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Ludwick signed, avoids arbitration.

Ryan Ludwick signed yesterday afternoon, continuing the Cardinals streak of not going to an arbitration hearing with a player since 1999.

The Ludwick deal is around the $3.7 million mark with some extra incentives possible. The Cardinals went over the 1/2 way point between their offer of $2.8 million and Ludwick’s request of $4.25.

This is a good move for the Cardinals. I believe making these moves keeps your players happy and will end up helping you in future contract negotiations.

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Top 5 spring training stories

When was the last time the Cardinals came to camp with as many questions as they have this year? With pitchers and catchers reporting to camp today, I wanted to list my top 5 stories to watch and also provide my predictions for these 2009 stories to watch. Leave comments and let me know your predictions.

Story 1

Skip Schumaker at the 2009 Winter Warmup

Skip Schumaker at the 2009 Winter Warmup

With Adam Kennedy kicked to the curb, there is a job to win at second base. This battle is wide open with possibilities being outfielder Skip Schumaker, former highly touted prospect Joe Thurston, Brendan Ryan, Brian Barden, Jarrett Hoffpauir, and Tyler Greene. I’m going to say that Greene and Hoffpauir are not going to get a good look. Barden and Ryan just don’t have the bat that Tony wants to see, which leaves me seeing a competition between Schumaker and Thurston. Can the outfielder convert to a second baseman or can the productive minor leaguer finally convert that talent in the big leagues. I know some are picking Thurston as the Cards ’09 second baseman to watch for, but I think Schumaker is going to win the job. On April 6th the Cardinals leadoff hitter and starting second baseman will be Skip Schumaker.

Story 2

The injury to Troy Glaus leaves another hole in the starting infield for opening day. The Cards are going to need someone to man third base until Glaus is able to return. Your key options look like David Freese, Brett Wallace, and Joe Mather. There are many other options, but I think these are the key players. I think the Cardinals are going to keep Wallace in the minors this year for more seasoning. Mather is going to make the team, but he will be a super sub who will possibly be getting time at second, third, and of course in the outfield. That leaves Freese as your starting third baseman on opening day. I don’t know if Freese is going to win the job, but I think the Cardinals need him to be their opening day third baseman. Wallace is the superstar in the waiting and Glaus is a free agent after this year. The Cardinals need to see what they have in Freese to see what they have. Freese could be a valuable trading chip if he performs well to start the season. David Freese will be the starting third baseman at Busch Stadium on opening day.

Story 3

Who is going to be the Cardinals 2009 closer? There are a few different options going into spring training. Chris Perez, Jason Motte, and Ryan Franklin are looking like the most likely candidates. I think we experienced Franklin closing too much last season and the bullpen is going to be in trouble if this is the final outcome. Jason Motte just doesn’t have the second pitch needed to succeed. Major league hitters are going to catch up to Motte’s heat, so if he doesn’t develop a second pitch, he’s not going to be a productive major league pitcher. That leaves Perez, who is my choice for winning the job. Perez has been doing the job since pitching at Miami. Perez has two quality pitches to work with and gained valuable experience partially closing out games in 2008. The big club will break for St. Louis with Chris Perez as their closer.

Story 4

Chris Carpenter. What are the Redbirds going to get from Chris Carpenter? This story will affect so much. The Cardinals entire rotation depends on the health of Carpenter. We don’t even know if the bullpen could be changed due to Carpenter’s condition. A rotation of Carpenter, Wainwright, Lohse, Wellemeyer, and Pineiro doesn’t look half bad, but remove Carpenter and push everyone up and add whoever into the 5th starter spot and things look scary. If Carpenter is healthy, this team can be successful. If not, then they will need to look for another starter over the next couple of weeks. I think they will bring in another arm in the next couple of weeks, but who that will be is anybody’s guess.

Story 5

Needs, needs, needs. The Cardinals definitely have needs. Just in the above 4 stories there are possible needs at second, third, closer, and in the starting rotation. What will the Cardinals do? The free agent market still has many options available. I don’t really see the Cardinals going after a free agent options to fill their needs at second, third or in the pen. I do think we’ll see a new pitcher coming to Jupiter pretty soon to help solidify the rotation. There is just too much uncertainty with Carpenter to leave the rotation as is.

Let me know your thoughts on spring training by leaving comments on this post. I love reading others opinions and trying to keep up with the spring training happenings, so let me know.

Matt Wilson

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Comparing Slick Rick to Smokey Joe

By Michael Riehn
Photo courtesy of: Every Stock Photo
“Can I throw harder than Joe Wood?  Listen my friend, there’s no man alive (that) can throw harder than Smokey Joe Wood” 
                                                 – Hall of Famer Walter Johnson in a 1912 interview*
Smokey Joe Wood

Smokey Joe Wood

Sometimes I think we forget how special the Rick Ankiel story really is.  One of the most promising pitching prospects in all of baseball, he truly dominated the National League in his rookie year of 2000.  He did this at the tender age of 20 with a great fastball and a cartoon curveball.  His future looked as bright as anyone in the majors. 

Everyone knows what happened next.  During the first round of the playoffs that year, it all came apart.  Suddenly he couldn’t find the plate and lost all of his confidence in pitching.  There was no cure or remedy for his wildness and he never came back to form. 
 
Through years of trials and tribulations, Ankiel finally gave up on pitching, seemingly heading into retirement, a tragic story of wasted talent and promise unfulfilled.  Then suddenly, he changed his mind and decided to make a comeback.  He was going to be a hitter.  What started out looking like a joke, Ankiel began a slow climb back to the majors as a “born again” power hitter, culminating in his return to the majors as an outfielder.  In 2007-08 he expanded on this promise to become a very good hitter and fielder and an integral part of the Cardinal offense.

Since Ankiel signed a new contract with the Cardinals yesterday, I thought it would be a good time to be reminded of this amazing feat.  While preparing for his arbitration hearing,  many experts were saying how difficult it was to compare Ankiel to his peers.  No modern day player has made the switch, and you can look back through history and there is very few players who have successfully made the conversion from pitching to hitting.  Sure, Babe Ruth was an All-Star pitcher before he became one of the greatest hitters who ever lived, but how do you compare anyone to him?

I am currently reading “The Glory of Their Times” and was surprised to find a story about a player who converted from pitcher to outfielder, after showing much of the same promise of Ankiel.  Of course this happened 90 years earlier, but I wanted to learn more about him.  I had heard of Smokey Joe Wood before, but I had forgotten about his hitting career and what he went through to make it again.  With Ankiel’s arbitration case fresh in my mind, I thought I’d take a look at how they compared at similar ages. 

 This is what Rick Ankiel and Smokey Joe Wood did in their age 20 seasons.  It was Wood’s second full year (his first was as an 18 year old) and Ankiel’s rookie year.
 

Player Year Age ERA ERA+ IP SO BB
Ankiel 2000 20 3.50 134 175.0 194 90
Wood 1910 20 1.68 152 198.7 145 56

 

Now these two pitchers were different in a lot of ways, but in their age 20 seasons they were quite comparable.  I’d like to highlight one statistic in specific.  ERA+ is not your run of the mill baseball card statistic.  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.  So if you played in the deadball era (as Wood did) where strikeouts were more uncommon (but your ERA was lower), you can compare them to someone in the “juiced ball era” of 2000.  Anything over 100 is above average and both Ankiel and Wood were very good pitchers at 20.  Wood was a little better.

Unfortunately this is where the two pitchers diverge on the pitching side.  While Ankiel showed promise, he didn’t have the ensuing seasons that Wood had.  In fact, for a short period of time, Smokey Joe Wood was one of the best pitchers in all of baseball.  In 1912, he led the league in wins with a 34-5 record, pitched 344 innings, was 2nd in the league in strikeouts with 258 and second in the league in ERA with a miniscule 1.91.  He led the league with 10 shutouts and tied a record for the most wins in a row with 16.  He also won 3 more games in the World Series and helped the Boston Red Sox to the championship.

In 1913 Wood hurt his arm and was never the same.  You can speculate that he threw too many innings in 1912 at a young age, or that modern medicine would have put him back on track, but he would never pitch a full season again.  While he pitched effectively over the next 3 years, he was in constant pain and had to take extra days off between starts.  He finally retired in 1916 and was out of baseball. 

Like Ankiel, Wood decided to make a comeback as a hitter.  Now we get to the spooky part.  Ankiel and Wood both made their full season hitting comebacks at age 28 and this is what they did:

Player Year Age AB BA OBP HR SLG OPS+
Ankiel 2008 28 413 0.264 0.337 25 0.506 119
Wood 1918 28 422 0.296 0.356 5 0.403 120

 
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.  An OPS+ over 100 is better than average, less than 100 is below average.  Rick Ankiel and Joe Wood were almost IDENTICALLY effecitive hitters with 119 and 120 OPS+ scores in their age 28 seasons.  Now Ankiel had more power, but Wood had more on base ability and played in a tougher era for hitters.  Wood’s 5 home runs were actually 5th in the league. 

Wood played 4 more seasons.  Over the next three years he was a part time player, but in his last season he was again a solid regular with a 109 OPS+.  Curiously he retired after that season to coach at Yale University, even though he was offered another contract to play.  He had a 20 year career coaching at Yale and had no regrets about retiring early from major league baseball at 32.  He felt he accomplished something through his comeback, and was ready for the next phase of his life.

We don’t know what twist or turn is going to happen in the Rick Ankiel story.  Like 2000, the future holds a lot of promise for the former pitching phenom.  Will he follow the same path as Joe Wood, or continue his progression and become an All-Star?  Lucky for Cardinal fans, we have a front row seat to the action.  Hopefully this fairytale movie has a happy ending.

*(Excerpt from “The Glory of Their Times, Lawrence Ritter)

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Cardinals and Ankiel settle on contract

Rick Ankiel at the 2009 Winter Warmup

Rick Ankiel at the 2009 Winter Warmup

The Cardinals avoid arbitration with Rick Ankiel today, agreeing on a 1 year $2,825,000 contract.  The settlement was completed just hours before an arbitration hearing that would have determined his contract.

Michael Riehn

(Photo courtesy of Dustin Mattison)

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Ask not what Kennedy can do for you…

Adam Kennedy - Cardinal Winter Warmup 2009

Adam Kennedy - Cardinal Winter Warmup 2009

Adam Kennedy was never an extremely popular player on the Cardinals, but he was worth more than people think.  While I’m not heartbroken over his release, he had some value. Granted he’s been a terrible hitter since he joined the Cardinals in 2007.  Even without looking at statistics, it always seemed to me like he hit a medium fly ball to right center or topped the ball to second or first EVERY TIME I WAS WATCHING HIM.  So what was his value?

While growing up, I was a baseball card junkie.  I collected over 20,000 baseball cards and loved looking at batting average, home runs, rbi and especially stolen bases (it was the 80’s and I was a Cardinals fan).  While these basic stats give you a snapshot for what a player has accomplished, it really doesn’t show how good a player is.  Someone that hits .280 with a .350 on base percentage (OBP) is MUCH more valuable than someone that hits .280 with a .321 mark. To simplify it, Player A is on base more and scores more runs (which helps the team win).

This brings us to why Kennedy was terrible.  Yes he improved his batting average last year, but it was VERY ’empty’, as he didn’t take a lot of walks or get hit by a lot of pitches. He got on base at a .321 clip last year and only slugged (SLG) .372.   So what’s wrong with that? For a guy that doesn’t hit the ball very hard (.413 SLG is league average), you need to be a little better than league average in on base percentage (.330 average), to have some value.  A +.350 OBP is usually considered good and Chipper Jones led the league last year with a .470 mark.  Thus, he couldn’t get on base and he couldn’t drive the ball very far… not a good combination.

This doesn’t mean he didn’t have any value to the team.  What about his fielding?

Measuring how good a player fields has always been much tougher than hitting.   Everyone knows the traditional fielding metrics (errors, fielding chances, sportscenter highlights), but they are a poor way of measuring defensive skill.  Your pitchers could be a ground ball staff (meaning you get more chances and more errors), or a fly ball staff.  Everyone knows how good Ozzie Smith was just by watching him, but how do you define his greatness when he might have more errors (and a lot more chances) than someone else? 

You need to measure how many balls a player SHOULD get to, and how many balls he got to that are out of a normal fielder’s range.  This is the question that the UZR (Ultimate Zone Rating) stat tries to answer.  This fielding metric takes the fielders chances and turns them into runs that a fielder saves or costs a team.  For instance, a zero would mean that a player didn’t cost the teams any runs with bad play or save the team runs with good plays (averaged out over the season).  So if he made an error, he also made a good play that he shouldn’t have made to cancel it out.

Last year Kennedy was one of the best second basemen in the league per the UZR advanced fielding metrics.  He saved 10.4 runs over the course of the season.  This may not seem like a lot, but it put him 4th in all of baseball, even though he only played in 84 games.  While this doesn’t totally offset his hitting ineptitude, it does give him value.   We need to take this into consideration when we are looking at Skip Schumaker’s stats and dreaming about how much better he’d be in the lineup than Kennedy. (Skip has to prove he’s at least passable at second base this spring, which is going to be a tall order). 

Of course I do have fond memories of Kennedy.  I was in Wrigley Field last year the day after he requested a trade.  He hit a grand slam home run and almost single handedly beat the Cubs with a fantasic day, going 4-5 with 3 runs and 5 RBI (the Cardinals only win of the series) .  I’ll always remember that day due to the friends that were with me and the show Adam Kennedy put on.  For one game at least, he was Babe Ruth.  Any player can have a career day and be the star in baseball, which is one of the great things about the game.

Michael Riehn

(Photo courtesy of Dustin Mattison)

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Staying put, the right move?

I’m Matt Wilson and I’m going to start throwing my opinion around on Whiteyball a couple of times a week.  I’m planning on using this as an outlet to hopefully get out the full range of emotions I will experience because of the Cardinals throughout the year.  I’ll also throw in some Frontier League Indy ball updates.  I worked in 2 different Frontier League organizations over a 4 year period, so someone might enjoy some Frontier League updates.  My first post will be all Cardinals, because that’s what’s in my mind right now.

As 2008 closed, I was becoming more and more frustrated with the organization that said they were going to be “very active” in the offseason.  I don’t consider the addition of Greene, Miller, Ring, and the other lefty “very active”. But now, I’m starting to turn the corner. I’m starting to believe this club is actually taking all the right steps.

Spring training is just a few days away and there are still many high profile free agents on the market, considering it’s the first week of February. This is the biggest reason why the Cardinals have been less than motivated to pull the trigger on any deals or signings.

The Cardinals want to trade, but trading will be difficult this offseason because of the abundance of free agent outfielders. The key trading chips are in the outfield (Ankiel, Ludwick, Schumaker, Duncan, Barton, Mather, and Rasmus) and until the players listed below are signed, I don’t see any team trading anything away for something they can pick up fairly inexpensively on the open market on a 1 year contract.

(Bobby Abreu, Moises Alou, Garret Anderson, Adam Dunn, Jim Edmonds, Luis Gonzales, Ken Griffey Jr,  and Manny Ramirez)

 

Now a few of those players might not be great options, but for a one year contract for little money, you could do much worse. So don’t look for any possible trade rumors to float around until the majority of free agent outfielders are signed. That leaves the free agent market to search for a starting pitcher, which is the teams biggest need in my opinion.

One starting pitcher, Randy Wolf,  just came off the market.  I think the Cardinals and Wolf would have been a good match.  He pitched well in Houston, late last season, and Duncan just seems to bring out the best in most pitchers. The Wolf deal with LA was an extra million over Lohse’s deal last year, but a deal that was within the Cards budget.  Wolf may have been set on playing on the west coast, so he might not have been an option.  Some rankings had Wolf right there with Oliver Perez who just got a 3 year, 36 million dollar contract. So your remaining free agent options at this point are the likes of Braden Looper, Freddy Garcia, or reclamation projects like Pedro Martinez, Kris Benson, or Mark Mulder. As frustrating as it is to put your hope in Chris Carpenter, that is where we are, and in my opinion, that is what you have to do at this point.

Don’t hate the Cardinals, hate MLB.  When I look at the upcoming season, the Cardinals have needs, but at this time, those needs can’t be obtained.  The free agent market is thin.  Trading options are few and far between, considering the Cardinals trading chips are outfielders.  I want to wait until a few more signings occur and we can see if a trade market opens up, but over the past month, I’ve went from frustrated Cardinal fan, to understanding fan who thinks this organization is making some pretty good decisions and I’m not the only one who thinks this.

Matt Wilson

 

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Who am I, Why am I here?

Hello everyone, my name is Michael Riehn.  I am a lifelong Cardinal fan and will be contributing my opinion a couple of times a week to the Whiteyball blog.  My Philosophy is simple:  The Cardinals are not idiots.  Looking through the spin, I’m going to try to delve deeper into why I believe they do the things they do.  This won’t make me popular with some, but I believe in my heart of hearts that 3 of the people that care most about the Cardinals winning in this world are LaRussa, DeWitt and Mozeliak.  If we are going to be friends, you should know this up front. 

Now, this does not mean I follow what they say or do blindly.  I can be critical, and love to play devil’s advocate.  Like anyone in sports, they will make mistakes (they jumped the gun on the Lohse signing IMO), and some of them will be big ones.  Saying that, I was never in the “Sign Ben Sheets Now! camp, and had suspicions that there was some reason that his price was going down and nobody was signing him.  Again, the Cardinals are not stupid.

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My first topic for discussion is about the Cardinals top prospect:  Why are Cardinal fans up in arms for Colby Rasmus to be in the majors RIGHT NOW? Many experts feel the Cardinals should anoint him as their starting centerfielder from day 1 of spring training.   Is it because we want to see him right away or do we think he will make that much of a difference in 2009?

Let’s see if I can make a chart without screwing it up (fingers crossed).  Below is the CHONE projections for 5 Cardinal outfielders.   

PA AVG OBP SLG OPS
489 0.253 0.319 0.475 0.794
456 0.254 0.349 0.450 0.799
506 0.267 0.344 0.499 0.843
516 0.246 0.335 0.398 0.733
495 0.285 0.341 0.395 0.736

Now these are just projections, but what if I told you the guy with the lowest OPS is Rasmus?  (key:  Ankiel, Duncan, Ludwick, Rasmus and Schumaker)  Would you still feel he should be a lock to start the season with us?  If so, why?  

A player only has 6 years until free agency.  Long term, would it be better to have Colby cheaply from 23-28 than 22-27. Especially, when we have a options that should do roughly what he would (next year only, he will be better going forward). Can we get the same contributions (or more) from a combination of Duncan/ Skip/ Mather? Logically, wouldn’t it be better for Colby to start the season in the minors? 

Holding his rights is important, but you may believe this is a never ending cycle.  You may ask if holding his rights from 24-29 is more important than having them from 23-28?  In my opinion, the answer to that question should be, “We keep Rasmus in the minors until he has shown to be better than the player(s) he is replacing”.

That is, unless the Cardinals can convert some OF assets into something else of need.  In a perfect world, this is what we’d do.  We need pitching (1 year closer or starter), but you can’t just waive your magic wand and make a trade.  This isn’t a fantasy league.  The market doesn’t look very good for outfielders right now when you see Dunn, Ramirez, Abreu, Griffey, et all still on the free agent market (and other players available via trade). 

can’t wait to see Rasmus roam the outfields of Busch, but i don’t think he should be given a spot until it’s clear that he’s an upgrade over the other options.  Right now, i don’t think it is clear. 

Michael Riehn

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