clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Corrections, Retractions, and Clarifications

What an awful game last night. The offense just absolutely couldn't get anything going against Maddux, and Joel just couldn't quite hold the Padres' offense down. Of course, I suppose you just have to expect that sometimes when you're facing a Hall of Famer; comes with the territory. Still, it was frustrating to watch, especially when they failed to push across a single tally against Trevor Hoffman, who's been all too hittable this year, yet managed to set the Cards down in order. Personally, I felt bad that Maddux wasn't able to get the win. If you're going to lose the game, at least you would like to see the win go to a guy like that.

I really hope that this little cold streak of Brian Barton's doesn't land him back on the bench. I happen to be of the belief that his limited, (and all too sporadic) playing time is probably the single biggest factor in his recent struggles. Early in the year, Tony made sure that CrabMan was receiving at least fairly regular playing time, aided by the fact that the Cardinals saw quite a few lefthanded pitchers the first month. Unfortunately, though, (at least for Barton) the other outfielders have all played well enough so as to make it extremely difficult to justify sitting them down, leading to a severe downturn in the number of chances Barton has had to get in the game. The one real exception has been Duncan, who hasn't been great, but he's been adequate and, really, profiles so differently from everyone's favourite rocket scientist that it's hard to really just directly substitute one for the other. Barton right now just looks badly out of whack, not really at game speed. He looks tentative as well; he's well aware he's struggling, and isn't playing with any confidence and conviction at the moment. The only solution, in my opinion, is to let him play through it, and get back on track. Unfortunately, what will probably happen is he'll get stuck back on the bench, get three at bats in the next week and a half, and continue to struggle, thus justifying his limited playing time. La Russa is one of the best managers in baseball when it comes to getting his players in the game to keep them sharp. I think he needs to try and keep CrabMan on the field a little more regularly going forward.

But I'm not here to talk about last night's game. I'm here for something a little different.

Last Wednesday, I posted my first quarter report card for the Cardinals. The piece received nearly 300 comments, generated a ton of debate, and prompted me to think to myself, "hey, maybe I should just grade things. I wouldn't have to think of nearly as many ideas for stuff to write about, and everybody seems to have an opinion! It's all so simple!"

Of course, I'm sure that eventually, and probably sooner rather than later, you would all get tired of reading endless grades and show up at my house with pliers to damage my hands and prevent me from typing anymore. Well, ha! You can't break my hands! I don't even have hands! You know how everyone thinks that Azruavatar may be a big computer? Well, the joke's on you, folks. I'm actually the computerized one. I just happen to be an effete English computer, so it's much harder to tell. So there.

Anyway, I was reading through the discussion of my report last week, and there was a ton of great points, and then great counterpoints, and so on. And as I read, I started really considering my positions, and in some cases reconsidering them. So, I thought I would respond to some points other people made, and try to clarify some of my own.

First off, the point was raised that my grading perhaps wasn't based on proper methodology. I stated myself in the section on the starting pitching that I don't like to give out A's this early in the season. Someone quite astutely pointed out that, since the grade was based on just the first quarter of the season, there was really no reason to say I don't give out A's this early, since the grade shouldn't have anything to do with the rest of the year. And you know what? That's absolutely correct. I wasn't really applying a proper standard to my grades. Thus, I'm upgrading the mark for the Cardinal starting rotation from a B+ to an A-. The starters have given us far more than we could have expected so far, and have been by far the biggest reason why the Cards find themselves in a position of real contention. There have been a few bumps in the road, particularly by Pineiro and, lately, Lohse, so I'm not giving a straight A. So, an A- for the starters.

Someone also took exception to my grading of the catchers. I said they hadn't really contributed anything; so I gave them a C. The poster contended otherwise. Again, I think I was probably wrong.

A large part of that grade was probably based on my personal bias anyway. I happen to be one of those people who believe that catcher defense may be the single most overrated aspect of the game of baseball. I don't mean to imply that it doesn't matter at all, because it does. But I feel that the law of Diminishing Returns kicks in with a vengeance as you go up the ladder of catcher defense. An horrific catcher can, in fact, hurt you. A lot. But as you progress upwards, the difference between catchers becomes almost nil in a hurry. An average defensive catcher, in my mind, offers nearly the same benefits as a truly elite defensive catcher. I simply don't believe the running game is a nearly important enough part of the game to make a huge difference in the outcome, and I think the whole idea of a catcher 'handling' a pitching staff is largely a myth. The game plan is worked out well ahead of time, and ultimately, the pitcher has to throw what he's comfortable with. Again, a truly bad catcher who can't work with pitchers will hurt your team in a significant way; we all remember watching Einar Diaz struggle to get on the same page as his pitchers, right? But the difference between even an average guy behind the plate and the absolute elite guys is very, very small. Give me a catcher who can hit.

All that being said, Yadier does absolutely contribute outs with his arm. Trust me, I enjoy watching him gun down runners as much as the next guy; I just don't think it's quite the trump card some others do. Yadi has also hit quite well this year, by his standards. And I don't say that to denigrate him, it's just a fact. Yadi is a serviceable hitter but not a great one. By those standards, he's been very good this year.

Bottom line, I probably sold Yadi short. I panned his contributions based largely on what I would like to see from a catcher, rather than what he has actually brought to the table. I'm revising the grade upward here a full letter grade to a B.

When I spoke of the outfield, I referred to Skip Schumaker as the best surprise so far. Several people took me to task for it, claiming Ludwick should have been mentioned. Please let me clarify.

The thing is, I really like Ludwick. I do. I thought last year that he looked like he could start for the Cardinals regularly. I thought, with regular playing time, he could probably be a serviceable player. Now, of course, I never thought he would be anything like this, but it still remains to be seen how long he can keep up such a pace. He's bound to come down. Still, though, if he can avoid huge dropoffs in his power numbers, he'll still be an incredibly valuable piece.

Skip, on the other hand, I didn't see as a Major League player coming into the season. I thought he was, at best, a 5th outfielder, a guy miscast by getting so many at bats. In other words, I saw him as the Aaron Miles of the outfield.

Schumaker, though, improved his plate discipline. He improved his ability to drive the ball. In other words, he turned himself into a pretty decent Major League hitter. He's not a world beater, but I think he can be serviceable as at least a platoon player with plus defense. I didn't think he would ever end up being that good. That's why I called him the surprise so far. Ludwick has been the best outfielder, even before his recent insane binge. But I saw real talent in Ludwick. I saw serious bat speed, if nothing else. I didn't see Skip's improvement coming; it took me completely unawares. That's why he's the biggest surprise to me.

I stand by my grades of the middle infield and bullpen. Both have done their very best to mediocrify the team so far. Izturis has played nice defense, but he still sucks with the stick. The bullpen, best not to mention. Maybe the halfway grade will be better now that Chris "The Terrible" Perez is up with the big club.

Lastly, I said in my original post that I wasn't a fan of Dave Duncan. I was referring to my previously published statements, and I thought it was a fairly innocuous comment, considering I was just referring to a long held position of mine. Several people called me on it, questioning my credibility and asking just what my problem with Duncan could possibly be. Even Houstoncardinal, though he didn't disagree with me, said he wished I had backed up my comments with some reasoning. So, I thought I would do so now.

As I said before, I'm not a big fan of Dave Duncan, and there a few reasons why. First off, both he and La Russa seem to me to be overly hidebound, rigid, and dogmatic in their approaches. The real difference I've seen in Tony is that, at least in certain cases, he's been able to rise above himself and do what's best for the team, even when it goes against his own personal patterns. I don't really see Duncan doing much of the same. As Lboros pointed out in last week's comments, Duncan's staffs pretty much always rank near the top of the league in GO/AO ratio, and near the bottom of the league in K rate. Duncan has really only one blueprint for success, and anyone who struggles to adapt to his way is labeled as being hard to work with.

Second, I think Duncan's ability to spot talent is vastly overrated. Duncan tends to get tons of credit for all the reclamation projects he's successfully executed, but the guys he couldn't do anything with are largely forgotten. There have been plenty of successes, with guys like Woody Wiliams and, now, Todd Wellemeyer flourishing under Duncan's tutelage. But what about Dustin Hermanson, who Duncan never could get much out of, but who was very successful pitching for Chicago out of the bullpen, until his back began to hurt his career? Jason Marquis had one great year here and then two awful ones. Why does Duncan get all the credit for the good year, but no blame for not being able to get through to Jason the other two years? Or what about a guy like Jose Rijo in Oakland? He struggled to adapt to the philosophy there, but really took off after he left. We praise Duncan for helping out certain guys, and just ignore all the failures. Kip Wells was Duncan's dream pitcher; Duncan personally appealed to the front office to bring Wells in. We all saw Kip Wells pitch last year, right? Why couldn't Duncan work with the Kipper, since it was supposedly such a perfect fit?

Then, of course, all the pitchers who failed to excel under Duncan are branded as knuckleheads, as stubborn, as problem children. But for every Todd Wellemeyer that blossoms under Duncan, there's a Brett Tomko, whom the man just couldn't figure out. Why does Duncan get all the credit for the pitchers who have success, but the failures are all on the player alone?

Third, and most importantly, I think Duncan is a tinkerer, to a fault. There are some people who like to take things apart. My brother is one of them. When he ran away from home, at 16, he ended up buying an old Ford LTD for $200. He tore the engine apart, rebuilt it, and ended up driving the thing around for a year, until it was impounded later. (long story) Some people are great at that sort of thing. You give them an old rust bucket, they can break it down, put it back together, and end up salvaging some real value out of something that everyone else thought was just junk.

But what happens when you give one of these people a brand new Corvette? Right out of the showroom, the odometer sitting at 35 miles. Beautiful car. All you have to do is put the keys in the ignition and drive it away. Just do the standard maintenance.

But here's where Duncan can't seem to help himself. He still wants to tear it apart, despite the fact that it works just fine as it it.

Anthony Reyes is, of course, the poster boy for this situation, but I think Rick Ankiel is just as good of an example, even if very few of us remember why. Reyes's struggles are well documented on this site, with myself, and others, believing that the adjustments he tried to make, in order to fit in with a style that he simply couldn't execute, is the largest reason why he's fallen so far. But Ankiel, what about him?

When Rick Ankiel came to the big leagues, he seemed almost too good to be true. He had the power stuff, he had the breaking ball, and he had that aura of invincibility, that he would never be beaten. He should have been every pitching coaches' dream. Just give him the game plan, take a trip out to the mound to calm him down every once in a while, and mostly just stay the hell out of the way. But Duncan couldn't do that. It's been largely forgotten, with the way the story ended up going, but there was a lot of talk during Rick's rookie season about changing his mechanics. He threw slightly across his body, which, by the way, isn't at all unusual for a lefty. It wasn't seen as an injury concern, because it wasn't extreme enough that anyone really thought it would cause problems. But nonetheless, Duncan worked on altering Rick's delivery, getting him to open up earlier, getting him on more of a straight line to the plate. They worked on teaching him a sinker too. Is that a problem? Not necessarily, but I question the wisdom of trying to teach a 20 year old kid a new pitch during his rookie season, during a pennant race, while also messing with his mechanics.

Of course, we all saw how if played out. And when it came right down to it, we all said it would have happened no matter what; the kid was obviously a headcase. But I wonder if that's really true? I wonder if things would have happened the same way if, when Ankiel was standing on that mound in October of 2000, trying desperately to find some way to get back on track, he hadn't been struggling with a new delivery that he'd only been using for about three months? Matheny wasn't there to help him, true, but should Rick have been out there doing something different than he had his whole life anyway? I just question the wisdom of trying to make alterations to a kid's game in the middle of the season, in a pennant race, when the player in question is already trying to adjust to life on the road, the major league schedule, and, in Ankiel's case, a family life that was just collapsing around him. Perhaps it would have happened either way. Perhaps he is just a head case. But I wonder, if he had had the touchstone of the same delivery he had used for most of his life, would Rick have been able to get it together, to just let his body take over?

If his delivery had really been that much of a concern, it should have been addressed long before he ever got to that mound in October. The minor leagues are there for a reason. They're there for developing players, for moulding players. The major league level is nowhere to be trying to change a player's approach. The guys up here are too good. If you're not 100% prepared, they'll tear you apart. In my mind, Ankiel should never have been placed in that situation, trying to deal with a new delivery and a new pitch on top of all the pressure that anyone would feel starting game one of a playoff series. Those things should have all been worked on in the minors, or the winter, or Spring Training, or not at all. A pennant race is no place to make changes.

All right. With all of the above changes, my overall grade for the team slides up to a solid B, from a B-. I encourage all of you to continue eviscerating me further. I do so enjoy the debates.

By the way, everyone, I do sincerely apologise for the ridiculously late post. My real life, (read: work) is interfering with my writing at the moment. It shouldn't be this way going forward, but I may have to rearrange my schedule a bit for the moment. It's only temporary anyway, but still a pain in the ass. Again, I do apologise to everyone.

Farewell, friends.