Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Lefty-less?

In 2006, the Cardinals managed to win the World Series without a left-handed starter for the majority of the regular season and the entire postseason. Can they do it again, and even so, would it be advisable?

Returning once again to my analysis of the past 10 World Series champs, only 2 have not had at least one regular lefthander in their starting 5 ('06 Cardinals, '04 Red Sox). If you expand that to the participants from the last 10 World Series, only 4 out of 20 have gone sans lefty in their rotations ('06 Cardinals, '04 Red Sox, '04 Cardinals, '97 Indians). So, in theory, could the 2007 Cards yet again make and win the World Series without a lefty starter? Yes, sure they could. However, statistically speaking, the odds are strongly against it (4:1).

Furthermore, to win the World Series, you have to make the World Series. The Cards may be the reigning champs, but with any additional pitching (which they will certainly get), the Mets will enter 2007 as the prohibitive favorites to win the NL. The big reason why: their heavy-hitting, left-leaning lineup (think Reyes, Beltran, Delgado, Green, Valentin). In 2006, the Cards did manage to squeak by the Mets in 7 games. However, it was more a result of an injury-depleted Mets rotation than an indication of the Cards' righty starters effectively neutralizing the Mets' dangerous lefties. Consider the following starters' statistics against the Mets in 2006 (including the postseason):

-Chris Carpenter: 0-1, 5.73 ERA, .394 Opp. BA

-Jeff Suppan: 1-1, 1.99 ERA, .162 Opp. BA

-Jeff Weaver: 1-1, 4.32 ERA, .300 Opp. BA

-Anthony Reyes: 0-0, 4.50 ERA, .250 Opp. BA

-Jason Marquis: 1-1, 5.27 ERA, .250 Opp. BA


With the exception of Suppan, who was beyond brilliant in the NLCS, the Cardinals starters were less than stellar vs. the lefty lumber of the Mets. Now consider the Mets' lefties' splits against the Cards in 2006 (including the postseason):

-Jose Reyes (S): .310, 3 HR, 10 RBI, .879 OPS

-Carlos Beltran (S): .229, 5 HR, 9 RBI, .925 OPS

-Carlos Delgado: .304, 6 HR, 17 RBI, 1.223 OPS

-Shawn Green: .289, 0 HR, 4 RBI, .716 OPS

-Jose Valentin (S): .233, 1 HR, 6 RBI, .743 OPS


On the whole, and particularly with respect to the Reyes/Beltran/Delgado trio ... ouch. Even though the 2007 Cards could, in theory, win the World Series without a lefty starter, is it advisable? Absolutely not.

Rather, it would be prudent for Jocketty to acquire (likely via FA) a potential #3 (or higher) left-handed starter, who could face the Mets twice in a post-season series. Note the OPS differentials for the above Met hitters facing left vs. right-handed pitching:

-Jose Reyes (S): +.067

-Carlos Beltran (S): -.220

-Carlos Delgado: -.224

-Shawn Green: +.034

-Jose Valentin (S): -.235


Of the originally available free agent, LH starters, only 5 have/had legitimate #3 or better stuff (listed alphabetically):

1) Tom Glavine
2) Ted Lilly
3) Mark Mulder
4) Randy Wolf
5) Barry Zito


However, the realistic targets for the Cards are likely limited to only Lilly and Mulder. Glavine is reportedly interested in only the Braves and Mets, Wolf has already agreed to become a Dodger, and Zito is well out of the Cards' price range. That being said, all early indications are that Mulder will not be "in the Cards" (pardon the pun) for St. Louis in 2007 ... and I'm not sure that's such a bad thing.

Currently, the Mulder trade stands as one of the worst deals Walt Jocketty has made as Cardinal GM (although even in hindsight, I probably would have done the same thing). In many ways, I feel that retaining Mulder for a potentially overpriced, incentive-laden deal may be nothing more than an attempt to hope that somehow the Mulder mistake remedies itself. If I could have some sort of real assurance that Mark Mulder would revert to his old form, I would make such a deal in a heartbeat. However, ever since the 2nd half of '03, Mulder has been a shell of the pitcher he once was. His fastball has dropped from the low 90's to mid 80's and his offspeed pitches have lost the movement and dive that onced induced ground ball after ground ball. Just as I believe there was no reason to expect Mulder not to rebound in '04, I see no reason to expect Mulder to revert to his old form. And that leaves only Lilly.

In such a depleted, over-inflated market, the Cardinals could do much worse (Lilly's stats). Lilly will only be 31 come Opening Day '07 and has been relatively durable in recent years, averaging 30 starts and 170 innings over the past four seasons. Much like Zito, Lilly is a flyball pitcher with a mediocre fastball (high 80's) and two excellent offspeed pitches: a 12-6 curve and a plus changeup. Over the course of his career, Lilly has been a solid strikeout pitcher, averaging almost 8 K/9 IP, something the Cardinals' rotations have seriously lacked in recent years (someone who misses bats). The biggest knock on Lilly is his control. At times, he has a tendency to nibble and throws too many pitches per plate appearance, walks too many batters, and thus doesn't go as deep into games as he might otherwise. However, in many ways (save not being a groundball pitcher), he is the prototypical Dave Duncan project: a competitive veteran with good stuff who needs to focus more on pitch efficiency and trusting his stuff, by attacking batters and pounding the strike zone more consistently. Lilly pre-'07 reminds me a lot of Daryl Kile, Chris Carpenter, and Jeff Weaver before coming to the Cardinals to work with Dave Duncan. Under Duncan and throwing more strikes, Lilly could very well be a solid #2/3 starter behind Cy Carp in St. Louis. Oh, and concerning the Mets' sluggers in the postseason, Lilly would do just fine ... he held lefties to a splendid .539 OPS in 2006.

Lilly would fit many needs for the Cards in 2007 and beyond, but he won't come cheap. In a market where Adam Eaton gets $8 M/year after two injury-ridden, predominantly ineffective seasons, Lilly could demand $9-10 million a season for 3-4 years. Granted, this would be an overpay by at least $2-3 million per year, but sometimes, you have to overpay to fill a need (see Looper and Encarnacion last offseason). At least in the case of Lilly, the Cards would be filling a need with a consistent, high ceiling player, perhaps the best combo of past production and future potential of all the starters on the market, left or right handed (although a similar argument could be made for Padilla). In many ways, Lilly is not far off par with Zito, the consensus top non-Matsuzaka pitcher on the market, widely rumored to soon receive at least $15 M/year for 5, 6 or more seasons (look for yourself below). At $5 M plus less for half the contract length, I'll take Lilly over Zito any day.

(Averages from 2003-2006)
Lilly: 7.46 K/9, 3.70 BB/9, 0.15 HR/IP, .253 BAA, .428 Opp. SLG
Zito: 6.37 K/9, 3.58 BB/9, 0.11 HR/IP, .240 BAA, .382 Opp. SLG

Unfortunately, I'm not too optimistic about a Lilly-Cardinals marriage becoming a reality any time soon. There hasn't been much talk in informed circles regarding the Cards' interest in Lilly, while there has been considerable talk about both interest from East Coast teams and Lilly's interest in West Coast teams. Unless Jocketty ups the ante salary-wise for Lilly (because we almost certainly will have to overpay), the chances of a second-straight World Series title with an all right-handed rotation will be slim to none. There just aren't many other true front to mid rotation lefties out there, and I can't think of any logical trades that the Cardinals could make that wouldn't either significantly hurt other areas of the club or jeopardize the future ... think Willis, etc. However, if Lilly does in fact sign elsewhere, don't lose all hope. We Cards fans can always hope and pray that Chris Narveson will set the world on fire in 2007 ...

2 Comments:

At 1:30 PM, Blogger Matt said...

Pretty good blog overall it looks like. I'm on blogger as well writing mostly about the Cards: http://midwestsportsfan.blogspot.com

I agree that a lefty would be a huge boost, and while I like the idea of signing Lilly, I think the more likely option is through trade, either the previously mentioned trade for Maroth(except my guess is Flores would have to go instead of Looper) or a trade involving one of the young lefties from Pittsburgh(Duke? Maholm?) for Duncan.

I've got discussion about these on MY most recent post.

enjoyed the read, good writing.

 
At 11:28 PM, Blogger KardiacKiehl said...

I've added you to my blog roll (would you do the same?) and checked out your blog ... I like yours as well. In response to your comment/post, I think the reason a free agent lefty is more likely than a trade for one of the Pirates' guys (who'd I also love to have ... I'd actually order it Duke, Gorzelanny, Maholm) is that in order to get them, we'd have to give up Duncan. With the insanity of the free agent market for outfielders especially, I just can't see the Cards both a) parting with a young, cheap power and potential packed player and b) replacing him adequately and cheaply. I still think the Maroth trade could go down, but it is now less likely given the Wells signing and Narveson waiting in the wings (#5 and #5a starters pretty well filled out now). The only way I see it happening is if we can only get one of the tier 2 guys we're targeting affordably.

 

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