Archive for Cardinals

Team Entropy 2018: Extra Baseball?

This is the fifth installment of this year’s Team Entropy series, my recurring look not only at the races for the remaining playoff spots but the potential for end-of-season chaos in the form of down-to-the-wire suspense and even tiebreakers. Ideally, we want more ties than the men’s department at Macy’s. If you’re new to this, please read the introduction here.

In the National League playoff picture, we’re down to two teams — the Dodgers (89-71) and Cardinals (87-73) — fighting for one spot, as the Rockies (90-70) clinched a postseason berth on Friday night by beating the Nationals for their eighth straight win. That said, neither the NL Central nor the NL West races have been decided, nor have the actual Wild Card game participants, leaving open the possibility that we could have multiple Game 163 tiebreakers on Monday. The dream scenario of needing a third tiebreaker game, in the event that the two NL West participants (the Dodgers and Rockies) finished tied with St. Louis, is off the table given the Cardinals’ back-to-back losses to the Brewers (93-67) and Cubs (94-66).

On Friday afternoon, I had the privilege of appearing on MLB Network’s MLB Now, where host Brian Kenny put the spotlight on Team Entropy at the top of the show and allowed me to talk through the various scenarios:

Pretty cool! Except that the Cardinals were busy getting pummeled by the Cubs as that happened — the show kept cutting away to the action — simplifying the picture somewhat. So here is what’s left…

The Cubs, who are hosting the Cardinals, and the Brewers, who are hosting the Tigers, can still finish in a tie after 162 games if Milwaukee can pick up a game this weekend. Either the Brew Crew goes 2-0 while the Cubs go 1-1, or 1-1 while the Cubs go 0-2. That would leave the two teams playing on Monday in Chicago (which won the season series 11-8) to determine which one wins the division, and which hosts the Wild Card game. As of Saturday morning, our playoff odds ties page shows a 25.9% chance of such an occurrence.

Likewise, the Rockies, who are hosting the Nationals, and the Dodgers, who are visiting the Giants, can finish tied if Los Angeles can pick up a game. The Dodgers, who won the season series 12-7, would host a tiebreaker game on Monday to determine the division winner, and second Wild Card team. Our ties page gives this game a 34.1% chance of happening.

Alternately, if the Cardinals win both of their remaining games and the Dodgers lose both of theirs, the two teams would be tied for the second Wild Card spot. They would play on Monday in St. Louis, which won the season series 4-3. This scenario can happen in tandem with an NL Central tie if the Brewers also split their remaining pair of games. The odds of a Wild Card tie are down to 2.4%, but that’s better than nothing, particularly with a second tiebreaker game also still an option.

With the Cubs and Cardinals playing at 1:05 pm Eastern, the Dodgers and Giants at 4:05, the Brewers and Tigers at 7:05 pm and the Rockies and Nationals at 8:10 pm, we have the whole day to savor the possibilities for chaos. Enjoy!


Cardinals Ask Adam Wainwright to Save Season

Adam Wainwright made his final appearance of spring training this year on March 15. Ten days later, he was scratched from a Grapefruit League start and, shortly after that, was added to the disabled list with a hamstring strain.

The injury appeared, at first glance, to scuttle plans the club had made to give Wainwright the start for the Cardinals’ home opener on April 5. As former manager Mike Matheny said at the time about that honor:

“It’s something we put thought into,” Matheny said. “I think our fans appreciate it, what he’s been able to do. ‘Waino’ obviously has a long history with our fan base and a lot of credibility built up in this game.”

Under normal circumstances, Wainwright would have probably returned in mid-April, following a rehab appearance to ready him for major-league competition. A nine-strikeout, one-run performance from Jack Flaherty, who’d taken Wainwright’s place on the roster, reduced any necessity to rush Wainwright back. In the end, though, the Cardinals activated him for the April 5 start anyway. The former ace walked more batters than he struck out, threw just 17 of his 42 fastballs above 90 mph — only eight fastballs hit 91 mph — and failed to make it out of the fourth inning.

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Daily Prospect Notes Finale: Arizona Fall League Roster Edition

Notes on prospects from lead prospect analyst Eric Longenhagen. Read previous installments here.

Note from Eric: Hey you, this is the last one of these for the year, as the minor-league regular season comes to a close. Thanks for reading. I’ll be taking some time off next week, charging the batteries for the offseason duties that lie ahead for Kiley and me.

D.J. Peters, CF, Los Angeles Dodgers
Level: Double-A   Age: 22   Org Rank: 7   FV: 45+
Line: 4-for-7, 2 HR, 2B (double header)

Notes
A comparison of DJ Peters’ 2017 season in the Cal League and his 2018 season at Double-A gives us a good idea of what happens to on-paper production when a hitter is facing better pitching and defenses in a more stable offensive environment.

D.J. Peters’ Production
Year AVG OBP SLG K% BB% BABIP wRC+
2017 .276 .372 .514 32.2% 10.9% .385 137
2018 .228 .314 .451 34.0% 8.1% .305 107

Reports of Peters’ physical abilities haven’t changed, nor is his batted-ball profile different in such a way that one would expect a downtick in production. The 2018 line is, I think, a more accurate distillation of Peters’ abilities. He belongs in a talent bucket with swing-and-miss outfielders like Franchy Cordero, Randal Grichuk, Michael A. Taylor, Bradley Zimmer, etc. These are slugging center fielders whose contact skills aren’t particularly great. Players like this are historically volatile from one season to the next but dominant if/when things click. They’re often ~1.5 WAR players who have some years in the three-win range. Sometimes they also turn into George Springer.

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Mike Shildt and the Cardinals’ 180

The Cardinals fired longtime manager Mike Matheny one game before the All-Star break this year, with the team at 47-46 for the season. The organization promoted Mike Shildt to replace Matheny, and the club has gone [27-12] with Shildt in charge, winning their last nine series matchups, including six against teams with winning records. This is how the Cardinals’ playoff odds have changed during Shildt’s brief tenure as manager.

Things didn’t improve immediately. After a collection of games against the Cubs, Reds, and Rockies, St. Louis’s chances of reaching the postseason had actually deteriorated a bit by the end of July. As they entered August, the Cardinals had just a 7% probability of qualifying for the playoffs.

With a 20-6 record in August, however, Cardinals’ odds have improved almost tenfold. Coinciding with that improvement in the standings, the Cardinals took the interim tag off Shildt’s title and extended his contract through 2020. Some considered the timing a bit odd.

Here’s Ken Rosenthal:

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Harrison Bader: Rookie of the Year?

Repeat something often enough and you start to take it for granted. For example, something I’ve taken for granted is that the National League Rookie of the Year race will inevitably come down to Ronald Acuna vs. Juan Soto. I mean no disrespect to, say, Brian Anderson or Walker Buehler or Dereck Rodriguez, but this is where I am, and I know I’m not alone. Soto and Acuna have been absolutely sensational, and they’ve drawn themselves a lot of attention. The Braves have a franchise player on their hands. The Nationals do, too. These are two guys who could one day end up in the Hall of Fame.

Something I’ve realized, though, is my position has been unexamined. I haven’t looked at the competitors in a while. And this was brought to mind by something I read by Ken Rosenthal earlier this morning:

The NL Rookie of the Year race is evolving into a showdown between the Braves’ Ronald Acuña and Nationals’ Juan Soto, but another outfielder — the Cardinals’ Harrison Bader — might receive some third-place votes.

Some possible third-place votes for Harrison Bader. There’s no shame in not winning the Rookie of the Year. In last year’s NL voting, Rhys Hoskins finished fourth. Awards are secondary; on-field performance is what everyone cares about. But I’ve realized Bader deserves more credit than he’s been getting. We all assume the race will come down to Acuna vs. Soto. The race probably will come down to Acuna vs. Soto. But, should it? Bader has a surprisingly convincing case. Forget third-place votes. Bader maybe ought to finish first.

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Strength of Schedule and the Pennant Races

No team plays a completely balanced scheduled over the course of a season. Some divisions, naturally, are better than others. Because intradivisional games account for roughly 40% of the league schedule, there is necessarily some irregularity in the strength of competition from club to club. Interleague play, which represents another 10% of games, also contributes to this imbalance. Given the sheer numbers of games in a major-league campaign, the effect of scheduling ultimately isn’t a major difference-maker. Talent and luck have much more influence over a club’s win-loss record. In any given month, however, scheduling imbalances can become much more pronounced.

Consider this: at the beginning of the season, just one team featured a projected gain or loss as large as three wins due to scheduling. The Texas Rangers were expected to lose three more games than their talent would otherwise dictate. Right now, however, there are eight teams with bigger prorated schedule swings than the one the Rangers saw at the beginning of the season — and those swings could have a big impact on the remaining pennant races.

To provide some backdrop, the chart below ranks the league’s schedules, toughest to easiest, compared to an even .500 schedule.

The Diamondbacks have a pretty rough go of it. Outside of five games against the Padres, the other “worst” team they play is the San Francisco Giants. They have one series each against the division-leading Astros, Braves, and Cubs along with a pair of series against both the Dodgers and Rockies. If Arizona were chasing these teams for the division or Wild Card, their schedule would present them with a good opportunity for making up ground. Given their current status, however, it just means a lot of tough games down the stretch.

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Matt Adams Returns to St. Louis

The St. Louis Cardinals brought 1B/“OF” Matt Adams back to his old stomping grounds, picking him up from the Washington Nationals after claiming him on revocable waivers.

Bryce Harper hasn’t been traded yet — and that would be a big one if it actually happens — but the departure of Daniel Murphy (about whom Craig Edwards will soon publish a post) and Adams is a likely indicator of how Washington feels about their rapidly deteriorating playoff odds. It’s a bit of speculation here, but from talking with people around baseball, I’m of the belief that ownership was less inclined to throw in the towel than team general manager Mike Rizzo.

Adams is a role player but a useful one for a team that’s starting to think about playoff bullpens. The 340-point OPS split between his career numbers against lefties (.595) and righties (.835) always made Adams a tough call as a full-time starting first baseman. Nevertheless, it gives him situational value. The Cardinals are 17th in baseball against right-handers by wRC+ versus sixth against lefties, and Greg Garcia is the only other left-handed bat available on the bench. Nor can the team dig in and grab someone from Triple-A: the only lefty Redbird hitters are Justin Williams, recently picked up in the Tommy Pham trade, and Max Schrock, who only has a .666 OPS and I think was the secondary bad guy in Batman Returns. Williams may have a future on the team, but if you just need a lefty bat off the bench, Adams is more valuable at this point.

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Sunday Notes: Older and Wiser, Clay Buchholz is Excelling in Arizona

Clay Buchholz has been rejuvenated in Arizona. Signed off the scrap heap in early May — the Royals had released him — the 34-year-old righty is 6-2 with a 2.47 ERA in 12 starts since joining the Diamondbacks. He twirled a complete-game gem on Thursday, holding the Padres to a lone run.

Health had been holding him back. Buchholz has battled numerous injury bugs over his career, particularly in recent seasons. Cast aside by the Red Sox after a tumultuous 2016 — a 4.78 ERA and a six-week banishment to the bullpen — he made just two appearances for the Phillies last year before landing on the disabled list and staying there for the duration. Frustration was clearly at the fore.

Truth be told, he’d rarely been his old self since a sparkling 2013 that saw him go 12-1 with a 1.74 ERA — and even that season was interrupted by injury. Given his travails, one couldn’t have blamed him had he thrown up his hands and walked away from the game.

That wasn’t in his DNA.

“No, this is what I do,” Buchholz told me earlier this summer. “I wasn’t ready to give it up. And while this offseason I told myself I wasn’t going to go through the whole minor league deal again, I swallowed my pride and did that for a little bit. It was for the best, because it helped me get to where I’m at now. It feels good to be able to go out there and throw without anything going on, mentally or physically.”

Buchholz made five starts in the minors before being called up, and he did so with a glass-is-half-full attitude. Read the rest of this entry »


Understanding Matt Carpenter

Matt Carpenter just hit another home run. Here, look at it:

That home run was hit on August 13, and for Carpenter, it was his career-high 33rd. He had set a new career high with his 29th, and so this is all just uncharted territory. Right now, Carpenter leads the National League in wRC+. He also leads the National League in Statcast’s expected wOBA, so it’s not like this is all luck. Carpenter has been absolutely outstanding, and he’s likely to generate support for the league MVP. He’s helped to fuel the Cardinals’ recent run toward a wild-card spot, and heaven only knows where the club would be without him.

I should also point out that, according to Statcast again, Carpenter’s top exit velocity this season ranks in the 35th percentile. We’re mostly accustomed to sluggers who slug the ball. Carpenter would never be confused for another Giancarlo Stanton. So let’s quickly walk through how Carpenter makes this all work. To a certain extent this is all pretty basic, but Carpenter happens to be one of the world leaders in bat control.

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Rays Trade for Older Christian Yelich

At 53-53, the Rays aren’t bad, but they’re also not anywhere close to the race. At 54-52, the Cardinals aren’t much better, but a wild-card slot remains within reach. Given that, you’d think, if anything, the Cardinals would be improving, while the Rays would be selling. Instead, we have a trade that goes in the other direction. It’s a little bit of a surprising deadline maneuver, yet the Rays are gearing up for a run next season. And the Cardinals are just making more room for Harrison Bader and Tyler O’Neill. I’ll give you the specifics:

Rays get:

  • Tommy Pham
  • $500,000 international bonus-pool money

Cardinals get:

On the surface, you can understand the Cardinals’ perspective here. Pham is 30 years old, and his numbers don’t look like they did last season. Pham and the organization haven’t always seen eye-to-eye, and besides, Bader looks like one of the better defensive outfielders in either league, so it makes sense to play him more often. I can see why they might’ve wanted to make a trade. Still, it feels like they’ve sold Pham low. The Rays are getting a possible difference-maker here, and you don’t have to dig too far into the numbers to see it.

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Cardinals Trade Tommy Pham to Rays

This is the player who was traded.
(Photo: Charles Edward Miller)

In somewhat of a surprise move, the Cardinals have traded outfielder Tommy Pham this morning. In somewhat of another surprise, the team acquiring Pham hasn’t added him for the purposes of contending this season. While the Tampa Bay Rays haven’t been mathematically eliminated from a place in the playoffs, their chances of earning even a Wild Card berth are effectively zero at this point. Pham has value to the organization beyond 2018, though.

Even as rumors continue to circle around Chris Archer, the Rays have added a much needed outfielder not only for the remainder of the season, but also for the future. In trading away Pham, the Cardinals appear to be receiving multiple minor-league depth pieces.

Rays receive:

  • Tommy Pham
  • $500K international bonus-pool money

Cardinals receive:

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Mariners Turn Future Bullpen Piece into Present Bullpen Piece

The Mariners and Cardinals swapped relievers today, the latter sending RHP Sam Tuivailala to Seattle for prospect Seth Elledge. The deal gives Seattle a marginal bullpen upgrade in Tuivailala (probably over Casey Lawrence) for a stretch run that’s going to require them to continue winning close games. Every slightly better bullpen option is more meaningful in this situation than it is when looking at reliever value from a broader point of view. The deal is also a good fit for St. Louis, who acquires a comparable talent whose service-time calendar better aligns with their competitive schedule. Tuivailala is arbitration-eligible starting in 2020, when Elledge will probably be in his first or second year of big-league service.

Tuivailala is a fine middle reliever. He sits 93-96, will occasionally touch 99, and has two very average secondary offerings in an upper-80s cutter/slider and an upper-70s curveball. The Mariners have had success drafting low-ceiling, high-probability college relievers in the middle rounds of the last several drafts and quickly flipping them for mature big-league pieces on the margins. Elledge was the second pitcher Seattle traded from their 2017 draft class (JP Sears was sent to the Yankees for Nick Rumbelow last fall), which means Seattle’s 2017 draft has technically yielded the most subustantial big-league return in all of baseball right now.

Seth Elledge is a big-bodied, crossfire reliever with a mid-90s fastball and plus breaking ball. He was a 2017 fourth-round pick out of Dallas Baptist, a college that parades hard-throwing relievers into pro ball annually. He has a 54:14 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 38.1 innings. He might eventually be better than Tuivailala because the breaking ball is better. It’s reasonable to project a 2020 debut for Elledge, though has a non-zero chance to debut next year.


Let’s See About a Matt Carpenter Trade

Just last week, Kiley McDaniel finished up this year’s Trade Value series. The Trade Value series represents an attempt to rank all the best assets in baseball while accounting for player skill, age, and contract status all simultaneously. One player who didn’t appear in the series was Cardinals infielder Matt Carpenter, not even in the Honorable Mention section.

At that time, Carpenter was having a fine season, having recorded a 142 wRC+ and 3.2 WAR in 378 plate appearances. However, at 32 years old and with two-and-a-half seasons of control remaining on salaries of $14.5 million in 2019 and $18.5 million ($2 million buyout) in 2020, McDaniel reasonably left Carpenter off the list.

In his first eight games after the All-Star Break, however, Carpenter added 1.1 WAR to his season total, hitting .400/.500/1.100 with a 307 wRC+ during that stretch. His WAR was 21st in baseball at the end of the first half, but now it ranks seventh in the sport and first in the National League. His .275/.384/.579 batting line is good for a 155 wRC+, which is second in the NL and eighth in baseball, just ahead of Jesus Aguilar and Manny Machado. His season totals are even more amazing when you consider that on May 15, Carpenter was hitting .140/.286/.272 with a 59 wRC+. Jay Jaffe already detailed Carpenter’s turnaround at the end of June when he was just doing really well.

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Daily Prospect Notes: 7/24/18

Notes on prospects from lead prospect analyst Eric Longenhagen. Read previous installments here.

Starling Joseph, OF, Texas Rangers (Profile)
Level: Short-Season   Age: 19   Org Rank: NR   FV: 35+
Line: 3-for-4, HR

Notes
Joseph is a physical 6-foot-3 outfielder with plus raw power. He’s raw from a bat-to-ball standpoint due to length and a lack of bat control, but the power/frame combination here is interesting for a 19-year-old. Joseph has a 67:10 strikeout-to-walk ratio in domestic pro ball and is as high-risk of a prospect as you’ll find, but he has the power to carry the profile if he ever becomes sentient in the batter’s box.

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The Real Work Is Just Beginning in St. Louis

On Saturday evening, the Cardinals made the necessary — though arguably tardy — decision to fire manager Mike Matheny. The now-former Cardinals skipper was at the helm of some successful teams, but after two consecutive playoff misses and a mediocre 2018 season, Matheny was shown the door. While managers often receive too much praise for success and too much criticism for a club’s failures — Matheny certainly benefited from inheriting a World Series champion and might ultimately have been fired for piloting this year’s club to just a .500 record — the last few weeks shined an unwelcome light on the Cardinals due to communication issues with Dexter Fowler and the defense of Bud Norris and old-school antics.

While Matheny’s poor bullpen management and recent internal troubles will get a lot of attention, his biggest deficiencies as a manager were (a) an inability (or refusal) to discern his players’ present talent levels and (b) his related preference of managing with his gut. While the latter quality might function as a virtue in some situations, it most famously caused Matheny trouble in the 2014 NLCS when he turned to Michael Wacha after weeks of rest. It has also forced the Cardinals front office to make roster moves around Matheny’s weaknesses instead of playing to his strengths.

When Matheny was provided with depth, he would neglect it, exiling useful players to the bench. When he was provided with clear starters, those starters would receive so much playing time that they were exhausted by late summer. Prospects were sent to Memphis not because they had something to prove in Triple-A but because playing time was at a premium in the majors. Veteran relievers were required because younger options were ignored, and Matheny’s need for fixed roles led directly to the acquisition of Greg Holland, whom Matheny persisted in using even when all indications suggested that such a thing was hurting the club. Mike Mayers drew raves in spring training but, due to Matheny’s insistence than an eighth reliever ought to be reserved for emergencies, was ignored once the season began. The front office is, of course, complicit in accommodating Matheny’s wishes, but they apparently desired to be free from the restrictions the manager put on their decisions. Now they can turn to other, fundamental questions.

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Mike Matheny Fired by the Cardinals

“And just like that, as mysteriously as he arrived, he was gone.”

– Oscar Martinez, The Office

It wasn’t quite Nixon’s Saturday Night Massacre, but after the Cardinals lost to the Cardinals 8-2 Saturday night, dropping to just a skosh above .500 at 47-46, manager Mike Matheny was dismissed from his managerial duties. The Cardinals remain in the playoff race, but it’s been a tumultuous month behind the scenes in St. Louis, from normal run-of-the-mill struggles to public friction with right fielder Dexter Fowler to the latest report — written by the tireless Mark Saxon of The Athletic — of Bud Norris’s old-school clubhouse antics with rookie reliever Jordan Hicks.

While Matheny’s role in the Norris-Hicks situation probably wasn’t the main factor behind his dismissal, I have few doubts that it was a contributing factor. Saxon received a lot of pushback publicly about his reporting on the issues, but these types of wagon-circling denials from teams when a story becomes embarrassing isn’t just common, it’s practically de rigueur. That doesn’t necessarily negate the veracity of the original reports.

In the end, though, it usually comes down to winning. Like most managers, Matheny lived by the win before he died by the win, the extremely successful Cardinal seasons at the start of Matheny’s tenure making him as unassailable at the time as he was vulnerable by 2018.

In a piece for ESPN in 2013, Anna McDonald reported on the relationship between the analytics-friendly front office headed by then-general manager John Mozeliak (who’s since been promoted to team president) and the more traditional Matheny.

“I believe how [Matheny] puts a lineup together is that he is utilizing things we give him from upstairs, but we don’t want to bury him with having to overthink things. Most importantly, we hire a manager to make that lineup. I do think one thing that Mike and his staff have done a very good job of is embracing anything we can put together as far as advanced scouting for them. Trying to eliminate small sample sizes and make them accept larger ones for probabilities has been helpful. Mike, he is a young manager that is very interested at looking at the best ways to be successful, so that’s always a good sign when you have that in an employee.”

Few analytics types, myself included, really thought much of Matheny as an in-game tactician. But that’s only part of the job of a manager. I’ve talked a lot about admiring Joe Torre as a manager for the Yankees not because of his in-game acumen but simply because, unlike a lot of managers, he didn’t stand in the way of his team’s success. Sometimes, keeping the team from killing each other is what a manager is there for, which is why I praised Dusty Baker’s hiring by the Washington Nationals as the right move at the right time for that particular club.

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The National League’s Most Balanced Pitcher

When I think about control artists, I think about pitchers who consistently hit their spots, particularly on the edges of the strike zone. These thoughts are further associated in my mind with low walk totals. So when I look at the National League leaderboard in walk percentage and see Miles Mikolas at 3.9%, I assume, he is good at painting corners. Then I look at his heat maps, and I don’t see that at all.

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Yadier Molina’s Climb Towards Cooperstown

Yadier Molina was added to the NL All-Star team on Monday, replacing the injured Buster Posey, who’s been slowed by a bout of inflammation in his right hip and recently received a cortisone shot. Molina’s addition is just the first of a wave that will dull some outrage over the most obvious snubs from Sunday’s roster announcement; on the AL side, Jed Lowrie was named as Gleyber Torres’ replacement on Tuesday. As Molina is a Star Player of a Certain Age, his ninth selection to the Midsummer Classic in a 10-year span (he missed 2016) set off another round of everybody’s favorite parlor game, Is He a Hall of Famer?. You know I can’t resist buzzing in for that one.

But first, the selection. Molina, who turns 36 on July 13, is having a pretty good season, particularly for a guy who missed a month due to [crosses legs uncomfortably] emergency groin surgery necessitated by a foul tip. He’s currently hitting 274/.317/.484 with 13 homers in 240 plate appearances, and while his on-base percentage is nothing to write home about — how is it a guy who spends half the game minding the strike zone for his pitchers can walk just 5.4% of the time? — his slugging percentage is his highest since 2012, his best offensive season. His 115 wRC+ is his highest since 2013, and it’s lifted his career mark to an even 100. Of the 23 catchers with at least 200 PA this year, that 114 wRC+ is tied for sixth overall. Both MLB leader J.T. Realmuto (149) and fourth-ranked Willson Contreras (122) are already on the NL All-Star squad, with the latter elected the starter.

While Molina’s offense is in a good place in 2018, his defense appears to be off, and not only because he’s thrown out just four out of 19 stolen-base attempts (21%, nearly half of his 41% career mark). Via FanGraphs’ version of catcher defense (which isn’t UZR), he’s 2.4 runs below average, including two below average in the stolen-base component of Defensive Runs Saved. Via the non-pitch-framing version of DRS, he’s four runs below average, while via the framing-inclusive version, he’s two below average. Via Baseball Prospectus’ Fielding Runs Above Average, which includes framing, he’s 2.3 runs above average overall and 3.7 above in the framing component. Via our version of WAR — which, again, does not include framing — Molina’s 1.3 WAR is tied for ninth among catchers overall. Some of that is the impact of his injury; prorate all of the catchers with at least 200 PA to 600 PA and he’s a rounding error out of fifth:

Top Catchers by 2018 WAR, Prorated to 600 PA
Name Team PA AVG OBP SLG wRC+ WAR WAR/600
1 J.T. Realmuto Marlins 290 .317 .368 .551 149 3.5 7.2
2 Francisco Cervelli Pirates 231 .247 .381 .468 132 2.3 6.0
3 Willson Contreras Cubs 332 .279 .367 .453 122 2.5 4.5
4 Yasmani Grandal Dodgers 291 .243 .340 .450 118 1.7 3.5
5 Kurt Suzuki Braves 239 .275 .343 .455 116 1.3 3.3
6 Yan Gomes Indians 258 .251 .314 .447 104 1.4 3.3
7 Yadier Molina Cardinals 240 .274 .317 .484 115 1.3 3.3
8 Wilson Ramos Rays 303 .291 .340 .479 127 1.6 3.2
9 Buster Posey Giants 326 .282 .362 .404 113 1.7 3.1
10 Gary Sanchez Yankees 265 .190 .291 .433 97 1.2 2.7
Min. 200 PA.

Thus it’s fair to say that his selection isn’t just about 2018 performance but about his reputation and bigger-picture productivity, and as I noted in Monday’s reaction piece to the NL starting outfield of Bryce Harper, Nick Markakis, and Matt Kemp, I’m not one to sweat that.

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Dexter Fowler and the Cardinals’ Foul-Up

While Matt Carpenter has turned his season around after a dreadful start, and Marcell Ozuna and Kolten Wong made strong showings in June after struggling previously, Dexter Fowler has yet to get going. In fact, the Cardinals’ 32-year-old right fielder ranks among the league’s worst hitters and least valuable players, and lately he’s been losing time to younger alternatives — all of which is surprising given his recent track record. He wound up in the headlines earlier this week when Cardinals president of baseball operations John Mozeliak singled him out publicly in a weekly podcast spot with a team broadcaster, questioning Fowler’s level of effort and energy in a manner rarely seen these days, at least from the type of model organization that the Cardinals fancy themselves.

It was bush-league stuff, particularly given its timing, as Fowler was preparing to go on paternity leave for the birth of his second child and thus unavailable to respond directly.

Speaking to Dan McLaughlin for the Scoops with Danny podcast, Mozeliak said of Fowler:

“I’ve had a lot of people come up to me and question his effort and his energy level and those are things that I can’t defend. What I can defend is trying to create opportunities for him, but not if it’s at the expense of someone that’s out there hustling and playing hard. I think everybody just needs to take a hard look in the mirror and decide what they want that next chapter to look like. In Dexter’s case, maybe taking a brief timeout, trying to reassess himself and then give him a chance for a strong second half is probably what’s best for everybody. I’m hopeful to touch base with him in the near future to really just decide what makes the most sense, but clearly he’s not playing at the level we had hoped.”

Ouch. Within that statement, Mozeliak didn’t identify whether it was teammates, coaches, managers, front office personnel, or angry fans — a cross-section of observers, not all of whose opinions should carry equal weight — complaining about Fowler. Nor did he cite instances where Fowler failed to hustle, the discipline for which would generally fall upon manager Mike Matheny. Think Nationals manager Matt Williams pulling Bryce Harper for failing to run out a ground ball to the pitcher circa 2014 or Dodgers manager Dave Roberts benching Cody Bellinger earlier this season — two cases of a manager transparently using a young star to set an example for a slow-starting team. And in saying “I’m hopeful to touch base” with Fowler, Mozeliak all but admitted that he was airing laundry publicly instead of first going to the player to discuss whatever problems had arisen. This isn’t the way well-run 21st century baseball teams typically function.

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Matt Carpenter’s Turnaround

On Tuesday night against the Indians in St. Louis, Matt Carpenter enjoyed one of the best nights in the history of a Cardinals hitter, going 5-for-5 with a double and a pair of homers. Given a chance to become the first Cardinal to hit for the cycle since Carlos Beltran on May 11, 2012, and the 19th since 1908 — all he needed was a triple — Carpenter instead capped the team’s 11-run outburst with a 399-foot homer off reliever George Kontos. He had collected a 368-footer off Corey Kluber in the first.

As colleague Craig Edwards pointed out in the wake of that performance, Carpenter has been the game’s hottest hitter this side of Mike Trout lately:

Admittedly, May 16 is an arbitrary endpoint, but it not only coincides with the offensive nadir of the 32-year-old infielder’s season, it happened to mark the halfway point between Opening Day and his big night. The Cardinals had played 39 games up to the point when Carpenter broke out by going 3-for-5 with a pair of doubles against the Twins at Target Field, and his 5-for-5 showing came during the team’s 78th game. Here’s the split through Wednesday’s game:

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