With our first busy week of the offseason in the books, the 2013-14 Major League Baseball spending spree is on. We’ve seen Jhonny Peralta and Brian McCann reel in buku bucks by signing long-term deals with franchises that historically view themselves as contenders. Josh Johnson and Dan Haren have managed to nab some pretty pennies from NL West ball clubs, the Phillies made some interesting moves, and of course who could forget the monumental Prince Fielder–Ian Kinsler swap. Why don’t we take a quick swing through some of last week’s newsworthy notes:
After dispatching both the Dodgers and Tigers in hard fought 6 game series, the Boston Red Sox and St. Louis Cardinals find themselves on the cusp of a title. And while this World Series match up may not have fans all over the country jumping for joy, the mood in St. Louis and Boston will reach a fevered pitch over the next week. So without further delay, let’s dive right in:
Originally published on highheatstats.com.
The ascension of the Pittsburgh Pirates, from two decade of losing to 94 wins and the NL Wild Card, was not an easy one. The franchise had to completely revamp everything, from they way they do business on the international market to the way they play on the field. Gone were the frugal Pirates of the past. In 2011, GM Neil Huntington and his mates scoured the high seas, spending a record $17 million in the amateur draft in order to turn the franchise around. And while many of those players (top pick Gerrit Cole aside) have yet to make an impact on the big league level, the message was sent. Pittsburgh was here to compete.
That aggressive front office approach in the draft has bled over into other areas of the franchise as well. After decades of doing everything in their power to avoid spending money on free agents, Pittsburgh opened up the coffers for Russell Martin, who was brought in on a 2 year/$17 million dollar deal to fortify what had previously been an extremely weak catching position. Along with Martin, veterans AJ Burnett, Wandy Rodriguez, and Justin Morneau among others have been traded for in an effort to raise the roster’s overall talent level. And perhaps most importantly, modern-day analytical analysis has been embraced.
Nowhere is that new, modern approach to baseball more evident than in the Pirates’ commitment to the defensive shift. Pittsburgh was one of the shiftiest teams in baseball this season, using one defensive maneuver or another over 400 times. That ranks 2nd among all of the franchises currently in the playoffs, trailing only the original super-shifters, the Tampa Bay Rays. That’s a huge jump from 2012, when Pittsburgh shifted just 105 times and the numbers back up just how effective all those extra defensive movements were. Pittsburgh ranked 3rd in baseball as a team in defensive runs saved and they finished tied for 7th in the league in defensive efficiency, which is the percentage of balls put in play that are then converted into outs.
“Yadi knows everything about every single hitter, exactly what to throw. If you execute your pitches and throw them where he wants the ball, you’re going to get hitters out, have a better ERA, win the game. I seriously believe that all the success I’ve had is totally on him.” – St. Louis Cardinals’ rookie Shelby Miller
“It’s not just instinct. It’s sense, based on how a hitter’s standing, how he responds to the pitch or two before, and he’s very creative in how he makes his adjustment based on what he sees with the hitter and knowing what his pitcher can do. That’s art.” – Former manager Tony La Russa
“With him catching me, I never had to worry. It’s never like he was back there guessing. He gets to know his pitchers. He got to know me, what I like to do, my strengths and weaknesses. When I got into trouble, what do we need to do to get me out of it? Those are the things he not only has to remember for one guy, but a whole staff. The ability to do that is pretty amazing.” – Milwaukee Brewers’ pitcher Kyle Lohse
The quotes listed above are just a small sampling of the praise that has generally rained down on Yadier Molina over the past 5 seasons or so. He’s widely regarded as the best defensive catcher in baseball thanks to his sublime framing skills, his Howitzer arm, and a glove so soft that Adam Wainwright once described it as a pillow. But can the mighty Molina really lower a pitcher’s ERA while taking runs off the board, as Shelby Miller and so many others claim? Or is there something else at work here? Let’s dive into the data to see if we can catch a glimpse at the inner workings of St. Louis’ finest:
That was the question asked and answered by Cardinals’ general manager John Mozeliak after it was announced this past February that Chris Carpenter was being placed on the disabled list, theoretically ending his season before it even started. Carpenter was faced with numbness in his entire right arm thanks to multiple surgeries including an operation in 2012 that removed a rib from his chest. Yet here we are, just 5 months later, watching Carpenter baffle hitters with a blistering curveball.
Carpenter made his first start of the 2013 season on Monday night for the Double-A Springfield Cardinals and although there was some obvious rust, he looked solid against the Arkansas Travelers (Los Angeles Angels affiliate) lineup. Carpenter was able to complete 2.2 innings of work while allowing 3 runs on 6 hits (one homer) to go along with 5 strikeouts and 2 walks.
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?
St. Louis Cardinals’ ace Adam Wainwright has always been one of the best big game pitchers in baseball. Even dating back to his days as a rookie out of the bullpen, Wainwright has never let a big moment get to him. Facing Carlos Beltran with the bases loaded, 2 outs, and a trip to the World Series on the line? That’s no big deal for Wainwright, just unleash the nastiest curveball you can possible throw. How about taking on a red-hot Giants lineup with your team staring down the possibility of a 3-1 hole? No big deal, just throw 7 dominant innings.
Wainwright’s always been a big game pitcher, which made his struggles in the NLDS against the Washington Nationals a season ago all the more puzzling. In 2 separate starts the Nationals were able to chase Wainwright from the game in the early going as they piled up 13 hits, 3 homers, and 7 total runs in just 8 innings against the Cards’ ace.
Well, on Tuesday evening Adam Wainwright went out and got his revenge. The right-hander thoroughly dominated the Nationals’ lineup, throwing 8.1 breezy innings, allowing 5 hits and 1 walk to go along with 9 strikeouts. He blew through the Nationals lineup with ease, using his fastball to get ahead of hitters before finishing them off with his trademark biting curveball.