The Cardinals have played 8 games. Clearly this gives us enough information to judge them. Join me if you will while I evaluate all of the off-season hot topics, and grade how well they have turned out this year.
How to describe the Cardinals 2016 base-running? It was bad. Terribly bad. I mean, really God-awful bad. Like most evil person in the world bad. Don’t believe me? Even Sean Spicer weighed in when he said:
“Someone who is [as] despicable as Hitler didn’t even sink to using comical base-running”
Right? Worse than Hitler. That’s bad.
Rightfully Mo wanted to step in before the United Nations came a knocking.
The most simple and logical way to improve base-running is to simply acquire better runners and coaches. The Cardinals assessed all of their issues last year, and decided that base coaches really weren’t the problem. So that remained the same. As for the runners, Dexter Fowler came on board, which should help, but it isn’t the sort of thing that is going to rub off on other players.
But, as my taxidermist says, “there is more than one way to skin a cat.”
One way to make a group of terrible runners to stop making outs on the bases, is to simply stop getting on base.
The Cardinals have done this with stunning success. Their team OBP is .302 and when you consider the highest OBP in the lineup actually belongs to Yadier Molina, who could lose a race to a beached whale, they are doing an excellent job of keeping the players most likely to take a gamble on the bases as far away from them as they possibly can.
Folks, prorate this out over a full season. I promise you in the end you won’t be complaining about a lack of base-running skills after 6 months of seeing no one run the bases.
Kolten Wong Full Time Player A-
Mike Matheny is a motivator. And after he gave Kolten Wong his extended run at 2B (Jan 14-17) and still didn’t see a superstar, he decided to motivate him by threatening a platoon if Kolten didn’t prove that he belonged out there ahead of Jedd and Peralta.
Well, first of all, we now know that Mike Matheny was just pulling our leg.
After all in the 1st 8 games we’ve already had an incident where Kolten Wong started against a lefty one day, and was benched against a righty the next day (only to get a PH attempt against a lefty in that game), so clearly Mike never meant to platoon Kolten, unless, and this can’t possibly be true, Mike doesn’t even understand what a platoon is.
2nd of all, Mike’s motivation is without a doubt having an impact.
While Kolten and Jedd battle it out, both of their play has been more than you can hope for. Kolten, for one, is batting .200, while Jedd has a robust .222. Kolten has the better OBP, while Jedd is taking home the SLG competition. But what’s most important is that both players have risen to the challenge and are somehow, someway surpassing anointed starter whose job was never in jeopardy Jhonny Peralta, and his .150/.150/.150 start to the season.
When all of this spring drama started, and Kolten was unhappy, and there were rumors of an imminent trade, if you expected Kolten to be out performing Mike Matheny’s chosen cleanup hitter.
Damn, Mike Matheny is a flat out leader of men.
Defense is a priority A+
All winter we heard about how the Cardinals were going to improve the defense no matter what, even if it cost the team offense, after last year, it seemed almost too good to be true, and we had to sit back and asked ourselves, “Really? Are the Cardinals really going to dare to do that? Is Mike really ok with sacrificing offense to improve the defense?”
Well, we are 8 games in and the answer is clear: YES.
Folks, the proof is in the pudding.
The Cardinals have had struggling defensive players. For example, Peralta was signed to be a SS, but his numbers were declining. Matt Carpenter came up as a 3B, but he wasn’t great over there. So the Cardinals did the bold moves other people weren’t doing. If a player wasn’t working out at their primary position, it only makes sense to move them somewhere else.
That’s why the Cardinals currently have:
All starting at positions OTHER than the position the Cardinals signed them to play.
This is how you know a team is committed to real, improved defense. Instead of doing that old, tired notion of focusing on getting better defensive players, the Cardinals just rip players away from all of those places they failed at, and install them in brand new places where they have little experience.
But forget that for a moment. Here is all you need to know. The Cardinals, who ranked 3rd in runs in the NL last year, said they were willing to sacrifice offense to get better defense. Well, coming into today they rank 3rd to last. If that’s not a willingness to sacrifice a run here or there, I don’t know what is.
Still don’t believe me? The biggest proof of all is…
Matt Adams, Professional Leftfielder A++++++++
Yeah, yeah it takes a long time before we can trust the defensive metrics of a Leftfielder, but screw that. This is clearly one of the biggest victories for the Cardinals this season, and could potentially alter their future in ways we can only dream of.
How do I know? Because Matt Adams is managed by a 4 time gold-glover. Mike Matheny knows good defense when he sees it, and there is no way that the Cardinals would employ a manager who would play a player out of position just to get his rather pedestrian bat into the lineup if he didn’t have stellar defense to back it up. That would be stupid.
Still, I don’t think we could imagine that Matt Adams would be THIS GOOD.
I mean, let’s recall, Matt Adams has never ever played Left Field in his life.
He did used to be a catcher, and if you were to follow the normal defensive spectrum, this is what you might consider turning a catcher into as their skills started to decline:
Consider Craig Biggio who started off as a Catcher, and later in his career played both 2B and CF. This didn’t happen for Matt Adams. Those fools looked at Matt and decided, for whatever reason, to skip him straight to the end of the defensive spectrum. Why, it’s almost as if years ago the chance of Matt Adams playing 3B, let alone LF, was completely written off as impossible for a man of his defensive prowess.
Fools, scouts are damn fools I tell you.
But leave it to Mike Matheny to save the day.
OK, we should also credit Matt Adams. Previous to this year Matt Adams weighed 270 pounds, which, to put it in perspective, is roughly the size of Guam. Now Matt Adams weighs only 240 pounds, which changes things dramatically. Whereas before, Adams might have been too heavy to have the proper range to run down balls in LF, now he’s basically a cheetah out there, Usain Bolting around the field, at such a weight that supermodels are suggesting he eat a cheeseburger.
It took Mike Matheny to make this happen.
I mean, traditionally when players make a position change, they spend all winter working on it. But Matt Adams started this process 2 weeks into Spring Training. Traditional logic would have told you that maybe he could get some sort of clue, maybe he could be used in the direst of circumstances, but never ever would you put someone out there if it wasn’t completely necessary.
But Mike and his merry band of coaches saw something the rest of us couldn’t see. Talent.
And so Matt Adams got starts in Spring Training, and, well, OK, it’s Spring Training, no harm if he’s terrible out there.
But Matt Adams was so good, the opponents were scared to hit the ball to him. Most games Matt stood out there bathing in the hot Florida sun, daring a ball to head his way. In the end, he only got one or two.
Now, you and I might think that one or two balls are not nearly enough of a sample size to decide Matt Adams could be a reliable 5th outfielder, but that’s why you and I are simpletons and not genius coaches like Mike Matheny. Mike saw his stance, his poise, his athleticism, and he knew that not only was Adams not just a 5th OF, but that he was really a 4th OF, and maybe a reliable starter.
All from the tiniest smattering of Spring Training fly balls. Damn, these baseball guys know their stuff.
So we’ve gone into the regular season, and Matt Adams has emerged as the Left Fielder of your dreams. He’s even begun pushing Stephen Piscotty and Randal Grichuk for playing time. Yes, as Matheny has said, “His bat plays,” as evidence by his almost home run that one time, but his bat would have to be freaking Ted Williams good to make up for terrible defense. Matt Adams is a smidgen below Ted Williams, and thus the only reasonable conclusion to draw from why he is still gaining starts in LF, is that his defense has been stunning.
Notice this rocket into left field. Watch how deftly Adams plays this.
— cardinalsgifs (@cardinalsgifs) April 6, 2017
Folks, this is a triple. Triples to left are a dime a dozen. You know that, I know that. But what a true baseball mind will tell you is that Adams saved this from being an inside-the-park home run. First of all, no human could catch this ball. This is just going from memory, but I believe Statcast listed the hit as being at around 210 MPH. Also, LOOK HOW FAR it was hit. That baby is within 10 feet of the warning track, at least. So Adams really never stood a chance. But why did he try for it?
Because he’s freaking Einstein Adams, that’s why.
As the ball is sizzling by him, Adams purposely throws his body to the ground. The impact of Adams hitting the dirt was enough to vibrate away much of the speed of the ball, rendering a 210 MPH pinball into a mere hit off the wall. This enabled them to rush the ball back into the infield before a home run could be completed. Matt Adams, without even using his glove, let his left field defense save a run. No wonder Mike Matheny trusts him so.
I don’t know about you, but when I get my All Star Ballot, I know the name I’m writing into Left Field. Matt Adams. Thank you Mike Matheny, thank you. I can’t tell you how much I’m looking forward to a full season of this.
So why, if all of this is outstanding, are the Cardinals only 2-6?
Look, baseball is weird. Things happen. Bad luck reigns supreme. For example, while the Cardinals only have 2 wins, their Pythagorean record suggests they’ve actually played at a level of a team that should win 2.25 games. So don’t think of this as a 2-6 team, think of them as a 2.25-5.75 team suffering from terrible luck. There, feel better?
No matter what might be the real, mysterious reason behind the slow start, the one thing I cannot accept is the whispering that I’m starting to hear that maybe, in an effort to get better draft picks next year, the Cardinals are tanking. They are not. It’s silly to consider such a notion. Everything we know about Mike Matheny tells us this is impossible. It’s also statistically very improbable, because suggesting Mike Matheny would be losing on purpose would be to suggest that he is morally bankrupt, and it’s very unlikely for a person to be, at the same time, two different kinds of bankrupt.