St. Louis Cardinals: Grading the grader

LOS ANGELES, CA - MARCH 22: Yadier Molina
LOS ANGELES, CA - MARCH 22: Yadier Molina /

STL Today’s excellent sportswriter Jeff Gordon gave his season-end grades to the St. Louis Cardinals this week. While I will not address the entire team, there are three I want to give some special attention to, as I have a fairly significant disagreement on their 2017 performance.

Many of Gordon’s evaluations of the St. Louis Cardinals  are in sync with my own, or are within a half grade plus or minus, so no reason to quibble. But a few were a full grade or more off, and I want to explain why.

Yadier Molina. Gordo’s grade, A; mine, B.

I love Yadi as much as the next St. Louis Cardinals fan, but I cannot buy into what I consider a hyped and revisionist history some have provided for his 2017 season.

Let’s start with defense, which is Molina’s trademark. Without dwelling on every defensive stat, a cursory look shows that his dWAR, one marker of overall defensive production, was only the tenth best of his fourteen seasons. A 1.1 dWAR is fine work for many catchers, but hardly so for Molina. And he tied his season high for errors as a catcher with seven.

But it’s on offense where his performance has to my mind been significantly overrated, and here we can break down more significantly.

Basically, he had three dreadful months — April, May and July — with an OPS below .700; one exceptional month, August, with an OPS over .900, and two decent months in June and September. He had the most strikeouts of his career with one of his lowest walk totals.

Mike Matheny batted Yadi fifth most of the year, which Gordon attributes to others not stepping up, and perhaps that’s true. But some of the power that Molina exhibited with his homers was offset by a meager ability to get on base for several months of the year.

Want to know how bad his on-base skills were? Greg Garcia had 42 walks and hit by pitches in 287 plate appearances; Yadi had 32 in 543. ‘Nuff said.

I would not want Yadi to play anywhere else, though I hope management will work Carson Kelly in for more innings next year. Nevertheless, the mixed results do not merit an A grade for the hopefully future Hall of Famer.

2. Michael Wacha. Gordo’s grade, C; mine, B.

I am not at all sure why Gordo graded Wacha down so much. He claimed Wacha struggled with inconsistency despite his “livelier stuff,” and wrongly attributed him a 4.45 ERA whereas in fact he had a 4.13 ERA. But even the accurate figure does not tell the whole story.

Wacha’s FIP — his Fielding Independent Pitching — was at a fine .363, which suggests that he might well have pitched better than his defense provided support behind him. Of the starters, only Luke Weaver was better. And his luck wasn’t great, as his babip, or batting average on balls in play, was an above-average .329 (it was high in 2016 as well, and below .300 in his first three campaigns).

Most notably, Wacha’s control stayed about as good as it’s been his entire career, always between 2.5 and 3 walks per nine innings. And his strikeout rate actually improved, with a rate of 8.6 Ks per nine, placing second of his five seasons, only below his partial 2013 season.

While it’s true that we don’t know if Wacha’s health will remain intact, he was a pretty valuable guy for the Redbirds rotation this year. While his ERA+ tracked at only slightly above average, there were other attributes that were promising other than the ones noted above.

Most impressive was that he contributed his fair share to a rotation that only used six men for all but a handful of games. The group finished sixth in the majors in Quality Starts, those in which the starter goes six innings or more and surrenders three earned runs or less, and Wacha provided about twenty percent of them.

3. Adam Wainwright: Gordo, C; me, D.

In my mind, there is no universe in which Michael Wacha and Adam Wainwright deserve the same grade for this season. Whether or not due to injury, Waino, a stalwart of two championship teams and possessing one of the best win-loss percentages in MLB starter history, had what can not be described as better than a highly mediocre year.

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It is true that Adam looked promising at the outset of the 2017 season. But the ceiling in fact caved in: a 5.11 ERA and a FIP of 4.29, a half run worse than Wacha’s. An ERA+ of 83 contrasted with 103 for Michael. An abysmal 1.5 WHIP while Wacha’s was in the 1.3s (not great but a heckuva lot better than Adam’s).

By my count, Adam only had nine starts of six or more innings, with eight of them as Quality Starts. By contrast, Wacha had eighteen six-inning plus starts, with fourteen as QS.

How are the above comparative stats worthy of the same grade? Easy; they’re not.

The explanation can’t be rooted in Waino’s missed innings, because a part of Gordo’s explanation for dropping Kolten Wong to a B minus was based on how many games he missed due to injury (and I almost included Wong in this article, who I thought was worthy of a B plus for his fine season).

Gordo to his credit did raise the question suggested by St. Louis Cardinals manager Mike Matheny when asked if Wainwright would as of now be in the rotation come 2018 and the manager responded, “Absolutely.”

Unless that response was merely intended to avoid disrespect to Waino, it is an absurd statement, as Waino, as much as we love him, hasn’t had an overall great campaign since 2014.

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I for one am hoping the surgery that Adam is having on a cartilage flap in his pitching elbow will solve his velocity and other issues. But right now, for me anyway, Wainwright has as much need to prove his way into the rotation behind Carlos Martinez, Wacha and Weaver as anyone. Four-year-old success should be a promise of exactly nothing in The Show.