MLB Network completed their “Top 10 right now” series last weekend, and if pitching wasn’t such a big deal in baseball, the Cardinals would have to feel pretty good about their 2018 forecast.
Of the eight Redbird everyday starters, MLB Network had six of them in the top ten at their position, including Marcell Ozuna as the top left fielder and Tommy Pham as the number two center fielder. I’m not a big analytics guy; I like Tony LaRussa’s philosophy of being able to look a player in the eye down in the dugout rather than relying on match. That being said, the MLB Network “Shredder” takes into account a multitude of statistical factors over the last two years with no human bias. Clearly, the computer likes the Cardinal offense. Here’s their entire list of top ten players at each position.
I like this. In addition to Ozuna and Pham, Dexter Fowler is the tenth best right fielder, Paul DeJong the seventh best shortstop, Matt Carpenter number nine at first base and Yadier Molina the number eight catcher. The only Cardinal starters that DIDN’T crack the top ten were at second and third base…Kolten Wong at second base and Jedd Gyorko at third.
Now for the bad part. The Shredder didn’t have a single Cardinal pitcher…starter or reliever…in its top ten. I’ve thought all off-season that what the computer thinks about the Cardinals is the case. They need a starting pitcher, a reliever and a corner infield bat.
Under the right circumstances, Carlos Martinez can crack the elite starters list. Is he potentially better than Kyle Hendricks, Carlos Carrasco or Noah Syndergaard? Absolutely. Martinez needs to focus on his entire game. In his 32 starts last year, Martinez was tied for second in errors among pitchers. One of those happened at Yankee Stadium on April 15. Martinez trailed 1-0 when, with a runner at third and one out, he fielded an easy grounder and air mailed it over the catcher’s head for a 2-0 New York lead. The runner that reached second on the error eventually scored, too…and the Yankees won 3-2.
On April 27, with two outs in the sixth, Martinez inexplicably tried to pick off Jose Bautista of the Blue Jays at second base, and threw the ball into center field. Two hitters later, the Jays got a two-run single for their first lead. With Martinez long gone, the Cards scored four in the eleventh on Matt Carpenter’s memorable grand slam to win 8-4.
On August 24 against San Diego, the Padres had the bases loaded with one out when Cory Spangenberg grounded back to Martinez, who missed out on the inning ending double play by throwing the ball over Molina’s head again. The Padres scored two there, and wound up winning 4-3.
And in his next start, August 30 against Milwaukee, Martinez threw a potential inning ending double play ground ball into center field, allowing a run to score. Rather than being out of the inning, Martinez allowed three to score in an eventual 6-5 loss.
You could easily say that without those three errors in close losses, clearly of the mental variety, Martinez could have gone 15-8 rather than 12-11, and the Cardinals could have gone into the final game of the season with 86 wins and a chance to force a playoff game. So yes, Martinez can get into the top ten conversation. Can any of their other starters? In 2018, it’s hard to imagine that Michael Wacha, Adam Wainwright, Miles Mikolas or Luke Weaver would crack a group that includes Clayton Kershaw, Madison Bumgarner, Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, Corey Kluber and Chris Sale. But right now, the shredder has only the Nationals and Indians with two starters making the cut.
Of course, the Red Sox have Sale and David Price (along with 2016 Cy Young winner Rick Porcello), and the World Champion Astros have Justin Verlander and Dallas Keuchel. With the Cubs’ addition of Yu Darvish, it would seem the Cardinals come up short in the great starting pitching department.
Bullpens can be touch and go, so there’s no great reason to think that what happened with relievers last year is going to happen this year. The Cardinals are going to have to get some good fortune from an unexpected source, but that happens a lot. The guy deemed the best reliever in the game, Kenley Jansen, spent five years as a catcher in the Dodgers organization before moving to pitcher in 2009. He made his big-league debut in 2010 and is now the best closer in the game. Sam Tuivailala was an outfielder/infielder for his first two years before switching to pitcher in 2012. He’s trying to nail down his first full year in the majors, and has stuff that translates to being a closer.
Would it be lucky good fortune? Yes. But has it happened before? It has.
As the Cardinals start spring training this week, they have some clear holes to fill. But if the MLB Network computer is right, at least they should be in good shape with their starting eight.