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What Were They Thinking?!

What Were They Thinking?!: Holliday, Lynn, Freese, and More…

What a team. What a ride. Those were the words of Fox broadcaster Joe Buck as the St. Louis Cardinals completed their 11th World Championship run in 2011. The same may prove true of the 2012 version as they continue to show Cardinals fans what they’re made of without familiar faces like Albert Pujols and Tony La Russa. Last night was a pleasant explosion of offense coupled with a comforting display of starting pitching. It’s just one more reminder of how much fun this team is to watch. Let’s hope it continues.

Now that the “nice-ities” are over with, it’s time once again for What Were They Thinking?! That amazingly popular blog post that unpacks and expands on the topics discussed in the previous night’s UCB Radio Hour broadcast. If you didn’t get the chance to listen, CLICK HERE and enjoy. Otherwise…let’s get into it:

Matt Holliday is “almost” exactly what the Cardinals paid for when they signed him. In the broadcast last night, Bill suggested Holliday may not be what the Cardinals signed him to be since he agreed to his lavish 7-year contract. Citing Matt’s recent seasons in St. Louis, he said Holliday was signed for his batting average – his ability to consistently contend for the batting title, essentially – over his home run production, and the Cardinals haven’t really received that level of production to this point. I have to say this…while I agree with much of what Bill said, I have to respectfully disagree that Holliday’s production has been a true disappointment. Through the end of 2009, before joining St. Louis for a full season in 2010, Holliday had a career batting average of .318. If we throw out 2009 – the year he bounced around baseball with Oakland and St. Louis – his BA was just one point higher at .319. Prior to this year, Holliday’s career average in St. Louis ranges from .314 to .320 (depending on how you choose to calculate it and whether or not you include his partial season in 2009). Correct me if I’m wrong, but that falls right in line with Holliday’s career production – or in the same neighborhood, at least, if not on the same block – as his time prior to the STL. That’s what the Cardinals paid for. Would they like to see more production with RISP at times? Sure. Would they prefer his home run totals inch a bit over 30 this season to help fans forget about Albert Pujols? Absolutely. But overall, Holliday is getting it done more or less in line with what Mozeliak expected of him. Look…I think what happens here is similar to what happens when a trade rumor for a big home run hitter surfaces. Fans immediately look at the guy’s stat sheet, see numbers like, “Hmmm…20 HRs in ’06, 18 HRs in ’07…Oh! 30 homers in ’08 and ’09?! Wow! I would LOVE to add 30 HRs a season to my lineup!” and forget that the player is actually a 24’ish HR a year guy…not a 30 HR a year guy. Just because Matt Holliday put together a .340 season in Colorado – and a .326 season before that – doesn’t mean St. Louis expected THAT level of production every year when they signed his extension. Mozeliak expected exactly what he got – a player that hit .326, .340, and .321 from 2006 through 2008, but also a player that hit .290, .307, and .313 in the bookend years of his career prior to STL. To judge a player based on his best seasons is just as bad as judging him by his worst. Holliday had a rough season last year – a year that included an emergency appendectomy – but overall, he’ll be the guy the Cardinals paid for. A hitter that will drive in approximately 100 runs, slug 25’ish HRs, and post an approximate .310 – .320 average. I’ll take that for 7 years any day.

Let’s be clear, here…how effective Lance Lynn is pitching RIGHT NOW is not the issue fans should be concerned about. The issue, rather, is the number of innings his arm can throw before fatigue/dead arm/”the wall” plays a role in his effectiveness. I keep hearing fans and broadcasters talk about how Lance Lynn’s amazing start has made St. Louis feel pretty comfortable about its rotation options without Carpenter and Roy Oswalt. That is certainly true…for now. But that’s not the problem on the horizon for this team. The problem – if one pops up – will come in June, July, or August. Lynn hasn’t been a regular starter for a full season since 2010 when he threw 164 innings for Memphis. Since then he’s only seen his innings load go down as he split time between Memphis and St. Louis. Oh, and that one year he threw 164 IP for Memphis? Seven of his worst ten games (based on earned runs allowed) were posted June 6th or later. Here’s the bottom line…what happened to Kyle McClellan last season should serve as a reminder of what can happen to a new pitcher in the rotation. Their arms wear out after X number of innings. It just happens. It’s going to happen to Lynn. And the Cardinals better be prepared for it…especially since no pitcher in STL’s rotation has thrown more innings to date than Lynn’s 33 and 2/3 IP. Matheny is riding Lance like a horse (probably because he’s roughly the size of one). Let’s hope that means the Cardinals aren’t planning on counting on his arm after June – at least not in the starting rotation.

A quick note on David Freese and his walk rate... Bill made it a point to praise the star-like hitting ability Freese is displaying so far, but he also pointed out David’s high strikeout total and low walk rate. I noticed this trend earlier when David was off to his torrid start. The kid’s not up there to walk. He’s hackin’. And I don’t have a problem with that. If Freese was a notch or two higher in the order – or more – I would beg him to work the counts more and be selective…but he’s not. He’s hitting in the fifth spot…a “scraps left over” position in the order. After him, we get Yadier Molina and a revolving door of subs and sub-par hitters…and then the pitcher. At that point in a game – especially if there are men on base – the last thing I’m concerned about is keeping the lineup moving to get to those guys. I want runs right then and there. If the numbers three and four hitters – Holliday and Beltran – didn’t get the runners in, I want David in the fifth spot trying to hit the ball. Don’t get me wrong…Yadi’s been great so far this year…but he’s not the “RBI guy” we want to count on – especially when it’s too tempting for a pitcher to pitch around him for the 7, 8, and 9 guys in the order. Freese is leading the team with 33 at-bats with RISP. He’s third with 45 at-bats just behind Holliday and Beltran with runners on base at all. When he walks to the plate, it’s time to hit (especially with Holliday and Beltran struggling to hit with RISP lately). And he knows it. Swing away, David. Swing away. (oh…and Bill mentioned he might draw more walks as he matures…Freese is 29 – which is like 45 in baseball years – I don’t know how much “maturing” he has in him…I think at this point, this is who he is, for the most part…he may draw a few more walks, but he’s not going to suddenly turn into Lance Berkman…he’s a run producer, not an OBP guy.)

About that interview with Shelby Miller… It’s good to hear Miller talk about putting significant work in to “put it all together” and mix in pitches he hasn’t normally thrown. He’s been so successful with his fastball thus far that asking him to commit to off speed stuff could have been an obstacle. So far, it sounds like he’s got his ears open and a good attitude, though. I will say that it’s interesting to hear him list the sinker in his pitching repertoire as an afterthought (he said he throws it “here and there”…and that was after listing the four-seam fastball, curve, and change-up as his only pitches). I wonder how much the big league staff will attempt to convince him to incorporate that sinker at this level…and will he buy into it?

At this point, I have to believe the Cardinals are going to trade Bryan Anderson in 2012. He really has nowhere to go, now. He’s hitting an abysmal .127 in Memphis after being demoted – again – to AAA. This comes right after a stellar Spring Training with a manager who has been his biggest public advocate to this point. Add to that the fact that the AAA squad – according to Bill last night – is carrying no less than four catchers on their roster, and it would appear Anderson’s days are numbered. If I’m Mo, I try to see if the AAA coaching staff can get Anderson’s bat to recover and then sell, sell, sell. He may have restored some trade value with his outstanding Spring Training performance – and Mo could possibly spin his demotion as “he’s more valuable playing everyday than as a back-up, so we sent him to get everyday ABs” – but so far it seems like everyday he spends wallowing in Memphis only diminishes his value. I would bet Mo has his trigger finger on the little red trade button just waiting for Anderson to come around.

Wrap-Up!

That’ll do it today. Day game this afternoon as the Cards try to complete their first series sweep of the season.

GO CARDS!!!

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