NL Central Preview: Starting Pitcher #4

While Chris Carpenter and Kyle Lohse, one pitcher I’ve talked about and one I haven’t yet, receive glowing reviews from the media and curse words from their teammates, I move on to Starting Pitcher #4

The Cardinals’ #4 is Jake Westbrook. A pitcher that the Cardinals had long been pursuing and ultimately received as part of the three-team trade that sent Ryan Ludwick to San Diego. It was a much needed trade for the Cardinals as they needed to stabilize their starting rotation, but it didn’t have its desired effect as the Cardinals began their free fall shortly after.

Let’s get to it!

6. Bud Norris, Houston (4.92, 9-10 in 27 starts)
Or “Cy Norris” as he gets referred to by Cardinals fans and also spawned a brief “Bud Norris Facts” similar to those of Chuck because of his dominance over the Cardinals. While Bud has found success difficult to find against all teams, he is 5-1 in a 2.27 ERA in 6 starts against the Cardinals.  Norris’ mainstream stats declined from 2009 to 2010, but his ‘peripheral stats’ such as K/9, HR/9, WHIP all improved. That provides Houston some hope as we move into his third season in 2011.

5. Ross Ohlendorf, Pittsburgh (4.07, 1-11 in 21 starts)
Despite being 1-11, Ohlendorf’s ERA was pretty good, so who knows exactly what the story was.  His 2009 season was fairly solid as well, a slightly better ERA while going 11-10. Ohlendorf was fairly successful through his minor league career, but he’s going to have to put up some numbers if he wants to continue to stick around with a major league team.

4. Homer Bailey, Cincinnati (4.46, 4-3 in 19 starts)
When you read about Homer Bailey you think he needs to hurry up and figure things out because he has had four relatively mediocre seasons, far from what was expected from him when he was called up in 2007. Then you look at Bailey’s age and you realize he’s still just 24.  He spent most of 2009 bouncing between Cincinnati and Louisville before making the team in 2010. However, he spent a good deal of the season on the disabled list due to injury before coming back just after mid-season. It was probably overall his best season. The key will be for him to keep improving.

3. Carlos Silva, Chicago (4.22, 10-6 in 21 starts)
Glad I checked. I originally had Gorzelanny as the Cubs’ #4 starter, but come to find out that he was dealt a month ago to Washington. So up goes Carlos Silva to the #4 spot. Dealt for the problem child Milton Bradley it was an exchange for headaches for Seattle and Chicago. Bradley was becoming an issue and Silva had not done anything worthwhile in his two years in Seattle. Silva returned to post a decent season in 2010, but struggled most of the second half with shoulder issues. Is he over them or will they return will be a major factor for the Cubs in 2011.

2. Jake Westbrook, St. Louis (4.22, 10-11 in 33 starts between Cleveland and St. Louis)
The former Cleveland pitcher was in the middle of his comeback season with Cleveland after having Tommy John surgery when he was traded to the Cardinals mid-season. Despite the 4-4 record in 12 starts, Westbrook pitched much better, as his 3.48 ERA will attest. Can the same Westbrook return in 2011? That’s a good question, there’s really no reason that he can’t. Cardinal fans appreciated his statements he made when he signed his new contract with the Cardinals for probably less than he could have made if he’d stuck around in free agency longer. But he wanted to be a Cardinal, and as he said $17.5 million is still a lot of money where he’s from.

1. Randy Wolf, Milwaukee (4.17, 13-12 in 34 starts)
The lefty turned a successful 2009 into a three year deal in Milwaukee, where he was less successful in 2010. While the 34 year old Wolf has bounced around a bit, he has been exceptionally solid as a pitcher. Average, yes, but solid. That’s really what you want out of a #4 starter for Milwaukee, where he was probably listed much higher on the rotation list last year. Perhaps being the #4 will take some of the stress off of him with the additions of Marcum and Grienke and allow him to return to 2009 form. I know Milwaukee would love him to.

The points:

Milwaukee — 55 pts
St. Louis — 52 pts
Cincinnati — 46 pts
Chicago — 41 pts
Pittsburgh — 29 pts
Houston — 29 pts

NL Central Preview: Starting Pitcher #3

With just six days until the first Spring Training game is played, I need to get a move on. So let’s move this NL Central Preview thread along, as we begin to look at the third starting pitcher.

In 2010, the Cardinals were helped by the breakthrough season of Jaime Garcia who helped solidify a questionable rotation much of last season. Though many ignored him in Rookie of the Year talk, his numbers were good enough to garner him some consideration.

Let’s get a move on as I’m sure you don’t appreciate my ramblings near as much as I do.

6. Brian Burres, Pittsburgh (4.99 ERA, 4-5 in 13 starts)
After the top-2 starters in the Pirates rotation, it’s where it starts to get really iffy as they seem to have three spots in the rotation all up for grabs to whoever pitches best. Burres is just one of those options who made starts in 2010 for the club. He has spent parts of five seasons in the majors with Baltimore, Toronto, and Pittsburgh. His most successful season, was last season with Pittsburgh.

5. Edinson Volquez, Cincinnati (4.31 ERA, 4-3 in 12 starts)
Edinson Volquez spent most of 2010 on the disabled list, but was a nice midseason pick-me-up for the Reds who didn’t even need to trade for him, because they already had. Volquez even started Game 1 of the playoffs for Cincinnati as well, which shows the belief that manager Dusty Baker has in him. His first season in Cincinnati was dazzling as he won 17 games in 2008. Injury shortened his 2009 season, but nothing tells us that he shouldn’t be able to return to that 2008 form and shortly be considered the leader of that Reds bullpen once again.

4. Jaime Garcia, St. Louis (2.70 ERA, 13-8 in 28 starts)
Garcia was the Cardinals’ feel good story of 2010, and they didn’t have much to feel good about either. After being listed for quite awhile on the Cardinals’ top prospect list, he was injured and received Tommy John surgery. Garcia came back better than ever, pitching well for Memphis through the PCL playoffs and in the AAA Championship Game. He was dominant when he was on the mound for St. Louis too, but due to the injury was held to pitch counts and he occasionally had games where he was not very efficient with the pitches he was given. However, both improved as the season went on and he posted an excellent year.

3. Matt Garza, Chicago (3.91 ERA, 15-10 in 32 starts)
Another recent addition to the pitching rich NL Central, Matt Garza spent his 2010 season with Tampa Bay. His last three seasons have been solid pitching performances, though not masterful. But the Cubs won’t be looking for masterful from him. I think they’d be pleased with some solid performances. He was a really good addition to that Cubs lineup as they will be starting their first season under the new ownership.

2. J.A. Happ, Houston (3.40 ERA, 6-4 in 16 starts)
The Astros received J.A. Happ from Philadelphia in the Roy Oswalt trade, and I think that’s a very good move. Happ was one of the best rookie starters of 2009 and has the potential to turn into the type of ace that Roy Oswalt was for a team. Certainly he will be a good starting point for Houston as they look towards rebuilding that franchise from the ground up.

1. Zach Grienke, Milwaukee (4.17 ERA, 10-14 in 33 starts)
It was a tough call to put Grienke at the top considering his 2010 numbers, but I think that was the end result of just being on a team that was not going to be competitive on most nights out, no matter what he did on the mound. What other team has a #3 pitcher capable of winning a Cy Young, or who even has one on the mantle? That’s right, only Milwaukee. The Brewers paid a big price for Grinke as they retooled their rotation.

Almost forgot the points!

Milwaukee — 49 pts
St. Louis — 47 pts
Cincinnati — 43 pts
Chicago — 37 pts
Houston — 28 pts
Pittsburgh — 27 pts

Stan the Man

I was just going to let today pass by without a comment regarding Stan Musial’s receiving of the President Medal of Freedom. Why? Because at 25 years old, I’ve never seen Musial play baseball. Even my father was not much older than a toddler when Stan wrapped up his playing days. So I don’t have any first hand knowledge of the St. Louis legend known as “Stan the Man.”

But I do know statistics, and I do know history.

I know that Musial has a career batting average of .331. I know that he hit 475 HR in his career to go along with 1,951 RBIs. I know that he is a 5-time MVP and 20-time All Star.

I know that in 1945, despite having 3 full seasons under his belt as a major league baseball player, he gave up his profession and joined the United States Navy in January 1945. After the war, he was discharged in March of 1946 and returned to professional baseball without skipping a beat. In 1946, he won the league MVP, leading the league in at bats, hits, runs, doubles, triples, batting average, and slugging percentage.

It was that 1946 season that earned him his nickname “the Man,’ as the story goes anyway.

He was a part of the 1942, 1944, and 1946 World Series champion St. Louis Cardinals as a player. He was a Vice President of the Cardinals as the team won the 1964 World Series. He was the Cardinals’ General Manager for just a single season, 1967 when the Cardinals won their 8th World Series as a franchise, and Musial’s fifth while he was involved with the team.

In 1968, a statue of Stan was erected outside of Busch Stadium. It was moved for proper placement after the building of the new Busch Stadium in 2006.

He was elected to the Hall of Fame on his first ballot in 1969. In 1998 he was listed 10th on the Sporting News’ list of the Top 100 Baseball players.

Though it didn’t exist when he played, sabermetrics reward him for his play as well. He is tied for 11th in Wins Above Replacement with another famous Cardinal, Rogers Hornsby.

Definitely a fitting player to be considered a legend by Cardinals fans. Congratulations on your commendation today, Mr. Musial.

Pujols and his future

This will hopefully be my final Pujols’ contract situation post until free agency begins, but over the last few days as fans, we’ve heard a lot from the media who are reporting from “sources close to the situation.”

And a lot of fans criticize these telling them to name names, or the report is worthless. Personally, I agree that it’d be nice to know names so that we can judge for ourselves just how accurate these sources are supposed to be, but we do have to trust that there is still some modicum of professionalism and integrity in the media. So I trust that the majority of these writers put the sources to the test.

The big news today is that Pujols & Co. have agreed to the Cardinals’ request of putting off the deadline until Wednesday at noon due to Stan Musial’s Medal of Freedom ceremony on Tuesday. They didn’t want Pujols’ contract situation to overshadow it. Pujols & Co. agreed to move the deadline back. Apparently there is a press conference scheduled and everything where Albert will take the stand and talk about how time for negotiations is over.

However, with some of the recent revelations from sources it seems that Pujols & Co. are intent on testing free agency rather than simply signing an extension with the Cardinals. Post-Dispatch writer Derrick Goold tweeted last night that the Cardinals had no chance to sign him this offseason and that they would be heading to free agency.

To me, that confirms my suspicion all along. That Pujols & Co. were going to ask for the big contract and it was up to the Cardinals to match it or let it go to free agency.

But, with the man of integrity that Pujols purports to be, I expected more from him.

Maybe that’s not fair to lay on him, but being the stand-up guy he is made out to be, it would have happened this offseason or he would have come out and said that he was going to check out free agency.

A much better PR plan would have been to come out and say that they just weren’t on the same page with the Cardinals and both sides were interested in going to free agency to set a good market price for his services. At that point he’d make the decision based on where he wanted to be, not necessarily the money offered.

Instead, Cardinals’ fans spent the offseason blasting Mozeliak, DeWitt, and the organization for being “cheap” and not wanting to give Albert what he was worth. They spent it grasping to any sliver of information they could glean from reports, when the big news at Winter Warmup was that there was no news.

Fans appreciate honesty. What they don’t appreciate is bad faith “negotiations.”

So with the recent reports, it seems that the fact they moved the deadline back is only ceremonial. There is virtually a zero percent chance that the deal gets done as Pujols & Co. seem intent to head to free agency to set the price for his services. However, I expect the set value to be much lower than they expect to get. The owners of these teams are good businessmen and have a good knowledge of baseball. They know what he’s worth.

Getting to Know the Cards Non-Roster Spring Training Invitees

As Spring Training is right around the corner it’s time to get to know some of our key non-roster invitees. As all of these players are here for a reason there are some that have more attraction than others. To get a full list of non-roster invites visit the Cardinals Official Site. If you’re lucky enough to be a Spring Training this year make sure to take the time to not only focus on our MLB stars but also keep an eye on some of these guys. Sometimes it’s all about the lesser known players playing a big role throughout the season that pushes a team over the edge to stardom.

Key Pitchers:
Miguel Batista – We picked up the soon to be 40 yr old on a minor league deal this offseason. So what does he bring to the table? At this point in his career is no more than a middle reliever/swingman. If the old rubber arm still has anything left he has the arsenal to provide value as a middle reliever and spot starter when needed. If he doesn’t show anything in ST then no harm no foul.
Ian Snell – Once a solid prospect with the Pirates he only had 1 solid season in ’07. He is looking to get resurgence with the Cards like so many pitchers before. Can Dunc turn him around? If so he is almost certainly going to be our #6 starter and will put a lot of pressure on Lohse to perform out of the gate. If not just another minor league deal that won’t cost us anything.
Adam Ottavino – A 1st Rd pick of the Cards in ’06 he has never quite lived up to his potential. But he showed signs of the tools that the Cards saw with him at out Northeastern University. He still has some potential as a starter but I think for him to stick in the bigs his ticket will be in relief. His FB and SL could provide an upside of a SU reliever. If the Cards feel he can still start then it would be wise to have him in the AAA rotation. He will also need to work on his CB and CH and most importantly his control.
Lance Lynn – A 1st Supp pick of the Cards from the 2008 Lynn moved very quickly in his first full year. He started in Palm Beach (A+) and pitched at 3 levels ending up in Memphis (AAA). In 2010 he struggled the 1st half of the year in AAA but turned it around in the 2nd half. He projects as no better than a #3 SP but has the makeup to be in the bigs for years as a workhorse. Seeing FA contacts for #3/#4 type SP’s the last few yrs and you know a guy like Lynn has value. He will be in the hunt for the #6 SP for the Cards in 2011 but most likely starts in AAA.
Shelby Miller/Joe Kelly – 2 guys that are still a few years away from the bigs but both have promise. Most know the story of our 1st Rd pick from the 2009. Miller is an ace in the making and considered by all analyst to be one of the top pitching prospects in the game. Kelly is a lesser known commodity from ’09 draft as a 3rd Rd pick. He has the potential as a #3/#4 but a college closer turned starter will take some time.
Key Hitters:
Steven Hill – A Catcher with potential to be an everyday regular due to his hit tool. Problem is I don’t see him sticking at catcher unless he improves significantly. But definitely a player of interest so keep an eye on him in ST…could be a big opportunity to show the Cards coaches that he belongs
Matt Carpenter – The 2010 Cards Minor League Position Player of the Year had a great year spending most of it in Springfield (AA). As a 3B keep an eye on him if Freese gets injured again or is ineffective come mid-year. Carpenter is not your typical power hitting 3B but he has a great eye at the plate and will hit plenty of doubles and draw plenty of walks while playing solid D.
Audry Perez – The best catching prospect in our system but many years away. He has all the tools to be a solid defensive catcher while being an above avg or better hitter. This will be a showcase of the future at catcher. I am extremely high on this kid so I will be excited to see him in action against older and superior talent.
Jim Edmonds – Our old friend Jimmy Edmonds! I am very skeptical he will be healthy enough to contribute and make the team out of ST. In fact as of today he still hasn’t taken his physical to finalize the deal since he isn’t healthy enough to do so. But we all know there is sentimental value in STL with Jimmy E so there is a part of me that is rooting for him.

NL Central Preview: Starting Pitcher #2

We’ve been silent this last week at Redbird Dugout. I know I’ve been exceptionally busy, but with a little more time now I’m back to writing. So as Pitchers & Catcher’s Report on Monday, let’s continue with the Preview. Hopefully we can wrap this up this week and have some fun stuff to pay attention to as Spring Training begins to rev up this week. There were a couple pictures posted on the Redbird Dugout Facebook page this week though as we look at getting spring training going. I’m excited for 2011 like I haven’t been before.

On to the #2 pitcher. This is the guy on your staff that you hope is just your second ace. The best teams usually have a second ace, anyway. The Cardinals have been lucky in recent years to have this, but I think in 2011 the spots have finally swapped for the Redbirds.

6. James McDonald, Pittsburgh (3.51, 4-5 in 11 starts)
I almost put McDonald as Pittsburgh’s #1 because he was the best performing member of the staff in 2010, despite making just 10 starts. Before the 2009 season, McDonald was listed as the #59 prospect in baseball by Baseball America while in the Dodgers’ system. He was part of a deadline deal that sent Octavio Dotel to the Dodgers last season. He’s no stranger to that level of success either, posting a 4.00 ERA in 45 appearances for the Dodgers in 2009. He struggled in four appearances for the Dodgers in 2010 before being eventually dealt. At 26, he’s definitely a young pitcher I’ll be keeping an eye on.

5. Wandy Rodriguez, Houston (3.60, 11-12 in 32 starts)
Rodriguez performed well and was rewarded with a 3 year, $34 million contract with the Astros over the offseason. It’s become the norm for Rodriguez, who might be one of the underrated pitchers in the NL. You rarely hear his name in discussion of some of the best pitchers, but his last three seasons have been very solid for Houston.

4. Johnny Cueto, Cincinnati (3.64, 12-7 in 31 starts)
Possibly the most hated active player by Cardinal nation, though Brandon Phillips could be in that discussion too, I think. With a kick of the cleats, Cueto ended the career of Cardinals’ backup catcher Jason LaRue. Many will remember that game, but Cueto turned in a solid season and was rewarded by signing an extension of his own this season. 4 years, $27 million was the deal for Cueto who posted a career best year last year.

3. Shaun Marcum, Milwaukee (3.64, 13-8 in 31 starts)
He was supposed to be the Blue Jays’ #2 pitcher behind Roy Halladay, but an injury cost him his 2009 season. Then Halladay was traded and Marcum became the staff ace. He responded with 13 wins and in his first complete season, that was a great season. The Blue Jays rewarded him by trading him to Milwaukee, who has a much improved starting rotation this season. For Marcum it should be a good move. He’ll get a chance to contend for the NL Central title, whereas there was really very little chance of the Blue Jays sneaking into a playoff spot in the AL East.

2. Carlos Zambrano, Chicago (3.33, 11-6 in 20 starts)
I wanted to move him down the list because of his meltdown, but 11 wins in 20 starts for the struggling Cubbies last season and I couldn’t bring myself to. While researching these, I was surprised to find that he is just 29 years old right now. He used to be viewed as one of the top pitchers in the National League, but I think that last season’s tiff that result in him starting just 20 games has labeled him a bit unstable. I’m sure regaining that position as one of the top pitchers in the NL is one of his main focuses this year.

1. Chris Carpenter, St. Louis (3.22, 16-9 in 35 starts)
Though some of my fellow Cardinal fans have had their confidence shaken in Chris Carpenter last season, and I’ll admit I was worried too after watching his September fall off. But then I looked at the stats. He had a 2.92 ERA and was 14-5 in the first five months of the season before falling off in September, going just 2-4. He started an MLB high 35 starts and threw more innings than he had since 2005. Carpenter might not be the 240 inning workhorse anymore, but he’s still capable of being an ace pitcher in this league. He was my no doubt number 1 #2 pitcher.

And tallying up the results so far:

St. Louis — 44 pts
Milwaukee — 43 pts
Cincinnati — 41 pts
Chicago — 33 pts
Pittsburgh — 26 pts
Houston — 23 pts