Archive for Cardinals

Speculating on the Cardinals’ Potential Punishment

In the aftermath of yesterday’s shocking news that the FBI is investigating the St. Louis Cardinals for allegedly illegally accessing the Houston Astros’ computer network without authorization, many fans have begun to speculate as to what sort of penalty the Cardinals might face from Major League Baseball. MLB has already suggested that some form of punishment is forthcoming, issuing the following statement yesterday in response to the New York Times’ initial report:

Major League Baseball has been aware of and has fully cooperated with the federal investigation into the illegal breach of the Astros’ baseball operations database. Once the investigative process has been completed by federal law enforcement officials, we will evaluate the next steps and will make decisions promptly.

In particular, as others have noted, MLB’s reference to the incident as an “illegal breach” – as opposed to an “alleged” illegal breach – is especially noteworthy. MLB isn’t denying that employees of one of its teams may have illegally accessed the Astros’ computer network, nor is the league holding off judgment on the veracity of the reports until the federal investigation is complete. Instead, the league office is explicitly acknowledging that an illegal breach has occurred.

So the Cardinals are almost certainly facing some form of MLB-imposed punishment on top of any potential criminal charges the government may pursue. The question now is just what type of punishment MLB and Commissioner Manfred will seek to impose.

Given the unprecedented nature of the incident, initial speculation has ranged anywhere from a steep fine or the loss of draft picks to a potential postseason ban for the Cardinals. However, while Commissioner Manfred certainly has broad authority to govern the sport under his “best interests of baseball” powers, his authority – as NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has learned in recent years – is not absolute. Instead, MLB’s league constitution and collective bargaining agreement both impose some real constraints on the commissioner’s ability to punish the Cardinals. Read the rest of this entry »

Do You See Something the Projections Don’t?

Last night I was out getting a drink with our own Matthew Kory. His favorite team is the Red Sox. My favorite team is the Mariners. The bar we went to was showing the Mariners game, and while the Mariners were actually winning, that did nothing to stem the tide of jokes at our own expense. They’re two very different teams in two very similar situations — they came in with a lot of hype and promise, some people labeling them World Series contenders, and to this point they’ve more or less sucked. I don’t know which team has been the bigger disappointment. There’s still time yet, but while that means things could get better, that means, also, things could get worse.

The conversation turned to looking ahead. It was just last week I wrote about the meaning of the standings through a couple months, relative to the meaning of the projections. The numbers suggested that the Sox and Mariners would be pretty good. They continue to suggest that, and, my brain knows it should believe that. But it can be difficult to fully accept, when you’re watching a team playing different from the expectations. It feels like a bad team is just a bad team. It feels like a good team has something special going on. There are feelings you’re supposed to feel, and feelings you actually feel. Actual feelings, you could say, are greatly prone to recency bias.

The conversation has led to this post. It’s another post with an assortment of polls, asking for your participation. The idea: do you see something, in the teams you follow, the projections don’t? Do you see reason to doubt the projected records? The polls will ask about five teams: the Red Sox, Mariners, Royals, Cardinals, and Nationals.

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The Legal Implications of the Cardinals’ Alleged Hacking

The New York Times dropped a bombshell of a story Tuesday morning, reporting that the FBI is investigating whether front-office officials from the St. Louis Cardinals may have illegally hacked into the Houston Astros’ proprietary computer network. According to the Times, government officials believe that unnamed Cardinals employees may have accessed the Astros’ computers in order to retrieve the team’s internal trade discussions, proprietary statistics and scouting reports. The FBI has apparently traced the source of the hacking to a house shared by some Cardinals employees.

While some are understandably comparing Tuesday’s news to the NFL’s recent “SpyGate” scandal – in which the New England Patriots were accused of impermissibly videotaping the New York Jets coaches’ hand signals during a 2007 game – if true, the Cardinals’ alleged hacking would, of course, be much more serious. Beyond just league-imposed penalties, the hacking allegations carry the possibility of criminal prosecution, not just for the Cardinals employees involved in the breach, but potentially for the organization as a whole.

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Carlos Martinez Found His Pitch

Carlos Martinez is a starting pitcher now. He’s not some guy who throws 75 pitches and four innings a game. This year he’s often exceeded triple digits, and he’s one of the big reasons why the St. Louis Cardinals are where they are despite the loss of some important players. Before the season, there was some uncertainty surrounding Martinez, and it’s still not clear how he’ll hold up down the stretch. But after pitching well in Colorado on Wednesday, Martinez has turned in six strong starts in a row. His ERA is a hair under 3, and he has the peripherals to match.

With every starting pitcher who’s ever become good, the reasons behind the success are numerous. It’s never as easy as, “He replaced this pitch with this other pitch,” or “He added a tick of velocity.” So understand that, with Martinez, I’m sure there’s been a lot going on. Most conspicuously, Martinez is now throwing a changeup he believes in. Even though observers liked Martinez’s changeup in the minors, it wasn’t there for him in the bigs, and he had problems putting lefties away. That problem is in the process of being resolved, as Martinez has evidently found a changeup he likes.

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Heyward, Pedroia, and Your Annual Warning About Defense

We all know, entering the season, that the WAR leaderboards in the early part of the year reveal less about the players contained within them than those same WAR leaderboards at the end of the year. That knowledge doesn’t stop me, personally, from compulsively looking at the leaderboards just as soon as the season begins. Remember Freddy Galvis? He was tied for the National League lead among shortstops with 0.9 WAR — and “on pace” for a great season at the end of April. A month of replacement-level production has placed him considerably lower among major-league shortstops. What about Devon Travis? At the end of April, his 1.4 WAR was sixth in all of baseball. Unfortunately, an injury slowed him down and he has been unable to add to his impressive April totals.

Now that we have reached the second week of June, the leaderboards begin to look a little more familiar. Mike Trout, Josh Donaldson, and Paul Goldschmidt have continued great runs of production. Bryce Harper has emerged and Jason Kipnis has returned to form after a poor 2014 season. There are still surprises at this point, though. The production of Harper and Kipnis was not expected to reach these levels, Joc Pederson has been far more impressive than anyone could have expected, and Dee Gordon is still slapping and running his way into the top ten. We will see more changes as the season wears on, providing a more accurate depiction of player value as more games are played. However, since we are all looking at the leaderboards now, it might be worthwhile to point out a few anomalies in WAR totals due to the small sample sizes we have with defensive statistics.

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Joe Kelly: Perennially an Adjustment Away

Joe Kelly always seems just a tweak away from greatness. He owns one of the biggest fastballs in the game, and has decent secondary pitches that don’t deserve scorn either. His command isn’t great, but he’s no Henry Rodriguez either. Throw a little bit more of one pitch, or a little bit less of another, the thinking has gone, and we’ll finally see greatness from the guy to match his athleticism and velocity.

You might have to admit that the latest tweak, suggested publicly by his manager, makes you wonder if there’s a fatal flaw that will forever keep the 26-year-old Red Sox starter from realizing his potential. It’s already the third such tweak that either the player or the team has discussed since they acquired him late last year.

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Alex Reyes’s Weakness Isn’t That Strong

Cardinals pitching prospect Alex Reyes is putting up some gaudy numbers in High-A Palm Beach. Through seven starts, the 20-year-old owns a sparkling 1.78 ERA and an equally sparkling 1.80 FIP. FIPs below 2.00 don’t come around all that often, even in the minors. In fact, Reyes’s mark is the lowest among qualified pitchers in the Florida State League.

Given these figures, it goes without saying that Reyes has done plenty of things right this year. But there’s one particular aspect of his performance that really jumps off of the page: his strikeout rate. Reyes has struck out 58 of the 142 batters he’s faced this year, which gives him an Aroldis Chapman-esque 41% strikeout rate. That’s a higher rate than any qualified starter in affiliated baseball this year. Read the rest of this entry »

Lance Lynn as the Next Max Scherzer

Lance Lynn first received a rotation spot in 2012 when St. Louis’s then-ace Chris Carpenter went down in Spring Training. Lynn inherited the rotation spot vacated by Carpenter, but did not inherit his role as staff ace, into which Adam Wainwright stepped after missing 2011 while recovering from Tommy John surgery. The Cardinals have once again lost their ace, with Adam Wainwright out for the season because of an Achilles injury. This time, Lance Lynn, secure in his spot in the rotation and current de facto ace, appears poised to drop the de facto qualifier and be one of the top ten pitchers in all of baseball.

As Jonah Keri wrote yesterday, not much was expected of Lynn when he was drafted, but over the last year he has been one of the better pitchers in the National League. The Cardinals tweaked Lynn’s delivery in the minors, instructing him to move his hips more to gain greater leverage towards the plate. The moves helped Lynn throw in the mid-90s out of the bullpen in 2011, and kept his fourseam fastball in the 92-93 mph range as a starter. Lynn has been solid and durable, but not spectacular, as a starter over the past three seasons slotting behind Adam Wainwright. In the early part of this season, he has taken a step forward, mirroring the career of Max Scherzer.

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The Current State of Bullpen Usage in 2015

The number of innings a team’s bullpen throws over the course of the season has less to do with the performance of the bullpen than the performance of the starters. Teams with starters pitching deep into games rely less on relievers, leaving the bullpen well-rested and allowing the manager to leverage a team’s best relievers in more important situations. A great bullpen might cause a manager to pull his starter at the first sign of trouble, creating more innings for the bullpen, but for the most part, the starter will pitch as many innings as possible and the rest is left for the bullpen. Once the relievers are called upon, it is the manager’s job to divvy out appearances and prevent overuse. So far this season, the Boston and Tampa Bay rotations have put their bullpens in trouble and St. Louis also appear to be in danger of wearing out their core arms — points which I’ll address momentarily.

First, let’s consider performance. In unsurprising fashion, the Kansas City Royals’ bullpen has produced the lowest ERA among all major-league bullpens in 2015. Their relief corps was a featured strength as the team made it to the World Series last year. From 2012 to 2014, the Royals bullpen WAR of 17.7 is more than two wins greater than the second-place Atlanta Braves, and the bullpen is off to a great start in 2015 (even if their 3.35 FIP does not quite match their sterling 1.56 ERA). The graph below shows every bullpen’s ERA and FIP, sorted by the former.


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Matt Carpenter’s Passive-Aggressive Approach Paying Off

Two weeks into the season, a narrative developed around Matt Carpenter and his aggressive behavior at the plate. In 2013, Carpenter had a breakout season, hitting 55 doubles on his way to a seven-win season. After a solid — but not quite as good — 2014 that was marked by incredible patience and a high walk rate, Carpenter flipped the script in the playoffs. He got more aggressive early in the count and took advantage of his scouting report against Clayton Kershaw and the Dodgers. That aggressive approach  carried over into 2015 with Carpenter seeing about half a pitch less per plate appearance through the first two weeks of the season. Buster Olney mentioned it on Sunday Night Baseball, and I bought in.

Two weeks later, the initial data supporting that narrative has already eroded. Carpenter is now seeing just about the same amount of pitches he has throughout his career. However, that does not mean the aggressive Carpenter narrative is dead, nor does it deserve to be. In some ways, Carpenter has reverted back to 2013 Carpenter — the patient, but slightly more swing-happy player that was missing last season. On pitches in the strike zone, Carpenter has done more than just go back to 2013 levels. He is swinging at pitches in the strike zone more often than any time since he was a role player on the Cardinals 2012 team.

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Adam Wainwright Injury Leaves Innings Void for Cardinals

The St. Louis Cardinals took two of the three games from the Milwaukee Brewers over the weekend, but the wins cannot wash over the losses the team suffered. Over three games, Yadier Molina, Adam Wainwright, and Jason Heyward all left games early due to injury. Molina did not play on Saturday or Sunday, but has avoided the disabled list so far. Heyward apparently hurt his groin, and after lobbying to stay in the game, he is day-to-day. The biggest blow came on Saturday when Wainwright could not get out of the batter’s box, probably injuring his achilles. The Cardinals will likely be forced to play the season without their ace, leaving the team with options both internally and outside the organization, but no realistic option will make up for Wainwright’s absence.

There were injury concerns with Adam Wainwright heading into the season. After struggling in the summer months of 2014 and gutting through the playoffs with less than his best, an offseason surgery on his right elbow, the same part of his body that needed Tommy John surgery four seasons ago, raised questions about whether Wainwright would be able to carry the load for the Cardinals in 2015. His velocity and strikeouts were down to start the season, but so were his walks, and he’d been brilliant to start the season. Those injury concerns did not come forward as expected when he injured his ankle attempting to get out of the batter’s box, but with Wainwright likely gone for the season the Cardinals face a difficult task replacing one of the best pitchers in baseball.

Despite missing all of 2011 recovering from Tommy John surgery, Adam Wainwright’s 27 WAR since 2009 ranks sixth among Major League Baseball pitchers and is in the top 20 among all MLB players. His 16 wins since returning from surgery in 2012 sit even with Max Scherzer and David Price and trail only Clayton Kershaw and Felix Hernandez among MLB pitchers. Wainwright was incredibly effective when he pitched, but just as important for the Cardinals, he provided massive amounts of innings, preventing wear on a bullpen and a rotation trying to break in young starters.

From 2012-2014, including the playoffs, he pitched over 700 innings, with over 500 of those innings coming in the last two years. Over the last two seasons’ Wainwright’s +11 WAR have accounted for more than 40% of the Cardinals starting pitching total during the time. With Wainwright, the Cardinals’ rotation has pitched very well so far this season, with a 2.39 ERA that is the best in baseball and a 3.06 FIP that ranks fifth. Lance Lynn, Michael Wacha, John Lackey, and Carlos Martinez look to still make up a solid front four to the Cardinals’ rotation, but finding a fifth starter could leave the Cardinals’ scrambling for innings as they attempt to replace their ace. The Cardinals were already looking to manage starter innings this season, per Derrick Goold, and the loss of Wainwright only serves to amplify the difficulty of balancing starter innings with trying to preserve their rotation arms.
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Carlos Martinez’s Change is Working

In seven innings this season, including six in his start on Sunday, Carlos Martinez has faced 10 right-handed hitters. None of them has reached base and four hitters have struck out. Martinez’s early season dominance against righties is not altogether surprising. Splitting time between the bullpen and the rotation last season, Martinez faced 215 right-handers and struck out more than 30% of them while walking just shy of 7% and giving up only one home run for a 1.94 FIP.

Martinez featured a four-seam and a two-seam sinking fastball with his slider as his out pitch. The slider worked particularly well against righties, generating over a 25% whiff rate, per Brooks Baseball. Of the 87 plate appearances against right-handers that ended on a slider, 41 were strikeouts and five were walks. Martinez had the slider going against the Reds on Sunday, striking out four of the seven right-handed hitters he faced — three of whom he finished off with the slider. Against seven right-handers, Martinez made 31 pitches and threw 25 strikes. As a reminder, here is what the slider looked like against Zach Cozart.
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Division Preview: NL Central

We’ve already previewed the two western divisions, the NL and the AL. Today, we move into the middle of the country, and look at perhaps the most interesting division in baseball.

The Projected Standings

Team Wins Losses Division Wild Card World Series
Cardinals 88 74 48% 24% 7%
Pirates 85 77 26% 26% 4%
Cubs 84 78 20% 24% 3%
Brewers 78 84 5% 10% 1%
Reds 74 88 2% 4% 0%

It’s a three team race at the top, with a couple of teams not quite willing to rebuild but also probably not good enough to contend. Let’s go team by team.

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Death of the Long Man

Over the last 40 seasons, there have been 752 player seasons where a reliever pitched at least eighty innings out of the bullpen and averaged at least 1 1/3 innings pitched per appearances. Last year was the first and only season of the last 40 where not a single player met that criteria. Increased reliever specialization and larger bullpens have minimized the long reliever, and those who have been given the long reliever role tend to be the low man in the bullpen hierarchy. That was not always the case, and the decreased offensive environment could be a good opportunity to reintroduce the good long reliever to baseball.

In the not too distant past, long relievers were a regular fixture on teams. Relievers making regular appearances longer than two innings has always been a rarity, but some teams had relievers truly earning the the title of long relievers. From 1975-2014, just 110 relievers pitched at least 80 innings and averaged more than two innings per appearance, but those seasons have all but disappeared in the last two decades.

relievers_averaging_two_innings_per_appearance_since_1975 (1)
Strike seasons of 1981 and 1994 are omitted
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The Top-Five Cardinals Prospects by Projected WAR

Earlier today, Kiley McDaniel published his consummately researched and demonstrably authoritative prospect list for the St. Louis Cardinals. What follows is a different exercise than that, one much smaller in scope and designed to identify not St. Louis’s top overall prospects but rather the rookie-eligible players in the Cardinals’ system who are most ready to produce wins at the major-league level in 2015 (regardless of whether they’re likely to receive the opportunity to do so). No attempt has been made, in other words, to account for future value.

Below are the top-five prospects in the St. Louis system by projected WAR. To assemble this brief list, what I’ve done is to locate the Steamer 600 projections for all the prospects to whom McDaniel assessed a Future Value grade of 40 or greater. Hitters’ numbers are normalized to 550 plate appearances; starting pitchers’, to 150 innings — i.e. the playing-time thresholds at which a league-average player would produce a 2.0 WAR. Catcher projections are prorated to 415 plate appearances to account for their reduced playing time.

Note that, in many cases, defensive value has been calculated entirely by positional adjustment based on the relevant player’s minor-league defensive starts — which is to say, there has been no attempt to account for the runs a player is likely to save in the field. As a result, players with an impressive offensive profile relative to their position are sometimes perhaps overvalued — that is, in such cases where their actual defensive skills are sub-par.

5. Jacob Wilson, 2B (Profile)

550 .234 .281 .346 77 0.4

The Cardinals’ success in recent years has been defined by a capacity to transform late-round draft picks into capable major leaguers. Matt Adams, Matt Carpenter, and Allen Craig all produced at least 1.5 WAR for the 2013 edition of the club that won the National League pennant — and yet all three were selected in the eighth round or later. Wilson is a candidate to join that peculiar fraternity. Selected in the 10th round following his senior year at Memphis and signed for just $20 thousand, Wilson has exhibited a well-balanced offensive approach while also playing second base — a position at which McDaniel suggests he’s capable of remaining. In the longer term, that’s a promising overall profile. For the moment, it’s a slightly better than replacement-level one.

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A Preview of 2015 Team Defenses

It’s gettin’ to that time of year when folks tend to preview stuff ’round baseball. Our annual Positional Power Rankings will be coming to the site over the next couple weeks, you’ll surely see all sorts of divisional preview pieces pop up between now and Opening Day, and this right here is going to be a preview of team defenses.

We saw last year where a good defense can take a team. The Kansas City Royals were more than just a great defense, but it was evident, especially during the playoffs, how much an elite defense can mean to a ballclub. The same was true, but on the other end of the spectrum, for the Cleveland Indians. Our two advanced defensive metrics — Defensive Runs Saved and Ultimate Zone Rating — agreed that the defense in Cleveland was worth around -70 runs last season. In Kansas City, it was something like +50. That’s a 120-run difference! That’s about 12 wins! Those teams play in the same division! Move 12 wins around and the result is an entirely different season! Defense isn’t the biggest thing, but it’s a big thing. Let’s look ahead.

All the numbers used in this piece will come from UZR and DRS. For the team projections, I simply utilized our depth charts and did a little math. We’re going to take a look at the three best, the worst, the teams that got better, the teams that got worse, and then all the rest down at the bottom. For the upgrades/downgrades, I used the difference of standard deviations above or below the mean between last year’s results and this year’s projections.
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Evaluating the Prospects: St. Louis Cardinals

Evaluating the Prospects: Rangers, Rockies, D’Backs, Twins, Astros, Cubs, Reds, Phillies, Rays, Mets, Padres, Marlins, Nationals, Red Sox, White Sox, Orioles, Yankees, Braves, Athletics, AngelsDodgers, Blue Jays, Tigers, Cardinals, Brewers, Indians, Mariners, Pirates, Royals & Giants

Top 200 Prospects Content Index

Scouting Explained: Introduction, Hitting Pt 1 Pt 2 Pt 3 Pt 4 Pt 5 Pt 6

Draft Rankings: 2015, 2016 & 2017

International Coverage: 2015 July 2nd Parts One, Two & Three, 2016 July 2nd

The Cardinals have their own way of doing things, from the types of pitchers they draft, how they develop them and their recent history of turning unheralded prospects into productive big leaguers.  For a team that hasn’t spent big in the international market and always picks in the back half of the first round, this is a nice, balanced system with upside/certainty, pitching/hitting, domestic/foreign and depth at each tier of talent and level of the minors.

There’s a lot of solid infielders, specifically shortstops, at the lower levels, but Cardinals personnel told me that was more outcome than plan. There’s also a lot of young big league talent, evident from the list a couple paragraphs down. This may seem like an intro full of vague generalities, but this is another workmanlike effort of a farm system from an organization with a a farm in the middle third of the game.

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Giving Carlos Martinez the Pitch-Comp Treatment

This is clearly a toy I love playing around with. Please just don’t ask me what it means. I don’t know what it means to say that Henderson Alvarez almost has Felix Hernandez‘s changeup. It’s just a statistical observation, like any other. This is all way too new for me to know if it has any substance. If nothing else, it adds some color, right? We are a people somewhat obsessed with player comps. We love comps for young players, because they allow us to pretend like we can see their futures. This is kind of along those lines, at least with regard to the unproven. Carlos Martinez is unproven. Let’s analyze Carlos Martinez.

The Cardinals intend for Martinez to be a starting pitcher, a role in which he’s only dabbled in the major leagues. At this point he’s the favorite to open the year as the No. 5 starter, and while the Cardinals have pursued other arms on the market, that has more to do with a potential lack of depth. Of course, there are Martinez skeptics. There are skeptics of every pitcher who has yet to start and succeed. Frequently, those skeptics come away looking smart! But we don’t know if Martinez is going to develop. All we know is his age, and the kind of arm he has.

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Should You Build Your Staff To Fit Your Home Park?

You play 81 games at home a year, so it seems like it might be a good idea to think about that park when you’re building your team. Then again, you play 81 games on the road, maybe it’s not a good idea to worry too much about one half of the ledger, particularly if your home park is an extreme one.

Extreme parks lead to extreme home-road splits. That part seems obvious, but it bears out in the winning percentage, too. Take a look at how teams that have called extreme parks home have faired over the last five years compared to the middle.

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Jason Heyward Is Looking For Power

Despite all the gains advanced stats have made in gaining public acceptance over the years, there’s always going to be some cases that seem inexplicable to one side or the other. Jason Heyward is generally a good example of that, because if you still rely on traditional stats, you see a right fielder who hit .271 with 11 homers and 58 RBI and consider him a disappointment. If you believe in defensive metrics and understand the effects of age and the current offensive environment, you see a star who just put up a 5 WAR season at age 24 and could command a $200 million contract in free agency next winter.

One thing isn’t really disputable, however: Heyward hasn’t really delivered on the offensive promise he showed by putting up a 134 wRC+ at 20 in his rookie season of 2010. It was one of the finest age-20 seasons in baseball dating back to 1900, and everyone on the list ahead of him — with the exception of Dick Hoblitzel, who had his career cut short by World War I — ended up becoming either an inner-circle Hall of Famer or is a more recent player well on his way there.

Heyward followed up that smashing debut with a disappointing 96 wRC+ in 2011, due in part to a right shoulder injury, then put up three straight seasons in the 110-121 wRC+ range. While that all sounds similar, how he’s made it there hasn’t been. Heyward’s power has decreased — homers down from 27 to 14 to 11, slugging percentage down from .479 to .427 to .384 — while his on-base skills have improved, going from .335 to .349 to .351. It’s still valuable, it’s just a different kind of valuable, and not what we might have expected a few years ago.

So maybe this is what Heyward is now, and maybe that’s just fine. But to listen to Heyward himself, he seems to think he knows where the power has gone, and how he can get it back. Here’s two different bits from a St. Louis Post-Dispatch story on Sunday morning: Read the rest of this entry »