Archive for Cardinals

Scouting the Cardinals’ Return for Jaime Garcia

The St. Louis Cardinals sent lefty Jaime Garcia to Atlanta in exchange for a trio of minor leaguers this evening. Below are my thoughts on the prospects heading to St. Louis in the deal.

John Gant, RHP (Profile)

The good-bodied and eccentric Gant is probably the likeliest to yield big-league value of the triumvirate acquired by St. Louis tonight. He’s already spent time there, having thrown 50 major-league innings in 2016. As a rookie, Gant struck out nearly a batter per inning (recording a 22% strikeout rate) but also struggled with walks (9.5%). Gant’s fastball sits in the low 90s, mostly 90-93, but will touch as high as 96 and has a slightly above-average spin rate. His changeup is his best secondary offering and best pitch overall. It’s a plus, low-80s cambio that disappears away from lefties as it approaches the plate. Gant maintains his fastball’s arm speed throughout release. There are times when Gant makes a visible effort to create extra movement on the pitch, alters his arm action, and causes his change to flatten out. He also has a loopy, below-average mid-70s curveball. He’s had to use the curve more frequently than a pitch of this quality usually warrants in order to navigate his way through minor-league lineups multiple times.

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Atlanta Trades for Upside in Form of Jaime Garcia

The Braves’ first few moves of the 2016-17 offseason — and, in particular, the acquisitions of both Bartolo Colon and R.A. Dickey — appeared to raise the floor for an Atlanta club team designed to survive, if not necessarily thrive in, 2017. The club’s most recent move might not help raise that floor any higher. What it could do, however, is heighten the team’s ceiling — and, at the very least, provide the club with an interesting trade chip for the July trade deadline.

Earlier tonight, the Braves traded three prospects to the St. Louis Cardinals in exchange for Jaime Garcia, who enters the final season of an extension signed back in 2011.

Here’s the trade in full.

Braves Receive:

  • Jaime Garcia

Cardinals Receive:

When healthy, Garcia has been an effective pitcher. Over the course of his career, he’s produced a better-than-average FIP and ERA (both 8% lower than league average). Staying on the mound for any length of time has been the issue for Garcia, however. After recording 194 innings in 2011 — and earning a four-year contract extension (with two options) along the way — Garcia struggled to stay healthy. He managed only 220 innings over the next three seasons combined and began 2015 on the disabled list. His numbers were never particularly bad during that span — and were, in some cases, quite good. After thoracic outlet surgery in the middle of 2014, however, his career appeared to be in some jeopardy.

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There’s Nothing Too Weird About Brett Cecil’s New Contract

The Cardinals had a few problems last season, and among them was unreliable relief pitching. As a means toward addressing that, they’ve given free-agent lefty Brett Cecil a four-year contract, worth $30.5 million. It also has a full no-trade clause! Very clearly, Cecil didn’t come cheap. A number of teams expressed a willingness to guarantee Cecil three years, so the Cardinals stepped up and went one extra.

It wouldn’t be hard to spin this in a negative way. Relievers feel like they’re unpredictable, right? So investing in them long-term might be a fool’s errand. And, last year’s average reliever had a 3.93 ERA. Cecil had a 3.93 ERA. He also finished with the eighth-lowest WPA among relievers, meaning he was even less valuable than his regular statistics. On top of that stuff, Cecil missed a month and a half with a lat injury. He didn’t have a banner first half.

Yet, he did have a much better second half. The healthy Cecil was dominant. Here’s his last pitch of the regular season:

That’s just in there for a pretty visual. Cecil finished the year effective, and he was effective in seasons previous. There’s been a certain response to this contract:

But I just don’t agree with that. I don’t think this is the least bit strange or surprising. Cecil got four years and $30.5 million with a full no-trade. Last winter, the Orioles gave Darren O’Day four years and $31 million, with a partial no-trade. They’re very similar contracts, given to a pair of non-closers, and in this table, check out their numbers over the three seasons before signing:

Three Seasons Before Signing Contracts
Pitcher Ages ERA- FIP- xFIP- Average K-BB% BABIP
Darren O’Day 30 – 32 44 77 84 68 21% 0.247
Brett Cecil 27 – 29 72 66 64 67 24% 0.321

O’Day has the edge in hit and run suppression. Cecil has the edge in peripherals, age, and velocity. While O’Day might’ve been the tougher pitcher to square up, Cecil has made it hard to just put the bat on the ball, and he also has the advantage of a few years of youth. I don’t see how Cecil’s contract, then, is a market-changer. Was O’Day’s contract a market-changer? If so, this one just falls right in line. It might come as a little startling to see a non-closer get four years guaranteed, but Cecil didn’t start this, and there was already emphasis being put on finding better non-closers before. This seems like it’s normal. Brett Cecil’s contract feels normal.

Now, it’s worth noting, perhaps, that O’Day wasn’t great in the first year of his four-year deal. Maybe that means all of this is unwise. But in reality, it’s not that relief pitchers are all that unpredictable. It’s that they just have smaller samples of playing time, and the reduced samples make them unpredictable. They still project like anyone else. And Cecil projects to be fine, and the Cardinals bullpen projects to be good. They can check that priority off the list.


Matt Carpenter’s Long Con, and the Big Reveal

Matt Carpenter did something special last night, on the final day of baseball’s 2016 regular season. I’ll get the anticlimactic part of this all out of the way right now: it didn’t matter. Of course, none of this actually matters, but through the lens of the St. Louis Cardinals’ year and postseason implications, what Carpenter did wound up not meaning a thing. It could’ve meant a thing; Carpenter and the Cardinals had everything to play for. Their only shot at a playoff berth came through a win, and what Carpenter did helped the Cardinals win one of their biggest game of the year, 10-4, over the Pittsburgh Pirates.

But the Cardinals needed some help alongside their win to potentially clinch that playoff berth, and with a loss to the San Francisco Giants, the Los Angeles Dodgers did not provide the necessary help. The win over the Pirates was for nought; the Cardinals were eliminated from postseason contention. Carpenter, though, did all he could — including pulling a trick out of his bag that he’d been waiting more than six years to use.

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Jeremy Hazelbaker on Proving His Skeptics (Like Me) Wrong

With the exception of an eight-game stretch in April where he went 13-for-26, with seven extra-base hits, Jeremy Hazelbaker has had a fairly unremarkable rookie season. The St. Louis Cardinals outfielder is slashing .239/.300/.487, with a dozen home runs in 221 plate appearances. He spent parts of June and July in Triple-A.

For a time, it looked like he might be a minor-league lifer. Drafted in the fourth round out of Ball State University by the Red Sox in 2009, Hazelbaker was dealt to the Dodgers following the 2013 season. Eighteen months later he was released. St. Louis signed him last May and assigned him to Double-A Springfield. He finished the year in Triple-A.

Hazelbaker was 28 years old when he reported to spring training — he turned 29 last month — and the odds were against him earning a spot on the Cardinals roster. He beat those odds.

I’d followed Hazelbaker’s career. I’d interviewed and written about him a handful of times as he was coming up through the Red Sox system. I’d seen the tools, but I hadn’t seen those tools translate into consistent performance. I was skeptical that I ever would.

When I caught up to Hazelbaker in early August, I admitted as much. Being perhaps a little too honest, I began the interview by saying: “I didn’t think you’d make it. Why was I wrong?” Here was his response.

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Hazelbaker on proving me wrong: “Everybody has their opinion on guys coming up. There are things people don’t really get. Looking in from the outside, you don’t see how hard of a worker a guy is, or how much drive and determination he has. Do you want to call me an underdog story? You can if you want. Whatever you want to call it, I know there have been people skeptical of me — my path, my journey, my abilities along the way.

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Alex Reyes Might Have Saved the Cardinals’ Season

Alex Reyes was only called up in August. He’s appeared in just 10 games, started just three and thrown only 35 of the Cardinals’ 1352.1 innings. He is certainly not the most valuable player on the team. He isn’t the most important, either. He’s not their best reliever (because of Seung Hwan Oh‘s great performance), and he’s not the best starter on the team (that’s Carlos Martinez). When it comes to being in the right place at the right time, however, and taking on multiple roles out of the bullpen and, most recently, pitching seven shutout innings against a team also threatening for a Wild Card spot in the Giants, there is an argument to be made that Alex Reyes has saved the Cardinals’ season.

Reyes is the type of prospect over whom fans drool, and his arsenal has translated immediately to the majors. He’s already topped 100 mph on his fastball 18 times this season. He has a curveball with more vertical movement than any other pitcher in the big leagues. He has a changeup that averages 89 mph and earns a swing and a miss 25% of the time Reyes throws it. He’s far from the perfect pitcher, of course, and continues to struggle with command — both with the fastball and his offspeed offerings. The problems Reyes experienced with control in the minors — where he recorded at least a 10% walk rate at every stop — have carried over to the majors, where’s he’s produced a 13% mark so far this season. He doesn’t always have great command of his pitches, but thanks to a lack of homers, his FIP is still a quite low 2.76 while a low BABIP and high left-on-base percentage has left his ERA at an unsustainably low 1.03 on the season.

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Matt Holliday’s Absence Not Inconsequential for St. Louis

We don’t talk much about Matt Holliday these days. It’s been awhile since he was one of the best players in baseball. Probably the last time you could have honestly made that claim was in 2014, when his 132 wRC+ was 28th-best in the game. However, with the news that Holliday has probably succumbed to his thumb injury for the rest of the season, I thought we would take a minute to talk about Holliday. Holliday can’t do most of the things he used to, but even after all this time can still hit.

Holliday has always had a special place in my heart because he got to Coors Field at the same time as I did. I started working for the Rockies in March of 2004, about a month before Holliday would make an unexpected major-league debut. He got the call when both Preston Wilson and Larry Walker came up lame in the first couple weeks of what would become (at the time) the bleakest moment in Rockies history. Technically, the team’s winning percentage had been worse in 1993, but in 1993 no one in the Rocky Mountain region had cared, because they had a major-league team for the first time.

That 2004 season was bad not just because of the team on the field, but because it was the year the team traded Larry Walker away — twice — getting far less in return the second time. The first time, when they tried to trade him to the Texas Rangers for Ian Kinsler, Walker had vetoed the deal. He was then sent to the Cardinals, which, in retrospect, was absolutely the right move for Walker, who would finally get to play in the World Series that fall. I’m pretty sure the Rockies would have rather had Kinsler than Chris Narveson, though. In any case, trading away Walker meant that any scant hopes the team would contend had totally and completely died. The “Todd (Helton) and the Toddlers” era had begun.

The most prominent “toddler” was Holliday. He would come along slowly, but he could always hit. As fate would have it, the season he put it all together coincided with Troy Tulowitzki‘s arrival and Todd Helton‘s final good season, and the three helped lead the Rockies to their first and still only World Series berth. Holliday slugged .607 that season, and if that seems like a ridiculous number, it is. Coors Field might still be a hitting haven, but no Rockies player has slugged .600 since.

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Matt Bowman on Leaving Las Vegas (for St. Louis)

Matt Bowman is having a solid rookie season in St. Louis. The 25-year-old right-hander — a Rule-5 pick out of the Mets system — has a 4.06 ERA and a 3.64 FIP in 50 games out of the Cardinals bullpen. He’s admittedly surprised by his success. As he explained to me six weeks ago, “It was a tough year last year.”

The numbers bear that out. Pitching as a starter for the Las Vegas 51s, Bowman went 7-16 with a 5.53 ERA. In 140 innings for New York’s Triple-A affiliate, his WHIP was a whiplash-inducing 1.68.

Bowman doesn’t attribute his turnaround to a mechanical tweak or an alteration of style. Nor does he point to an amended repertoire or an increase in velocity. Those things haven’t changed. What has changed is his environment. Bowman is no longer in a hitter-friendly ballpark in the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League. It’s often said that what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas, and for Bowman that meant perplexity and poor performance.

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Bowman on leaving Las Vegas: “From a statistical standpoint, you would look at last year, and then at this year, and wonder how exactly that jump happened. People are usually like, ‘Add on a run for Vegas; that’s really all you need to do. Whatever that was, that’s how good he was.’ I think there’s probably more to Vegas than that.

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Randal Grichuk’s Successful Unadjustment

Last season, a 23-year-old Randal Grichuk put together a tremendous rookie campaign. He posted a 137 wRC+ on the strength of a terrific .272 isolated-power mark. Add into the mix that he could handle all three outfield positions and, on the surface, it looked like the Cardinals had themselves a solid young contributor to build around. However, his performance was not without red flags, the most prominent among them being a 6.3% walk rate, 31.4% strikeout rate, and .365 BABIP. If Grichuk wanted to sustain his success into the 2016 season, it was reasonable to expect he’d need to improve his plate discipline to balance the likely BABIP regression.

The good news is that Grichuk was up for the challenge. He practiced his pitch identification using methods outlined by Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch back in April. The early results showed that adjustments had, in fact, been made. Jeff Sullivan wrote at the time about the impressive decline in Grichuk’s swing rate on pitches out of the zone. A promising young player with a glaring weakness addressed and improved on that weakness! Fantastic! What could possibly go wrong?

In the first half, Grichuk’s strikeout rate fell all the way to 22.7% and his walk rate was up to 7.3%. Unfortunately, these improvements coincided with a massive drop off in his ability to crush baseballs. He hit just .226 in the first half thanks to a BABIP that cratered to .255 — and he posted a notably diminished .199 ISO — all of which left him with a terrifically disappointing 89 wRC+. In response, Grichuk has been demoted to Triple-A twice, once June and once at the start of August. Since his most recent return to the majors on August 11th, however, something has changed.

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Jedd Gyorko and Brandon Moss Powering Cardinals

Last season, 64 players hit at least 20 home runs. It was 57 the year before. This year, there are already 68 players with 20 home runs and, with six weeks of the season remaining, there are another 40 players with at least 15 home runs who have at least a shot. Two of the players powering up this year, Jedd Gyorko and Brandon Moss, were relatively recent under-the-radar acquisitions for the Cardinals who’ve now helped the club to a National League-leading 173 homers. Their deals didn’t necessarily look great at the time they were made, but both players have helped put the Cardinals in position for a sixth straight playoff appearance.

While baseball has generally been homer-happy this season, St. Louis has spread its power around. No player on the club’s roster sits among the top 30 in the majors in homers. Moss’ 23 paces the team. That said, the Cardinals also have an MLB-leading nine players who’ve recorded double-digit home-run totals this year, with Tommy Pham (nine) knocking on the door right now and Jhonny Peralta, injured for most of the year, possessing an outside shot after having accumulated six homers so far. A roster with 10 players featuring double-digit homer totals would tie the National League record set by the Cincinnati Reds in both 1999 and 2000, per the Baseball Reference Play Index. Eleven players in double-digits would tie the MLB record set by the 2004 Detroit Tigers and matched by the Houston Astros last season.

After averaging 122 homers over the last three years, the Cardinals are on pace for 228, which would represent the most any National League team has hit since the Brewers hit 231 in the 2007 season. It’s not just Moss and Gyorko, either: Matt Holliday, currently on the DL, has 19; Stephen Piscotty has 18; and both Matt Carpenter and Randal Grichuk have recorded 15 homers this year. However, Moss and Gyorko are definitely the most efficient when it comes to the long ball. There are 179 players this season who’ve reached the 10-homer mark. By plate appearances per home run, two Cardinals appear prominently near the top of the list.

Most Prolific Home-Run Hitters in 2016
Team PA HR PA/HR
Mark Trumbo Orioles 518 38 13.6
Brandon Moss Cardinals 327 23 14.2
Khris Davis Athletics 469 32 14.7
Ryan Schimpf Padres 206 14 14.7
Jedd Gyorko Cardinals 298 20 14.9
Ryan Howard Phillies 286 19 15.1
Edwin Encarnacion Blue Jays 534 35 15.3
Pedro Alvarez Orioles 293 19 15.4
Trevor Story Rockies 415 27 15.4
Yoenis Cespedes Mets 389 25 15.6
Min. 10 HR

The Cardinals’ leading home run-hitters, Gyorko and Moss, have combined for 43 home runs in just 625 plate appearances on the season, even while finding the path to playing time a bit of a struggle. Moss came to the Cardinals last season in a deadline deal for pitching prospect Rob Kaminsky, a trade the present author panned given Moss’ struggles to regain his power after hip surgery in 2014. Moss was fine for the Cardinals last year, with a 108 wRC+, but he lacked power, hitting only four home runs in 151 plate appearances, leading to a .159 ISO.

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Projecting Cardinals Call-Up Luke Weaver

Earlier this week, the Cardinals called up a promising young arm in Alex Reyes, who’s already enjoyed some success out of St. Louis’ bullpen. Another promising young arm is set to debut for the Cardinals tomorrow, as 22-year-old Luke Weaver will get the start against Cubs. What should we expect from him?

One thing we know for certain is that Weaver was undeniably excellent in the minors this year. In 13 starts this year — most of them at Double-A — he pitched to a sparkling 1.30 ERA and 2.11 FIP. He struck out an impressive 28% of opposing batters, while walking fewer than 4%, which is equally impressive. It wasn’t the first time he tasted success either, as he pitched well last season in High-A, albeit with a more underwhelming 21% strikeout rate.
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Scouting Cardinals Call-Ups Alex Reyes and Luke Weaver

St. Louis has added two of their top pitching prospects, Alex Reyes and Luke Weaver, to the big-league club over the last few days. Below are my brief thoughts on both of them as they try to buoy the Cardinals’ shot at a wild-card berth.

The most famous of the two prospects is RHP Alex Reyes. Reyes grew up in New Jersey but moved to the Dominican in December of 2011 in order to reclassify as an international amateur free agent. He signed a year later at the age of 18 for $950,000. In four pro seasons Reyes has dominated every level, from the Appalachian League and above, earning a big-league call-up despite having made just 69 career minor-league starts. He missed the end of last year’s Arizona Fall League and the start of this season due to a suspension for marijuana use.

Reyes sits 94-97 mph during starts but has been up to 101 with movement in short bursts, as he was both during his debut on Tuesday and in the Futures Game. It’ll be a no-doubt 80 fastball as long as he’s pitching in relief which, he told reporters, would be his initial role, and I think it will be an 80 fastball at maturity. Despite his size (Reyes is listed at a laughable 6-foot-3, 175 but is probably closer to 220 and lacks much positive physical projection), we are talking about a player still just shy of his 22nd birthday and short of his physical prime.

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Projecting Cardinals Call-Up Alex Reyes

The St. Louis Cardinals recalled top prospect Alex Reyes yesterday and, a few hours later, the hard-throwing right-hander recorded his major-league debut, striking out one in a clean inning of relief work (box).

The book on Reyes is that his stuff is off the charts, but his control and command leave something to be desired. His numbers paint this picture vividly. His top-notch stuff enables him to miss a lot of bats, resulting in nearly unmatched strikeout rates the past couple of years. Meanwhile, his lackluster command has resulted in a concerning number of walks.

All else being equal, you’d prefer to have a pitcher that doesn’t have iffy command and an ugly walk rate. But all else isn’t equal with Reyes. His ability to generate strikeouts, especially at such a young age, is a huge point in his favor. I yanked some of those words from my recent Tyler Glasnow piece, but I’m recycling them here since they’re equally applicable to Reyes.

My KATOH projection system adores Reyes. It projects him for 7.6 WAR over his first six seasons by the traditional method and 12.6 WAR by the method that integrates Baseball America’s rankings. Reyes placed 18th and seventh overall, respectively, on KATOH’s recent top-100 lists. Among pitchers, though, he was third and first. KATOH’s lists tend to be relatively hitter-heavy — likely due to some combination of pitchers’ attrition rates and the fact that KATOH does not directly quantify “stuff.” But in terms of pitching prospects, scouting-infused KATOH thinks Reyes is the best one on the planet.

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Checking in on Adam Wainwright’s Curveball

I have a favorite pitch in the majors. As someone who hopes to illuminate interesting aspects of the game of baseball, I wish I could say my favorite pitch was an obscure off-the-board pick that you had never previously considered – a pitch by an obscure reliever or an up-and-coming rookie, perhaps — but in reality, my favorite is classic and unoriginal. The pitch that makes me go weak at the knees like no other is Adam Wainwright’s curveball.

As a baseball fan of a certain age, I’ve recently found myself facing the mortality of the seminal baseball figures of my formative years. From The Kid’s enshrinement in Cooperstown to the imminent retirement of Alex Rodriguez to the 3,000th hit of a player from Japan who I swear won the Rookie of the Year award just a few years ago, my baseball life has been inundated recently with baseball reflections and farewells. When a 34-year-old Adam Wainwright posted a 7.16 ERA through his first five starts of the season, part of me wondered if I would also be saying goodbye to my favorite pitch sooner than later. However, since the start of May, things have turned around significantly for Wainwright.

rolling ERA

As the season has progressed, Wainwright’s results have steadily improved to the extent that he now has a 2.74 ERA and 24.1% strikeout rate over his past 11 starts. However, one thing that hasn’t kept pace with his improved results is the performance of his signature curveball. By our pitch-type linear weights, the run value of his curve per 100 thrown is at the lowest mark since 2007 — his first year as a starter. Opponents have posted a 64 wRC+ against the pitch this season, which sounds reasonably good until you note that opponents have registered a minuscule 26 wRC+ against the pitch over his career. Is this a fluke, or has Wainwright’s recent resurgence happened in spite of the fact that his curveball is in decline?

To evaluate the performance of the pitch, I first looked at two key indicators: whiffs per swing and grounders per balls in play. If these peripheral stats remained stable, it would indicate to me that batters were performing as expected against the pitch and the declining results-based performance of the pitch was a fluke.

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Sergio Romo Got Nearly the Dumbest Win Ever

Pitcher wins are a silly statistic, for all the reasons you know, and additional reasons you don’t. So we pretty much never talk about them — there was a time, once, when the analysts would rail against wins, but that battle is over. The analysts won. Wins carry less value than they ever have, and there’s a part of me that wonders why I’m even bothering to write this post in the first place.

But I just can’t not do it. For one thing, it’s Friday. Leave me alone. It’s August, and the trade deadline just passed, so, again, leave me alone. And even though we don’t talk about them, wins do still exist. Somebody hands them out, and they remain a part of the official records. So I want to take a few minutes of your time to discuss really dumb wins. Sergio Romo just got one Thursday. It was one of the very dumbest.

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Trade Deadline 2016 Omnibus Post

As it has been the past few years, the 2016 non-waiver trade deadline brought about a flurry of activity that was hard to keep up with even if it was the only thing you were doing. Since most of us have other things that we have to or would like to occupy our time with, we figured we would save you some hassle and create an omnibus post with all of our trade deadline content so that you have it all in one place. For clarity’s sake, I’m going to limit this to articles about trades that actually took place.

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Scouting Charlie Tilson, New White Sox Outfield Prospect

In exchange for LHP Zach Duke, the White Sox received fourth-outfield prospect Charlie Tilson from St. Louis. Tilson is a plus-plus runner with good bat-to-ball skills but doesn’t project as a regular because of his complete lack of power.

A Chicago-area high schooler, Tilson blew up a bit at the Area Code Games as a rising senior when he stole seven bases in three days of play. The Cardinals selected him in the second round of the 2011 draft and gave him $1.275 million to turn pro instead of heading to Illinois. He missed all of 2012 while recovering from surgery to repair a separated (non-throwing) shoulder, began 2013 in full-season ball and has made a ton of contact ever since. He was hitting .282/.345/.407 with Triple-A Memphis before the trade.

Tilson has just average bat speed, no leverage in his swing and very rarely extends enough to really punish the baseball, resulting in 30-grade game power. He can play all three outfield positions, though his arm is fringe average and fits best in center and left. His ability to play center field while making a lot of contact is probably enough to win him a major-league roster spot, but unless his defense in center greatly outpaces present projections, he only profiles as a bench outfielder or below-average regular.

Despite a relatively humble collection of tools, Tilson ranked 81st on Chris Mitchell’s updated KATOH rankings.

Charlie Tilson, Tool Profile
Tool Present Future
Hit 45 55
Raw Power 30 30
Game Power 30 30
Run 70 70
Field 50 55
Throw 45 45
FV 40

Projecting the Prospects Traded Over the Weekend

A bevy of trades went down over the weekend, as this year’s trade deadline-season entered into full swing. Here are the prospects who changed teams the last couple of days, as evaluated by my newly updated KATOH system. KATOH denotes WAR forecast for first six years of player’s major-league career. KATOH+ uses similar methodology with consideration also for Baseball America’s rankings.

The Andrew Miller Trade

Clint Frazier, OF, New York (AL)

KATOH: 2.7 WAR
KATOH+: 4.7 WAR

Frazier had been promoted to Triple-A a week ago after slashing a strong .276/.356/.469 with 13 steals at Double-A this year. He pairs a high walk rate with decent power and speed, making him one of the most promising offensive prospects in baseball. Despite possessing average speed, Frazier plays mostly the corner-outfield spots these days, and hasn’t graded out particularly well there defensively. This suggests most of his big-league value will come from his hitting. Still, considering he’s a 21-year-old who’s already mastered Double-A, his future looks bright.

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Cardinals Strengthen Bullpen Without Paying Top Dollar

As the going rate for elite relievers continues to make grown men and women blush, it’s increasingly evident that there’s value in not needing to get into the market for the crème de la crème of relievers. Through the hefty prices paid in the acquisitions of Craig Kimbrel, Ken Giles, Aroldis Chapman and, now, Andrew Miller, contending teams are making it clear that they value having that lights out guy at the back of the bullpen perhaps even more than we may have once thought. Fortunately for the St. Louis Cardinals, when they lost their closer, Trevor Rosenthal, first to under-performance and then (perhaps not coincidentally) to a rotator cuff injury, they had an internal alternative which kept them from needing to wade into the deep end of the relief pitching market.

Seung Hwan Oh has been absolutely dominant for the Cardinals this season first as a set-up man and, for the last month, as a closer. The 34-year-old right-hander who had been tremendously successful in both South Korea and Japan has posted a 1.69 ERA and a 26.4 K-BB% since being signed by St. Louis this past winter. His 1.94 FIP ranks tenth among relievers in baseball this season. With the loss of Rosenthal, the Cardinals could have pursued the top names on the relief market this month, but Oh gave them the freedom not to. Instead, they made a relatively quiet transaction this morning picking up left-handed reliever Zach Duke from the Chicago White Sox in exchange for 23-year-old outfield prospect Charlie Tilson — a deal which was announced in true old-school fashion by the teams themselves.

In 2014, Zach Duke posted a surprisingly strong season out of the bullpen for the Brewers. He was 31 at the time and it was his first full season in a major league bullpen after scuffling along as an under-performing starter for most of his 20s. That one great season led to the White Sox giving him a 3-yr/$15M which was heavily mocked at the time due to his age and lack of a successful track record. It would appear, however, that the White Sox were either on to something or extraordinarily lucky as Duke has continued to be a solid reliever since signing the contract.

Since the start of the 2014 season, he has thrown 157 innings to very impressive results: 2.87 ERA, 27.9 K%, 58.2 GB%. He walks more batters than you might like — 10.0% walk-rate — but it’s hard to complain when the overall results are as strong as his. The key to his success has been a curveball which misses bats — the whiff-rate on his curve this season is 43.9% which ranks 12th of 41 MLB relievers (min. 100 curves) — and a sinker which induces grounders on 67% of balls in play. This has resulted in him posting an impressive combination of strikeouts and grounders over the past three seasons.

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The Cardinals Have Had Historically Horrible Timing

Back in the middle of May, Dave wrote about how the Cardinals were off to something of an unlucky start. Their record hadn’t tanked or anything, but they weren’t winning as often as it looked like they should’ve been. Based on, you know, the various other indicators. The post went how those posts usually go — Dave observed that the Cardinals were missing wins, and then he talked about how that kind of bad luck has proven itself to be unsustainable. In other words, the Cardinals had been unlucky, but the Cardinals shouldn’t have remained unlucky.

Two months have passed, and the Cardinals have remained unlucky. Don’t like the word “luck”? That’s fine. You know what I mean. The Cardinals’ most important number isn’t matching up with all the other numbers. In May, it was something to notice early on. Now the Cardinals are in historic territory. It’s the wrong sort of history, but at least they’re making a statement, I guess.

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