I feel like I missed an especially newsy weekend of Cardinals baseball by being on the road through most of it—my cell phone died sometime after Brad Penny hit a grand slam but before he had been placed on the disabled list as a result. I've spent a few hours processing, and have spit out some fake bullet points:
Brad Penny hitting a grand slam is awesome. Pitchers have a .382 OPS this year—don't compare that to Brendan Ryan's, you can thank me some other time—so if you're a fan of the replacement level concept this is the big score, one of the few big scores that doesn't require laser-armed security systems, giant diamonds, or drug cartels.
The Cardinals, for all their extra batting practice, are actually below the league average this year, even with one of the NL's four pitcher home runs. They're hitting just .119/.160/.178, with even Adam Wainwright struggling in the early going. Before you blame them, realize that this, too, could be Mark McGwire's Fault (which is the title of my new self-help book); last year Cardinals pitchers had a .404 OPS against the league's .355, and before that .432 to the league's .354, which is extremely impressive (and thanks mostly to Wainwright, Braden Looper... and Mark Worrell.)
Brad Penny going on the DL isn't awesome, but isn't so bad, yet. I don't know what ten days looks like in pitcher-injury years, and we have to price into our senses of dread and relief the (unlikely) idea that this might be a strained-oblique-style ten days and we never see Brad Penny's socks again.
But very few pitchers make 35 starts in a season, and these Cardinals were definitely (hopefully) not built on the assumption that Brad Penny, who looks like an innings eater but has not always eaten innings, would do it. P.J. Walters is an imperfect substitute, but as sixth starters go he's a lot of fun; I've always kind of hoped he would end up on a team like the Nationals, who could do far worse than throwing a guy with outstanding minor league results and no stuff out there 25 times. The Cardinals don't have that luxury, but since I've once compared him to fellow trick-changeup thrower Tyler Clippard and just mentioned the Nationals it's worth saying that guys like these can occasionally transcend novelty. If this helps Walters do it, that might be worth one Brad Penny start.
Kyle Lohse going on the DL wouldn't be awesome, even though it's not so bad now. Maybe it's just because he's my favorite play-in-one-act character, but I was holding out hope after every encouraging start that he'd move toward his career levels and become a useful pitcher again.
This, I guess, is one of the problems of just-average starting pitchers getting long-term deals, which seems to go in and out of fashion with the prevailing economic trends. Durability is great, but players get worse at it when they age like most other valuable skills. Lohse's big contract could be partially recouped if he turns into a guy who floats around a 100 ERA+ and makes 30 starts, but it's not clear that he'll be able to make 30 starts at any point in this contract.
That said, the difference between the Kyle Lohse we hoped to get and his replacements—the sixth and seventh starters, depending on how long Penny is away—is pretty stark, and one I wasn't hoping the Cardinals would have to explore. I'm excited about the prospect of seeing Adam Ottavino (probably) in the major leagues, but that excitement is less about what he'll do now than what he has a small chance of doing in the future.
Felipe Lopez is awesome. Having Lopez around as a stopper on slumping infielders makes me understand how managers like Tony La Russa eventually get entirely too attached to much less effective utility infielders, the Mike Gallego class. Felipe Lopez hasn't made Brendan Ryan a better hitter, or removed the limitations Skip Schumaker possesses as a starting second baseman, but with him around those problems seem both less significant and less likely to become season-long narratives. If you, like Tony La Russa, are prone to overvaluing the contributions of guys who hit for a decent average but offer no real secondary tools or defensive skill—well, it's enough to bring Aaron Miles back to Springfield, Missouri like a security blanket.
Ryan Franklin is—no, I can't do it. In 2007 and 2008 we decided we couldn't say he was good; in 2009 we eventually learned that we couldn't say he sucked. I will only say, as a reluctant Anthropology minor, that the Ryan Franklin who has pitched 20 innings this season is the Ryan Franklin I'd like to see on a regular basis, and that some people in the baseball community think walking one batter in 20 innings is a desirable outcome. "Our culture values Ryan Franklin, relative to other cultures" is the new Ryan Franklin sucks! I plan to stop saying it some time in August, after it's proven to have a disastrous, ironic effect on his ability to string together six good months in a row.
Programming note: Carson Cistulli, host of the Fangraphs podcast, charter member of the Colby Lewis fanclub, fellow alumnus of the MFA application process, was nice enough to ask me onto their podcast to talk about what it's like to write one-act plays about Kyle Lohse. I'd like to take this opportunity to say that in said podcast I appear to have given short shrift to John Updike's later work, which I also enjoy. My Father's Tears is out in paperback tomorrow! I can't wait to go to Barnes & Noble intending to buy it and then leave with the more attractively designed hardcover version!