Cardinals WIn The Pennant

The St. Louis Cardinals won its 19th National League Pennant last night with a resounding defeat of the Los Angeles Dodgers 9-0. This was a story of rookies beating the veteran, very expensive, Dodgers. The Cardinal rookies, Michael Wacha and Trevor Rosenthal,  are pitchers who throw very hard. Wacha beat Dodger star Clayton Kershaw twice in the League Championship Series and Rosenthal, a closer, just beat everyone. They are off to the World Series in their first Major League season.  Wacha has given up one run in 21 innings of Postseason play. Magnificent.

The Cardinals are lead by Carlos Beltran a thirty-six year old outfielder who went three for four, drove in two runs, including the first one which was the only one the Cardinals needed, and made a leaping catch to douse Dodger hopes. Beltran is going to the World Series for the first time in his 16 year career.

The Cardinals are the second winningest baseball franchise, second to the Yankees. The Cardinals lead in the combination of modern player analysis and ancient baseball culture. For Cardinals people, it is all baseball, all the time.  I keep thinking of a time in Atlanta when I was sitting with a bunch of baseball scouts and mentioned that I wanted to drive out to see the Kennesaw Mountain  battlefield. A Cardinal scout offered me his truck; I took it. The truck came with a rifle, a can for tobacco juice, a box of maps so he could find every baseball field in the southeast, a box of batting practice balls, just in case you wanted to work-out some prospect, and a collection of bats in the back. There was a worn baseball golve on the right front seart.  This was a baseball scouts truck, a Cardinals’ scouts truck.

These are the Cardinals of the Gashouse Gang, Stan Musial, Lou Brock, Steve Carlton and Bob Gibson. A magnificent baseball team off again to a well deserved World Series. They just missed last year, and make up for it now. No mattter who they play against, Red Sox or Tigers, there will be history there and a wonderful World Series.

So, now we have to pay attention to the Red Sox v. Tigers games this weekend, I just hope that series goes to seven games. 

The Los Angeles Angels and Free Agent Signing Errors

The Los Angeles Angels just traded their best relief pitcher, Scott Downs, for a minor league reliever. This is the sign of a team that has given up on 2013 and is looking forward to better days. The Angels plans are made more difficult by a signing error in 2011 when they signed Albert Pujols to a 10 year $240,000,000 contract that ends with escalating payments. They then signed Josh Hamilton to a 5 year $125,000,000 contract this year.

In March, I predicted that the Angels with Trout, Trumbo, Pujols and Hamilton would win the AL West. Today, they are 14 games behind Oakland and eight games under. 500. It is a disaster. My prediction failed as I over estimated the adequacy to the Angels’ pitchng and did not recognize the rapid decline in Pujols’ performance and Hamilton’s collapse. Hamilton is a psychological case.

Pujols decline is classic baseball decline and was predictable due to physical factors.  First, he hit his peak when he was 28 in 2008. It is shibboleth among baseball purests that a player peaks at 27. His decline in batting average has been 2008, .357,  .327, .312, .299, .285, and .258 this year. He has been troubled by plantar fasciatis this year as well. His OPS (slugigng plus on-base percentage), a statistic some think is indicative of true value,  has similary declined as follows,  2007, .997, 1.114, 1.101, 1.011, .906, .859, and .767 this year.  The numbers at age 27-28 are dramatic and rank with baseball’s great players, but that was then.

The undeniable fact that players performance declines after age 27-28 begs the question of why a team would sign a player to a multi-year, escalating payment contract for what must be declining performance. The Alex Rodriguez contract with the Yankees should have been instructive here, but it seems Angels’ owner, Artie Moreno, wanted to be like the Yankees by signing Pujols and then Hamilton. If he was looking there for guidance on how to run a team, he looked in the wrong direction, but then again his team had recently lost to the Yankees in the layoffs.

The proper place to look was a few hundred miles north to Oakland or to Tampa on Florida’s west coast.  Those two teams are in first place in their divisions with modest payrolls, but balanced, performing teams.  Moreno has become like the Yankees, who are in fourth place, as are the Angels, even though playing +.500 ball. The Angels winning percentage is 11th in the American League.  The real test in these signings is the reaction of the player’s former team to the player’s departure. The Cardinals seemed to be interested in re-signing Pujols, but dropped out of the bidding. The Cardinals, one of baseball’s best organizations, is 19 games over  .500 in first place in the NL Central and Hamilton’s former Rangers team is eight games over  .500, but trail the A’s for first.

This gets to the basic error in the Pujols signing. No one player makes a baseball team. A single player can only come to bat 11% of the time. Teams are a combination of pitching, fielding, and batting. Too much batting was expected from an aging star.

The rule that a team “shouldn’t get hit by a falling star” has slammed the Angels. I was overly impressed by the Angels offense last March, and have learned  a lesson. I imagine Artie Moreno has learned the same lesson.

National League Predictions for 2013

The 2013 season will find the Washington Nationals dominating the National League simply because it is the best team.

National League East. Here is where the Nationals win. The team has dominant pitching with Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper. I like teams with dominant players and this one has gold gloves, Adam LaRoche and Ryan Zimmerman, at the corners, as well.  Zimmerman was the best player here for years until the Harper’s showed up. It is nice to have high draft choices, but this team has made perfect choices with theirs. They will not draft in the top twenty five for the rest of the decade! 

The Braves will come in second unless the Phillies have outstanding years from pitchers Halladay, Lee, and Hamels. The offense is where the improvement must appear and I don’t think Ben Revere is the answer. I watcher this player closely and he has some flash in running speed that has a defensive benefit as well as the obvious offensive benefit, but the Charlie Manual will get tired of his lack of power and tendency to just slap the ball around will feel despair watching National League runners advance on his poor arm. So, I pick the Braves for second and this is due to Braves culture. They will play well and find players. By the way, team culture is a very important factor in team success.

The Mets and Marlins will clog up the bottom. See comment on culture above.

The National League Central will play without  Houston this year, a burden on the Cubs, of course.  This division has the Cardinals and Reds and I can’t pick one over the other with any certainty. This is a culture thing again and the Reds and Cards both excel at baseball culture. This can be seen at the lowest levels as their minor leaguers act like big leaguers from the first day.  I will pick the Cardinals because I like Bill DeWitt, and the Reds have Joey Votto and some uncertainty after that. I also think the Cardinals will find young players to fill in.

The remaining teams are the similar Pirates and Brewers and then the Cubs, Talk about cultural issues.

The National League has culture issues as well. The Dodgers and Giants have been  battling  each other for 100 years. The Dodgers have spent enormously this year but that is no reason to grant them a cake walk with the Giants. I like the Dodgers as I like Ned Colleti and know he will make wise decisions, but I have learned to like Brian Sabean as well. So indecision arises .again and the Arizona pitchers, all kids, can take over the division. Therefore, I go with LA, SF less than five games in back and Colorado two or three behind SF.

The Padres will try to win 80 times and Colorado is a KPKP team,(see earlier post for explanation.

How about that for fearless prognosticating in a game where anything can happen. I may review this in June, just to see how I’ve done.

As to the culture thing, the Washington Nationals have changed its culture and that is due to its owner, Ted Lerner. I got to know him when his team was terrible and his comments indicated to me that he was a perfect owner. He is proving that in spades and deserves his success.