Baseball

Monday Afternoon GM: 30 Games Into Potential Bad History

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Monday Afternoon GM looks at the rough start, the minors, and a cause for Jordan Hick’s struggles

It’s been tough to write these this season; lost series after lost series. In 30 games this season, the Cardinals are 10-19 (.345%); it’s the first April with a losing record since 2007 and this the worst start to a season in 50 years (1973, the Cardinals were 3-15 at the end of April). The team was 2-6-1 in series last month. They are sitting 10 games back of first place Pittsburgh (let that sink in).

Everyone expected the starting pitching to be the issue, but this has been spread over everyone. The offense is only averaging 4.24 runs per game, good for 20th in the MLB. They are dead last in the NL Central: Cubs 5.41, Pirates 5.38, Brewers 4.57, Reds 4.46. League average is 4.59.

Paul Goldschmidt (1.1), Tommy Edman (0.8), and Nolan Gorman (0.5) are the top 3 hitters in bWAR; Jordan Walker (-0.4) and Tyler O’Neill (-0.1) were the only hitters in the red. This is a little deceiving though; if you remove dWAR from the equations, Andrew Knizner (-0.2), Nolan Arenado (-0.1), and O’Neill (-0.1) are the worst hitters. Arenado has look lost recently, but he’s good enough to right the ship.

The pitching is suspect; they have averaged 4.69 run allowed per game, which is again 20th in baseball. Only the Reds (4.96) have allowed more runs per game int he division: Brewers (3.57), Pirates (3.72), Cubs (3.81).

The rotation, I’d argue, hasn’t been as bad as expected (although it’s not good). Jordan Montgomery (0.7) and Jack Flaherty (0.3) lead the team in bWAR, while the other 3 have been negative: Miles Mikolas (-0.4), Steven Matz (-0.3), Jake Woodford (-0.2). Mikolas could be experiencing a rebound already; each start has gotten a little bit better. If he’s back to normal in another start or 2, I’d chalk this up to the World Baseball Classic messing with his normal spring routine; rather then working with the team, learning a new catcher, and getting regular work in, he was with Team USA where he wasn’t getting the same exposure to hitters.

The bullpen hasn’t lived up to expectations. Giovanny Gallegos (0.4), Genesis Cabrera (0.3), and JoJo Romero/Packy Naughton (0.2) have been the best relievers, while Andre Pallante (-0.4), Jordan Hicks (-0.4), and Zack Thompson (-0.1) have been the worst; all other relievers have 0.0 bWAR. What’s hurting the bullpen is Ryan Helsley‘s 3 blown saves in 6 chances (after 4 blown saves in 23 chances last season) and Oli Marmol‘s insistance to keep using Hicks (more on him later).

Let’s put it this way, the team is on pace for a 56-106 season, their first losing season since 2007 and their worst finish since 1913 (51-99, .340%)

This Week
The Cardinals will come home for 3 game series against the Angels (15-14) and Tigers (10-17); the team hasn’t faced either opponents yet this season. It could be a good chance to get on track, or it could be time to make some changes.

Projected starters:
Tuesday: Patrick Sandoval (2-1) vs Matz (0-3)
Wednesday: Shohei Ohtani (4-0) vs Mikolas (1-1)
Thursday: Griffin Canning (1-0) vs Flaherty (2-3)

The Tigers and Cardinals haven’t listed projected starters yet.

Run Differential
This is ugly. The Cardinals have scored 123 runs this season and allowed 136, good for a run differential of -13. That puts the Cardinals at an expected record of 13-16, or 3 games better then they are currently playing; they are underperforming right now. Over 162 games, they should have a 74-88 record.

Injury Updates

  • Adam Wainwright – Wainwright’s made 3 rehab starts, and they haven’t been all that encouraging other than getting his pitch count up. The 3rd start was April 30 for Memphis where he went 5 2/3 (89 pitches), allowing 4 runs on 7 hits and while, while striking out 9. The Ks are good, but his struggles could show that he’s late 2022 Wainwright rather than vintage Waino.
  • Wilking Rodriguez – Rodriguez, a Rule V pick, started the season on the IL with shoulder pain. He made 3 rehab appearances at Memphis, but was shut down over the weekend after a setback. No other details have been released yet.
  • Packy Naughton – No update on Naughton; he went on the IL April 8 with a forearm strain. He’s expected back this season.

Minor League Update

Note: I’m listing everything for the season here since this is the debut edition for 2023.

Memphis Redbirds: 18-9, 1st Place International League West

Springfield Cardinals: 9-12, 4th Place Texas League North

  • This week: vs Arkansas Travelers (14-7, Mariners affiliate)
  • Promotions: Jack Ralston (RHP, Extended Spring Training), Wade Stauss (C, Peoria)
  • Demotions: None
  • To IL: Todd Lott (1B/OF)
  • Off IL: None

Peoria Chiefs: 9-12, 5th Place Midwest League West

Palm Beach Cardinals: 11-10, 2nd Place Florida State League East

  • This week: vs Daytona Tortugas (8-13, Reds affiliate)
  • Promotions: Angel Cuenca (RHP, Extended Spring Training)
  • Demotions: None
  • To IL: None
  • Off IL: Brady Moore (IF)

Others:

  • Demoted: Javier Bolivar (IF, Palm Beach to Extended Spring Training)
  • Signed: Andrew Bolivar (RHP, assigned to DSL Cardinals)
  • Released: Nelfri Contreras (LHP, Extended Spring Training)

Can Hicks Be Trusted?
As mentioned, Jordan Hicks has been one of the biggest issues in the bullpen. He’s throwing the fastball hard still, but has idea where it’s going. As a result he’s throwing the slider more; when he can’t locate the fastball, hitters are sitting on the slider.

According to Statcast (via Baseball Savant), Hicks is only hitting the strikezone on 40.8% of his pitches; league average is 48.5% and his previous worst as 44.4% in 2021. This right here is probably his biggest issue right now.

Hitters are only swinging at 48% of his pitches in the zone; league average is 66.9% and his previous worst was 55.1% in 2019. If they know he’s not going to be hitting the zone, they’re going to stop swinging, which is exactly what we’re seeing.

One of the reasons for this could be the pitch clock. Prior to 2022, his tempo with bases empty was around 21 seconds; it dropped to 18.7 in 2022 and to 17.0 this season. In 2019 and 2021, his fast tempo with bases empty was around 0.5% of his pitches; that’s up to 17% this season. His slow tempo with bases empty went ranged from 4-8% between 2019 and 2021 before working down to 1.9% since the start of 2022.

He was even slower with men on base. His tempo prior to 2022 was almost 25 seconds with men on base; 2022 saw it drop to 22.0 and this season it’s been at 17.9. His fast tempo was 0% prior to this season, where it jumped to 17.7% of his pitches. Slow pitches ranged from 7.3% to 14.9% prior to this year, where it’s dropped to 0%.

Since he’s getting less time between pitches, he’s struggling to consistently throw in the zone. It’s really something he needs to work on in the minors, but due to his service time, he can reject a demotion.

The Cardinals announced on April 16th that he’d only pitch in low level situations until his issues are worked out; they’ve pretty much stuck to that. The first game he pitched in was during the 9th inning trailing by a run; the leverage of that situation was only a .05 (anything under 1.00 is a low leverage situation). Since that announcement though, Hicks has seen his ERA and FIP drop and he’s only been in 1 situation with a leverage index higher than 1 (April 26, when he took a loss on an unearned run).

If the Cardinals are out of it, Hicks could be a trade candidate; he’s a free agent after the season and a contender would take a shot on correcting his issues because of the velocity.

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I’ll be back next week with more.

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