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The 2017 Cardinals: Maybe John Mozeliak Knew What He Was Doing All Along

Question: Could it be that John Mozeliak was right all along?

It sure looks like it.

I’m talking about Mozeliak’s approach with the big-league roster  during  the season. Eschewing deadline trades for “name” acquisitions, the Cardinals’ president of baseball operations stayed with his pragmatic, steady philosophy. Instead of parting with upper-tier prospects or solid minor-league to swing transactions to firm up the roster, Mozeliak protected his birdhouse by giving big-league opportunities to players already in the Cards’ system.

And though there’s no predicting what will happen over the final 19 regular-season games — the Cardinals could win 15 or even lose 15 — I have to say that Mozeliak is getting the results he wanted. And he’s improved the roster, and the Cardinals’ chances for the postseason, without subtracting from the team’s future. Mozeliak and GM Michael Girsch might offer up good prospects to make offseason deals in preparation for 2018 … we’ll see.

But for now I’m talking about in-season moves.

Or maybe this is a better way to say it:  in-season non-moves. 

As I’ve said and written dozens of times this season,  the 2017 Cardinals were in transition. They weren’t tanking. They weren’t rebuilding. They were trying to churn the roster, prune the roster, freshen the roster, and replace tired talents with younger talents. And for the most part, the strategy has worked — whether we want to admit it or not.

At the All-Star break, the Cardinals were 43-45 for a .489 winning percentage that was tied for sixth in the 15-team National League.

Since the All-Star break, the Cardinals are 32-23; their .582 winning percentage is No. 3 in the league over that time.

An offense that averaged 4.57 runs per game before the break (10th in the NL) ranks third after the break with an average of 5.02 runs.

Moreover, the  pitching staff  has improved, going from an overall ERA of 3.97 before the before All-Star break and trimming that to a 3.69 ERA during the second half.

A tighter, more reliable defense is one of the underlying reasons for the Cardinals’ moving up to second in the NL in run prevention after the All-Star break.  Opponents scored 4.42 runs game against St. Louis before the All-Star festival and are averaging 3.91 runs post-break.

Except for last week’s trade to reinforce the bullpen with the addition of RH reliever Juan Nicasio — who wouldn’t be eligible to pitch in the postseason because the trade was consummated after Aug. 31 — the Cards’ roster fixes have been handled by grads from their minor-league system. And this cast of players has really made an impact since the All-Star break.

Let me explain …

In the second half, the Cardinals’ position players collectively rank second to the Cubs in Wins Above Replacement (WAR). And it’s pretty close, with Cubs position players accruing 11.0 WAR compared to the Cardinals’ 10.2

And 5.6 of that second-half  10.2 position-player WAR has been produced (collectively) by outfielder Tommy Pham, shortstop Paul DeJong, outfielder-first baseman) Jose Martinez, outfielder Harrison Bader, and outfielder Mags Sierra. All except for Martinez opened the season in the minors. Pham has been the team’s top all-around player this season with 4.7 WAR. DeJong leads the club with 21 homers and has upgraded the defense at shortstop as the replacement for a declining Aledmys Diaz. Sierra has energized the Cardinals when summoned as an emergency fill-in. And Bader has played very well since getting the call to come to the big leagues.

The players I just mentioned (plus a few others that made cameos) accounted for 18 percent of the Cardinals plate appearances in the first half. Since the All-Star break, those same players have taken 37 percent of the team’s plate appearances … and remember, the offense is No. 3 in the NL in runs per game during the second half.

So yeah, the Memphis muscle has mattered.

Really mattered.

Let’s see … 10th in the league in runs per game with these guys taking only 18 percent of the PA in the first half … and third in the NL in runs per game during the second half, with these gents taking 37 percent of the plate appearances. Hmmm…

So … if your offense improves from 10th to 3rd and the substantial improvement has been triggered by players that you already had in the system — it was just a matter of turning to them for help — then why would I or any reasonably sane person still be shrieking at the moon because Mozeliak declined to throw away prospects in REALISTIC deals that wouldn’t have made as much impact as the guys the Cardinals already were paying? Makes absolutely no sense.

I include Martinez on the list because he began the season as the 25th man, and he could have been sent to the minors at any time … something that actually happened (briefly.) Point is, instead of the dealing away a prospect for a Martinez-type player who could supply solid depth, the Cardinals Martinez his shot. And Martinez — who has been a terrific hitter for the second-half Cardinals — is showing what can happen if a talented but fringe big-league receives expanded playing time.

In 113 plate appearances since the All-Star break Martinez is batting .344 with 8 homers, has rocked an imposing .646 slugging percentage, and has delivered second-half offense that’s 81 percent above league average based on park-adjusted runs created (wRC+).

That’s why I think it’s funny when I hear or see or read people going batty and foaming at the mouth over Mozeliak’s failure to acquire a BIG BAT at the July 31 trade deadline. First of all, only one BIG BAT was traded: pending free agent J.D.Martinez went from Detroit to Arizona. And J.D. Martinez has done a great job for the Diamondbacks. But his park-adjusted runs created total is 17 percent less than the other Martinez — Jose — in the second half..

Just saying…

The Cardinals are doing swell with the Martinez they already had.

“Everyone is looking for that splash,” Mozeliak said on my radio show last week. “But you of all people should know that winning the offseason or winning the trade deadline really means very little. You gotta play the game … typically, long-term success, sustainable success is slow, patient, methodical, strategic. Finding ways to make that work. It’s not always headlines. It’s not always that sexy to hear that. But in the end, that discipline usually leads to long-term success.”

The Cardinals’ ponderous, meticulous, painstaking, fussy style can be frustrating.

But considering that they’re second in the majors in regular-season wins and first in postseason victories since 2000 … oh, and with four more NL pennants and two World Series added to the jewel case  … well, it probably doesn’t qualify as human suffering.

And though the last two  years have been upsetting in multiple ways, the Cardinals enter Tuesday’s series with Cincinnati with MLB’s ninth-best winning percentage since the the start of the 2016 season. Yeah, you want them to be better … but good grief. I constantly have to tell myself — not you — to try and have some perspective.

As transitions go, this one is moving along. The Cardinals have lost ground since winning 100 games in 2015 but still maintain a Top Ten record in their industry over the last 305 games. No need to call the Red Cross for assistance.

In another part of our interview Mozeliak said: “We’ve always tried to position this organization as self-sustainable. Where we can tap into the pipeline, tap into our minor-league system, and still find ways to win. Obviously we’re excited by some of the things we have going on in our minor-league system. And you’re seeing a lot of it take hold at the major-league level.”

Yes. But it should be must be pointed out that some luck was involved here. The Cardinals had essentially had given up on Pham but had little choice to bring him back to the majors after injuries left them short of outfielders in early May. But in a business that can sting baseball executives who make bad trades and bad investments, it’s OK to get lucky every now and then.

Similarly, the pitching staff has been aided by starters and relievers that became in-house solutions.

The injured Adam Wainwright and the ineffective (and trade) Mike Leake were replaced in the rotation by Luke Weaver and Jack Flaherty.  And since Leake made his last start for the Cardinals on Aug. 26, the Cards’ invigorated rotation has a 2.22 ERA and nine quality starts in 14 games.

The bullpen was bolstered by Memphis call-ups John Brebbia, Ryan Sherriff and Sam Tuivailala … and, to a lesser extent John Gant and Sandy Alcantara.

I’m not going to pretend that I didn’t rip Mozeliak for not making a trade for a reliever or two before the July 31 deadline. Where was his annual move for a bullpen bail-out? At the time the bullpen was shooting off embers. And I still stand by my opinion that Mo-Girsch waited too long to promote Sherriff (among others.)

I’m not trying to sell you or anyone on the idea that Mozeliak has been perfect this season. No one in the organization can claim that … well, on second thought maybe the minor-league supervisors and staff were pretty close to perfect.

— Triple A Memphis finished 40 games above .500 (91-50) and won its division by 22 games.

— Double A Springfield went 77-63 and tied for first in its division (Texas League.)

— High A affiliate Palm Beach went 74-60 and was  co-champion of the Florida State League.

The Cardinals are two games out of first place as they resume play Tuesday.

Mozeliak has almost always played the long game.

And it doesn’t really matter how many times I refer to Cards’ management as  “passive,” or growl about the lack of aggressiveness.

Their long game is in position to pay off … again.

If not this month, then soon.

Thanks for reading …

–Bernie

More: As Yadier Molina Defies Age, the Cardinals Try to Defy the Cubs

  • scott turk

    Was Mo right?? Guess it depends if you’re happy being on the outside of barely squeaking into the playoffs. Obviously, he was wrong about getting a reliever, since we were so desperate that we had to add a player that can’t even compete in October. Obviously, Mo missed on JD Martinez, who we desperately needed.

    • silencedogoodreturns

      I guess you missed the part where JOSE Martinez has created more runs than JD

      • Chris Moeller

        On the whole, Bernie is dead on, but JD Martinez would not have come at the price of Jose. You can have more than one Martinez.

        • geoff

          I’m pretty sure the MLB limit on Martinezes is two and the Cards were already at their limit July 31.

          • LawrenceKScardsfan

            Haha!

      • plato2

        And think of where we would be if our Martinez had been a regular in the lineup instead of riding the bench as much as he has this season.

        • John W

          Think where this team would be IF the pen had been fixed way back in May, 26 games the Bullpen has lost !

  • rightthinker4

    A lot of times, the best moves are the ones you don’t make. MO to his credit, is patient. Many of us would say too patient at times. He has faith in his system and in the minor league talent. I’m with Bernie on this one, MO knew what he was doing.

  • Josh Dunlap

    What steak restaurant does Mo take you too? Or, maybe it’s the really good scotch or cigars he sends you, that gets you gushing. Bernie, you are without a doubt my favorite sportswriter of all time. Maybe you were in need of rushing something to print, or something along those lines…I refuse to believe something isn’t going on behind the scenes which prompted this piece. Are you honestly trying to suggest that Mo had the ability to foresee the Cardinals being in this position? Is that why the majority of the players that constitute our lineup were in the minors to start the season? He knew that Matheny was going to need ANOTHER adjustment to his coaching staff, to better maximize the potential from the players who weren’t even on the big clubs roster at the time of the shake up? And I suppose he anticipated having to get rid of Mike Leake a dozen starts into the season, after just signing the guy a few seasons ago. Do you honestly think he anticipated the leadoff hitter he signed in the off-season to become our most productive clean up hitter? Or, that the young outfielder he gave a big contract to (Piscotty) would perform so terribly in the first half of the season, he tried to include him in a potential trade with Oakland for Sonny Gray? Really!? He knew what he was doing all along!? The Cardinals are in the position they are in now despite the FO. And you need to put that bottle down, if you think the Cardinals are going to come out and perform like they are now, at the beginning of next season. Oh, and how can you say that Mo did nothing when they made the trade for Nicsasio? Who won’t be able to pitch in the postseason should they make it, and isn’t under contract for next season. C’mon Bernie…you are better than this…

    • JDinSTL

      It’s the Windsock routine

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  • Jeffrey Cohen

    The bullpen lost a lot of games for this team. Isn’t that on Mo? And their run production comes and goes. A big bat could have sealed a spot in the playoffs. Overall, the jury is out on this team. Time will tell. Will they make the playoffs? Will they go anywhere if they make the playoffs? Isn’t that what it’s all about? I love the new guys but to rely strictly on them without meaningful additions will not not likely be fruitful.

  • Jeff Behrens

    This team has done what MO and the front office want — keep the team in contention during the regular season and keep the gates at 40,000+ each night. And it has been fun watching Yadi and the Baby Birds excel the past 6 weeks. But what this second half run is going to do will give the justification for not acquiring the pieces needed to contend for a championship. This organization has the talent to compete for the post-season for a long time. Does it have the pieces to win a championship? Will they make the moves necessary to take the next step? I would be very surprised if the FO is going to sacrifice many (or any) of its young birds to get the big bat this team needs.

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  • JohnS

    I don’t think Bernie is saying Moe knew what he was doing the entire year. I think he is just saying that Moe thus far has been proven to have been correct with not making any moves at the trade deadline. The record (sort of) seems to bear this out, though of course, Moe did attempt to trade Weaver and Piscotty for Sonny Grey.
    So much like with the non-signings of Pujols, Price and Heyward are we to give him credit for his inability to acquire Grey? It appears he wanted all of the above and failed to get any of them, ultimately. Would the Cards be better off right now with Sonny Grey as opposed to Weaver? Probably not, but that is conjecture. However, right now I am thankful we did not pull that trade off….

  • David B

    It’s healthy to admit when we’re wrong or too excitable or offer opinions based on too little information. Most of us who have criticized this team this year have done these things. I appreciate Bernie acknowledging that the front office knows what it is doing, and credits the FO for not making mistakes that would have damaged the team over the next few years. It must be hard to take the kind of criticism that Mozeliak has taken this year. Without the support of an owner who has patience and a long view of success, it might have been impossible. If George Steinbrenner was at one end of the spectrum for impatience and impulsiveness among owners, DeWitt seems to be at the other end of that spectrum. Sometimes, it’s crucial not to do the crowd-pleasing thing.

  • Christopher Toth

    Shouldn’t overlook one of the key moves Mo made was pruning Matheny’s coaching staff and bringing long time minor league pitching and hitting gurus to ensure the success of those Memphis Redbirds now playing for the Cardinals (not to mention inviting in the Chris Carpenters and Ozzie Smiths into the dugout).

  • geoff

    All of Mo’s genius was implemented on the field by the worst manager in baseball. Amazing!!!

    • You must be sniffing your glue tubes again.

      • geoff

        HUH???

        • Not huh, snnnniifffff.

    • I can see you sitting there wearing your nerdy Fredbird T-Shirt, waiving your Cardinal pennant, and wondering what the hell just happened. I tried to tell you 5 freaking months ago this was where we were headed, but you wouldn’t listen, remember? Maybe you’ll listen from now on, eh? Keep on defending them, professor.

  • geoff

    In the case of Nicasio, if a pitcher were to be put on the 60 day DL he has to be replaced by someone who was on 40 man roster prior to September first…right? Is Mo going to have to eat the Cecil contract too? I am still trying to figure out what he saw that inspired him to give a long-term no-trade contract to a middle reliever who, it turns out , isn’t good at all when the pressure is on. The dude is a mop-up pitcher.

  • ken

    seems like you were pretty worked up at one point about the cards not making some deals…particularly for an “impact bat,” if i’m not mistaken, bernie. but this was a good piece, nonetheless.

  • M W

    You have got to be kidding me. So now Bernie would like us to believe that Mo was some soothsayer who just knew that his minor league talent would do the job. So ridiculous. What was Mo doing when the bullpen was a dumpster fire? What was Mo doing when the team was losing games because they had no big bat in the middle of the lineup? How about running a struggling Piscotty out there everyday.

    This is such revisionist BS. I don’t expect this from Miklasz.

  • George Belt

    There is a term I learned years ago from the president of a huge wall street financial firm. “Don’t be short term greedy.” From the comments that are frequently posted here by fans, many appear to be afflicted in this manner. Mo was hired to successfully run a baseball business. He has done that quite well for a sustained period of time by running the franchise for the long term. Has he made mistakes… just like all of us…yes he has.

    • Spot on, George, but you and me are a distinct minority here. Hysteria is the norm. The BFIB have been gazing in the mirror for far too long.

      • This will be the second consecutive yr we miss the postseason, the third consecutive yr we fail to advance past the first round. They carry the 15th ranked payroll, 3 million dollars lower than what the avg ML club carries. Now that low level of payroll is fine and dandy– if the club is experiencing success. But this club is the classic example in mediocrity.

        Heck, they wouldn’t even pay the higher price for Nicasio, in order to make him postseason eligible. Nope, they had to wait until Nicasio was on the discounted day old bread rack.

        Anyone assigning a favorable grade or defending the quality of this GM’S maneuvers over the last 2 seasons, needs to have their head examined. They are either 100% oblivious to reality, or flat out lying whether it be to the folks here or themselves. Take a look at how many faces on this current roster are missing, from the roster they selected in Spring training to go north with. You don’t think that tells you something about their abilities to assess talent?

        Or how about paying the salary of Matt Adams, just to get rid of him? Or what about the near 20 mil they had to pay, just to rid themselves of the MIke Leake screw up? Or 20 mil to Jhonny Peralta for the last 2 yrs, or 2 yrs and 5 mil to Brayan Pena? How about 2 mil to Ruben Tejada, for about 20 minutes literally of playing time. How about Jonathan Broxton, & Brett Cecil? What about trading and then being forced to pay for Jordan Walden, for 10 innings total over 2 seasons? You don’t think millions wasted like that doesn’t make an already overly restrictive owner like DeWitt, tighten the purse string even more? Smarten up.

  • LawrenceKScardsfan

    Fun article Bernie. I was not one who was screaming for a big bat at the trade deadline. But I did think it important that the Cards bolster the bullpen and acquire a starter if possible. Instead they brought pitchers up from the minors and it has worked. That’s all I wanted to see – that the minors are producing. Now, hopefully, MM will keep playing these guys and not simply return to a handful of vets to deliver a potential WS ring.

    • According to “Lawrence”, we’re in good shape–nothing to worry about. Are you willing to retract your statement and admit their do nothing strategies at the deadline were inadequate, if they miss the postseason? I doubt it very much. Otherwise, you’d be criticizing them for doing nothing at last yrs deadline, which most certainly proved to be the wrong strategy.

      And don’t think I don’t hold myself to the same standards. I’ll be happy to apologize for being wrong for criticizing them, once they secure a playoff spot. For example, we wouldn’t have an inexperienced young rookie pitching in a vitally important game like tonight’s, had this idiot GM not invested 5yr/80 mil in Leake.

  • Paul Farmer

    What’s that old saying..”Fell into a bucket of sheet and come out smelling like a rose” Suuurre!… He knew how this would work out…..Smh. Please don’t be a homer Bernie, doesn’t look good on you Mr pragmatic….

  • LawrenceKScardsfan

    Great points Milo. And I imagine Bernie agrees with most (if not all) of them.

    I have written previously that I believe the mathematical equations of value that are so adhered to by the organization (DeWitt and MO) need tweaking. They are too conservative. We end up with a Leake instead of a Scherzer. We wait on Nicasio instead of bringing him in time to pitch through the playoffs.

    Thanks for the post.

    • Isn’t that interesting, my comments have vaporized into thin air. That what happens when Miklasz doesnt agree with them,

      • LawrenceKScardsfan

        Yep – I saw you’re post disappeared and wanted to make a record of it.

        I had this happen to one of my posts and was able to reach the webmaster and ask why. There was a controversial word I used in a non-controversial way, and that’s why my post was unacceptable. When I changed the word, the webmaster let it run. So you may want to reach out to them. It could be simply a misunderstanding.

        • I wouldnt waste my time, they knew what they were doing. If you dont agree with Miklasz here, you get eliminated. He’s a sellout just like the rest of the talking heads.

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  • Managers manage game-to-game. General managers manage season-to-season. But Cardinal fans–at least those commenting here–want their GM to micro-manage when baseball is a game of streaks and slumps. Moze is not the problem. DeWitt is not the problem. It is said that a manager may make a difference in 5-6 games a year, and our manager probably loses those. The biggest problem this franchise faces going forward is the hysteria of its fan base after fifteen years of mostly successful baseball. Fifteen years of believing they’re the BFIB. Not.

  • Richie Bess

    Wow I can’t believe I just read that.. Nothing has paid off and if they don’t make it to playoffs they will tell us about all the moves they are going to make..And of course we will never see them!! And the fans will fall for it again! That was a gutless article!

  • Big T

    Lesson here for all fans. When you have a great management team trust the process. Cardinal way of drafting developing and deploying is not only the way to run a baseball business but more importantly it wins championships. Think about where the future of Cardinal Nation is heading.

    Great job Mr. DeWitt!! Great job MO!! Great job coaches and manager!! Great job Cards!! Great job memphis mob!!

    • Jeffrey Cohen

      You are delusional.

      • The “T” in Big T stands for too, as in too moronic.

        • Big T

          T is for total Cards fan.. You should try it..

          • You should try waking up to reality, and recognizing the problems. Until clowns like you call for change, they will continue along their same downward trajectory.

    • Another one who comes here high on something while posting.

  • Steve Savens

    Spring Training record. 20 8 .714 First in National League
    RK Player Team Pos G AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB CS AVG▼ OBP SLG OPS
    1 Mejia, A STL SS 2 3 1 2 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 .667 .667 .667 1.333
    2 Martini, N STL OF 2 2 0 1 1 0 0 3 0 0 0 0 .500 .500 1.000 1.500
    2 Rosario, A STL C 9 14 4 7 1 0 0 2 1 1 1 1 .500 .533 .571 1.105
    2 Voit, L STL 1B 2 2 1 1 0 0 1 1 1 0 0 0 .500 .667 2.000 2.667
    5 Sierra, M STL CF 14 31 1 12 3 0 0 1 2 7 0 1 .387 .424 .484 .908
    6 Martinez, J STL 1B 25 50 14 19 4 1 4 15 12 6 1 1 .380 .508 .740 1.248
    7 Fowler, D STL CF 19 43 12 15 2 3 1 7 9 8 2 0 .349 .453 .605 1.057
    8 Bader, H STL OF 24 52 8 18 2 1 2 7 3 11 1 1 .346 .404 .538 .942
    9 Adams, M STL LF 20 47 11 16 1 0 5 11 4 19 1 0 .340 .396 .681 1.077
    10 Martinez, C STL P 2 3 0 1 0 0 0 1 0 1 0 0 .333 .333 .333 .667
    11 Diaz, A STL SS 17 48 7 15 4 0 0 4 2 6 0 0 .313 .333 .396 .729
    12 Valera, B STL 2B 15 23 3 7 0 1 0 3 1 0 1 1 .304 .333 .391 .725
    13 Wisdom, P STL 3B 25 30 7 9 2 0 3 6 5 7 2 0 .300 .405 .667 1.072

    Management screwed it up then figured it out. while Pham and Dejong jumped on board

  • Phillip Mezzapelle

    I don’t know if I would call it “maybe they knew what they were doing”. Afterall, look how much different the roster looks today as compared with the wat it looked on opening day. Granted, when the team is in transition, you almost have no choice but to play the wait and see game and hope that things pan out. But there was no way the team that came out of spring training was going to go anywhere. The young kids from Memphis, Pham, Dejong etc.. have saved the day. This does not mean that MO & com. can take it easy this offseason. There are still many holes to fill. Taking into consideration the way the owner and FO do business, taking into consideration that the organization really is loaded with prospects I by no means am counting on a spending free for FA’s, I’m even convinced that they will let Lynn walk. But at the very least, I hope the fill the need for a big bat and for a closer.

  • Gee, Miklasz switches directions more than a Texas whirlwind. Let’s see what the hell he’ll write after this weekend.