I've decided this is the problem: my expectations are artificially high, but I refuse to believe they are. I did all the right things when the Cardinals started trading faberge eggs for veterans—I got overly protective of Chris Perez, of whom, as a reliever taken in the draft, I was not originally overly fond, and then I freaked out for no fewer than three months whenever the topic of trading for Matt Holliday came up. But put them in the lineup—well, it wouldn't be baseball if I couldn't get a little carried away. So when Bud Norris, who is not even a soft-tosser, shows the Brian Moehler hoodoo, it's easy for me to forget entirely the game before that. So a lot of it is just generalized angst, baseball fibromyalgia.
Localized point of concern: Ryan Ludwick. Remember this? In Price is Right parlance, we've all gone over—our lowest Thudwick OPS was .840, which is 57 points too high. Somebody should have gone $1.
In our defense, we weren't the only ones wagering that Ludwick would go all Dow 36,000 on the National League—even ZiPS predicted he'd maintain an OPS of .869, which is itself a hundred points off his banner 2008. You could get pretty pessimistic without assuming that 2009 would be the third-best season of his Cardinals career, but here we are at the end of the regular season and Ludwick's contributed nearly four wins fewer than he did last year. But his defense is better!
He is not the worst offender in this regard, or even the worst offender from the outfield, but his, I think, is the last case we've kept ourselves from getting hopeless about. Not only was he better than Rick Ankiel last year—not only was he not a pitcher five years ago—but he also has managed to be The Ryan Ludwick when he hasn't completely sucked. Three months are solidly above our lowest predictor; three months are significantly below his actual performance. He's been everything, it would seem, but a guy with a .783 OPS. Rick Ankiel, on the other hand... he's pretty much been below our expectations the entire time, until, by sheer force of will, he managed to revise them this far downward.
That said, his recent performance—no extra base hits in two weeks, strikeouts in (arbitrary endpoints alert) 10 of his last 27 at-bats... it's been tough to stomach. But now that Troy Glaus has played for the Cardinals in 2009, Ludwick escapes the Biggest Disaster tag.
But the amazing thing about this team is how well they've adjusted to losing so much from a 2008 club that was already kind of flawed. Forget about the acquisitions, forget, even, about Pujols—we might have been irrationally exuberant about Ryan Ludwick, but who among us was flowery enough about things to guess these guys would replace all of the production from these other guys?
2008 Losers 2009 GainersWAR 09-08 WAR 09-08Glaus -5.3 Carpenter 5.0Ludwick -3.8 Pineiro 4.4Lohse -2.5 Wainwright 3.0Ankiel -1.7 Ryan 2.8Wellemeyer -1.7 Franklin 1.415.0 16.6
These Cardinals could very easily have been crippled by what they lost—to get two wins from your second and third most valuable players the year before is a disaster, an nine game swing. To make matters worse, they basically lose their second and third most effective starting pitchers. I feel a Yogi-ism coming on—
YOGI: You know, for a team that's pretty much the same, these guys are really different.
AL: You know, Yogi, they really are.
Having begun the year by writing player capsules for the Maple Street Annual I've got a weird frame of reference for all this, because again and again I'm struck by how wrong I was. Look down the list of WAR losers; rest assured that I proclaimed each of them vital to the Cardinals' success in 2009. (While we're at it, there is probably at least one VEB post with my name on it for each of Pineiro, Ryan, and Franklin lamenting them as dead weight on a roster full of more exciting players. I'm sorry.)
This isn't the way I'd build a team on a year to year basis, but I'll take it; the Trader Mo blow-out will rightfully be a central point of the 2009 Cardinals Commemorative DVD, but the way they managed to replace all that production from the year before is just as amazing.