Why Dominic Leone should be the Cardinals closer.

The struggles of the St. Louis bullpen were an obvious concern in 2018.  The lone highlight being the emergence of Jordan Hicks as a force in the 8th inning.  The Cardinals went into the offseason looking to add some depth to the bullpen and potentially a closer.  To this point the only impact piece that has been added is the versatile lefty Andrew Miller. Miller and Hicks will create a two way highlight reel of nasty pitches that will undoubtedly be a boost, but neither have performed as a closer in their careers for more than a few weeks. Another writer on this sight suggested John Brebbia, I too saw Brebbia as a potential closer going into 2019 but after digging into the numbers a different player stood out to me.  Someone that most of us have most likely forgot… Dominic Leone.

Let’s first work under the assumption that Miller and Hicks will most likely be middle to late inning relief.  Let’s also work under the assumption that the competition will be between Brebbia and Leone.  Brebbia’s career has taken off the last two seasons in the majors but he was actually drafted in 2011 by the New York Yankees while Leone was drafted by the Blue Jays in 2012.  Both have paid their dues in the minors to establish themselves of as more than effective relievers.  Both have great strikeout potential, Brebbia (10.66 K/9), Leone (9.75 K/9) in 2018.  Both have average fastball velocity of 95 MPH. Both have similar WHIP’s, BB/9 and so on and so on. 

Basically, they have very similar traits.  Leone was hampered by an injury in 2018, ironically his injury is one of the many reasons that Brebbia was recalled from Memphis during the season. A place that he should not have ever been, but that is an argument for a different day. Cardinals fans that will play recency bias will look at Leone’s start to 2018 and not see the real pitcher that Leone can be when healthy. In 2017 Leone excelled for the Toronto Blue Jays in the stacked American League East. In 70.1 innings, Leone held hitters to a .202 average and a skeletal .360 slugging percentage. He inherited the fourth-most runners in baseball, 54, and stranded 42 of them (a mark which put him among the very best in the American League).What stands out the most to me was his exceptional numbers against lefties, holding them to a slash line of .183/.261/.366.  Leone features a premier secondary pitch with his cutter which generates an extremely high number of swings and misses compared to other pitcher’s cutters. It is especially stingy against left handed hitters. His effectiveness against lefties is the reason he has the advantage over Brebbia whose line was not on the same level .250/.330/.455 in 2018.

Leone is not a standout closer with tons of experience but if given the chance in the backend he has shown to be effective against hitters from both sides of the plate. Going into spring training I believe all relievers will have a chance to close, assuming we don’t have another Greg Holland late signing type situation.  Leone has the velocity, secondary pitch and hopefully the opportunity. 

Cardinals struck Gold! Whats next?

An impact bat, someone that can strike fear into the hearts of opposing pitchers, a player to build your lineup around.  These were the comments most associated with the St. Louis Cardinals heading into the offseason. A team that has the ancillary pieces to win but lacked the true star that can change an organization. Enter Paul Goldschmidt, the silent assassin that has been hidden in the desert. St. Louis was able to make a deal for the perrennial MVP for a catcher that was not going to play for two years, a pitcher that was 9th on the depth chart and player that feels like the last resort throw in Brad Pitt and Jonah hill were looking for in Moneyball.  Now that the power bat has been added its time to move on to the next step.  Cardinals fans don’t want Mo and Girsch to settle.  Let’s look at some different scenarios that could happen. 

Dream Scenario-Sign Bryce Harper, Craig Kimbrel and find a suitor for Dexter Fowler.  

The Cardinals still have a need for a left-handed swinging outfielder that they can rely on for the upcoming season. Currently the projected bench consists of Yairo Munoz, Jedd Gyroko, Jose Martinez, Dexter Fowler/Tyler O’neil and whomever the backup catcher will be.  That is a litany of right handed bats to go along with the switching hitting Fowler.  The need for a left-handed swinging outfielder is obvious.  Enter Bryce Harper, the most decorated of potential free agent signings could fit right into a lineup in need of left-handed depth.  The endless ways that this lineup could be constructed with bats like Goldy, Carp, Harper and Ozuna would be a murderers row of potential OPS. dominance.

Lets be realistic in the idea that after the season someone will have to walk.  Try and lock up Harper for 10year/$350,000 deal with a player option after four years.  You then proceed to let Marcell Ozuna walk after the 2019 season and take more of your finances to lock up Goldschmidt for 3-4 years at about $25 million a year.  While that is a lot of money attributed to two players, you have to take into account that Yadier Molina’s $20 million a year will be coming off the books in 2020. 

Next you get Craig Kimbrel, the model of consistency over the last decade to be your close, eat the money for Dexter Fowler and hopefully find a suitor willing to take him on just to cut him loose. All of a sudden you have filled every hole your team has with the premium player that those positions. 

Nightmare Scenario- Cards do nothing to build on their momentum.

This is a simple answer, if the Cardinals front office decides that the bullpen is complete, the struggles to finish off games will continue.  The great offense that Goldschmidt will provide could be negated because Jordan Hicks has been overused for the week.  While bringing in an accomplished closer is not a walk in the park, the Cardinals may still be burned by their most recent moves in free agency to bolster their bullpen. Memories of the Brett Cecil and Greg Holland contract are still haunting Mozeliak, so Andrew Miller and Craig Kimbrel may be to much for him. 

If Dexter Fowler is still in the plans for the Cardinals they are banking on a player that had a historically bad season entering his age 33 season. 

Realistic Scenario- Extend Mikolas, add reliever and lefty bench player.

Miles Mikolas doesn’t bring the flash of a high-level starter.  He doesn’t have the Carlos Martinez stuff or the youth of Jack Flaherty.  What he brings is a vital ability to todays game that has gotten lost in the emergence of the bullpen era.  Mikolas is an innings eater that relies on pitching to contact and being efficient.  He will lead the team in innings pitched next year (barring injury) and will save innings for your core bullpen arms. Lock him up and throw away the key.  

Signing Tony Sipp should be the next move that completes the bullpen.  Allow your relievers to work out who the closer will be going into next season and solidify the left side. Sipp not only held lefties to a .191BA last season but also held a 0.90ERA in Minute Maid Park!  With Anthony Rizzo and Christian Yelich being the premiere players on your opposition Sipp would be the perfect addition to a staff that is unproven to say the least from the left side. 

Bryce Harper makes a lot of sense, but the addition of Goldschmidt will be the move that Mozeliak will justify over spending more for Harper.  Adding Micheal Brantley would be ideal after the pickup of Goldy, but to live more realistic I could see a reclamation project like Matt Joyce or a proven bench player like Gerardo Parra.  While these are sexy options they could fit the need of a lefty handed bat in the outfield.  Sadly though I see a platoon of Fowler/O’Neil coming into the season.  

Finally, they need to trade Jose Martinez to an American League club.  He brings limited power and basically zero defense from your bench.  He was great in 2018 but there is no where for him to go from here.  

Thanks and let me hear your opinions.

3 trades the Cardinals could make if Harper says no.

The St. Louis Cardinals are at the forefront of almost all offseason talks.  Bryce Harper,  Andrew Miller, Craig Kimbrel, Michael Brantley and basically anyone that has a pulse have been referenced as potential pickups.  The Cardinals have also been linked as a potential trade candidate for Diamondbacks Star Paul Goldschimdt.  If any of these scenarios were not to play out there are a few options that would make a lot of sense for Mo and Girsch to look into.

Kirby Yates, RP, San Diego Padres

The Cardinals have made it apparent that they are in need of a swing and miss pitcher at the backend of their bullpen.  Yates has quietly been one of the most consistent relievers for a bullpen that has been widely underrated. Yates has posted a staggering 29.% K-BB ranking him 7th among all pitchers that have pitched 40 innings or more. He has two pitches that cause above average swing and miss rates, his split-change (45.9%) and slider (44%).

Yates can fit right into the Cardinals bullpen as a late inning reliever and potential closer.  His contract is also very team friendly as he is controlled until the 2020 season. The Padres have an asset that they can move for more young talent that can help continue their rebuild .  Yates at 31 years old is not a player that the Padres are looking to build anything around.  Take advantage of the situation and get your self a swing and miss pitcher.

Justin Smoak, 1B, Toronto Blue Jays

Like the Padres, the Blue Jays are looking at a rebuild.  Rowdy Tellez showed that he is ready for the majors.  That means Smoak will be on his way out. Cardinals fans will have their issues with the Smoak pick up.  Known more for his inconsistency after being a highly touted prospect, Smoak followed up a breakout 2017 season with a respectable 2018 season. Smoak also brings a switching hitting aspect to his game, more effectively from the left side (A need for the Cardinals), from the left side Smoak excelled with a .867 OPS, hitting 20 of his 25 homers.

Smoak doesn’t bring much with the glove sitting at about league average over the last four seasons in defensive runs saved. A team in need of offense, however, could be willing to overlook these drawbacks for a switch-hitter who has created 28 percent more runs (128 wRC+) than the average big league hitter over the last two seasons.The 31-year-old has an .854 OPS and 62 homers over the last two seasons. Good stuff for a guy whose 2019 club option will only pay out $8 million.

David Peralta, OF, Arizona Diamondbacks

The Diamondbacks have a litany of great players up for grabs.  The most underrated of them all could be Outfielder David Peralta.  Peralta has seen a jump in power statistics in 2018.

  ISO SLG wOBA wRC+
2017 150 444 342 104
2018 223 516 368 130

The increases led to the most productive season of Peralta’s career.  Peralta has his issues most notably with left-handed pitching, hitting only .237 against southpaws.  It got to the point that Peralta had become a platoon player for the D-Backs.  With a $7.7MM arb projection and two years of club control left for a D-backs team that has looked at some degree of rebuild this winter Peralta is a relatively expensive but reliable piece that the Cardinals can make work.

If the Cardinals are committed to moving on from Dexter Fowler in they can look at a platoon of Tyler O’Neil and David Peralta to compliment Marcell Ozuna and Harrison Bader. While a platoon is not ideal Peralta will be able to cover the inefficiencies of Tyler O’Neil.

Adding these three players will not make most fans happy.  Cardinal nation is screaming for a big time star.  While we wait and see the outcome of  MLB’s version of “The Decision”, fans have to understand that maybe the big star the fanbase seeks is not in this years class.  Next year Nolan Arenado will be a free agent…..just sayin.

Six Man Rotation Pros and Cons

The St. Louis Cardinals saw a small glimpse of the future this weekend.  Jack Flaherty took the mound and dazzled the Busch Stadium crowd with a masterful performance that has now forced the hands of Cardinals management to make a decision they had thought and possibly hoped they wouldn’t be forced to make in 2018.  Flaherty has solidified himself in the rotation similar to the way Luke Weaver did in 2017, he took the decision away from them with his performance.   The Cardinals now stare at a rotation that features Miles Mikolas, Michael Wacha, Luke Weaver, Jack Flaherty and at the moment Jon Gant.  Formidable as that is the impending return of Carlos Martinez is coming along with a prospect by the name of Alex Reyes…perhaps you have heard of him?  With Gant being the guy most likely to enjoy another bus trip back to Memphis that leaves the birds with an interesting decision.  Six starters, traditionally five spots.  What do they do?  This is a decision that is best handled the old fashion way pros and cons list!

Pros

Six man rotation can save innings for young starters

In a day of Tommy John surgeries being passed around like chicken pox in a kindergarten class room innings restrictions have become the new fun trend of the MLB.  Bulldogs like Nolan Ryan and Cris Carpenter are no longer seemed to exist in a time where players and agents look at the long term over the short.  The Cardinals will feature one of the youngest rotations in baseball with an average age of 25.  They will also feature a rotation that has had its fair share of injuries.  Martinez, Wacha and Reyes stand out as players that have dealt with injuries during their young careers.  While Flaherty, Weaver and Mikolas have all not been featured in rotations for the length of a Major League Baseball season. A six man rotation will allow the Cardinals to limit the innings for the starters will also keeping their starter regiment the same thus not having to worry about transitioning them from the bullpen.

Don’t have to leave an asset in he minors

There seems to be nothing worse for a fanbase then to watch a young talent sit in AAA.  The backlash for Jack Flaherty dominating in Memphis while Adam Wainwright was trying to “find” it at the major league level was frustrating for the fanbase.  Carson Kelly has been another example of a young player that seems to have nothing left to prove at the minor league level but has been blocked by a veteran.  Problem for him is that there is only one player allowed to play catcher per game and that one player for the Cardinals is a potential hall of famer still playing at a high level.  The Cardinals have major league ready starters that have to be played.  Reyes, Weaver and Flaherty cannot waste a year helping Memphis win a championship when they can help the big club bring home a World Series.

Cons

Less starts from your #1

Carlos Martinez, when healthy, is a Cy Young candidate.  He has also graduated to Adam Wainwrights role as a team leader.    Moving to a six man rotation would mean limiting his games started and potentially setting him up for less opportunities down the home stretch of the season.  Limiting your best pitcher is never a recipe for success.

It’s never been done.

The Los Angeles Angels talked about the potential of a six man rotation after signing Japanese sensation Shoehei Otani.  Ultimately deciding not to invest in what I am sure baseball purist see as an abomination to the game.  There is no statistical proof that a six man rotation will improve the likelihood pitcher injuries or improve overall performance.  We live in a baseball world that relies on stats and with no stats to support this strategy then it may as well not be an option.

 

Sabermetrician Russell Carleton wrote that six-man rotations offer few obvious benefits in terms of pitching performance: The extra day of rest doesn’t seem to increase pitcher strikeout rates or reduce walk rates. And, because the extra man entails splitting up the workload among a larger group of people, it tends to dilute the effect of truly great starting pitchers. Over a full season, a six-man rotation results in about 30-50 fewer innings per starter.

The Cardinals have a great problem coming their way when their starters are healthy.  They also have a mind in the dugout like Mike Maddux that can help Matheny transition into a new way of thinking.  Would it be easier to have one of these guys go to the bullpen?  The answer is yes, but would it make your team better to have a potential ace coming in for maybe an inning?  No! I don’t see the Cardinals going with a six man rotation based on the comments from John Mozeliak, but wouldn’t it be cool if for once the Cardinals were at the forefront of alternative baseball thinking.

Cards vs. Mets: A defining series

The New York Mets head into St. Louis Tuesday night for a three game series against the Cardinals.  Two teams sitting at the top of their respective divisions will meet for the second time in 2018. This matchup will determine where the Cardinals currently stand when it comes to the hierarchy of National League contenders.

Winners of 8 of their last 10 games, the Cardinals climbed up the MLB power rankings. Power has been the key to the movement, they have 30 home runs, tied for most in the National League and second most in the majors. Yadier Molina and Paul Dejong’s power surges along with Jose Martinez’s emergence as the 3-hole hitter that the birds on the bat have been looking for since the departure of Albert Pujols.

While the Cardinals sit at the top of the Central Division, most of their wins have come against the dumpster fire that is the Cincinnati Reds.  They head into the matchup with the New York Mets looking to win their first series against a team with a winning record. The Mets will enter this series with a chance to make another statement against a proverbial contender. New York entered the 2018 season with mid-level expectations sitting in a division with everyone’s favorite regular season team, the Washington Nationals.  The Met’s have come out firing the first month of the season starting the season 14- 6, also winning their opening weekend series against St. Louis.  New York’s addition of Adrian Gonzalez and Todd Frazier has brought consistency to the lineup as well as veteran presences.  Outfield Brandon Nimmo’s sudden emergence has also brought an unexpected spark to the lineup. The pitching staff has stayed healthy early on, the signing of veteran lefty Jason Vargas has also given them depth to handle the breakdown of the Dark Knight Matt Harvey.

The Cardinals may have caught a small break with Met’s pushing back Zack Wheeler to start this series after a rainout cause him to miss his start against Atlanta. The righty will seek his first career win against the Cardinals, as he’s 0-2 with a 4.76 ERA in two starts. The rainout means the Cardinals will not see one of the two phenom’s the Met’s rotation sports as Jacob Degrom has been moved out of this series.  After Wheeler, the Mets will send out  lefty Steven Matz, who took the loss in his first start of the season against Cardinals giving up three runs over four innings on April 1st in New York.  They will conclude the series against Noah Syndergaard who has 39 K’s in 27 1/3 innings, but his inefficiency has left him “disappointed and frustrated with how I’ve been throwing.” He is 1-2 with a 3.79 ERA in his career vs. St. Louis.

Rotational stability is up in the air at the moment for the Cardinals as Adam Wainwright was sent to the 10-day DL for the second time in 2018.  Luke Weaver will take the mound in game one of the series. Weaver suffered his 1st loss last time out, when he allowed 6 runs in 4 innings to the Cubs. He earned his 1st win of the season against the Mets earlier this month. After Weaver, the Cardinals have left it uncertain for the final two games of the series. Micheal Wacha and Carlos Martinez would make sense, as they both would be on normal rest. Matheny though, has already shown that he is willing to tweak the rotation. With an inner division series in Pittsburgh coming up after the weekend, he could look to give Martinez an extra day off to pitch the opener in Pittsburgh.

The Cardinals will head into this series with a chance to make an early season statement to the rest of the league.  They will have a chance to show the league that they are a legit contender.  It will be important that they contain the middle of the order especially Asdrubal Cabrera, the switching hitter has been a lightning rod for the Mets lineup all season.  The Met’s have had a problem giving up home runs early in the season giving up 1.15 homers per game in 2018 which has them ranked 23rd in the league. The Met’s seem to have a problem with home runs, which is perfect for a Cardinal team that ranks 2nd in the league in home runs per game.

The Cardinals are set up to win this series. They should win this series. Playoff teams win these series at home, let’s see what they are made of.