A Monday Morning Potpourri

ST. LOUIS - JULY 20: Relief pitcher Fernando Salas #59 of the St. Louis Cardinals throws against the Philadelphia Phillies at Busch Stadium on July 20 2010 in St. Louis Missouri. The Cardinals beat the Phillies 7-1. (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)

As Opening Day nears and the weather north of the Spring Training sites begins to warm into that of the baseball season, the roster situation is coming more and more into focus. I have a notebook in which I jot down ideas for main posts. Sometimes the inspiration is a tweet. Other times, it is an article on stlcardinals.com or a post on another blog. Some of these ideas do not have enough meat to them to fill a full main post, but I think that they merit some consideration and discussion. Today I thought we might delve into a few of these topics.

K-MAC FEVER II:  THE RELAPSE

Fungoes had a nice post on Kyle McClellan, titled "Taking a Realistic View of McClellan's Spring Performance," which does a good job of cautioning folks regarding McClellan's sterling Spring performance. The post also compares McClellan to other Cardinal pitchers that have shifting between the bullpen and the starting rotation, noting that McClellan's 3.23 reliever ERA compares favorably to his predecessors. Perhaps due to my bout of K-Mac Fever, I had completely forgot about a tweet from Matthew Berry (a/k/a The Talented Mr. Roto) regarding the Cardinal reliever. Rather, it is a retweet by Jason Collett passed along by Berry and here it is:

Good stat. RT @jasoncollette: Since 1950, 45 diff RP (min 50 IP) have stranded 90%+ runners in 1 yr. o repeated. Beware Benoit & McClellan

You see, McClellan's career ERA is so low partly on the strength of his 2.23 ERA in 2010. Last season, as the tweet from Collette points out, K-Mac had a LOB% of 89.6--far above his career rate of 78.2% and the league average of 72%.* While McClellan's xFIP** fell by about 0.50 from 4.42 in 2009 to 3.92 in 2010, the BABIP for opposing batsmen plummeted from .264 to .231, which corresponds with a drop in LD% from 19.4% to 13.5% and an uptick in his strikeout rate. Even though McClellan was quite good last season, he was due for a bit of an evening out, it would seemHow this evening out will play out as K-Mac shifts from the 'pen to the rotation remains to be seen, but LOB% is certainly another number to keep in mind.

*For comparison's sake, Adam Wainwright had a LOB% of 79.1%, a BABIP of .275, and an xFIP of 3.14. Wainwright was by far a better pitcher, yet he had a lower LOB% and a higher BABIP.

** Writing for The Hardball Times, Dave Studeman found that better pitchers leave more runners on base and suggests that there is a correlation between a lower xFIP and a higher LOB%.

With McClellan stifling the vaunted Boston Red Sox lineup yesterday, he seems a sure bet to be the no. 5 starter, but even as he continues to impress in Florida, our expectations should be grounded in the challenge he faces moving from the bullpen to the rotation and the fact that, even if he remains in the bullpen, his 2011 likely will not be as effective as his 2010.

 

SPRING TRAINING PLATE APPEARANCES & THE BENCH

On Friday night, I tweeted some musings regarding the number of plate appearances the Cardinal players competing for bench spots are receiving during Spring Training. Apparently while also defending his wearing of skinny ties, mysterui and I engaged in a fun series of tweets regarding my musings. Through Sunday's exhibition, here are the PA leaders for the St. Louis Cardinals:

1)  Jon Jay, 66 PA

2) Allen Craig, 59 PA

3) Matt Carpenter, 56 PA

4) Colby Rasmus, 53 PA

5) Mark Hamilton, 50 PA

6) Ryan Theriot, 50 PA

7) Albert Pujols, 48 PA

8) Tyler Greene, 46 PA

9) Matt Holliday, 46 PA

10) Daniel Descalso, 44 PA

Despite Gerald Laird's hamstring issue, we know he is on the bench, leaving four bench spots to fill. If we go by PA, the top non-starters would be:  Jay, Craig, Carpenter, and Hamilton. As mysterui so eloquently noted, Hamilton possesses an "inability to do anything but hit and stand at first base," which would disqualify him from a bench spot. Hamilton being a first baseman also explains his high PA total as he is often called upon to spell the best player in baseball. So, Hamilton will not be on the bench come Opening Day.

Removing Hamilton, the top bench contenders by PA total are: Jay, Craig, Carpenter, and Greene (who is "gaining comfort level in the outfield"). This would leave Descalso out, which I do not see happening. As tom s noted yesterday, Descalso is a more versatile player than Carpenter, has been in St. Louis before, and is on the 40-man roster, which I believe nudges him onto the Opening Day 25-man roster. That being said, we should make no mistake. The competition for the last bench spot pits Dan Descalso against Matt Carpenter.

In a Mothership piece from Friday, La Russa walked the line between Carpenter and Descalso, praising both players. The glowing write-up in the Post-Dispatch demonstrates that Carpenter has found his way into La Russa's good graces, and the veteran manager indicates that this phase of Spring Training offers a different type of challenge to the reigning Minor League Player of the Year. La Russa said of Descalso that he could fill a bench role for the big-league club this season and expanded:

"He's one of those guys in the competition," La Russa said. "He's got a chance to make our club. He did a really good job last year. He's very competitive, which we like a lot."


WAINWRIGHT RIPPLE EFFECT:  REPLACING MCCLELLAN IN THE BULLPEN

In that same Mothership piece, La Russa gives some substantive praise to Fernando Salas:

"Experience is a great equalizer, and I think he's definitely feeling more like he's a big leaguer," La Russa said. "He's pitcher very well this spring. Last year, we put him in some very critical situations. He was up and down a lot, but he was a guy that we kept calling on -- and we were in a pennant race, so he knows that he is highly regarded."

In 2011, Salas had a Leverage Index of .516, lowest of the bullpen. Mitchell Boggs was second-lowest with a .772 Leverage Index, which shows just how low Salas's Leverage Index was. Even so, La Russa did use Salas in more pivotal situations later in the 2010 season. Salas had 5 appearances with a Leveral Index of 0.94 or higher; all but one occurred after August 10. It will be interesting to see how La Russa shuffles the bullpen roles with McClellan moving to the rotation. Presumably Motte will become to go-to setup man with Boggs perhaps also making late-inning appearances, leaving the lower leverage situations to Salas and the aged Miguel Batista. For me, the real question with Salas is whether he can reduce his 4.40 BB/9 as a Cardinal in 2010 to something closer to the 2.27 BB/9 he posted as a Redbird in 2010. If he can, his 4.32 FIP will fall, making him another potent bullpen arm for La Russa to wield in his bullpen machinations.

 

A BRITTLE BERKMAN?

Some of you may be too young to remember the constant hand-wringing over Larry Walker's health during the 2005 season. To those folks, I tell you that you are fortunate. As with other tweets during the weekend from him, one from Alxfritz gave me a "Back to the Future" vibe regarding an aging right fielder:

Oh good. Berkman is hurt. #stlcards #90daysDL #MadeOfGlass

This is the problem with Twitter, of course. Nothing from Matthew Leach. Not a tweet from Goold, either. Nonetheless, my mind raced with imaginative worst-case scenarios. Then, I read the headline on stlcardinals.com that Berkman would not make the trip to play Boston. The writeup made me feel better for a bit:

On a ground ball in the sixth inning Saturday, Berkman pulled up on his way to first base. He walked off the field somewhat gingerly but was already moving better in the clubhouse after the game. On Sunday, he participated in a normal workout, including batting practice.

"[It's] nothing, really," Berkman said Sunday. "I just kind of rolled my ankle a little bit coming out of the box. No big deal. [I'll] play tomorrow."

It's Spring Training. Clubs are overly cautious. I get that. Nonetheless, I can't help but get a sneaking suspicion that we may be in for a season's worth of worry every time Berkman dives or slides for a fly ball or slides into a base. Sure, we have a nice two-headed insurance policy in Jon Jay and Allen Craig, but the Cardinals paid $8.5 million to Berkman to be the offensive player he was two years ago. To get their money's worth, Berkman has to be able to dig into the batter's box several hundred times. I am becoming less and less optimistic that this will happen.

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