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Sorting Out Playing Time – St. Louis Cardinals PDF Print E-mail
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Written by Brian Walton   
Saturday, 16 March 2013 00:00

As I have spent this week in St. Louis Cardinals camp in Jupiter, Fla., I will offer my thoughts regarding playing time estimates and season-opening roster/role projections for several of their players.

carpenter_matt

Matt Carpenter

Projection: 2B starter

I initially assumed the Carpenter experiment might turn out as it did when the Cards tried to make Skip Schumaker a second baseman four years ago. Then again, the reality is that Schumaker became the primary starter at the position for three seasons, racking up 400-plus plate appearances each time. Carpenter is a superior offensive player.

All indications are that Carpenter is handling the defensive shift well. If it continues, look for him to potentially wrest a majority of the starts at the position away from Daniel Descalso. The challenge is that both are left-handed hitters, with Carpenter having the more potent bat.

In the process, Carpenter adds yet another position to his already-strong multi-position eligibility. If you are in an OBP league, give him a slight bump up as he can take a walk.

Kolten Wong

Projection: 2B starter (Triple-A)

Those who held out hope Wong could make the leap from Double-A into the Cardinals' lineup this spring are going to be disappointed. If Carpenter can continue to bring enough glove to the position, Wong’s big-league arrival will depend on his play at Triple-A plus an opening in St. Louis that seems to have temporarily closed up.

Ronny Cedeno

Projection: SS reserve (shaky)

The Cardinals do not seem to be wild about the veteran’s approach at the plate and it is hardly a secret that Cedeno’s defense has always been inconsistent to the extreme. With a non-guaranteed contract and Pete Kozma playing well, Cedeno coming north with the team should not be assumed. Even if he makes the opening day roster, at-bats should be relatively scarce.

Daniel Descalso

Projection: Middle infield reserve

Even if Carpenter gets more starts at second as I suggested might happen, Descalso would serve as the reserve shortstop as well if Cedeno is jettisoned. I would not downgrade Descalso’s projected at-bats substantially. Don’t get too excited, though. his numbers are what they are. Perhaps a modest improvement in batting average could be in the offing, but that may be about it.

Pete Kozma

Projection: Starting shortstop

Last year’s September sensation is the primary beneficiary of Rafael Furcal’s season-ending elbow surgery. I have to be honest. I am struggling to understand how a hitter can be so good in the Majors after being so bad for so long in the Minors, including two seasons in Triple-A. Your guess is as good as mine if Kozma can sustain it, but he now has considerable job security. You could do a lot worse if you are looking for NL at-bats at shortstop.

Oscar Taveras

Projection: Starting outfielder (Triple-A)

By Team Puerto Rico advancing in the World Baseball Classic, Carlos Beltran’s absence from the Cardinals has been extended. That creates extended playing time for the organization’s top hitting prospect. Don’t expect it to translate into a major league roster spot to open the season, however. If/when Beltran’s knees give out, however, be ready to pounce. In the meantime, expect Taveras to feast on Pacific Coast League pitching.

Matt Adams

Projection: First base reserve

Adams was just as blocked from regular playing time before teammate Allen Craig signed a five-year contract last week as after. Short of injury to Craig, finding consistent at-bats for Adams is going to be a challenge. Yet, his power bat may be too potent to return to Triple-A.

If Adams is in St. Louis and is productive as a reserve, he might be able to hold off Taveras for awhile if Beltran or Matt Holliday go down with injury. Even that would require Craig to return to the outfield. It is not an ideal scenario from the Cardinals’ perspective, but not unreasonable.

Trevor Rosenthal

Projection: Set-up man

After just three spring outings, the 100 mph-throwing right-hander was eliminated from the fifth-starter competition. Rosenthal had not been his usual aggressive self – fanning just two batters in his seven innings as a starter. Returned to the pen, he struck out the side in his first frame of work.

If Shelby Miller moves into the rotation, Rosenthal could be shifted into the starter-in-waiting role by returning to Triple-A and stretching out his innings. Yet with Michael Wacha opening eyes in camp, that may not be needed.

In the meantime, you have a high-strikeout major league set-up man in Rosenthal. If dependable closer Jason Motte was to be shelved, I wouldn’t count Rosenthal out of ninth-inning duties. Such an interim move once worked pretty well for Adam Wainwright.

Shelby Miller

Projection: Starter (Triple-A, until STL opening)

Coming into camp, most observers assumed that Miller would win the fifth-starter battle with Rosenthal and Joe Kelly. I was not among them. Though Rosenthal was quickly eliminated, the Cardinals are not ready to declare a winner from the other two. Kelly has pitched well and is not backing down.

If the contest remains close, the Cardinals have flexibility to put Kelly in the pen but also have service time motivation for Miller to spend a couple of months back in Triple-A – or until the first rotation opening occurs. Do not expect the Cardinals to follow the Rosenthal model with Miller, though. He will remain a starter. It is only a matter of time until that is in St. Louis. His long-term potential remains sky-high.

Jaime Garcia

Projection: Starter (high-risk, high-reward)

Despite a strong spring to-date, the left-hander remains a question mark due to 2012 shoulder problems that were addressed in a non-surgical manner – via rest and rehab. If you are looking for an opening for the Miller-Kelly rotation loser to re-emerge, Garcia could provide the source. Or, if you are a gambler, remember that no one on the Cardinals' staff has better stuff than Garcia – when he is healthy.

Michael Wacha

Projection: Starter (Double-A, but not for long)

Taken 19th overall in the 2012 draft from Texas A&M, Wacha has been the biggest surprise in camp. The strikeout machine has just a handful of relief appearances at Double-A, but at this rate, Wacha could be this year’s Rosenthal. In other words, an arrival in St. Louis later this season and competing for a rotation spot next spring.

 

Brian Walton was the 2009 National League Tout Wars champion, scoring the most points in the league’s 14-year history. Though he is the only one to remember or care, he also finished second in each of the two subsequent seasons. His work can also be found daily at TheCardinalNation.com and thecardinalnationblog.com. Follow Brian on Twitter.


Last Updated on Saturday, 16 March 2013 10:13
 
The Phases of Spring Training PDF Print E-mail
Articles of Configuration
Written by Brian Walton   
Saturday, 09 March 2013 00:00

It is great to see the second week of spring training games wrapping up. As much as I would like to spend the entire five weeks seeing the Cactus and Grapefruit League contests in person, the plentiful action available via MLB.TV and its various supported boxes and apps often make it possible to watch multiple games each day.

With live games, we have been able to leave behind some of the most common and tired storylines of the first two weeks of any major league camp.

With no games yet to write about, scribes first look for physical changes in players as they arrive at spring training. That leads to the invariable “best shape of his career” articles.

The problem is that these narratives can backfire. If the player struggles during the regular season, the weight change can be the first thing that is blamed, whether fair and accurate or not.

The interesting thing is that it can work either way. In media second-guessing mode, a struggling player who was initially praised for losing weight can later be accused of lacking the stamina necessary to get through the long season.

Here is a current example. Lance Lynn could now appropriately be called Lance Thin. The 6-foot-5 right-hander reported to Cardinals camp 40 pounds lighter than last season. Interestingly, Lynn was removed from the rotation briefly in the second half of 2012. Was it poor conditioning or will he pay for the weight loss in the heat of July and August 2013?

On the other side of the coin, we have the player who gained muscle over the winter to help him maintain his edge over the six-month season. Beware! If his numbers don’t look good later, he will be criticized for having lost his speed and agility because of the extra pounds.

As you likely know already, the most prominent player in this category in 2013 is Mike Trout. The growth of the Angels phenom to 240 pounds has been analyzed and re-analyzed. Though there has been less reaction to date, Washington’s Bryce Harper is among others who also added weight over the winter.

My message to these players is that if you stand out, you had better be ready to deliver or you will take the heat.

By the second week of camp, the storylines progress to who is mentoring whom. The canny veteran who might lose his job to the kid ignores the inherent risks and takes the young man under his wing. You can pretty much take one of these articles from city A and reuse it in city B by only changing the player and team names.

Now that games have been with us for awhile, what is it with all the workout jerseys being used in Cactus and Grapefruit games? As far as I have seen this year, the Cardinals are the only team using their standard regular season uniforms.

dodgers_spring training

I get the merchandizing opportunity for clubs, but I still don’t care for it. For example, seeing the Dodgers with blue jerseys and white armpit-to-waist stripes doesn’t do it for me. I love their classic look.

The Astros are taking this concept a step further (or a step too far) with their rainbow under the arm look. Houston has changed its uniform colors so many times over the years, such that a lot of underarm space is required to show even a slice of them all.

Speaking of Houston, new manager Bo Porter elicited some praise as well as some “high school” reactions when he decided to keep the team’s players names off the back of their spring jerseys – until they earn it.

Seems to me that the woeful Astros should be doing everything they can to help their suffering fans learn the names of their mostly-anonymous players. It would also help the fantasy player tuning in.

In all fairness, the ‘Stros are not alone in this puzzling practice. It isn’t just struggling teams, either.

The Angels may televise the most spring games of any club, yet their players’ names are nowhere to be found. If Arte Moreno can afford Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton in consecutive winters, he could certainly spring for some names for his player’s jerseys, couldn’t he?

Speaking of tuning in, I am a big proponent of seeing as many games as your time allows prior to your March drafts. It is one thing to read box scores and player capsules after the fact. It is another to hear the local broadcasters talking about players.

The most important thing to look for is not stats. Those who dismiss spring results as being completely worthless are probably closer to reality than those who attach any real significance to them.

I am looking for clues to potential winners and losers in playing time battles and roster spots. The latter is especially important in single-league formats, where just about every 25-man player is rostered. Of course, this will become easier after the World Baseball Classic is over. Then rosters will be at full strength and cuts of the pretenders will pile up.

Besides, all things considered, what better sound could there be than the soothing voice of Vin Scully calling a game from Arizona?

Brian Walton was the 2009 National League Tout Wars champion, scoring the most points in the league’s 14-year history. Though he is the only one to remember or care, he also finished second in each of the two subsequent seasons. His work can also be found daily at TheCardinalNation.com and thecardinalnationblog.com. Follow Brian on Twitter.

Last Updated on Saturday, 09 March 2013 11:43
 
Is a Change to OBP from Batting Average a Big Deal? PDF Print E-mail
Articles of Configuration
Written by Brian Walton   
Saturday, 02 March 2013 00:00

Yes, to some, it is.

I decided to let the debate among my peers about the use of on-base percentage over batting average in mixed league Tout Wars age a bit before I commented further.

The initial discussion among Lord Zola’s Knights was fairly tame and generally consistent in support of the idea as a better reflection of player value. When it was opened up to the entire Tout Wars participants, approaching 50 in total, there was some loud dissention, however.

While some good points were made in favor of caution, others seemed resistant to change simply because it is change. Further, the role of leagues like Tout was questioned. Should we as industry leaders mimic the format used by the majority of our readers or be willing to try new ideas?

Some even expressed worry that the projections they provide to their customers would be less relevant because they are based on batting average today – as if they could not be enhanced to also include OBP in the future.

My counter-argument was that the first stat projectors/magazine publishers who include OBP-based values alongside BA-based ones should have a competitive advantage in selling their products.

I have to wonder if these same objections to change were raised back when the industry moved from predominantly using 4x4 to today’s more common 5x5 scoring? I honestly don’t remember, but I would bet they were.

One line of thinking suggests that OBP gives too much weight to sluggers. The logic goes that since they walk more often, these power hitters already receive extra advantage in the runs and RBI categories for every home run. I understand the thought process but no one presented any quantification of how concerning this might actually be. I can always better assess fear of the unknown with actual data.

Others threw out strawman arguments such as suggesting that since BA-OBP was on the table, then all scoring categories should be re-evaluated. Specifically steals and saves, which some believe are fundamentally out of balance in terms of relative scoring importance, were suggested. Those are interesting points to discuss another day, but irrelevant to the OBP versus BA decision under evaluation.

A number of the (ahem!) grayer-haired members of Tout were less vocal in the back-and-forth. Perhaps that is because a number of us participate in a keeper league called the XFL, or Xperts Fantasy League. Over a decade ago, the XFL decided to experiment using OBP instead of BA and has never looked back. This method of play proved to be no big deal in terms of change and the members have liked it enough to keep it with no debate.

One thing we all agreed on (I think) as members of Tout Wars is the need to explain to readers why this shift to OBP is being made. You can tell by the slant of my writing on which side of this debate I reside. Yet I would respect you if you disagree – as long as you can back up your position with logic – and preferably with data.

In these columns, I always try to explain how you might apply the stories I tell about my world to help you in yours. Even if your league is not yet ready to try OBP, I recommend you keep an eye on mixed league Tout Wars in 2013.

My longer term message is simple - do not be afraid to change - yet be open to consider all points of view. Just remember that the loudest voices in the room are not necessarily delivering the most relevant viewpoint.

Brian Walton was the 2009 National League Tout Wars champion, scoring the most points in the league’s 14-year history. Though he is the only one to remember or care, he also finished second in each of the two subsequent seasons. His work can also be found daily at TheCardinalNation.com and thecardinalnationblog.com. Follow Brian on Twitter.

Last Updated on Saturday, 02 March 2013 11:44
 
Answering the Annual Shelby Miller Questions PDF Print E-mail
Articles of Configuration
Written by Brian Walton   
Saturday, 23 February 2013 00:00

It is again that time of year when my regular job of covering the St. Louis Cardinals system intersects with my fantasy efforts here.

Everyone is out looking for sleepers and guys poised to make a big step up in the coming season. As a result, I am often contacted by friends with questions about Cardinals prospects.

For the second year in a row, number one on my most-asked-about list is right-handed pitcher Shelby Miller. It is for good reason, as the 22-year-old is one of the very best prospects in the game. Add to that shoulder soreness reported earlier this week and fantasy owners are nervous.

Still, if people were excited about Miller 12 months ago, they are doubly energized now. The difference is that last year, Miller was simply not ready for the bigs. Here is a summary of my advice from this column last February:

“I give Miller very low odds of making a significant fantasy impact anytime in 2012.”

When all was said and done, that was dead on target. After not following the club’s training blueprint and reporting to camp too light, Miller had a dreadful first half. With an ERA at 6, he then got his act together in such an impressive manner that the organization added him to the 40-man roster and called him up to St. Louis for the final month.

Given the start in game 162, Miller showed what he is capable of, tossing six innings of shutout ball at the National League Central champs from Cincinnati. He fanned seven and walked two while allowing just one hit.

Here in the spring of 2013, Miller reported to camp with a legitimate shot at the rotation spot vacated by Chris Carpenter. Set to battle with a couple of other hard-throwers, Joe Kelly and Trevor Rosenthal, for the starting berth, that plan was delayed when Miller came down with shoulder soreness mid-week.

There was a significant level of over-reaction in some quarters when the injury news was disclosed. Headlines screamed that Miller was shut down and some worried that he might be on anti-inflammatories. Apparently, they are unfamiliar with Advil.

The red alert was canceled by Friday, when Miller threw a bullpen with no issues. While the injury is not expected to be serious, any shoulder concerns clearly still bear watching.

Rosenthal is getting the ball in the club’s spring opener on Saturday and he and Kelly could build up a head start in their three-way race. Miller’s official spring debut will have to wait, though it should be days, not weeks, barring a setback.

Frankly, even before this week's news, I felt there was a decent chance that Miller would be back in the Minors to start the season. With other viable rotation alternatives, the Cardinals can afford to delay Miller’s arbitration/free agency clock.

Miller picked up 30 days of service time last fall. By keeping him in Triple-A for a couple of months to begin the 2013 season, the Cardinals could essentially secure an extra year of his services, pre-free agency. If they could hold off until mid-season, they could also avoid Miller's Super Two arbitration designation following the 2015 season, saving considerable money in at least one contract year.

The former is considerably more important than the latter, in my opinion.

However, even if one or both happen, my 2013 prediction for Miller is very different from the 2012 version. This time, his health-willing, I do believe the Texan will register on the fantasy radar. My projection is two-thirds of the season at most.

In addition to the vacated Carpenter spot, left-hander Jaime Garcia has recently dealt with shoulder problems of his own. Whoever does not win the rotation spot coming out of camp between Kelly and Rosenthal would very likely open the season in St. Louis’ bullpen. I could see Miller starting every fifth day in Triple-A until the next opening occurs.

In a few months, it could become Miller Time for good.

Brian Walton was the 2009 National League Tout Wars champion, scoring the most points in the league’s 14-year history. Though he is the only one to remember or care, he also finished second in each of the two subsequent seasons. His work can also be found daily at TheCardinalNation.com and thecardinalnationblog.com. Follow Brian on Twitter.

Last Updated on Sunday, 24 February 2013 11:50
 
Brian Cashman: Bill James deserves Hall of Fame consideration PDF Print E-mail
Articles of Configuration
Written by Brian Walton   
Monday, 04 February 2013 00:00

During a Sunday morning interview on “The Front Office” on SiriusXM, New York Yankees general manager Brian Cashman made a profound statement. Hardly a baseball newbie, the 15-year GM told a pair of former peers, Jim Duquette and Jim Bowden, that sabermetric pioneer Bill James deserves consideration for Baseball’s Hall of Fame due to James’ considerable contributions to the game. (You can listen to the audio of Cashman’s comments here)

Those of us who play fantasy baseball can certainly appreciate the importance of analytics. After all, it is the basis for all we do.

It took longer for the game itself to embrace “stats.” While the divisive “scouts versus stats” arguments may still continue in some dusty corner of the baseball world, analytics are clearly mainstream.

Every one of the 30 Major League organizations has some variant of an analytics function with the most recent high-profile analyst hiring being Tom Tango by the Chicago Cubs.

Even though Cashman’s idea will likely not progress beyond the discussion point anytime soon, it led me to wonder which committee would even consider the matter.

The Hall has three committees to review non-player candidates on a three-year cycle, with the voting held during the Winter Meetings. The Pre-Integration Era Committee (through 1946) met in December. The Golden Era Committee (contributors from 1947-72) last voted in 2011.

The Expansion Era Committee – which met previously in 2010 – will next consider candidates in 2013 whose main career contributions came from 1973 through the present. This seems to be where James’ hopes would reside.

The odds against such an induction are extremely high. Only 33 executives (and 20 managers) in the history of the game have plaques in Cooperstown. No coaches or scouts have even been inducted.

Still, the fact that a well-respected, championship general manager - of a club that happens to be James’ employer’s most hated rival - made such a declaration really says a lot, doesn’t it?


Brian Walton was the 2009 National League Tout Wars champion, scoring the most points in the league’s 14-year history. Though he is the only one to remember or care, he also finished second in each of the two subsequent seasons. His work can also be found daily at TheCardinalNation.com and thecardinalnationblog.com. Follow Brian on Twitter.

Last Updated on Monday, 04 February 2013 09:10
 
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