Deadline Sprint! Series Preview: Brewers @ Cardinals | Disciples of Uecker

Disciples of Uecker

We'd like to go to the Playoffs, that would be cool.

Isn’t it fitting that the Brewers and Cardinals face one another immediately following the deadline? Both clubs were active on the trade market, although the Cardinals arguably did not address a specific need, and instead opted to double-down on their strength of pitching. One might also question the needs the Brewers addressed, although a left-handed bat was more pressing to the Brewers than a starting pitcher was for the Cardinals.

Distance to 90 Wins:
Brewers: 30 actual wins (+1 off current pace)
Cardinals: 33 actual wins (+4 off current pace)

Run Differential Wins:
Brewers: on pace for 88 W; actual run differential is 86 W
Cardinals: on pace for 85 W; actual run differential is 82 W

In order to acquire right-handed veterans Justin Masterson and John Lackey, the Cardinals parted ways with outfield surplus prospect James Ramsey, as well as Mozeliak Dream Team members, Allen Craig and Joe Kelly. While Ramsey was likely blocked at the big league level (let alone by other Cardinals OF prospects), Craig and Kelly were (perhaps) more shocking trade pieces. Both Kelly and Craig are tied to John Mozeliak’s organizational vision, with Craig as a Mozeliak draft choice and Kelly as a member of one of his first drafts as GM. Notably, the Cardinals could maintain Lackey’s services for $500,000 due to an injury-related club option for 2015 that is built into his contract; even though many reported that Lackey threatened to retire (in order to negotiate an extension), it was noted at the deadline that Lackey plans to honor this contract by not retiring.

On the other hand, the Brewers traded Mitch Haniger and Anthony Banda for outfield depth and a left-handed bat, which they found in Gerardo Parra. While some may question how Parra’s potential playing time impacts that of left fielder Khris Davis, it is worth mentioning that Parra has more than 1000 fielding innings at every outfield position (in his MLB career). Given Ryan Braun’s ailing, nagging injuries, and Carlos Gomez’s all-out playing style (which has cost him a few games in 2014), Runnin’ Ron Roenicke can easily find plate appearances for Parra by rotating him throughout the outfield. Furthermore, the Brewers greatly improved their pinch-hitting situations: depending on where Parra plays, that leaves all three outfielders available for some late inning plate appearances; alongside the 1B and 2B platoons, that additional outfield option increases Roenicke’s ability to play match-ups when his team needs a hit in a pinch.

One can criticize both clubs for their deadline approaches. First, one can argue that the Brewers addressed one need without necessarily improving other more important areas of the club. Specifically, the club’s relievers are experiencing a rough stretch, and 1B play has been subpar at the plate for the bulk of the season. Yet, it is well known that prominent trade market 1B options might not be the best fit for the Brewers’ extreme shifts, and it is also arguable that a reliever will become available during the waiver trade period in August. As for the Cardinals, their offense has struggled for much of the season, and their trades hardly addressed weak areas around the diamond. While Oscar Taveras will likely improve the RF situation for St. Louis, the club has question marks at (at least) three other positions. Furthermore, if one wants to assess stuff, contract situations, and even previous performance, it is arguable that the Cardinals let go of a better pitcher (Kelly) than they received (Masterson, Lackey). This is an argument that may affect 2016 or 2017 more than 2014, but moving a young, hard-throwing arm for aging veterans with question marks does not seem to fit the “Cardinals’ Way.”

The best criticism available to either of these moves is the temperature of the Cardinals’ clubhouse. Derrick Goold noted that both Kelly and Craig learned that they were traded via the media — instead of Mozeliak or another club official — which sank the clubhouse: “Teammates described the sudden, sinking mood in the clubhouse as ‘a punch to the gut.’” Mike Matheny’s comments hinted at an organization that is not necessarily adhering to its “do things the right way” image. Goold wrote:

“It’s a tough morning for us, no question,” manager Mike Matheny said. “We ask these guys from Day 1 to buy into the fact that we’re in this thing together and we’re going to be together more than we are with the majority of our families. To buy into the fact that we’re all here for each other. To buy into the culture and everything this organization stands for.
“To see a few guys who have bought into that packing their stuff up – yeah, there’s a business here, but we’re asking for more than just business.”

Of course, no baseball club truly does anything the “right way.” Honestly, it is a business, there are going to be competing or conflicting personalities, and people throughout the organization will make mistakes. However, for anyone tiring of the media’s consistently glowing praise of the “Cardinals Way,” this trade deadline provides welcome material to show that not everything is “great” in St. Louis, and even Mozeliak is not satisfied with his “Dream Team.” It is unfair of me to criticize Mozeliak, in some sense, for “abandoning his organizational plan;” even Moneyball taught that no general manager can strictly adhere to the ideals of allowing his vision to play out over 162. Even emotions, intuitions, assessments, and performance on the field can incite the most ideological general manager to make midseason adjustments (in fact, I think that was arguably the most crucial message of Moneyball, not the “market inefficiencies,” and certainly not the stats). Probable Pitchers (edited on Saturday):
Wily Peralta (131.7 IP, – runs prevented) @ Adam Wainwright (149.7 IP, 32 runs prevented)
Kyle Lohse (146.7 IP, 10 runs prevented) @ Justin Masterson (98 IP, -22 runs prevented for 2014 Indians; 193 IP, 13 runs prevented for 2013 Indians)
Matt Garza (139.7 IP, -4 runs prevented) @ John Lackey (137.3 IP, 4 runs prevented for 2014 Red Sox; 189.3 IP, 12 runs prevented for 2013 Red Sox)
These probable pitching match-ups seem to conflict with However, The Post Dispatch is reporting that Masterson and Lackey will start the final games of this series. It should be noted that by slotting Lohse on 8/2, and using mid-August off days to skip starts one final time, the Brewers can start Lohse 12 times. These 12 starts would include approximately three additional games against contenders, and also slot Lohse twice on the final week of the season (including the last day of the season).

In case you’re wondering, the St. Louis Cardinals and Milwaukee Brewers are completely different offensive clubs in 2014:

RRBI/PA 2013 Cardinals 2014 Cardinals Difference (R)
LF 0.1627 0.1286 -15
RF 0.1405 .090 -23
1B 0.1378 0.1103 -12
2B 0.1363 0.0897 -21
C 0.1216 0.0893 -14
CF 0.1097 0.081 -12
3B 0.1077 0.1009 -4
SS 0.092 0.0966 +2

The Cardinals are facing just about any offensive issue one can imagine: (1) key veterans decline in performance, (2) key position players from 2013 were moved to new positions, (3) those players did not produce similar value at their new positions, (4) key contributors were injured, and (5) key rookie replacements were not as good as their 2013 counterparts.

There is not a single baseball club that could overcome each of these issues. It shouldn’t be surprising, then, that the Cardinals are on pace to score approximately 188 fewer runs in 2014. Luckily, the club’s pitching is on almost exactly the same course as their solid 2013 unit, which helps the St. Louis Nine outplay their 393 RS / 391 RA differential. By comparison, even though the Brewers’ pitchers are now on pace to allow 30 fewer runs in 2014, the club’s run differential is driven by an offense that stands to be 60 runs better than last season’s bats. Whereas the Cardinals’ offense declined significantly at nearly every position, the Brewers have improved by (a) maintaining top performances from CF, LF, 3B, and C, and (b) improving at RF and 2B.

RRBI/PA 2013 Brewers 2014 Brewers Difference (R)
CF 0.1278 0.1262 -1
LF 0.1179 0.126 +3
3B 0.116 0.1151 -1
C 0.115 0.1195 +2
1B 0.1108 0.1011 -5
SS 0.0959 0.0802 -8
2B 0.085 0.1107 +11
RF 0.079 0.1302 +25

Since Norichika Aoki was a fan favorite, it was an unpopular opinion to criticize his offensive performance as lead-off man for a poor offensive club in 2013. In some ways, it is unfair to judge lead-off bats on poor clubs, for if the bats behind that player are not performing, the 1st spot will not score many runs (and they’ll drive in runners less frequently, too). But, one way or the other, Doug Melvin’s gamble on Will Smith and Khris Davis paid grand dividends for the 2014 Brewers.

One of the most frightening prospect entering the post-deadline sprint is the Cardinals regaining their offensive form (it’s hard to imagine them getting any worse, anyway). That their club maintained many familiar faces and promoted key rookies suggests that their offense should be better; the Brewers, on the other hand, walk the high wire of expecting continually strong performances from their very same 2013 regulars. Yet, even Davis, Scooter Gennett, and Rickie Weeks deserve credit: they were familiar faces from last season that have consistently maintained performances that bolster a well-rounded offensive club. (Even if it’s an unpopular decision to stay put at 1B, for instance, one can remember that the Brewers are basically staying put with their 7th batter — it’s rather amazing to see an offense that is so good at C, 2B, and CF, as well as 3B, LF, and RF that a below average 1B is basically rendered moot).

Even more frightening is the fact that the Brewers arguably have a “truer” path to 90 wins and the Division Championship than the Cardinals. For this, we’ll all be reduced to covering our eyes and gripping our beers and remotes with white knuckles. If you’ve ever wanted to have faith in the numbers, now might be a good time to put that faith into motion. The Brewers have yet to play their best baseball.

Baseball-Reference. Sports Reference, LLC., 2000-2014.
MLB Advanced Media, LP., 2014.
Other news and analysis sources cited as linked.

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