Category Archives: Baseball Dailies

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Jason Heyward and Deja Vu

Remember that time the St. Louis Cardinals handed out one of the richest contracts in baseball for a player who was just OK offensively but was an elite defender at his position? No, this is not breaking news about the signing of Jason Heyward. This is a statement that signing him for $20 million or more per year for a period of eight or more years isn’t really a bad idea.

…unless you also would have passed on the signing of Ozzie Smith in 1985.

I can hear the laughter…I can feel the eyes rolling…and I can sense the windows about to be clicked close, so first let me get the caveats out there:

  • Jason Heyward is not Ozzie Smith, and I don’t mean to imply that he is or ever will be.
  • Ozzie Smith signed his contract before his age-30 season as a seven-year veteran; Heyward will sign his next contract before his age-26 season as a six-year veteran.
  • Being an elite outfielder and being the best defensive shortstop (player?) the game has ever seen are not even close to the same thing, and I know that.
  • The game–and the player traits/talents valued within it–are vastly different today than they were 30 years ago.

With all that out of the way, here’s what I am saying: there is precedent for the Cardinals handing out what is an outlandish (for the era) contract to an elite defender with a questionable bat. And they really ought to go back to that well one more time.

I’m not what they call “smart” when it comes to advanced math, but I do understand its place in the game. For a deeper dive on the statistics side, take a look at this article from the SABR site about Ozzie being worth his “outlandish” contract–all $2.2 million per year of it–and then take a look at this article on Fangraphs about Jason Heyward’s contract outlook in free agency. Both are telling with regard to just how much player salaries have spiked over the years, but they also indicate the value those salaries covered or will cover.

And I know that’s pretty heady stuff. I also know there is value, both real and perceived, in the counting stats like batting average, home runs, RBI, etc. So age differences aside, here’s a quick comparison of “baseball card stats” for The Wizard and J-Hey through the first six seasons of their respective careers:

Smith – 3,729 PA: .235/.306/.293, 6 HR, 222 RBI, 206 SB, 959 TB

Heyward – 3,429 PA: .268/.353/.431, 97 HR, 352 RBI, 86 SB, 1,295 TB

It’s not close: Jason Heyward is a superior hitter to Ozzie Smith. And frankly, so were most hitters throughout history, as well as nearly every Hall of Famer before him or since. It’s no secret Smith’s value was almost exclusively about his defense. I mean, aside from the iconic 1985 NLCS home run, pretty good (for the era) stolen base totals, and the outstanding MVP runner-up campaign he put together in 1987–the only season in which his batting average topped .300, but also in which he hit zero (!) home runs–Ozzie Smith was a pretty pedestrian hitter. And yet he made more money per year on this deal than contemporary and fellow Hall of Famer Eddie Murray, who was a perennial Top-10 in homers, RBI, batting average, OPS, etc.

This was not some crazy oversight at the time, either. Check out this article from the LA Times about Ozzie’s contract extension, and this article from the NY Times during the stretch run of that season. It’s hard to imagine now with the advantage of hindsight, but giving him that contract was a pretty big deal and not everyone was on board.

The reason, of course, is that at the time Ozzie Smith was recognized as an all-world defender but, offensively, not worth the dollars he was commanding. Sound familiar?

There are a dozen MLB players who have signed contracts of $200 million or more, and more than 40 who have earned $20 million per year or more. Now we can debate the theory of whether those dollar amounts are outlandish or a 10 year contract is absurd. I’m not saying anyone is crazy if they are against 10-year, $200+ million contracts as a matter of principle. But this is the current climate in which MLB operates. And with these new billion dollar TV deals kicking in all around the league, it’s not like these numbers will regress going forward. The Cardinals already have such a deal in place, so money really is no object here. And with Heyward being only 26, years really shouldn’t be either.

Comparing Jason Heyward and Ozzie Smith as players may approach comparing apples and oranges, but let’s not pretend giving Heyward a huge contract would be franchise-crippling or somehow stupid because he won’t ever lead the league in homers and RBI. Run prevention can lead to success, too; just ask the 100-win, 3.99-runs-per-game 2015 Cardinals. There are other options on the free agent market, and the Cards certainly could find ways to win with other guys. But they can also find exceptional, possibly franchise-altering value in a guy that doesn’t yank one over the wall 30 times every year. They’ve done it before.

 

–Chris

I’ll Miss Jon Jay, but…

…I’m not sad he’s gone.

The Cardinals shipped Jay to the San Diego Padres for Jedd Gyorko and cash. It was a necessary move, even if an unpopular one for some.

I like Jon Jay. He made some great catches, scored some big runs, and occasionally has awesome hair. He remains one of the faces of that glorious 2011 World Series run. But I get why it was time to move him. The minuses–terrible arm, not very good speed, no power at the plate, recovering from injury, in his walk year, wrong side of 30–simply outweigh the pluses. And if the Cardinals do absolutely nothing else this offseason, he would still only be the fifth best outfielder on the roster behind Randal Grichuk, Stephen Piscotty, Matt Holliday, and Tommy Pham.

That’s an important point to remember: a LOT of things would have to break his way for Jon Jay to be a starter on the 2016 St. Louis Cardinals. In San Diego, he has a much better shot at more playing time; he may even be their Opening Day leadoff hitter. But the chances of that happening wearing the Birds on the Bat fell somewhere between slim and none. Jay is an OK fielder with a rag arm and a wet newspaper bat. It’s unfortunate, especially since he was injured for a large part of 2015. But even if he played to his averages–.287/.354/.384, 6 HR, 50-ish RBI, 104 OPS+–who sits while he plays? Holliday? Grichuk? Piscotty?

ThIMAG0297is move is part of a grand overhaul of the bench–which the Cardinals sorely needed–that began in the middle of the 2015 season with the acquisition of Brandon Moss. They may have had solid defensive replacements in Peter Bourjos, Pete Kozma, Tony Cruz, and even Jay to an extent. But they’re likely to get more offense from Moss, Gyorko, Pham, and Brayan Pena.

At least that’s the hope. In Gyorko, the Cards get a middle infielder with some pop at the plate. He’s not a world-beater offensively OR defensively, but he’s got some upside the recent alternatives simply didn’t. And the Cardinals had to find someone who could spell Jhonny Peralta and platoon with Kolten Wong, which could help both have better seasons in 2016.

And stay tuned for more. With the loss of Lance Lynn for the season to go with the injury question marks already surrounding the rest of the rotation, they will still look for a starting pitcher. Maybe a trade completely upends things on what projects to be the Opening Day starting lineup. Maybe they still re-sign Jason Heyward and shuffle the deck at first base even more. But I certainly don’t think this trade is the only thing John Mozeliak does to the roster this offseason.

Bottom line: the Cardinals needed more power from their bench, and Jon Jay was the odd man out. I sincerely hope he fully recovers from his injury and has a great year as a starting outfielder in San Diego. At the very least, he needs to be healthy in mid-July when the Padres visit Busch Stadium so he can collect his requisite Sea of Red standing ovation.

 

Fantasy Flop

I enjoy fantasy baseball, especially daily fantasy games. I have had very little luck with fantasy leagues over the years; if a player was ever due to have a down year or go on the DL for most if not all of the season, chances are better than even I drafted him—probably in the first couple of rounds.

But daily fantasy is different, of course. Players are only drafted for that day’s contest, and managers are not committed to any player beyond that. I submitted several different lineups for a game tonight that only counted the “late” MLB games, so all players drafted could only come from the Cardinals-Diamondbacks, Cubs-Giants, and A’s-Mariners games.

I utilize a few different tools to determine who I’ll draft on any given day, but one thing I knew for certain without having to look at anything at all: the St. Louis Cardinals do not fare well against lefty pitchers. The Diamondbacks were rolling out Robbie Ray, a young southpaw who had never faced the Cards before. He’s not exactly Randy Johnson in waiting, but the kid can pitch a little. And I really thought that the already offense-challenged 2015 Cardinals would not do much facing a completely unfamiliar lefty on the road the day after scoring a bunch of runs. I mean, as a team, they were hitting .237 with a .678 OPS against left handed pitching. Aside from taking Yadier Molina and Stephen Piscotty on a whim, logic told me to stay away from Cardinals tonight. I even selected Ray as one of my pitchers.

So of course the Cards put up a four-spot in the top of the first, getting hits and walks in bunches. Of course Ray got knocked out after only three innings and three strikeouts. Of course lefties like Matt Carpenter, Jason Heyward and Kolten Wong had good nights at the plate. Of course. Logic? Pfft…

–CCR

A night of Anti-Freese

Last night, baseball lore received a twist so ironic it borders on unbelievable—and only fans of teams other than the ones involved would think so.

The Seattle Mariners beat the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim (still the dumbest name in baseball, by the way) 5-0 in a fairly pedestrian mid-July contest, except for the fact that the loss kept the Angels from leapfrogging the AL West-leading (!) Houston Astros in the standings. But two important plays in the game—one a rally-squashing catch; the other a strikeout to ice the victory for Seattle—seem otherworldly in the memories they stir up for fans of the St. Louis Cardinals and the Texas Rangers.

The Angels threatened in the top of the first, loading the bases with none out and the middle of the order looming. But two unproductive outs later, the bases were still loaded when David Freese stepped to the plate. Freese ripped a line drive to right-center that was hauled in with a spectacular diving catch by none other than Nelson Cruz.

 

FreeseTriple2011

 

Yep…that guy. Only, last night he actually made the game-saving catch on a well-hit David Freese liner.

If that wasn’t enough to make Cards and Rangers fans cringe—albeit for vastly different reasons—the end of the game certainly would.

The Angels couldn’t get much going after that deflating first inning, only putting together four hits on the night. But one of those was a two-out single by Erick Aybar.

Coming to the plate? David Freese.

Standing on the mound? Mark Lowe.

 

Yep…that guy. Only, this time Lowe struck Freese out to preserve the victory.

That these three players would cross paths again isn’t all that surprising, since it’s been less than four years since that fateful Game 6 night. But all three in the same game, where Cruz DOES make the crucial catch against Freese and Lowe DOES get the crucial out against Freese to end the game? That borders on absurd–not for Angels or Mariners fans, necessarily; for Rangers fans, who can only wonder what might have been…and for Cardinals fans, relieved at what actually was.

 

–CCR

 

Three guys walk into a liquor store…

Stop me if you’ve heard this one.

The life of a transplanted baseball fan can be interesting, especially if transplanted to a city without a Major League team. The Austin, Texas area has plenty of Rangers and Astros fans, but because so many people continue to move here from other areas it’s not uncommon to see many different teams represented while walking down a busy street. Still, looks of confusion, bewilderment, or even contempt come my way from time to time when I’m representing the Cardinals in public.

This afternoon while out running errands I stopped in a local hooch parlor to pick up a beverage for this evening’s writing adventures. The store had a half dozen or so people milling about, but my mind was made up before I opened the door. I grabbed a bottle of 8 year Haitian Rum and headed to the register. A guy paying was counting out bills, one was behind him on a cell phone, and a third guy kept walking up to the counter to set down three bottles and then walking away to grab more. The cash counter completed his transaction and left right when cell phone guy ended his conversation, so I waved cell phone guy to go ahead of me.

Cell phone guy apparently has a credit card that pays homage to his favorite team, because when he handed it over the cashier said, “Oh, wow, you a Pirates fan? That’s cool, I respect them. I’m a Cubs fan.”

They had a quick exchange about how excited they both are that their respective teams are doing so well. I said nothing…I just waited for the right moment. As Cell Phone Pirates Fan finished his transaction and turned to leave, Cubs Fan Cashier said, “Yeah, man, good luck to your team. I have no hate for the Pirates. But I’d give you a hard time if you were a fan of the Yankees, or the Red Sox, or…”

I figured this was the perfect time to interject. But I said nothing—I simply took out my own credit card, emblazoned with the Birds on the Bat of course, and set it on the counter with a shit-eating grin on my face. Cubs Fan Cashier stopped mid-sentence and said, “Whoa…you a Cardinals fan?”

Cell Phone Pirates Fan, who was halfway out the door, whipped around with eyes as big as saucers. “No way! Are you really?”

Why yes…yes I am.

“Man, this weekend is going to be some series, huh?” Cell Phone Pirates Fan continued. “Or, at least, I hope it is, if you guys manage to lose a game or two!”

I replied, “I think they definitely lose one, but probably not two.” He chuckled and left.

I turned back to Cubs Fan Cashier just in time for him to hand me my receipt. I signed it and said, “So…how about that game last night?”

His smile faded. Mine broadened.

This rum is really good.

–CCR

An All Star Shame

Today Joe Strauss of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch posted a column about the 2015 All Star Game voting and how the Kansas City Royals’ fan base has essentially hijacked the process, putting seven (!) of the defending AL Champs in line to start the Midsummer Classic in Cincinnati next month. There does seem to be a tongue-in-cheek factor in the article; still, he frames some of the many issues with the MLB All Star Game pretty effectively.

2015 ASG

All other absurdity around this whole sham (This time it counts!) aside, one thing Strauss mentioned both surprised and depressed me: no more paper All Star ballots at the stadium? One of my fondest ballpark memories as a kid was scouring the list of names and positions and punching holes next to, admittedly, players that probably had no logical business playing in an All Star Game. But it was a fun way to feel like a part of the game while at the game. Kind of a shame future generations won’t get to experience that without clicking around ads for car insurance.

I don’t know that I like the general idea of eliminating the fan vote, but if the winner of the All Star Game continues to determine home field advantage in the World Series, MLB needs to consider it. Of course, the most logical thing to do would be to take the HFA aspect out of it altogether so it doesn’t matter who votes for—or who gets voted to start—the All Star Game. But since even the installation of a new commissioner doesn’t appear to be changing that anytime soon, logic probably isn’t in play here at all.

 

–CCR

 

Happy New Year!

It begins today.

While it’s perfectly acceptable to still be in hockey mode, tonight is Opening Night for Major League Baseball. Oddly enough, an Austin radio station made that fact really hit home for me this morning.

I slept in a bit today, trying to shake off the effects of both the rainy, dreary morning weather and the not-as-good-as-I-thought-it-was bottle of wine from last night. I was in desperate need of coffee, breakfast, and Chillville—a local radio show that plays mellow indie and electronic music until 11 a.m. on Sundays. As the show wrapped up, I was clearing my dishes and pouring my second cup so I just left the radio on. And that’s when the most perfectly-timed song started to flow out of my little countertop radio: the first post-Chillville song to come on was “Some Nights” by fun. I perked up instantly, because whenever I hear that song now, I think about the online video made after the 2011 World Series. And that’s when it hit me…

TODAY IS OPENING DAY.

It’s one game out of 162. And there is plenty of hockey to watch still–Go Blues. But if that video doesn’t get you psyched up for Cardinals baseball, nothing will. The Redbirds renew their rivalry with the new-look Chicago Cubs in just a couple hours.

Play Ball!

–CCR   @birdbrained

Shock and Disbelief: Oscar Taveras

I thought I would have better perspective on the sudden and tragic death of Oscar Taveras, 22, after a good night’s sleep. Maybe I’ll get one of those tonight.

His life and the life of his girlfriend, Edilia Arvelo, 18, were cut painfully short when Taveras wrecked his red Camaro on Sunday in the Dominican Republic. Early reports indicate there had been a lot of rain in the area, and that the car ran off the road and hit a tree. It’s the kind of gut-punch you only expect to get upon hearing something absurd like “Baseball has been cancelled forever.” Because the reality certainly couldn’t be true, even though it too often is: a young man and his girlfriend driving along, maybe laughing at a joke or holding hands or singing along to a song on the radio, then something happens and it’s all gone. Just like that. It’s not fair, it’s not right, and it sucks, even from afar as nothing more than a fan of the team the kid played for. Potential unrealized takes a backseat to life unlived. How could this happen?

What’s worse, how could this happen again? News of Taveras’ untimely, shocking, and tragic death immediately reopened Cardinals fans’ old wounds from the 2002 death of Darryl Kile and the 2007 death of Josh Hancock. For Major League Baseball as a whole, the news rang eerily similar to the 2009 death of LA Angels’ young star-in-the-making Nick Adenhart. He also died in a car wreck. He was also 22. Those three tragedies—which, even more unfortunately, are of course but a fraction of the list of young lives ended too soon—happened in-season. As difficult as the events were, the teammates could lean on each other for support. They could grieve together in the dugout, in the clubhouse, and on the team charter. And they still had to take the field every day, using game day responsibilities to honor their fallen brother or maybe just not dwell on the tragedy for a couple hours. But this Cardinals team doesn’t get that luxury; all they have to do is sit around and think. Sure, some are playing Winter Ball, and all have offseason programs to follow to keep in shape until Spring Training. I’d guess the majority of these guys would tell you it’s not the same. That is, if they can get the words out at all.

I don’t really know what else to say. I’ve seen the tweets and the tributes and the video interviews and the footage of the story breaking and I still can’t believe it’s real. But a lot of people are hurting today. My heart goes out to the Taveras family, the Arvelo family, and the St. Louis Cardinals family.

 

Giants Cardinals Baseball

 

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(PHOTOS CLIPPED FROM INTERNET SOURCES; THESE PICTURES ARE NOT MINE.)

 

–CCR

REVIEW: “No No: A Dockumentary”

The tale is well known. In 1970, Pittsburgh Pirates pitcher Dock Ellis threw a no hitter against the San Diego Padres while under the influence of LSD. It’s the stuff of legend for baseball aficionados and psychedelic adventurers alike, but both groups want to know the answer to same question: How in the hell could someone pitch a no-no while tripping on acid?DockEllis1970T

Ellis’ career and life were more than just one great performance under the most bizarre of circumstances, however, and “No No: A Dockumentary” explores the man he was on and off the field. The documentary premiered Saturday at the South By Southwest Film Festival in Austin, Texas as part of the annual event’s new “South By Sports” effort.

The no hitter is the central event around which “No No” revolves, but it is far from the only focus of the film. I count myself among probably many who didn’t know much more about Ellis than the acid event, but he was a lot more than that and “No No” does a great job of telling the whole story of the man.

Ellis was a fairly polarizing figure in his day, and his day was a fairly turbulent time in history. In “No No” I learned about his baseball career, his civil rights activism, his flamboyant personality, and his substance and physical abuse problems. I also learned about how Ellis was able to right the ship and use his experiences to mentor troubled and at-risk youth long after his Major League Baseball days were over. He was far from a perfect man, but Ellis managed to overcome his faults and accomplish a lot of good before his death in 2008 from a liver ailment. The film covers his ups and downs and features interviews from teammates, family members, and close friends. Footage of Ellis himself is from before filming for this movie began, but its inclusion punctuates the story perfectly.

“No No: A Dockumentary” is an incredible film that would be really hard to improve upon. It is laughs, it is tears, it is a redemption story, it is a baseball story. And if you enjoy any of the aforementioned even a little bit, it is a can’t miss. “No No: A Dockumentary” is one of the best baseball documentaries I’ve ever seen, and the long, sustained applause from the audience at its conclusion tells me I’m not alone in that assessment. Seriously, when it comes out, see it.

–Chris

On The Job With Yadi

After St. Louis won Game 5 of the NLDS, the Cardinal Nation Twittersphere was obviously jubilant and busy. I happened upon a tweet by fellow Cardinal blogger Dennis Lawson that talked about the hug Adam Wainwright got from Yadier Molina at the conclusion of Wednesday night’s clincher and compared it to the hug Jason Motte got from Molina at the securing of the last out of the 2011 World Series. After a quick exchange, Dennis remarked “Seriously, I want toyadi-walk celebrate the end of a work day with a Yadi hug.”

It’s a funny mental picture, depending on your job. And it got me thinking: that would actually make a great “This is SportsCenter” commercial.

You’ve seen these spots advertising ESPN’s flagship news and highlights show; athletes or mascots or pop culture luminaries interact with SportsCenter anchors in the offices or on the set of the network’s headquarters and awkward hilarity ensues. Albert Pujols as “The Machine,” somewhat vanilla football commentator John Clayton as a metal head, and this misunderstanding in the lunch line are a few of my favorites. Proposing ideas for these commercials is certainly nothing new, but I’m going to give it a whirl. I’m emulating the “This is SportsCenter” model so of course the settings and cast will follow suit.

 

Scene 1

SportsCenter anchor John Anderson gets out of his car to head into work at the start of the day. He is met by Yadier Molina in full uniform and gear (but carrying his mask), who walks Anderson into the building like he would walk from the bullpen to the dugout with that day’s starting pitcher. While they’re walking Molina says “OK John, you have a tough day today: full NFL schedule, MLB playoffs, hockey highlights. Here (hands Anderson a sheet of paper) is your list of catch phrases; stick to the game plan and we should get through OK.” Anderson agrees with everything Molina says.

 

Scene 2

Cut to the lunchroom, and anchor Scott Van Pelt is looking in the fridge. He says “Hmm, I wonder what John brought me for lunch today…” Suddenly the door is slammed shut, almost smashing his hand. Van Pelt straightens and turns; Molina is standing there (full uniform and gear, but again no mask) slowly shaking his head and says, firmly, “NO STEALING.” Van Pelt mumbles an apology and sulks out of the room while Molina looks at him disapprovingly.

 

Scene 3

Cut to the SportsCenter studio, showing Anderson in the middle of anchoring but from over his shoulder so the ESPN cameras and teleprompters are visible too. Among the cameras is Molina in his crouch (full gear with mask). As Anderson is setting up a highlight, Molina puts down a two fingers sign; Anderson pauses for an instant to glance at the catch phrase sheet Molina gave him earlier and smoothly delivers catch phrase #2. NLDS Pirates Cardinals Baseball

 

Scene 4

Anderson, obviously tired and a little disheveled after a long day, punches out at a time clock and, turning, raises his hands in relief and joy. The camera then pans back to show Molina doing the same thing and running toward Anderson; they hug and jump and yell as if they just won the World Series while “This is SportsCenter” appears on the screen.

 

I’m not sure if all of that could be squeezed into 30 seconds; maybe the lunchroom scene would have to be a short follow-up commercial. But I think it works. Because let’s face it…we’d all be a little happier at our jobs if we knew even the toughest day might end with a hug from Yadi.

–CCR

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