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Monday, August 30, 2004

Postseason Roster Rumblings

With call-ups coming over the next week, it isn’t too early to start speculation on who will be playing in the postseason.  As I already explained in an earlier article, anyone on the 40-man is game for inclusion on the Cardinals’ postseason roster.  While anything can happen over the next five weeks or so, here are five roster spots that could be in play.


Left-handed reliever 

Incumbent:  Steve Kline

Contenders:  Randy Flores, Rick Ankiel


If Kline’s injury is such that he is not ready for the playoffs, this becomes wide open.  While most teams drop to a four-man starting rotation in the postseason, it doesn’t matter here, since all five starters are righthanded.  So, another lefty to go with Ray King is mandatory.


Flores was called up, at least ostensibly, to get the first shot while Kline is disabled.  As I noted in my other story, “Cards Offense Weakens Bullpen”, I have my doubts about whether Flores will get a real chance to prove himself in September.


That leaves Rick Ankiel.  There is no subject that can divide the Cardinal nation any faster and deeper than the prospect of Ankiel pitching in the playoffs.  So, I will stop there for now.  After all, Ankiel has yet to throw a pitch for the Cards this season.  Come to think of it, same from Flores!  I’d call that wide open.


Backup middle infielder

Incumbents:  Marlon Anderson, Hector Luna

Contender:  Bo Hart


As a Rule 5 pickup, Luna was required to remain on the Cards’ 25-man roster all season or he would be lost to them.  However, that is not a requirement for the playoffs.  Certainly, that makes his roster spot vulnerable for the postseason.


Anderson started the season well, with a number of clutch hits, especially as a pinch-hitter.  However, he went from hot to cool to cold to Antarctic cold.  Anderson is hitting just .227 on the season and if you exclude April, he is a putrid 27-for-149, .181.  That’s the price to pay for his “versatility”.  Tell me why he remains on the team, again?


Cardinal watcher extraordinare Jerry Modene pointed out that none other than Bo Hart has been playing shortstop for Memphis recently and asserts that Hart is a lock for the Cards’ postseason roster.  I am not there yet, but I can see his point.


For Memphis this season, Hart has hit .302 with 39 extra-base hits in 414 at-bats.  He’s driven in 41, but shares the team lead with 13 errors.


Backup outfielders

Incumbents:  So Taguchi, Roger Cedeno

Contenders:  Ray Lankford, John Gall, Colin Porter


Current course and speed, I really don’t see this as much of a race.  Taguchi has been delivering timely hits lately and is a perfect late-inning defensive replacement for Sanders.   Cedeno is a switch-hitter with speed and would seem to offer more than Lankford or Gall. 


Of the three contenders, only Porter could play center in a pinch to back up Edmonds.  However, his season at Memphis has been nothing to brag about.  So is a better choice. 


On the corners, we have Lankford and Gall.  We all know Lankford’s strengths and weaknesses.  He’s batting .212 in his rehab assignment, and hit just .250 for the Cards after a hot start in April.  Gall, while having a fine season with the bat, is the very darkest horse for postseason play.  After all, La Russa wouldn’t use him in the regular season, so why would he in the playoffs, despite Gall’s .295 average and 22 home runs and 82 RBI for Memphis?


Right-handed reliever

Incumbent:  Kiko Calero

Contenders:  Jason Simontacchi, Al Reyes, Danny Haren


If Calero returns to health and form in September, he would seem to be the favorite.  Reyes is included here only because he happens to hold the roster spot today (see Flores above).  Haren is an intriguing possibility, but at least one of today’s five starters will also be available for long relief in the postseason. 


Non-contenders – Other players who may get a September look, but would require an injury from another to get into the playoff picture:


Catcher Cody McKay

Third baseman Scott Seabol

Outfielder Kevin Witt


McKay is at least on the 40-man, but the other two are not, making their October chances basically non-existant.


Obviously, a further injury or two could change this picture dramatically.  As it gets closer to October, I will update this as necessary.

5:59 pm edt

Albert's Home Runs vs. Strikeouts - A Historical Perspective

With 40 home runs and 41 strikeouts so far in 2004, Albert Pujols is having a tremendous season.  But, is it unprecedented?  A quick check of the history books using Lee Sinins’ amazing tool, the Sabermetric Baseball Encyclopedia, says clearly not.


I ran the data with the assumptions of 500 plate appearances and 20 home runs as the minimum and pulled the list by fewest strikeouts. 


First, the overall MLB list (modern era):


1 Tommy Holmes 1945 9 713 28
2 Yogi Berra 1950 12 653 28
3 Joe DiMaggio 1941 13 621 30
4 Frank McCormick 1944 17 645 20
T5 Irish Meusel 1925 19 557 21
T5 Lefty O'Doul 1929 19 731 32
T7 Lefty O'Doul 1932 20 657 21
T7 Yogi Berra 1955 20 615 27
T7 Yogi Berra 1951 20 594 27
T7 Joe DiMaggio 1939 20 524 30


Tommy Holmes is not exactly a household name, and it was during war time.  But, still, a ratio of 3.11 home runs per strikeout over a full season is simply amazing.  Mr. Lawrence Peter Berra was pretty good, himself.


Now, for your St. Louis Cardinals.  Note that in the long history of the team, only Stan Musial in 1948 had at least 500 PA, hit at least 20 home runs and had fewer strikeouts than homers. Not bad company for Albert to aspire to join.

1 Stan Musial 1952 29 676 21
T2 Stan Musial 1953 32 698 30
T2 Rogers Hornsby 1924 32 640 25
T4 Ted Simmons 1979 34 521 26
T4 Stan Musial 1948 34 694 39
T4 Stan Musial 1957 34 579 29
7 Ted Simmons 1974 35 662 20
T8 Stan Musial 1950 36 645 28
T8 Jim Bottomley 1925 36 681 21
10 Ted Simmons 1977 37 601 21


If you up the ante to 40 home runs and 500 plate appearances, the names become legendary.

1 Lou Gehrig 1934 31 690 49
2 Ted Kluszewski 1953 34 629 40
3 Ted Kluszewski 1954 35 659 49
T4 Johnny Mize 1948 37 658 40
T4 Joe DiMaggio 1937 37 692 46
6 Mel Ott 1929 38 674 42
7 Ted Kluszewski 1955 40 686 47
8 Johnny Mize 1947 42 664 51
9 Lou Gehrig 1936 46 719 49
T10 Barry Bonds 2002 47 612 46
T10 Hank Aaron 1969 47 639 44

The Cards have never had a 40-plus home run player with a lower strikeout total in that season. The closest three:

1 Johnny Mize 1940 49 666 43
2 Rogers Hornsby 1922 50 704 42
3 Albert Pujols 2003 65 685 43


Will Albert Pujols become the first here in 2004?


Note:  Order the Sabermetric Baseball Encyclopedia here.

5:58 pm edt

Cards Offense Weakens Bullpen

OK, here’s my contention.  The Cardinals are so good, their bullpen has been weakened as a result.


Here is what I mean.  The Redbird offense is so strong that the team is never out of any game.  Even when they are behind, we have become so accustomed to them coming back to win that we are genuinely surprised when they don’t.  Clutch hits are so commonplace that last weekend in the home Pirates series, even members of the hardened press corps in the Busch press box just shook their heads in amazement over the Cards’ heroics.


Why does that hurt the pen, you ask?  With Kiko Calero and Steve Kline on the disabled list, their spots are currently taken by journeymen Al Reyes and Randy Flores.  Reyes joined the team last Friday, August 20.  Since then, he has appeared in exactly one game, pitching one inning.  Flores just joined the team, but odds are that he will see very limited action, too.


So, what, you say?   Well, here’s the problem.  Tony La Russa likely doesn’t want to use either of these unproven hurlers in a crucial situation.  After all, they haven’t proven themselves yet in the big leagues.  I understand completely. 


The problem is the offense.  They are so good that they are never out of a game, so a non-crucial situation rarely occurs where a Reyes or Flores could get some innings.  In the last two months, the Cardinals have lost exactly two games by five runs or more.  That is one blowout loss per month.


On the other hand, the offense hasn’t been so dominating lately that they have been blowing away the competition, either, making garbage time almost non-existent.  In August, the Cardinals have exactly two wins of six runs or more.


Don’t get me wrong.  I’m as pleased as everyone else that the Cards are winning close games that the 2003 bullpen would have lost.  It’s just that the lack of laughers makes it more difficult for inexperienced pitchers to get game experience.


Look at what has happened since last Friday when Reyes joined the team.  With a trusted arm, Calero, out, the rest of the trusted members of the pen have gotten more work.  For example, Julian Tavarez has pitched in seven of those last ten games, the last nine with Reyes sitting there in the pen.  Now, with lefty Kline out, expect fellow portsider Ray King’s already high workload to increase even higher.  Can these few “sure thing” relievers hold up?


Carrying this thought process forward, to get the proven pen members some rest and to get the new guys some work, hope for some one-sided Cardinal wins (we’ll never hope for one-sided losses).  And, of course, hope that Calero and Kline get well soon.  If that doesn’t happen, the team may need one or more of these new guys to contribute in October. 


After all, with the roster expansion this coming week, the Cardinal bullpen options will technically increase, but La Russa’s actions say his confidence level in his bullpen shrinks with every injury.

5:56 pm edt

2005.02.13 | 2005.02.06 | 2005.01.30 | 2005.01.23 | 2005.01.16 | 2005.01.09 | 2005.01.02 | 2004.12.26 | 2004.12.19 | 2004.12.01 | 2004.11.01 | 2004.10.01 | 2004.09.01 | 2004.08.01

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