 0 0 1 1/1 1 0.400
Pitcher W L Sv IP H R ER BB K ERA
Seung-Hwan Oh 1 0 0 1.0 0 0 0 0 2 0.00
Colorado Springs 6, Memphis 4
Hitter Pos AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB/ATT BB Avg
Mike Ohlman C 4 0 0 0 0 0 0 0/0 0 0.167
Charlie Tilson CF 2 0 0 0 0 0 1 0/0 2 0.111
Jacob Wilson 3B 2 1 1 0 0 0 0 0/0 0 0.462
Pitcher W L Sv IP H R ER BB K ERA
Thomas Lee 0 1 0 5.0 12 5 4 2 1 7.20
Springfield 6, Corpus Christi 4
Hitter Pos AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB/ATT BB Avg
Harrison Bader CF 5 0 2 0 0 0 2 1/1 0 0.474
Paul DeJong 3B 4 1 1 0 0 0 0 0/0 1 0.235
Carson Kelly C 4 1 1 0 0 1 1 0/0 0 0.167
C.J. McElroy LF 4 1 2 1 0 0 1 1/1 0 0.364
Pitcher W L Sv IP H R ER BB K ERA
Andrew Morales 1 0 0 5.0 3 3 3 2 4 5.40
Palm Beach 4, Charlotte 1
Hitter Pos AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB/ATT BB Avg
Danny Diekroeger 1B 5 0 1 0 0 0 1 0/0 0 0.235
Oscar Mercado PR/SS 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 1/1 0 0.167
Pitcher W L Sv IP H R ER BB K ERA
Jacob Evans 1 0 0 7.0 6 1 1 0 4 1.29
Burlington 3, Peoria 4
Hitter Pos AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB/ATT BB Avg
Magneuris Sierra CF 4 0 0 0 0 0 0 0/0 0 0.182
Edmundo Sosa SS 4 1 1 1 0 0 0 0/0 0 0.083
Pitcher W L Sv IP H R ER BB K ERA
Ryan Helsley 0 0 0 5.2 2 3 0 3 2 0.00

Normally, I wouldn’t include players like Hazelbaker (age) or Oh (experience) on a report like this; neither really qualify as prospects in my book. The results they’ve show in the small sample size of the season has made them hard to ignore. Hazelbaker has pushed Randal Grichuk to the bench, while Oh has struck out over half the batters he’s faced. Both are interesting stories if they can keep up their production later into the season.

Marco Gonzales is received a second opinion on his ailing elbow and is planning his next step; the lefty met with surgeon Neal ElAttrache last week. While it’s not known what surgery he’ll need, the most common is Tommy John. If that’s the worst case scenario, Gonzales won’t be pitching for 12-18 months.

2015 Memphis Redbird Dan Johnson has signed on with the Bridgeport Bluefish of the Atlantic League. He’ll play first base and pitch for the team. Johnson was cut by the Rays in Spring Training as a pitcher; he was working on his knuckleball for the team. Looks like he’ll continue to work on it.

The Indians have traded former Cardinal farm-hand James Ramsey to the Dodgers (along with Zach Walter) for cash considerations; Ramsey was designated for assignment last week. The former first round pick was traded to the Indians in 2014 for Justin Masterson.

Finally, Baseball America breaks down Sandy Alcantara‘s first start for Peoria; his fastball sat between 94-95, but he said he was holding back due to cold weather.

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Nothing from the big league club, as they try to shake off their 0-3 start. The minor leagues started yesterday, and the system went 2-2. There were some strong pitching performances at the bottom 3 levels.

Colorado Springs 4, Memphis 3
Hitter Pos AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB/ATT BB Avg
Anthony Garcia LF 3 1 1 1 0 0 0 0/0 0 0.333
Mike Ohlman C 4 0 1 0 0 0 0 0/0 0 0.250
Charlie Tilson CF 4 0 0 0 0 0 0 0/0 0 0.000
Jacob Wilson 3B 3 1 2 1 0 0 0 0/0 1 0.667
Pitcher W L Sv IP H R ER BB K ERA
Sam Tuivailala 0 1 0 1.0 1 1 1 1 2 9.00
Springfield 3, San Antonio 1
Hitter Pos AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB/ATT BB Avg
Harrison Bader CF 4 1 2 1 0 0 0 0/0 0 0.500
Paul DeJong 3B 4 0 1 1 0 0 0 0/0 0 0.250
Carson Kelly C 4 0 0 0 0 0 0 0/0 0 0.000
Pitcher W L Sv IP H R ER BB K ERA
Mike Mayers 1 0 0 7.0 3 0 0 0 5 0.00
Charlotte 3, Palm Beach 5
Hitter Pos AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB/ATT BB Avg
Oscar Mercado SS 4 1 2 0 0 0 2 0/1 0 0.500
Pitcher W L Sv IP H R ER BB K ERA
Jack Flaherty 0 0 0 5.0 6 2 2 1 6 3.60
Peoria 2, Burlington 3
Hitter Pos AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB/ATT BB Avg
Magneuris Sierra CF 4 0 0 0 0 0 0 0/0 0 0.000
Edmundo Sosa SS 5 0 0 0 0 0 0 0/0 0 0.000
Pitcher W L Sv IP H R ER BB K ERA
Jake Woodford 0 0 0 6.0 2 2 2 2 2 3.00

MLB.com reviews their top 30 list and states where each player is starting. I have my top 50 prospect list ready, which I’ll release next week.

The Cardinals also traded minor leaguer Jayson Aquino to the Orioles for cash; the waiver claim was designed for assignment after spring training and really didn’t have a future with the team. It’s no loss to the system.

In former Cardinal news, relievers Eric Fornataro, Nick Greenwood, and David Carpenter have all latched on with the independent Atlantic League; Fornataro and Greenwood have signed with the New Britain Bees while Carpenter has signed with the Bridgeport Bluefish. All 3 are hoping that a strong start will get them back in affiliated ball.

Eugene is also a writer and podcaster for Nyrdcast, where he talks pop culture; you can also find him on Twitter or email him here.

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Now that we are 2 days into the season, let’s look at some former Cardinals and see where they are. First are a list of all former Cardinals and farmhands that made MLB rosters.

Updated 4/06/2016: Sam Freeman was traded from the Rangers to the Brewers.

Arizona: Shelby Miller, RHP; David Peralta, OF.
Boston: Joe Kelly, RHP.
Chicago (N): Jason Heyward, OF; John Lackey, RHP.
Colorado: Dan Descalso, 2B; Jason Motte, RHP; Adam Ottavino, RHP; Mark Reynolds, 1B.
Houston: Luke Gregerson, RHP; Pat Neshek, RHP; Colby Rasmus, OF.
Los Angeles (A): Albert Pujols, 1B; Fernando Salas, RHP.
Miami: Edwin Jackson, RHP; Chris Narveson, LHP.
Milwaukee: Michael Blazek, RHP; Blaine Boyer, RHP; Sam Freeman, LHP; Colin Walsh, 2B.
New York (A): Carlos Beltran, OF.
Oakland: John Axford, RHP; Coco Crisp, OF; Rich Hill, LHP; Marc Rzepczynski, LHP.
Philadelphia: Peter Bourjos, OF.
Pittsburgh: David Freese, 3B.
San Diego: Jonathan Edwards, RHP; Jon Jay, OF; Luis Perdomo, RHP; Carlos Villanueva, RHP; Brett Wallace, 1B.
Seattle: Steve Cishek, RHP.
Tampa Bay: Dana Eveland, LHP.
Washington: Matt Belisle, RHP.

Now here are some players that didn’t make Major League rosters or have been cut out of spring training.

Kyle Barraclough, RHP – Barraclough was the minor leaguer the Cardinals traded for Cishek. He’s on the Marlins 40-man roster, but was optioned to Triple A.

Gary Brown, OF – Brown was at Memphis for about a week to start last season; when he was designated for assignment by the Cardinals last season, the Angels claimed him off waivers. He was released by Angels at the end of camp this year.

Joey Butler, OF – Butler saw a little action with the Cardinals a few years ago before heading to Japan. When he came back to the states in 2015, he looked like a breakout candidate for the Rays. After the season, he was non-tenderd and signed by the Indians. At the end of camp, he was optioned to Triple A.

Juan Caballero, RHP – Caballero was a minor league Rule V draftee by the Marlins this past December, but was released from their system at the end of camp.

Maikel Cleto, RHP – Remember Cleto? He was the guy we got for Brendan Ryan, big pitcher, threw hard? He’s spent the last couple of seasons bouncing between the Majors and Triple A for the White Sox. He was released at the end of spring training, as his tenure with the Sox was overall pretty uneventful.

David Carpenter, RHP – The Cardinals traded Carpenter a few years ago for Pedro Feliz (another blast from the past). Carpenter saw times with a few different teams before this spring. He started spring training by being released by Braves; he then signed with the Rays and was released again at the end of camp.

Randy Choate, LHP – The Cardinal’s LOOGY for the last 3 years didn’t have an active off-season; he ended up signing a minor league deal with the Blue Jays during camp, trying to latch on to their bullpen. He didn’t make it and was released at the end of camp.

Nick Greenwood, LHP – The last evidence of the Cardinal’s side of the Ludwick/Westbrook trade left after the off-season to sign with the Cubs; he was released before the end of camp.

Tyrell Jenkins, RHP – Jenkins, the Braves’ Minor League Pitcher of the Year, was invited to camp and didn’t look too bad for the team; they didn’t have a rotation spot for him yet, so he was sent to AAA.

Dan Johnson, RHP – Johnson saw a brief callup with the Cardinals last season, but spent most of the season manning first base for Memphis. He signed in the off-season with the Rays as a knuckleball pitcher; he didn’t make the team and ended up being released at the end of camp.

Dixon Llorens, RHP – Llorens, a low minors reliever, was released by Cards a few weeks ago; he was depth and was passed over by others in the system. He ended up catching on with the Angels, who don’t have a deep system and could use the depth.

Scott McGregor, RHP – McGregor topped out at Memphis before being released by the Cardinals; he was able to latch on with the Nationals, where he pitched for their Triple A team. He was released at the end of spring training.

Edward Mujica, RHP – Mujica was a good reliever for the Cardinals, but struggled since he left; his Boston stint wasn’t pretty good and his time in Oakland was unremarkable. This off-season, he signed a minor league deal with the Phillies, but didn’t make the team out of camp; he was subsentquently released and re-signed to a minor league deal with the team.

Mike O’Neill, OF – O’Neill was once on the Cardinals’ 40-man roster and looked like a potential OBP machine in the making. O’Neill ended up getting DFAed by the team and was available in the minor league phase of Rule V this past winter; he was selected in the AAA phase by the Cubs. They released him last week, as they have plenty of outfield depth in their system.

Jhonny Polanco, RHP – Polanco is similar to O’Neill; he was selected in the minor league Rule V by Boston, but was released at the end of spring training.

James Ramsey, OF – Ramsey was a polarizing figure a few years ago; he was traded to the Indians for Justin Masterson. That trade was pretty much a bust for the Cardinals (outside of Masterson teaching Shelby Miller a sinker). Ramsey has seen a lot of Triple A time since the trade; 2016 is starting the same with with him being sent there again; he was designated for assignment earlier this week and could be joining another team soon.

Adam Reifer, RHP – Reifer was a hard throwing prospect that couldn’t harness his stuff. He’s bounced around a little bit, but signed a minor league deal with the Rays this winter. Rather than hanging on to him as depth, the Rays released him at the end of camp.

Shane Robinson, OF – After surprising everyone by making the Twins last season as a minor league free agent/non-roster invitee, Sugar Shane couldn’t pull a repeat with Cleveland; the Indians released him towards the end of spring training. Unlike most listed here, Robinson was quickly signed to a minor league deal by the Angels.

Skip Schumaker, OF – The former fan-favorite ended his stint in Cincinnati last season and signed on with the Padres to a minor league deal. It didn’t look like he was going to make the club, so Schumaker announced his retirement.

Last week, the Cardinals released the following players:
Alex DeLeon, 1B; Ronnierd Garcia, 3B; Derek Gibson, OF; Jake Gronsky, 2B; Nick Lomascolo, LHP; Kenny Peoples-Walls, OF.

2 weeks ago, the Cardinals released the following players:
Kevin Alexander, RHP; Dixon Llorens, RHP; Lee Stoppelman, LHP; Bret Wiley, 2B.

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One thing that many baseball fans don’t ever think about is the payroll; sure, you’ll hear people talk about how the Yankees throw money at star players, or how the A’s don’t spend money, but you don’t always see the day to day impacts of signings.

Below is the Cardinals Salary Matrix, which includes all upcoming payroll for the 40-man roster; this shows all the guaranteed money (i.e. buyouts), with options listed at the bottom.
Cardinal Salary Matrix

Notes about options:

Other notes:

  • The Padres sent $7.5M with Jedd Gyorko.
  • Oh’s contract has some unknown verbage; he agreed to a $5M contract, but it was reported the base was $2.5M for 2016. There was no word on the option. He does have incentives to raise the total value to $11M.

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The big league club got roughed up by the National yesterday; Adam Wainwright and Seth Maness gave up 7 of the Nationals’ 8 runs in the first 5 innings. The rest of the system faced the Marlins’ system and took 2 out of the 5 games.

Like the previous reports, I’ll list each team first with their opponent’s score second; the stats come from the Cardinals, so they don’t keep totals for players, like average for hitters and records for pitchers.

Daily Stats 03.24
**Note: Allen Cordoba is listed twice; I don’t know if this was an error or if he played in both games.**

Baseball America also had a few words about former Redbird farmhand Luis Perdomo, who was taken in the Rule V draft:

Luis Perdomo, rhp, Padres. A Rule 5 pick by the Rockies from the Cardinals and then sold to the Padres, Perdomo has struggled this spring, posting a 15.43 ERA even with Thursday’s scoreless inning. However, he’s still in the running for a spot in the Padres’ pen, and impressed manager Andy Green, especially with his newfound splitter. “I had five pitching coaches coming in raving about his split-finger, so classic cynic, I said I want to see it out on the field,” Green told the San Diego Union-Tribune. “Saw it, and it was biting hard. Saw some swings and misses. (Jake) Lamb ended up walking, but he swung at a pretty nasty split.”

It would be nice if Perdomo didn’t stick and make his way back to the system; I would think that his ERA is an indication that most teams wouldn’t keep him. The Padres aren’t most teams though and have openings in their bullpen. Since he has to stick all season, there is still a chance he gets sent back, if he were to have a couple of rough outing in the regular season.

The Cardinals face the Mets today at 12:05 CST; Michael Wacha will get the start. The AAA and AA squads will travel to Port St. Lucie to face their Met counterparts; Hi A and Lo A will face off on the backfields in Jupiter. All minor league games will start at 1:00.

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The big league club took care of the Marlins on Wednesday afternoon 4-1; Trevor Rosenthal took the win with Jonathan Broxton getting the save. The minor league squads had a camp day, with Memphis facing Springfield and Palm Beach taking on Peoria.

Like the last report, I’ll list each team first with their opponents score second; the stats come from the Cardinals, so they don’t keep totals for players, like average for hitters and records for pitchers.
Daily Stats 03.23

The big league club faces the Nationals today at 12:05 CST; Adam Wainwright will start. The minor league clubs will split into 5 teams to face the Marlins starting at 10:00 CST.

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Starting today, there should be almost daily coverage of the minor leaguers in Cardinals camp. In addition to those on the Major League roster, the minor leaguers have started playing games. I’ll list each team first with their opponents score second; the stats come from the Cardinals, so they don’t keep totals for players, like average for hitters and records for pitchers.

The big league squad attempted a late comeback that came up short, with a few prospects getting playing time. The minor league squads played against each other.

Cardinals 4, Tigers 5
Hitter Pos AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB/ATT BB Avg
Aledmys Diaz SS 2 0 0 0 0 0 1 0/0 0 0.250
Anthony Garcia PH 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0/0 0 0.235
Greg Garcia 2B 3 0 0 0 0 0 0 0/0 0 0.259
Oscar Mercado SS 0 1 0 0 0 0 0 0/0 0
Mike Ohlman C 2 0 0 0 0 0 0 0/0 0 0.300
Magneuris Sierra PR/CF 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0/0 0 0.222
Jacob Wilson 3B/2B/3B 2 0 0 0 0 0 0 0/0 0 0.261
Pitcher Wins Losses Saves IP H R ER BB K ERA
Marco Gonzales 0 1 0 1.0 3 2 2 0 0 3.52
Memphis 1, Springfield 0
Hitter Pos AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB/ATT BB Avg
Andrew Sohn SS 2 1 2 0 0 0 0 0/0 0
Pitcher Wins Losses Saves IP H R ER BB K ERA
Alex Reyes 0 0 0 3.0 2 0 0 1 3
Springfield 0, Memphis 1
Hitter Pos AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB/ATT BB Avg
Vaughn Bryan CF 2 0 1 0 0 0 0 0/0 1
Pitcher Wins Losses Saves IP H R ER BB K ERA
Mike Mayers 0 0 0 3.0 1 1 0 0 5
Palm Beach 5, Peoria 1
Hitter Pos AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB/ATT BB Avg
Allen Cordoba SS 3 0 2 1 0 0 1 0/0 1
R.J. Dennard 1B 3 0 2 0 0 0 1 0/0 0
Pitcher Wins Losses Saves IP H R ER BB K ERA
Ryan Helsley 0 0 0 2.0 1 1 0 0 1
Peoria 1, Palm Beach 5
Hitter Pos AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB/ATT BB Avg
Luis Bandes RF 2 0 1 0 0 0 0 0/0 0
Pitcher Wins Losses Saves IP H R ER BB K ERA
Estarlin Arias 0 0 0 1.0 1 0 0 0 0

The Cardinals face the Tigers again, but this time at Roger Dean Stadium in Jupiter; Adam Wainwright will start. The game starts at 12:05. The minor league teams will face those of the Marlins today on the back fields starting at 1:00.

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Baseball America has a wonderful Prospect Report each day that can be emailed directly to you; it lists what prospects did the previous days. My only issue is it isn’t team specific; you get prospects from every team.

Here is what the Cardinal kids did on Sunday:

Nationals 5, Cardinals 2
Hitter Pos AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB/ATT BB Avg
Aledmys Diaz SS 4 0 0 0 0 0 0 0/0 0 .200
Greg Garcia 3B 2 0 0 0 0 0 0 0/0 0 .000
Nick Plummer RF 1 0 0 0 0 0 1 0/1 0 .000
Jacob Wilson PH/2B 2 0 1 0 0 0 0 0/0 0 .250
Patrick Wisdom PH/DH 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0/0 0 .000
Pitcher Record Save IP H R ER BB K ERA
No Pitchers

Diaz and Garcia are fighting for that final utility spot and neither is off to a great start. I think Garcia is more ready for the position; I’m not sold on Diaz and won’t be until he gets a good, full season in Triple A.

Plummer got a surprise start on Sunday and did pretty good for his first taste of an MLB game. I’m happy to see this after the rough start to his professional career.

The Cardinals face the Mets today at 12:05 CST.

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Projecting Yadier Molina

News broke last week that Yadier Molina had another thumb surgery after the previous surgery “didn’t take” (whatever that means); he’ll miss most of spring training due to it.

My concern over the last 2 years was the heavy work load that Molina employed for the early part of his career; I believed his knees would go, but the thumb problems popped up. They were more freak injuries, but they are something that could be an issue in the future.

While thumb issues are critical while playing defense, it will also make it very difficult for him to hold the bat, which has been in decline for the last couple of years anyways.

Over the last 3 seasons, Molina slashed .291/.334/.407; when you look at it year by year, each has decreased:
Molina Slash Stats

His counting stats were a little more erratic, since he missed more games in 2014 than 2015. The two that did continually decline were his runs and homers. Runs went from 68 to 40 to 34; homers dropped from 12 to 7 to 4.

So, what can we expect for 2016? Using my projection system, I’m giving a guess.

My system incorporates the players previous 3 years along with their 10 closest comps per age (courtesy of Baseball Reference); so I took Molina’s 10 closest comps at age 32 (Molina’s 2015 season), then used their numbers from the season when they were 33. This shows how his comps have aged and could be relative to Molina’s upcoming season.

Molina’s comps for age 32, in order, were Tim McCarver, A.J. Pierzynski, Thurman Munson, Frankie Hayes, Terry Kennedy, Tony Pena, Benito Santiago, Russell Martin, Ramon Hernandez, and Jack Clements. 3 players weren’t used in the projection; Munson and Hayes didn’t play at age 33 and Martin will be 33 this upcoming season.

Here are the numbers for Molina:
Molina Projection

Here are some notes from the comps:

  • Of the 7 players, only Pierzynski (128), Kennedy (125), and Pena (143) played over 100 games; Clements was at 99. Of the 3 with over 100 games, Pierzynski and Pena had over 500 plate appearances.
  • None of the players hit for double digit homers; the highest total was 8 by Pena.
  • Only Santiago hit over .300 (.310), but that was in 29 at bats; next highest was McCarver at .288 in 80 plate appearances. These two were also the only ones to slug at or over .400.
  • Pena is the best case scenario; Santiago would probably be the worst due to only appearing in 15 games.

Molina’s bat is reverting back to his early career form, which is to be expected out of a player known for his defense on the down side of his career.  These numbers are still respectable though.  As long as he’s still good at calling games, controlling the running game, and framing pitches, he’ll still be a positive contributor to the team.

How Reliable are my Estimates?
My system is pretty basic, but how are the results. Here is what I projected Molina to do in 2015, how he actually did, and the percentage I was off by:
Molina 2015

It wasn’t the greatest projection job; my system pegged last games, but a better offensive output than we got. Part of this was Molina’s peak 2012 and 2013 seasons being the 3 year average; those seasons saw him average a slash line of .317/.366/.489 with 17 homers. With 2012 out of the mix for this year, that power number drops, along with the .501 slugging.

The best predictions were stolen bases (which is a low number and easier to project) and batting average. The worst was homers, where I more than doubled what he did.

I’ve had better projections in the past (Matt Holliday‘s 2014 almost mirrored my projection), but I’m always trying to find ways to make my system a little more accurate.

Eugene is also a writer and podcaster for Nyrdcast, where he talks pop culture; you can also find him on Twitter or email him here.

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According to Ken Rosenthal, the Cardinals are out of the Jason Heywards sweepstakes. Jon Heyman believes the Nationals have offered around $200M, but are not optimistic. It would look like the Cubs may have a new outfielder; we don’t know financial terms yet but it’s official.

This decision will allow the Cardinals to move forward with their off-season plans. With Heyward out, they could took at Justin Upton, Yoenis Cespedes, or Alex Gordon. Upton provides some power that the team is lacking, but questionable defense. Cespedes has some pop as well, and is more of an average fielder. Gordon is more like Heyward; gets on base and has plus defense.

They could also go the trade route, as Carlos Gonzalez is one of a few Rockies outfielders available. While CarGo is a solid option, he can’t stay healthy and the Rockies might be looking for a package close to what Troy Tulowitzki netted at the deadline.

If I had to pick, I’d lean towards Upton or Gordon; you’ll have Holliday off the books in the next year or 2 and one of these 2 should be able to pick up the offense going forward.

If they can go cheaper on an outfielder, that gives them more to spend on a top of the rotation pitcher.

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At the Winter Meetings, Johnny Cueto‘s agent, Bryce Dixon, acknowledged that his client would be open to going to the Cardinals. Dixon told MLB Trade Rumors:

“He’s expressed regret over it in the past. He loves pitching in the NL Central. He’s the best pitcher of our era in the NL Central. It would be a good marriage [between] Johnny and the Cardinals. I think once the fans got past the fight and they saw what a gamer Johnny is and what he could bring to the team, I think they would be able to embrace him now, though I don’t think that they’ll do that overnight.”

While I don’t agree that Cueto was the best pitcher in our era in the Central (c’mon, Wainwright), I do believe he’s a good fit with the team.

Cueto is 96-70 for his career in the Majors, with a 3.53 ERA and 3.77 FIP. He’s been worth 22.8 wins. He owns a 7.42 K/9, 2.27 BB/9, and 0.92 HR/9 while generating ground balls 44.9% of the time. While the K/9 is a little low for an ace, his home run numbers are intriguing. A majority of him games were played in Great American Ballpark; if you look at the park factors for his career there, you’ll see it’s generally more of a hitters park.
Great American Ballpark

The 5 year average for homers is 1.332, which is very favorable to hitters. Move Cueto to a park like Busch, which averaged 0.870 over the same span. Fewer flyballs would fly out of Busch than Great American Ballpark.

That 2.60 BB/9 could also conceivably decrease since Busch has a 5 year average of 0.974.

If people are worried about his move to Kansas City, there are multiple reasons why he struggled. Pitching coach Dave Eiland noticed Cueto was opening his front shoulder while pitching; something changed in his mechanics after the trade. After Eiland point this our, Cueto had 2 more bad starts, then 4 good starts to finish the regular season. He then has 2 good, 1 OK, and 1 bad start in the post-season.

Then you could look at the numbers. His batting average on balls in play shot up; it was .234 with Cincinnati, then .343 after the trade. There are 2 things in this.

First off, his defense failed him. It’s hard to use this as the reason though. When you look at the basic fielding stats, the Reds and Royals had the same fielding percentage for the season (the Reds had 2 additional errors in 17 more chances). If you go into the advanced stats, the Royals have a better UZR (50.9 to -9.0), Defensive WAR (56.9 to -18.0), and Double Play Runs (46.0 to -10.0); in fact, the Royals led baseball in all 3 (for more on UZR, check out Fangraphs.

Secondly, his stuff wasn’t as sharp as previously in the season. Christina Kahrl noted that he wasn’t getting as much spin on his slider and changed the amount he was using his pitches. Some of this is tied to the mechanical issue Eiland found.

The main hangup people will have will be “the kick”. Cueto will always be remembered as the guy that ended Jason LaRue‘s career. The whole affair was ugly and Cueto has said that he regretted his actions.

It’s time for people to move on. LaRue was a backup catcher who had been with the team for 3 years; people act like Cueto did it to Stan the Man. I’m not defending the man; in fact, violence like that has no place in the game. But it happened; not only that, but it’s been 5 years since it happened. If fans want a winning team, they’ll be willing to forgive him and move on.

Another plus to signing Cueto is he’ll cost less than David Price would have; Cueto already rejected a 6 year, $120M deal from the Diamondbacks. At the time of the offer, no pitchers had signed and Cueto and his agent correctly judged the market. Now he could probably get closer to 6 years, $150-180M. That’s still less than the 7 years, $195M the Cardinals offered Price and allows the Cardinals to pay a little more for a bat.

Cueto would cost more than most of the other options out there; if the team wanted to spend more on a bat, they could focus on Mike Leake or Doug Fister. They could go the innings eating route and sign Mark Buehrle. But the best option for the team is Cueto.

Eugene is also a writer and podcaster for Nyrdcast, where he talks pop culture; you can also find him on Twitter or email him here.

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