Can’t Win Without Players

Handcuffed.
Handcuffed.

To the Cheerleaders:

Across the interwebs, the President John Mozeliak suckups make excuse after excuse. The bottom line is that the St. Louis Cardinals Baseball team is losing because they really aren’t that good.

Oh, they screw up on defense here. They run the bases poorly there. They fail to hit in clutch situations time after time. They sit on small leads and wait to get beat. Their bullpen routinely blows up.

In other words, they lose games in every conceivable way.

In days gone by, a Texan named Gene Stallings had the misfortune to become the head coach of Billy Bidwill’s Saint Louis Football Cardinals. Now, this was a team that could lose to the Society of the Blind, unless they hid the football.

in a moment of candor near the end of the Big Red’s tenure in St. Louis, Stallings put it out there. You win games by making plays. We don’t make enough plays. The reason our players don’t make enough plays is because we don’t have enough good players.

Suffice it to say, Mr. Stallings was much closer to the end of his days as Big Red head coach by the time he finished that interview than he was at the beginning.

I relay this story for a reason. The St. Louis BASEBALL Cardinals are now in that same boat.

Now, Joe and I don’t have “much” use for all the sabre rattling that goes on by nerds on the internet. But, occasionally, there can be a broad trend in which these measurements actually assist in understanding something and – in this case – proving something rather obvious.

10-15 years ago, the Cardinals were a championship ballclub year in and year out. 10-15 years ago, the Cardinals had MUCH better players than they do now.

If we measure this with Bill James WAR…, here’s how it looks:

Number of 3+ win players the team had in the same timespan:

2004: 5 (6.22 avg)
2005: 3 (6.7 avg)
2006: 3 (6.2 avg)
2007: 2 (5.7 avg)
2008: 4 (5.5 avg)
2009: 5 (5.5 avg)
2010: 5 (5.18 avg)
2011: 6 (4.28 avg)
2012: 7 (4.12 avg)
2013: 5 (5.34 avg)
2014: 5 (4.22 avg)
2015: 6 (4.0 avg)
2016: 2 (3.25 avg)
2017: 2 (4.1 avg) – projected so long as Pham keeps it up.

If you look at the same type of chart – but based on 3 war you see one of three outcomes every year:

1.) The team has 2-3 players that are so good that they carry the team to success.

2.) The team has 4-6 players that are above average enough that they carry the team to success.

3.) The team has a losing season.

Guess where we are now?

As Stallings pointed out, having more good players makes a team more successful. But the point of this is the team just isn’t that good.

What do the Cardinals do from here? The last time we’ve had a team without much top-end talent and much mid-tier talent is 2007-2008. The team rebounded from primarily by going outside of the team. The majority of players that added a 3.0+ war season between 2008 and 2012 came from outside the organization: Ryan Ludwick, Troy Glaus, Matt Holliday, Lance Berkman, Kyle Lohse, Joel Pineiro, David Freese, Carlos Beltran.

Vs internal players: Colby Rasmus, Yadier Molina, Adam Wainwright, Jaime Garcia, Jon Jay – half of whom were already on the roster but just hadn’t ever put up a 3 win season.

So 12 three win players added over 5 years.

Holliday was acquired via prospects and a contract many deadpanned at the time. (i.e. outbid the market).

Glaus and Freese were acquired by trading aging veterans or major league talent.

Berkman, Lohse, Pineiro, and Ludwick were all kind of scrap-heap acquisitions that you could credit to luck or good scouting/analytics.

Yadier Molina and Adam Wainwright were existing roster players who hit their prime.

Jay, Rasmus, and Garcia were internal prospects that started contributing.

So we have:
8% – Outbidding the market.
16% – “Selling”
33% – Scrap heap (Scouting/Analytics/Luck)
16% – Current players getting better.
25% – Farm system.

So if the Cardinals want to follow their historical playbook they need to trade some prospects and overpay for a in-his-prime middle of the order bat.

Yet, they’ve needed to do this for 3+ years and haven’t done it yet.

And, Bernie Miklasz’s recent article suggests President Moe thinks “Paul DeJong may be that middle-of-the-order bat.

Bullcrap.

As the above graphically illustrates, they don’t need “just one bat”. Perhaps 3 years ago, but that ship sailed.

They don’t really have any aging vets that are worth trading for Freeses and Glauses.

They need to bring in some mid-level talent that they identified as having higher potential to compete with the farm system players they’re currently awarding playing time to. Yet, we’re wondering who in the organization can identify that sort of talent on other teams – now that Jeff Luhnow is in Houston – and Houston has changed its computer passwords.

They can expect one or two of the pile of replacement level players to do well enough to stick.

And finally they need to get a few more 3 win players from their farm system. This is also something that has not been done since Luhnow disembarked to Houston.

I realize the logical solution to this is another round of raises, promotions, and extensions – and perhaps another crisply tailored suit for the front office.

None of that will elevate the play on the field, but we’re not certain that’s the priority of anyone in the Cardinals’ organization. At least not right now.

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