CINCINNATI • And finally there was a game to discuss.
The first Cardinals Chat to be Named Later of the regular season happened Tuesday afternoon as I bunkered down at Great American Ball Park for the Cardinals' workout. There were some delays, but there was also a chance to live-cover the workout for the chatheads who joined in the afternoon fracas. You'll have to go to the chat itself to see the video of Matt Holliday's batting practice or pics from the workout. And if you're hankering to watch somebody open a pack of baseball cards, why that's there, too.
The fact that the chat followed opening day meant there was actual game mechanics to discuss and most of the questions fixated on the eighth inning, where the game hinged. I pulled some of the best questions about that inning and the relievers involved for this week Dandy Dozen excerpt from the chat. Not included in this selection is a reference to a (not suitable for a family blog) Surfers song, the reason behind the phrase "Holliday Gratings," and words of warning about the Chicago Cubs and why they should scare Cardinals Nation. Seriously. Wrigley is Coming.
With that, let's get the best 12 questions (and a few good answers) from the CTBNL:
Q1: Do you have a favorite breakout minor leak=gue pitcher and position player?
DG: Patrick Wisdom, 3B.
Q2: What was your take on the use of Neshek to start the 8th inning yesterday? There is apparently a lot of internet angst that they didn't just use Martinez for the inning.
by Jerry Modene
DG: With two lefties looming, Matheny went to his ROOGY for the righty, Brandon Phillips, so that he could then have Siergist, the Votto Slayer, ready to face Votto and Bruce. That was telegraphed and it wasn't that big of deal. The question for me was what situation would Martinez have entered into in the seventh inning. He was warming up during that inning, presumably to rescue Wainwright if he got into trouble.
Q3: "Holliday Gratings," great one. Can't say enough how much I enjoy and appreciate your interactions here. Speaking of bunts, I was excited seeing Wong sneak on against a lefty. Perfect execution for a change.
DG: It will be interesting to watch how the league adjusts to Wong's willingness to drop a bunt. He was doing that often in the Texas League and was getting consistent hits as a result. But that's a cozy league there and eventually teams started taking that play away from him by bringing in the third baseman. Wong had to adjust, and as he did his batting average dropped during that stretch because he didn't have the automatic base hit that a bunt once got him.
Q4: Do you happen to know if there is a way to measure the best pitch in baseball? Fernandez and Sale's slider would be up there but I'm thinking a few guys on the Cards could make the list.
DG: Empirically? I don't think that's possible. I guess you could go with the pitch that had the lowest OPS against or the one that had the lowest OPS against the most movement. With pitch F/x and the Trackman systems baseball is basically using a STAR WARS for fastballs. (Can I use that old relic from the Reagan Era? Do people still know what that was?) Essentially, baseball is tracking pitches like the military tracks missiles. We know release velocity, contact velocity, arm angle, release point, tilt, etc. etc. Many years ago I wrote a story about how Busch III was going to be equipped with "a radar gun for curve balls." This is pitch F/x and all its progeny. But how would you collate that data to arrive at the answer of the best? That's like asking who, empirically, has the most pleasing face or what movie is, empirically, the best movie ever or which flavor of ice cream is, empirically, the best. Can't do it.
ADDITIONALLY ... After the chat, I was able to go into the special preview section we did and pull out some of the stats on individual pitchers. For each of the pitchers on the big-league staff -- and the two on the disabled list -- I looked out what their "best pitch" was. I defined best as the pitch they threw most often and also had a low batting average or OPS against. In each case, I included the batting average against. Here they are:
Shelby Miller, RHP
Four-seam fastball, .236 batting average against
Michael Wacha, RHP
Changeup, .171 batting average against
Carlos Martinez, RHP
Slider, .125 batting average against
Trevor Rosenthal, RHP
Four-seam fastball, .211 batting average against
David Aardsma, RHP
Slide, .171 batting average against
Lance Lynn, RHP
Four-seam fastball, .211 batting average against
Joe Kelly, RHP
Fastball, .222 batting average against
Kevin Siegrist, LHP
Four-seam fastball, .159 batting average against
Randy Choate, LHP
Slider, .103 batting average against
Seth Maness, RHP
Sinker, .289 batting average against
Pat Neshek, RHP
Slider, .219 batting average against
Jaime Garcia, LHP
Curve, .161 batting average against*
Jason Motte, RHP
Four-seam fastball, .182 batting average against*
Adam Wainwright, RHP
Curveball, .182 batting average against
Q5: Hi, Derrick I want to thank you for a terrific presentation Sunday at MOTR in Over-the-Rhine. (Four years ago, no one would want to walk there; now it's a trendy place!). I enjoyed meeting you, and you held your own in front of all those Reds' fans. How you have time to do that along with all the other stuff the P-D requires of you is impressive. Turn on ESPN1530 here and you'll hear over-reacting 101 from talk radio. One game does not a season make, but you'd never know it if you listen. My question: you mentioned Sunday the Cardinals chose to open on the road. Why?
by Howard Mitchell
DG: I was happy that C Trent Rosecrans invited me to attend. Good learning experience. Now I intend to completely rip it off and do something similar in STL. We just need a good pub that will allow Bernie and I to do our podcast from there with a live audience. And we need pint glasses or coffee mugs with Bernie's mug on it to woo people into attendance. Good times. Great idea. Enjoyed the crowd*.
*Note: I was booed, but slowly swayed the crowd, I think.
As for the requesting a road start. This year the Cardinals asked for the road start so that they could have the extra week to finalize Ballpark Village, if necessary. They wanted some wiggle room in case construction was slowed and they weren't going to be ready for opening day. Pushing the home opener back bought that time. In past years, the Cardinals don't mind opening on the road because of ticket sales. Teams around baseball have a hard time selling tickets during April because school is still in session and the weather in some places is heinous. The Cardinals don't need opening day to spur interest in their club. They're going to sell out the home opener if it's March 31 of if it's April 16 or if it's May 12. The people will come for it. It's the next two games of the series or the three that follow it that they want to make sure they can sell, and the fewer games they have to sell in April the better in their estimation.
Q6: If you could pick one player to start a team with would you go offense and take Trout or Harper or start with pitching.
by Ryan B
DG: I would take Trout. Harper would not appear on my list ahead of Yadier Molina or Clayton Kershaw or Buster Posey or one of the rising shortstops with the potential to hit. I see that he's the chic pick to win the NL MVP. I'm not even sure he's the best hitter on his team.
Q7: Any chance we'll see Scruggs play DH in some interleague matchups? And is Wisdom playing in Memphis?
by dub the beachcomber
DG: Sure. This is a real possibility, yes. As the Cardinals begin visiting AL teams it wouldn't be a shock to see them dip into the Class AAA lineup for the best hitting of the group of outfielders there and make a move to make that happen. Piscotty in RF so Craig can be DH or so that Adams can be DH or Taveras in LF so that Holliday can be the DH. That is all very possible.
Q8: Derrick, great job as always. Given Wong's tendency to really press, how did he handle yesterday? No swinging hits (though a very smart bunt single) and a botched double play in the eighth. How was he after the game?
DG: I did not speak to him after the game, but I know that Matheny did. And what Matheny told him was that he had one strong day. He had one of the better days at the plate against a tough pitcher. This seems to be a theme today. A lot of questions about how bad this guy looked at the plate or how flinchy this guy was at the plate or how the offense was saggy, lethargic, unprepared. Whatever. Let me clear my throat: JOHNNY CUETO WAS DAMN GOOD. Give the other guy some credit. Tip a cap. Cueto had vile stuff yesterday. Look, I know Cardinals Nation thinks this guy deserves a swift kick to the posterior with Tarantula's boot. (It's a Spider-Man villain reference. Google it.) But he was exceptional in a compelling 1-0 ballgame. Wong had some of the best at-bats against a tough pitcher of anyone in the lineup, and Matheny's message to him was to focus on all the tremendous things he did not the ball that squirted through his legs because he couldn't decide which way to field it with his glove.
Q9: It seems like at least some of the hand-wringing yesterday over the bullpen was angst about pitcher roles or Martinez being the "8th inning guy." I get why (especially fantasy playing) fans would worry about this, but do bullpen pitchers themselves think about their roles as being ingrained as fans might or do they recognize their positions as more fluid based on team needs?
by Lawless Bat Flip
DG: Good question and a great point about how fantasy baseball thinking is more and more and more driving the criticism that real baseball thinkers receive. It's so true. I think so many of the questions I get about roster construction stems from the limits imposed on fantasy players who when they have three shortstops and cannot start one being thinking about the trade that will improve their team instead of the real baseball team that has three shortstops and throws a parade because who the heck has three shortstops anymore??!?
The answer is yes. Players understand that the situation is fluid. There are times -- gasp! -- when a closer might have to pitch in the eighth or when -- the horror! -- he might not throw until the 11th or -- the humanity! -- he might have to pitch in a tie game. It does happen.
Q10: what stadium has the most comfortable press box for you reporters? Any special amenities or standout comforts to share? :)
DG: Each reporter wants something different. I don't care so much for the food and the like because I often pack my own food or hit the concourse for some of the local flavor. I value view and working conditions and reliable internet. Houston use to have all of those things. Not any more. San Francisco is the best. Tampa Bay is underrated as a working facility because it's awful as far as a ballpark goes. Cincy is solid. PNC and Busch are so high up that the game is distorted.
Where you just in this press box at GABP and overheard us talking about this? Matt Carpenter popped up for a view from the press box and asked the same question.
Q11: Derrick, you just mentioned the strained communication that seems to exist between Taveras and Cardinal management. I've sensed the same thing and have come to believe that Taveras would benefit from a change of scenery and a new team. Might Oscar fetch enough in trade value to induce St. Louis to trade him? Or, is Taveras viewed as damaged goods among all ML scouts?? And, lastly, were the Cardinals to entertain offers for Taveras, what do you suspect the Cardinals would ask for in return??
DG: Scouts and front offices are, thankfully, not as fickle as fans. They still see tremendous upside in Taveras. Just as the Rangers see Jurickson Profar as a big part of their future. His injury takes him out of sight, but not out of mind. Same with Taveras. He's not "damaged goods" because he didn't have a good spring or because he's had this lingering and at times confusing injury. He's got a tremendous bat. He's got a maturity curve. If the Cardinals traded him now they would be doing so at a low value and only to team that thinks it can get a deal and then three years from now in this chat -- or whatever newfangled thing we're doing three years from now -- I'll be fielding questions about how could the Cardinals give up on Taveras ...
Q12: Derrick-I have read reports about how certain pitcher's mechanics makes them more prone to elbow and shoulder injuries. Do the Cardinals look studies such as this, and is it even feasible to change a pitchers mechanics? thanks
by mike in arizona
DG: Absolutely. It's a big, big, big part of their scouting. They've accumulated terabytes of data on what leads to injury and what type of pitcher proves durable, and they've tried to cross-reference that with what makes a pitcher successful. They are trying to land pitchers who have durability as well as stuff because stuff can be the best stuff in the uniform but it's just the same as no stuff if it's not on the field.
Ask the Washington Nationals.
For more on the Cardinals' pitching development and what they look for as far as mechanics and traits consider reading the cover story from our 2014 Cardinals season preview. Available here.