Fellow ESPN SweetSpot blogger Matthew Philip agreed to do a Q&A regarding the St. Louis Cardinals. I meant to get this up prior to the series, but it’s still relevant and insightful. Matthew is the lead blogger for “Fungoes“, which is a saber-slanted site. Oh, and it just so happens there is a similar Q&A featuring the “inside knowledge” of MetsToday on his blog as well.
My questions are in bold, Matthew’s answers are in the light blue boxes.
1. Is Tony LaRussa still doing that pitcher hitting eighth thing? What are your thoughts on that strategy … does it really make sense and does it work for the Cardinals?
The last time La Russa used the pitcher-hits-eighth tactic was July 21, 2009. What many people thought (and a few showed through research) to be a marginally helpful idea has since been picked up by the Dodgers and Brewers, who employed it for a handful of games last year, and the Pirates, who have batted the pitcher eighth every game this year. La Russa apparently now only reserves it as a gimmick to gig the offense when it’s struggling, but I’d prefer he use it regularly, since it most likely helps. One Cardinal blogger even named his blog after the practice.
2. You have been following Adam Wainwright’s release points and correlating success. Can you quickly give us the gist of where his release point needs to be to pitch at the peak of his potential, based on what you’ve studied?
Early last season, Wainwright was struggling with walks and claimed it was a release-point issue. He adjusted down and over — in the direction of a three-quarter arm angle, though really only imperceptibly (an inch or two). He went on to have a Cy-Young-like year. So far in 2010, his release has been somewhere between where he was at the beginning and end of 2009, but he’s having success. We’ll find out more on Sunday!
3. Do you feel confident late in games knowing Ryan Franklin is the closer? If he should falter, who is next in line and why?
I’m not confident in Franklin, simply because, by being a pitch-to-contact guy, he leaves so much to chance. Though, that’s better than a reliever who walks people or gives up a lot of fly balls that turn into home runs. During the 2009 NLDS with the Dodgers,we saw a preview of what could happen this year if they don’t turn to someone who can miss bats when the game is on the line. That guy could be Kyle McClellan, though he doesn’t offer much more than Franklin, or Jason Motte, who was given early-season save chances in 2009 but failed. My pick is Mitchell Boggs. Whether La Russa eschews his veteran “closer”,however, is a big question.
4. Give us a quick analysis of David Freese, who many Mets fans don’t know much about.
The Cards picked up Freese a couple of years ago as a token when they shipped Jim Edmonds’s contract to the Padres. Originally from St. Louis, he worked his way through the minors, quietly jumping from high A to AAA while the team’s more-heralded prospects got the attention. When Troy Glaus revealed his injury prior to the 2009 season, Freese seemed poised to try to win the third-base job but he injured his foot in a car accident, requiring arthroscopic surgery on his left ankle, and he spent most of the season at AAA Memphis. Coming into 2010, with Glaus and former top prospect Brett Wallace gone, Freese was the heir apparent, when he drove drunk and was arrested in December, casting his 2009 accident in a new light. But despite his insolent off-the-field behavior, he projects well as both a hitter (~.340 wOBA projected for 2010) and fielder. Could be a real find for the team at the hot corner.
5. Which Ryan Ludwick is the real one — the 2008 version or the 2009 vintage?
Somewhere in-between, probably slightly better than he was last year. La Russa has had him batting second the last few games, and he’s getting on-base like a madman in front of Pujols (.438 OBP batting second). It’ll be interesting to see how Jerry Manuel deals with him in late innings, since he has a reverse platoon split (career .337 wOBA vs. LHP, .368 vs. RHP).
6. What do you see as a key for the Cards to get into the postseason in 2010?
The Cardinals have enough talent to win their division and may be the most well-rounded since their 100-win days in 2004-2005. The key will simply be staying healthy. Spring injuries to Pujols, Holliday and Molina proved to be minor, but the staff ace, Chris Carpenter, has a checkered history, and his questionable start to 2010 — 8.50 FIP — has raised eyebrows. Ludwick has been healthy two years straight for the first time in his career, so he may be due to regress to an injury-marked campaign.
Thanks again to Matthew Philip for sharing his thoughts. Be sure to visit his blog Fungoes to get a saber-centric analysis of the St. Louis Cardinals.