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The Best of “Baseball is Back” Week

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The Cardinals packed in 10 games this week, leaving us with a wealth of highlights and “best of’s”.

Cincinnati Reds v St Louis Cardinals Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

A week ago today the Cardinals returned to action from a lengthy COVID-caused layoff. We have baseball again, even if it isn’t always baseball as normal. This week saw seven inning double-headers, ten games in seven days, and more debuts than I care to count. The pitching staff has been a manager’s nightmare and the club is sitting at .500 (heading into Friday’s matchup), but the COVID positive players are returning and, well, baseball is back! That’s worth celebrating.

Let’s look at the “bests” from the past week of Cardinals baseball. (Not including Friday’s game).

The Best Moment of the Week

There are actually a lot of options here. Dylan Carlson’s debut. Adam Wainwright’s starts. Molina’s return from the COVID-IL. Pick-your-outing from the rookie pitchers who weren’t supposed to see the field. Kolten Wong’s walk-off on Thursday night. Instead of picking one, I’m just going to lump them together. The best moment of the week was ... the entire week!

The Cardinals played baseball this week. We’ve waited awhile to be able to say that. I watched almost every moment of every game and, while every game was far from perfect, it was unquestionably fun! After the shut-down, the quarantine, the terrible sickness and tragic deaths, an economic collapse, political bickering, masks/no-masks, conspiracy theories, a toilet paper shortage, murder hornets and everything else, it was just great to sit down and watch the St. Louis boys of summer play something resembling baseball.

Here’s to you, Cardinals baseball! Welcome back.

The Best Barrel of the Week

This is probably the only time I’ll do what I’m about to do: the best barrel of the week was an out. Dylan Carlson crushed a cutter from Dallas Keuchel 108.3 mph for a line drive directly to the left fielder.

This is worthy of the top honor only because it represents a frustrating trend the Cardinals batters experienced all week. By definition, a barrel is a ball struck within a range of exit velocity and launch angle so that it results in at minimum a .500 batting average and a 1.500 slugging percentage. The Cardinals barreled 14 balls this past week. That’s a decent number — more than one per game. However, only 6 of those barrels resulted in something other than an out. At minimum, at least one more should have found a gap. If it were not for the wind, several of these would have left the park. Alas, it was not so. Not for Carlson and not for several Cardinal batters.

The Best Offensive Player

I can justify going with an out for the best barrel of the week because this week’s best non-out barrel belongs to the week’s best player: Brad Miller. Miller was absurd. He barreled four balls (ranging from 100-106.1 mph) and had two homeruns. He should have had a third on a 105.7 mph sinker that was caught against the right field wall. Here’s his 106 mph homer:

Crushed. A true no doubter. Miller was an under-the-radar signing this offseason but a good one. He provides defensive versatility and left-handed power to a bench that needs it. When DeJong returns, Shildt will have to find ways to get him into the lineup while he’s hot.

The Best Pitching Performance

A huge tip ‘o the cap to Adam Wainwright, who gutted out two solid starts for the Cardinals when they need them. Alex Reyes’s who filthy first outing of the season also warrants a nod.

However, the Cardinals burned through as many pitchers this week as they did all of last year. We should take a moment to celebrate that more than one life-long dream came true. While some of these players might get DFA’ed by the end of the week and never see a major league mound again (God bless you, Roel Ramirez), every one of them can say they pitched in the majors. That’s something special! The circumstances were lamentable, but the Cardinals were able to make a lot of memories.

Along the way, the club likely found at a few arms who could be here to stay. Seth Elledge impressed So did Johan Oviedo. When the Cardinals were desperate for innings from a starter, they called on the 22-year-old who had no starts above AA. He turned heads this spring and during summer camp with improved velocity on his fastball and a hard slider with crazy horizontal movement. He got his chance sooner than many expected and delivered 5 solid innings, with 4 K’s, 2 BB’s, and 2 runs on 2 hits. We’ll see better lines in this space as the weeks go on, but we might not have better stories than the ones this week brought us.

If you missed it, here are the highlights of his outing. The kid has impressive stuff, when he can control it.

Best Defensive Play(er)

Tommy Edman logged no innings at short stop in 2019. Even though the club might have been reluctant to play him at short last season, Edman had logged considerable time there in the minors. The Cardinals entered the season trusting that Edman would be able to handle the position when needed.

Handle, though, is not the same as thrive. If there were questions about Edman’s defensive ability there, this week has more than answered them. With Paul DeJong out with COVID, Edman now has 59 innings and counting at the position. While he did not make many truly spectacular plays (I have no defensive highlights to grab offer you), he has displayed the same steady defense, good arm, and soft hands that he has shown at both third and second. As of Friday afternoon, Tommy Edman leads the team in Defensive Runs Saved (+3) and UZR (+.8) from the shortstop position. Small sample size caveats apply but so far so good! DeJong will take his position back soon — and he should — but the Cardinals should not hesitate to give him regular time off and allowing Edman to stay sharp at short.

Best Clutch Pitching Performance

The “clutch” concept is often a subjective one. Clutch is not truly a measurable ability in baseball, despite commentator’s unyielding desire to point to runners in scoring position (RISP) and RBI. WPA — Win Probability Added — can somewhat address the concept of clutch-ness as it does measure performance in high leverage situations. If a player, John Gant for example, enters the game in situations that can significantly impact the outcome of a game and pitches well, then he has added to the team’s chances of winning. Is that clutchness? Not really. Ability — particularly among relief pitchers — generally leads to more opportunities in high leverage situations. Good pitchers tend to be “clutch” because they’re good; they’ll throw in high leverage chances because they’re good and will therefore have a higher WPA. Likewise, bad pitchers tend to be less “clutch”; they’ll throw in low leverage chances because they’re not so good and therefore will have a lower WPA based on usage. Make sense?

John Gant is a good reliever. In a week where the Cardinals bullpen was both decimated and without set roles, Gant was a logical choice for Mike Shildt to use in higher leverage situations. Since he’s pretty good, he performed well in those chances. That’s a long way of saying that John Gant had the highest WPA of the week among pitchers — +.14. It’s early but so far John Gant sure looks like he’s recovered his first-half form from 2019. In 6.1 innings, Gant has not allowed an earned run. He has 9 K’s, 1 walk and 1 hit. Hopefully Gant continues to see the mound in high leverage situations. We should expect him to perform well when he does.

Share your own bests of the week

My bests are my bests; they’re debatable and I sometimes (frequently) use the bests to make a point about a player or a situation. Feel free to share your own in chat or @ me on Twitter - @JPHill_Cards. I would love to hear and see your bests.

Enjoy your Saturday!

Speaking of Bests...

A few weeks ago the Cardinals blog/chat community lost a long-time member. “Cronos” — Paul Deatherage — was an active member of the Cardinals on-line community, including the Post-Dispatch Cards Talk forum and later GatewayRedbirds.com. He was an active reader here at VEB. Cronos, in his late 30’s, passed away a few weeks ago from complications with pancreatitis. The greater Cardinals online community is remembering Cronos during today’s game. As you watch today, hop online and chat with your Cardinals family. Remember Cronos when you do as he was one of us and he was one of the best of us. Grace and peace to your family, Paul. We never met. But we were still good friends. You’ll be missed!