Notebook: Winter Meetings, Day 1

Day one of the Winter Meetings is in the books with the headline clearly being the Giancarlo Stanton press conference. It was an otherwise slow day reinforcing things we pretty much already know.

Cardinals “aggressively” pursuing Colome

To break the ice this morning, USA Today’s Bob Nightengale reported that the St. Louis Cardinals and the Colorado Rockies were both aggressively pursuing Tampa Bay Rays closer Alex Colome. The news is of little surprise given that they’ve been connected to Colome since the summer. The Rockies may be the Cardinals’ toughest competition for Colome with the Chicago Cubs saying that their new addition Brandon Morrow will be the closer next season unless they are able to re-sign Wade Davis.

In return, the Rays would likely be looking for a corner outfielder that could pair long term with Kevin Kiermaier and Steven Souza. That would make the Cardinals and their depth of outfield talent a great match. Harrison Bader would give the Rays a very good defensive outfield at the very least.

Second base could also be a place they could upgrade, which could see Kolten Wong or Jedd Gyorko becoming available. Wong’s younger brother Kean Wong plays in the Rays organization, reaching Triple-A last season and delivering the game winning grand slam against the Memphis Redbirds in the Triple-A Championship Game.

Stanton reveals neither Cards nor Giants were on his list

Giancarlo Stanton was officially introduced as a member of the New York Yankees this afternoon and it revealed a great deal about the trade process. Neither the Cardinals nor Giants were on Stanton’s trade list that he provided the Marlins at the beginning offseason, however the Marlins pursued trades with them anyway. After it became clear that they were going to be able to get a larger return from those two franchises, they made an effort to force Stanton to accept the trade or be stuck in Miami.

Stanton met with the Giants and the Cardinals before ultimately deciding that they weren’t close enough to winning and weren’t a good fit for him and rejected the trades and effectively called the Marlins’ their bluff. He was then traded to the Yankees for far less than what they could have gotten from the Giants or Cardinals since they no longer had any leverage.

Cardinals are in on Ozuna

Jenifer Langosch reports that the Cardinals are pursuing Marlins outfielder Marcell Ozuna, who the Marlins say is more likely to be dealt than their other coveted outfielder Christian Yelich. Ozuna has two years of team control via arbitration remaining while Yelich has up to five years remaining on a team friendly guaranteed contract.

The difficulty here is that there are reports that Yelich is unhappy in Miami given what has happened and would like out while Ozuna has said that he would be happy to stay.

Athletics interested in Piscotty and Grichuk

Susan Slusser of the Bay Area Chronicle reports that the Oakland A’s continue to have interest in Stephen Piscotty and Randal Grichuk as they search for a right handed hitting outfielder. The Cardinals are believed to prefer to trade Piscotty to the Bay Area so that he can be closer to his family following his mother’s ALS diagnosis last year. But it is unclear what kind of return the Cardinals could expect.

Cardinals may add another starter

Derrick Goold is reporting that John Mozeliak has said that the Cardinals could add another starting this pitcher if the right situation came along. If the Rays were to make Chris Archer available, Goold believes that would qualify.

News: Cardinals tender contracts to Grichuk, Wacha, and Lyons

What happened. Along with the trade of Aledmys Diaz, the St. Louis Cardinals tendered contracts to all remaining unsigned players on their 40 man roster ahead of tonight’s 8 pm Eastern tender deadline. That includes outfielder Randal Grichuk and pitchers Michael Wacha and Tyler Lyons.

The story. Major League clubs were due to tender contracts to their Major League players who were under team control today. Salaries are yet to be set through salary arbitration or by the team if players are not yet eligible for arbitration.

The numbers. Randal Grichuk, 26, hit .238/.285/.473 with 22 home runs and a 94 wRC+ in 442 plate appearances last season. He received 36 fewer plate appearances than he did last season, but for all intents, most of his walk rates were virtually identical with his 2016 campaign. I’m a big fan of Grichuk as a player. He hits a ridiculous amount of extra base hits for being as poor of an overall hitter as he is (only Giancarlo Stanton and Nolan Arenado have been better since he arrived in the Majors) and plays plus defense.

Grichuk is a prime trade target this winter as the Cardinals make an effort to thin out their outfield ranks. However, I am on record saying that I think that’s a mistake. Grichuk is the perfect player to pencil in 8th almost every night and just let him go.

Michael Wacha, 26, posted a 4.13 ERA and a 12-9 record over 30 starts this season for the Cardinals, throwing 165.2 innings. For Wacha, the biggest success of the season was that he remained healthy through the year and took the ball 30 times. He also posted a 3.63 FIP, which is lower than the 3.87 FIP he posted during his All Star season in 2015.

Tyler Lyons, 29, posted a 2.83 ERA over 54 relief innings for the Cardinals as he made the full time transition to the bullpen. Late in the summer, Lyons had an incredible run of success where through July and August he was one of the most dominant relievers in baseball. His 11.3 K/9 was a career best for him at any level.

The impact. 3/10. It has some impact, but there were no surprises today. Even the trade of Diaz was expected to some extent. Depending on the moves this team makes, all three of these arbitration eligible players who the club tendered contracts to is expected to play a big role.

Offseason Outlook: Arbitration

Yesterday we discussed the pending free agents the Cardinals have and today we’ll take a look at their salary arbitration eligible players.

A quick recap on what salary arbitration is. A player needs six years of MLB service time to elect for free agency and players who have yet to accumulate that is in their “team control” years. The first three years of this is where the team has the most control, they can unilaterally decide what the players will make. The second three years they qualify for salary arbitration. Players and teams negotiate a salary and if an agreement can’t be reached, they go to an arbitration hearing where an arbiter decides which side is correct.

There are some special situations, one which the Cardinals are facing and I’ll talk about at the end, but in general that is how this works.

Players who are under team control must be tendered a contract by their team by December 2nd or they will be what we consider to be “non-tendered.” When a player is non-tendered, they become a free agent.

LHP Tyler Lyons. Over the past few years I’ve really grown to love Tyler Lyons and have become quite enamored with his potential as a top level relief pitcher. It’s not just those dreamy eyes, though they certainly don’t hurt. I’ve argued for the last couple years that Lyons could be an elite setup guy if he was ever given the opportunity to be one.

This year he got his first taste of that action. He made the move to the bullpen full time and posted a 2.83 ERA and 1.09 over 54 innings. His second half was even more incredible as he posted a 1.61 ERA and 0.82 WHIP in 28 innings. That 1.61 ERA was the 13th best ERA among relief pitchers who threw at least 20 innings in the second half.

Lyons will be arbitration eligible for the first time and is projected to get $1.3 million by MLB Trade Rumors and he is totally worth that. In my opinion, Lyons is the kind of reliever that you’re going to want to buy out his arbitration years. Lyons has a 2.74 ERA and 1.01 WHIP over 144 innings as a relief pitcher in his MLB career. What he did this year as a full time reliever should not have been a surprise to anyone.

OF Randal Grichuk. Randal Grichuk will also be arbitration eligible for the first time and he may be one of the toughest players to value. On one hand, he strikes out a lot, but he has power. Power so impressive that as I wrote earlier this year, only Giancarlo Stanton and Nolan Arenado have hit extra base hits at a greater rate than him since his arrival in the big leagues.

Yes, he doesn’t walk. But for all the talk about how bad his 2017 was supposed to have been, his rate numbers were virtually identical to the 2016 season we praised. That those rate numbers have remained steady makes me think that we now know what Grichuk is. And so I have to ask myself. Am I happy with a guy who, in a 600 plate appearance season, projects to hit .240 with 38 doubles, 6 triples, and 29 home runs? Yes, yes I am.

With the outfield logjam, it’s very possible that Grichuk is traded, but I still firmly believe that that would be a mistake. He’s the kind of guy you put at the back of a lineup and let him loose. Plus defender, plus power. And for a projected $2.8 million next year? A steal.

RHP Michael Wacha. Michael Wacha will be the club’s only second year arbitration eligible player. Last winter Wacha made a little bit of history after the club initiated their new “file and trial” policy where, once arbitration numbers are filed, they intend to take the player to the arbitration hearing. The Cardinals filed at $2.775 million, Wacha filed at $3.2 million, and the Cardinals won. It was the first time the organization had taken a player to arbitration since 1999.

Most important for Wacha this season was to prove that he was able to stay healthy for an entire season. He did that with 30 starts, however is performance left something lacking. His 103 ERA+ demonstrates that he was just slightly above league average. His overall numbers were a 4.13 ERA, 12-9 record, over 165.2 innings.

With the Cardinals’ moves in the rotation, Wacha aims to be leaned on more heavily in 2018. MLB Trade Rumors projects that Wacha will get $5.9 million in arbitration this winter, which I feel is high given his injury history and average performance. I also question Wacha’s place in St. Louis beyond 2019 when he becomes eligible for free agency. With two years of team control remaining coming off a season where he stayed healthy, his trade value may never be higher.

RHP Trevor Rosenthal. Trevor Rosenthal will be eligible for arbitration for the third time this winter, which means he will be a free agent following the 2018 season. Rosenthal made $6.4 million this past season and posted a 3.40 ERA over 47.2 innings before his season was ended by Tommy John surgery in late August. The standard timetable without any setbacks could put him back on the mound in August, the question is whether the Cardinals would want to pay the price to hope for that.

That’s where it gets complicated. By the CBA, players under team control cannot have their salaries drop by more than 80% without entering free agency. For Rosenthal, that means his minimum salary next year is $5.12 million. And even if they could get Rosenthal and his agent Scott Boras to agree to terms at that price, I imagine it is unlikely.

MLB Trade Rumors projects that Rosenthal will command $7.9 million in arbitration and that’s a lot of money to drop on a player for a month or two of pitching. Because of that, I do not expect the club to tender him a contract and make him a free agent.

INF Aledmys Diaz. The last player I’ll talk about isn’t arbitration eligible, but he’s in a weird situation. His initial four year contract ends at the end of the 2017 season, but he does not yet have enough service time to be arbitration eligible. That means that the Cardinals are in position to set his salary for 2018. The same 80% reduction limit applies, so Diaz’s minimum salary for next year would be $2 million unless the team non-tenders him into free agency.

Last year I suggested that the Cardinals would avoid this by buying out an arbitration year or two and include this pre-arbitration season in it, but given what we saw in 2017, things have changed.

Diaz hit .250/.290/.392 with 7 home runs in 79 games with the Cardinals and scored himself a mid-season demotion to the minors after losing his starting job at shortstop to Paul DeJong. Diaz diversified his defensive positions to include third base and second base during his time in the minors, but his future with the team is anything but certain. There is barely a niche for him on the roster now, but if the Cardinals acquire a starting infielder, I expect that there is no place for him on their roster.

For that reason, I expect that the club will either trade him before the deadline or non-tender him this winter. I think he’s shown enough that there will be a team willing to take a chance on him, but I don’t believe it will be the Cardinals.

Column: Cardinals should just let Grichuk run

Randal Grichuk has long been a bit of an enigma for the Cardinals. So much potential, but can he ever reach the point where he makes enough contact that all that scout swooning power becomes worthwhile?

Yesterday, Grichuk hit his 20th home run of the season to give him back-to-back 20 home runs seasons. Perhaps the most impressive part of all this is that he has spent parts of those last two seasons in Triple-A, yet still accomplished the feat.

Despite Grichuk’s struggles that have sent him back to Memphis for midseason tune-ups, he still has been able to maintain his home run rate. Here’s a look at the percentage of his plate appearances that have ended in home runs over his first three seasons as a St. Louis regular.

2015: 4.86% of plate appearances
2016: 5.02%
2017: 4.95%

That’s pretty steady in the grand scheme of things. If you look at all of the baseball players who have had a minimum of 1,200 plate appearances since the beginning of the 2015 season, only 23 players hold a higher home run rate than Randal Grichuk.

Also among players with a minimum of 1,200 plate appearances since the beginning of 2015, Grichuk’s 12.18% extra base hit rate is the fourth highest in baseball. Only David Ortiz, Nolan Arenado, and Giancarlo Stanton have been better at turning plate appearances into extra base hits. And one of those guys is retired.

Imagine if the Cardinals left Grichuk alone in the 8 spot everyday this season. In 2016 the #8 spot in the Cardinals’ lineup had 636 plate appearances. For Grichuk that would translate into 40 doubles, 6 triples, and 31 home runs. Imagine that batting behind a Kolten Wong who is hitting .295/.386/.429 this season.

So imagine 40 doubles, 6 triples, and 31 home runs from a guy who also plays plus defense at all three outfield positions. You have to ask yourself why isn’t he playing more often?

Grichuk’s final numbers will end up within shouting distance of the numbers he put up last season, but will not have played nearly as much.

2016: .240/.289/.460, 5.0% HR rate, 11.7% XBH rate
2017: .235/.285/.474, 5.0% HR rate, 11.6% XBH rate

It’s the dark side of Grichuk. The strikeouts and the lack of walks. But even there, those numbers are in line with last year’s numbers. Identical even.

2016: 29.5% K rate, 5.9% BB rate
2017: 29.5% K rate, 5.9% BB rate

I do think it’s interesting that a guy like Grichuk, who I’ve suggested should bat third in the Cardinals lineup to bet on his power, has struggled to break the lineup while Paul DeJong strikes out just as often and walks less has gotten that job and found success there at least for now. They are essentially the same player, though Grichuk has more power.

If a team were to simply unleash Grichuk and let him play I think we would see him be able to take some development steps. The last two seasons the Cardinals have sent him down to work on his plate discipline and approach. As we can see, nothing has substantially changed when it comes down to the numbers.

In my view, that’s because pitchers in the minors pitch differently than pitchers in the Majors. We talk about it all the time with pitchers who ride one pitch through the minors, but get to the Majors to find that they really need two or three good pitches to continue to be effective. So you just see different pitching in the minors than you do in the Majors.

The Majors is where the polish should be applied and that only comes from exposure, learning, and adjusting. Something Grichuk has already proven he can do.

People call him the Stallion. And it’s time to just let him run.

Cardinals call up Carson Kelly as Grichuk and Duke are activated

The St. Louis Cardinals have called called up catcher Carson Kelly and activated outfielder Randal Grichuk and left handed reliever Zach Duke off the disabled list. To make room for them, the Cardinals optioned right handed reliever Sam Tuivailala to Memphis, outfielder Magneuris Sierra to Springfield, and designated catcher Eric Fryer for assignment.

Kelly, 23, was hitting .283/.375/.459 with 10 home runs in 68 games with Memphis this season after going homerless in 32 games with Memphis last season. Kelly appeared in 10 games last season for the big league Cardinals and hit .153/.214/.231. It seemed that his promotion may be coming when Cardinals’ President of Baseball Operations John Mozeliak indicated that his opportunity was coming.

The former gold glove catcher has been viewed as Yadier Molina‘s heir apparent behind the plate, but just how the two will co-exist on the roster is still yet to be determined. When discussing Kelly, Mozeliak indicated that the two would share time. Fryer, Molina’s backup prior to today, had started 15 of the team’s 95 games behind the plate. That would leave Molina on a pace to start 136, the second most in a season in his career.

How much time they split likely will fall back on how well Molina is playing. He finished off June with a 16 game hitting streak, but so far in July is hitting just .259/.293/.370. Those should be achievable numbers for Kelly.

The Cardinals also recalled Zach Duke who they received in a trade last July from the Chicago White Sox in exchange for Charlie Tilson. Duke pitched well to finish out the year, posting a 1.93 ERA and 1.29 WHIP in 28 appearances, but had to undergo Tommy John surgery after the season. The club held onto him and he returned to the mound earlier this month. He has thrown 9 scoreless innings and allowed just 4 hits and 1 walk in 9 rehab appearances.

Randal Grichuk is also back with the club and will be starting tonight. Grichuk has struggled to find his groove this season, hitting just .215/.270/.408 with 9 home runs in 61 games. After a nearly month-long stint in the minors, Grichuk returned in late June and batted .196/.250/.500 with 5 home runs in 15 games until he was placed on the disabled list after returning to the club after the All Star break.

Going down will be outfielder Magneuris Sierra, much to the disappointment of fans who enjoy his style. Sierra has gotten good results, batting .365/.400/.365 through his 13 career games over now three cups of coffee in the big leagues, however he still lacks the polish necessary. All 19 of his hits have been singles as he will need to develop more gap power to become a player that can be worth playing for his bat and not just his glove. At 21 though, he has time on his side. He will return to Springfield where he is batting .293/.326/.403 this season.

Also down is right handed reliever Sam Tuivailala, which I think is a shame. In 21 innings of work this season, Tuivailala has a 2.14 ERA and 1.14 WHIP. His WHIP ranks third in the bullpen behind John Brebbia (0.77) and Matthew Bowman (1.07). Regardless, Tuivailala could not break into more important innings, going nearly two weeks between his last two outings. Since his last recall, Tuivaila had allowed just 1 earned run over 10 innings of work for a 0.90 ERA and 0.90 WHIP.

And the club may say goodbye to Eric Fryer who has been designated for assignment. Fryer joined the last last season as a catcher for Memphis, but was pushed to the big leagues after injury to Brayan Pena. He would be designated for assignment last summer by the Cardinals as well, being picked up by the Pittsburgh Pirates. His first game with Pittsburgh was against the Cardinals where he went 2-for-4 with 3 RBI and the Twitter hashtag #FryersRemorse was born.

After they released Pena over the winter, the club signed Fryer to serve as Molina’s backup this season. He has started 15 games and appeared in 19 others, batting .155/.277/.197 for the Cardinals.

Martinez back up as Grichuk heads to DL

The St. Louis Cardinals placed outfielder Randal Grichuk on the 10 day disabled list, retroactive to July 10th, for a lower back strain. To take his place, they have recalled outfielder Jose Martinez from Memphis. Martinez had recently been optioned to Memphis on July 7th, but had yet to appear in a game.

Grichuk had been sent to the minors at the end of May to work on his pitch recognition and plate approach before being recalled on June 25th when Dexter Fowler went on the disabled list. Since his return, Grichuk has hit .196/.250/.500 with 5 home runs in 15 games, striking out 33% of the time.

Martinez is batting .280/.321/.464 with 5 home runs in 50 games for the Cardinals this season, including .281/.329/.531 in the last month. At the time of his demotion, it was a little puzzling as he had been one of the Cardinals’ best hitters over the previous 28 days. Due to the All Star breaks, Martinez did not appear in a game for Memphis during his brief time in the minors.

Grichuk will be eligible to come off the disabled list on July 20th.

Column: Diagnosing Randal Grichuk

This has to have been a frustrating season for Randal Grichuk on many levels. He gets demoted last year to work on his swing and then comes up and hits .269/.300/.554 with 16 home runs in 70 games and seems to solidify his hold on center field with fielding metrics that allow you to make the case that he is one of the top-10 center fielders in baseball.

Then you find out two months later that your team has signed Dexter Fowler to play center field and move you to left field. And then late in spring training you hear to this crazy idea to try out Matt Adams in left field and that crazy idea turns into a fairly regular thing to open up the season, at least for a little while.

You run into a snag again in May and slump hard and find out the team’s going to send you to the minors to work on your approach and pitch recognition. All the way down to single-A.

So in the span of about six months you’ve been moved from center field by a player you can make the case is worse defensively, you lost your starting left field job to a career first baseman, and then got busted back down to single-A. Ouch.

Yes, I’m aware that Grichuk was sent there specifically to work with Palm Beach’s hitting coach, but the point remains. Single-A still hurts.

Grichuk returned triumphantly on June 25th, batting cleanup against the Pirates where he went 2-for-5 with a home run in the win. And the next night, he batted second against the Reds and went 2-for-5 again, adding another home run. He batted sixth the next two nights against the Diamondbacks and went 0-for-8. Then was back in the second spot for the series finale where he went 3-for-5 with 5 RBI as the Cardinals romped to a 10-4 victory.

That victory would make the Cardinals 11-0 this season when Grichuk starts and bats in the front half of the lineup (4th or higher). Dating back to last season, the Cardinals are 27-7 when Grichuk starts and bats in the front half of the lineup.

This season, we see a completely different Grichuk in the front half of the lineup. He has hit .291/.314/.563 with 3 home runs in those 11 games in the front half this season and just .198/.266/.346 with 4 home runs in 46 games in the back half of the lineup (5th or lower). That’s a stark difference, even for the small sample size.

Common baseball strategy suggests that you see better pitches when you bat higher in the lineup because you have better hitters around you. The last thing a pitcher wants to do is walk you with a good batter coming to the plate. But if you’re in the back half and the next batter is Greg Garcia or Eric Fryer, there is little fear, so there is no need to go after you with the same directness. They can try to make you chase.

And after about a week of compiling data, I’m about as frustrated as he has to be because I can’t find an obvious reason why Grichuk struggles so much.

Sixty percent of the pitches Randal Grichuk has seen this season have been balls, and 37% of those have been down and away. But when I look at some other players, this does not seem to be a ridiculously high figure. In fact, it’s slightly lower than the percentage of balls that Matt Carpenter sees.

But there doesn’t seem to be an enormous difference over the whole season sample as far as how he much opposing pitchers ask him to chase based on lineup position.

So on to pitch mix. And Grichuk actually sees more breaking pitches when hitting in the front of the lineup versus the back. Not what I expected to find. In the back of the lineup he sees more fourseam fastballs, in the front he sees more sinkers. Those are his biggest differences in pitch mix.

However compared to last year, he is seeing more sliders compared to previous seasons. He saw sliders 20.2% of the time in 2015, 20.4% of the time in 2016 and now 21.8% of the time this season. And based on Fangraphs’ Pitch Type Linear Weights, he’s struggling against the slider worse than ever. And the curveball too.

Maybe now we’re getting somewhere, so this is about where I suggest something as simple as he just needs to stop swinging at balls. But he’s actually swinging at fewer pitches than ever before. His overall swing rate is down from 53.9% last year to a career low 50.4% this year. And last year he swung at 39.7% of pitches out of the zone compared to 37.2% this year.

He’s not even fooled by those sliders down and away we all talk about him being a sucker for. Last year he swung and missed on sliders down and away 31% of the time. This year it’s just 25%.

So all this to say that I don’t know what the answer is. Maybe the Cardinals should just tell him to swing away and bet on his talent. It is what got him here and is what put together incredible stretches the past couple seasons.

With the way he has hit in the front half of the lineup this season and the Cardinals’ lack of reliable bats in those lineup spots, I’d think really hard about slotting him in third and betting on his power to make a difference more often than not. Mainly because, even while I can’t find any evidence of it, I think the lineup protection is doing him some good.

Grichuk is one of many players the Cardinals have that needs to develop his plate approach. And that’s not going to change in a day or a month regardless of whether he’s working with Mark Budaska, George Greer or John Mabry.  Aledmys Diaz is in this same boat right now and I expect Paul DeJong will join him at some point. Behind them, Harrison Bader looks like the same kind of player. Enough talent to tantalize in short spurts, but ultimately lacks a plate approach for sustained success.

When I wrote on Tuesday about how the Cardinals should approach Kolten Wong‘s return, I never mentioned Grichuk and suggested Stephen Piscotty as the team’s fourth outfielder. It was intentional.

If the Cardinals are unwilling to let Grichuk bat where he has demonstrated the ability to be successful, they need to send him to Memphis to complete his development. And not call him back up until he’s proven himself ready.

Five things about the Nationals Series

The Cardinals marked their second straight series victory against a division contending team, which provides some opportunity for excitement. They took the first two against the Nationals before being shut down by Max Scherzer while Carlos Martinez had an off night. But either way there were some pluses to take away from this series.

The Cardinals are now 39-42 and find themselves 2.5 games back in the division at the official halfway mark of the season. They will play seven games against the Marlins and the Mets before the All Star Break and seem to have a good opportunity to enter the break as a .500 ballclub.

Mejia powers Saturday’s victory

Alex Mejia hadn’t had a stellar debut on Thursday night, but he made up for that by providing all the Cardinals’ offense on Saturday. First he drove in Luke Voit with a single to center field. Then with a 1-0 lead and hearing Trevor Rosenthal was due to enter the game in the 9th, he hit a solo shot to open up the 8th inning to give the Cardinals a 2-0 lead.

That run proved necessary as Rosenthal allowed a run, but was able to hold the lead as the Cardinals won.

The case for Grichuk

Including Saturday’s win, the Cardinals are now 11-0 when Randal Grichuk bats 4th or higher in the batting order this season. On the flip side, they are 15-23 when he starts in the back half of the lineup. That seems to even bear out in his hitting statistics.

Batting 4th or higher in the order, Grichuk is hitting .291/.314/.563 with 3 home runs, 11 RBI, and a 27.4% K rate over 11 games.

Batting 5th or lower in the order, Grichuk is hitting .201/.263/.357 with 4 home runs and 17 RBI with a 31.1% K rate over 43 games.

It’s not really new either. Cardinals were 16-7 when Grichuk started and batted 4th or higher last year, 46-42 when he batted 5th or lower.

Maybe we see a different Grichuk when he has the protection of better hitters? It’s something worth considering, I would think.

Pinch hitting Voit

Luke Voit has only started two games, but he’s still made his presence felt on this Cardinals’ squad in the week he’s been here. Since his call up on June 25th, he has made four pinch hitting appearances and gone 3-for-3 with a HBP. In two of those pinch hit appearances he scored runs.

Leake rebounds

Mike Leake threw 8 innings and allowed just a single run as he posted his best start since May 24th. Following that May 24th start, Leake’s ERA this season was 1.91, and in the six starts in between he posted a 5.15 ERA and he posted an 0-4 record in decisions. His season ERA now stands at 2.97 with one more start remaining before the All Star break. One could argue that he was deserving of an All Star nod this season, given his start and where he currently stands even after a rough June.

Molina’s hitting streak ends

Yadier Molina‘s 16 game hitting streak came to an end on Sunday night as he went 0-for-4 in the series finale. Over the course of the 16 games he hit .333/.354/.492. On the season, Molina is still struggling with a .268/.303/.412 batting line.

Five things about the Pirates Series

The Cardinals dropped two out of three against the Pirates, winning on Sunday night to avoid a sweep. However, they still haven’t won a series against anyone except the Phillies in over a month. Thanks to the Brewers doing their part, the Cardinals remain just five games back in the NL Central at 34-40, but are now in fourth place behind the Pirates.

The Cardinals will play a make up game tonight in St. Louis against the Reds before heading out to Arizona for a three game set against the Diamondbacks.

Seeking an energy change

John Mozeliak told the Post Dispatch that he was seeking an energy change on Sunday and with the callups of Randal Grichuk and Luke Voit is hoping to have done that. Grichuk went 2-for-5 on Sunday night with a home run to open up the inning that the Cardinals tied up the game and Voit took seven pitches during a pinch hit appearance before being hit.

Time will tell if that’s what happened, but the Cardinals played one of their most complete games of the season offensively on Sunday. Every player who came to the plate last nigh reached base at least once.

Voit gets historic HBP

As I noted, Luke Voit was hit by a pitch in his first MLB plate appearance. With that he joins Xavier Scruggs, Dmitri Young, Jerry Buchek, and Austin McHenry as the fifth Cardinal to be hit by pitch in their MLB debuts.

But Voit is probably the first Cardinals player to ever be hit by pitch in his first MLB plate appearance.

Only McHenry remains a possibility, but there is not play-by-play data for 1918, so all we know is that he went 0-for-2 with a HBP in his debut.

Cecil back on the horse?

Brett Cecil struggled mightily to open up the season, but in the Pirates series he made two appearances and allowed zero baserunners over the 1.1 innings he pitched. He has now not allowed a run in 15 of his last 16 outings and has a 0.68 WHIP.

Over his last 8 appearances since he allowed four runs to the Reds, Cecil has thrown 8 innings and allowed just three hits and no walks.

His season ERA is down to 4.08 and with another scoreless inning, will drop below four for just the second time all season.

Waino is bueno… at home?

Adam Wainwright started the season opener on Friday night and pitched seven strong innings, allowing two runs on two hits and two walks. In the midst of the worst season of his career there is a statistical oddity. In 8 home starts this season, Wainwright is 5-1 and has a 2.64 ERA. Compared to his performances on the road where he is 2-4 with a 9.48 ERA in 7 starts, that’s a radical difference.

Yadi’s streak continues

Yadier Molina‘s hitting streak was extended to 11 games as he’s battled some nagging injuries and only played in one game of the Pirates series. He extended it in authoritative fashion though, going 3-for-4 with an RBI and scoring all three times he reached base. He is now batting .333/.333/.556 with 3 home runs over his 11 game streak.

Grichuk and Voit up as Cardinals make flurry of moves

The St. Louis Cardinals had an active Sunday afternoon as they recalled outfielder Randal Grichuk and right handed pitcher Mike Mayers, as well as purchased the contract of first baseman Luke Voit from Memphis. The corresponding moves were Chad Huffman being optioned while outfielder Dexter Fowler and left handed pitcher Kevin Siegrist went to the disabled list.

Fowler suffered a quad injury on June 21st against the Phillies during “Star Wars Night” in Philadelphia and there was fear that it might result in him hitting the disabled list. He played in just one game since, but officially he is being placed on the DL for a right heel spur. The loss of Fowler is a blow to a stagnant offense as he has been one of the Cardinals’ hottest hitters over the past two weeks, batting .324/.405/.676 with 4 home runs.

Siegrist has been diagnosed with a cervical spine strain as the reason for his disabled list stint. He has struggled this season, posting a 4.28 ERA and 1.57 WHIP over 27.1 innings, but has had a mostly successful June. His last appearance was on Thursday where he allowed two unearned runs on a walk and a hit in an inning of work.

Huffman returns to the minors more because he happens to have options rather than being performance related. In 12 games for the Cardinals he has hit .286/.333/.429 with a triple, including 3-for-10 as a pinch hitter. He has a 100 OPS+ which is good for league average on a team that doesn’t have a ton of league average bench pieces.

Leading the return is Randal Grichuk, who is in the lineup and batting cleanup tonight. Grichuk was demoted earlier in the month in an effort to get his bat back on track. His homework was to get a better handle on the strike zone, but that doesn’t seem to have happened.

In the first two months of the season in the Majors he had a 29.8% strikeout rate and 6.6% walk rate. During his stint in the minors, he had a 29.9% strikeout rate and 4.5% walk rate. He did mash though, batting .270/.313/.603 with 6 home runs in 14 games with Memphis.

It’s possible that his return to the Majors has more to do with Fowler’s DL trip and needing another outfielder than anything else.

The Cardinals also purchased the contract of Luke Voit who is now set to make his MLB debut. Voit has hit .322/.406/.561 with 23 doubles and 12 home runs this season with Memphis.

The downside for Voit is that, like Matt Adams, he is a first baseman only. So to get him into the lineup on a regular basis means moving Matt Carpenter back across the diamond to third base. That’s something I’m okay with as I think he’s better than most make him out to be, but I wrote a week ago that they should call Voit up.

And finally, Mike Mayers will return to the Majors for a second chance after a disastrous cup of coffee last season. In his debut for the Cardinals, he started the game and didn’t make it through two innings before he had allowed nine runs. He made three relief appearances following that start, but only kept the opponents off the board in one of them.

He has, however, once again pitched well for Memphis, posting a 5-6 record with a 3.74 ERA. Over his last five starts, Mayers has a 0.87 ERA. It’s not entirely clear what role Mayers will have for the Cardinals. He was called up to replace a reliever, but there has been rumblings that the team is considering pulling Michael Wacha from the rotation, at least temporarily. Having Mayers up would give them that option.