CHICAGO, IL - APRIL 23: Starting pitcher Jaime Garcia #54 of the St. Louis Cardinals has the misfortune of appearing in the weirdest-angled pitcher photo I've ever seen.
I was looking forward to writing about yesterday's Cardinals game a little more before Jason Motte walked Bryan LaHair—for which I can hardly blame him, given the at-bat—and Geovany Soto, who I guess qualified as the four-pitch hangover. I have nothing but good things to say about Joe Mather, who looks more like a baseball player than anybody on earth and served more-than-capably as Brendan Ryan's straight man on FSN, but my rooting for former Cardinals is WPA-constrained a little before .754.
Of course the Cardinals almost-lost this game well before they actually lost it, and that's one of the weird things about WPA—Mather's at-bat was clearly the most important single part of the game, but at any point the Cardinals could have disarmed him by hitting a little better than .185 and managing a little more than one double. If most of April has involved the Cardinals seeming monolithically great—always a great, unexpected start, always a deep offense—Monday's game made much of that more complicated. Fake bullet points:
Jaime Garcia's apparent struggles with pitch count—the Al Hrabosky Hypothesis—were a non-factor here; he averaged 11 pitches per inning, and three pitches flat per batter. What's always been strange about that characterization of Garcia, and the shape of his occasional struggles, is that his skill-set seems designed to minimize pitch count and effort.
All those skills showed themselves Monday; he got 17 ground balls, induced two double plays, and allowed just one walk. I can't help but think that if Garcia continues to have Major League success, all the ways people worried about him in 2011 are going to necessarily seem confusing. "Wait," your grandchildren will ask you, over the holophone, "you were worried about his pitch counts? The guy with the sinker and the sub-three walk rate?" (Then they will chastise you for not understanding space-wins above replacement, and you will tell them that their quantum computers are killing baseball. It is the way of things.)
Matt Holliday getting on base twice was similarly comforting. Since his batting average on balls in play remains a good hundred points below his career average I'm not about to be worried about his future prospects, but I think it's worth talking about how well the Cardinals have managed in the midst of their star hitter's worst slump in some time.
The last time Holliday had an OPS under .700 over a calendar month was April of 2009—when the Cardinals were two months away from getting a great deal on him, as a result. He's 32 now, and suffered from nagging injuries all last season, but Oakland had much more to worry about during their own Holliday slump-watch; for one thing, coming out of Colorado with a reputation as the last of the Planet Coors hitters, he managed all of one home run in his first 75 at-bats. (His BAbip was a healthier, but still anemic, .274.)
Holliday's power remained mostly out for the rest of his Oakland tenure—he ended it hitting .286/.378/.454—but by then there wasn't much to worry about.
Matt Carpenter finally went 0-2 with two walks, and I'm just saying that I wouldn't complain if that line were called a Mattcarp from now on. Since his big day he's 2-19; that's still good for a .268/.333/.488 line so far, but this is why I'm reluctant to declare someone immune to the whims of projection systems every time Spring Training offers a mechanics/eyesight/weight-training reason for him to outperform them.
(Speaking of which—I finally got my copy of Baseball Prospectus last week, and I was amazed to note that half the player cards seemed to give this same reasoning: "PECOTA doesn't think X is for real, but X just bought some really great glasses, so forget about it—expect more of the same." I'm enjoying it, as always, but I was stunned to see how frequently the cards read like a home-team announcer suggesting Baseball Prospectus get out of the basement and watch a game. Okay, now you can run all those Moneyball Is Dead stories.)