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There’s a lot to discuss on this Sunday morning. First of all, somebody please explain this to me. We get swept, at home, by the Royals and then immediately head to Boston and are, conceivably, on the verge of sweeping the Red Sox? WTF? This team is so difficult to figure out.
Secondly, Mitch Boggs wasn’t at all good yesterday but, once again, he managed to survive and is now 2-0. He’s given up 3 HR and has 7 BB and 4 K’s in 16.2 IP. And yesterday’s game was the first in which he’s had more fly ball outs than ground ball outs. Still, aided by an 8 run outburst against Dice-K, he was able to help out our bullpen by getting through 5 innings. This shows the value of assessing pitchers based on wins and losses, as the team is averaging almost 8 runs of offense every time Boggs takes the field. Nevertheless, it counts as a W. BTW, though it probably didn’t make a lot of difference, McClellan was fantastic yesterday – a good sign just a couple of days after giving up 2 late bombs against the Royals.
Though Boggs stay in the Cardinal rotation probably won’t last much longer, I do think that Boggs may have a future among the starting 5. He needs more time at AAA, and his ceiling is probably that of a 4th or 5th starter. Still, if he can turn into a guy who gets ground balls, he can probably give the Cards some value as a cheap starter who provides a league-average or so ERA for a few years. He can probably be as good as Braden Looper and the ability of a team to pay its 4th or 5th starter $1 M or less (as opposed to Looper’s $5.5) is underappreciated. He’s certainly been better than Parisi (though that doesn’t say a whole lot) and, after getting some more work at Memphis, can probably return next year and provide the team a good deal of value for the next few years.
More good news – it appears as though Wellemeyer is on the verge of returning to the rotation. He threw 40 pitches yesterday and was able to spin the slider solidly out of his hand w/ no pain – a great sign. He appears to be on track for a start Thursday against the Tigers. The same article suggests that Mark Mulder (yippee!) could be nearing a return to the rotation as well. I have no idea what to make of this. I’ve been extremely bearish on Mulder’s return but the recent reports that Mulder was hitting 90 and 91 on the gun, throwing strikes, and getting ground balls w/ his new delivery was reason for optimism. Then he was bombed in his last start for the Redbirds and I thought, "here we go again." I realize that Boggs needs more time at AAA but does anyone really have high expectations that Mulder’s going to be a significant improvement over good ‘ol Mitch? Not me. I sure hope to be wrong, though.
It also appears that some guy named Pujols is on the verge of returning to the lineup . Does anybody know anything about this guy? I was ecstatic upon reading this though I have to admit that the fact that Pujols is returning so quickly scares me a little. Let’s be sure you’re healthy, Albert. Still, he managed to get by in 2003 (I think it was ’03) when he played LF and practically had to roll every ball hit his way back to Renteria. In ’06, he returned from injury much more quickly than anyone anticipated and did just fine. I wonder if he’s pushing his luck but it’s difficult to argue w/ success. He’s a bad mamma-jamma and, unquestionably, would be a big boost to the offense.
The news isn’t so good for Yadi (as the previous link indicates). According to the article, Molina suffered "a regression in his performance on the imPACT concussion screening exam." In other words, he’s still suffering from the effects of last Sunday’s concussion. It may end up being no big deal, as Molina said that he didn’t feel any worse yesterday than he did Friday (when he homered as a DH). Still, we’re talking about a concussion which, as silentbob (our resident injury specialist) told us Tuesday is really a "brain contusion." It’s a brain injury which means that even minor setbacks shouldn’t be dismissed casually.
Was it 2006 when Jim Edmonds suffered from the effects of a concussion that stayed with him for a good chunk of the season? He banged up against the CF wall chasing a ball and the effects of that concussion lingered for the entire season. Of course, we know that a concussion ended Mike Matheny’s career. Now, I’m not at all suggesting that Yadi’s injury could be career-threatening. I am suggesting, however, that the effects could last for a while and, forgive me for saying this, but the man’s health is much more important than his baseball career or the team’s success this year. Personally, I want Yadi to get better, whether that means he’s back in the lineup today, heads to the DL, or is out for a month or more. It’s a brain injury and team doctors need to be certain that he’s better before having him strap on that gear and get beaten up 5 games per week.
Now, how do we know that there’s a new Cardinal injury? If it’s a day that ends in "y", we know someone else must be injured. Our newest injury belongs to…(drum roll, please)…Cesar Izturis, come on down! You’re the next contestant on "The Bandage Fits Right!" Nick Stavinoha will be the latest Cardinal to sport the number of an offensive guard on the diamond. I’ve been aware of Nick since he was on the baseball team for 1 year here at the University of Houston while also being (I think) the deep snapper for the football team. (Maybe the number will be perfect for him!) He left U of H, played a year at a JUCO (I think San Jacinto – also here in the Houston area) and played 2 years at LSU. He’s got some power and a .375 OBP for Memphis this year. The article says he might be in line to play some 1B, as his numbers have always been pretty good vs. lefties, but he’s played a grand total of 7 games at 1B in the minors – none since 2005. With Jon Lester on the mound today, I think there’s a pretty good chance that Stavinoha will be in today’s starting lineup. If so, he’ll be the 9th Cardinal to make his major-league debut so far this season – and we’re not even at the freaking All-Star break yet. So many rookies isn’t totally unheard of, but it just doesn’t happen on teams with the 2nd best record in the league.
Finally, the prospect of Stavinoha playing 1B today leads us to the inevitable discussion of one Christopher Edward Duncan. Since he arrived in the big leagues, I’ve liked what I’ve seen from Duncan and have been a big defender of his in threads throughout the season. His career numbers include a .350 OBP (he walks), a .490 SLG (he hits homers), and an OPS+ of 116. These are, at least, solid numbers from a guy who earns less than half a million dollars per season. Last year, he struggled in the 2nd half and it was widely attributed to a hamstring injury he incurred (I believe) chasing down a fly ball last July.
However, I’ve heard nothing (correct me if I’m wrong) that his struggles this year are at least partially the result of lingering effects of this injury. To be blunt, since the All-Star break last season, he has stunk. Since last year’s All-Star break, he’s had 346 PA’s. He missed some time b/c of the injury but I think we all know that some of the time he’s missed is the result of ineffectiveness. Does anyone want to see him at 1B today against a good, young lefty?
In those 346 PA’s, he has 66 hits – that’s a .220 batting average. Now, I’ll be the first to tell you that there’s too much emphasis on batting average, to the exclusion of on-base percentage, but .220 is bad…period. He’s walked 44 times over those 346 PA’s – a .318 OBP. Just for perspective, Izturis’ OBP this season is .315. He’s reached Izturis-levels of offensive ineptitude. In those 346 PA’s, he has 12 2B’s and 9 HR’s. 21 extra-base hits in the Cardinals’ last 152 games! Oh yeah, and he’s struck out 93 times in those 346 PA’s. The bottom line, of course, is that he’s been downright awful.
So what’s the deal? First of all, he’s become A LOT less patient at the plate. This should be unsurprising considering the drop in his OBP. In 2006, he saw 4.09 P/PA. Last year, even considering his 2nd half struggles, he saw 4.15 P/PA. This year, he’s seeing 3.64 P/PA. He’s seeing half a pitch less every time he steps to the plate. He used to be a very patient hitter. Now he’s Rick Ankiel (in terms of patience). Now, Ankiel’s come a long way in terms of his patience at the plate, but he’ll never be confused w/ Kevin Youkilis or Adam Dunn.
In looking over his numbers at fangraphs, none of them really stand out. I expected to discover that he was swinging at an inordinately high % of pitches outside the strike zone, but that’s not the case at all. For the season, he’s only swung at 15.87% of the pitches he’s seen outside the strike zone. That’s actually 2.5% less than Pujols has swung at in the same situation so it doesn’t seem to be a concern. In looking at his batted ball statistics, his line drive % is ok (22.6% -- higher than his career average), his ground ball % is about the same as his career average, and his fly ball percentage is right around career average as well. There are 2 things, however, that stand out. The first is that his HR/FB rate is inordinately LOW. The reason for that is the other thing that stands out – his infield fly ball percentage is 22.2 % -- almost 3 times higher than his career average entering the season. Only 2 NL batters who qualify have a higher IFFB%. He’s popping up the ball, seemingly, all the time.
This tells us, of course, that he’s not centering the ball. Why? I don’t know. It could be b/c he’s impatient and out on his front foot all the time. It could be that, even though he’s swinging largely at strikes, he’s swinging at a lot of pitcher’s pitches. Maybe he’s not seeing the ball well. Maybe he’s doing something funky with his swing. I don’t know but there’s little doubt right now that his offense is hurting the team.
One thing I do know is that, in order to fix his approach at the plate, Duncan needs to play. Earlier in the week, I was a pretty staunch advocate for keeping him with the team, rather than sending him to Memphis, with the belief that he’ll be playing (most) every day w/ the big club and he’ll get more out of hitting big-league pitching than AAA pitching. Plus, I didn’t really see Stavinoha or anyone else doing much better than he’s doing right now.
However, if Pujols is indeed due back sometime this week, it may be time to reconsider Duncan’s status on the roster. I find it hard to believe that Mo and Tony (or Tony and Mo?) will keep Stavinoha when Pujols returns and send Duncan down but, with Pujols returning, it’ll be difficult to justify Duncan playing every day. He’s nowhere near being better than Skip, Ludwick, or Ankiel in the OF. Now, the team will be using a DH Thursday through Sunday so he could play every day for 4 days at the end of the week but, after that, I don’t see him getting a lot of PA’s w/ the big club unless he starts hitting a lot better very quickly. It wouldn’t surprise me to see him once again sent down at the end of next week. It’s time for Duncan to get back on track if he’s going to be a legitimate major-league hitter.
Cards go for the sweep today. We’re 1-4 this year when going for the sweep of a 3-game series, winning only at the end of the season’s first week against the Nationals. It’ll be Pineiro against Lester.
I'll have a game thread up around 12:15. Go get 'em, boys!