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Twist Beginnings

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Programming notes:

  • VEP is on the seven day DL, retroactive to last Sunday, with a massive hard drive failure. My apologies to anyone who expected PitchF/X in this space.
  • Yesterday Your Host put down 2500 words on the subject of the 2010 St. Louis Cardinals for this year's set of SBNation season previews. It's written for a somewhat broader audience than you get on this site, but I didn't spare them the doggerel. So there's that. 
  • While I'm shilling for the good of the network, the long-awaited VEB Sell-Out League draft (brought to you by CBSSports.com) will begin tomorrow at noon, Cardinals Daylight Time. We'll be simulcasting—this is a convergence term, to prove that my two semesters at the Mizzou J-School did not go to waste—in a fanpost set up specifically for draft strategy nits to be picked.
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The regular season is now close enough that we can complain about the way the season seems to always begin at some indeterminate point further into April than we remember it beginning. They've been playing baseball in Japan for a week now! (Which is the benefit of playing most games inside enormous astroturfed domes, eighties style.)

As close as it seems, we still have until April 5 to see baseball that is meaningful enough for it to not be enjoyable. And that is just enough time for us to be completely wrong about the way the season will play out. Here's some astute DanUpBaby analysis from March 24, 2009, on the occasion of the Cardinals completing the Khalil Greene trade—

I would say Luke Gregerson—a strikeout an inning as a 24-year-old in AA—was a best-case scenario, since some worried Cardinals fans were as far afield as Jason Motte and Jon Jay re: the PTBNL. Gregerson might make a good middle reliever, but the Cardinals had a glut and they traded from it. Now that we know Player Who Was Named Earlier I think it's fair, finally, to declare this an A trade for Mozeliak. 

You heard it here first: the Cardinals had too many good right-handed middle relievers, and rather than trade the prize of the lot, Jason Motte, they dumped that Gregerson guy. And now: Khalil Greene! If you go through the 2009 archives there are a few major concerns that are totally invisible; other things that turned out not to matter at all completely preoccupy us. I spend several posts wondering whether Brian Barton, Brian Barden, or both will make the team out of Spring Training. That's the nature of baseball—the season is long and it's impossible for me to know, with real certainty, what I'll be freaking out about in July. 

Which means it's time to do just that!

The March problem that seems to me most likely to underwhelm in July is the fifth starter battle that's occupied a lot of our Tony La Russa Speaking Vaguely about Young Players time this Spring. The recent set of Fangraphs articles on the subject takes a new look at an old hobbyhorse that was being beaten up and down the baseball internet while I was getting my sabermetric education. Old and busted: Five man rotations are ridiculous; pitchers can and should handle a four man rotation. New hotness: It doesn't matter, because teams don't really have fifth starters very often, anyway. 

Of course, if you have five good starters, more power to you—the 2008 Cardinals managed to pull off this trick, somehow, despite Kyle Lohse, Braden Looper, Todd Wellemeyer, and Bad Joel Pineiro making most of their starts, and the 2004 team was perhaps the ultimate Five Starters squad, until Chris Carpenter went down and torpedoed the whole thing. 

But that the Cardinals don't isn't necessarily an awful thing, because they've got the makings of a decent Frankenstein's monster fifth starter. In the Fangraphs articles Marc Hulet suggests a veteran long relief guy, a prospect, and a minor league veteran—the Cardinals in question stretch two definitions out of three here, but since we just watched Kyle McClellan, Jaime Garcia, and Rich Hill compete for Dave Duncan's ineffable affections I am willing to declare them close enough. Garcia in particular seems both better and more ready than the average prospect to make his prescribed twenty starts. 

The March Problem I am most concerned about—that is, I guess, the one I'm concerned I'm not worried enough about—is the left side of the Cardinals' infield, at least as currently constructed. Brendan Ryan, despite being the Major Leaguer [possibly non-Ichiro division] I'd most like to interview, or just hang out with, made his late debut specifically because he had trouble staying healthy, and while his wrist has looked fine to this point in Spring, Joe Mather and Mark DeRosa can attest to that kind of injury's lingering scariness.

As for David Freese, I'm not sure he's had a good enough camp that Tony La Russa has turned things down from Actual Competition to Imagined Competition Designed to Keep Starter on Toes. Felipe Lopez is a wonderful backstop to have in a situation like this, but even he has those ugly years in Washington to engender our vague concern.