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Guest post: Rich Williams on what happened to the 2010 St. Louis Cardinals

This post is penned by friend and die-hard Cardinals fan Rich Williams.  When asked by us Cub fans over email what happened to St Louis this year, Rich wrote this very thoughtful and analytical piece on the Cardinals.  What went right, what went wrong and the look to the future. 

I asked his permission if I could re-post it here and he graciously yes.  Thanks, Rich!

-tbz

 

After watching Halladay pitch a no-hitter in his first ever post-season appearance, Texas pound the Rays, and the Yankees continued Torment of the Twins, I think we can all agree that both STL and the Cubs (maybe a little more with the Cubs) have a longgggggggggggg way to go.   My pleasure will become in watch Dusty make stupid pitching choices on the way to a 3-and-out.

So, I can’t let Alex’s questions go by without some insights. I have to admit, this is the most complex Cardinal season I have ever tried to dissect.  I think there are a few problems I can immediately identify:

1. LOW OBP by leadoff batters caused overall run totals to sag.  Felipe Lopez was not the answer offensively or defensively to Schumaker sagging to his career means in both areas. Ditto Aaron Miles, although his BA was inexplicably decent for a part time player.

2. Inconsistent performance by 3-4 hitters in RISP situations.  I don’t believe there is such a thing as a clutch hitter (ala Bill James), so the only explanation I can offer is both were pressing and expanding their strike zones because ……

3. Very LOW OPS in 5/6/7 slots after Freese went down, Rasmus went down, Ludwick was hurt then was traded, Allen Craig could not hit MLB pitching, etc.  Molina struggled offensively all year and finally broke down when Larue got his head kicked in by Cueto.

4. Lack of depth, period for third base (feliz????) both at bat and on the field.

5. Not getting Jake Westbrook enough innings after spending so much to get him

6. Bad chemistry in the club house with enough blame to go around.  Felipe became the scapegoat, but the problems between the players and Tony eventually extended to Albert, Holliday and Carpenter.  Losing Ludwick was a major contributor to negative clubhouse atmosphere just when they needed it most.

7. A curious inability to beat tail-ender teams like the Cubs while piling up an impressive record against above-.500 and contending teams.

8. Below average defensive performance compared to previous years in general, particularly against lesser teams.

 

Summary:

The Cardinals season got decided in the six weeks following the sweep of the Reds immediately after the All-Star Break.  All the problems above seemed to descend in a vengeance. Problems in finding a 4th and 5th starter (Lohse and Suppan) aggravated these issues by consistently putting a team behind 4-5 runs early when they could not score.   This in turn burned down what had been one of the most effective bullpens in the NL culminating the outrageous game in Denver where the Rockies came back in the bottom of the 9th trailing 9-3 to win 12-9 on a walk-off 3-run homer.   September found them so far behind and still struggling to score runs that even the Cincy mini-collapse only narrowed the ending gap to 5 games. Getting swept by Cubs (who finished 11 games in back of them) in STL was pretty much the end of the line.

 

2011 Needs:

1. A lead-off hitter that improves on these stats:

BA (rank) … OBP (rank) … SLG (rank)

245 (12th) … .309 (13th) … .350 (13th)

2. An everyday 2nd baseman with league average OPS at least.  (Trade)

3. An everyday third basement with league average OPS at least. (Freese, Descalso, Greene are likely contenders)

4. Overall depth at infield positions as opposed to outfield positions. This is where a lot of younger players from Memphis who came on late will contend (Greene, Descalso).

5. An everyday right fielder with minimum league average OPS, if not a little more.

6. Sign Pujols to an extension.

7. Resign Westbrook.

NB: Brendan Ryan remains an way above league average fielding shortstop that the pitching staff trusts and insists is in the game most of the time. His offense can remain a semi-black hole as long as his defense comes back in 2011 instead of his 2010 where he got injured early.  The Skip Schumacker experiment at 2b is over and he will either return to outfield duty of get traded as a throw-in somewhere.

Good things in 2010:

1. Young players making strides: Jaime Garcia, John Jay, Tyler Greene, Colby Rasmus, Jason Motte, Kyle McClellan.

2. Starting pitching and bullpen.

3. Pythagorean for RS/RA projected a better record (92 wins) even with problems above. See defensive issues, problems against lesser teams, consistency in run scoring.

4. 86 win season matching 2006 club.  Reds simply beat them despite playing sub-.500 ball against winning teams by cleaning up on tail-enders (but only by 5 games=91 wins). Reds outscored Cardinals gave up far fewer runs and dominated the heads up series 12-6.

Where to improve:

Offense:

Improve on these 2010 numbers across the board:

RUNS 736  14th Overall

ON BASE PERCENTAGE .332  13th Overall

SLUGGING PCT  .402  16th Overall

Pitching:

Improve on following 2010 numbers

QUALITY STARTS 94  6th  Overall   (Find 4th and 5th starters who are healthy and go six innings)

WHIP

1.30 10th Overall  (Ditto)

BAA

.256  16th Overall (Ditto)

Cardinals are way ahead of the Cubs in fielding a contending team, but need to fill some obvious gaps to stay competitive.  The Reds will likely come down to earth in terms of RS/RA but will look to improve as well.  Offseason will be worth watching for both.  Cubs need to clear deadweight payroll, Cardinals will try to deal with limited payroll flexibility given they have locked in Holliday, Lohse and Carpenter and look to lock in Albert.

And what will Tony Larussa do?  

Guest Blogger: Baseball Musings’ David Pinto predicts the National League postseason

Each day this week, The Baseball Zealot has been featuring special guest bloggers who have been giving their predictions on the 2009 MLB end-of year-awards and postseason matchups.  To wrap up the series, we are fortunate to have David Pinto bring out his crystal ball and post his thoughts on how the National League postseason is shaping up.

david David Pinto, for those who few baseball fans who haven’t heard of him, is the god-blogger of baseball updates.  For 10 years, Pinto served as chief researcher for ESPN’s Baseball Tonight.  Now, he spends his time editing his very popular Baseball Musings blog.  Baseball Musings was one of the very first baseball blogs I followed on a regular basis (and still do to this day). 

You’ll also find Pinto’s analysis in his Sporting News weekly column

NL Predictions

The National League playoff picture looks set.  The Cardinals hold a huge lead in the NL Central.  The Phillies lead the Marlins and Braves by a healthy amount, but as the last two years taught us, there is no such thing as a safe lead in the NL East.  While the Dodgers are looking stronger for an NL West win, and the Rockies built a big enough lead in the Wild Card race that they probably make the playoffs.

The seeding then becomes important in determining which team eventually wins the NL pennant.  Right now, the Dodgers own the best record in the National League.  Their remaining schedule points to the team staying at the top of the league.  Los Angeles plays teams still competing for the playoffs six times, while the rest of their games are against the weakest teams in the league, including the Pirates and the Nationals.

The Cardinals and Phillies are very close (the Phillies hold the tie breaker).  The Cardinals schedule is a little easier than the Phillies, as they play the Marlins and Braves, who are still trying to chase them down.  It looks to me like the Cardinals should sneak by the Phillies for the second seed in the NL playoffs.  That would give us the Dodgers hosting the Phillies, since they can’t play a wild card from their own division, and the Cardinals hosting the Rockies.

 

Rockies vs. Cardinals

This really looks like a pitching series.  The Rockies lead the majors in quality starts, but the Cardinals on average produce better results from their starters.  That’s due to a quality of the St. Louis staff versus the quantity of the Rockies starters.  With Carpenter and Wainwright, the Cardinals throw two pitchers who rank in the top five in the National League.  Joel Pineiro comes in as one of the better third starters in the league.  There’s a fall off in pitching after that.

The Rockies have a fine ace in Ubaldo Jimenez, but their 2-5 starters are interchangeable.  Unless there are injuries, however, starting pitching depth doesn’t count for much in the playoffs, especially with two off days in the series allowing the possibility of using just three starters.  The edge in pitching goes to the Cardinals.

The quality versus quantity argument shifts when examining the offense.  Albert Pujols and Matt Holliday both hit better than anyone on the Rockies.  There is a fairly wide gap between those two and the rest of the hitters on the team.  With the Rockies, they send out four high quality hitters; Helton, Smith, Hawpe and Tulowitzki.  All four get on base and hit for power, but not at the level of Pujols and Holliday.  In a way, the Rockies pitchers will have an easier time.  They need to get around two batters, and any of the Rockies starters are good enough to handle the rest of the lineup.  Without facing Holliday, the Rockies posted a 2.25 ERA against the Cardinals in four games this year, the team going 4-0.  The offense favors the Rockies.

Colorado does not play as well on the road, as so three games in St. Louis might make the difference.  The offense just doesn’t hit as well out of the thin air and the big outfield.  I suspect Carpenter and Wainwright will take full advantage of that in games 1 & 2, and one of them can try to do it again in game five if needed.  I believe it will be a close series, but better front line pitching and home field wins out for St. Louis.

Phillies vs. Dodgers

This is one series that is tough to call due to the state of flux in the two starting staffs.  The Phillies added Cliff Lee and Pedro Martinez and both came on like gangbusters (although Lee slowed down lately).  The Dodgers staff struggled with injuries, causing them to add Jon Garland and Vicente Padilla, both of whom improved ERAs compared to the time spent with their former teams.  With Kershaw hurt and Billingsley pitching like the Verducci effect is catching up to him, the Phillies come into this series with a better starting staff.  Hamels is pitching well again, Happ has time to recover from his injury and Lee and Martinez showed great control since joining the team.

Offensively, this series pits the Dodgers ability to get on base against the Phillies superior power. The Dodgers hold the best OBP in the National League, the Phillies the best slugging percentage.  The Dodgers score runs by keeping the bases full of batters.  The Phillies strike with big blows. This may be Philadelphia’s great advantage.  The Phillies pitching staff, especially the starters likely to pitch in the series, walks few batters.  Take away the Dodgers walks, and they’re going to need to hit a lot of singles to score runs.  The Dodgers pitchers do a good job of limiting home runs, but the Phillies may only need to hit one mistake out of the park to make the difference in the game.

I like the Phillies power against the Dodgers ability to get on base in this series.  Los Angeles will need to keep the games close so their superior bullpen might win out, but I favor the Phillies to go on to the NLCS.

 

Phillies vs. Cardinals

This should be an exciting series.  The starting staffs for both teams are excellent, with the Cardinals better at the top of the rotation, the Phillies better at the back.  The offenses are more evenly matched that it seems at first glance, since Busch Stadium depresses offense, while Citizen’s Bank Park helps offense.

The Phillies own two advantages, however.  The Cardinals hit poorly against left-handed pitching, and with Hamels and Lee Philadelphia can throw two good ones against St. Louis.  The other is depth of offense.  Pujols and Holliday are as good if not better than anyone on the Phillies.  Backing up Utley and Howard, however, are Victorino, Werth and Ibanez.  The two through five slots in the Philadelphia lineup give the Cardinals starters little respite.  The top talent on the Cardinals is close enough to the front line talent of the Phillies that the Phillies depth should win out.

Much thanks to David Pinto for his great insight! 

That wraps up The Baseball Zealot’s week of special guests analyzing the end-of-year awards and postseason races.  I hope you have enjoyed them. 

I want to thank all of the good folks who have taken the time to write some fantastic articles for TBZ this week.  They all have been really excellent.  If you haven’t already, take some time to read the others:

Enjoy!

Guest Blogger: Hardball Cooperative’s James Bailey looks at the AL hunt

Each day this week, The Baseball Zealot will be featuring special guest bloggers who will be giving their predictions on the 2009 MLB end-of year-awards and postseason matchups.  Today, James Bailey gives us his take on the AL divisions.

james James Bailey is a former editor of Baseball America and is now editor and major contributor to a new baseball blog, Hardball Cooperative.  You can thank Bailey whose idea of more collaborative work between baseball blogs which gave me the idea for this week-long guest blogging project.   When pressed, Bailey says he followed the Seattle Mariners but like a lot of us admits to mostly following his fantasy league players now.  Ah, the times we live in. 
 

Every time it looks like things are about settled in the American League, one of the down-and-outers sneaks back into the picture. A week ago the Tigers were on the brink of backing into the Central Division crown. They woke up Thursday morning with a 4.5 game lead, down from 7 games just 10 days earlier. The Twins, who have won four games in a row, are growing ever closer in Detroit’s rear-view mirror. The teams have seven head-to-head matchups remaining, starting with a three-game set this weekend.

 

The Central may be the tightest race in the AL, but it’s not the only one left to be decided. We technically have open contests in the East and West as well, though the Yankees and Angels hold leads of 6.5 and 6 games, respectively. The gap in the wild-card race is stretching out, though the Rangers, at 6.5 games behind the Red Sox, aren’t giving up hope quite yet. They have two different routes to the postseason. Both are dependent upon them winning at close to a .750 clip and getting help from above. Considering Michael Young and Josh Hamilton are spending more time on the trainer’s table than in the lineup, their odds are staggering. Still, with seven contests remaining against the Angels, they have the opportunity, at least on paper, to make headway.

 

While the Twins and Rangers are still breathing, it’s looking more and more like we’ll see some familiar matchups in October. If the standings hold the way they are now, the Red Sox and Angels will meet for the third consecutive year. Boston won that series both times. The other divisional series would match the Yankees and Tigers.

 

Here’s a breakdown of the races in each division:

AL East

 

The Yankees, who were three games behind Boston at the break, have gone on a tear since then, winning at a .729 clip (43-16). Their+89 run differential is the best in baseball over the second half. They looked to be pulling away from the Red Sox until Boston’s 7-game winning streak pulled them to within a stone’s throw of a miracle. There’s no one else to worry about, however, as the Rays were eliminated from the East race over the weekend.

 

The Yanks lead the majors in runs, and it’s not close. Their 843 runs are 45 more than the Angels, the next closest team. It’s not all a product of Yankee Stadium, either. They have tallied 414 runs on the road and 429 at home. If there’s an area of concern for the AL’s best team, it’s the starting rotation, where only C.C. Sabathia owns a sub 4.00 ERA. Andy Pettitte (13-6, 4.14) will be there when it matters, but the Yanks have to be getting a little nervous about A.J. Burnett, who has gone 1-5 with a 6.14 ERA in his last nine starts. That includes four games in which he’s allowed six or more earned runs. Joba Chamberlain has been even worse since the start of August, going 1-3 in eight starts with a 7.09 ERA in 33 innings. If they have a lead to hand to their bullpen, Phil Hughes and Mariano Rivera are likely to hold it for them. But they’ll need more than Sabathia and Pettitte to get them through the playoffs.

 

It’s been pitching that has spurred Boston over the last week. In six of their last nine games they’ve allowed 1 run or less (two shutouts). Even Daisuke Matsuzaka, who missed most of the season due to injury, has contributed, with six scoreless innings on Tuesday. Boston has the best team ERA of any legitimate contender, and they figure to get even stingier when they pare down to their playoff rotation. Their offense has heated up over the second half, scoring 165 runs in August alone.

  

Team W-L Pct. 2nd Half Since 8/1 Since 9/1
New York 94-53 .639 43-16 32-11 11-15
Boston 86-58 .597 32-24 26-16 10-4
 

Key Injuries

New York: None. Pettitte missed his start this week due to shoulder fatigue, but the Yankees are hopeful that won’t linger.

Boston: None. Kevin Youkilis has battled back spasms this week. He expects to be back to full strength soon.

 

Remaining opponents

New York: Seattle (3), Los Angeles (3), Boston (3), Kansas City (3), Tampa Bay (3)

Boston: Los Angeles (1), Baltimore (3), Kansas City (4), New York (3), Toronto (3), Cleveland (4)

 

AL Central

 

It’s Detroit’s to lose, and they just might do that. The Twins are closing the gap, thanks to a four-game winning streak, and the White Sox are lingering because the Tigers refuse to close the door on them.

 

Detroit’s +7 run differential hardly becomes a division leader. Since June 1, the Tigers have actually been outscored 450 to 412. Their pitching, led by Justin Verlander and Edwin Jackson, has been among the best in the league. The offense is another story. The Tigers rank 10th in the AL in scoring, with just 668 runs. Miguel Cabrera is having a fine season, but he’s the only well-rounded threat in the lineup. Curtis Granderson and Brandon Inge have hit for power, but they’re hitting just .250 and .233, respectively. Magglio Ordonez, who has his average up to .291, has done most of his damage against lefties.

 

Joe Mauer is one of the leading contenders for AL MVP honors, and a dramatic run to the division title would certainly enhance his case. He lost his best protection when Justin Morneau bowed out this week, though he hasn’t stopped hitting. Jason Kubel and Michael Cuddyer need to get hot and stay hot over the next two weeks if the Twins hope to sustain their charge. A rotation that includes Carl Pavano, Nick Blackburn and Brian Duensing hardly seems up to the task at hand, but stranger things have happened.

 

The White Sox have posted losing records in two of the first five months of the season and were no better than two over .500 in any of the others. Yet they’re mathematically breathing in the Central. Maybe, just maybe, this division doesn’t deserve a representative in the postseason.

 

Team W-L Pct. 2nd Half Since 8/1 Since 9/1
Detroit 78-67 .538 30-28 25-19 9-6
Minnesota 74-72 .507 29-28 22-21 8-7
Chicago 72-74 .493 27-31 19-23 8-6

Key Injuries

Detroit: None. Joel Zumaya is done for the year, but he wasn’t a key player this season for the Tigers.

Minnesota: Morneau was diagnosed this week with a stress fracture in his back and he’s finished. That leaves a huge hole in the lineup, though the Twins are winning without him. Kevin Slowey has missed the second half of the season and won’t pitch again this year.

Chicago: It’s hard to call Jake Peavy a key injury, as he has never thrown a pitch for the Sox, though they must have envisioned him in the rotation when they pulled the trigger at the deadline.

 

Remaining opponents

Detroit: Kansas City (1), Minnesota (7), Cleveland (3), Chicago (6)

Minnesota: Detroit (7), Chicago (3), Kansas City (6)

Chicago: Seattle (1), Kansas City (3), Minnesota (3), Detroit (6), Cleveland (3)

 

AL West

 

The season hardly unfolded the way any Angel fan would have hoped, with the death of pitcher Nick Adenhart and the sluggish start by the team. But in the end they found their way to the top of the division, where everyone expected them to be all along. The West looked to be a division with a front-runner and three favorites for fourth place, but the Rangers stepped up and have given the Angels something of a challenge. They’re too far back now to make a charge with some of their key offensive weapons barely upright.

 

If the Angels can push hard for another week or so, they should clinch early enough to rest their starting pitchers a little going into the first round of the playoffs. It’s their offense, however, that could use some reinvigoration. They’ve scored more than three runs just four times in 15 September games. MVP candidate Kendry Morales has just four RBIs in September after hitting 10 homers and driving in 33 runs in August. Bobby Abreu, who is second on the team with 96 RBIs, has picked up some of that slack, hitting .347 with 10 RBIs this month.

 

It’s been an up-and-down year for the Rangers, but if they finish too far on the down side of that to make the postseason, they won’t have any shortage of reasons. Their collective health will be near the top of the list, but the three losing months on their resume haven’t done them any favors (10-11 in April, 11-15 in June, 14-15 in August). They have looked like one of the best teams in the AL at times, when they’ve had the offense and their young pitching in synch. Scott Feldman (16-5, 3.65) and Tommy Hunter (8-3, 3.23) have exceeded all expectations on the mound. Veteran Kevin Millwood looked rejuvenated early in the year, but over the second half he’s just 2-3 with a 5.32 ERA in nine starts and is averaging only five innings per game. His tank appears to be near E.

 

Team W-L Pct. 2nd Half Since 8/1 Since 9/1
Los Angeles 86-59 .593 37-22 25-19 8-7
Texas 80-65 .552 32-26 22-22 8-7

 

 

Key Injuries

Los Angeles: They’re as healthy as they’ve been all year, though their pitching staff would look deeper with Kelvim Escobar and Scot Shields in the pen.

Texas: Josh Hamilton’s season has been one injury after the next. He’s missed the past two weeks due to back troubles, and now he’s got a tight glute to deal with. It’s possible he’ll play again, but considering how long he’s been out he’s unlikely to contribute much. Michael Young has also missed most of September with a hamstring injury. He’s close to returning, but not to full strength. Jarrod Saltalamacchia is done for the season and faces surgery for thoracic outlet syndrome.

 

Remaining opponents

Los Angeles: Boston (1), Texas (7), New York (3), Oakland (6)

Texas: Los Angeles (7), Oakland (4), Tampa Bay (3), Seattle (3)

Thanks, James for the great analysis.  Tomorrow we will have our last installment in our guest blogging series with David Pinto looking at the National League.  Stay tuned for that.  Check out all the great articles from our previous guest bloggers from this week.

Guest Blogger: Sam Panayotovich tags Pujols and Mauer for MVP

Each day this week, The Baseball Zealot will be featuring special guest bloggers who will be giving their predictions on the 2009 MLB end-of year-awards and postseason matchups.  Today, Sam Panayotovich predicts the MVP awards.

samLike me, Sam Panayotovich is a University of Illinois alum.  While he was a student on campus, he and I kept saying we should get together for a game or something.  Well, that never happened and Sam has gone on to bigger and better things now.

I first heard Sam back when he was on Outsider Radio with Brandon Rosage.  Considered an expert in NBA draft coverage, Sam made his mark with the Most Valuable Network.  You can now see him covering sports for the Huffington Post and hosting a radio show at Columbia College’s WCRX.


2009 Most Valuable Player Predictions

This season, I believe each league has a hands-down favorite for the highly-regarded MVP Award. I’ve pegged a familiar face in the National League top spot and a newcomer at the front of the pack in the American League. Below you will find my projected Top 3 finishers in each league with analysis on why they finished where they did. Without further ado…

**Statistics as of Sep. 15, 2009**

National League

Albert Pujols (.329 AVG, 47 HR, 125 RBI)

It should be no surprise that baseball’s most dangerous hitter will claim his third Most Valuable Player Award. Pujols is one of the most disciplined hitters I’ve ever seen and his ability to balance power, contact, and situational hitting is unparalleled. What’s even more disgusting is that he looked to have the first Triple Crown since Carl Yaz locked up before our second-place finisher went on a tear as the season heated up. King Albert has the Cards well on their way to another NL Central title and St. Louis has a serious shot at clinching home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. Pujols leads the NL in dingers and is currently second in both batting average and runs batted in. And it’s scary to think how much better those numbers might have been if Matt Holliday was protecting him all season long.

Hanley Ramirez (.360 AVG, 23 HR, 99 RBI)

The former Red Sox prospect and current Marlins’ shortstop has pieced together quite a season to remember in southern Florida. Ramirez is such a special talent and he possesses the perfect mix of all five tools. He’s developed into one of the best contact hitters in baseball and when he puts the ball in play, you always have to account for his blazing speed. Realistically, Hanley could bat anywhere from first to fifth in the Marlins’ lineup, but he’s been holding it down in the three hole. He’s played one hell of a defensive shortstop as well to round everything out. One of the major reasons for the Marlins’ push for the NL Wild Card, Hanley leads the National League in batting average  and is currently tied for fourth in RBIs.

Prince Fielder (.299 AVG, 39 HR, 126 RBI)

Usually I’m not an advocate of touting players that don’t play for contenders, although you can’t ignore what the Prince is doing to National League pitching. Fielder has tremendous power to all fields and this season, he’s on pace to set career highs in RBIs and batting average as his .299 average is 11 points higher than his next best season. The son of Cecil, young Prince has been much more selective at the dish and his walks are up while his usually alarming strikeout total is down. He was a definite top candidate before the Brewers faded during the dog days of summer and you’ve got to give the Prince credit for one hell of a season.

American League

Joe Mauer (.371 AVG, 27 HR, 84 RBI)

We knew when Mauer was drafted No. 1 overall in 2001 that he was going to be a special player. However, his play this season has trumped all expectations and the 26-year-old catcher has put together the best campaign of his young career. Mauer is on pace to shatter his career highs in batting average, homers and RBIs and his leadership on and off the field is second to none. The way he has handled such a young Twins’ pitching staff and continues to lead the Majors in hitting just baffles me. Sure, Justin Morneau is a monster as well, but the Twins would not be in the AL Central race if it wasn’t for Mauer. He’s their heart. He’s their soul. He’s their captain.

Mark Teixeira (.285 AVG, 35 HR, 111 RBI)

Finally… a player that lived up to the billing (and the price tag) in the Bronx. Teixeira has been all that the Steinbrenners could have expected and then some. After missing the playoffs for the first time in 13 years, New York signed Tex hoping he would be the new “savior” and double as a pair of broad shoulders that the Yankees could rely on as they opened up their new stadium and planned a trip back to the postseason. The switch-hitting first baseman answered the call right from the start and has been on an absolute tear all season long. Teixeira leads the American League in RBIs and is currently second in taters, and pending a late season collapse, he’s the main reason for the Yankees resurgence and positioning atop the AL East.

Miguel Cabrera (.332 AVG, 29 HR, 89 RBI)

Cabrera won’t be a popular choice for MVP this season because of how much his power numbers have dropped off from last season, but he’s become a much better player overall and is the main reason for the Tigers’ current grasp on the AL Central lead. Miggy’s batting average is up 40 points from last season, his walks are up and his strikeouts are way down. He worked all offseason with his hitting coach to become a more selective hitter and all his hard work has paid off. The reigning AL Home Run King leads first place Detroit in batting average, hits, runs, homers, RBIs, on-base percentage and slugging. The power numbers might not be as impressive, but this kid deserves some serious credit for how much he has improved across the board.

A big thanks to Sam P for this write-up.  The next couple days, we’ll look at the postseason matchups for both leagues.  So far, the articles by our guest bloggers this week have been fantastic. I encourage you to check them out.

Guest Blogger: Smile Politely’s Joel Gillespie takes on the Rolaids Relief Man Awards

Each day this week, The Baseball Zealot will be featuring special guest bloggers who will be giving their predictions on the 2009 MLB end-of year-awards and postseason matchups.  In our third installment of the series, Joel Gillespie breaks down the candidates for the MLB Rolaids Relief Man Award.

joel I first met Joel Gillespie earlier this year when he interviewed me for a article for Champaign-Urbana’s online magazine Smile Politely.  I must admit, it was an overly flattering article so I’m forever in his debt. 

Aside from covering the local cultural scene, Joel has been known to touch on baseball topics on Smile Politely. His major league loyalties lie northward with the Minnesota Twins.

The Rolaids Relief Man Award is a little different from the rest of the awards analyzed here, in that it’s based on an accumulation of points rather than votes. According to the award website, "The Rolaids Relief Man Award® [don’t even think about using that phrase for personal profit] is based objectively on statistical performance, rather than subjective opinion." So, there will be no inquiring into the hearts of shoddy, bitter beat reporters in this article. Instead, we’ll take a look at which pitcher leads in the Most Favored Antacid standings and try to decide whether the algorithm will choose the right man or not.

Here’s the scoring system: award_photo
+4 for a "tough save" (when a reliever enters a game with the tying run  already on base and gets the save)
+3 for a save
+2 for a win
-2 for a blown save
-2 for a loss

And here are the leaders from each league:

American League

Rank Player Win Loss Saves Tough Saves Blown Saves Points ERA
1 Mariano Rivera 2 2 39 4 1 119 1.72
2 Brian Fuentes 1 4 41 1 6 106 4.10
3 Joe Nathan 2 2 38 1 5 105 2.20
4 Jonathan Papelbon 1 1 36 3 3 105 1.89
5 David Aardsma 3 5 34 1 4 91 2.12

Rivera is clearly head and shoulders above the rest of the American League closers this season, and you don’t need a convoluted formula to see that. He’s even getting some dark-horse consideration for the Cy Young award, mostly as a lifetime-achievement-award kind of thing. That would be a travesty, but he’s certainly having a season worthy of his fifth Rolaids Relief Man award, which will tie him with Dan Quisenberry for the most all time. Barring a collapse, or a bunch of narrow wins for the Angels, Twins, or Sox, he should capture it with ease.

Aardsma has really come into his own this season, posting his first season ERA under 4.00. His flyball tendencies are even more pronounced than usual, but the spacious confines of Safeco Field keep the consequences to a minimum. With his fifth club in five years, Aardsma has found a home, holding opponents to a .191 batting average and striking out 10.5 batters per nine innings.

National League

Rank Player Win Loss Saves Tough Saves Blown Saves Points ERA
1 Heath Bell 5 3 37 3 5 108 2.66
2 Jonathan Broxton 7 1 34 2 5 106 2.53
3 Ryan Franklin 2 3 37 4 4 105 1.96
4 Huston Street 3 1 33 0 1 101 2.96
5 Brian Wilson 5 5 34 6 6 96 2.69

This race is completely up in the air. Who will win the cherished silver fireman’s hat? Bell’s been one of the only bright spots for a putrid Pad squad, finally coming into his own after a career as a setup man. Broxton’s benefited from some good fortune to keep him in the race, picking up three vulture wins after blowing saves. Franklin is probably the most deserving candidate, but he’s limping to the finish line. He’s blown two consecutive saves, and he has a 16.20 ERA in four September appearances.

Street and Wilson have contributed to their teams’ surprising contender status by keeping things stable at the back end of their respective bullpens. 

Thank you to Joel for taking time from his busy schedule to write this up.  Check out the other end-of-year award analyses we’ve put up so far and check back later this week for more. 

 
 

Guest Blogger: Shawn Lee analyzes the Cy Young candidates

Each day this week, The Baseball Zealot will be featuring special guest bloggers who will be giving their predictions on the 2009 MLB end-of year-awards and postseason matchups.  In the second installment of this series, Shawn Lee will look at the Cy Young candidates. 

shawn Shawn Lee is a local guy, living here in Champaign-Urbana.  Not only is he the webmaster for our local vintage base ball team, the Vermilion Voles, he’s been known to pick up a willow and swing at the onion too.  When he plays for the Voles, he’s known as General Lee, thank you. 

Lee doesn’t always live in the 19th century though.  He’s a big fan of current Major League Baseball, too favoring the New York Yankees. 

 

2009 Cy Young Predictions

 

This year’s chase for the Cy Young Award in both leagues is deserving of interest for two main reasons.  First, although there are plenty of deserving candidates, neither league has a clear cut front runner.  I wish the task of predicting the winners were made easy for me. Instead, I’ll need to stick out my neck just a bit and make my best guess.

The second reason this season is a bit different is that there are several teams who have multiple legitimate contenders.  For this reason in particular, my approach in making my prediction is going to be to pick the best pitcher from each team first.  Then from all 30 pitchers, I’ll make my AL and NL predictions.  Please note that my intention here is not to determine who should win the award based on my personal analysis.  My goal is to predict who the folks with the voting power are going to choose.

American League

 

Baltimore:  Brad Bergesen.  Not much to choose from here.  It would have easily been George Sherrill if he wasn’t traded to the Dodgers.

Boston:  Jon Lester edges Josh Beckett.

NY Yankees:  CC Sabathia with Mariano Rivera a close second.  Too bad Phil Hughes had some pretty rough outings as a starter to begin the year.  His numbers have been breathtaking since becoming a reliever in June.

Tampa Bay:  Matt Garza.  Rays pitchers have been very disappointing compared to last year.

Toronto:  Roy Halladay.  Hittable as of late, but still no contest here.

ChiSox:  Mark Buerhle edges Gavin Floyd.

Cleveland:  Cliff Lee.  Nothing else to choose from.  Forget Pavano.

Detroit:  Justin Verlander.

Kansas City:  Zack Greinke.  Easy choice.

Minnesota:  Scott Baker, only because Joe Nathan is having a down year, his ERA "soaring" to 2.28.

LA Angels:  Jered Weaver.

Oakland:  Andrew Bailey.  Great season.  Glad to see him make the All Star team.  Meet your AL ROY.

Seattle:  Felix Hernandez.  He is beginning to fulfill the lofty expectations set for him when he debuted for the Mariners as a 19-year old.

Texas:  Scott Feldman.

 

Now from this pool of pitchers, who is the best in the league?  Unfortunately, that’s not the question.  The question is who will win the Cy Young award.  The voters love looking at win totals, so that automatically puts Sabathia and Verlander at the top of the list especially since they are headed for the postseason.  But Verlander’s numbers are better than Sabathia plus his remaining opponents (Chicago, Minnesota) are not quite as tough as Sabathia’s (Angels, Red Sox).  The other true contenders are Halladay, Hernandez, and Greinke.  The voters also seem to have a fondness for stud pitchers who pitch for lousy teams.  Remember in May when the Royals were in first place and Greinke was 6-0 with an ERA of 0.40?  He has only won seven games since then.  That’s not going to be good enough for the W-loving voters despite the fact that he leads the AL in ERA and WHIP and second in strikeouts.  The only chance Greinke has is if he can win at least 15 games.  Otherwise, I think Verlander will get the nod.

National League

 

Atlanta:  Javier Vazquez.  Having as good a season as anyone else, but lack of run support is keeping his win total down.

Florida:  Josh Johnson.

NY Mets:  Johan Santana.  A poor year by Johan’s standards.

Philadelphia:  J.A. Happ throughout the season has been their best pitcher.  Midseason pickup Cliff Lee and a rejuvenated Cole Hamels are pitching better than Happ right now.

Washington:  John Lannan.

Chicago Cubs:  Ted Lilly.

Cincinnati:  Francisco Cordero.  33/35 in save opportunities, only 2 home runs given up all year.

Houston:  Wandy Rodriguez.

Milwaukee:  Yovani Gallardo.  A future Cy Young winner once he gets his walks down.

Pittsburgh:  Ross Ohlendorf.  Not much to choose from on this team.

St. Louis:  Chris Carpenter, for now.  A really tough pick here, since Wainwright has been equally impressive and helped carry the team while Carpenter was on the shelf early in the season.  Wainwright will surely garner many Cy Young votes, especially if he can make it to 20 wins.  Carpenter has only allowed 2 stolen bases all year.  A lot of credit goes to Yadier Molina for that, but for a right-handed pitcher, that is really impressive.  But something I’m sure will not be noticed by the voters.

Arizona:  Dan Haren in a landslide.

Colorado:  Ubaldo Jimenez.  Jason Marquis has cooled off in the second half.

LA Dodgers:  Clayton Kershaw.  Unquestionably this is the deepest pitching staff in MLB.  The fact that team wins leader, Chad Billingsley, has twelve wins is testament to that.

San Diego:  Heath Bell.  The starters have been that bad.

San Francisco:  Tim Lincecum in another good team race.  Matt Cain is the staff ace on any other team in the league, but Lincecum’s K/BB ratio and quality starts percentage are just too impressive.

 

There are plenty of great pitchers in the NL.  It is hard to believe most of the contenders won’t even come close to 20 wins.  Wainwright has the best chance.  He needs to win 3 of his remaining 4-5 starts.  If he can do it, he immediately becomes the favorite.   If not, it comes down to Carpenter, Haren, and Lincecum.  Carpenter’s league leading ERA and stellar W/L ratio makes the Cy Young his to lose.  Like Greinke, both Haren and Lincecum currently have 13 wins.  They will need at least 15 to have any chance at all.

Thanks, Shawn for your excellent input.  Keep checking in for more great analysis throughout the week.  Here’s the link to our 2009 End-of-Year Predictions by our guest bloggers.

Guest Blogger: Tedd Mallasch picks Fowler and Andrus for Rookie of the Year

Each day this week, The Baseball Zealot will be featuring special guest bloggers who will be giving their predictions on the 2009 MLB end-of year-awards and postseason matchups.  Today, we’ll start with the Rookie of the Year Award.

tedd  Today’s guest post isn’t really written by a guest.  You already know Tedd Mallasch as Teddy Ballgame who is my co-blogger on The Baseball Zealot.  Tedd’s been with TBZ pretty much from the start and aside from his usually great analysis, he also does fantastic on-the-spot coverage of spring training and Arizona Fall League action.  If you like his stuff, he does have his own blog called Whatteddsedd.com which isn’t always sports-related but has his usual flair nonetheless.

Here are my choices for the 2009 All Rookie Team.  My choices for Rookie of the Year are in the NL Dexter Fowler and in the AL Elvis Andrus.  Both are everyday players, who have made significant contributions to their teams, as they vie for the postseason.  Stats as of September 2, 2009.

C  MATT WIETERS

This switch hitting 6’4" 225 pound catcher out of the University of Georgia Tech has lived up to the hype when the Orioles drafted him with the 5th pick in the 2007 player draft.  In the minors Matt played only 169 games, about one full season, combining to hit 31 doubles 4 triples, & 32 homers, scoring 114 times, while driving in 121, with 102 walks & 106 strikeouts, getting 198 base hits in 578 at bats for a .343 batting average.  Wieters has held his own since arriving in Baltimore, where he’s batting .263, with 10 doubles, 1 homer, and 5 homers in 68 games.

 
1B GARRETT JONES

Out of Tinley Park, IL, this lefthanded batting slugging firstbaseman took the long road to the majors after being the 444th player chosen in the 1999 player draft by the Atlanta Braves.  This 28 year old seems to have found a job at firstbase with the Pittsburgh Pirates.  He has launched 17 home runs to go along with 14 doubles, batting .295, with nine steals in ten attempts, all of this, in only 54 games.

 

2B CHRIS GETZ

In only 90 big league games with the White Sox, the scrapper out of the University of Michigan (where he batted .364 & .386) has showed some skills, stealing 18 bases, with 17 doubles, 4 triples, & 2 home runs, in 315 big league at bats. 

 
SS ELVIS ANDRUS

Elvis has entered the big leagues (sorry, I couldn’t resist).  He is just a baby, turning 21 the 26th of August.  This kid has got range, a 5.05 range factor.  He’s batting .268, with 12 doubles, 7 triples, & 5 homers, with 24 stolen bases in 27 attempts, playing regularly at SS in Texas. 

 
3B GORDON BECKHAM

Last year he hit more home runs, 28, than any other NCAA Div. I baseball player, while playing SS for the Georgia Bulldogs.  The White Sox used their firstround draft choice to pick him 8th over all.  It’s turned out to be a great selection, as he has looked solid at 3B, while ripping 23 doubles & 9 long balls, in 80 games, batting .272.

 

OF CHRIS COGHLAN

In 2006 the Florida Marlins used their #1 pick to get this kid out of the University of Mississippi.  The lefthanded hitter grew up in Tarpon Springs, FL, right where I vacation, playing for East Lake High.  He’s got the highest batting average among rookies, batting .301, with an OBP of .377, while hitting leadoff for the Fish.  Chris has six steals in seven tries, 19 2Bs, 4 3Bs, & 9 HRs.

 

OF DEXTER FOWLER

The 6’5" switch hitting 23 year old can fly as he’s shown by stealing 26 bases, caught 9 times.  Fowler’s taken over the regular centerfield job for Colorado.  Dexter’s hitting .270, 27 doubles, 9 triples, 4 home runs, after batting .335 last season in AA, once he fills out, look out.

 
OF ANDREW McCUTCHEN

This 22 year old right handed hitter was ready for the bigs, it just took the Buccos a little while to realize it.  Since taking over CF in Pittsburgh, this guy has batted .284, 20 2Bs, 6 3Bs, 10 HRs, 15 SBs, in only 79 games.
LHP J.A. HAPP – I first saw Happ in spring training, his changeup was unreal.  I knew he was the real deal, he started the season in the pen, but has really taken off since moving to the rotation for the Phils.  This year the lefthander out of Northwestern has a 10-4 record with a 2.77 ERA, has struckout exactly twice as many batters as he’s walked 104 to 52, allowing only 125 hits in just under 150 innings pitched.

 
RHP TOMMY HANSON

This 6’6" righthander out of Oklahoma came into his own in the Arizona Fall League.  I had the privilege of seeing him pitch out west first hand, he was lights out, Hanson struckout 49 in 28 2/3 innings, 5-0 record, with a 0.63 ERA.  Since coming up to the Braves, he’s carried on nicely, 9-3 with a 3.15 ERA, 73 K’s in 85 2/3 innings of work.

 
P ANDREW BAILEY

Last year this New Jersey righthander with the live arm was used as a relief pitcher for the first time in the A’s organization, he took to it, like a duck takes to water.  This year’s taken over as Oakland’s closer, allowing only 44 hits in 72 innings, with over a strikeout per inning, a 1.88 ERA, with 21 saves.

– Tedd

Thanks to Tedd for his time in putting this together.  Stay tuned all week for more 2009 prediction posts.   

Historical precedent for the C.C. Sabathia deal

(editor’s note:  this article is submitted by Tom Wilson, an old APBA buddy from years ago.  Let us know if you like it.  He may be writing more for The Baseball Zealot in the future. -tbz)

In the summer of 1987 The Detroit Tigers were in a pennant race. Like most modern era teams, pitching was the backbone of the club, and the priority in the player aquisition market. On August 12th, 1987, the Tigers traded a little known pitching prospect to the Atlanta Braves for proven veteran starter Doyle Alexander.

    The Tigers were not disappointed with their trade. Doyle Alexander went 9-0 in 11 starts with a 1.53 E.R.A for the team.  While Detroit lost 4 games to 1 to Minnesota in The American League Championship Series, in the old 2 division league format, their season was not considered a failure.

    The Atlanta Braves were not disappointed in the trade either. In 1987 they were not close to a division championship. In giving up Alexander they were looking for youth and toward the future. In 21 year old John Smoltz, they received both.  Through 20 seasons, 13 division championships, 4 pennants, and 1 world series championship, John Smoltz has been the leader of the Braves.

 

    On Sunday, July 6th, 2008, the Milwaukee Brewers pulled the trigger on a similar “win now” trade.

    The Brewers, currently four and a half games behind the Chicago Cubs, aquired last years American League Cy Young award winner C.C. Sabathia from the Cleveland Indians. The trade marked the first time in a decade that a reigning pitching mvp was traded (Roger Clemens 1998).

    In return for Sabathia, The Indians received young pitchers Rob Bryson and Zach Jackson. Eventually, the Indians hope these two young arms will help the club contend if not at least climb out of the basement of the American League Central.

    In addition to the pitchers, the Indians also received OF\1B Matt Laporta. At least in my mind this is the aquisition that brings up the possibility of the 1987 Tigers-Braves trade comparison.

    Laporta is the SEC all time home run leader, the single season home run leader, he hit .323 for the Florida Gators. While his speed and defense would be catagorized as average,his quick bat has made up for his defenses and has had his college and minor coaches declare him “professional ready”

    Laporta, Milwaukees 2007 1st rd (7th overall pick) was hitting .288 with 20 home runs with AA Huntsville at the time of the trade.

     Only time will tell if this trade can be compared with the 1987 deal. But upon first look both teams have seemed to address needs and thought this through.