News: David Bell takes front office job with Giants

What happened. Cardinals’ bench coach David Bell has taken a front office job overseeing minor league player development for the San Francisco Giants.

The story. At the end of the season when the team confirmed that pitching coach Derek Lilliquist and bullpen coach Blaise Ilsley weren’t returning next season, John Mozeliak said that he did not expect there to be any changes on the other team’s coaching staff. However it seems there will be more staff turnover than previously expected.

The numbers. David Bell joined the Cardinals’ organization in 2014 as the team’s assistant hitting coach. A year later he was promoted to bench coach, where he has served since. He has said before that his goal is to be a manager. He has now served as a minor league manager, base coach, and bench coach in his career. Now he’ll add a major front office role to his resume.

The impact. 8/10. This really depends on how you view the impact of the coaching staff, but I see it as a big development for the Cardinals. In my opinion, the bench coach and the pitching coach are the two most important coaches in the dugout when it comes to helping the manager formulate game strategy and both will be replaced.

This can be good or bad. Most see Matheny’s in game management as his biggest issue, but I do feel like it improved when Bell was promoted to replace Mike Aldrete.

My wish list for a bench coach, especially for Matheny, is someone who has plenty of his own managing experience so that they have encountered many of these same game situations before and aren’t learning managerial strategy on the fly.

The club will obviously look at all their options, but one internal option that has to be an early favorite for the role would seem to be Mike Shildt.

Shildt joined the Cardinals in 2004 as a scout and has eight years of managing experience, including championships in 2010 and 2011 at Johnson City and 2012 in Springfield. He joined the big league staff before this season as Quality Control Coach before stepping in as third base coach when Chris Maloney was reassigned.

The bench coach is generally responsible for scheduling and managing the work during spring training. As a proclaimed George Kissel disciple, Shildt would seem to be the right guy to help correct some of the fundamental lapses and perhaps a promotion would help him do that.

 

News: Tony La Russa to leave Diamondbacks

What happened. Tony La Russa will leave his front office position with the Arizona Diamondbacks at the end of the month.

The story. La Russa joined the Diamondbacks as Chief Baseball Officer during the 2014 season and served in that role through 2016 when a front office shakeup took place. He became the Chief Baseball Analyst this season and has elected to step down.

The numbers. When La Russa took over the Diamondbacks baseball operations, they were on their way to a 64-98 season where they finished last in the NL West. They won 79 games in 2015 and regressed to 69 games in 2016. This season they won 93 games on their way to a Wild Card nod.

The impact. 0/10. Well, for the Cardinals anyway. There’s always the possibility that La Russa could once again become involved with the Cardinals’ front office again, and I think that could be beneficial for the club. However, expecting La Russa to step into any kind of major position like replacing John Mozeliak as President of Baseball Operations or returning to manage the club seems like a pipe dream. In his statement, 73-year-old La Russa described his job with the Diamondbacks as “more demanding than I realized.” Not exactly the words of a guy ready to hop back into a top level front office or managerial job.

News: Cardinals part ways with Derek Lilliquist and Blaise Ilsley

What happened. The Cardinals announced today that they will not renew the contracts of pitching coach Derek Lilliquist and bullpen coach Blaise Ilsley. The team expects that the remainder of the coaching staff will be returning for 2018.

The story. As part of the decision to not offer contract renewals to Lilliquist and Ilsley, Cardinals’ President of Baseball Operations John Mozeliak has said that the organization wants to rethink the strategy of pitching use with the implementation of new analytical data and more modern views of bullpen usage.

The numbers. Derek Lilliquist has been one of the organization’s longest tenured coaches, joining the Cardinals’ in 2002 as pitching coach for the Rookie league Johnson City Cardinals. He served at multiple levels before spending 2008 to 2010 as the team’s pitching coordinator in Jupiter where he worked with rehabbing pitchers. He joined the big league club after the 2010 season as the bullpen coach, but was promoted to interim pitching coach in August 2011 when Dave Duncan took a leave of absence. That move was made permanent after the 2012 season.

Blaise Ilsley became the bullpen coach for the Cardinals following the 2012 season after spending five seasons as pitching coach for the Triple-A Memphis Rebirds. Before that he spent six seasons as pitching coach of the Double-A Springfield Cardinals. He was the Cardinals’ 2004 winner of the George Kissell Award, presented annually for excellence in player development.

The impact. 9/10. Someone on the coaching staff was going to lose their job this winter, it was just a matter of who. I did expect Ilsley to lose his job. Obviously the optics of the video of him standing next to an obviously uncomfortable Trevor Rosenthal trying to warm up in the bullpen without a word, where later we found Rosenthal needed to have Tommy John surgery, didn’t help.

Perhaps it was most surprising that it ended up being Derek Lilliquist, who has generally been well regarded during his time with the team, was the man on the way out.

My first reaction was a laugh that John Mabry was able to hold onto his job for another winter, but the more I think about the firing of Lilliquist, the more I think it actually does make logical sense.

One of the reasons the Cardinals pointed out was that they wanted a change in how the pitching staff was handled. The idea there is that Lilliquist has a voice in how the bullpen has been managed. Considering that Matheny and Lilliquist have been together since the beginning, that’s something I’m willing to consider.

So at that point there are three options. First, either Matheny is following Lilliquist’s advice on how to manage the bullpen. Second, Lilliquist agrees with the way Matheny manages the bullpen. Or third, Matheny was ignoring Lilliquist’s advice on how to manage the bullpen. If it’s been established that Matheny is sticking around, all three are reasons to find a new pitching coach in the hopes that you find someone who will either give Matheny better advice or that he is more likely to listen to.

Regardless, we will find out.

Lilliquist is also the last hold over from Tony La Russa’s coaching staff from the 2011 season. So going forward this entire staff will have been chosen under Mike Matheny’s management. There will be no excuses for him next season. Perhaps this is the organizational equivalent of giving Matheny enough rope to hang himself.

It will be interesting to see who is hired to take Lilliquist’s place and ultimately I’ll reserve my judgement for whether it is a good move until we know the corresponding one.

Personally, my hope remains the same as it was when the Cardinals needed to find a new bench coach when Mike Aldrete left for Oakland. Bring in someone with experience from outside the organization who brings their own ideas to mesh into the way this team is managed.

News: Wainwright to undergo surgery

What happened. It was confirmed that RHP Adam Wainwright will have surgery to remove a cartilage flag from his right elbow today.

The story. Wainwright struggled down the stretch with pain in his elbow that he called similar to an issue he had after the 2014 season. Unlike in 2014, Wainwright was not able to pitch through it and he believes it contributed to a bone bruise and his diminished velocity this season. He admitted that it had bothered him since a July 22nd start against the Cubs. Following that game he went to the disabled list with a back injury.

The numbers. Despite Wainwright’s 12-5 record and the team posting a second-best 15-8 record in his starts (behind Luke Weaver‘s 8-2 team record), Wainwright endured the worst season of his career. His 5.11 ERA, 4.29 FIP, 1.50 WHIP, 10.2 H/9, 1.0 HR/9, and 3.3 BB/9  all career highs numbers.

The impact. 1/10. The impact here is negligible since we already knew that he was probably going to need surgery to remedy the problem. The real key will be whether this will actually help improve his performance next season. With his performance this year and the fact that it demonstrably had an effect, it certainly can’t hurt.

At 36, Wainwright is the old dog in this rotation. If the Cardinals’ plans to “go young” remain in tact, he looks like he will have ten years over the next oldest pitcher in the rotation. Carlos Martinez and Michael Wacha are both 26, Luke Weaver is 24, and Jack Flaherty, who is the odds on favorite to be the fifth starter next year, will be 22 in a couple weeks.

Wainwright will be in his “age 36” season next year, as defined by Baseball-Reference. There was only one starting pitcher in 2017 who was in their age 36 season and made over 10 starts. That was CC Sabathia who posted a 3.69 ERA and 14-5 record in 27 starts for the Yankees. Hopefully that comparison bodes well for Wainwright, since Sabathia too has had to overcome his own struggles in recent years and managed to put together a good year.

Five things about the Reds Series

The St. Louis Cardinals wrapped up their season series against the Cincinnati Reds with a sweep to put their season record against the Reds at 10-9. When play wrapped up last night the Cardinals are80-72 and 5 games out of the NL Central, but find themselves 1.5 games behind the Colorado Rockies for the second Wild Card.

The Cardinals head to Pittsburgh where they will play a three game series this weekend against the Pirates before heading home for four against the Cubs and three against the Brewers to finish out the season.

Pham is the first Cardinals’ player since 1900 (and maybe first Cardinal ever) to hit 20 home runs, 20 doubles, steal 20 bases, and (working on) hit .300 in a season. When the Cardinals shared this tidbit of information, Tommy Pham was at 19 doubles and a couple nights later he hit a pair of doubles to help drive the Cardinals to victory. He went 6-for-15 in the series with 2 walks.

Assuming Pham plays in all 10 games to finish out the season, assuming he bats second and maintains his 13% walk rate, Pham should get about 40 at bats over the final 10 games of the season. That would mean he needs to go 8-for-40 at the plate over the final 10 games to maintain that .300 batting average.

You go, we go. Dexter Fowler put together a good series for the Cardinals as it appears he has supplanted Paul DeJong as the team’s #3 hitter of the moment. Fowler went 7-for-13 in the series with two walks, two home runs, and three doubles. Fowler is now batting .270/.367/.504 for the season.

It’s safe to say that while Fowler has not been the player we expected him to be when the Cardinals signed him last winter, he has still been good. His .270 batting average is above his career average, his .367 OBP is right at career average, and his .504 slugging percentage is a career high. So are the 18 home runs.

Health and defense have been his major drawbacks, but those could be alleviated with a regular offseason and perhaps a move to left field.

Weaver continues to roll. Luke Weaver has arrived at the perfect time for the Cardinals this season. With the injury to Adam Wainwright, Weaver stepped into that rotation spot and hasn’t skipped a beat. Dating back to August 2nd, the Cardinals have won all 8 games in which Weaver has taken the mound and 7 straight starts. Over those 44.2 innings, Weaver has a 1.61 ERA and 0.96 WHIP.

There are no breaks for him either as his next start is expected to come on Monday against the Cubs and then he should get one in the Brewers series to finish up the season.

Other than against Cincinnati, Juan Nicasio has been pretty good. Nicasio has a 3.18 ERA since joining the Cardinals earlier in September to go along with a 1.06 WHIP. In 5.2 innings he has allowed just 2 earned runs, both of those to Cincinnati. And both in games the Cardinals won. With the way he’s been pitching, he’ll be a large part of the equation if the Cardinals make the playoffs and there will likely be a glaring hole come October when he’s ineligible.

Flaherty moved to the bullpen. The move of Jack Flaherty to the bullpen after he posted a 6.46 ERA over the first four starts of his MLB career probably spells the end of the season for the right handed former first round pick. He made it through five innings just once in those four starts, but he’s also thrown 164 innings and 29 starts which is a tremendous amount of innings for a rookie. Hopefully he came up, learned some lessons and will come back next season like Weaver has done this year.

In his place the Cardinals will start John Gant, which doesn’t have me too inspired. I guess Wainwright is more injured than anyone has let on since he’s been available out of the bullpen this week and hasn’t found the mound. Gant had a 3.83 ERA in 18 starts for Memphis this season and had a 4.80 ERA over 7 starts for Atlanta last year.

News: Cardinals recall Breyvic Valera

What happened. The St. Louis Cardinals recalled infielder Breyvic Valera from Memphis before tonight’s game.

The story. This is Valera’s second stint of the season with the Cardinals. He made his debut earlier this month, but was returned to Memphis for the end of the Pacific Coast League playoffs. With their season ending Tuesday, Valera joins Aledmys Diaz and Josh Lucas as Redbirds to return to the big league club after the minor league seasons have ended.

The numbers. Breyvic Valera hit .314/.368/.450 with 22 doubles, 6 triples, and 8 home runs for Memphis this season in a breakout year. He hit .250/.308/.333 in the Pacific Coast League playoffs and Triple-A Championship game. During his brief stint with the Cardinals he went 1-for-5 with a walk in 3 games.

The impact. 1/10. I don’t see this bringing much of an impact and he will likely see most of his action as a defensive replacement. With his performance this year, he is likely safe from any offseason roster moves. This is further insurance against Matt Carpenter and Jedd Gyorko at third base while both have dealt with injuries down the stretch.

News: Cardinals recall Aledmys Diaz and Josh Lucas

What happened. The St. Louis Cardinals recalled infielder Aledmys Diaz and RHP Josh Lucas today.

The story. With Memphis’ season coming to an end following last night’s loss to the Durham Bulls in the Triple-A Championship Game, the Cardinals added a couple players to their roster for the final 12 games of the season.

The numbers. Aledmys Diaz struggled this season in St. Louis both offensively and defensively and ultimately lost his starting shortstop job to Paul DeJong. Diaz hit .260/.293/.396 with seven home runs over 71 games for the Cardinals this season and had a -10 defensive runs saved in 589 innings at shortstop.

That led to a mid-season demotion for Diaz who hit .253/.305/.388 with four home runs for Memphis and he also picked up playing time at second base and third base in an effort to make himself more versatile for the eventual return trip.

For Josh Lucas, this will be his second trip to St. Louis. He allowed three earned runs over two appearances in his previous stint with the club. He finished out his season in Memphis with a 3.15 ERA over 60 innings including 17 saves and 32 games finished.

The impact. 4/10. The season is effectively over at this point, but it is still important for both of these guys.

For Diaz, after the struggles this season and his high price tag, he is a prime non-tender candidate in November since he made $2.5 million this year and is limited by how much of a pay cut he could take to stay. He needs to come up and put together a strong two weeks whenever he gets an opportunity to find the field to make the Cardinals’ decision more difficult or to showcase himself for his next team.

For Lucas, the Cardinals’ bullpen has a lot of questions for next year and putting together a strong couple weeks to finish out the season could go a long way towards laying the groundwork to take a spot next spring.

Five things about the Cubs Series

The St. Louis Cardinals went to Wrigley Field this weekend with a chance to put themselves neck-and-neck with the division leading Chicago Cubs and came up empty. With the sweep, the Cardinals fall to six games back in the division, just a game shy of the farthest they’ve been out of the division all season.

They will continue on the road. First headed to Cincinnati for three games and then to Pittsburgh for another three before returning home for four more against the Cubs.

This season isn’t over. No, contrary to everyone wanting to pack it in, the Cardinals’ season isn’t over. The Cardinals have 13 games remaining this season and still have four to play against the Cubs in Busch Stadium. I fully expect that when the Cubs come to St. Louis next week that the Cardinals will still have a shot at them.

Why? I’ve consistently said that one of the most infuriating things about the 2017 Cardinals is that they just won’t roll over and die. Every time I’ve been ready to declare the season effectively over, they’ve found a way to rally back to the verge of contention. So, I don’t foresee them letting me off this easy.

Struggling with the core. One of the biggest issues for the Cardinals this season has been the struggles of the three main guys they have committed to in this lineup. Often this season Dexter Fowler, Matt Carpenter, and Stephen Piscotty have batted 1, 2, or 3 in some fashion in the Cardinals’ batting order and yet the Cardinals are just 18-28 when all three start the same game.

This has become an issue in the second half while all three are dealing with and playing through injuries and when all three start the Cardinals are 0-6 in the second half.

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that when Mike Matheny has to sit these guys and mix the young players in and adjust his lineup to compensate, the team as a whole seems to perform better.

Lyons gets touched up twice. Entering this series, Tyler Lyons had allowed just one earned run on 22.1 innings over 24 appearances in the second half. In the series, Lyons was touched up for runs twice. First by an Addison Russell home run with the Cards down 3-1 on Saturday and the second when Matthew Bowman allowed one of his inherited runs to score to give the Cubs the lead on Sunday.

Offense went cold. The Cardinals’ offense scored just six runs over the three game set against the Cubs. And half of those runs came on a home run by Dexter Fowler. That is the second fewest runs they’ve scored in a series this season. The only one worse was when they scored five runs in a four game series against the Diamondbacks at the end of July, but they won two of those games.

One run woes. On Sunday the Cardinals lost their 28th one-run game of the season as their record now stands at 20-28. The only team with more one-run losses are the 58-91 Phillies who are also one of the worst teams in baseball. Not exactly stellar company.

Column: Carlos Martinez is not an ace… yet

There’s been a lot of discussion this year about Carlos Martinez and whether he is the Cardinals’ “ace.” And it’s a difficult question because ace means different things to different people. The basics of the criteria are pretty similar though. They are looked at as the guy to “right the ship” every five days. They should consistently give their team a chance to win. And, in my opinion, this is not a year-to-year position. This is sustained success over a few years before you can truly take the mantle of “ace.”

Going into this season, I spoke often about how in 2016 Martinez showed us everything we would want to see to be able to call him a future ace. There were games where he blew it past hitters and there were games he made his opponent look silly with his offspeed stuff and he seemed to get a sick satisfaction from doing it.

The Cardinals agreed with that assessment and gave him a 5 year, $51 million contract during spring training that could end up being a 7 year, $85 million contract if they use both option years.

And so far in 2017 there has been more time spent discussing Martinez’s hair than his performance on the mound because for whatever reason, Martinez’s season seems to be flying under the radar. So in case you’ve missed it, here are some highlights of his season.

He has thrown nine innings with no runs allowed 3 times. Three times this season Martinez has taken the mound and thrown 9 innings and allowed no runs, which is tied for the most in baseball alongside Ervin Santana and Corey Kluber. No other pitchers in baseball have done it more than once.

And here’s a fun fact, the other two guys who have done it are 3-0 in those three starts. Martinez is just 2-0 because the offense couldn’t score in one of his and the team actually lost in extras.

Martinez has 20 quality starts. A quality start is going at least six innings while allowed three earned runs of less. That is tied for third in Major League Baseball. Chris Sale leads the Majors at 22 with Gio Gonzalez in second place with 21. The other guys Martinez is tied with? You know them. Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer, Corey Kluber, and Gerrit Cole.

Martinez has thrown 194.1 innings. His first 200 inning season seems like a slam dunk at this point. He is third in baseball here too. Only Chris Sale and Jeff Samardzija have thrown more innings. Only three pitchers in the top-10 of innings pitched have a better ERA (Sale, Ervin Santana, and Zack Greinke). He also leads the league in games started.

So, for all the talk about how Martinez isn’t consistent enough, here are three numbers that are essentially the gold standard for consistency. He’s taking the ball every fifth day, he’s throwing more innings than almost anyone else, and he’s turning in a quality start at the end of the day as often as anyone else.

But let’s look at that consistency a little more.

Martinez has a 128 ERA+ since becoming a full time starter in 2015. That 128 ERA+ is good for 11th in baseball among starters who have thrown 500 innings since the start of 2015. The names ahead of Martinez on this list are pretty much all recognizable, but it’s not just about the names. Martinez is the youngest name on this list. Yes, at age 25, he is the youngest pitcher in baseball to have thrown 500 innings since 2015.

Let’s see how those ten guys ahead of Martinez on the list fared during their age 25 season.

And Martinez still has two to three starts remaining this season depending on how desperate the team is at the very end.

Looking at that list you have four guys who clearly outperformed Martinez at age 25 in Kershaw, Greinke, Sale, and Bumgarner. But those guys are special. And three of those four are also left handed. But the other six guys? Martinez is as good or clearly ahead of them at age 25.

This just drives home the point of “yet” to me. He is not an ace yet, but don’t let that distract you from the fact that he is still very, very good right now.

Will he be an ace some day? I think the odds are good. He’s shown you everything you need to see to reasonable believe he will be. But is he completely there yet? No. And that’s okay.

At 25, Adam Wainwright had a 3.70 ERA in his first full season in the rotation. At 25, Chris Carpenter had a 6.26 ERA and led the league in earned runs allowed in just 175 innings. At 25, Bob Gibson had a 3.24 ERA and led baseball in walks, but he turned out alright.

I have confidence that Martinez will get there.

Looking at the names I’ve mentioned in this article and knowing that Martinez is in the same breath as them is outstanding. I firmly believe that this is one of those situations where the quote, “the grass is always greener on the other side” comes into play.

In reality, the primary difference between Martinez and the rest of the pitchers in this article is that he’s the youngest and the others have had the benefit of time to grow into elite pitchers. We quickly forget that a guy like Max Scherzer wasn’t even an ace level talent until his age 28 season. The Diamondbacks gave up on him at age 24 for Ian Kennedy and Edwin Jackson.

As Cardinals fans we should know better. We said many of the same things about Dan Haren back in 2004. He wasn’t good enough. Not consistent enough. And then he went on to throw 215+ innings in each of the next seven seasons at a 3.49 ERA.

Even Lance Lynn. At age 25 in his first full season in the rotation he was too inconsistent and an emotional head case who spun out of control when something went the wrong way. We all know what a “Lynning” is. But over his last three seasons from age 27 to 30, Lynn has a 2.92 ERA.

Let’s not make the same mistake by counting all the ways Martinez hasn’t lived up to the expectations we’ve projected in on him. Instead, let’s look at all the ways he is a very good pitcher with all the tools to grow into one of the best pitchers in baseball right in front of our eyes.

News: Cardinals recall Magneuris Sierra

What happened. The St. Louis Cardinals recalled outfielder Magneuris Sierra from Triple-A Memphis and optioned infielder Breyvic Valera to Memphis.

The story. With the returns of Matt Carpenter and Kolten Wong to the Cardinals’ lineup this weekend there was a reducing need to have Valera on the roster in St. Louis, but there was still the potential that he could get playing time and help the Redbirds pursue the Pacific Coast League title. But with the knee injury to Dexter Fowler this weekend, the Cardinals elected to add some outfield depth in the form of Sierra.

The numbers. Breyvic Valera made his big league debut last week for the Cardinals as a veteran of 800 minor league games. Overall in three games for the big league Cardinals, he went 1-for-5 at the plate with a walk while playing nine innings at second base.

On his way up is 21-year-old Magneuris Sierra who returns for his fourth stint with the Cardinals this season. After starting the season in single A, he had been on Triple-A Memphis’ playoff roster but had yet to appear for them. Sierra has hit .365/.400/.365 in 13 Major League games this season. He holds the franchise records for the most consecutive games with a hit to open up a big league career at nine games.

The impact. 4/10. With Tommy Pham, Harrison Bader, Stephen Piscotty, and Randal Grichuk in the St. Louis outfield, there just isn’t much opportunity for Sierra to elbow his way into some playing time here. Where he stands to see the most utility for the Cardinals and Mike Matheny is as a late game defensive replacement and pinch runner. Matheny has previously used guys like Pete Kozma and Adron Chambers very effectively in that role and Sierra is an even better option than them.