Year In Review: Top 5 Cardinal Stories

The United Cardinal Bloggers strike again, this time with a recap of 2007. We each selected the five stories that we thought were the most important for 2007 in relation to the Cardinals. Check out CardinalNationGlobe, CardinalGM, Readin’ Redbird, Rockin’ the Red and Stan Musial’s Stance for their takes. (I’ll direct link to their stories when they are up.)

And, after the jump, my selections:

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LaRussa on XM Radio

Last night, TLR was on with Ronnie “Night Train” Lane on XM’s MLB Live. Some bulletpoints on what he talked about:

*His contract extension. He said he was a little surprised that he was asked back, but pleased. He was happy with the response of the players on the issue as well.

*2007 was “by far” one of his most difficult seasons ever. Called it “relentless” and that it showed the character of the coaches and team that the results were as good as they were. To turn the page, he focuses on what the team has control over, trying to get players healthy. He does think that there are things that can be done better (not sure if by the coaching staff or the organization) to get those players ready to play.

*Mozeliak did a good job with Walt and Mo likely learned a lot from Walt. Said Mozeliak is “primed for it” and said that now it was about talent and how well he did the job, that talent comes out and you stand on your own two feet.

*There is work to do this offseason, lot of coordinating and getting on the same page.

*Got to get some more pieces. Looking for impact guy. Talked about Eckstein in brief, saying they have to see what works out there. Noted the problem was that most every team is looking for an impact hitter and an impact pitcher, like the Cardinals are. Not as worried about the bullpen as the starting rotation.

*Would like to have Eckstein back and talked about players (Matheny, Suppan, Renteria) that they lost when the player got on the market. Did say you have to assign a value to the player in relation to your payroll. Doesn’t know what Eckstein’s market is going to be.

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LaRussa Returning?

Dustin at Whiteyball took the words out of my keyboard.  “It seems as each day passes, it is more and more likely that TLR is returning.”  No doubt.  And one of the biggest incentives happened this weekend.

Dusty Baker is returning to the NL Central.

Think about that.  LaRussa gets one of his old adversaries back for 18 games a year.  That gives Tony personal motivation against most of the NL Central managers.  He’s friends with Lou Pinella of the Cubs and he had words at the end of the year with Ned Yost of Milwaukee, an incident that LaRussa is not likely to forget.  Toss in the fact that Houston is Houston, no matter who is managing there, and you only have Pittsburgh as a “down” series, and they haven’t named a manager yet.  Just imagine if they hired Lloyd McClendon back………..

Anyway, between the matchups in the Central and the fact that there aren’t too many other jobs out there, I think TLR is back next year.

Who will he be working for?  That’s a different story.

Joe Strauss wrote a story this weekend saying some are looking cautiously at the Cardinal GM job due to what happened to Jocketty.   However, houstoncardinal at VEB did point out that it’s likely the old-school Friends of Walt are the ones Strauss is talking to, and that is not where the Cardinals are looking.  We’ll see if that pans out.

The smart money seems to be on John Mozeliak taking the interim tag off and getting the job.  I’m not so sure about that, though.  I think the organization wants to make some house-cleaning type changes and would rather bring someone in.  Whether that person would agree to take LaRussa on, though, is a different story.  Ownership seems pretty invested in Tony, even though he’s not committed to returning.  It would be a shame if that commitment didn’t allow them to hire the best person for the job.

In other news, it doesn’t look like Juan Encarnacion will be back next year, to few people’s surprise.  He’s got to worry about his eyesight first, and according to the article, well, even that doesn’t look good anytime soon.

Also, reports (from the Post-Dispatch) that the Cardinals are negotiating with Joel Pineiro.  I think he’ll test the market and get more than he’s worth, but if the Cardinals can lock him up with a contract appropriate for a fifth starter, I’m all for it.

PECOTA And The Injured

Baseball Prospectus has a prediction tool they used called PECOTA. PECOTA has a ton of different facets to it, most of which I would be at a loss to explain. However, I always enjoy picking up the yearly preseason book, looking at the projections and reading the comments that go with them.

This year, CCH took a page out of VEB’s book and did some community projections. While we didn’t do all the players, as it ran out of steam after a while, it gave us a good idea on what we thought a few players were going to do in 2007.

In hindsight, it’d appear that neither system stood a chance this year.

With injuries, death and general lack of playing time, the odds of any prediction system getting much correct was pretty much slim and none. The only players that could have been close to their preseason projections would have been Albert Pujols, Adam Wainwright, Braden Looper, Yadier Molina, Jason Isringhausen and possibly David Eckstein and Chris Duncan.

Since the season is over for a large number of the Cardinals, I thought I’d get a head start in seeing how far off these projections were. I’m taking the projections from the Baseball Prospectus 2007 annual, which doesn’t list at bats or hits, for some reason.

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Picking Out Tombstones

Yesterday’s game against the Cards was termed a “must-win” by some.  As you know, they didn’t win, as Pineiro’s luck ran out and those hard hit balls started dropping.  Mike Maroth’s ninth, even though it didn’t matter in the big scheme of things, should have been enough to guarantee he will be DFAd this offseason.  And the Brewers lost, so the Cubs are tied for first again.  Yuck all the way around.

Cincinnati helped us get well last time around, but can we really count on that happening again?  The Cardinals walk into a ballpark designed, it seems, for home runs and come in with really no rotation to speak of.  We’ve written off this team time and again.  Can we do it for good this time?

I think so.  First off, three games back.  I know there are still 4 left with the Cubs this weekend and three with the Brewers in a couple of weeks, but the Cards would pretty much have to go 15-6 in the last 21 to really make a dent, I think.  Maybe a little less, but in that area.  Right now, the team is in a four game losing streak, there are only three pitchers that are guaranteed starts, and Mulder is only one of those so they can get him ready for next year, not because they expect him to win every time out.   So that leaves Wainwright and Looper, and you never know when Looper is going to blow up like he did out in Arizona.

Couple that with the fact that basically half the lineup is gone for the season and it’s time to start picking out burial plots.  If St. Louis had a healthy Scott Rolen, Juan Encarnacion, Chris Duncan and an Albert Pujols that was more like 85% instead of 70%, maybe you think they can score the runs to stay in this thing.  Rick Ankiel, whether it’s because the story got into his head, he’s just in a slump, or people are starting to figure out how to pitch to him, is 1-14 since the HGH bit came out.  When your good luck wonder bat is slumping, you know you’ve got problems.

But think about this winter dream, not for 2008, but for 2009.  All the money saved this year and next is used to sign Johan Santana.  Put him in a rotation with Carpenter and Wainwright.  Chris Perez is closing.  The lineup has Pujols, Rasmus, Ankiel, Duncan, Rolen.  You think that team could win some games?  Hopefully ownership does……

Break Out the Brooms

Nice to see the Cardinals were able to actually take care of business this weekend. The Reds gave them some scares–I really was worried on Friday night that they’d blow their opportunity–but they battled through them and came out on top every day, with major credit due to Mr. Ankiel, who started it off again today with a home run and drove in another with a sac fly. With Juan Encarnacion out and with Ankiel hitting lefties the way he is, I’d say there’s a good possibility he’s going to be playing almost every day from here on out. And that’s likely a good thing from the Cardinals’ point of view.

As for Encarnacion, the news isn’t good from that horrifying incident from Friday night. It looks like he’ll be fortunate just to be able to see out of the eye again, much less play baseball any more. Hopefully it’s not as bad as they think it is, but that is out there. It’s amazing that, in the split second it took from the ball to leave Aaron Miles’s bat and hit him in the face, Encarnacion’s public perception took a 180.

Personally, I’ve never had a problem with Encarnacion. The biggest problem with him, I think, was his contract. Walt Jocketty signed him to a deal that was really more than he probably was worth, which is what got everyone really up in arms and let him slide easily into the Cardinal Whipping Boy slot recently vacated by J.D. Drew. All the other criticisms, in my mind, flowed out of the fact that we got him at above-market rates. If he’d been a bargain, a lot of the complaints levelled at him would have been shrugged off, I think.

Anyway, now if Encarnacion shows up at any Cardinal function, he’s about guaranteed to always get a warm ovation. It’s a little sad that it takes something as drastic as this to see and care about the person underneath, instead of the abstraction that we think of when we think of a baseball player.

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Changing the Script

They play around with WPA a lot at places like VEB and Future Redbirds.  WPA, or Win Probability Added, can be found at a site called FanGraphs.  I can’t find an official definition, so my crude understanding of it is that it takes the chances of winning before an AB and after an AB and the change is credited to the player.  I’m not sure exactly how they get to the chances of winning, but it seems all very scientific.  (I’ve told you before, this isn’t a stats blog!)

Anyway, you could see the win expectancy dropping like a stone when that two-out grounder by Encarnacion headed to shortstop last night.  In fact, before that play, the Marlins had a 75% chance of winning the game.  (Oddly enough, probably because of the force and the slowness of Molina, even after the play the Marlins WE increased to 79.8%.)  This is where stats don’t take into account the stubborness of a pitcher trying to get over an error, as Benitez really seemed to come unraveled by that slip.

Even without the hardheadness of the Florida pitcher, I felt really good about a tie game once Encarnacion was at second.  Molina is hitting the ball the way we thought he could, and it’s nice to see that average in the .275 range instead of the .215 range.  I felt pretty confident he could get the tying run in.  If you’d told me he’d make it all the way to third, though, I’d have figured he hit a home run and then pulled up lame running the bases.  No way he could get there on a normal play!

It’s just another sign that things perhaps have turned around for the Cardinals.  Earlier in the year, that was a very typical loss for them.  A great pitching performance, but tons of double plays and no runs could be scored.  But this new, improved Cardinal team played LaRussa’s trademark “hard 9” and got the job done last night.   (Another difference between now and May–Albert Pujols is Albert Pujols again.  Four home runs in 4 games?  It’s so wonderful to watch when El Hombre is clicking!)  The times, they are a-changin’.

Good thing they did, too, since Milwaukee and Chicago both won.  Still three games out with Looper going tonight.  Hopefully the bats will show up tonight–I’d be real impressed if Looper kept it to two runs.