Thursday, October 29, 2009

UCB Roundtable - Question for 10/28/09

Well, here is my question for the year-end roundtable. I jumped on recent news and asked:

Is hiring Mark McGwire as the new hitting coach the right move for the organization?

Here are the responses I received, starting with our very own John:

All the PED stuff aside, this seems like a great move. Big Mac is 11th all time in OPS. If that's not enough to make you a great candidate for a hitting coach, I don't know what is. Whether he's able to translate that into a good coach is another story. There are some hurdles: he's a lefty and he's got a bit of an unorthodox swing. However, as Trey pointed out, he's tight with some of the players and TLR. I also like hiring Cardinals.

Yet, taking the PED brouhaha into consideration it just leaves a slightly unpleasant aftertaste. I just don't know what I think of bringing on someone who not only used by repeatedly lied about his use. Perhaps a way to justify it is simply point to the pervasive use of it, and say, "we're trying to move on." I don't know. It seems oddly similar to when there was lots of talk about bringing Bonds on board. Sure, on paper it looks like a great move, but will it cost us our soul?

-CJ (The Cardinal Virtue)

Daniel, from c70 at the bat added:

I don't know that I'd say I like the move, but I at least understand it and think it's a fine move to make.

I do think one of the side benefits to this is that it is going to make McGwire talk about his past, as it were. I know that Mike and Nick disagreed with me last night on the radio show, but I don't think McGwire takes himself out of the shadows and puts himself into the spotlight unless he's ready to deal with the issue.

It's not going to go away. Unless he gives a definitive statement and answers questions, it's going to follow him all year long. If he does do that, then he can more legitimately say, "Guys, I've answered that and I'm not talking about it again."

If he wants to be an effective hitting coach and not just a sideshow, he's got to get past the issue, at least for reasonable people.

As an actual coach, I'm interested to see what he can bring to the table. I know Schumaker's done wonders from working with him, but you also have some that still struggled after his instruction. We'll see what he can do with full-time access to players.

Jay Tierney, from Inside Pulse had this to say:

I've thought of a few things about this:
A. It's a way to try to lure Holliday back. I've heard he's close with McGwire, so what better way to get the top free agent hitter back than hiring him as a coach.
B. LaRussa is trying to get McGwire back in the spot light to clean up his image. Tony firmly believes that he'll be worth the media circus and this may help get Big Mac in the HOF. If it works, it'll also solidify LaRussa's resume. If it doesn't, it's written off as another stunt that LaRussa attempted (a la hitting the pitcher 8th, his funky rotation antics in Oakland, etc).
McRae was gone, there was no doubt about that. Like any hiring, there are good points and bad points: McGwire has worked well with hitters in the off-season (Skip being the best example), but he's also not helped some too (Chris Duncan anyone?). Yes, his OPS is high, but his batting average was only .263.
If McGwire can make it through all the questions, I think it'll be a good risk to see what he can do as the hitting coach.

Michael Reihn, from Whiteyball, finished the discussion with these words:

Mark McGwire is proven to be one of the top hitting coaches on the market. Should the Cardinals hire him? Will there be a fan backlash?

McGwire must address the PED issues from the onset in order to lessen the media scrutiny he will face. Many star players have moved past the issue to where it is a footnote (instead of the main byline) to their career. This is important to his image, his hall of fame chances and (less importantly) my opinion of him. Without addressing the issue, he could easily become a distraction to the team and a target for negative media. If he puts everything behind him, he could be a major coup for this team.

The Cardinals aren’t the first team to try to hire McGwire as a hitting coach and he isn’t some novelty act. He has a proven history of helping players become better hitters and could bring a lot to a team. His credentials are numerous and intriguing. Yes, he was a hall of fame caliber hitter, but a great hitter does not always translate into a great hitting coach (Ted Williams, for example). When people site his career as why he will/or won’t be a good hitting coach they are (respectfully) missing the point.

From what I gather, he brings many admirable qualities to the position. He supposedly has an eye for video and how it translates to each hitter, a varied approach to driving the ball (home run hitters and singles hitters), plate discipline teachings and a respect (from players) that may even be greater than Tony La Russa. You won’t see hitters tuning him out like they did McRae last year.

The fan backlash is overstated by the media (and bloggers). If you read the comment sections on the post dispatch, you would think that McGwire is going to have a rough time with the fans. What is amazing to me is how unrepresentative this form of media is to the masses. Most of the people that comment are the people that feel strongly against him being on the team. The Post Dispatch ran a poll online and found over 80% of the people were in favor of the move.

McGwire’s “celebrity” has its disadvantages, but there is a positive side. He has an added value of taking pressure off of Pujols. For the first time in many years, Albert will not be the main focus of sportswriters during spring training. This can only help our best hitter and make it easier for him to prepare.

The Cardinals are taking a chance on Big Mac, but winning is the main objective. He may have the ability to help them do this. After their first round flameout from last year, what do they have to lose?


Michael Riehn

My own thoughts? I think it all comes down to team performance. Unless Big Mac comes completely clean before the season starts, he is going to be a distraction, but there is a very good chance he could improve our hitters. I big criticism of McRae was that he preached a free-swinging style. The Cards have been among the worst in the majors at drawing walks the last few years, especially if you take Albert out of the equation. Another area I see a need for improvement is hitting with runners in scoring position. If we improve under these two areas with McGwire, we'll win more games, and whatever distractions there are will be worth it. Maybe it's morally corrupt of me to think of it in such a bottom-line way, but that's the way I view baseball. Anyway, I appreciate everyone who participated. There is only a couple of more days left in the roundtable, so I hope everyone checks them out! Till next season......


Monday, October 26, 2009

Bill DeWitt III on UCB Radio Hour--Tonight!

Cardinal President Bill DeWitt III will be on with Dan, Nick and Mike! Tonight 6:30EST 5:30CST 11:30GMT!


Friday, October 23, 2009

UCB Roundtable--2009 End of the Year

It's the end of the year roundtable for the UCB and Trey and I are both participating. You can check out the other questions here. Here's my quesiton and the replies it got:

Most of the questions so far, due to the time of the year, have been front-office-esque--as they should be. Yet let's switch gears for a second and prognosticate. Do you believe next year's team will be better than this year's team? Why or why not?

Daniel from C70 at the Bat: That's such a tough question given the different variables involved. On the whole, though, I'd probably have to say no for one big reason--the pitching.

Chris Carpenter and Adam Wainwright put up ridiculous numbers this year. I can't imagine them improving on those results in 2010. They may get close, they may do well (and I figure they will) but two top Cy Young-worthy contributions is pretty hard.

Then you have to replace Joel Pineiro's stellar season. Kyle Lohse will hopefully be better, but he can't improve so much as to fill Pineiro's 2009 shoes. You will get a boost from not having Todd Wellemeyer in the rotation, hopefully replacing him with John Smoltz, but all in all the pitching numbers will probably come back to earth somewhat next year.

The offense could improve, especially if Matt Holliday or someone of that ilk is out there in the outfield instead of Chris Duncan and Rick Ankiel, and I still expect the Cards to contend for October, but to expect them to do better than this year is a stretch in my book.

Our own Trey: I have to agree with Daniel on this one. While you'd expect that if we can get consistent contributions at 3B, SS, and LF for the entire season, we may have a better everyday line-up than last year, our pitching almost certainly has to take a step backwards. Daniel mentioned already the high levels of the starting pitching that will be tough to sustain, but you'd have to say the bullpen was much better than expected as well this year. That was a huge question mark coming into the season, and it was actually pretty solid for the most part. Maybe Hawksworth will stay there and continue be that solid set-up guy for Franklin, but I think there's a good chance there could be some issues in the mid-innings there next year. So overall, I'd expect us to contend in the central again, but not run away with it.

Mike from Stan Musial's Stance: One of my favorite non-Cardinal blogs is USS Mariner. Dave Cameron has repeatedly stated, in posts there over the last 3 years, the relative difficulty in taking an 85-team to a 90-win team, because of the amount of money that would need to be spent on players with a high enough WAR to affect the club's won/loss record.

Obviously we're not an 85-win team, having won 91 games in 2009. But I think the philosophy applies, especially when we consider what positions are question marks for 2010 (3B, LF, starting pitching), and the value of the players that manned those spots in 2009 who most likely won't be back in 2010 (specifically Holliday and Pineiro). The Cardinals probably don't have the money to put a Type A free-agent at 3B, in LF, and in the rotation - the kind of player that would provide a high enough WAR to push this team past 91 wins.

And as was already mentioned, improving on this year's team assumes returning players perform at least as well as they did this year. Reasonable for AP, and I would argue plausible for Wainwright, but probably not realistic for Carpenter given his injury history, Franklin given his regression to the mean in Aug/Sept, Ryan given a possible 'sophomore slump', etc.

So no, I don't think they'll be better. I'm hopeful Mozeliak will construct his roster so the team is AS good as they were this year - 91 wins will make us competitive for the NL Central and the Wild Card in 2010, if not the winner of one of those positions.

Michael from Whiteyball: The cause for optimism is the hitting, right handed middle relief, bottom of the rotation and defense. They almost have to have a better bench than last year (full season of Lugo, couple of guys hitting above .220).

The first half of the season, the Cardinals were weighed down by huge drop offs in expectations from the hitters. This is a list of batters by positions that were doing worse than their counterparts from the year before ( first half): LF, CF, RF, 3B, C, SS, P. That’s virtually everyone. Only second baseman Skip Schumaker, who was a huge drop off in defense from Adam Kennedy, and Albert Pujols (who was having a career best first half) were hitting above the positions from the previous year.

If they sign Holliday or someone of the Abreu ilk, the team will see massive improvements over a full season from LF, CF, 3B, SS and some improvement from 2B (especially backup) and RF (Ludwick could be in between 2008 and 2009).

The Cause for pessimism is top 3 starting pitchers and closer. The question isn’t will they drop off but by how much. The team could be a little better next year (with a good left fielder) or it could be slightly worse. 90 wins is a good guess at this early stage of the off-season.


Wednesday, October 14, 2009


It's been a rough week regarding the Cardinals and personally. Yet, I thought I'd share a brighter spot of my week: my 18 month old daughter and her favorite hat.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Heartbreak city

One great thing about being a Cardinals fan is that we make it to the post-season a lot, so there are a lot of playoff moments in our history. Most of those moments have been good, but a few have been ugly. John referenced the `87 series against the Twins, but today's game against the Dodgers looks likely to take it's place in Cardinal's lore also as one serious downer. Wainwright was masterful, making only a single mistake against Ethier. Unfortunately, he struggled to get through the eighth inning and looked to not have enough left to complete the game. After Trevor Miller retired Ethier to start the 9th, Franklin looked to have ended the game by getting Manny, and then a week fly ball from Loney. Unfortunately, Holliday dropped said fly for a two-base error and the rally was on. Certainly, Franklin also deserves some blame for not getting anyone else out, but it's not like he ever gave-up any hard-hit balls. They were just hit in the right places. It was just one of those days when the Baseball Gods seemed to be on the Dodgers side. I'm sure plenty of blame will be put on both Holliday and Franklin, and maybe rightfully so, but we had plenty of chances earlier in the game to give Wainwright more support, and we didn't. It's a tough one to swallow, but we are going home, and it's not over yet. To say it's the biggest start of Pineiro's life on Saturday would be a major understatement.


Wednesday, October 07, 2009


What is it about the Metrodome that gets such bad calls in key games?! Inge's jersey was clearly hit by the pitch. I'm now cheering for the Twins so that my Cards can exact some 22 year post season vengeance.


Friday, October 02, 2009

playoff preview

I've been meaning to post this for a while, but then the Braves made a run and threw things momentarily up in the air, so I waited till the Rockies clinched. Still don't know exactly who will be playing whom, but we will play SOMEONE from the west, so I'll just size things up based on that:

NL team breakdown:

Strengths: deep, powerfull line-up, great left-handed starting pitching.
Weaknesses: generally poor contact hitters, seemingly atrocious bullpen

Last year the Phillies won it all basically on the strength of one great starter, and a nearly flaweless bullpen. Despite bring-back largely the same team, they are going to have to win games in a much different manner this postseason. Lee and Hamels give them a terrific duo at the top of the rotation and Happ and Blanton give them pretty good 3rd and 4th options which they really didn't have last year. The line-up has tons of thunder, but a lot of strike-outs also, so they can be somewhat feast or famine. The strength of last year's team, the bullpen, now seems like a weakness, and that's usually a fatal one in the post-season.

Final analysis: This is probably the most dangerous team for us to play in the post-season because we've been so bad against left-handed pitching this year, but they are still very beatable. I'm glad we aren't playing them in the first round, because I like our chances much better in a long series where their line-up might have more bad games than good and their bullpen is likely to cost them any close games. Hopefully they'll lose in the first round and make it a moot point.


Strengths: Best bullpen of the four teams, deep line-up, experienced coaching staff.
Weaknesses: No "Aces". Manny no longer seems to be like Manny.

I'm not sure what to expect from this team really. They lack any star power, and certainly they don't scare me, but they still can stay-in a lot of games a win them late with their great bullpen. The concern if we play them in the first round is that we'll probably see two lefties in Wolf and Kershaw. Not as scary and Lee and Hamels mind you, but still concerning. Their line-up doesn't seem to be real tough either with Manny not playing well since coming back from suspension and Etheir and Kemp struggling recently as well. They do have terrific pen, with power arms from both sides, so if we let them stay in games, they'll be tough late.

Final Analysis: Unlike the Phillies, I'd rather play with in a short series, where we can potentially throw Carp and Waino at them 4 out of the 5 games and shorten our pen. In a long series, they have good depth and may wear on us. Still, they don't scare me too much overall.


Strengths: Best home-field advantage in NL, surprisingly deep pitching staff, strange "mojo"
Weaknesses: Line-up has big holes, lack of experience.

I'd actually like to avoid this team in the first round. They are probably playing the best right now, and really have probably the best overall pitching staff. Street and Moreles can shut teams down in the last two or three innings, and their starters are pretty good. De La Rosa and Jimenez are young, but have been aces the last three months. The one good thing when facing them is that aside from Helton and maybe Tulowitski, you can get their guys out and they don't even really have great power. The key will be to get ahead early if possible, because it seems this team wins all the close games late this year.

Final Analysis: Because of the great mojo this team seems to have, I'd love to avoid them if possible, but I'd rather see them in a long series where hopefully are superior depth and experience would get the better of them.


Strengths: Front-end rotation. Albert Pujols
Weaknesses: possibly bullpen

I really believe we are the team to beat in the NL, but obviously, the playoffs are a crap-shoot most years. We have the star power, and we are playing good ball in the second half of the year. The key will be how our hitters fare against left-handed started, because one way or the other, we are going to see a lot of them. The bullpen is a concern, but I feel much better about that on the whole than I have several years. A big question though is whether Smoltz can really help or not in that area. He's a gamer I know, but hasn't looked too good on the whole this year.

Final analysis: I believe Carp, Waino, and Albert carry us to the World Series, but again, you never seem to really know this time of year. Who would've pick us to win in '06?

Quick AL analysis: The Yankees are and should be a huge favorite to come-out of the AL. They finally have some real starting pitching, plus a great back-end of the bullpen. Also, they have a huge home field advantage in that joke of a new ballpark they play in. Certainly, the power arms the Tigers possess will test them in the first round, and the Angels and Red Sox both have excellent overall teams that will push them in a long series in the second round, but this seems to be their year.

Ok, so obviously I'm picking us to play the Yankees in the World Series. The only team I hate more than the Yankees is the Cubs. I would REALLY hate to see their 200 million payroll and ridiculous ballpark and celebrity fan base be rewarded, but it's tough to see all that talent losing. Sadly, they seem to have wisely spent their money this time around. Still, with our great starters and the best player in the world on our side, we'll have a puncher's chance. I'm picking the Yanks in 6, but I hope to God I'm wrong.