Let’s just pretend for one moment that the advent of the modern bullpen never happened. There’s no such thing as a LOOGY, Jerome Holtman never invented the save, and starting pitchers are handed the ball at the start of the game with the expectation that they will work a minimum of 7 innings. Now, I’m fairly sure the Player’s Association and a majority of the big league managers would riot if this kind of thing ever happened, but I know one place where everybody would be happy: the National League Central.
You see, apart from Pittsburgh, none of the NL Central teams have been able to cobble together a solid bullpen.The Cardinals struggles have been well-documented this year and for good reason. St. Louis currently has an ERA north of 6.00 out of the bullpen, which is good for dead last in baseball. Chicago, Cincinnati, and Milwaukee haven’t been much better ranking 20th, 18th, and 15th respectively in ERA.
But when a starting pitcher is on the mound? Look out, because each of these ball clubs has put together a quality rotation and most of them are running at full power right now. But which one of these star-studded starting staffs is the best?
Thanks to the excitement of the World Baseball Classic, I haven’t had a chance to get to a question that’s really got me thinking over the past week: is there a better general manager in the National League than John Mozeliak? I’m starting to lean toward no after Mozeliak pulled off yet another coup for the Cardinals, inking Allen Craig to a 5 year/$35 million dollar deal with a 6th year/$13 million option. There are some legitimate injury concerns with Craig, who’s spent part of the last 2 seasons on the DL, but there is also some legitimate hitting chops. Craig has been a rock solid producer over his first couple hundred games, hitting an even .300 with oodles of extra-base hits. And when you factor in the going rate for 1st baseman these days — at least 15 players will make more than $10 million a year to play 1st– this deal is a downright steal.
When Cardinals starter/bulldog Chris Carpenter announced that he was going to miss the entirety of the 2013 season with shoulder numbness, it put the St. Louis rotation in a temporary state of flux. Not that this state of flux is a bad thing. Actually, it’s quite the contrary. The Cardinals have weathered injuries to key members of their starting rotation before and they appear more prepared than ever to replace their long-time workhorse. A plethora of young, talented, and hard-throwing starting pitchers stand ready to take Carpenter’s place, which should lead to an intriguing battle for the last couple of spots in the Cards’ rotation. The candidates:
A week and a half ago I previewed the month of September and attempted to divide teams up into Contenders or Pretenders. The National League in particular, had a bunch of teams withing reasonable striking distance of a playoff berth, particularly if everything broke right. Well so far so good, because damn near every team at the top of the running for the NL Wild Card spot is slumping, which means that teams like Arizona, Philadelphia, and Milwaukee have been reawakened from the dead. St. Louis has lost 5 of their last 6, while Los Angeles has lost 6 of 9 since acquiring Adrian Gonzalez in the blockbuster trade with the Red Sox, and don’t even get me started on the nasty slide the Pirates are in. The wheels have fallen off in the Steel City, as Pittsburgh is just 13-25 since the start of August while winning just 2 of their past 10 games. Atlanta is still looking good at the top, so the question is worth asking: does anybody want to win the win the 2nd Wild Card spot? And could one of the long-shot teams entering the month of September (Philadelphia, Arizona, and Milwaukee) sneak in there?
For the past couple of seasons, Sports Illustrated’s excellent Tom Verducci has written a pre-season article concerning the “Year-After Effect”, which has since been named the Verducci Effect. This link, contains the 2012 version of Verducci’s list, which was published all the way back in mid-January. This type of thinking is especially important when we consider innings caps for young pitchers, as evidenced by the recent shut downs of Stephen Strasburg, Jeff Samardzija, and others.
Basically Verducci tries to highlight young pitchers who have seen a considerable increase in their workloads from one season to the next. It’s interesting research mostly because it attempts to spotlight at-risk pitchers, ones who may see a substantial increase in ERA at best, and ones who may become injured at worst.