Category Archives: Baseball

Maple Street Press Cardinal Annual

by Michael Riehn
Whiteyball Staff
cardinals1The amount of information on the web today is astounding.  When I was growing up, I lived in a small town in Southeast Missouri.  All of my information about the Cardinals came from the local news, a few columns in the paper, Jack Buck and Mike Shannon.  This is not exactly heavy hitting analysis.  Every once in awhile, I’d see a game on TV or read an article about my favorite team in Sports Illustrated or Baseball Digest.  To put it midly, things have changed dramatically over the last 20 years. 

 
Fast forward several years later, through the Internet revolution and the explosion of ESPN and espn.com. I remember the first time I found the ‘Redbird Nation’ blog that was run by Brian Gunn.  I was so excited and confused.  This was a great resource from an intelligent writer, without the mainstream point of view, and it didn’t cost anything to read him.  His blog had a profound effect on me, and expanded my Cardinal knowledge and viewpoint.  When Larry Borowsky started Viva El Birdos, he added a new level of critical analysis with daily updates and fascinating viewpoints.  He made me think about new types of statistics and player evaluation that opened my eyes to a whole new world.  These are the “Godfathers” of the Cardinal Blogosphere and combined with long time bloggers Dan Moore, Eric Manning and Dustin Mattison, make it what it is today. 

Today, we have a large number of free websites and blogs that give us up to the minute information and analysis about our local 9.  Derek Goold of the Post Dispatch and Matthew Leach of MLB.com have even started “Twittering“, giving us up to the second information from SPRING TRAINING games!  Countless other sites are available at your fingertips for layers of information, statistics and the history of the game.  You can barely keep up with it all.  It’s a whole new world and we are richer for it.

So when I opened my mailbox yesterday and found the new Maple Street Press Cardinal Annual, you would think that I wouldn’t be as excited as I am.  I have all of this information at my fingertips, so why would I care about something wrote weeks ago?  On the contrary, I tore open the package and opened up the book as soon as I found it.  The smell of the printing press hit me with it’s unmistakable aroma as I flipped through the book.  As much as I am addicted to the web and the information that it gives me, it can’t replace holding a book in my hands, as I open it to page 1.  It took me back to the days when I would be excited to open the mailbox and find a new sports magazine waiting for me or when I discovered the excellent “Ball Four” book at my local library.

Dustin Mattison is the founder of the Whiteyball website and writes for Scout.com at the Birdhouse (Minor League Correspondent).  He is one of the talented group of writers that Larry Borowsky has gathered to provide the new Maple Street Press Cardinal Annual.  Borowsky is the editor of the book, and authors several stories; which features Will Leitch (founding editor of Deadspin, current New York Magazine writer), Jeff Sackman (Minor League Splits.com), Dan Moore (Get Up Baby, Viva El Birdos), Josh Kalk (From Small Ball to the Long Ball), Chuck Brownson (Viva El Birdos), Vince Gennaro (Hardball Times, Yahoo Sports), Aaron Schafer (Viva El Birdos, Riverfront Times), Erik Manning (Future Redbirds, Play a Hard 9), Alex Eisenberg (Baseball Intellect), and Dayne Perry (Foxports.com).

If you are like me, and enjoy a great read about the Cardinals, order the book today.  You will be glad you did.

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Joe Mather

Joe Mather during batting practice, August 2007 (Photo by Dustin Mattison)

Joe Mather during batting practice, August 2007 (Photo by Dustin Mattison)

As Joe Mather battles for the starting third base job in St. Louis Cardinals camp, I thought it might be interesting to look back at an interview I did with “Joey Bombs” in August of 2007.

Remember, that was the season that Mather went from being just another player in the organization to one of the Cardinals’ top prospects. Between Springfield and Memphis, Mather would hit 31 home runs.

Dustin Mattison:  Congratulations on a great season.

Joe Mather: Thanks.

DM: What has been the difference?

JM: Maturity, probably. Just getting older. The more experience I’ve gotten, the better I’ve gotten.

DM: What’s the origin of the nickname Joey “Bombs”?

JM: (Chuckles) It came about my first year. One of the players on the team, Matt Lemanczyk, and our manager Pop Warner. Lemanczyk said it and Warner kept it going. I hit a couple of homeruns in batting practice and since then it has stuck.

DM: Tell me about going to the Arizona Fall League.

JM: I’m excited. It’s where I live. I live right there in Pheonix. It’s what I’ve worked for. I’ve wanted to be invited to go for a couple of years now. Since I signed, that has been the goal every year, to possibly get there. A lot of prospects come out of there. A lot of big leaguers come out of there. I am definitely very excited.

DM: What’s it like going from clubhouse in Springfield that sits atop the division, to one in Memphis that has had trouble winning games?

JM: Springfield was a great atmosphere all around. It’s a great city. I had never been there before. Like you said, they are winning. It was a young group, I was one of the older guys on the team being 24. I come up here and I am one of the younger ones. We’re losing. It is definitely a different feel in the clubhouse. It’s tougher for everyone to get motivated to play. But all in all, you got to put that aside and get ready to play.

DM: What’s the biggest difference in hitting in Double A and hitting in Triple A?

JM: Pitchers here know how to pitch. They have a much better idea. Pitchers at Double A will try to throw a fastball by you. Here you get sinkers in on your hands and cutters away. They rarely challenge you with a fastball down the middle. They are better picking their spots. That’s the biggest difference.

DM: I know you got a game to play. I thank you for your time and good luck the rest of the season.

JM: Thanks, I appreciate it.

(Ed. Note:  Originally published at MVN on Monday, Sept. 10, 2007)

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Cards kickoff Grapefruit League action today

Blake Hawksworth, St. Louis Cardinals

Blake Hawksworth, St. Louis Cardinals

You know it is spring training when 6 outfielders make up 9 of your batters in your opening game lineup. At least you would think this would be just a strange spring training game, but the truth is, 5 “outfielders” could make up the starting 8 on opening day at Busch Stadium on April 6.

The Cardinals open exhibition play today against the Florida Marlins at Roger Dean Stadium in Jupiter at 12:05 p.m. CT. Blake Hawksworth will get the start and try to continue the success he had at the end of the 2008 season, posting a 2.89 ERA with 23 K’s and 11 walks in his last 5 starts. Hawksworth was the clubs number 1 rated prospect after the 2004 season. Let’s hope he can get off to a good start and maybe live up to the potential the Cardinals saw in him earlier this decade.

The Cards lineup will have Ludwick, Ankiel, and Rasmus covering the outfield, and outfielders Skip Schumaker manning second base, Joe Mather manning third base, and Chris Duncan as the DH. Excluding the DH, there is a real possibility this could be a likely lineup during the first month of the season. The think I like most about this is the defensive alignment in the outfield. You have three guys who can all cover ground and all have above average arms.

I’m excited about keeping an eye on the spring training activities and how all the question marks in the Cardinals camp playout.

I’ve become pretty addicted to the new MLB Network since coming onto Directv on January 1st. Some must see TV I have my Tivo set for is the 30 Clubs in 30 Days show on the Cardinals which will air for the first time on 2/26 at 7:00 pm CT. They usually replay the show 2 or 3 times as well. The network is also carrying spring training games and your first chance to watch the Cardinals will be on Friday 2/27 when they visit Port St. Lucie to take on the Mets.

30 Clubs in 30 Days - MLB Network

30 Clubs in 30 Days - MLB Network

I received my season tickets on my door step yesterday and the return of baseball season is really starting to get to me. Let’s hope the Redbirds can stay healthy this spring and bring a solid squad to St. Louis in April.

If any readers are interested in tickets, I usually end having extra tickets that I sell for season ticket holder cost. I have full season tickets in section 595 of the bleachers and a 27 game weekend plan in section 509 of the bleachers. Just leave me a comment and I’ll add you to an email list that I send to when I have extra tickets available for sale.

Blake Hawksworth photo – stlcardinals.com
30 Clubs in 30 Days – mlb.com

Matt Wilson

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God only knows

by Michael Riehn
Whiteyball staff

If you should ever leave me,
Though life would still go on believe me,
The world could show nothing to me,
So what good would living do me?
God only knows what I’d be without you…

Brian Wilson’s haunting song runs through my head every time there is discussion of Albert Pujols and free agency. Those two things should never be uttered in the same sentence and makes me cringe every time I hear it. When I was a boy, my fandom was more innocent. I loved Tommy Herr and Vince Coleman because they were Cardinals and they could do no wrong (in my eyes). Tommy Herr played the same position as me when I was in pee wee league, and every time Coleman stole a base, they’d put “InVinceable” on the scoreboard and I would go nuts. When they were traded away, I was devastated, and lost a little bit of my devotion.

As an adult, I’m not prone to unconditional fandom and I don’t invest in sports stars as heroes. I love the Cardinals, but I don’t get attached to players anymore. Albert Pujols is different, his combination of hitting, fielding, leadership, attitude and community relations is once in a lifetime. Like Stan the Man and the Wizard of Oz, he NEEDS to retire a Cardinal, and I believe he is worthy of my adult adoration.

Luckily I didn’t grow up in the early 1940’s. It was a different time for Cardinal Nation, and they didn’t have the revenue that they currenty enjoy. Everyone has been breathlessly debating Albert Pujols comments on possibly becoming a free agent. What if he was traded at the height of his Hall of Fame career? Pujols just completed his age 28 season. As preposterous as it may sound, the Cardinals traded a similar first baseman after his age 28 season, whose name is enshrined in the Hall of Fame.

 

Johnny Mize started his career with the Cardinals and played for them from 1936-1941. During those 6 seasons, he was one of the best players in the game, and one of its brightest stars. Like Pujols, Mize was gifted around the first base bag and nicknamed “The Big Cat” for his smooth fielding. They were also similar hitters. While with the Cardinals, Mize led the league in OPS 3 out of his 6 seasons, Pujols has led the league in OPS twice.

From age 23-28 Mize put up this line for the Cardinals:

Johnny Mize      
Year Age BA OBP SLG OPS+
1936 23 0.329 0.402 0.577 161
1937 24 0.364 0.427 0.595 172
1938 25 0.337 0.422 0.614 175
1939 26 0.349 0.444 0.626 178
1940 27 0.314 0.404 0.636 176
1941 28 0.317 0.406 0.535 156

 

Pujols put up this line from 23-28:

Albert Pujols      
Year Age BA OBP SLG OPS+
2003 23 0.359 0.439 0.667 187
2004 24 0.331 0.415 0.657 172
2005 25 0.330 0.430 0.609 168
2006 26 0.331 0.431 0.671 178
2007 27 0.327 0.429 0.568 157
2008 28 0.357 0.462 0.653 190

  

Johnny Mize

Johnny Mize

OPS is defined as on base percentage plus slugging percentage. OPS+ is an advanced statistic that measures OPS against the league average, and adjusted for ballpark factors. To give you a basic idea of its purpose, it compares players from different eras and different ballparks and puts them on a level playing field. OPS+ over 100 is better than average, less than 100 is below average.

Pujols’ peaks are a bit greater, but he and Mize were among the best hitters in the league from their age 23-28 seasons. Mize was traded to the Giants by legendary General Manager Branch Rickey after the 1941 season for 3 journeymen and $50,000.00.  He had a very productive year with his new club before he was drafted into World War II. He spent 1943 through 1945 in the military service and returned to baseball with 3 more great seasons. Mize had the following line in his Hall of Fame career, which spanned 15 years: .312 BA, .397 OBP, .562 SLG, 158 OPS+.  (Just think what numbers he would have put up with 3 of his prime years added in from the war!)

Be thankfull for Pujols while he is here. What we are witnessing is greatness, and no matter how the Cardinals do, he’s worth the price of admission. When the time is right, let’s hope that the Cardinals recognize what he means to the team, and sign him to a long term extension.  Hopefully, he can wear the birds on the bat for the remainder of his career. God only knows what we’d do without him.

Photo courtesy of the Baseball Hall of Fame

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St. Louis area spring baseball options in ’09

With the economy in the shape it is, finding baseball alternatives in 2009 might help out your budget this year. I know baseball is a very important part of my entertainment budget. I’m a Cardinal season ticket holder and try to get to as many games as possible. However, for me to go to a game, it’s usually going to set me back $35, minimum. This is just my ticket, transportation/parking, 1 beer, and something to eat. I’m not giving up my season tickets any time soon and will still get to about 15 games this year. That’s going to be a drop from the 20 – 30 I’ve attended at Busch Stadium the past 2 or 3 years. I’m going to get my baseball fix in 2009, and here are some of the other games I will be trying to attend in the St. Louis area.

With the Cardinals not getting to St. Louis until April 6th, there is a lot of other baseball taking place in the region. In less than 2 hours, you can get to Taylor Stadium in Columbia, MO to watch a top 25 college baseball team in the Mizzou Tigers. Mizzou is led by top college prospect Kyle Gibson. Gibson is a top 10 college prospect according to most sources. There are other options for baseball in the St. Louis area that don’t include a trip to Columbia, MO. You can catch Mizzou in the St. Louis area a couple of times this spring.

Kyle Gibson - Mizzou Pitcher

Kyle Gibson - Mizzou Pitcher

You can catch Mizzou at TR Hughes Ballpark in O’Fallon, MO. The Missouri Tigers face Eastern Illinois in a game on April 28th. The Tigers also visit the St. Louis area earlier on April 1st to take on St. Louis University at Busch Stadium. Not exactly sure how the tickets work for this game, but it is another opportunity to catch one of the top collegiate teams in the country.

One of the best places to catch baseball this spring is at GCS Ballpark, the home of the Gateway Grizzlies, in Sauget, IL. The Grizzlies have posted their extra events schedule on their website. Games start on February 28th with a college baseball tournament hosted by Webster University. Webster University plays many of their home games at GCS Ballpark, but the stadium also will host collegiate games between Saint Louis University and SIU-Edwardsville, University of Indianapolis and SIU-Edwardsville, and the Great Lakes Valley Conference tournament. Not only does GCS host all these college games, they have 22 high school games, including many border war contests with Illinois high school teams matching up against Missouri high school teams. The great thing about these games is that the max cost of attending is only $5 and many are free.

The schedules for local colleges are loaded this spring, so catching a good game in your area won’t be to difficult.

Missouri Tigers
Saint Louis University
Southern Illinois University – Edwardsville
Southeast Missouri State University

SEMO actually just defeated the 16th ranked Alabama Crimson Tide on Saturday. You can catch some good baseball all over the area this spring.

One more game you may may want to catch would be a Westminster Christian Academy game started by high school pitching phenon Jacob Turner. Turner is projecting to be a top ten pick in this years amateur baseball draft. I’ll try and keep this site updated with dates he will be pitching this spring.

Jacob Turner - Westminster Academy

Jacob Turner - Westminster Academy

I was going to include the Gateway Grizzlies and River City Rascals as other St. Louis area baseball options, but I’ll save these for another post. The Grizzlies and Rascals don’t kick off their Frontier League season’s until late May. I’ll have a full Frontier League preview in a few weeks.

Until then, go out an enjoy some good baseball this spring, while we wait for the Cardinals to leave Jupiter and head back to St. Louis.

Matt Wilson

Kyle Gibson Photo – Baseball America Top Prospecs
Jacob Turner Photo – AFLAC All America Team

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Izzy signs minor league deal with Rays

Jason Isringhausen signed a minor league deal with the Tampa Bay Rays on Friday. Izzy joins a long list of former Cardinals who have joined the Rays, including Tino Martinez, Al Reyes, Troy Percival, and most recently Adam Kennedy.

Izzy was a great Cardinal and I hope he can get his 300th save in a Rays uniform. Good Luck!

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The team of the “aughties”?

Michael Riehn
Whiteyball staff

wstrophyThe decade of the 2000’s have been a good one for the Cardinals. They’ve continued their run of dominance in even numbered decades (World Championships in the 20’s, 40s, 60’s, 80’s and 2000’s) and submitted their name for discussion in the team of the decade debate. A World Series Championship, 2 pennants and 5 division titles, 1 Cy Young Award and 2 MVPs have made it a magical ride, and it’s fascinating to see how they compare to the other great teams of the decade.

With one year left in the 2000’s, can the Cardinals really make a claim as the team of the decade? Before we get into the American League (and the other heavyweight contenders: the Yankees and Red Sox), let’s take a look at the teams that have won the World Series in the National League:

 

Team Win % Playoffs Playoff WP Playoff W Div. Titles Penn. Champ
St. Louis 0.564 6 0.541 33 5 2 1
Philly 0.520 2 0.647 11 2 1 1
Florida 0.497 1 0.647 11 0 1 1
Arizona 0.504 3 0.519 14 3 1 1

 

It’s pretty easy to see that the Cardinals are well ahead of the competition for the NL title.  It would take a second World Championship by the Phillies, Marlins or the Diamondbacks to put any other team in the discussion.  A World Series Title in 2009 would make a compelling argument for any of these teams, but the Cardinals would still have a nice claim to the decade as they would most likely win every other category.

The National League has been down this decade though, so it’s not hard to see why the Cardinals have the inside track.  The American League has dominated the 2000’s so let’s look at the Cardinals versus the AL’s  two main contenders:

 

Team Win % Playoffs Playoff WP Playoff W Div. Titles Penn. Champ
St. Louis 0.564 6 0.541 33 5 2 1
Boston 0.566 5 0.630 34 1 2 2
NYYankees 0.593 8 0.526 41 7 2 1

 

A couple of things struck me about this table.  First, the Cardinals still have a chance to be team of the decade.  I really didn’t think they had a shot against these two American League teams.  They would have to win the World Series this year and the Red Sox could not win the pennant, but they still have the opportunity.  If this happened, I could still see an argument for the Red Sox, but it would be difficult to say either one was better. 

Second, I never expected the Yankees to have a compelling argument of overtaking the Red Sox for team of the decade.  I thought the Sox were a lock.  A World Series Championship by the Yankees wouldn’t just get them in the discussion, I think they would be the winner.  Boston would have a better winning percentage in the playoffs, but the division titles, playoff appearances and regular season winning percentage would tip the scale, in my opinion.

As Cardinals fans, we often complain about the team not doing enough to win and we question the moves of the ownership and front office.  If we take a step back though, we can see how truly blessed we’ve been in this decade.  Whether you believe it to be luck, skill or a combination thereof, we’ve had an amazing run that doesn’t happen to teams (not named the Yankees) very often.  Here’s hoping the Cardinals finish off the decade right and cap off one of the best decades in this storied franchise’s history.

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Spring Is In The Air, sort of

Trevor Coleman (Photo by Dustin Mattison)

Trevor Coleman (Photo by Dustin Mattison)

It might be blissfully cold here in Southeast Missouri but Spring is definitely on the way.  The St. Louis Cardinals are in full swing with workouts in Jupiter while the Division I college baseball season kicks off on Friday.

I got a text message from Ian Ostlund earlier this week with his impression of the first few days of Cardinals camp, “It’s wonderful here….what a classy organization!”  Ostlund has become a personal fave and is one to watch when looking at the southpaws competing for a spot in the Cardinals bullpen.  I had the pleasure of interviewing “Oz” recently at the Birdhouse.

So it took only a couple of days for some controversy to come out of the Cardinals camp.  Seems that Joel Pieneiro has taken exception to being left out of the Puerto Rico rotation.  First off, he is not better than Javier Vazquez, Ian Snell, or Jonathon Sanchez.  Secondly, didn’t he learn from the Adam Kennedy experience that he needs to keep things in-house?

In a couple of weeks, the minor leaguers will be ascending on RDS as the minor league phase of ST will be starting up.  I had a chance to talk shortly with left-hander Jonny Bravo recently and he let me know that he is leaving for Florida on March 9. I really believe he has a chance of starting the 2009 season at the Quad Cities.

Over at the Seamheads Historical League, my All-Time Cardinals team continues to struggle.  It looked like the team was ready to bounce back maybe using Derrick Goold’s recent blog as motivation.  But it was short lived as the team has lost three straight.

It seems to me that the more players that get busted for steroids, the better Mark McGwire looks.  It seems Joe Posnanski at Sports Illustrated feels the same way.  He has an interesting piece on McGwire and that infamous Congressional hearing. 

On the college front, a few of the teams I follow closely will be in action this weekend.

The Missouri Tigers will be in Phoenix to play a round robin tournament with Gonzaga and Nevada. The Tigers are experienced and talented at the top of their rotation with Kyle Gibson, Ian Berger, and Nick Tepesch. Behind the plate, Trevor Coleman is one of the top backstops in the country. Both Gibson and Coleman were named preseason All-Americans by Baseball America. The team is ranked number 10 by BA while ranking at number 20 in the USA Today/ESPN Coaches poll.

The College Baseball Blog ranked Gibson as the fourth best college player in the country in its Top 50.

Vanderbilt will making the trek across country for a 2-game series with Stanford before traveling up the road for another 2-game series with Cal.  Left-hander Mike Minor could continue the trend of a Commodore being picked at the top of the draft.

The Southeast Missouri Redhawks hit the road for a series against the 21st ranked Alabama Crimson Tide.  The Redhawks return most of its offense but appears to be weak on the bump.  JUCO transfer Kyle Gumenley is a southpaw that is hoping to bring consistency to the rotation.

Sikeston native and Blake Dewitt’s cousin, J.R. Bizzell, has started off strong for Rhodes College.  The senior is hitting .400/.457/.467 through his first seven games.

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Dustin Mattison

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Pujols has the Right Picture

imgp02861Earlier this week Albert Pujols interviewed with Joe Strauss and had discussions regarding his contract status that runs through 2011 including the Cardinals club option.

Pujols told Strauss that he is more concerned with winning and wants to see the Cardinals commit to winning every year if he plans to sign another contract with the Cardinals. I think I even heard a hint of willingness to give the Cardinals the “Home Team Discount” they are always looking for.

The thing that really got me worked up about this story was the media attention that it got nationally. I expected all the local media to blow it up and try and turn this story around any which way possible. What I didn’t expect was to turn on MLB Network’s Hot Stove program and see Billy Ripken discussing how Pujols should have kept this behind closed doors with the organization. He stated the Pujols was acting out trying to bully the management into making bigger free agent signings. Harold Reynolds did follow Ripken with the approach that I believe, which is Pujols just wants to win and he doesn’t really care how it’s done, he just wants 9 more rings to put on all his other fingers. Reynolds also said that Pujols is the face of the organization and there is no problem with the him saying what he feels the organization should be doing. I agree that Pujols is the face of the Cardinals and his opinion of the organization counts and should be expressed.

Pujols interviewed for the first time with the ITD Morning After radio show on Team 1380, Tuesday morning and expressed these same feelings. He wants to win and if the Cardinals management wants to rebuild and not dedicate all resources to winning, then he will possibly look at a better situation where he has a better chance to win a championship. It was a really good interview, by a usually grab-ass morning radio show. Part 1 and Part 2 can be heard by linking back to insidestl.com.

I’m glad Pujols came out and stated the comments he did. Why not? The guy has played, arguably, the best baseball in the game over the past nine years and wants to win. The Cardinals need to heed his advice and try and put a winner out there every year. I don’t think Pujols expects the Cards payroll to be $150 million, but I do believe he expects a deal to be made if it makes sense for the organization and I completely agree with him.

Matt Wilson

Photo by Matt Wilson

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Closing Time… a new beginning

Michael Riehn
Whiteyball staff

Chris Perez at the 2009 Winter Warmup

Chris Perez at the 2009 Winter Warmup

With John Mozeliak slamming the door on a possible Jason Isringhausen return, it’s becoming apparent that we will see a new closer to start the season for the Cardinals in 2009.  Last year was not a good one for our relieving corps, as they combined to lead the league in blown saves with 31.  Many people have been critical of the Cardinals offseason efforts and plans for the closer role. 

One camp has been adament that the Cardinals sign the next big free agent, and are severely disappointed that we did not sign Brian Fuentes or Francisco Rodriguez (for a boatload of money and a first round pick).  The second main group thinks we should just roll the dice with our player development.  Chris Perez or Jason Motte should sink or swim, and we should annoit one of them as the closer for 2009 at the start of spring training.  This will show us what we have, and only give confidence to make them better for the years ahead, right?

Of course there is the third camp, which most importantly happens to include Tony La Russa and Dave Duncan.  

“You still want to improve your bullpen,” La Russa said. “The optimum thing is not to ask Chris or Jason to close in ’09. Let them grow into the role when they’re ready to take it.”

I haven’t seen a lot of analysis on the “competition angle” and whether this is the right move.  I believe this deserves scrutiny.  Tony La Russa has gone on record to say that he doesn’t belive the kids are quite ready for the closer role.  He has pushed them through the media and presumably behind the scenes, but will not publicly anoint one as the fireman for this year.  Duncan has made it a full blown competition:

“If no one takes the job by the horns, you could go into the season trying to mix and match,” Duncan said. “That’s not your preference. But it can be done.”

Is it the right method to question the ability and competence of your young relief staff through the media? Will this push Perez to throw strikes under pressure or increase Motte’s ability to develop a secondary pitch? What positive outcome might these comments provide?  Remember, La Russa and Duncan are very smart and experienced men.  This ‘ain’t their first rodeo’ and they don’t make off-handed comments through the media without a purpose.

Jason Motte in Memphis 2008

Jason Motte in Memphis 2008

Contrary to popular belief, La Russa and Duncan might want Perez or Motte to win the job outright.  Cries that they don’t like young players and that they don’t give them a chance are really not accurate.  For every Anthony Reyes and (to a lesser extent) Dan Haren, there is a Bud Smith, Rick Ankiel, Albert Pujols, Yadier Molina and Adam Wainwright.  They are no dummies, and can see a player’s abilities, probably better than we can.  They aren’t totally adverse to throwing a rookie out to the mound in tight, late game situations (see Wainwright, Adam circa 2006). 

Some coaches/ managers use the media to drive or push players to varying success (it didn’t work with Scott Rolen, but some players fuel on critical comments… look at Michael Jordan or Albert Pujols). While it might not be the way you would do it, pushing a player publicly can work (as long as you are not demeaning them).

Motte and Perez have plenty of stuff (high K rates, successful minor league stats) and deserve a shot to close, but I’ve come up with 10 reasons why La Russa should push them and not anoint one of them as closer just yet:

  1. Pushing a player makes them work harder on conditioning in the offseason (especially someone with weight issues like Perez).  It looks like Tony’s comments on Perez getting in shape has paid off as he has reported to camp leaner
  2. Decreasing expectations (a young player CAN lose confidence in his abilities if pushed into a role he is not ready for)
  3. Push management to add more options.  While the Cardinals did come up empty on a free agent closer.  They made the best offer to Brian Fuentes.  He turned the muggy midwest down to be closer to his home in California, but you can’t say that they didn’t make a competitive offer.  Many people decry that the Cardinals always seem to make the second best offer.  They didn’t in this instance. 
  4. Keep young players grounded and from becoming overconfident and/or cocky
  5. Give a goal for a player to shoot for instead of giving someone a job to lose.  This is important because if you fall just short of your goal you are still pushing upward instead of regressing.
  6. Chris Perez is only 23 years old and Jason Motte is 26.  There is plenty of time for them to take the closer role if they are able to earn it.
  7. Perez does not have a good walk rate (and never has), he had a few issues with the long ball last year with 5 in 41 IP (not terrible, but not where you want it to be).  He may be our best option, but while I have a lot of confidence in his ability, I do not believe he will be a dominant closer this year.  It’s not like LaRussa and Duncan would be holding him back from being one of the best closers in the league.
  8. Perez has toyed with the idea of replacing his secondary pitch (slider) with his third pitch (curve ball) this spring.  This does not instill confidence that he is ready. 
  9. Jason Motte does not have an effective second pitch yet.
  10. Creating less expectations for a fan base is a good thing.  The closer role might be the most mentally strenuous position on the team.  We all saw how fast the fans turned on Izzy, and he had a track record for being great.  Could a young player really handle that?  Remember how tough mentally that Izzy was as a closer.  Do we really think Perez or Motte could handle the extreme negativity when Izzy had trouble with it?  I don’t care how many games Perez saved in the minors or college, the big leagues are different.  Thinking about it, this could be the number one reason to NOT anoint them the closer going into camp, and possibly making it a closer by committee for the year.

Photos courtesy of Dustin Mattison

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