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.

Cardinals acquire Zach Duke from White Sox

As I tweeted Sunday morning, “Good news: The Cardinals acquired a left handed pitcher from the White Sox. Bad news: It wasn’t Chris Sale.” But it really wasn’t bad news at all. The Cardinals acquired left-handed reliever Zach Duke in exchange for minor league outfielder Charlie Tilson.

Duke, 33, has a 2.63 ERA and 1.25 WHIP in an America League leading 53 relief appearances this season. He has a 159 ERA+ which would slot him in third in the Cardinals’ bullpen behind Seung-hwan Oh (240 ERA+) and Kevin Siegrist (165 ERA+).

Since the beginning of the 2014 season, the first season where he truly became a reliever, he has a 137 ERA+. That would be better than any other Cardinal reliever has been since the beginning of the 2014 season.

The only other time Duke was dealt mid-season was from the Nationals to the Reds in 2013. He wrapped up the year with a 0.84 ERA and 0.94 WHIP in 14 appearances.

Duke is signed through the 2017 season. The Cardinals are on the hook for the remainder of his $5 million salary this season and $5.5 million next season.

It was a typical John Mozeliak trade. Good value without giving up much in return. In comparison to what pitchers like Aroldis Chapman and Andrew Miller commanded on the trade market, this could easily be a steal.

In exchange, the Cardinals will be sending Charlie Tilson. Tilson was hitting .282 with 16 doubles, 8 triples, and 4 home runs for Memphis. He’d already tied Stubby Clapp and Kolten Wong for the team record in triples with a month left to play. The 23 year old Tilson was a second round pick of the Cardinals from the 2011 draft. He had been a slow burning prospect, but had improved every year.

Tilson wasn’t ready for the Majors and likely wasn’t going to be ready for that jump next summer either, but received a spot on the team’s 40 man roster last November to protect him from the Rule 5 Draft. So he would have burned two options before even making an MLB appearance. The emergence of Harrison Bader, who was Baseball America’s #89 prospect on their mid-season update, also likely played a role in Tilson’s availability.

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?

Cardinals land four players on midseason Baseball America’s Top-100 Prospects

Baseball America published their midseason update to their Top-100 prospects list and it featured four Cardinals prospects. Here’s who we’ve got.

#2 – RHP Alex Reyes

Alex Reyes was ranked #7 by Baseball America before the season began, and his numbers aren’t quite what most likely expected. Though the prospect list makers still like him, Reyes has a 4.35 ERA and 1.35 WHIP over 9 starts for Triple-A Memphis since returning from his 50 game suspension for marijuana in May. While he struggled through June, he had his best start of the season on Monday, allowing just 1 run and striking out 9 over 6 2/3 innings of work.

#75 – RHP Luke Weaver

Luke Weaver was unranked before the season began and, after a late start to the season following a broken wrist, has come out and excelled in Double-A Springfield. The 22 year old Weaver, who was the 27th pick of the 2014 draft by the Cardinals, has a 0.83 ERA and 1.02 WHIP over 7 starts for Springfield. His walk rate and strikeout rate have both improved over last season. Weaver was the Cardinals’ Minor League Pitcher of the Month for June.

#88 – RHP Jack Flaherty

Another 2014 first rounder (34th pick) by the Cardinals is 20 year old Jack Flaherty. Flaherty was ranked #80 before the season began so he has fallen a few spots. In his second full professional season, Flaherty has a 3.82 ERA and 1.34 WHIP over 14 starts for High-A Palm Beach. Over his last five starts though, Flaherty has a 1.70 ERA and 1.08 WHIP.

#89 – OF Harrison Bader

A third round pick from the 2015 draft, Harrison Bader quickly established his bat last season, hitting 11 home runs in 61 games between Low-A State College and Mid-A Peoria. He got a promotion to Springfield this season and got off to a hot start, hitting .379 with 7 home runs in his first 30 games this season and was named the organization’s Minor League Player of the Month in April. He has struggled since, but his overall slash line still sits at a respectable .283/.346/.485 with 13 HR and 12 doubles in 75 games. He was promoted this week to Triple-A Memphis and is 2-for-10 in two games.

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.

Ichiro versus Rose

There has been a lot made over the last couple days about the idea that baseball has a new hit king. Ichiro Suzuki now has 4,257 hits between his years in Major League Baseball and in Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball league. That number surpasses Pete Rose, who had 4,256 hits over his Major League career and currently holds the MLB record. That news has many writers proclaiming that Ichiro is baseball’s new “hit king,” but in my opinion it is a contrived attempt to create a false record and perhaps a veiled attempt to take a shot at Rose and his accomplishments.

At the crux of the discussion is really whether you should count the 1,278 hits that Ichiro got while playing professionally in Japan. The only thing this argument has going for it is that it is still a nation’s top league, just like MLB is for the United States.

But there are a number of stats that we don’t count torwards career records here in the United States. We don’t count spring training games or all star games or, the one that’s always puzzled me a bit, postseason games. Pete Rose has 86 career hits in the postseason that apparently don’t count towards his career numbers? Those literally came against some of the best teams in the Majors at the time.

And if hits are hits, as the President of baseball’s Hall of Fame has basically put it, why aren’t we counting stats from other U.S. based leagues? Why don’t we add in Rose’s 427 minor league hits? Those are professional leagues right?

Nobody ever makes that argument because it’s ridiculous. Nobody is still calling Hank Aaron baseball’s “home run king” because he has 786 home runs (Majors and Minors combined) while Barry Bonds has just 782. Or, if we’re combining statistics achieved in Japan with those achieved in the Majors, why don’t Sadaharu Oh’s 868 career home runs count?

It’s hard for me to accept the idea that the Japanese leagues are equivalent to the United States for one big reason: Japanese stars come to the U.S. to play while players who can’t stick in the Majors here go over there to play and often become stars. That damages the argument.

While I do believe that you’ll find the top talent in Japan to be on par with some of the top talent in the Majors, the same depth of talent is not present. One could say the same about Triple-A. You’ll run across some Major League caliber guys, but ultimately, the majority of guys in the league will never go further.

So I think to count his hits from Japan and say that Ichiro broke some kind of record last night is stupid and ill conceived.

Now there are some other ways you could approach to argue that Ichiro’s hit totals are more noteworthy than Rose’s, so let’s take a look at those.

First, I’ve seen some writers suggest that Rose hung on too long to simply pad his hit totals and that we should give more credit to Ichiro since he is still worth putting into the lineup. But I think that’s putting too much credit into his .349 batting average this season. Because when you look back over the past five years, he has not been better than Rose was in his final seasons.

If you look at Rose’s final five seasons, 1982 (his age 41 season) to 1986 (his age 45 season), Rose hit .261 with a .662 OPS and an 86 OPS+. Then let’s look at Ichiro’s last five seasons, 2011 (his age 37 season) to 2016 (his age 42 season), which even includes this year’s good start, Ichiro has hit .271 with a .654 OPS and an 84 OPS+. So at best, over Rose’s last five seasons and Ichiro’s previous five seasons, they were equals. And Ichiro’s sample happens is when he is four years younger.

So if Rose held on too long to pad his stat totals, Ichiro has too.

Second, there is also the fact that Ichiro made his debut in Japan at the age of 18 while Rose had to wait until his age 22 season to debut in the Majors. So Ichiro started counting four years earlier and it took him until age 42 (25 seasons) to get to 4,257 while it took Rose from age 22 to 45 (24 seasons) to get to 4,256.

And third, even if we just compare age years to age years for the time that they’ve overlapped in baseball, Ichiro has 2,979 hits from his age 27 season to his current age 42 season. Meanwhile, from age 27 to age 42, Rose had 3,091. At his current pace, Ichiro should add about 76 more hits this season, so he still won’t reach Rose’s number. So he can’t even beat Rose head-to-head on as equal ground as we can place them on.

So the bottom line in all of this for me is that Pete Rose was a great player who had a ridiculous number of hits in his career.

And Ichiro Suzuki is a great player who has had a ridiculous number of hits in his career.

It’s amazing and worth noting, but it’s not any kind of record. There is no need to contrive some record for him to make it seem bigger than it is. You can celebrate Ichiro’s accomplishment without discounting what Rose has done. They both stand as unique in my mind.

I believe Ichiro is a great player and an easy Hall of Famer, which for debuting at age 27 is quite a feat. I would have loved to see him in the Majors sooner. I think that if you put him in the Majors at age 20 in 1994, we would be talking about him breaking Rose’s record. But he wasn’t, so we shouldn’t be.

In a few weeks Ichiro will likely become the 27th Major League player to collect his 3,000th Major League hit. And on that day I will tip my cap to him.

4,257 was an amazing accomplishment and should be celebrated as such. But it’s no record.

Optioning Wong was the best call

I had a piece outlined for today that was going to argue that optioning Kolten Wong to Memphis was not only the best decision for the Cardinals to make to create room for Jhonny Peralta‘s return, but the only one that really made sense. The two other obvious possibilities for the Cardinals were Greg Garcia and Jeremy Hazelbaker. But then Mo had to go and ruin it as the team announced that Wong was headed for Memphis with Peralta expected to be recalled tomorrow.

When it comes to those other two possibilities to be optioned to the minors, Garcia has carved himself out a role with the club and Hazelbaker’s stay was dictated by the organization’s comfort level with having just three outfielders on the roster. That left Kolten Wong.

It’s no secret that Wong has struggled mightily in 2016. With his 61 OPS+, Wong was worst offensive performer among the position players on the Cardinals’ roster given whatever playing time they’ve had.

Let’s take a quick look at where Wong has been in his first three full time seasons with the Cardinals after 57 games.

2014: .268/.333/.325, 0 HR, 4.4% xBH%
2015: .308/.359/.464, 6 HR, 8.7% xBH%
2016: .222/.306/.286, 1 HR, 2.8% xBH%

And to compare, how he finished those seasons:

2014: .240/.273/.416, 12 HR, 7.7% xBH%
2015: .234/.298/.338, 5 HR, 6.0 xBH%

This is clearly the worst couple months of baseball that Kolten has put together in his big league career. And being in the muck of this season’s 2B/SS/3B situation certainly isn’t helping things.

Already known as a guy that puts too much pressure on himself, the Cardinals added fuel to that fire in November when they acquired Jedd Gyorko who was signed through 2019 and plays second base. In February, the Cardinals signed Wong to an extension with the organization that locked him up through 2020. They showed faith in Wong and likely part of that was to demonstrate a vote of confidence in Wong going into the season.

It doesn’t quite appear to have worked as planned.

Second base is really a position where the Cardinals are stacked with players like none other. There are probably ten different ways I can come up with to not play Wong. And if Matt Carpenter, Peralta, Aledmys Diaz, Gyorko, and Garcia are all playing well, why would you? Because of that, Wong was on the verge of drowning in a sea of competition without the time to get right.

And it’s not going to get easier either. All six of those players are under control for next year too.

Luckily for the Cardinals (and really for Wong too), Wong has options and doesn’t become eligible for optional assignment waivers until August 16th, so he can freely move to the minors without an issue. So Wong gets his first class ticket to Memphis with some homework: Get right.

There’s been lots of talk that he’s made some changes to his swing. He will get plenty of reps required to get it right and once again become a productive offensive player, but I believe that for his longterm future in St. Louis, he needs to add another tool to his tool box. Versatility.

In 2011, when Matt Carpenter lit up spring training, only to find himself sent back to Memphis. He played seven games for the big league club that year during a cup of coffee in the summer. Over the winter, he decided to add to his versatility to create more value for the team to keep him in the Majors. It worked. He made the team in 2012 and played 114 games as a utility player. He parlayed that into learning second base and became the team’s starting second baseman in 2013, a decision that is playing out quite nicely now in 2016 too.

There are holes in the organizational depth chart where Wong could make himself useful too. I personally think he could get a quality center fielder. He has the speed and the ball tracking ability to play the position. The arm should be serviceable out there too. All that he’d need is the experience to make a successful transition.

But I don’t expect that to happen.

There has been plenty of talk today about Wong’s extension and how it is a bad deal for the Cardinals. I still believe in Wong and I still think that it’s a good deal. He’s only two months into what could be a six year deal. It’s like watching the first inning of a game and turning off the TV. Last year, even with the horrendous second half, Wong was still a league average second baseman on offense on the whole. Somewhere inside him is the guy who was widely considered an all star snub last July.

To see how such a demotion could actually benefit him, he doesn’t have to look far. About this time last year, San Diego optioned Jedd Gyorko to Triple-A to get right. Through the Padres’ first 59 games last year, Gyorko had hit .210/.282/.311 with 2 home runs. He spent three weeks in the minors before returning to the big league lineup on June 30th, hitting .262/.303/.430 with 14 HR in the remaining 83 games.

The move created new life for Gyorko who was acquired by the Cardinals that winter and is currently having the best start to a year since he was a rookie in 2013 and mashed 23 homers.

Wong will get another chance. If not this season, then next. His contract will guarantee that. And I can’t wait to see what he can do.

The power of the first impression

First impressions are everything these days. If you can perform well enough (or bad enough) just long enough for people to think they have you figured out, that impression will stick like glue. The best current example of that is Aledmys Diaz.

Diaz started strong in April, leading the Majors in batting average and slugging. He somehow still failed to win either NL Player of the Month or NL Rookie of the Month. But after a month of complaints about where Diaz bats in the lineup, Mike Matheny finally made the decision to promote Diaz from his regular eighth spot in the lineup to second, arguably the most important position in the lineup.

It was always going to be a tough task for Diaz to duplicate his April performance, but a relatively pedestrian .267/.304/.419 slash line and 3 home runs in May was not the kind of performance anyone was expecting out of him.

It becomes pretty obvious once you dig into his numbers that the league is catching up to him.

Diaz’s strikeout rate has nearly tripled from 5.3% in April to 14.8 in May. His line drive rate fell from 22.4% in April to a well below average 15.6% in May (current league average is 20.7%). And while his line drive rate is up ever so slightly (15.9%) over the last two weeks, it’s certainly not enough to say that he’s figuring things out.

You can dig further and find that teams are throwing him more pitches outside the zone and he’s swinging at those far more often. He’s getting more fastballs (which makes sense for where he’s batting in the lineup now), but it’s also the pitch he’s done by far the least damage with in his brief career. So he’s getting more fastballs while opposing pitchers lay off the sliders, curveballs, and splitters he’s been destroying.

The numbers actually got even worse when you consider the 14 games since he was moved to the second spot in the lineup. In the second spot he has a slash line of just .190/.238/.259. That’s not good at all.

It remains to be seen just what kind of adjustment Diaz can make because we’ve never seen him in this situation before.

Earlier this week I tweeted out a comparison of Diaz’s April and May numbers and found it very interesting that all the responses I got were defending Diaz. He’s still learning. He’ll figure it out. He’s making adjustments. All the while, he’s still batting second in the Cardinals’ lineup.

So let me get this straight. Diaz hits .267/.304/.419 in May and .190/.238/.259 since taking over the second spot in the lineup and everyone is cool with him batting second, but Matt Holliday hits .253/.341/.507 in April and most wanted to bring Mike Matheny up on crimes against baseball for continuing to bat him third?

But if we’re going to be that hard on a veteran player batting third who has proven to be capable of adjusting and producing at a high level for many years, shouldn’t we be equally as hard (or harder) on Diaz batting second as a rookie who has proven nothing except that he had a great debut month?

The way I like to look at these kinds of situations is to consider each of Diaz’s two months in the Majors and ask yourself this question. Is he more likely to be the guy who hit .423 and had a bad month? Or is he more likely to be the guy who hit .267 and had a great month?

The obvious answer is obvious. The latter.

And that’s not to say he won’t probably settle in somewhere in between. I do see him eventually as a guy who will settle in and hit about .270 with 13-18 home runs. The odds of him being more than that are exceptionally slim. Fewer than 40 guys produced more offense than that last year and none of them played shortstop as their primary position.

The average MLB shortstop this season is currently hitting .253/.313/.389. So if Diaz ends up being that guy, he is definitely an above average offensive shortstop. And while that’s definitely worth having in your starting lineup, that’s not automatically worthy of hitting second in the lineup.

So it’s time for Matheny to move Diaz back into the second half of the lineup. If Holliday was hurting the team while batting third with what he did in April, Diaz is definitely hurting the team right now batting second with what he did in May.

And if he can’t turn it back around out of the second spot in the lineup, all that talk about Kolten Wong working on his bench warming might get a reprieve. And maybe we should be revisiting whether Jhonny Peralta should be shifting positions after all.

More on Matt Holliday

As I mentioned on Twitter this morning, since writing about Matt Holliday’s start, he has hit .500 with 2 HR in 5 games. Maybe he’s starting to hit his stride and get warm, which would be a welcome sight for the Cardinals offense and their fans.

But discussion of that this morning, led me to wonder how Holliday’s extra base hit rate (xBH/PA) was stacking up compared to previous seasons with the Cardinals. So here are Holliday’s extra base hit rate for his time with the Cardinals:

Now looking at that, you can easily see why there are many people who feel that Holliday is in full on decline. At age 36, he is definitely declining and I wrote about that back in November. But with the rounded skillset that Holliday has always had, a rapid decline always felt unlikely to me. He should be a guy whose game generally ages well.

But believe it or not, the real difficulty for Holliday this season has been getting base hits. Here are his singles rate (1B/PA) during his time as with the Cardinals:

As you can see, his singles rate stays pretty steady around 15%, give or take, in previous seasons with the Cardinals, except this year where it has fallen just below 12%. You would think that that’s going to be the easiest thing to correct, far easier than a lack of power.

Seeing those numbers actually gives me more hope that Holliday can and will be a quality contributor to the lineup this year. If you give him a 2% bump in his singles rate (turns into 4 additional singles), he would still have his lowest singles rate during his time with the Cardinals. But he’d be hitting .280/.351/.514 which is still a little lower than usual, but not quite as panic inducing as we’ve seen early this year.

Matt Holliday’s slow start

Yesterday afternoon Matt Holliday hit his 7th home run of the season. Holliday has been a target of criticism for a slower than typical start, but Dan Buffa posted yesterday the dates that Holliday hit his 7th home run of the season, which I’ve expanded here a little bit for all his years with the Cardinals and with some more info.

2010: Hit on June 18th in game 67, hit 28 total
2011: Hit on June 16th in game 70*, hit 22 total
2012: Hit on May 15th in game 36, hit 27 total
2013: Hit on May 28th in game 51, hit 22 total
2014: Hit on July 18th in game 97, hit 20 total
2016: Hit on May 25th in game 47…

*- in his first game back after missing 14 games while on the disabled list

So we see that Holliday’s overall home run production is pretty equal to what he’s done in previous seasons where he hit 20 or more home runs.

But for the sake of discussion, let’s see where Holliday has stood after game 47 in each of his previous seasons.

2010: .279/.344/.442, 5 HR, 18 RBI
2011: .356/.447/.468, 6 HR, 30 RBI
2012: .261/.341/.473, 10 HR, 32 RBI
2013: .263/.347/.425, 6 HR, 28 RBI
2014: .267/.366/.369, 2 HR, 25 RBI
2015: .320/.433/.444, 3 HR, 24 RBI
2016: .233/.307/.453, 7 HR, 24 RBI

As we can see, Holliday’s power and slugging still seem to be present, but his batting average and OBP are well down from his normal start. We can also see that, pretty much outside of 2011, he is a slow starter as he has a .295 batting average during his time with the Cardinals. Holliday has pretty consistently been a player who really gets going in the summer time. For his career, June and July are his two best months at the plate.

But let’s take a look at how he finished each of those seasons out over the team’s final 115 games.

2010: .325/.407/.568, 23 HR, 85 RBI
2011: .267/.358/.503, 16 HR, 45 RBI
2012: .311/.396/.508, 17 HR, 70 RBI
2013: .317/.408/.521, 16 HR, 66 RBI
2014: .274/.374/.467, 18 HR, 67 RBI
2015: .197/.311/.342, 1 HR, 11 RBI

As a brief aside, it’s worth pointing out that the second half of 2011 is really what earned Holliday his “unclutch” reputation. After all, how did the #4 hitter on the league’s fifth best offense only rack up 45 RBI over 115 games? Lack of opportunity. For whatever reason, he didn’t get many chances. His 19% RBI rate in 2011 is one of the best of his career, but he got 10% fewer opportunities than he typically has as a Cardinal.

I also included 2015 even though it isn’t very indicative as he played just 30 games, and most of those while coming back from a long stint on the disabled list and likely struggling with his timing. But what we see from all the data is a guy who has typically hit near .300 and adding 16-18 home runs from Game 48 to the end of a season during his time with the Cardinals.

At his current pace, he should have 431 remaining plate appearances this season. Let’s say he hits .300 with 15 home runs the rest of the way. That would put him hitting an overall .273 with 22 home runs.

I think we all would be happy with that.