The Cardinals as an Object Lesson

The St. Louis Cardinals are often referred to as a “model organization”, and for good reason. Despite playing in one of the smallest markets of any team in Major League Baseball, they have built a sustainable model of success, flowing through nearly every aspect of the game. They draft and develop talent exceptionally well, leading to a seemingly never ending pipeline of young talent flowing into the big leagues. They manage their financial resources very well, and consistently add quality veterans at prices that won’t prohibit them from making other necessary improvements. They have a formula in place that has allowed them to win in both the short and long term, and have shown that it doesn’t take a $175 million payroll to be one of baseball’s elite franchises.

But, of course, they aren’t perfect. No organization is. So, while the Cardinals 2013 season was a remarkable success, and should be viewed that way no matter how the season ended, there may be a few things that can be learned from their final series loss to the Red Sox.

1. Trust your bullpen.

Much was written about the Cardinals starting pitching in the postseason, with Michael Wacha looking like a legitimate #2 starter behind legitimate ace Adam Wainwright, as those two carried the Cardinals in the early rounds of the postseason. However, by the season’s final week, the Cardinals simply had shifted too large of a burden to their starters, and did so at the expense of their bullpen.

Wainwright, Wacha, Lance Lynn, and Joe Kelly combined to pitch 32.2 of the 52 innings — a total of 63% — thrown by Cardinals pitchers in the World Series. In those nearly 33 innings, they combined to allow 19 earned runs, resulting in a 5.23 ERA. The Cardinals bullpen, meanwhile, posted a 2.89 ERA in their 18.2 innings of work. Cardinals starters ran a 36/17 K/BB ratio; Cardinals relievers were at 23/4.

Trevor Rosenthal, probably the most dominant arm on any team that played in October, was asked to get fewer outs than Lance Lynn, the team’s #4 starter. Randy Choate, one of the game’s premier left-handed specialists, got just two outs the entire series, despite the fact that the Red Sox entire offense was essentially one left-handed monster with significant platoon splits. Kevin Seigrist and Carlos Martinez watched as Matheny stuck with his starters in situations where a reliever would have had a significantly better chance of getting a high leverage out.

Relief pitchers, even the non-closers, perform better than all but the very best starting pitchers. Platoon advantages, funky arm angles, unseen release points – these are real advantages that should be exploited. Instead, the Cardinals asked their less effective starting pitchers to win this series against an elite offense. We shouldn’t be too surprised that it didn’t work.

2. Don’t let your weakest link be too too weak.

We can’t know what the trade deadline asking price was for Alexei Ramirez, Erick Aybar, or various other shortstop alternatives — and given the fact that there weren’t many shortstops of significance traded in-season, maybe the prices really were insane — but a team just shouldn’t try and win the World Series with a platoon of Pete Kozma and Daniel Descalso. It’s unrealistic to think that every team can have average or better players at every position on the diamond, but you don’t have to have a good player to avoid having a total hole.

The Cardinals ended up leaning far too heavily on players who simply aren’t viable Major League options. Kozma and Descalso combined to go 1 for 20 in the World Series, which, given their combined .258 wOBA on the season, shouldn’t have been too huge of a surprise. And exacerbating the problem was the fact that the Cardinals bench was basically useless, providing no opportunity for a pinch-hitter to at least provide a high leverage upgrade when necessary. NL teams already have to factor in pinch-hitting for their pitcher, so carrying a total zero at another position simply put them at too large of a disadvantage against a team with no real obvious weaknesses.

Even if the asking prices for Aybar or Ramirez were simply not in line with the value that either could provide, the Cardinals should have been able to do better than Kozma and Descalso. Jose Iglesias was acquired by the Tigers for one toolsy-but-questionable outfield prospect. The A’s got Jed Lowrie last winter without mortgaging their future. The Diamondbacks flipped an overrated young arm to get Didi Gregorius, who they still control for another six years. Maybe Rafael Furcal‘s injury wasn’t known heading into spring training, but Pete Kozma should not have been Plan B. And there was plenty of time to acquire a real replacement shortstop after Furcal hit the DL. They could have done better. They should have done better.

3. Don’t count on clutch.

The Cardinals success at hitting with runners in scoring position during the regular season has been well documented. By our calculations, the way they sequenced their hits earned them something like an additional 70 runs over the course of the season, which translates into seven extra wins. The Cardinals had a good offense that looked like a great offense because of how they bunched their hits together.

No matter how you want to describe the reasons for why that happened, the reality is that these kinds of things have little to no predictive value, and not surprisingly, the Cardinals didn’t hit .330 with runners in scoring position in the playoffs. In fact, based on the box score totals, the Cardinals went just 9 for 47 — a .191 batting average — with runners in scoring position in the World Series. In last night’s final game, they stranded two runners in the second, two runners in the fourth, two runners in the fifth, and three runners in the seventh. The Cardinals were eliminated primarily because they didn’t get enough clutch hits.

Stringing your positive events together is fantastic, and helps you win games. But if it’s the thing that your team is best at, well, that’s probably not a great sign. At the end of the day, sequencing is still mostly random, and betting on being able to pile all your hits together at the same time is not a very good strategy.




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Dave is a co-founder of USSMariner.com and contributes to the Wall Street Journal.

123 Responses to “The Cardinals as an Object Lesson”

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  1. ImmanuelKant says:

    I’ve been thinking about the third thing on this since last night. The first two are definitely within the control of the Cardinals organization, but what exactly are they supposed to do about the third? What exactly is the critique? “You got very lucky this season, but don’t act like it’s going to continue!” Were they acting like that? I suppose they could have come out and made an announcement, “Hey, just so everybody knows, we don’t think we’re all that just because we string hits together.” They strung hits together. They won a bunch of games. They got to the World Series. Is it their fault that that was all pretty lucky?

    I suppose what they could do is try to improve their offense, but isn’t that just getting back to the second point? And maybe they will this offseason… (Probably not.)

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    • whetstone says:

      Perhaps 3) suggests that you shouldn’t be complacent about 2), though it’s hard to say without being in Mozeliak’s head.

      I can’t help but wonder if they didn’t expect to be a WS team—as a fan, I didn’t, thinking they’d be a better team in 2014. I don’t remember a WS team dependent on this many rookies. I figured they’d get what they got from Wacha, Kelly, Miller, Martinez, Adams, and Rosenthal next year, and then adding Taveras and Wong would fill a couple holes. Instead the rookies played unexpectedly well, the team overachieved, and a good but flawed team got into the WS. Like in 2006, when they *did* catch the breaks.

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    • Neastws says:

      I think the reason #3 is on this list is that the list is about what the Cardinals need to improve. If they are basing how much offense they need to add based on how many runs they scored in 2013, they won’t improve their offense enough to score the same number of runs in 2014.

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    • quincy0191 says:

      It’s not so much that the Cardinals could do something about it as it made the Cardinals look better than they were. These two teams posted the best records in MLB at 97-65, but only one of them was actually a 97-65 team; if the Cardinals had normal RISP performance, going by Dave’s 70 runs, they were a 90-72 team. There’s obviously a lot of difference between 90 wins and 97.

      That’s not really something the Cardinals could have done much about, especially late in the season, but it’s a lesson to the people who looked at them and saw a 97 win team when there was really a 90 win team playing. That (possibly) includes the front office, who may have done more at the deadline to turn the Cards into a better offensive team had St. Louis not overperformed with RISP and thus looked weaker. Those changes could have meant something in the Series.

      You’re generally right that there’s probably not much in terms of solutions for the Cardinals that can come of acknowledging their RISP performance. In fact, I’d say there’s a decent argument to be made that their issues with LHP were as much a result of poor luck as their good performance with RISP, and those two should have balanced out. I’m still trying to work out how an offense with Molina, Craig, Beltran, Holliday, and Freese can’t hit lefties.

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      • Luke says:

        I would actually argue that the Red Sox are better than a 97 win team. The AL East is the toughest division and doesn’t have a cake-walk team to play like most other divisions. The Red Sox had the most difficult schedule of all the division winners.

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        • Brian says:

          There’s not a team in baseball whose true talent level is 97+ wins.

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        • RC says:

          What is true talent level though? All of our evaluations are based on strength of schedule, etc.

          BP’s 3rd order wins has the RS as a 99 win team, and the Cardinals as a 93 win team, once you adjust them to neutral schedules. You put that RS team in a weak division, and they SHOULD win 100+ games.

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        • Luke says:

          Brian, how do you know that?

          The Red Sox led baseball by far with 55.9 WAR. My understanding is that a replacement level team should be expected to win 47.7 games, so 47.7 + 55.9 is 103.6 wins. The Red Sox average opponent had 33.5 WAR, while Cardinals average opponent had 31.5. Additionally, these numbers understate the true disparity in talent level, since playing more difficult opponents will make your own numbers worse and decrease your WAR.

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        • Luke says:

          Brian, if you’re referring to “true talent” as what a team with the same roster ought to be projected to do going forward, then I would probably agree. But in terms of the actual stats put up by those players in 2013, then adjusted for playing easier opponents, I would say the Red Sox were easily better than a 97 win team.

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        • Ben Cerutti says:

          The Pittsburgh Pirates finished second in the NL Central and they were the 5th best team in all of baseball. The Cincinnati Reds came out of the NL Central as well and were the 11th best team in baseball. The NL Central may have been top-heavy, but it also may have been the best division in baseball.

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        • Brian says:

          I think we mostly agree, Luke. Based on past performance, given their strength of schedule, run differential, etc., the Sox deserved to win at least 97 games, if not a few more. I’m just saying that so many things have to break right for a team whose true talent level is less than 97 wins to actually win 97 games, that you can’t really say that they ARE better than a 97-win team. I mean, the Cards’ Pythagorean record was 103-59, the highest in baseball (and although they played in a weaker National League, they also played 38 games against the Reds and Pirates, both totally legit playoff teams), but you can’t really say that the Cards ARE a 103-win team – b/c any team that gets up over 95 wins is relying to some extent on luck. Even the aggregate WAR that you cite relies on luck.

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        • RC says:

          “The Pittsburgh Pirates … were the 5th best team in all of baseball. The Cincinnati Reds…were the 11th best team in baseball. ”

          According to what? Their record?

          If you’re just using record, you’re begging the question.

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        • Eric M. Van says:

          BP’s 2nd order Pythagorean is trustworthy — any good run metric applied to hitting and pitching stats will tell you how many games a team should win with neutral sequencing. Their SoS adjustment isn’t done correctly; it needs to be iterative.

          Properly adjusting for SoS, the Sox were a 102.5 win team (SOS +2.4, inefficiency +3.1) and the Cardinals a 94.8 (SOS +0.7, efficiency -2.9).

          The Tigers, who were incredibly inefficient at 13.3 wins, were a “106.6 win” team. The scare quotes are because their inefficiency grew pretty steadily all year and hence seemed to be real and not random. Granted, the one year I did the comparison, there was no correlation between first- and second-half efficiency across MLB. But when a number that big refuses to regress to the mean, I do wonder … especially since Pyth differential is about 10% predictive year-to-year and can be shown to relate to closer quality (unpublished study of mine).

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      • jj says:

        BUT this team did hit lefties in 2012 with almost the same lineup. This team also had 5 20+ HR hitters in 2012 but only 2 in 2012. Those 5 contributed 43 less HR in 2013 and even if you include Adams totals for 2013 that still 26 less HR than 2012. So in 2014 will those guys (or their replacements) hit more HR. i’d think somewhere in between 123 and 80, if so hitting with RISP will not be needed as much.

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        • Ryan says:

          Actually, Mozeliak has already publicly stated that you can’t expect it to continue:

          “At some point, you typically expect some regression to the mean or some normalcy,” says Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak, who is among the new breed of GMs who place great value on analyzing statistics. “Having it be sustained year in and year out isn’t a good strategy. But it could defy and be a one-year outlier.”

          http://www.usatoday.com/story/sports/mlb/cardinals/2013/08/16/secret-to-cardinals-success-clutch-hitting/2663511/

          I don’t think there’s much to criticize the organization about here (or anywhere). They are clearly one of the couple of best organizations in baseball.

          It’s true that Matheny didn’t manage their resources optimally in the WS. It’s true that they went into spring training with their backup SS option being an unproven platoon between a guy who flashed brilliance over a very short period and a guy who can’t really play the position. But, the reported ask on SS at the deadline for the Cardinals was one of their top prospects. Would you really trade Wong or Carlos Martinez to get Alexei Ramirez?

          I’m a Cards fan and wish they had won the series, but I wouldn’t make that trade. Better to see them back in it over the next 5 years, as I think they will be for smartly husbanding their resources.

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      • Matthew Cornwell says:

        94 wins. they had a run differential of a 101 -win team. Plus you have to take into account bad luck with HR/FB, defense, lefty BAA, and hitting w/ nobody on base. What is good for the goose. You can’t just regress one thing.

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      • Noah says:

        Not to mention the Red Sox played in the hardest division in the hardest league.

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      • Balthazar says:

        I’d add to your primary point, quincy0191, that the Cards weren’t quite as good as their record by going back to the first point in the post. The Birds got very good 2013 seasons out of Lance Lynn and Joe Kelly; both gave really peak performances for their talent level. On stuff, though, their starting pitching really was more of a 91-92 win team. Expecting Lynn and Kelly to be similarly effective against a much better offense (from the left side anyway) wasn’t that realistic. Matheny’s attitude seemed to be ‘they were good enough to get us here,’ but that’s not really managing to the situation, especially as guys pitched to Boston a second time around. Staying long with Lynn and Kelly (not to single them out, but the point stands) is like putting a 91 win team up against Boston for a seven game series. And that didn’t really fly.

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        • Well based on his awful BABIP, many ( including FG WAR) would say that Lynn was better than his ERA indicated. Wainwright’s FIP was much better than his ERA too. Lots of unlicky BABIP on the team,and not all can be attributed to the defense behind them.

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        • Again, there were many areas in which the cardinals were unlucky and played below their typical levels of production (run distribution, batting with nobody on, batting vs. lefties, HR power, pitcher BABIP, etc.). We can’t just pick and chose one or two things we want to adjust for. Adjust for everything or nothing. Just be consistant.

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    • Sparkles Peterson says:

      They could get back to occasionally hitting 400′ fly balls because sometimes those go over fences. I’m not sure how this team ended up so punchless this year, but they absolutely have to remedy that next season.

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      • Balthazar says:

        For the year Craig got hurt, Beltran stopped outrunning the calendar, and Molina reverted closer to true talent level; the rest were what they are. Yes, the Cardinals lack of power should really have been mentioned in the post. As Point # 4, though I would put it higher.

        In close games with good pitching, power matters more than ever. This is _exactly_ when sequencing breaks down; the flare hits and patient walks don’t come, and somebody needs to knock a ball to the wall or over. That is exactly what Boston did, especially in Games 3 & 4. That is exactly what St. Louis never did. And to me, this is the primary reason why St. Louis lost. The old 3-run homer thing (or 2-run double) . . . .

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  2. Fardbart says:

    They need to do something about their inability to hit LHP. That is a fatal flaw that really should have prevented them from getting as far as they did. They had the 3rd worst OPS v LHP in MLB. They were completely dominated by Boston’s LHPer, other than Breslow who couldn’t throw strikes/get otu of his own way.

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  3. Steven says:

    Good article, but how did the Dbacks flip an “overrated young arm” for Gregorius? In hindsight, that could easily be argued for, but Baseball America had him the 14th overall best prospect pre-season. Didn’t a lot of sites (including Fangraphs?) talk about the trade as an overreaction by the Diamondbacks to rid themselves of a pitcher just because he shook off his catcher?

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    • bdhudson says:

      I think the statement was made in hindsight, but clearly Bauer had some pretty large red flags beyond the dumb things the D’backs talk about. I think the point is just that shortstops better than Kozma/Descalso don’t cost so much that it excuses the lack of an upgrade.

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    • josh says:

      Steven, or Trevor I should say, or maybe you’re Trevor’s mom. Take it easy. The trade was a brilliant trade for the Dbacks.

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      • eckmuhl says:

        josh, are you sure you aren’t Kevin Tower’s mom? Gregorius was solid, but hardly spectacular his rookie year. Meanwhile, Bauer looks like he could be a bust, but it isn’t a certainty just yet. To call this one brilliant is a bit premature.

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    • Matt says:

      Yeah, that’s serious hindsight there. The D’Backs were panned for making that trade at the time.

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      • vivalajeter says:

        Yikes – way to throw Hulet under the bus! :-P

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      • Steve says:

        I hate that the Dbacks won this trade (most likely). I hate when stupid organizations get lucky.

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      • skippyballer486 says:

        Select quotes from the listed articles:

        “And, for the Indians, they turned one year of Shin-Soo Choo into six years of Trevor Bauer, which looks to be nothing short of a heist. ”

        “Cleveland fans should be thrilled with this return.”

        “It’s a risk worth taking for the Indians, but for Arizona, the decision to trade Bauer away isn’t totally unjustified. ”

        “So, Cashner might still not be in Bauer’s league as a strikeout pitcher (mostly thanks to Bauer’s hammer curve, which is a knockout breaking ball)”

        “Bauer’s a talented and interesting kid,”

        “They’re both good young hurlers,”

        Seems to me like you really have your hindsight glasses on, to claim that Bauer wasn’t a significant piece to give up. I guess technically you only claimed Bauer was overrated, but if he should have been the #20 prospect instead of #9 that would still be a really good player to trade away.

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  4. Tempered Spender says:

    I agree that Matheny could’ve managed his pitchers better in the World Series.

    However, I disagree with your second point. The Cardinals had the best record in baseball and made it to the world series with these holes. They didn’t add payroll and didn’t trade away prospects.

    To suggest that a better hitting SS or bench would’ve won the world series is ignoring the reality that the playoffs are a crap shoot. With a moderate BA with RISP, the Cardinals would be WS champs. Mozeliak assembled a team to win in the regular season and with better luck, could have won it all, nothing more, nothing less.

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  5. NatsLady says:

    It was clear from the beginning that the Red Sox were the better team, and all this “equally matched” commentary struck me as farce, or designed to gin up interest. The Cards barely beat the Pirates (probably a better team) and the Dodgers (dogged by injuries). If not for two bad throws to 3rd base by the Red Sox (one by a RELIEVER) it could have been a sweep.

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    • Nice Try says:

      Pirates’ offense wasn’t fantastic. Also, the injury thing can go both ways: If you want to take that attitude about it, you might as well say that the Blue Jays should have won the world series, because absolutely no one was healthy the whole year. In the case of the Cardinals no Chris Carpenter (I’m not pretending he’d still be an ace), Shelby Miller, or Motte was quite significant.

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    • NatsLady says:

      It’s not clear Shelby Miller wasn’t healthy (he says he is and was, and doesn’t know why he wasn’t called upon). As for injuries, I’m not talking about the season (Motte), I’m talking about the teams that were in the postseason.

      Red Sox were, IMO, the best team that made it to the tournament, and I thought that from the beginning. The Cards were hampered by Craig’s and Beltran’s injuries, but the Red Sox had injuries too (Victorino comes to mind).

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      • Brian says:

        Well, once you get into the injury game you have to include the fact that the Cards lost their #2 starter, their #3 starter, their starting SS, and their closer to injuries. No reason to give the Dodgers credit for their injuries without doing the same for the Cardinals.

        And this idea that the Pirates were “probably” a better team than the Cards is unsupported by any evidence I’m aware of. I also love how you play the game of “if not for two bad throws…” to call the Series a near-sweep. Those games are at best tied without the bad throws – not Red Sox wins. Besides, what if you remove Maness’ “bad throw” to Jonny Gomes in Game 4? Aren’t we playing a Game 7 tonight?

        I’m not saying I buy that argument. I’m just saying you take every opportunity to skew your arguments to go against the Cardinals, but don’t employ the same logic against any of their opponents.

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        • RC says:

          And the Red Sox had their #1 starter only pitch 4 innings where he couldn’t break 90 because he was hurt, and they were missing what were supposed to be their top 2 or 3 bullpen guys, and…

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    • Ben Cerutti says:

      1) The Cardinals were missing the #1/2 starter in Chris Carpenter, their starting SS in Rafael Furcal, their top closer in Jason Motte, their #3 starter in Jaime Garcia, and their cleanup hitter (Allen Craig) was reduced to pinch hitting in home games, while their top prospect was in recovery as well. Who was decimated by injuries? Oh, that’d be the 97 win, World Series bound Cardinals, while the Dodgers sat on their asses during the World Series.

      2) The Red Sox barely beat the Tigers, who were worse than the Dodgers and Pirates this year – your point?

      3) The Cardinals threw away game 1, they won game 2 and 3 on errors, yes. They were one pitch (to Gomes) worse in game 4 and one pitch (to Ross) worse in game 5, or those games may have gone to the Cardinals. The only game really won by the opposition in any convincing way was game 6, so don’t act like it was a blowout. I know you’re still pissed off about Pete Kozma beating you in 2012, but you should probably talk to your GM about Strasburg being shut down instead of blowing smoke here.

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      • TanGeng says:

        By WAR totals Red Sox – Tigers in ALCS was 55.9 to 53.0 (a much closer battle and that is the top 2 – significantly Miguel Cabrera nursed an injury.)

        Cardinals are 11 less @ 44.2.
        Rangers @ 47.3 (declined in September and were eliminated by Tampa)
        Dodgers @ 47.1 (lost to Cardinals in NLCS with their best hitter suffering an injury)
        Rays @ 45.0 (lost to Boston in the ALDS)

        Those three are in between the top 2 and Cards. Not sure what metric you are using to say Tigers are worse than Dodgers and Pirates. On top of that, AL was on average 4 WAR better than NL.

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        • Andrew says:

          I love all these arguments that present data then have anecdotes but why the data should be discounted.

          @TenGeg I think your presentation of best teams by WAR is correct overall, but in AL NL comparison remember the DH, DH added 23.7 WAR for the AL and pitcher hitting for the NL added -4.7 WAR.

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        • Benjammer says:

          WAR is not the perfect stat to use in this case, especially team WAR. Isn’t WAR a reflection of how an individual player has contributed to his team winning? Team WAR is a silly thing to look at, because the season is over and we have their actual number of actual wins. The fact that team WAR is different from their actual win totals points out the instances where WAR is not perfect, such as position adjustments or defensive metrics.

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        • TanGeng says:

          Well, well. Andrew.

          The thing about anecdotes (things like injuries) is that they are predictive in nature. What if Hanley Ramirez didn’t have a fractured rib in the NLCS, etc.) Dodgers clearly would be better. The art is in quantifying predictive value.

          But here, it’s a comparisons between teams based on an unclear metric. I’d hope that it’d be a metric that is incline towards the predictive end of the spectrum like the WAR value that I cited. Rather than a metric that is far towards the result spectrum like WIN-LOSS or simply winning or losing, or maybe even subjective things like apparently struggling to win/lose. These sorts of thing needs to be clear to have a quality argument.

          Nice to know how much of the AL-NL difference in WAR is in the DH/Pitcher batting. I didn’t know how much to ascribe to it so I just metioned the 4 WAR average diff (~59 WAR total) as part of the control.

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        • TanGeng says:

          Season wins is pretty poor in any predictive value. It’s why there are regressions based on RunScored/RunAllowed. And further regressions based on Expected RS/Expect RA. And further regressions involving more factors.

          WAR is largely on the level of Expected RS/Expect RA. While aggregating it does have problems, it’s still one of the more predictive metrics that has been thrown around. As for flaws, far more important that imperfections in the defensive metrics, WAR doesn’t capture managerial decision-making.

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    • Sparkles Peterson says:

      Red Sox manhandled them to a tune of a .621 OPS (Albeit against an even-worse .572 from the Cardinals). Basically, the 2 HR advantage plus sequencing was the margin of victory.

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  6. Bill says:

    Concerning #1, maybe they should have taken their chances with the bullpen against Ortiz, but it’s not like the Cardinals’ lefties were getting him out. The rest of the Sox lineup didn’t hit much at all until last night. To me the series turned on the Sox batted balls fell in for bases hits and extra base hits, while Cardinal batted balls were singles or found leather.

    Concerning #2, David Freese, Matt Adams, and John Jay were as bad or worse than Kozma and DeScalso. But again, except for game 6, Red Sox hitters not named David Ortiz were pretty bad throughout the series.

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  7. NatsLady says:

    Not only did the Red Sox have a better team, they had the better approach (get rid of the starter or at least tire him out, especially in the ALCS, but that also worked in the WS as per your point No. 1) and made they better adjustments.

    It must be noted, however, that Drew wasn’t hitting any better than Kozma–but he’s a much better fielder.

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    • Spencer D says:

      Kozma’s not bad himself, though.

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    • Ben Cerutti says:

      Drew may have been a better fielder this series, but defensive metrics like Kozma overall in 2013.

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      • stan says:

        Actually, Stephen Drew had almost the same defensive value as Kozma during the regular season. People talk about Kozma’s defense because its the only positive thing about him, but its not really all that special. He’s just a tick above average there.

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  8. Anon21 says:

    “Trevor Rosenthal, probably the most dominant arm on any team that played in October”

    I know it’s been a few weeks, but the Braves and Craig Kimbrel actually did play in October.

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    • Aaron Murray says:

      And I’d take Koji over Rosenthal as well. The point wasn’t to provide analysis of who’s the best reliever but maybe using the word “maybe” instead of “probably” here would have been better.

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      • Anon21 says:

        I think it’s kind of obvious that he is not the most dominant in a month that included Kimbrel, Jansen, Uehera, and Chapman. So the problem to me is not the confidence with which one states it, but rather the underlying sentiment. If Dave had said “among the most dominant arms,” I’d have no quibble.

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        • Ben Cerutti says:

          I took it as he was the most dominant this post season.

          Rosenthal
          11 2/3 IP, 0.60 WHIP, 18 K, 3 BB, .108 BAA, 0.00 ERA

          Uehara
          13 2/3 IP, 0.51 WHIP, 16 K, 0 BB, .152 BAA, 0.66 ERA

          Jansen
          4 1/3 IP, 1.62 WHIP, 10 K, 1 BB, .316 BAA, 4.15 ERA

          Kimbrel
          1 1/3 IP, 1.50 WHIP, 2 K, 2 BB, .000 BAA, 0.00 ERA

          Chapman
          Didn’t pitch

          I’ll throw Carlos Martinez out there:
          12 2/3 IP, 0.79 WHIP, 11 K, 3 BB, .167 BAA, 3.55 ERA

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    • Anon says:

      Rosenthal stats during the postseason:

      13.89 K/9 (45% K%)
      0.00 ERA
      0.73 FIP

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      • Anon21 says:

        Well, I rather assumed that Dave was not referring to a 12-inning sample, because why would he do that? Isn’t the point to refer to Rosenthal’s actual, underlying abilities and suggest that they should have been better exploited by Matheny? What point could Dave possibly have been trying to make by referring to Rosenthal’s performance over a sample size that rounds off to nothing?

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        • Spencer D says:

          No. Not at all. As far as I can tell, Dave simply meant that Rosenthal’s performance was the best of any of the nasty-ass relievers that got there.

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        • Anon21 says:

          So if you replace “Trevor Rosenthal” in that phrase with “Chris Archer,” that’s still something you can imagine Dave saying. Hey, the guy had a 10.8 K/9, a 0.00 BB/9 and a 0.00 ERA in October! Dominant. You think that’s what Dave meant? I don’t think that’s what he meant.

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        • Butt-hurt Braves Fan says:

          GEEEEEEEEZ, you don’t have to search out every perceived slight against Braves players. You’re a fan. We get it.

          Vote -1 Vote +1

    • chuckb says:

      So did Aroldis Chapman — well, not Chapman, but his team — if only for 1 game.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

      • Anon21 says:

        Sure. I think Kimbrel is more dominant than Chapman, but you can make an argument for Chapman. Both are more dominant than Rosenthal.

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    • IamConfused says:

      Nitpicking for the sake of nitpicking! You know what he was trying to convey here. Get a life.

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      • Anon21 says:

        I really don’t, not when other playoff teams had relievers clearly superior to Rosenthal. I think what’s most likely is that he kind of forgot about the Dodgers, Braves, and Reds.

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      • Butt-Hurt Braves Fan says:

        IamConfused: Amen, and amen. Kimbrel was perceived to be slighted in an inconsequential sentence in the article = gotta light it up.

        Anon: deep breaths. Kimbrel is still good. Tomahawk chop it up for him come next spring. Fair warning: there may even be nasty articles daring to pick the Nats to win the division again. (!! How dare they!!)

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  9. John C says:

    As I recall, the asking price on Alexei Ramirez was very high. The Chisox seem to want to hang onto him as they start their rebuild. And Aybar is under contract through 2016 at about $8 million a year, and the Cards probably didn’t want to make that commitment even if the Angels offered him at a reasonable price, which I suspect they didn’t.

    The Tigers got Iglesias for Avisail Garcia because they were able to swing a three-team deal. The Red Sox wanted Jake Peavy and were willing to pay his salary for 2013 and 2014 to get him, and they also had three B-level prospects they shipped to Chicago themselves. The Cardinals might not have been able to swing the deal the Tigers did.

    I do have to wonder if Greg Garcia, the Memphis Redbirds’ shortstop all season, might not have done better than Kozma, though. He was pretty bad.

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    • Brian says:

      Why didn’t the Cardinals give Greg Garcia a try? His numbers were pretty solid in Memphis. Is he much worse than the numbers indicate? (Not a rhetorical question – I honestly don’t know.)

      Vote -1 Vote +1

      • Semperty says:

        The Cards are either all in at short, or stickin with the Wizard of Koz. Jackson’s a better option, too.

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      • Baltar says:

        I suspect they didn’t want to start the clock and lose a year of control. Just guessing though.

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      • stan says:

        Garcia seemed to have gotten the Ryan Jackson treatment in that they made their decision about him over a short period of time and stuck with it. Garcia was the heir apparent coming into spring training and then played horribly through most of the year. He really turned it on in August though and it was thought that he’d be a September call-up with a chance at the job. However, management didn’t call him up, saying instead that they were going to give Jackson another chance- which they didn’t.

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      • chuckb says:

        Garcia’s not really a shortstop. He’s been playing SS in order to let Wong play 2nd full time, as Garcia’s also really a 2b.

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    • RC says:

      The 3 prospects weren’t anywhere near B prospects… one of them’s upside was probably as a B prospect.

      One of them was a reliever in A ball who has trouble throwing 90, and has 2 pitches.

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    • Ben Cerutti says:

      I’m pretty sure the rumors were the White Sox wanted to start and end conversations with Carlos Martinez. It ended a conversation, all right.

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      • Yinka Double Dare says:

        And the Sox were right to do that, since there really isn’t much of a reason to just give a guy away that you have signed for another 3 years on a reasonable contract.

        Vote -1 Vote +1

        • Jason B says:

          And, in turn, the Cards were right to end the conversation there also. You don’t give away an asset like Carlos Martinez for Alexei Ramirez.

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  10. LaLoosh says:

    I don’t know about these… I’d prefer to take my chances with my *best* pitchers most of the time over a quick hook. As much as I like their rotation, I think not having a LHed SP was more of a problem for the Cards than anyone may have thought. That would have helped to neutralized Ortiz and Ellsbury a bit.

    By far the biggest issue was simply that the Cards couldn’t swing the bat. To me the SS situation was far down the list of reasons the Cards didn’t win. I applaud them for not being suckered into dealing away a top young arm for an overpaid journeyman SS during the year. That said, they may have been better giving Ryan Jackson a shot somewhere during the yr.

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    • Jason B says:

      “By far the biggest issue was simply that the Cards couldn’t swing the bat”

      But this is closely related to the Kozma/Descalso point that Dave made. Once you got past Molina in the lineup, there just wasn’t much to be scared of. That’s not entirely on Koz, but he’s a part of it.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

      • channelclemente says:

        How many folks did Freese leave on base.

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      • Ben Cerutti says:

        Jay and Freese had slumps at the same time. That hurt more than Kozma, who the Cardinals know isn’t a hitter.

        Vote -1 Vote +1

        • stan says:

          If we’re being honest. They both had slumps through all of 2013. Both guys had a huge drop-off the whole year with just a few bright spots.

          Vote -1 Vote +1

        • Jason B says:

          Yes, Freese took a big step back this year also, and Jay was a zero in the postseason also. I don’t know which “hurt more” though; not hitting is not hitting, regardless of who’s (not) doing it.

          Vote -1 Vote +1

  11. Schutt says:

    The Cardinals led the NL in runs scored in 2012 with largely the same offense as this year’s team. They plugged in Matt Carpenter in one of the holes they had and scored more runs. While I’m not delusional enough to think .330 with RISP is sustainable, it also seems to me that it’s reasonable to expect the Cardinals to hit better with the bases empty and for some of their power to return. Mozeliak has assembled the best offense in the NL over the last 3 years, and that’s what he got again this year. With point #3, you seem to trivialize this point with your statement.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Andrew says:

      Jeff Sullivan had an article on this subject in July. I read Dave’s 2nd and 3rd point as you need to have more depth, and the Cardinals sequencing hid the fact that offensively they had 6 great hitters but the production then dropped off quickly.

      http://www.fangraphs.com/blogs/the-split-personalities-of-the-cardinals/

      Vote -1 Vote +1

      • Schutt says:

        I should point out that I don’t disagree that the Cardinals shouldn’t attempt to improve at SS and CF. I think that’s fairly obvious. I guess my point is that while they were very fortunate with RISP, they were unfortunate in other areas. I just think that Dave’s point seems to ignore this fact by stating that they were a good, not great offense.

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  12. Grammar Police says:

    Wait, what??? Didn’t the Cards lose to the team who’s starters threw an even larger percentage of WS innings and got almost no production from the SS position?

    +8 Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Eric M. Van says:

      After adjusting for inherited runners (using delta Run Expectancy)*:

      StL starters, 32.2 IP, 4.79 ERA
      StL relievers, 19.1 IP, 3.08 ERA

      Bos starters, 37.1 IP, 1.82 ERA
      Bos relievers, 16.1 IP, 1.90 ERA

      *Choate and Maness costing Kelly 0.64 in game 3
      Maness costing Lynn 1.65 in game 4
      Maness saving Lynn 0.67 in game 6
      Breslow costing Lackey 0.36 in game 2
      Uehara saving Lester 0.24 in game 5
      Tazawa saving Lackey 0.67 in game 6

      Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Leo says:

      Narrative. It’s not just for ESPN anymore.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

  13. Sam says:

    The Cardinals had as many baserunners as the Red Sox did.

    Yelling at the Cardinals for regression and giving Boston all sorts of credit for being a much better team ignores the fact that the difference between the two teams this series was very small things. Say Holliday hits his Game 5 home run with men on base, and Gomes’ in Game 4 is a solo shot. The Cards might have won the series in 5 games if that was the case.

    Sure the Cardinals won’t hit .333 with RISP all the time, but they won’t hit .194 either and that’s not really a failing of the team.

    It was a very close series between two teams that were much more evenly matched than most of the people in this thread are saying.

    +5 Vote -1 Vote +1

    • RC says:

      The Red Sox had 62 hits + walks in 52 innings worth of atbats, the Cardinals had 58 in 53 innings of at-bats.

      If you look at it in terms of whip, its 1.192 vs 1.094, or basically the Red Sox put runners on base at a 10% higher rate.

      If you look at it in slash lines, it looks like this:

      RS: .215/.293/.337 – .285 wOBA
      STL: .223/.271/.298 – .257 wOBA

      So while they both hit terribly, the Red Sox hit quite a bit better than the Cardinals. It wasn’t just “timely hitting”, it was better hitting.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

      • stan says:

        It was both. The difference in those numbers are really only a run or two and less if the consider that the Cardinals did better baserunning.

        Vote -1 Vote +1

        • craig richards says:

          Gentleman… Ladies…
          SAbermetrics does not get as nerdy and is far less exsplored when it comes to pitching. It is a position player thing–hit, run, throw, speed, fielding. But Pitchers Rule. Having played APBA or whatever it was in it’s enfancy, way before I ever heard of any rotiserrie leagues or whatever, well, I’ve been around for some 48 World Series and one thing never changes: in the end someone has to get the last out. Pitching determines the winner. The best staff or if you prefer, the best performing pitching staff in a specific shirt series, wins the World Series.
          But sweet baby Jesus Montero, this is one interesting, thought provoking thread! Lots of seriously important and entertaining things to consider.
          I will say this. My conclusion is that both teams could stand pat and with better luck re: injuries present damn competitive teams in 2014.

          Vote -1 Vote +1

  14. Matthew Cornwell says:

    The Cardinals also hit far fewer HRs than they are capable of (5 20+ HR hitters in 2012 not named Matt Adams) and had a much worse BA w/ nobody on than they typically do too. Two things that should regress some next year too. that combined with ANY upgrades whatsoever at SS and CF, and they should be at or near the top in RS again. After all, they were 2nd in the league in RS in 2012 and 1st in 2011 too.

    Also keep in mind, their run differential was that of a 101 win team. So even if all of the RISP was luck, they would still have been a 94-win team with Wacha and Matinez barely pitching.

    Even more on top of the bad luck they probably got in terms of HR/FB and BA with nobody on, their league bottom UZR was probably afflicted by a little bad luck too. Everything needs to be regresses. And this is all assuming that their much ballyhood “approach” was meaningless and they had zero skill-based impact on BABIP whatsoever, which I am skepticle about too.

    Bottom line, this was a mid-90′s team that could have won the WS with a few different bounces in games 4 and 5 or could have been swept with a few different bounces in games 2 and 3.

    All without their #2 and #2 starers, starting SS, and coser for the whole season.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Yordano says:

      Where do you buy your Redbird-tinted glasses?

      Vote -1 Vote +1

      • Matthew Cornwell says:

        Saying that there were many areas in which they were (as every team was) lucky and unlucky seems pretty reasonable to me. Cherry-picking one area of luck while ignoring all the others is where the bias lies.

        This is very simple. They had a SOS/run differential of a 102 win team. Their RISP luck was to the tune of about 7 wins. That is a 95 win team assuming…Zero of the RISP stuff was skill and that we ignore how much worse the same lineup as last year did against lefties, in regard to power (Hr/FB), and with nobody on base than they traditionally have done.

        So not only am I supposed to ignore all of the ways the Cardinals got unlucky this year, I am also supposed to pretend:

        A team that lost 93 games last year won 97 this year with an outrageously high BABIP without any luck being involved.

        Guys like Ramirez and Puig are really .350 hitters

        Liraiano and Burnett, etc. really turned into Aces out of nowhere without the benefit of BABIP luck, etc. ?

        The insistence of so many people to cherry-pick what to regress and what to key-in on as luck is why so many of the most cerebral baseball thinkers I know refuse to give sabrmetrics a fair shot.

        Vote -1 Vote +1

        • Jason B says:

          “The insistence of so many people to cherry-pick what to regress”

          Like you did with the Dodgers and Pirates players?

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        • Matthew Cornwell says:

          No, not like I did, because I have made no general statements of overall luck regarding either team. I just gave counter examples of luck from a few other teams that everybody is overlooking while focusing on one aspect of the Cardinals.

          Giving examples of good luck from multiple teams is not cherry-picking, unless I say that the Pirates and Dodgers, etc. did not have any bad luck like the Cardinal’s did (which I didn’t). We know that the Pirates had an unsustainability low BABIP with RISP, for example.

          Vote -1 Vote +1

  15. Mike Green says:

    Regarding the bullpen, isn’t it fair to say that some questionable post-season roster decisions played a role? Matheny might have used his bullpen more if he had depth there.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  16. Matthew Cornwell says:

    Yes. the fact that Shelby miller was placed in the Witness Protection Program impacted the series.

    And the fact that Mujica was left on the roster as a “thank you” instead of useful player also hurt their chances.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  17. stan says:

    All three points are correct, but a few addenda are necessary:
    1) The lack of bullpen usage has everything to do with the idea of carrying Mujica even though they didn’t trust him and to carry Miller even though they were too scared to use him. It was totally irrational to think that the starters would be able to carry the load against the red sox of all teams but that certainly had a lot to do with the fact that the starters went too long in almost every game. I don’t agree that its a bad thing that Lynn was in longer than Rosenthal. That’s not odd for a 4th starter versus a closer, and Rosenthal has not pitched well when asked to go multiple innings.
    2) The Cardinals have fallen in love with all of their homegrown players to a crazy degree. That means they won’t trade their best prospects and they won’t replace even their worst homegrown players. The craziest part about the Cards’ shortstop situation is that even a AAAA player or someone cut by another team would have been an improvement but the Cards steadfastly insisted on doing nothing. Elliot Johnson was cut by the Royals and ended up starting for the Braves while playing better than either Cards SS. Even as a bench option he would make sense, but there was no way the Cards were going to bump either Descalso or Kozma off the roster. I love Carlos Martinez as much as anyone, but given the dearth of shortstops in the short and long term, Jose Iglesias is a better player for this team. Supposedly teams were asking for he or Rosie for Aybar and Ramirez type players but that actually is insane. Also, no one could be sure that Furcal would be out until spring training, so that’s why the Cardinals made mediocre bids for Lowrie and Drew.
    3) See the start of #2. The Cubs offered Navarro but the Cards “wouldn’t offer anything of value” according to mlbtraderumors. Therefore, the Cards kept trying to plug Brock Peterson and Rob Johnson into some sort of extra bat role, which is patently ridiculous. The weirdest thing about this result is that the team clearly saw the need for another bat when they signed Wigginton in the offseason, yet when he went belly-up (pun intended) they didn’t replace him.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  18. Joel says:

    The Cardinals should certainly be interested in Steven Drew, who will be getting the qualifying offer from the Red Sox. But can they afford to dish $30+ million over 2+ seasons and a draft pick in exchange for his services? He’s definitely a very good hitter, postseason be damned, so maybe it is worth it.

    I think the Sox won’t match any major offers, given that they have Middlebrooks and Bogaerts for the long-term.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • stan says:

      I strongly doubt that the Cards will take Drew if he has a qualifying offer. They probably figure they are drafting so well that a first round pick is worth most any free agent they could get. I also don’t think Drew is “definitely” getting a qualifying offer. He’s not going to get much more than the $14M he’d get from the Sawx and they really can’t afford to keep him unless they want a very expensive bench player.

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      • CJ says:

        No “definite” until it happens, sure, but it’s very likely: http://goo.gl/PtQb6x.

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      • chuckb says:

        Rumor is that Drew is getting the QO. I’m inclined to think that the Cards now won’t be interested but they’re going to make Beltran the QO as well. Since the Cards have the last pick in round 1, the pick they get for Beltran will come just a few picks later. So they might go after Drew despite the QO.

        Vote -1 Vote +1

  19. DC says:

    “3. Don’t count on clutch.”

    And yet the Red Sox’s entire offense for the 6 games of the World Series was nothing but clutch hits. What were some of those graphics they were showing toward the end of game 6? Guys who had go-ahead runs, or grand slams, or tying runs, but were 0-for-9, 0-for-10 otherwise?

    Clutch exists. The Red Sox were. The Cards weren’t.

    -5 Vote -1 Vote +1

  20. Thufir says:

    Strong thread.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  21. M. Scott Eiland says:

    The Cardinals’ strategy in Game Six seemed to involve three separate assumptions:

    1) Big Papi would continue to hit .700 with massive power if pitched to;

    2) The rest of the Red Sox would continue to hit under .200 if Big Papi was walked every time he came up, even with runners already on base, and ignoring that the Red Sox were the *best offense in MLB during the regular season*, meaning those other guys could hit, too;

    3) Wacha would continue to hold Red Sox hitters to a .000 BA with runners in scoring position, so loading up the bases ahead of the 4-5-6 guys in the Red Sox MLB leading offensive lineup wouldn’t blow up on the Cardinals or the brilliant Wacha.

    Oddly enough–though it probably didn’t change the ultimate outcome–this strategy turned out to be a bad one. Go figure.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  22. pft says:

    One of the things that struck me about the Cards was the complete lack of speed on the basepaths. Not talking about SB, but how far runners advance on hits. The Cardinals stranded a bunch of guys at 3B that should have been able to score with decent speed.

    The lack of power, and weakness at the bottom of the order also hurt.

    The Cardinals actually hit as well as the Red Sox, the lack of speed and poor clutch hitting killed them.

    Obviously, the late hooks, pitching to Papi with open bases, and defense hurt them as well.

    I have to wonder also if Beltran and Molina were 100% in this series. I know Beltran hurt his ribs in game 1. Craig of course looked like Cabrera hobbling on 1 leg.

    While BABIP did not factor into this series, a bit surprised nobody has mentioned the Red Sox as a team had the highest BABIP of any team since 1930. A robust 329!! Of course Fenway inflates BABIP, but they had a 319 BABIP on the road as well.

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    • Bad Bill says:

      Pitching to Ortiz with open bases wasn’t the thing that hurt them. Failing to get him out when they pitched to him with open bases was. Like every other player in baseball, over the course of the year (including mainly at-bats against pitchers worse than what the Cardinals threw at him), he OBPed less than .500 with nobody on first base. There was no a-priori reason to expect that he’d go bonkers in the Series the way he did.

      I can’t help but wonder whether the real failure for St. Louis in this Series had something to do with scouting. The team (notably Pujols) was extracting great value from video before it was universally accepted. Might there have been a breakdown in their doing so in the preparations for this Series?

      Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Brian says:

      The Cards have lousy speed and are generally poor base runners, but I honestly don’t recall that hurting them much in the Series. Obviously Kolten Wong had one of the worst baserunning misadventures in WS history, but the other big baserunning moments (the double steal in G2, Craig going to third at the end of G3, etc.) turned out fine for them. When should they have scored with runners on 3rd and fewer than 2 outs? (This isn’t a rhetorical question – I honestly don’t remember any, and I might be forgetting some. But the only ones I can remember involved poor hitting, not poor running.) And defense certainly hurt the Cards, but oddly I think the Red Sox hurt themselves with poor defense even more (even given the Cards’ follies in G1). Games 2 & 3 were losses almost entirely due to poor fielding. Otherwise I agree with everything you said. The Cards lost b/c of their lack of power and their lack of hit sequencing – you can win without one, but not without either.

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    • RC says:

      “The Cardinals actually hit as well as the Red Sox,”

      No, they didn’t. And it wasn’t particularly close (30 points of wOBA over the series)

      Vote -1 Vote +1

      • Jay says:

        That drastically overstates it. The Cardinals had terrible luck with BABIP in the series, lining out 5 more times than the Sox (according to FG’s batted ball data). If you balance that out the Cardinals hit the ball at least as well, and quite likely better than the Red Sox.

        The Cardinals’ Matt Adams was especially snakebit, lining out an absurd 5 times in only 22 PAs.

        Vote -1 Vote +1

  23. DNA+ says:

    …so the Redsox win a World Series based on lucky sequencing, fortunate starting pitching, and an absurd hot streak of one player (while much of the team had replacement level performances). What does Fan Graphs conclude from this? The Cardinals can’t expect to win a WS based upon starting pitching, sequencing and by starting weak players. …the room is spinning.

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    • DNA+ says:

      This kind of stuff really bugs me. Every team that wins the World Series does so, to some extent, based upon things like sequencing. This isn’t analysis, this is the whole reason we watch the games!

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  24. BMarkham says:

    What is this revisionist history that the Cardinals didn’t have a strong offense? They led the NL in wRC+. And that stat doesn’t have anything to do with sequencing. When controlled for non-pitchers the Cardinals tied the Tigers for second best (113), with Red Sox in first (116). And remember that even when controlled for non-pitchers, wRC+ is biased against NL teams since the average AL DH is better than the league average (111). If the Cardinals had a DH, Adams, who had a 136 wRC+, would have been an everyday player.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

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