Cardinals' Dexter Fowler: On base twice in increasingly rare start

Cardinals' Dexter Fowler: On base twice in increasingly rare start

Fowler went 1-for-3 with a walk in a loss to the Cubs on Saturday.

Fowler had sat in each of the three previous games in favor of Harrison Bader, a testament to the extent of his struggles. Despite some modest success Saturday, there’s seemingly no end in sight to the veteran outfielder’s malaise, as he’s still slashing just .173/.276/.283 in what is now the third full month of the season. Fowler has had the occasional string of productive efforts previously, but he’s failed to maintain any type of consistency. Therefore, there’s no way to trust him from a fantasy perspective for the time being.

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Hundreds gather to honor Cardinals legend Red Schoendienst

Hundreds gather to honor Cardinals legend Red Schoendienst

A pall is placed on the casket of baseball Hall of Famer Red Schoendienst during the funeral service at Cathedral Basilica in St. Louis, Friday, June 15, 2018. (Robert Cohen/St. Louis Post-Dispatch via AP, Pool)

ST. LOUIS (AP) — Hundreds of people have gathered to say goodbye to Red Schoendienst. Among them are current and past St. Louis Cardinals players as well as fans.

The Hall of Fame second baseman’s public funeral was Friday at the Cathedral Basilica in St. Louis. He died last week at 95.

Current Cardinals Matt Carpenter, Yadier Molina and Adam Wainwright were among those on hand as were former Cardinals Ted Simmons and Bruce Sutter.

Schoendienst spent most of his playing career in St. Louis and managed the team to the 1967 World Series championship and the 1968 National League pennant. All told, he spent more than 60 seasons in a Cardinals uniform as a player, coach and manager.

Cardinals' Marcell Ozuna: Riding seven-game hitting streak

Cardinals' Marcell Ozuna: Riding seven-game hitting streak

Ozuna, who was responsible for both of the Cardinals‘ runs in a loss to the Padres on Wednesday with his fifth home run of June, now has a seven-game hitting streak and is hitting .400 for the month.

Ozuna seems seriously intent on making up for lost time, as he’d started to hear rumblings about his lack of power numbers as May came to a close and he still only had three homers on his ledger. The slugging outfielder has hit safely in 11 of his 12 games this month, racking up six multi-hit efforts in the process. One of the keys has been Ozuna’s ability to consistently put the ball in the air with plenty of velocity and distance, which has been evidenced by his 26.3 percent HR/FB rate and 54.8 percent hard contact rate over his last 49 plate appearances.

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Finding a Kolten Komp

Finding a Kolten Komp

It’s not quite trade season yet, but it’s right around the corner. There are only 47 shopping days left for front offices to tighten up their rosters for the remainder of the season. ‘Tis the season, and so forth! In the coming weeks, there will be a lot more analysis about the assets available to John Mozeliak, Michael Girsch, et al. as the deadline approaches. For now, I want to focus specifically on one particular asset that comes up every year in rumors- one of Cardinals fandom’s most divisive players, Kolten Wong. Specifically, I want to dig into some historical comps and see if we can get a gauge for Kolten’s future. Which players, historically, are the most similar to Kolten Wong, and how did they perform as they aged?

Note: I realize how weird it is to do this right now, when Wong is playing just about as poorly as he ever has since coming up in 2013. Still, I think it’s informative to look at the whole picture of his career rather than just these first few months.

When I performed this exercise a few months ago for Jordan Hicks, it was limited from the start. The Face Melter only had 9.1 MLB innings when I wrote that article, so I had to rely on raw stuff instead of results. Thankfully, Kolten Wong provides us with a far more dense sample- 2,057 career plate appearances through Tuesday, approximately five seasons of MLB roster time, and we’re through a good chunk of his age 27 season. The well for comps is deep here and I won’t have to rely on the (awesome) minutiae of Statcast data.

The first thing I’ve done is collect career numbers for all players with 1,000 PA or more, through age 27, on Fangraphs. From there, I selected the second basemen tab. This won’t list their stats only while playing second base. Rather, it’s a list of players with lots (but not all) of playing time at second base, and their career numbers. Because of how much the game has changed, I didn’t want to go too far back. That being the case, I limited my list to 1970 to the present. This step nets me 201 second basemen.

There are some obvious markers we should research when looking for Wong comps, or any comp for that matter. We’ve already culled our list by position, age, and playing time. Wins Above Replacement (WAR, or in this case, fWAR- the Fangraphs version) is another great place to begin. We want players who have been similarly productive to Wong. Since plate discipline and power tell us so much about hitters, we’ll need measures for each of those aspects of Kolten’s game. In this case, I’m using BB/K ratio and isolated slugging percentage (ISO). It’s admittedly a bit redundant since power and plate discipline are already included, but I’m going to add wRC+ into the mix. Finally, because speed and defense are a big part of Kolten’s game, I’m including Baseball Prospectus’ Baserunning Runs (which I discussed quite a bit last week) and Fangraphs’ positionally-adjusted Defensive Runs Above Average (Def) metric.

If you know how to measure players using run values, Def is very easy to pick up. Def measures the numbers of runs above or below average a player is worth when combining their fielding runs and positional runs. Zero is league average and every ten runs (approximately) in each direction is a win above or below average.

You’ve probably noticed had it drilled into you via article after article over the last few years that the three true outcomes part of the game (K, BB, HR) has changed drastically over the last five to ten years. That being the case, I’ve placed the BB/K ratio and ISO for each player in our sample on a league-relative scale (BB/K+ and ISO+). And with that final change, that’s our tool kit for finding comps for Kolten Wong- fWAR, wRC+, BB/K+, ISO+, BRR, and DEF.

To determine the distance from Wong in these categories, each player’s performance in each category is given a percentile rank amongst our 201 second basemen sample. That’s an important discrepancy. Willie Randolph, just as an example, is a 99th percentile player by fWAR here. But that’s only amongst second basemen.

Here are the fifteen closest second basemen to Kolten Wong, listed in order of proximity:

The first thing that jumps out at me, even makes me chuckle, is that the Cardinals appear to have a type. 2007 Cardinal free agent signee (and 1997 draftee) Adam Kennedy comes in at #2, 2014 free agent signee Mark Ellis comes in at #4, and mid-2006 acquisition Ronnie Belliard is #14, along with six years of Kolten Wong himself. If you’re keeping track at home, the profile that matches all of those players is middling power and middling overall production for a second baseman, combined with above average defense and baserunning (except for Belliard, who had a terrible BRR).

There’s another consideration here, and it means we should probably take a few of these comps with a grain of salt. This table says it all:

Heights and Weights for Kolten Wong’s 15 Closest 2B Comps

Player Ht. Wt.
Player Ht. Wt.
Kolten Wong 5’9 185
DJ LeMahieu 6’4 215
Adam Kennedy 6’1 195
Brian Roberts 5’9 175
Mark Ellis 5’10 190
Tony Bernazard 5’9 160
Jerry Remy 5’9 165
Bump Wills 5’9 177
Damian Jackson 5’11 185
Jerry Hairston 5’10 195
Ron Oester 6’2 190
Orlando Hudson 6’0 190
Dustin Ackley 6’1 195
Rennie Stennett 5’11 175
Ronnie Belliard 5’9 211
Aaron Hill 5’11 200

LeMahieu, Oester, Hudson, Ackley, and Kennedy are all taller than Wong. Bigger players hit for more power. If that quintet had a power burst lurking in their future seasons, it doesn’t seem like something we can or should apply to Wong.

What happened to these players moving forward? Since Kolten is under contract for three more seasons after this one (two seasons plus a club option in year three), let’s zero in specifically on the age 28, 29, and 30 seasons for these 15 players. Here‘s the group in total.

Wong Comp Production by Age

Category 27 and Under 28 to 30
Category 27 and Under 28 to 30
WAR/600 2.16 2.06
Def/600 6.1 3.2
ISO+ 81 80
BB/K+ 121 145
BRR/600 2.7 1.2
wRC+ 91.6 94.6

These results aren’t necessarily surprising. Most players improve their plate discipline as they age, particularly into their age 28 to 30 seasons. Defense and baserunning runs decline, another natural byproduct of age. wRC+ increases because of walks, as ISO+ is almost exactly the same. Essentially, a boost in walks wash out any other age-related decline, keeping overall production steady. That’s the big picture. Whatever Kolten Wong is right now, if he’s like the average version of his 15 comps, he’ll maintain that level of production. He just might do it in different ways.

I brought up the height and weight concern earlier, but the little guys actually saw the biggest boost in ISO+. Ackley, Oester, and Kennedy (the big guys) were three of the six biggest decliners in ISO+. On the flip side, the big guys (especially Kennedy and Oester, and LeMahieu to a lesser degree) saw the biggest gains in defense, per DEF/600 PAs. For our 15 comps, maturity seems to help the little guys hit for more power and the bigger guys position themselves more effectively afield (and take wiser gambles on the bases) as they age.

Thus far, we haven‘t looked too much at individual levels and we need to contend with the potential for attrition. Ackley was out of MLB after his age 28 season and hasn’t been back. Damian Jackson spent his age 28 to 30 seasons as an ineffective role player. Rennie Stennett spent his age 28 to 30 seasons progressing from platoon player to role player to completely out of the game. Bump Wills played at age 28 and 29 and was cromulent (1.7 fWAR after turning 28), and then moved on to Japan. He gets an incomplete, much like DJ LeMahieu. In LeMahieu’s case, he’s still crafting the story of what he will be for the rest of age 29 and all of age 30.

The biggest gainers in production (WAR/600) in their age 28 to 30 seasons, by far, were Mark Ellis, Brian Roberts, and Adam Kennedy. They just happen to rank 2nd, 4th, and 5th in under-28 BRR. That’s a possible positive- better baserunners in this group have aged better. And two of those three are little guys like Kolten.

If we subtract out the two outliers (Wills and LeMahieu), that gives us three players out of 13 who busted. It’s about a 1-in-4 shot that guys like Wong will bust. Remy, Bernazard, and Oester weren‘t good or even average (sub 2 fWARs) but they were respectable enough that they saw regular playing time. On the other hand, 6 of the 13 were 2+ fWAR/year players from 28 to 30- a coin flip for at least average production or better, with Roberts and Ellis legitimately serving as above average performers. It’s encouraging that those two fall at #3 and #4 in proximity to Wong.

Ellis and Roberts notwithstanding (and let’s put aside how weird it is for a Cardinals site to use Ellis in a positive way), color me skeptical of any kind of breakout for Wong. All three of the biggest breakouts (Ellis, Roberts, Kennedy) had displayed some signs of a potential breakout prior to age 28, either through progressive improvement, back to back steady seasons just prior to age 28, or 3+ fWAR seasons. Kolten doesn’t check any of those boxes. Worse still, the season right before he turns 28 is shaping up to be one of his very worst.

On the other hand, I think there’s decent evidence here that players like Kolten have a good chance of maintaining their value. His defensive skill and baserunning give him a higher floor than a lot of players, meaning his production can absorb the shock of his frequent slumps at the plate without dipping into Stennett and Damian Jackson territory (and boy howdy, is he ever testing that theory so far this season). If production per dollar spent is your thing, he’s due $29.25M over the next three years (if the team picks up the club option for 2021). At the current rate of approximately $8.5M per win, Kolten needs to be in the neighborhood of 3-3.5 wins over three seasons to be worth the money. It‘s a low enough bar that I‘d be very surprised if he isn‘t worth at least that much (3-3.5 wins) from 2018 to 2020.

The most divisive player on the team becomes more divisive. If you’re one of the three people on earth still waiting for a breakout, you’re probably going to be disappointed. If you can live with what he’s been so far- a good defender and baserunner, a maddening hitter prone to hideous slumps (much like the one he‘s in right now- the worst of his career), and a few thrilling moments mixed in with a lot of frustrating ones, all adding up to something between just a bit below average to just a bit above average varying from season to season… if you can deal with all of that, then you’re probably going to keep seeing it from Kolten Wong. If you can’t deal with that stuff, take heart in the fact that he probably isn’t going to totally suck, or he‘ll be gone.

Bullpen shines again as Padres down Cardinals, 4-2

Bullpen shines again as Padres down Cardinals, 4-2

San Diego rookie left-hander Eric Lauer held the Cardinals scoreless for five innings while the offense jumped out to a 4-0 lead against Luke Weaver, and the Padres scored a second straight 4-2 win in the rubber match of a three-game series in St. Louis on Tuesday night.

The Padres won a fifth consecutive series for the first time since the 2010 season and moved to within four games of .500 for the first time since April 16.

Freddy Galvis gave the Padres a 2-0 lead in the first on a two-out, two-run double, and the Padres added two runs in the top of the sixth. The Cardinals scored their two runs in the bottom of the sixth on a home run by Marcell Ozuna.

Lauer (3-4) allowed two runs on eight hits with two strikeouts in 5 2/3 innings to get credit for the win. He didn’t walk a hitter for the first time in his 10 major league starts. But it was the Padres bullpen that again sealed the victory, retiring nine of the 10 Cardinals they faced, with that sole runner eliminated by a double play.

Rookie left-hander Jose Castillo followed Lauer and struck out all four Cardinals he faced. Right-hander Kirby Yates struck out one in a perfect eighth. And Brad Hand picked up his 21st save.

Weaver gave up all four Padres runs on nine hits and a walk with four strikeouts to fall to 3-6. Weaver has gone six straight starts without recording a win. Three St. Louis relievers retired the last 11 Padres.

Cory Spangenberg singled with one out in the Padres first and stole second. Christian Villanueva drew a two out walk, and both scored on Galvis’ 12th double of the season.

Franmil Reyes doubled with one out in the Padres’ sixth and scored on Manuel Margot’s triple. Margot scored when Raffy Lopez greeted reliever Austin Gomber with an opposite-field bloop single to left.

Jose Martinez singled with one out in the sixth and scored on Ozuna’s homer to straightaway center.

Margot had his second three-hit game of the season and made a diving catch of a Tommy Pham drive to right-center opening the eighth.

–Field Level Media

Padres beat Cardinals, lock up fifth straight series win

Padres beat Cardinals, lock up fifth straight series win

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San Diego Padres relief pitcher Brad Hand, right, and catcher Raffy Lopez celebrate following a baseball game against the St. Louis Cardinals on Wednesday, June 13, 2018, in St. Louis. The Padres won 4-2. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

ST. LOUIS (AP) — Eric Lauer carried a shutout into the sixth inning, Manuel Margot had three hits and the San Diego Padres beat the St. Louis Cardinals 4-2 on Wednesday night to win their fifth straight series.

Freddy Galvis drove in two first-inning runs for San Diego, which has won five of seven. The Padres hadn’t won five consecutive series since 2010.

Marcell Ozuna homered for the Cardinals, who have lost three of four.

Lauer (3-4) gave up two runs and eight hits over 5 2/3 innings. He’s 3-0 when getting two or more runs of support.

Brad Hand recorded his 21st save in 23 opportunities. He got Jedd Gyorko to ground into a double play after hitting Yadier Molina to start the ninth.

St. Louis starter Luke Weaver (3-6) gave up four runs and nine hits over 5 1/3 innings. He has just one win over his last 11 starts.

Margot, who singled in the second and fourth, stretched the lead to 3-0 with a run-scoring triple in the sixth. Raffy Lopez followed with a broken-bat single off reliever Austin Gomber for a 4-0 lead.

Margot has hit safely in his last six games, going 9 for 20. He had two hits in a 4-2 win Tuesday.

San Diego reliever Jose Castillo struck out all four batters he faced after following Lauer.

SHARP DEFENSE

The Cardinals have not allowed an error in their last six games. It is their longest errorless stretch since Aug. 3-8 last season.

TRAINER’S ROOM

Padres: C Austin Hedges began a rehab assignment with Class A Lake Elsinore on Tuesday. He went 1 for 2. Hedges was placed on the DL on May 1 with right elbow tendonitis. He has missed 38 games.

Cardinals: INF Jose Martinez will be out on paternity leave for the upcoming weekend series against the Chicago Cubs.

UP NEXT:

Padres: RHP Tyson Ross (5-3, 3.43) will open a four-game series at Atlanta against RHP Anibal Sanchez (2-0, 2.37) on Thursday. The Padres are in 10-3 when Tyson starts and have won the last six.

Cardinals: RHP Michael Wacha (8-1, 2.47) face LHP Jon Lester (7-2, 2.22) in the first of a three-game home series against the Chicago Cubs on Friday. Wacha has won his last eight decisions against the Cubs.

More AP baseball: https://apnews.com/tag/MLBbaseball