June 2010

Note of the night/Stat of the day, June 30

Note of the Night: The Cardinals are playing with a short bench right now. Just how short wasn’t entirely evident until Wednesday afternoon.

With two on and two out in the bottom of the ninth inning, in a two-run game, Ryan Ludwick remained on the bench. The official word earlier in this series was that Ludwick might be available to pinch-hit if needed — and it’s hard to imagine a scenario that set up better than the one at the end of Wednesday’s game.
Yet he stayed on the bench.
“I felt pretty dang good today,” Ludwick said after the game. “I’m just kind of getting rest. The last two days I’ve told people, a couple days of rest.”
It’s understandable not to push Ludwick. But if he’s completely unavailable, even in a two-out, two-on, bottom-of-the-ninth situation, it seems to scream for the addition of another hitter. The Cardinals may do that after Blake Hawksworth’s start on Thursday, but they found themselves in a situation where they could have used it on Wednesday.
Stat of the day: Perception is a funny thing. 
The Cardinals are batting .309 with the bases loaded this year (third-highest in the National League). They have a .582 bases-loaded slugging percentage (second in the league) and a .344 OBP (fourth). 

They’re at 266/369/452 with runners in scoring position on the year, ranking eighth in average, fifth in OBP and third in slugging. That’s as opposed to a 260/334/410 line overall.
The problem is not the timing of the hits. It’s the spots in the lineup that have been entirely unproductive.
Fun with double situational splits: Yadier Molina went 1-for-28 against left-handers in June, though at least the one hit was a homer.
And, finally, the playlist:
Hot Chip, “I Feel Better”
LCD Soundsystem, “Dance Yrself Clean”
Fever Ray, “When I Grow Up”
Gossip, “Dimestore Diamond”
Caribou, “Odessa”
-M.

Wednesday Chess Match: Sticking with Supp

The situation: Top of the sixth, Cardinals trail, 3-1. Two outs. Pitcher Dan Haren, pinch-hitting for pitcher Barry Enright, draws a two-out walk.
The decision: TLR stays with Suppan to face Stephen Drew and Rusty Ryal.
The outcome: Drew and Ryal both single and Arizona stretches its lead by a run.
The analysis: Suppan had been on a bit of a knife-edge all game long, so it might have been hard to tell when the game was starting to get away from him. But walking a pitcher, even a good-hitting pitcher like Haren, was probably a sign. Suppan’s pitch count at that point was already above what he’d thrown in his previous starts.
Still, the right-hander was one out away from getting out of the inning, and his spot was coming up in the bottom half of the frame. The Cardinals are playing with 13 pitchers, but that (combined with Ryan Ludwick’s nagging calf injury) means they have a very, very short bench.
This of course raises the separate issue of how wise it is to have 13 pitchers when one of your 12 players is injured. But that’s a question for another day.
Anyway, ideally, they would have liked to have squeezed the inning out of Suppan, maybe pinch-hit with a starting pitcher or even hope for a situation where Suppan could bunt in the bottom of the sixth and then go on with the rest of the game. 
The flipside, though, is that Suppan appeared to have been heading in the wrong direction for a little while already at this point. After walking one of the first 20 batters he faced, he had walked two of the last eight, along with a home run and a single. 
One other data point to consider: while Suppan doesn’t have much of a platoon split the past couple of years, Drew does. He’s a feeble hitter against left-handed pitchers, and the Cardinals have two good tactical lefties in their bullpen.
The comment: “Ryal was going to be the last hitter. We were just watching. He got a couple outs there. He had gotten Ryal out before, so we let him have Ryal. He missed him, Boggs gets the next guy.” — TLR
My verdict: I’m pretty sure I would have gone to the lefty for Drew. Suppan is still building up his stamina, and Drew is a completely different hitter against left-handers. 
-M.

Stats of the day, June 27

Stat of the Day, 1: The Cardinals are 4-17 when their starting pitcher allows more than three runs.

The thing is, in the early part of the season that wasn’t a problem, because it was never happening. Through May 5, Cards starters only had four games where they allowed more than three runs. Put another way, it happened four times in the season’s first 32 games, and 17 times in the last 43 games.
This speaks to a couple of issues, actually. One, as has been repeated ad nauseam, this team is playing in such a way where, if the starter is anything short of excellent, they’re going to have a tough time winning.
But there’s a second point, which goes hand-in-hand. And that’s that as the rotation is currently constructed, you can’t count on them being excellent nearly as often as you could early in the year. With Garcia regressing to the mean a bit, and Penny still out, lights-out starts are less the norm than they were in April.
So while this team would certainly benefit from getting something going consistently on offense, it would also be a major boost to get Penny back and dealing — so that even if they can’t start winning 7-6 games, they can win a few more by 3-1 scores.
Stat of the day, 2: Brendan Ryan is batting .210 with a .269 on-base percentage in June. 
I like Ryan a lot, both personally and as a defensive player. But with the season six days away from its halfway point, this looks less and less like a slump or two slumps or three slumps, and more like a bad year. Whether the answer is to return Felipe Lopez to being the primary shortstop (though he’s not exactly tearing it up), or to give Tyler Greene a better look (and Greene is RAKING at Memphis), it does look like it’s time to dial Ryan back once again.
Stat of the day, 3: Felipe Lopez is at 194/267/299 for June. Yadier Molina is at 175/246/238. For all the talk about hitting with runners in scoring position, or Pujols and/or Holliday not having the kind of torrid runs that people are used to seeing, this in my opinion remains the biggest issue with this offense.
It’s not timing the hits, and it’s not the sluggers. The issue is the number of spots in the batting order that have been completely unproductive. It’s just extremely difficult to overcome a situation where three lineup spots — as was the case Sunday, with Lopez, Molina and Ryan all starting — are offering so little.
Fun with double situational splits: Against right-handers in road games, Colby Rasmus is batting .368 with a .468 on-base percentage and a .779 slugging percentage.
And, finally, the playlist:
The Black Keys, “Next Girl”
Cold War Kids, “Coffee Spoon”
Them Crooked Vultures, “Mind Eraser, No Chaser”
The Dead Weather, “Die By the Drop”
Sleigh Bells, “Infinity Guitars”
-M.

Sunday lineups

Cardinals

1. Schumaker RF
2. Lopez 2B
3. Pujols 1B
4. Holliday DH
5. Freese 3B
6. Rasmus CF
7. Winn LF
8. Molina C
9. Ryan SS
Garcia LHP
Royals
1. Podsednik LF
2. Kendall C
3. DeJesus CF
4. Butler DH
5. Guillen RF
6. Callaspo 3B
7. Aviles SS
8. Betemit 1B
9. Bloomquist 2B
Chen LHP
-M.

Saturday lineups

Cardinals

1. Schumaker 2B
2. Stavinoha RF
3. Pujols 1B
4. Holliday LF
5. Rasmus CF
6. Freese 3B
7. Molina C
8. Miles DH
9. Ryan SS
Royals
1. Podsednik LF
2. Aviles 2B
3. DeJesus RF
4. Butler 1B
5. Guillen DH
6. Callaspo 3B
7. Pena C
8. Maier CF
9. Betancourt SS
-M.

Note of the night/Stat of the day, June 16

Note of the night: Coming off two starts in which his command was off, his pitch counts ran high and he was done sooner than expected, Jaime Garcia wanted to right the ship. He wasn’t pitching badly, but he wasn’t getting as deep into games as he or the Cardinals wanted.

He succeeded on Wednesday, getting through seven innings on 111 pitches and issuing one walk — the third time this year he’s kept the walk total that low, and the first time since May 14. After the game, Garcia explained the changes he made.
He said that for one, he made some small mechanical tweaks, but that really wasn’t the big deal. It was more a matter of approach. He explained that what was happening was that he’d been aiming his fastball too narrowly.
Garcia was trying to throw pitches right on the black. But with the movement on his fastball, he doesn’t need to do that. Especially when pitching to a left-hander, he can aim more for the heart of the plate and get movement toward the edge.
“You kind of think about, OK, what is my fastball doing?” he said. “My fastball is moving this way [in on a left-handed hitter]. If it’s moving this way, try to use more of the middle of the plate so it will be on the corner. If it’s moving this way, and you go to the corner, it’s going to be a ball every time.”
Once he made that adjustment, Garcia was able to trust his fastball more, throw it earlier in counts, get ahead and work off of it. It’s pitching A-B-Cs, really. Get ahead with your fastball, then finish hitters off with your breaking pitches. When he wasn’t getting ahead with the fastball, hitters were laying off his offspeed stuff, leading to deep counts, walks and long innings.
“The last two starts are the only ones that I changed a little bit, trying to do too much,” he said. “You’ve got to step back and relax a little bit, think about, ‘OK, what is going on? There is something definitely going on.  Why are you walking guys? Trying to be too fine?’ So you look back at the video, realize what you’re doing and go back to where you were. Make adjustments.
“It’s [about] having more confidence in my fastball, and using the plate more. Early in the game, the last couple games, I was trying to be too fine and I ended up walking guys. Tried to be on the corner and the ball was [moving off the plate]. So I try to keep the ball down and use more of the middle of home plate. and then later you can go to the corners a little bit more, you can bounce a curveball. But it was more being able to get ahead with my pitches and then make adjustments as the game goes on.”
It worked very well. This was the Garcia the Cardinals want to see, even if he allowed more runs than he did in his previous game. He can be efficient, he can get groundballs and quick outs. And if he does that, he can not only be effective but help take strain off the bullpen.
Stat of the day: David Freese his hitting .318 with a .441 slugging percentage, which comes out to an isolated slugging percentage of .123. His career ISO in the Minors was .224, and it was never below .187 in any Minor League season.

Fun with double situational splits: Hitters are 3-for-20 with runners in scoring position against Garcia in June.
And, finally, the playlist:
The Gaslight Anthem, “Diamond Church Street Choir”
Beck, “Cellphone’s Dead”
The Asteroids Galaxy Tour, “Around the Bend”
Wilco, “Monday”
Features, “Lions”
-M.

Note of the night/Stats of the day, June 15

Note of the night: Slowly, surely, Colby Rasmus is becoming an everyday player. And with good reason. Rasmus has been one of the best offensive players in the National League this year, ranking third in the league in slugging and fifth in OBP.

More specifically though, as of the end of Tuesday’s game, he’s showing virtually no platoon split. Against right-hander, Rasmus has a line of 300/408/600. Against lefties, it’s 289/372/579. That’s a huge development.
He’s started nine games against left-handed starters this year, including the last five for which he was healthy. Given the frustration in some parts of the fan base at Rasmus’ seeming platoon status, this should be received well. And again, the key is that he’s earned it.
“He’s a hitter,” TLR said. “Against all pitching, he plants himself in the strike zone. When you do that, you’re going to hit. I think the more he sees left-handers, [the more he benefits]. Not just because it’s at-bats, but he sees different guys. Each guy is a little different.”
Rasmus feels that the difference from last year, when he hit 160/219/255 against LHP, and this year is subtle but real. 
“I’ve worked with some things on my swing,” he said. “Staying over in there a little more, which I think is helping me stay on those lefties and those breaking balls away. I’m seeing the ball better, not chasing the balls off the plate, just making them come to me. Not missing the pitches. Most of the time I’d be fouling a lot of balls off against lefties and not hitting pitches that I should. Lately I’ve been hitting them.”
That’s often a key that Rasmus points to as a difference between when he’s going well and when he’s not: whether he’s squaring up hittable pitches, or fouling them away. But he also agreed that increased playing time is helping his mindset.
“I guess being in there every day definitely does make a big difference,” he said. “It’s kind of like, if I struggle a little bit I don’t have to worry about being on the bench the next day. Knowing I’ve got a pretty good chance of being in there again. Just the constant grind against them, getting beat up so much, I finally learned how to get ‘em.”
Stat of the day, 1: Rasmus has three home runs in 44 plate appearances against lefties this year. He had three in 115 plate appearances last year.

Stat of the day, 2: This weird and cool note is courtesy of Chris Tunno from Cardinals media relations: Jeff Suppan has a seven-game hitting streak in Interleague Play. For his career, Suppan has hit .317 (13-for-41) in Interleague games.
Fun with double situational splits: In home games in June, Rasmus is 12-for-25 (.480) with five home runs, a .552 on-base percentage and a 1.120 slugging percentage.
And, finally, the playlist:
Feeling like some classics today.
Three Dog Night, “Never Been to Spain”
Bill Withers, “Ain’t No Sunshine”
Chicago, “25 or 6 to 4″
Blood, Sweat and Tears, “You’ve Made Me So Very Happy”
Temptations, “Just My Imagination”
-M.

Notes of the night/Stat of the day, June 13

Note of the night, 1: I touched on this a couple of places already today, including in the game story and on Twitter, but I just find it really interesting.

When Kyle McClellan came into today’s game, I had a bad feeling about it for the Cardinals because I had a perception that McClellan had struggled in tie games. No data to base it on; it just seemed that way.
Well, the amazing thing about following baseball in 2010 is that you can look up just about anything. So I did. And it’s true: McClellan has been strikingly less effective in tie games than in games where the Cardinals are ahead or behind. For his career, entering Sunday, opposing hitters had an OPS of 810 against McClellan in tie games, including a .476 slugging percentage.
With the Cards ahead, McClellan has allowed a 645 OPS and a .328 slugging percentage. With the Cards behind, the numbers are 623 and .296.
So I asked about it. Asked TLR. Asked McClellan. Honestly, I was expecting to be blown off, to have them dismiss it as statistical noise. But they both acknowledged that there might well be something to it.
“I think it’s something to pay attention to,” TLR said. “He’s probably aware of it. That’s how you learn. Maybe you try to do too much. He made a great curveball to Reynolds, and then he threw another one later. He just overthrew, missed a couple balls high, maybe trying too hard.”
Said McClellan: “I think it’s a tough spot to pitch in. especially on the road. they’re trying to lift something. They’re trying to get the ball in the air. … The hitters are in a lot different mode than when they’re behind in the game or when they’re ahead. For me, it’s one of the tougher situations to pitch under. 
“But it doesn’t mean that you come out and expect to give up runs. You come out and attack everybody the same way. I wish I could pick times to give up my runs. You just can’t do it in tie games.”
I honestly don’t know what to make of it. But it’s real, and although I don’t know how to run the regressions, I’d bet that at this point it’s statistically significant. 
Yet it’s a conundrum, because McClellan is at least arguably the best reliever on the team, or at least the best other than Franklin. And he’s also a pitcher who can get more than three outs on a regular basis, which is an extra valuable commodity in a tie game, since you never know how long you could go in extras.
So the Cardinals can’t run away from him in tie games. But it seems they’d at least be wise to try to pick the matchups and situations carefully.
Note of the night, 2: Dennys Reyes is in a slump. There’s no way around it. He’s faced 12 batters this month, and gotten two outs. After the game, Reyes said the main thing he sees on video is that his sinker is not sinking, and it is cutting. So pitches that should be coming in on the hands of lefties are instead running out over the plate.
“I’m leaving my pitches up, up in the zone,” he said. “I’m usually low in the zone. Most of the hits I’ve been getting are on my sinker. My sinker has been coming back. Instead of sinking, they cut a little bit. I’m frustrated about it, because I don’t think I’ve gone through a stretch like this, so bad.”
Reyes hasn’t figured out what’s causing it to happen. That’s the next step.
“I feel really guilty about this game,” he said. “I haven’t been able to get people out. I need to do something about it. I need to do something to fix that and come back and throw strikes in the low part of the zone.
“I’m doing something. I don’t know. That’s the thing that I’ve got to figure out. I’ll start to do something tomorrow. I’ll talk to Dunc about it and see if he can find something to give me.”
Stat of the day: The Cardinals are 15-19 on the road despite having outscored their opponents, 137-130 in road games.
Fun with double situational splits: Matt Holliday is 2-for-17 with runners on base in June.
And, finally, the playlist:
I went to last night’s Arizona State-Arkansas game to see some Cardinals draftees, and I’ll be writing that up in the next day or two. But on the way home XM First Wave was playing the “Saturday Night Safety Dance,” and it was even better than usual. So, five songs from that program:
Duran Duran, “The Wild Boys”
New Order, “Bizarre Love Triangle”
Camouflage, “The Great Commandment”
The Smiths, “I’m So Sorry”
Depeche Mode, “Policy Of Truth”
-M.

Chess Match: Turning Molina loose

The situation: Top of the fifth, Cardinals trail, 3-0. Brendan Ryan at the plate, one out, Yadier Molina on first base.

The decision: With a green light, Molina takes off for second. 
The outcome: Molina is thrown out fairly easily, likely costing the Cardinals a run or more. Ryan walks, Chris Carpenter singles and Felipe Lopez walks before Colby Rasmus grounds out, meaning the Cardinals got four baserunners but no runs.
The analysis: TLR has faith in Molina’s judgment, and points to Molina’s steals over the past two years. But while someone like Albert Pujols, with passable speed, can get some steals, it seems like a bad long-term bet to keep sending Molina. It’s probably instructive not to look at Molina’s line over the past two years (15-for-21, including today) but instead his line for his career (19-for-34).
While Molina’s reads may be somewhat better than they were, it seems unlikely that they’re THAT much improved that the 15-for-21 is indicative of any improvement in skill. More likely it’s statistical noise.
One point in favor of putting a play on: with the Nos. 8-9 hitters coming up and one out already, you’re certainly not assuming that the lineup is going to get back around to the top. And you’re also figuring that any hit from Ryan or Carpenter will be a single.
But a counter-counter-point: Even if you get Molina to second base, it’s far from a given that he scores on a single. The benefit of getting Molina from first to second is quite a bit less than the benefit of getting, say, Ryan from first to second, since Ryan scores from second frequently on a single.
The comment: “What’s his rate? He’s had great instincts about it.” — TLR
My verdict: I just don’t like giving Molina the green light there, even with the bottom of the order coming up. I believe that the 59-percent success rate is much closer to the truth, and you can’t afford to take that risk. The Cardinals were getting baserunners against Jackson. It’s not like he was totally shutting them down so you needed to squeeze out a run.
-M.

Friday lineups

Cardinals

1. Lopez 3B
2. Rasmus CF
3. Pujols 1B
4. Holliday LF
5. Ludwick RF
6. Schumaker 2B
7. Molina C
8. Ryan SS
9. Garcia P
Diamondbacks
1. Johnson 2B
2. Jackson LF
3. Upton RF
4. Reynolds 3B
5. LaRoche 1B
6. Young CF
7. Snyder C
8. Ojeda SS
9. Lopez P
-M.
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