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New Cardinal-themed jargon

My attempt at creating a Cardinals equivalent of a Mendoza line

St. Louis Cardinals v Pittsburgh Pirates

You know the term Mendoza line? Sure you do. Do you know its origins?

Well, maybe you do, maybe you don’t. But I’ll share it anyway. Mario Mendoza was the classic defensive whiz, no hit shortstop that baseball has probably always had. In 1979, in a year where he ultimately finished with a .198 average, his teammates would give him trouble about having trouble staying above a .200 average. George Brett, an opposing player, had a slow start and two of his teammates gave him shit, saying “You’re going to sink below the Mendoza line if you’re not careful.” Brett shared this on ESPN, and a new baseball saying was born.

Ironically, Mendoza didn’t have much trouble hitting above .200 after 1979, and finished his career with a .215 average. Which seems like a cruel joke. But Mendoza being the face of hitting futility is pretty deserved, despite that. He wasn’t a bad hitter just because his average was bad. He didn’t bring anything to the table offensively - no walks, no power. He had a career 38 wRC+, which I don’t even know how he got 1,456 MLB plate appearances with that.

Anyway, I led off with that because I came up with a rule that I’ve named after a Cardinal player. Which got me to think of any potential baseball jargon that you could name after a Cardinal, past or present, or something Cardinal related. I’m not going to pretend any of these are going to stick - at best, one of these will be reused by VEB readers in the future. But it’s a fun article idea in my opinion.

The Molina Rule

The aforementioned rule that motivated me to make a whole article. You may think the Molina rule is about his catching defense, possibly throwing out runners, but you would be wrong. The Molina rule is as follows: when an incredibly slow runner is running, a seemingly incredible defensive play can not be called a great play.

Here is my motivation. Throughout this season, I noticed that coincidentally, infielders kept making “great” plays when Molina was trying to beat out a throw. And on a good amount of those plays, most other Cardinals would have been safe. Well, I mean if your great play doesn’t get out 95% of runners, is it really a great play? Infielders know Yadi is slow so they won’t rush the throw or are worried it will bounce 10 times. That matters!

Essentially the only requirement to using this is the runner has to be around Molina’s speed. Nolan Arenado, while very slow himself, is too fast - a sentence that will never be said again. That said, Arenado will probably be eligible for the Molina rule at the end of his career. The second thing is you have to be reasonably certain if someone other than Molina was running, they would be safe. There is some flexibility here. You can’t be judging it against Tommy Edman running, but I don’t think the bar needs to be “Would Nolan Arenado be safe” either.

Good example. Sometimes, a “great play” will be made - and a normal runner would have required a much faster throw to first - you think they could have gotten them out, but the rush could have derailed the play and you’re not positive they could have pulled it off. Just use your best judgement.

A Wainwright

This is a play on a Maddux. This one is a bit of a stretch and a game few people remember - if any. But one game, Adam Wainwright had perhaps one of the greatest games of all time. It was just a ho-hum regular season game, no reason for it to stick out. But in April of 2013, Wainwright played his best game of his career I’m willing to say. I’ll let his line do the speaking for him:

9 IP, 4 H, 12 Ks; 3-3, R, 2 RBIs

Yes, he did allow 4 hits, but he did not walk a batter. He struck out 12. He pitched a complete game shutout. And on the batting side, he was involved in a run scoring every time he came to the plate. In the 3rd, with the score 0-0, Wainwright singled home David Freese to put the first run on the board. In the 6th, the score was still 1-0. Wainwright led off with a single. The bases got loaded and Wainwright scored the second run of the game. In that same very inning, Wainwright came to the plate with men on first and third, two outs. He singled home another run, putting the game at 7-0. The Cardinals won 8-0.

So what is a Wainwright? A Wainwright is a complete game shutout with at least 10 Ks and 3 hits. Since the DH seems like an inevitability, it may very well never happen again. (Honestly don’t know how common that game is anyway so even without a DH, it may never happen again)

SO Clutch

I mean come on. It’s in the name. So Taguchi. Clutch. Taguchi hit 21 career home runs including the postseason and I can instantly recall two of them. In a July game against the Cubs, the Cardinals found themselves down 7-1 to the Cubs after just two innings. Two Albert Pujols HRs later and some other runs, So Taguchi came to the plate with the Cardinals down 8-7. He homered. Pujols hit his third home run in a 5-5 day to put the Cards on top for good. One of the most memorable regular season games in my lifetime.

Two years later, Billy Wagner faced the Cardinals in the 9th inning of a 6-6 game in Game 2 of the NLCS. The Cardinals were already down in the series 1 game to zero. Taguchi, in as a defensive replacement for Chris Duncan, worked a 9 pitch AB before homering into left field to put the Cards up for good. And just for good measure, another one of Taguchi’s homers came earlier in the postseason with the Cards down 3-0 to Padres in NLDS. It was a solo shot and they ended up losing, but still.

Now is So Taguchi actually clutch? I don’t care.

Cruzian Mishap

Any defensive play that should be made in a critical moment but is not made and swings the tide of the game. This is obviously named after Nelson Cruz in Game 6. A Cardinal example of a Cruzian play, and I really hate to bring this up, is the Matt Holliday nut shot game.

Detroit Fling

No special requirement for this one: this is just a good old-fashioned throwing error by a pitcher. Named of course after the Detroit Tigers pitchers in the 2006 World Series. I’m open to other words than fling here, though I actually think fling works - kind of sounds like a throwing error. But the Detroit part is absolutely non-negotiable.

TON special

Tyler O’Neill is a unique player and this could pretty much describe anything. He makes great defensive plays, steals bases, and hits. But in this particular instance, a TON special is a game where Tyler O’Neill strikes out three times and hits a homer. The platonic ideal of a TON special is that he starts off the game 0-3 with three strikeouts. And then boom, he homers. I appreciate this especially because it instantly turns a bad game into a good game.

O’Neill struck out three times and homered in three games in 2021. In one of those games, he achieved the platonic ideal. Against the Brewers on September 3rd - and this game is relatively fresh so it’s probably the inspiration - O’Neill struck out in his first three plate appearances. Then he homered, then he walked. Suddenly, a very bad game turn into a 1-4 with a HR and BB game, which is a good game. In one game, he homered first, then went 0-4. In the third of his games, he singled in his second AB, homered in his fourth, and surrounded those ABs with strikeouts.

The Edmonds Sell

Edmonds is 100 percent not a good example of this phenomenon. Edmonds was a genuinely great defensive centerfielder in his prime. However unfair it is though, Edmonds is the first name I think of when I think of an outfielder “selling” a great catch. I cant remember where I first heard the term, but probably on VEB actually. Anyway, for whatever reason, Edmonds is the poster boy for this.

And the way I interpret the Edmonds sell is this: a play that looks like a great defensive play because the player dove for it, but which in actuality, is a play that other outfielders could make without diving. Anyway, at least here, “selling it” was I believe mostly a running joke, but I do remember people thinking Edmonds would actually goose up his diving catches back in they day. Hence, why his name is what I think of.

This is a term that should basically never apply to Harrison Bader or Tyler O’Neill whose speed will typically disguise great plays and when they actually have to dive, there’s a good chance you can count on one hand the amount of outfielders who can also make that play. Dylan Carlson though, he’s got potential. He has a few sliding catches in front of him that I’m not totally sure aren’t catches that the average RF wouldn’t also make - without sliding. That would be a good example of the Edmonds sell. At least the way I’m using it.

The Kershaw Choke

God, I’m sorry Clayton. I don’t actually believe you choke in playoff games. I think he’s just one of the unluckiest players of all time in the playoffs. I think it’s a combo of bad luck, managerial incompetence (leaving him in too long), and high profile slipups. He has a virtually identical K% and BB% in the regular season and postseason. His HR/FB% and LOB% have not been the same.

BUT with all that said, like Edmonds, Kershaw is just the poster boy. There’s no more easy-to-reference pitcher than Kershaw. And the Cardinals have been the main beneficiaries of this. So of course I’m going to call it the Kershaw choke. This is not exclusive to Kershaw. I think it’s fair to say Mike Foltynewicz had a Kershaw choke in Game 5 of the NLDS back in 2019. (Again, I don’t really believe these pitchers “choke” so much as just did not have their best stuff at the worst possible time - but there’s no way to make that a catchy saying)

The Kozma line

This works exactly the same as the Mendoza line, except for wRC+. The Kozma line is a 50 wRC+. Much like Mendoza, Kozma has a better career wRC+ than 50 (though barely with a 53 wRC+). But in his only season as a starter, Kozma finished the season with a 49 wRC+. I think that’s appropriate when Mendoza, when his became a thing, ended up just short of the Mendoza line.

Tell me what you think. The Edmonds sell is the one I’m least confident in, just because I’m not sure I defined it real well and I’m not even sure my definition is what people meant by Edmonds “selling” diving catches. But I’m just throwing it out there. I will put my full weight behind the Molina rule. I think that’s a very strong candidate for new baseball jargon. Molina is nationally recognized slow player, so he seems like a good representative for the rule.

I welcome other suggestions. It’s more fun than you’d think to come up with this. This is a very post-2000 centric list of players just because that’s the shelf life of my baseball memories, so there’s a looot of potential pre-2000s if you’re old enough.