Diamond Diaries

Cardinal baseball, from the girls

Tag Archives: pitching

Showing the Love for Adam

Did all of you know that my favorite Cardinal is Adam Wainwright? Did you think it was Brendan Ryan, Joe Mather, Blake Hawksworth or some other guy I’ve mentioned over and over again? It’s definitely Adam. Shame on me for taking this long to tell all of you about this. Shame on all of us here at the CDD for not shedding light on what one of the best pitchers in the National League has been up to so far this season!

Adam Wainwright is a good ol’ Southern boy, born and raised in Brunswick, Georgia. He had planned to go to Georgia Tech, but when his favorite team – the Atlanta Braves – drafted him 29th overall in the 2000 draft, he jumped at the chance to sign. Things honestly did not go very well with the Braves. I’ve read in several interviews that Waino just never felt like he was really going anywhere there, so when the Cards picked him up as an accessory in a 5 player deal with the Braves in December of 2003, Adam was ready to move somewhere new.

The trade in itself fascinates me. The Cardinals gave up J.D. Drew, the oft-injured and never quite living up to expectations outfielder, and Eli Marrero, a decent utility player. The Braves handed over Wainwright, Ray King, a big ol’ lefty that reminds me of current big ol’ lefty Denny Reyes, and Jason Marquis, who actually had a couple of nice years here, no matter what the Negative Nancys choose to remember. At the time, people kind of shrugged their shoulders about it. Both teams were unloading a couple of guys they couldn’t seem to do much with.

For whatever reason, the only player I was interested in from that trade was Wainwright. He wasn’t talked about very much, but I caught on and he because the first player I was really watching in the minors. When he made his debut in September of 2005 I was excited, and when he made the Opening Day roster as a bullpen guy in 2006 I smiled to myself and hoped that he would become more than the artist formerly known as Brad Thompson.

When Jason Isringhausen was finally shut down late in 2006 for season-ending hip surgery, people questioned if Tony LaRussa was really going to let the rookie with the big curveball close out games in the middle of a pennant race. He did, and Adam did not buckle under the pressure, saving two crucial games on September 27 and 30 to hold off the Astros and seal the division. As for the postseason, I’ll let Wikipedia tell you the story: 

  • On October 19, 2006, in the final game of the National League Championship Series, Wainwright, with the bases loaded, struck out Carlos Beltran looking on 3 pitches, ending the New York Mets‘ season and sending the Cardinals to the World Series.

It’s doubtful Beltran’s knees have unbuckled from that one. (Also worth noting – game 5 of the WS was my 20th birthday. Doubtful there will be a better one!)

Since then Adam was moved to the rotation, where, were it not for Chris Carpenter, would be the unquestioned ace of the staff. Last year, while having the most first place votes for the Cy Young award, he somehow wound up third, but he was voted Most Outstanding Pitcher in the Players Choice Awards. The players know he’s the real deal.

This year Wainwright has been overshadowed in a major way. Between…
  • Ubaldo Jimenez being really impressive (but NOT impressive enough to have this many comparisons to Gibson’s 1968, so stop it)
  • Stephen Strasburg merely walking onto the mound in DC (no offense to the kid, but someone call me when he beats someone without a Pirates uniform on… or he raises the dead or something)
  • Roy Halladay finally making it out of the AL East and into the NL, which is a more pitcher-friendly league
  • Jaime Garcia being in Rookie of the Year contention
  • not to mention Chris Carpenter doing what Chris Carpenter does……. 
No wonder hardly anyone is talking about Adam Wainwright! There are two guys on his own team on this list!

Well I’m talking about Adam. Look at where he’s standing so far this year compared to the rest of the National League (stats from baseball-reference):
  • Wins: 8 – tied for 2nd (0 of which have been classified as ‘cheap’ by B-R, while 2 of his losses have been classified as ‘tough’ thanks to lack of run support)
  • Complete games: 3 – 2nd
  • Quality starts: 11 – 2nd
  • ERA: 2.05 – 4th
  • Innings pitched: 88 – 2nd
  • Strikeouts: 88 – 2nd
  • ERA+ (ballpark adjusted ERA): 198 – 4th
  • WHIP: 0.943 – 2nd
  • K/BB: 3.86 – 4th
Umm… wow. No other pitcher was in the top five in all of those categories. If that doesn’t tell you how good Adam’s been this year, nothing else will.

Need more? You mean, besides the fact that he hit a home run in his very first major league at bat, his #chickcomment worthiness, or his curveball that makes hitters weak in the knees? How about I leave you with this story on how he joined up with Catch-a-Dream to spend a day with a young man who is fighting cancer.

Adam Wainwright is pitching tonight for the Cardinals. Watch him. Respect him.

PS-Check back tomorrow. We’re covering the draft in our own Diamond Diaries way…

How Good is Jaime?

Spending the last four days without any internet connection was absolute torture, because it meant I was completely cut off from baseball. The only baseball I could find solace in was in the texts I received from various sources, 15 second Cardinal highlights on Sportscenter, and the six Nationals hats I saw while wandering DC. Don’t try to tell me they give a rip about baseball out there…

But I digress.

I’ve been working on a little project that was suggested to me as a possible topic for the blog a week or so ago. The challenge: put together a comparison between Jaime Garcia’s first 7 games and the first 7 of some of the more well-known rookie Cardinal pitchers of the past. I realize that Jaime has now pitched 8 games, but I got the research before I left town, so 7 it is. My criteria was fairly simple: players included (roughly) one starting pitcher for each decade and they had to come up through the St. Louis farm system. The later names I’m sure most of you know, but the earlier names might be a little unfamiliar, so here are bios on all the boys.

Jaime Garcia (full rookie year: 2010) – Jaime was selected in the 22nd round of the 2005 draft. He came up for one start and a handful of relief appearances in 2008, then was shut down for almost all of 2009 after having Tommy John surgery. He came back to pitch well at the end of 2009, and won a place in the starting five coming out of Spring Training this year.

Rick Ankiel (2000) – Rick was signed out of high school and given a $2.5 million signing bonus, which the Cardinals had not ever seen before nor have paid since. He was 2nd in Rookie of the Year voting in 2000 and struck out almost 10 batters per 9 using a devastating curveball, a mid-to-high 90’s fastball and a sharp sinker. He fell apart in the NLDS, throwing 5 wild pitches in 1 inning against the Braves. 5 more went to the backstop in game 2 of the NLCS against the Mets, and things did not improve in 2001 for Rick. He went back to the minors and… well, you know him now as Rick Ankiel, centerfielder for the Kansas City Royals. To quote Harry Doyle in Major League 2, “It’s a funny game, eh Monty?”

Matt Morris (1997) – Matty Mo was taken 12th overall in the 1995 draft, and didn’t waste time becoming a fan favorite in St. Louis. He pitched well for a few years, underwent Tommy John in 1999, then won 22 games in 2001, made the first of his two All-Star appearances, came in 3rd for the Cy Young and won the Comeback Player of the Year award. After 2005 he signed a 3 year deal with the Giants, and was traded to the Pirates before retiring in 2008.

Danny Cox (1983) – Danny was drafted in the 13th round of the 1981 draft. His numbers fluctuated a little over his first 5 years, then he dropped off the radar completely after 1988, when he underwent shoulder surgery and was released by the Cardinals. After recovering from surgery he was a changed pitcher, found himself in Philly, Pittsburgh and Toronto and finished his career as a rarely used relief pitcher.

Bob Forsch (1974) – Forsch was taken in the 26th round of the 1968 draft. He is one of few pitchers to pitch two no-hitters in his career, both of them coming at Busch II. These are also the only two no-hitters pitched in Busch II. His brother, Ken, was also a pitcher and also pitched a no-hitter, making the Forsch brothers the only set of brothers to ever accomplish this feat. Bob was a ‘better’ hitting pitcher, holding down a .213 batting average and winning two Silver Sluggers in his career.

Steve Carlton (1966) – Carlton was brought on as an unsigned free agent in 1963. Were it not for contract disputes with the volatile Gussie Busch, Steve wouldn’t be remembered as one of the greatest Phillie pitchers of all time. He was already a 2 time All-Star by the time 1970 rolled around, however he held out during Spring Training, then lasted through 1971 before Gussie had him traded to the Phils, in what many consider to be the worst trade the Cardinals have ever made (yes, worse than Mulder, for you more recent fans).

Larry Jaster (1966) – Jaster was signed as an undrafted free agent in 1962, and spent a few years in the minors before getting the call in late 1965. In his rookie year alone he shut out the Dodgers 5 times – and the Dodgers won the pennant in ’66! He had another solid year in 1967, but never matched up to those first two full years. Jaster found himself in Atlanta in 1970 where he made 14 relief appearances, then appeared in 5 more games in 1972 and was out of baseball after that – at only age 28. Fun fact: Jaster was the first pitcher to throw a pitch in Canada.

Thank you Wikipedia!

Bob Gibson (1959) – If I tried to say 5 words on Hoot, I’d talk for 5 paragraphs. I defer you instead to the box at the right, noting all of Gibson’s highlights. Add ‘Hall of Fame’ to that résumé as well, if you would.

Dizzy Dean (1932) – Ol’ Diz is in a class by himself. He was one of the leaders of the Gashouse Gang of the 1930’s, and his colorful antics and bizarre way with words made him both endearing and irritating to all who tried to follow him. Along with his brother Paul, Diz predicted that the two of them would combine to win 45 games in a season – and they did! If you’re looking for some lighthearted fun in baseball history – look no further than Dizzy Dean.

Those were the boys (and yes, there will be a quiz). Now for the statistics! Putting the stats together was time-consuming, hence my unwillingness to add in an 8th start to every pitcher. For several, the ‘first seven’ for each pitcher sometimes spanned a couple of different seasons. The year listed is the year that they had their first full season.

So, how good is Jaime? He leads this rather spectacular group in ERA, runs, earned runs, hits allowed, batting average against, on base percentage and on base plus slugging. Ol’ Diz had a leg up on the slugging line, as he played in the ‘Dead Ball Era,’ otherwise Garcia would have had a clean sweep on the percentages. I feel that the most true number here to balance out innings pitched (among other factors) is to note the WHIP (walks plus hits per inning pitched) line. While Jaime does not lead that category, pulling second in that ferocious lineup is still quite impressive.
Bottom line – do I or anyone else expect Jaime Garcia to continue running these kind of numbers up the scoreboard? No, of course not. All of the players in this study went on to have very different careers. Some became Hall of Famers, some saw their careers end far too soon, and there’s always Ankiel. What I am saying is that our current rook is definitely making his case to be something special, and I know I’m not the only one out there who is ‘honking for Jaime.’

In _____ We Trust

As I was watching the broadcast last night, the silly text poll that Fox Sports Midwest runs every night caught my eye. The question was on who the fans trusted the most for the Cardinals – the offense, the defense, or the pitching. For the first time that I can recall, I honestly had no idea which one I would choose. These things happen when you are playing .667 ball, one would hope.

So let’s break this down a little. I’ll hold my final decision for the end, and we’ll see if it holds water. So buckle in for fun with numbers with Ang (I promise it’ll be at least as fun as one of my math classes – no really)!

The Offense 
Coming into the beginning of the year, we were all feeling fairly confident that the Cardinals would have no trouble scoring runs. After having some fun with the sortable stats on mlb.com, here’s where I’ve found the Cardinals stand with the rest of the NL:
Hits: 4th (Cubs are first – bet you didn’t expect that, did you?)
Home runs: 3rd
Walks: 5th
Strike outs: 3rd most, with 210… 3 true outcomes, anyone?
Here’s a fun one – intentional walks: 1st with 21. No other team even is in the double digits. Fear? Respect? I’ll accept both as correct answers.

Obviously I did not choose very in-depth numbers or newer statistical measurements here. Heck, I didn’t even throw any percentages at you! But it’s safe to say even with these small-ish sample sizes of the last month+ that this team is going to get on base (the OBP of .340 told me so… oops! Percentages!). I know that we’ve had those games where Albert’s up with the bases loaded or one of the bench guys like Stavinoha pinch hits in a critical situation and we as fans just know that this is going to be the at-bat that breaks open the game. Sometimes it doesn’t happen, and Albert pops up or Stavi strikes out. Still, the Cards are creating 5.4 runs per game. We’ll lose some 1-0, but we won’t lose a lot of them.

It’s safe to say that our pitchers have been stellar this season. They’re tops in the league with a 2.58 ERA, an 88% quality start percentage, and have given up the fewest home runs with 13. It’s said that pitching wins games, and when we’re winning on the strengths of Adam Wainwright’s curveball, Jaime Garcia’s incredible poise for a rook, Chris Carpenter’s command of a general, Brad Penny’s flames and Kyle Lohse’s quality starts, it’s pretty easy to see why our starters are a combined 14-4. Ready for this? We’re also second in runs, earned runs, walks, and walks/hits per inning pitched.

Surprise! Those numbers include the bullpen guys. All the accolades I’ve heard for our pitchers have been aimed in the general direction of the starters, but the pen’s held their own rather admirably. Consider this – they’re tops in the league with a mere 18% of their inherited runners scoring. The league average is 35%, and they’re having fun out in Arizona where the pen’s allowed a whopping 53% of their inherited runners to touch home. The pen isn’t getting cheap luck either – they’ve got the highest leverage index in the league – meaning Tony isn’t afraid to go to them when the game is on the line.

Everyone knows we’ve got a fairly groundball-heavy staff, thanks to Dave Duncan’s pitch-to-contact/live and die by the sinker mentality. It’s pretty nice for Carpenter to be on the mound with 2 on and 1 out and know that he’s got a .989 fielding percentage running around behind him waiting to gobble up double play balls, isn’t it? 1 error for every 100 chances – that’s roughly what it breaks down to. That’s out of 1,082 total chances. That right there should be enough, but let’s look closer…

It doesn’t hurt to have a Gold Glove winner like Yadi behind the plate throwing out over 40% of would be base-stealers; Freese, Brendan, Skip, and Albert turning a stunning 32 double plays; and a mere 13 errors so far on the year. True, sometimes the errors become glaring, as they did for CDD favorite David Freese in Milwaukee back in April. However, I spend much more time marveling at the diving stops, flying catches, and catch/spin/throws than I do the rare errors. We’ve already got 3 Gold Glove-winning players on the team, and I know Erika, Chris, and I aren’t the only 3 that think Brendan could easily win one, plus Freese has been flashing the leather as of late as well.

Bottom line, to me anyway, is to send my vote the way of the defense. Our pitchers are scary beyond words, but throw them out there with Florida’s defense (a .974 fielding percentage, 14 double plays, and 25 errors) and some of our pitchers’ rougher innings suddenly look a lot more rough. You can’t keep a groundball staff going without a strong defense behind you waiting to snag every ball they can dive, jump or stab at. Yes, our offense is absolutely terrifying and our pitchers make hitters weak in the knees, but on the nights where the runners aren’t crossing the plate (see last night) or the pitchers are struggling to find location, the defense is there, doing their job and doing it amazingly well.

Agree? Disagree? Fell asleep with all the numbers? Debate in the comments!

Faith in Franklin

Just a mention on the TV broadcast that Ryan Franklin is warming up in the bullpen seems to send my Twitter feed into a frenzy. Once he’s in the game, there are many dread-filled tweets with each batter he faces. But the facts speak for themselves: after last night, Franklin is now seven for seven in save opportunities. He’s second in the National League at the moment, tied with Francisco Cordero of the Reds and one behind Matt Capps of the Nationals.

No position player or other pitcher is held under closer scrutiny than a closer, and no one else is blamed more when he doesn’t get his job done. I remember reading once that a closer needs to have a short memory. Maybe the same needs to hold true for fans, since many seem to hold grudges for an extremely long time when it comes to blowing games.

And that’s Franklin’s “sin” this season, and the reason for the doom-and-gloom tweets: what he did at the end of 2009. He had three blown saves in September, although he did end up as the winning pitcher on Sept. 19 against the Cubs. Then there’s October, game two of the division series against the Dodgers, when he blew the save and was the losing pitcher. Had Matt Holliday caught that infamous fly ball by James Loney, would Franklin have received praise for getting the job done? My guess is no.

Of course, Franklin was not stellar on opening day this year, which just fed the carryover panic from 2009. It was a not save situation when Franklin entered the game for the bottom of the ninth on April 5, since the Cardinals were leading 11-4 at the time. He allowed three hits and two runs (both scoring with two outs) to give him an 18.00 ERA to start the season. But, three weeks later, it’s down to 3.60.

Ryan Franklin is not the type of closer who will instill fear in batters when he comes into the game, because he’s not a strikeout pitcher. He’s not Mariano Rivera, he’s not Brian Wilson, he’s not Trevor Hoffman. (Although the Cardinals don’t seem to have any fear of the all-time saves leader.) And Monday night’s save was probably typical, with giving up two hits (although the hit by Matt Diaz, rolling along the third base line, was a fluke) yet getting a double play and another ground out. Job done, seventh consecutive save.

Is Franklin going to blow a game sometime? Chances are, yes. It’s not often a closer doesn’t at some point during the season, Brad Lidge in 2008 notwithstanding. And, if it happens, I’m sure I’ll read tweet after tweet about how everyone knew all along how terrible Franklin is. But why not forget about 2009 for now – everyone seems to have forgiven Matt Holliday for game 2 against the Dodgers, so why not Ryan Franklin?

I’m going to keep following the advice Erika gave last night in the form of a Twitter hashtag: #FaithInFranklin. Why not? He’s earned my support.

Photo: Yahoo! Sports

About That 2009 Cy Young Race …

Playing against the Giants this weekend (and Tim Lincecum last night) seemed like as good a time as any for Chris and I to ponder what could have been in last year’s Cy Young race. As a surprise to no one, Chris was pulling for Chris Carpenter, while I was gunning for my favorite trade pick-up that no one paid attention to at the time – Adam Wainwright.

Photo Credit – stltoday.com

For me, it was a tough battle. I’m not going to throw a bunch of numbers at you, because let’s face it, I’m a math teacher and play with numbers all week. Today is Saturday. I get a day off from numbers too. But I’ve been watching Waino pitch since we picked him up from Atlanta before the 2004 season. If you watched the 2006 postseason, you know that Wainwright can buckle the knees of any batter in the league with his curveball. He’s a confident, bulldog-type innings eater who carried the Cardinals through some of the weaker months of last season (AKA, before we traded for Matt Holliday, Mark DeRosa, etc.).

Who knew what was going to happen last year when Carpenter went down? I’m not knocking on Chris Carpenter here – the guy’s a beast. But he was injured for part of the year, and at the time we were spinning a rotation that included Wainwright, Kyle Lohse, Joel Pinero, Todd Wellemeyer (shudders) and…..? The fact that losing Carpenter for those few weeks put Wellemeyer in the 4th spot in the rotation was not a good thing, but we had Adam Wainwright taking the ball every chance he got, and very rarely leaving the game without a good chance for the Cardinals to win.

Okay, I lied. I couldn’t not look at numbers. Adam had the ball in some of the biggest games of the season: opening day, the division clincher, and some games against other teams’ aces. He also had this nice little 26 start string where he had all quality starts (averaging a tidy 7 innings per), kept it under 4 pitches per at bat (3.77), and survived the entire brutal St. Louis summer while going 15-7 (and in 5 of those losses he allowed 2 runs or less – our offense had some really anemic spurts last year!). There’s a reason he had the most 1st place votes – he deserved the Cy.

Chris? Whatcha got?

Photo Credit – stltoday.com

Well, Ang, interesting that you mentioned Carp being hurt last year! Yes, it’s true that a torn left oblique muscle sent him to the disabled list and kept him from making a start between April 14 and May 20. And I heard that reason – he missed time the other top contenders did not – as one of the reasons why he shouldn’t win. He still made 28 starts (to Wainwright’s 34 and Lincecum’s 32).

And the fact he did miss a month makes the final numbers all the more impressive. Yes, despite not being a math teacher (sorry!), I have to use his numbers to paint the picture of how good – and Cy-worthy – Chris Carpenter was.

He finished with the second-most wins in the National League with 17 (to Wainwright’s 19). He had the league’s best ERA, 2.24. With a 17-4 record, his winning percentage of .810 led the majors. He was second in WHIP (walks and hits per innings pitched, and perhaps my new favorite stat) with 1.007. (Dan Haren was first with 1.003.) He had an 11-game winning streak from July 5 to Sept. 7.

Though it rightly has no bearing on awards voting, how effective Carp would be in 2009 was definitely a question mark to start the season. He was coming back from making one start in 2007, having Tommy John surgery that July, making only four appearances (three starts) in 2008 before developing shoulder trouble and then more elbow surgery in November 2008. Yet he returned to the dominant starter he’d been in 2005 – when he won the Cy – and 2006 (plus earned a second Comeback Player of the Year award).

Intangibles-wise, Carp is an intense competitor and every bit the bulldog that Adam Wainwright is. He’s the leader of the pitching staff, and even was side-by-side with Dave Duncan watching first-round draft pick Shelby Miller throw at Busch Stadium last summer. He sets the tone for the entire rotation.

As we all know, the final Cy Young voting was very close. Yes, Wainwright had the most first place votes with 12. Lincecum was second with 11, Carp third with nine. Carp also had the most second-place votes, 14. (Lincecum had 12, Wainwright five.) Interestingly, Wainwright had the most third-place votes with 14 to Lincecum’s nine and Carp’s seven.

And, truthfully, I could just as easily have written a post defending Adam Wainwright and why he deserved the award. He is definitely all those things Angela already mentioned, plus has the numbers to prove it, and I’m greatly looking forward to seeing him pitch tonight. But Chris Carpenter deserved to win the 2009 Cy Young Award.

%d bloggers like this: