Column: Moving Randal Grichuk out of center field might not be a good idea

During his postseason press conference in October, John Mozeliak talked about his desire to improve the Cardinals’ defense in 2017. Specifically, pointing out center field and his desire to move Randal Grichuk to left field. In theory it sounds great, because there were times that Grichuk looked iffy in center field, but should the Cardinals do it?

My first reaction was to be against it purely because the floor to be an average hitting center fielder is lower than to be an average hitting left fielder. A .240 batting average and 24 home runs seems to play better in center field, if he can remotely play the position, than it does in a corner outfield position where there are more offensive standouts.

What I found when I looked further is that it’s really not.

Looking at players who had at least 400 plate appearances last season, the top-20 center fielders averaged a 108 OPS+. In left field the number only increased to 109. Grichuk posted a 103 OPS+ last season.

So the organization must think his defense must not be good enough to stick, right?

There are an assortment of defensive metrics available, and I’m honestly not a huge fan of any of them. Defensive WAR (dWAR), defensive runs saved (DRS) and Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR) are the most popular and readily available that people refer to when discussing defense. So how well did Grichuk do?

Starting with dWAR, Grichuk posted a +1.0 last season which was twice what he did in 2015 in about 25% more innings. However it’s shortcoming is that it includes the 45 innings he spent in the corner outfield positions last year and the 440 he spent there in 2015. So the numbers are skewed, but this number would seem to indicate that he performed better defensively in center field than he did last year.

Then there is Defensive Runs Saved, where Grichuk was +7 in center field over 949 innings. In the 1,260 innings he’s played in center field for his career, Grichuk has +14 defensive runs saved in center field alone.

There’s also Ultimate Zone Rating, and it’s normalized brother UZR/150. For Grichuk, his UZR/150 in center field last year was -1.8. He got plus marks for his arm and his glove, but his range was lacking. But UZR’s shortcoming is that it can be skewed by positioning if you don’t start in the center of UZR’s defensive zone for your position.

His numbers seem like a mixed, but generally positive bag when you look at them. But let’s consider where Grichuk stacks up against other center fielders. Among qualified center fielders, Grichuk had the sixth most Defensive Runs Saved and the 11th highest UZR/150.

I think it’s fair to say that Grichuk is one of the ten best defensive center fielders in baseball based on those numbers.

When you break down his UZR into it’s three main components — arm, range, and glove — you find that Grichuk was the best center fielder in two of them: arm and glove. His range was the only minus factor against him and I think most fans would agree that there were times where he seemed to take weird routes which would have limited his range. But I would also argue that it’s the easiest thing to improve and that it should with time and experience. Until 2016, he’d always played mostly in the corners. He even went a year in the minors without playing it. Some guy named Mike Trout played it instead.

So when you look at Grichuk’s metrics, he stacks up favorably against his peers. And how he stacks up against his peers is really the biggest question that should be asked before figuring out whether to make replacing him a priority. Because unless you’re getting someone who stacks up better than him, what’s the point?

And that list of players who would be clear improvements over him is very short. And dare I say that none are likely available.

The Cardinals have most been linked with Dexter Fowler when it comes to bringing in a center fielder to improve the team’s defense. And while Fowler put together his best defensive season last year, good enough that people are lauding him as a good defensive player this winter, historically his numbers do not back that assessment up.

Fowler posted a +0.3 defensive WAR last season, his first positive defensive WAR season since 2010.

He posted a +1 Defensive Runs Saved, the first time he’d ever posted a positive Defensive Runs Saved. The previous two years he’d combined for -32 Defensive Runs Saved.

He had a +1.0 UZR/150 last season, which was also his first time ever posting a positive UZR in center field.

In only one of those metrics, UZR, did Fowler outperform Grichuk last year. And historically, Fowler has not been better than Grichuk.

In 2016, Fowler’s UZR was driven by an improvement in his range, something that is historically his worst component. In 2015, Grichuk had pretty good range too before it fell in 2016. Perhaps playing next to a guy named Jason Heyward had some effect? After all, there’s a lot of plays in right-center field that they would not be being asked to make thanks to the rangiest right fielder in the game.

The numbers seem to indicate that Grichuk has Fowler beat on both glove and arm, so the only question is range and both seem challenged.

Fangraphs also has Inside Edge Fielding, which has their scouts break down the likelihood that player makes a given play. Fowler made 84% of all the plays last year while Grichuk made just 80%. But Fowler never made a single play judged to have less than a 60% likelihood of being made. Grichuk made 7 of them.

Grichuk made more plays on balls that had a low probability of having plays made on them. Seems like a vote of confidence in his range being better. Or at the very least, his ability to make difficult plays.

It’s one of the reasons when I talked last week about the organization needing to look at Marcell Ozuna that moving Grichuk out of center field shouldn’t be a priority. And it’s because I think that Grichuk will be a better center fielder than most available potential center fielders you could find to replace him with.

Column: Five players the Cardinals should have interest in this winter

With the signing of Brett Cecil to shore up a bullpen that had been expecting Zach Duke to play a key role before his Tommy John surgery, the Cardinals kicked off what I consider to be an important offseason for them. Last season, the organization was caught with a cluttered roster that limited their ability to move. This winter, John Mozeliak has a chance to fix that.

Even now the organization finds themselves in a tight roster crunch as they released backup catcher Brayan Pena to make room for Cecil on the 40 man roster. That roster is currently full to protect a handful of players from the Rule 5 draft, so any moves at this point become potentially painful decisions for the organization to make outside of a trade.

As the offseason picks up steam heading into the winter meetings next week in Maryland, here are the five players that I believe the Cardinals should have on their radar as they look to improve their 2017 team.

OF Marcel Ozuna, Marlins. The Marlins are reportedly shopping some of their offensive parts in an effort to recover the pitching depth that they lost following the untimely death of Jose Fernandez in September. Because of that, I feel like the Marlins and the Cardinals would be a great match on the trade market.

I spoke often last year that the Cardinals still feel the loss of Oscar Taveras on the organization. It’s really not my intent to reduce the loss of Taveras to the Xs and Os of baseball, but it’s a fact that Cardinals’ GM John Mozeliak had essentially cleared a path for him to the majors only to have it never come to fruition. As a result, the team is missing a middle of the order bat. And that’s where the Marlins and Cardinals could help each other out.

The Cardinals need a hitter to help fill the void left by Taveras. The Marlins need a pitcher to help fill the void left by Fernandez. The Marlins have hitting, the Cardinals have pitching. It seems like a good match.

After a slump in 2015, Marcell Ozuna rebounded in 2016, backing up his 2014 campaign with near identical numbers, hitting .266/.321/.452 with 23 home runs in 148 games. When the topic of trading Ozuna came up last season, both manager Don Mattingly and hitting coach Barry Bonds spoke highly of Ozuna, claiming that they believed he could be a 30/30 guy if he was given the opportunity.

Defensively, he may not be the player who would be able to move Randal Grichuk out of center field, but I don’t think that’s an absolute must for the team. Ozuna’s tools include speed, which means his defense comes down to instincts and reactions. Much of that can be taught if he’s willing and the Cardinals have some excellent center fielders who could help him out.

What would Ozuna cost? It’s a good question. At age 26 with three years of team control ahead, he would not be a rental, which I believe is important to Mozeliak as he surveys his options this winter. But I would think that Jaime Garcia or Michael Wacha and a lower level, high ceiling pitching prospect would be a great starting point in those talks.

OF Carlos Gomez, Free Agent. I was the driver of the “Carlos Gomez to St. Louis” bandwagon last summer after the Astros designated him for assignment. He would end up going to Texas as the Cardinals stood pat and Gomez would rebound hitting .284/.362/.543 over 33 games with the Rangers. Wouldn’t that have been nice to have?

But one of the biggest reasons I find Gomez an attractive option is because of the outspoken fire he brings, a fire that the Cardinals severely lack in my opinion. As I said in August, he would either light a fire under the team or burn it all down, and either way that could be a good thing.

Now I’ll admit that there’s a little more risk involved now because the deal would be for more than a month and a half, but I think Gomez can provide a good value signing. He hasn’t been the consistent 130 OPS+ hitter and plus defensive center fielder he was in 2013 and 2014 for the Brewers, but I think he can be again. Bring him to the NL Central against teams and pitchers he knows well and I think you have a winner of a deal.

MLB Trade Rumors projected him to get a 3 year, $36 million deal this winter, which I think is a steal of a deal for the potential that Gomez brings.

3B Justin Turner, Free Agent. The Cardinals have Jedd Gyorko and Jhonny Peralta as options at third base going into next season, but if Mozeliak is serious about improving the team’s defense, he needs to reconsider those options. Peralta has a big question on his defense, even if I do believe that his offense will return. And I don’t believe Gyorko is a rounded enough player to be an everyday guy. His best role is to be a super sub kind of player.

Justin Turner would be the best option on the market at third base after hitting .275/.339/.493 with 27 home runs last year for the Dodgers. Defensively too, he’s generally plus, posting a +18 defensive runs saved over the past three seasons at third base. He was also a +17.2 UZR/150 over 1200 innings this past season, his first playing it every day.

MLB Trade Rumors projects him to get a 5 year, $85 million deal, which feels a little risky to me, but I think he’s definitely worth taking a run at and he would improve the team’s performance on both sides of the ball. And absorb some of the power lost by Brandon Moss’ departure.

LHP Chris Sale, White Sox. Say what you will about Chris Sale, the guy is fiery. Like another tall, lanky starting pitcher named Chris that all Cardinals fans know and love. He’s also a guy capable of being your ace and that’s something that every team needs. Couple him with a Carlos Martinez, who I feel is about ready to come into his own and be the Cardinals’ ace, and you’ve got a potent 1–2 combination with Adam Wainwright behind them.

Sale was 17–10 last year with a 3.34 ERA over 227 innings in 32 starts. He threw 6 complete games. And he’s owed a complete steal of $38 million over the next 3 seasons.

He won’t come cheap, but the Cardinals have the assets to bring a guy like Sale in if they want to. Given how much Mozeliak sounded like he knew a lot about Sale’s contract, I’d bet that they’ve talked to Chicago about it at least once before. It’s time to pull that trigger and I’d even offer Alex Reyes.

Jurickson Profar. It sounds as if the Rangers would listen on offers for Jurickson Profar, which I think would be fitting considering the favorite hypothetical a few years back as whether you’d trade Profar for Oscar Taveras straight up.

Injuries kept Profar off the field for two years, but he returned this year and hit .284/.356/.426 with 5 home runs over 42 games for Triple-A Round Rock before being called up in late May. He would go on to hit .239/.321/.338 with 5 home runs over 90 games for the Rangers while playing all four infield positions and left field. And while it feels like he’s been around forever, the former #1 prospect is still just 23 years old too.

I see Profar as an intriguing option as a guy who could legitimately play any position. He would also be a quality backup option for Aledmys Diaz as needed. And if he even partially begins to deliver on the promise of being the player everyone believed he’d become while flying through the minors, he could be the guy to shift Diaz to second or third base in the future.

Obviously, if the Rangers are asking for the moon, you hang up, but I think it’d definitely be worth putting your feelers out. My understanding is that the Rangers would like to add some starting pitching this winter, and I believe the Cardinals have some available.

Column: Answers to tough questions will define Cardinals’ path

The 2016 season is finally complete and many Cardinals fans, myself included, breathed a sigh of relief. As I admitted to my wife almost a week ago, I was okay with the Cardinals missing the playoffs this season because I was tired of hoping. Tired of hoping that this team would find the next gear. Tired of hoping that they would click. Tired of hoping that things would finally fall their way. Tired of hoping they’d flip the switch.

I think Derrick Goold put it best in his article yesterday, “The Cardinals did everything within their power Sunday to push the season one day closer to their expected destination, but all they could do was watch as things they didn’t do all season caught up to them.”

The team that was going to do what it needed to do when it needed to do it and not a moment before waited a moment too long. Visions of Kolten Wong leading off the 9th inning with triple on September 28th and the Cardinals being unable to bring him home danced in my head. But the problems were much larger than one missed opportunity. There were a season’s worth of missed opportunities. And they all added up.

I believe it was during June’s UCB Radio Podcast, that Kevin asked me how many games I thought the Cardinals had given away by defensive mistakes or plays not made. My answer was that it was easily five, but I argued you could make the case it was ten or more.

By the end of the season, just one of those missing wins was the difference between preparing for a playoff game and clearing out your locker.

Usually it takes me a week or more after the end of a baseball season to come back and want to think about baseball in any meaningful sense. I call it my greiving period. But this year, I haven’t had that. Perhaps because I’d already greived. I’d already emotionally distanced myself from this season so the failure doesn’t hurt. I’m already on to how the team can win 2017.

For this team to do that, John Mozeliak will have work to do this winter and many tough decisions to make.

He’s already made one, revealing earlier this week that the Cardinals will likely not pick up Matt Holliday‘s option for 2017.

Holliday made three appearances this weekend in his final home series as a Cardinal as he returned from a broken finger. He got the first pinch hit home run of his career on Friday night before following it up with a pinch hit RBI single on Saturday night. The first two pinch hit RBIs of his career. His last one, a brief appearance in left field to give Sunday’s crowd the opportunity to give him one last salute of thanks for the seven and a half years he spent with the organization.

But there are more tough decisions to be made.

When thinking about whether Mozeliak can make them, I realized that this winter is very similar to his first offseason as the Cardinals’ General Manager.

After winning the World Series in 2006, the 2007 Cardinals struggled due to injuries and underperforming veteran players. After winning 100 games in 2015, the 2016 Cardinals struggled due to injuries and underperforming veteran players.

The Cardinals parted ways with Walt Jocketty after the 2007 season and promoted John Mozeliak. Effectively, Mozeliak’s first two moves as GM were to trade Jim Edmonds and Scott Rolen, two centerpieces of the franchise’s core. Part of the illustrious “MV3” of the mid-2000s for the Cardinals. Gone, but they were moves that needed to happen.

They way I see it, his biggest task this winter will be to uncomplicate the roster and finding a better fit for it. I catch some crap for the view that I believe this team is the most talented roster, top to bottom, that Mozeliak has ever given Mike Matheny. But for whatever reason, it just didn’t fit together. Something was missing. Like when you build that piece of furniture and a crucial piece of hardware is missing to keep it from working right.

Because of that, I don’t see many needs for Mozeliak to handle, but there are many tough decisions that need answers.

Uncomplicate the Roster. As I touched on before. There are tough questions that need answering and the roster needs to be decluttered.

Do you pick up Holliday’s option? Do you bring back Brandon Moss? Do you offer arbitration to Matt Adams? What do you do about Jhonny Peralta? Do you pick up Jaime Garcia‘s option? What do you do about Michael Wacha‘s recurring stress injury? Where does Lance Lynn fit into the 2017 Cardinals?

My answer to these questions, as we’ll find out later, is to basically “burn all the things.”

The 2016 Cardinals had plenty of positional flexibility, which gave Matheny the opportunity to play a lot of matchups and try to ride hot hands. But I think the Cardinals had the wrong kind of positional flexibility. Just because a player can play somewhere, doesn’t necessarily mean that they should. The Cardinals had flexibility because so many players didn’t have that perfect fit.

One of the benefits to decluttering the roster is that it will once again provide the potential for opportunities for young players. The Cardinals had a gap in the system, but next year Harrison Bader and Paul DeJong will likely head to Memphis for the season and should soon be knocking on the door. Mozeliak has always been interested in creating opportunities for young players and a veteran deep roster, like the Cardinals had this year, doesn’t do the job.

Improve the Defense. I think much of this solves itself, actually, but there is some more that can be done to ensure that it does.

Aledmys Diaz needs to continue to improve at shortstop. His glovework predictably improved as the season wore on and he got more comfortable in the field. This winter he needs to keep working on being patient, improving his footwork, and making good throws. He’s never going to be the rangy shortstop I want, but he can be a solid defender.

Kolten Wong hit .251/.341/.401 after being called back up from his stint at Memphis. He is the team’s best defensive option at second base, by far. In 2016, he duplicated his +5 defensive runs saved performance from 2015, but he did it in half the innings. If he has learned to just settle in, there’s no reason that Wong shouldn’t be capable of handling 80% of the workload at second base next year.

Matt Carpenter needs to permanently move to first base. He’s played it well when he’s been put there, and his passable defensive abilities at second and third make him a good first defensive first baseman. It also puts him at a less taxing position as well as less likely to be injured in the field due to collisions. For the team’s best hitter, he needs that protection.

That leaves third base as the question mark. Jhonny Peralta played a lot of third base down the stretch last year and Jedd Gyorko put up a good defensive season at third last year. But expecting Gyorko to duplicate his 2016 defensive success would be like asking Peralta to duplicate his 2014 success at shortstop. It won’t happen. I think this is where you need to improve by acquiring a third baseman who can make up for Diaz’s lack of range.

Fill Left Field. Matt Holliday’s departure opens the door for a starting player. The path of least resistance puts Carpenter or Peralta out here, but I’m sure that I’m not the only one hoping for more.

Letting Holliday go, one of the team’s core members, should open the door to only one answer for the organization: A serious pursuit of a new core member of the Cardinals’ future. A caliber of young player that the Cardinals have lacked since Oscar Taveras passed away.

Mozeliak is not a GM who makes moves without careful planning, so it’s safe to assume that he knows what he’s going to do in left field next season. He’s just waiting for the time to make it happen.

* * *

So those are the three, as Mozeliak likes to say, checkboxes that the Cardinals need to check off this winter.

You may notice the absence from my list of anything regardingthe starting rotation. This is mainly because I feel like it will be addressed by answering the tough questions. The futures of Garcia, Wacha, and Lynn need to be answered and those answers determine what will happen for a guy like Alex Reyes, who easily proved he belonged in the big leagues (even if I continue to doubt him).

Further, I think that Adam Wainwright will be better with another offseason between himself and Achilles surgery. He talked earlier in the year about lacking leg strength in the injured leg, and that’s not something you can rebuild overnight or in the course of a couple months.

I also believe that if you improve the defense behind Mike Leake, you’ll get a better Mike Leake. His peripherals reflect those a player who should have been having a career year, but the defense failing to make plays behind him cost him.

There’s nothing wrong with replay (at least that part of it)

I’ve read a few articles already this morning that are already criticizing Major League Baseball’s replay review procedures following last night’s Cardinals/Reds game and the final play that led to a walk off Cardinals’ hit. Some have dubbed it a massive flaw in the system, but I don’t think there’s a problem with that part of it at all.

Here’s the setup. Two out and Matt Carpenter on first in the bottom of the 9th of a 3-3 game, Yadier Molina rips a ball into left field which bounces in the grass and then up over the wall, off an advertisement and back into the field of play. Reds’ left fielder Adam Duvall plays the ball and throws it back in as Carpenter rounds third base. Carpenter arrives a moment before the ball and celebration ensues.

But Dan McLaughlin and the FOX Sports Midwest guys were on it pretty quickly that it looked like it should have been a ground rule double because the ball bounced off the advertisement, which is beyond play. The Reds’ video guy rang the dugout trying to get them to challenge the call, but Reds’ manager said he didn’t hear the phone ring due to fan noise.

I’m not even sure Bryan Price is to blame here, actually.

But first let’s look to make sure if protocol of the rulebook was followed.

Except as otherwise set forth in Sections II.D.2, 3 and 5 below, to be timely, a Manager must exercise his challenge (by verbal communication and/or hand signal to an Umpire), or the Crew Chief must initiate Replay Review (if applicable pursuant to Section II.C above) before the commencement of the next play or pitch. Such challenge or request will be considered timely only if the Umpire acknowledges that communication within the time period specified above. For purposes of these Regulations, the next “play” shall commence when the pitcher is on the rubber preparing to start his delivery and the batter has entered the batter’s box (unless the defensive team initiates an appeal play in which case any call made during the play prior to the appeal still may be subject to Replay Review). A challenge to a play that ends the game must be invoked immediately upon the conclusion of the play, and both Clubs shall remain in their dugouts until the Replay Official issues his decision. No substitutions or pitching changes may take place while the Umpires are in the process of invoking Replay Review.

The added emphasis is mine, but it’s clear that the manager must challenge the play “immediately” after the play finishes. So right after Carpenter slides across home plate. And that makes sense because a questionable play would obviously present itself and at that point there is no downside to challenging the play.

After the game, Bryan Price told reporters that he was told that managers have 10 seconds after the game ends to challenge a game ending call. MLB responded, saying that there is no specific time frame involved, simply referring to the wording of “immediately” in the rule book. But I think it’s a good rule of thumb for how long immediately really is because it’s a subjective measurement. I feel like 10 seconds is more than enough time to consider the play and it’s ramifications and make the call.

So I went back and timed it. There was 20 seconds from when Carpenter slid across home plate until FOX Sports Midwest’s Dan McLaughlin told those us at home that the umpires were leaving the field. It took 12 more seconds, a total of 32 seconds, for Bryan Price to pop out of the dugout to find an umpire to challenge the call.

It’s also worth noting that the umpires congregated in front of the Reds’ dugout before leaving the field, seemingly expecting the Reds to challenge the call. But after getting no indication from the coaching staff that they were going to challenge the call, left the field.

So the Reds had every opportunity to challenge the call. In fact, the umpires did more than the rules require them to do in that situation to give the Reds an opportunity to challenge the call. They didn’t. Game over. Cardinals win.

An option for the Reds is to protest the game, but in my lifetime, Major League Baseball has only granted protests based on procedural grounds. In this instance, the rules were followed as written.

So why didn’t the Reds challenge?

They were waiting on the video guy to save them.

You see, the problem isn’t with the replay system itself. Why wouldn’t you immediately challenge that call in the hopes that some obscure ground rule might save you? What’s the downside? If you win the challenge, the game goes on. If you lose the challenge, you lose anyway. Why are you sitting there waiting on the video guy?

It’s the “let me check with my video guy first” mentality that’s permeated every team in baseball. The rules say that the managers have to initiate the challenge, but they’re not making the decision. It’s a video guy, holed up in an office under the stadium somewhere.

I don’t know about you, but I hate seeing the manager standing on the top step of the dugout, looking over at his bench coach who is on the phone with the video guy deciding whether to challenge a play or not. Why are you waiting on the video guy?

This is the problem. Teams are too dependent on the video guy.

Every link in the chain was waiting on the video guy to save them. Neither Adam Duvall nor Bryan Price knew Busch Stadium’s ground rules or weren’t even generally aware of them enough. If Duvall had known, he could have immediately brought attention that it was a ground rule double. If Price had known, he could have initiated the replay review himself before it was too late.

Most managers have spent their lifetime in the game. Bryan Price has played in 252 games and managed 483 more. That’s not counting games he watched but didn’t play in or took in as a pitching coach. He should have the ability to analyze pretty quickly if a play is worth challenging based purely on previous experience. Certainly within 10 seconds. Especially if it’s game ending.

And that’s how the rules are written. The rules are written for the manager to make the decision to review, not the video guy. As well they should be.

But nobody on the Reds apparently, except the video guy, knew the rules.

This actually goes into another way I’d change baseball’s review system. I’d give managers unlimited challenges, with the stipulation that if you lose twice, you can no longer challenge for the rest of the game. But as long as you keep getting challenges right, why not let you keep challenging? If the stated goal is to ensure you get the calls right, what’s stopping you?

Time? The games will get so long, the argument will say. Well, I’d ask what’s more important, short games or correct calls. What’s better for baseball? A 2 hour, 55 minute game with a couple blown calls or a 3 hour, 5 minute game that’s called correctly?

But the problem last night wasn’t with the review system. It was that the Reds (and every other team) relied on a guy who isn’t immediately available to immediately determine whether a challenge should be made.

Molina putting “overused” narrative to rest

Every season it seems we’re talking about how much Mike Matheny has been using Yadier Molina. When he slumps or gets injured in the second half, it becomes a talking point to criticize Matheny. Every spring the team pays the fans lip service that they’re looking for ways to rest Molina more, so that he can be around when the team needs him most. And every September he’s still racked up as many innings as the year before.

None more than this year.

And as Molina struggled through June, hitting .222/.281/.283, fans blamed Matheny for overusing the star catcher. But it didn’t slow down.

With 7.33 innings caught per team game in the second half of this season, Molina is setting a career high for second half usage. And it’s not like his first half was a breeze either, clocking in at 7.63 innings caught per team game as his third most usage behind 2015 (7.91) and 2013 (7.71).

Entering play tonight, Molina is 14 1/3 innings away from setting a new career high in innings caught this season. If he starts at least 6 of the final 7 games this year, and there is no reason to think he won’t start all of them, surpassing 1200 innings behind the plate seems like it’ll be a slam dunk.

We know Molina likes to play, but perhaps the most astounding part of it is that he’s doing while being one of the best hitters in baseball in the second half.

Molina’s .358 average is 3rd in baseball among players with more than 200 plate appearances. His 19 doubles stack up 9th. He has a 146 OPS+ in the second half, the second best of his career behind 2012 where he hit .328 with 9 HR and had a 147 OPS+. And Molina still has 7 games to go to surpass it.

Over the full season, Molina has a 106 OPS+, which makes it his most successful offensive campaign since he hit .319 with 12 HR in 2013 and finished third in MVP voting. He leads the team with a .301 batting average, 35 doubles, and 153 hits.

Behind his three standout offensive seasons from 2011 to 2013, Molina is having his best offensive season. The kind of season many of us doubted we’d ever see from Molina after he shed a bunch of weight a couple seasons ago to increase his longevity. At 34. While catching 1,200 innings.

And he’s finishing stronger than ever. He has a .388 batting average over the last four weeks and .436 over the last two weeks.

Is it a fluke? Probably.

But the last time I bet against Molina, saying that he’d never hit double digit home runs again after hitting 14 in 2011, he went and bettered it, hitting 22.

The bottom line is that basically, Yadier Molina is laughing at your idea that he’s “overused.”

I still believe in Jhonny Peralta, just not right now

Since returning from his DL stint on August 2nd, Jhonny Peralta has hit .257/.307/.371 with 2 home runs and 11 RBI. He has appeared in 42 games and started 37 of them. But those numbers are carried by a better August and have dropped in September, where he is hitting .213 and has just four extra base hits in 54 plate appearances.

I agree with a lot of Cardinals fans: It’s time to sit Jhonny Peralta.

With a 74 OPS+ in September, only Carson Kelly has hit worse on the Cardinals this month.

I know that Peralta has provided the team a great value for the past two years, but it’s time to let someone else play. Especially when you have the kind of depth, combined with hot players available right now. Jedd Gyorko is a guy who Matheny has been trying to find ways to fit into the lineup, he has 20 home runs in the second half, third most in baseball.

But where I depart with many fans is that I still think Peralta has things to contribute.

I understand why people look at Peralta’s three seasons with the Cardinals and see a 117 OPS+ in 2014, a 103 OPS+ in 2015, and currently a 79 OPS+ in an injury abbreviated 2016 and are clammoring that the 34 year old Peralta is declining. And he very well might be, but I’d also like to point out that Peralta has never been a model of consistency at any point in his career.

Since 2005, when he became a full time player in the Majors (12 seasons), he has five seasons where he has put up a 110 OPS+ or higher and now likely four seasons where he’s had a 90 OPS+ or lower. Since he started playing everyday, he has been a career 103 OPS+ player. And even that has been carried by a few very strong seasons.

Just a few years ago, Peralta posted a 122 OPS+ in 2011 and then followed that up with an 84 OPS+ in 2012 at age 30. Was he declining then too? History shows us no, as he went on to post a 121 OPS+ in 2013, and then became a Cardinal.

Even defensively he’s not ever been a defensive whiz. No matter what metric you used to consider Peralta’s defense, he was lightyears better in 2014 than he had ever been before in his career. UZR/150 likes his 2011 and 2012 season at shortstop, but when it comes to defensive runs saved, Peralta saved +17 runs in 2014. He was a career -16 defensive runs saved before that season. That’s how much of an abberation 2014 was for Peralta defensively, that he made up for a career of questionable defense in one season.

I think expecting him to be 2014 Peralta, even in 2015 was unlikely. But I feel like his numbers bounce around enough that he can bounce back. But that’s not the only reason I feel like he can once again become, at least an average hitter for this club.

He and Yadier Molina had the same surgery, and I still feel like it took until this summer before he was completely back to normal. There’s a difference between “healed” and “healthy.” I think Peralta is still somewhere in between right now. That doesn’t do anything for the team right now though.

Going into the offseason, I think we will get a much better Jhonny Peralta next year than we have this year, but with what the Cardinals have going on in the infield right now, if you can unload him, I think you have to. And I think that’s going to be the best thing for the team.

Mike Leake is actually having a career year

If you’re like me, I was really excited at the prospect of bringing in Mike Leake. As I wrote last winter, my expectations for Leake were high because he’s a ground ball pitcher who is coming from one of baseball’s hitter’s paradises to one of the most pitcher friendly ballparks in the league. That should have meant the potential for a career year.

And he’s had it. The results just haven’t shown it.

When you look beyond his ERA, here are some fun facts about Leake’s 2016 season so far:

  • Best BB/9 in the league
  • 2nd best K/9 of his career
  • Best HR/9 of his career
  • 3rd best line drive rate of his career
  • Best ground ball rate of his career.

He has the lowest FIP of his career, better than when he had a 3.37 ERA in 2013 for the Reds. He has the second lowest xFIP of his career (behind 2011). He has the third lowest SIERA of his career (behind 2014 and 2011).

Those are the metrics of a guy having one of the best seasons of his career. Instead, he is enduring the worst.

He has been the greatest victim of the Cardinals’ shoddy defense this season. Opponents are hitting ground balls against him at a career high rate this year and they aren’t being fielded like they need to. His 10.2 H/9 rate is one of the worst of his career.

Just a recent example, last night, Leake faced 22 batters over 4.1 innings of work. Eight of those batters hit a ground ball. Four of those ground balls were hits, good for a .500 batting average. For reference, the league typically bats around .240 on ground balls. Two of those ground ball hits scored a run.

So the difference between the Mike Leake we hoped to get and the Mike Leake we are getting is probably about one play not being made per game.

As I was looking at Leake, I decided to check his performance by shortstop. If you’ve read Redbird Dugout for awhile, I did one several years ago looking at Jake Westbrook after he signed an extension with the Cardinals and there was a marked difference between his performances with and without a good defensive shortstop behind him.

For Leake, we see those same trends, but the distinction isn’t as great as I was hoping to see.

Greg Garcia – 2.96 ERA, 1.27 WHIP, 24.1 IP
Aledmys Diaz – 4.47 ERA, 1.23 WHIP, 114.2 IP
Jhonny Peralta – 8.18 ERA, 1.73 WHIP, 11.0 IP
Jedd Gyorko – 8.31 ERA, 2.31 WHIP, 4.1 IP

There are small sample sizes here because Diaz has really been the everyday shortstop since the second week of the season until his injury, but I think we can still see the importance of a shortstop’s ability in those numbers.

The difference in WHIP from Garcia and Diaz to Peralta and Gyorko is large.

I think the fact that Leake’s WHIP is a little better with Diaz behind him, but the ERA is 1.5 runs better with Garcia tells a story there too.

Everything short of the actual results tells me that Mike Leake has had a very good season on the mound for the Cardinals. This is in contrast to a guy like Adam Wainwright, who has generally pitched poorly and gotten bad results.

Unfortunately, as I often say, the results matter most, but it should give us hope for this deal going forward. Give him a good defense behind him and those results should get back in line with expectations.

Why don’t postseason stats count?

Last Friday, Mark Teixeira announced that he was retiring from baseball after the season. The 36 year old first baseman has battled injuries the past few seasons and while he was interested in playing, those injuries likely pushed him towards calling it quits.

But Elias Sports, courtesy of ESPN Stats, pointed out an interesting statistic about Teixeira that adds color to a point I made weeks ago about postseason stats in my discussion about Pete Rose and Ichiro Suzuki‘s hit totals.

Obviously ESPN and Elias are discussing just Teixeira’s regular season numbers when they say he’s hit the most home runs in MLB history without hitting a walk-off home run. Because Teixeira hit a walk off in Game 2 of the 2009 ALDS against Minnesota.

But it obviously doesn’t count.

Major sports media loves to talk all the time about how postseason success, or lack thereof, is more important than regular season performance when determining just how good your career is. It’s why people questioned Peyton Manning‘s place in history (only 1 Super Bowl until this year). It’s why people questioned LeBron James‘ legacy. It’s why Derek Jeter is considered one of the greatest players of all time.

But they can sit there with a straight face and tell us that Mark Teixeira has never hit a walk off home run in the Majors.

There are a few people who called ESPN out on that tweet and ESPN basically replied with, “Obviously we’re only counting the regular season.”

Obviously.

Because for some reason it would just be wrong to include postseason statistics when discussing a player’s career numbers. They don’t count.

There is no justifiable reason that postseason statistics shouldn’t be included in a player’s career statistics.

Those postseason games are literally being played against the best teams in the league. So by saying that postseason games don’t count towards career stats, you’re saying that those games against a lineup of AAA call ups in September is worthwhile while a game a week later against one of the top-8 teams in baseball in the postseason is not.

Sure, there will be guys like Jeter who will play a lot of postseason games (he has played 158 of them), but I don’t have a problem with that. If that’s unfair, it’s unfair that some players have longer careers than others. It happens.

I love stats. They have the power to tell stories. But let’s be honest about them. Don’t say someone hasn’t done something at the Major League level when they have done it. It just happens to be on a larger stage than the regular season.

Chris Sale and the White Sox should probably just move on from each other

I’ve now written two articles about the White Sox this season. If you had the over in Vegas, you’re a winner. Go collect your winnings. But it was something that I think needed to be said about this situation.

Let me start off by making it clear that there is no defense for what Chris Sale did. It was stupid. It was immature. There are better ways to deal with it than taking a knife and cutting up a bunch of jerseys.

But the White Sox aren’t innocent either.

Perhaps the White Sox are a victim of their own expectations. After all, when they made national news in March following the retirement of Adam LaRoche, they talked about making sure that their focus was 100% on winning.

As White Sox President Kenny Williams phrased it in March, “One of the things we said coming into this season is ‘let’s check all the columns’ with regards to our preparation, our focus, to give us every chance to win.”

So they told Adam LaRoche that his son Drake could no longer be around the team. LaRoche retired and after a profanity-laced tirade by the same Chris Sale directed at Williams during a clubhouse meeting, everyone seemed to move on and put that focus on winning.

The White Sox royally bungled how they dealt with that situation, but one can understand how a 14 year old kid in the clubhouse might be a distraction.

Unreported in Spring Training were the White Sox getting fitted for special jerseys, including the 1976 throwback uniforms they were set to wear the other night. Many players complained about not being comfortable with the way they fit since they were so different than what they were used to. Sale said that he went as far as to say that he didn’t want to wear them on a day he started because he was uncomfortable and it might change his mechanics.

Jon Heyman reported that the players believed that this particular throwback uniform had been cancelled. Furthermore, Sale has always been allowed the freedom to have a say in what uniforms the team wears on days he starts.

The night before the game, Sale was told that the 1967 throwback uniforms were being worn. He protested with the pitching coach. He protested with the manager. He protested with the equipment manager. But a business decision had been made to wear the jerseys and the team was not going to budge.

Frustrated by the team’s decision to put business ahead of winning — remember how important they made checking all the boxes of preparation back in Spring Training — he acted to ensure that nobody could wear the uniforms.

And right up until then, I can totally understand where he’s coming from. In the case of both Sale and the White Sox, actions speak louder than words.

So here’s an organization that’s let you have a say in what uniforms get worn on the days you start and started out the season telling you how important ensuring that you’re in the best position to win is, and then they put you in a uniform that players didn’t like because it wasn’t comfortable.

In other words, the White Sox decided that a throwback jersey night was more important than giving the team the best chance at winning.

At this point the problems between Sale and the White Sox are so deep that I think it’s probably best if they just broke up. And to bring this back around, I think it should be the Cardinals that go get him.

Sale is 27 years old and will be paid $12 million in 2017, the final year of his current deal. But that deal also includes a pair of team options, $12.5 million in 2018 and now $15 million in 2019 after he finished third in Cy Young voting in 2014.

There are many teams that should be interested in acquiring him. The Red Sox and Dodgers are reportedly interested. The Cubs should be considering they have just one starting pitcher on their roster under the age of 30. The Cardinals should be ready and willing and I’d let Alex Reyes go as the centerpiece of that deal.

The improvement on the field is obvious. Sale has a 3.18 ERA and 1.01 WHIP in his 19 starts this season. His 128 ERA+ would make him the second best Cardinals’ starter this season behind Carlos Martinez’s 143.

But one of my complaints about this team is the lack of intensity day in and day out. I think we could improve that with the ability of another fiery, outspoken, competitive starting pitcher named Chris.

That other one was Carpenter. And since his departure, the Cardinals have lacked that vocal, passionate leader in the clubhouse. We have a lot of guys who are good leaders, who know how to work, and can inspire that in others, but they aren’t the guys who will give your butt a verbal tongue lashing when you need it.

I had hoped we’d see Lance Lynn grow into that kind of pitcher. But with this year lost to Tommy John, and I fear next year lost to regaining his velocity as a result of Tommy John before he heads into free agency following the 2017 season, I doubt he will be that guy for the Cardinals. That’s part of the reason why I’d want them to take Lynn in the deal, unless Lynn is willing to work out of the bullpen to start the year.

There will be many who won’t want to “reward” Sale for his actions by trading for him and putting him on a winner, but I believe that Sale’s biggest issue is a lack of faith in the White Sox organization both to follow through on assurances they’ve made him and to make the decisions necessary to create a winner. His actions demonstrate to me a guy who is screaming to be dealt.

And who better to make his desire of playing for a winner come true than one of the best run franchises in baseball who has the best track record of winning in the league?

Why raising Minor League player pay would be good for baseball

There seem to be many more important topics that Congress should be tackling right now, but the House of Representatives has seemed to have finally found something that both sides of the aisle can agree on: Minor League baseball players should live below the poverty level.

Congresswoman Cheri Bustos (D-Illinois) and Congressmen Brett Guthrie (R-Kentucky) introduced the ironically named “Save America’s Pastime Act,” last week. The goal of the bill is to exempt Minor League baseball players from federal wage requirements to keep them from eventually unionizing or successfully suing for fair wages.

While many will likely cheer the concept (or not care) because, in a world where professional athletes make millions and millions of dollars, nobody wants to ever feel sorry about a professional athlete not making enough money. Except these aren’t the guys making millions and millions of dollars. In fact, 99% of them will never make much of anything from baseball.

Minor league baseball salaries start at $1,150 a month for short season A ball player and goes as high as $2,150 per month for a first year Triple-A player. Keep in mind that that’s not an annual salary rate either, they only get paid for the six or seven months of their season. Players also receive $25 per day in meal money while on the road. Just for comparison, umpires get $50 per day and college athletes get $36 per day.

Representatives Bustos and Guthrie would tell you that requiring Minor League teams to play their players fair salaries would doom the finances of minor league teams, many of them in small towns around America. What they don’t tell you is that the Minor League teams don’t pay the player salaries, the Major League club does. The revenue that Minor League teams do bring in are used to maintain facilities and pay front office staff, not the players.

One could actually argue that requiring Major League teams to pay their Minor League players a fair wage would actually be a positive economic step for small towns where these Minor League organizations are located. Young players with more discretionary income being brought in from outside the local economy. It would be great.

The bill is clearly a response to a lawsuit filed a couple years ago that alleges that Minor League Baseball violates federal wage laws with their pay structure. Last October, a federal court ruled that it can be expanded into a class action lawsuit which now includes a couple thousand players.

Current Minor League players will be silent on this. Why wouldn’t they? They have more to lose from speaking up than anyone. Most of them are in the situation where they need baseball more than baseball needs them. It’s why the Minor Leagues haven’t unionized.

The MLBPA, the player’s union for Major League players, have routinely negotiated away the rights and pay of Minor League players to benefit themselves. That seems unfair on it’s own. But in the Majors, paying your dues and grinding through the Minors is as much a rite of passage as having the skills to get to the Majors.

Many will say that they find it difficult to get worked up over the payment of Minor League players. After all, they are playing a game for a living. Except this isn’t a game and it really isn’t a living. Not one that anyone would really want. This is a job. This is work. The vast majority will never make it and you’ll never know their name.

But beyond all of this from a political, economic and moral standpoint, keeping Minor League salaries down is exactly the opposite of what baseball should be doing. Instead, baseball should be addressing the fact that the finances of the game turn young athletes away at a young age.

Young athletes are asked earlier and earlier to specialize in a sport so that they have the best opportunity to develop as a player and compete at a high level so they can make it to the professional level. So you have high school aged young men making the decisions that will shape their lives, which sport will they dedicate themselves to?

These decisions are made with family members and coaches and the decisions are driven by opportunity, odds of success, and, in many situations, finances.

There are many gifted athletes who go play basketball or football because they can find money sooner. The minimum rookie salary in the NBA last year was about $525,000. In the NFL it was $435,000. The rookie salary in Major League Baseball was $507,500, but that’s in the Majors. If you’re a typical prospect, you’ll get your five figure signing bonus and then get assigned to A ball where you’ll make $1,300 a month for a six month season. In other words, just a hair under $8,000. You can make $6,600 in one week on an NFL practice squad.

If a family’s finances are a concern, a young player won’t even consider playing baseball. Get drafted, continue to be poor, play a few years of minor league baseball, and maybe, if you’re lucky, be part of the 5% that plays a single day in the Majors or the 1% that strikes it big. Or go play football where, even if you go undrafted, end up on a practice squad and you can pull in $100,000 a year.

I know what I’d choose.

Combine that with us having seen football players retire young because of fear over the long-term effects of head injuries. So many players don’t want the risks of football and there are much fewer opportunities to play basketball, enter baseball with a perfect opportunity to capitalize on it and steal away young talent.

And baseball has the money.

Over the last 10 years, baseball has gone from the major sport where players get the largest share of revenues to the lowest. In 2015, players got less than 40% of revenues. In bargaining between owners and players, leagues usually shoot for a 50/50 split of revenues, so if that’s the case, of the $10 billion in revenue that baseball will acquire this year, that’s $1 billion that needs to be redistributed to the players.

With roughly 6,000 professional baseball players across all levels of associated baseball, that works out to over $150,000 per year per player.

But Major League players still get paid well and their contracts are all guaranteed.

So how about we give all 4,500 or so Minor League players a $50,000 per year salary. That would cost $225 million a year total, right now teams pay about $60 million in payroll for Minor League players, but that’s a drop in the bucket on $10 billion. That’s an increase of 1.6% of revenues.

It would also be great for every aspect of the sport.

First, more young athletes would choose to play baseball, so you’d have more talented athletes flowing through the Minors.

Second, that talent would then be able to spend more time preparing and fine tuning themselves and their skills to unlock their talent rather than having to take odd jobs over the winter to support themselves and living off fast food during the season.

And third, with better prepared players, the fans should see better baseball across all levels. Better baseball will make more fans and bring more revenue to the sport.

So there are ways for everyone to benefit from paying Minor League players better wages. It doesn’t need to be exorbitant, but it should be enough that they can focus on their craft and actually become professionals at the sport rather than just “seasonal apprentices” as Major League Baseball puts it.

Paying Minor League players more isn’t just a payment to the players, it’s an investment into the future of the sport in so many different ways.

And as a post script, it is worth noting that Congresswoman Bustos abandoned her support of the legislation this afternoon saying that she was withdrawn her support because she’s learned some things over the last 24 hours. Perhaps she should have Googled “who pays minor league baseball players” before deciding that this was an issue that needed to be solved with a law.