Who won baseball’s offseason?
It’s a matter of opinion. But two prominent baseball writers gave the Cardinals the ol’ tip of the cap in their offseason rankings.
Andy McCullough (The Athletic) placed the Cardinals at No. 3 behind the Padres (1st) and Mets (2nd.)
“The NL Central stayed dormant for almost the entirety of the offseason,” McCullough wrote. “St. Louis interrupted that slumber earlier this month by prying Nolan Arenado from the Rockies, who were all too willing to give up their franchise third baseman. The Cardinals took something of a risk in Arenado. He was injured throughout 2020 and his contract is massive. But come on. Arenado is one of the game’s most luminous talents. Eight Gold Gloves. Four Silver Sluggers. All that production while facing the double-edged sword of playing at Coors Field. Cardinals fans might have gritted their teeth if the club limited its offseason moves to bringing back Yadier Molina and Adam Wainwright. The addition of Arenado, plus those two franchise icons, is all the better.”
Our friend Anthony Castrovince (MLB.com) ranked the Cardinals at No. 5 behind the Padres (1st), Mets (2nd), Blue Jays (3rd), and White Sox (4th.)
“Within any context, adding Nolan Arenado is a big deal, worthy of entry on this list,” Castrovince wrote. “That the cost in players was manageable and that the Rockies are footing the bill for his 2020 salary only adds to the allure of that addition.”
WHAT TO MAKE OF VILLE HUSSO?
It’s premature to reach any conclusions on Blues rookie goaltender Ville Husso. He hasn’t played much. That’s true of most No. 2 goaltenders, so it’s fair to say that Husso is expected to play well even after sitting for several days at a time. But let’s be real here. This isn’t a veteran No. 2 goalie who is used to the vagaries of the job. He has played 257 NHL minutes, total.
When exploring the numbers, here’s what I found: when looking at Husso, we can see what we want to see.
On the positive side: in his last three starts, made since Jan. 31, Husso has a .926 save percentage at even strength. (Takeaway: he’s improving.) Over the same time frame, covering his five starts, No. 1 goaltender Jordan Binnington has a .927 save percentage. Virtually no difference, right?
Naturally, there are a few layers to this. I’ll spare you an attack of stats, but it comes down to this: when the score is tied, Binnington has performed much better than Husso at even strength in their respective starts since Jan. 31.
In tie-game situations at even strength, Binnington has stopped 52 of 55 shots for a .945 save percentage. Husso, on the other hand, has yielded the same number of opponent goals, three, but on only 20 shots on net. Save percentage: .850.
Given that the game is always tied when the first puck drops for opening faceoff, this fits the local media narrative about Husso’s tendency to struggle early. But there’s more to it than that. On the other hand … Husso has been really good at protecting leads.
Conclusion? It’s too early to judge the young Husso. Sure, we can see the flimsiness in his game, like his glaringly poor save percentage this season (.647) on high-danger chances. We can see examples of strength in his game, like the way he regroups and hangs tough after early shakiness.
Which is why my little exercise has been a waste of time.
But I think we can agree on three things:
1–Husso needs to be more consistent going forward.
2–Binnington’s value to the Blues is rising, in part because of the concern over Husso. Binnington can become a free agent after the season.
3–Fairly or unfairly, this doesn’t help Husso: former Binnington backup Jake Allen (Montreal) has the league’s top even-strength save percentage (.956) among goaltenders that have played at least 200 minutes. Husso’s season save percentage at even strength (.898) is tied for 39th among 50 goalies with 200+ plus minutes.
KEEPING WATCH ON THE NL CENTRAL
* The Cubs invested $6 million in a one-year contract for their former ace, Jake Arrieta. The 2015 NL Cy Young winner returns to Wrigley after three seasons with the Phillies. Arrieta, who turns 35 next month, pitched slightly above average in his first year (2018) in Philadelphia but declined over the next two seasons. In 2019-20 combined Arrieta had a 4.75 ERA in 180 innings and was popped by opponents for a .287 average, .353 OBP and .450 slug. Arrieta’s strikeout rate — 27.5% in his Cy Young season — slipped to 18.5 percent in 2019 and 16.8% in ‘20. On paper the Cubs’ rotation shapes up this way: Kyle Hendricks, Zach Davies, Arietta, Alec Mills and Trevor Williams. The sixth starter would be Adbert Alzolay.
According to The Athletic, “Cubs officials appreciate his unique style of pitching, commitment to physical conditioning and presence in the clubhouse.”
* Meanwhile, Cubs GM Jed Hoyer denied that he’s having discussions with the Mets about a trade that would send walk-year third baseman Kris Bryant to New York. Hoyer claimed he hasn’t had trade talks with any team for a while now and added: “We are currently still in contact with a lot of free agents. There’s probably more of a chance of minor-league deals [during camp] than typically when you start spring training. But by and large, I would expect this is what our team looks like.”
* The Brewers — perceived as the top threat to the Cardinals in the NL Central — took a flyer on somewhat intriguing outfielder by acquiring Derek Fisher from the Blue Jays for a player to be named plus cash considerations. Fisher was the 37th overall pick (by the Astros) in 2014 but hasn’t filled his power-hitting potential, slugging only .376 with a horrendous 36 percent strikeout rate in 458 MLB plate appearances with the Astros and Blue Jays. But Fisher has a career slugging percentage of .520 (with plenty of homers) at Triple A, and put up a solid .811 OPS in 16 games with Toronto last season. With Ryan Braun presumably (but not officially) retired, the Brewers have a corner outfield opening. Lorenzo Cain is back in center after opting out of the COVID-plagued 2020 season. And Christian Yelich is looking to rebound and get dangerous at the plate after struggling (by his standards) in ‘20.
* A six-writer panel at USA Today predicted each MLB team’s win total for 2021. Here’s how it landed in the NL Central: Cardinals 90-72, ahead of the Brewers (83-79), Cubs (82-80), Reds (79-83) and Pirates (57-105.)
Wrote USA Today’s Gabe Lacques: “What a time to be the Cardinals – finding a franchise player at virtually no prospect cost at the same time four division rivals aren’t exactly breaking the bank. Oh, the Cards are still vulnerable even with Nolan Arenado – particularly in the rotation – but the pack has weakened.”
READING TIME 3 MINUTES
Saint Louis U can’t afford to mess up and lose to LaSalle at home tonight. (Stating the obvious, yes.) But SLU, No. 33 in the Tuesday-morning NET ratings, has a 3-2 record against Quad 3 opponents. And LaSalle is a Quad 3 team right now. (The NET and RPI ratings are used as reference points by the NCAA Tournament selection committee.) And according to Warren Nolan’s invaluable site, a win over LaSalle would mean 21 RPI points for the Billikens. But should the Billikens lose for the second time to LaSalle this season, the setback would cost them a whopping 254 RPI points.
Missouri (No. 37 NET) is still safe secure for making the NCAA Tournament. But after losing two straight games, a win tonight at Georgia is important for the Tigers’ position in the tournament seeding. And a loss to Georgia (No. 98 NET) would damage Mizzou’s profile, Jeremiah Tilmon will miss his second consecutive game for the Tigers. But even though the big man is a valued presence in MU’s lineup, the Tigers will be grappling with one of the nation’s shortest teams, According to KenPom Georgia ranks No. 312 in the nation in average height. In other words: Mizzou should be able to overcome Tilmon’s absence.
One more note on SLU: the Billikens have to shoot better. Through five games of Atlantic 10 play, SLU ranks 10th in the conference in effective field goal percentage (48%) and is 9th in three-point percentage (29.8%.) … quickie NBA Note: Our Town’s Bradley Beal scored 37 points for Washington in Monday’s 113-91 win over visiting Houston. The Wizards have won two in a row and are 5-5 in their last 10. (That’s good for them!) Beal upped his NBA leading scoring average to 33.1 points per game.
Yeah, I’m joining those of you who are kind of tired (I’m being polite) of watching Zach Sanford make mistakes. Saturday’s goal in the OT win at Arizona was nice. Great. But in the tradition of the Zach Sanford Experience he screwed up Monday during a dreadful shift, making two mistakes that set up Arizona’s game-winning goal in a 1-0 loss to the Coyotes. Sanford played in six of the seven contests during the seemingly endless slog of games vs. Arizona. While his metrics in the six games were fine, here’s the Blue bottom line: when Sanford was on the ice at even strength, the Blues were outscored 5-1. Another complaint: in just under 20 minutes of power-play service this season Sanford doesn’t have a goal or an assist and has mustered only four shots on goal.
UPDATE ON JAYSON TATUM:
I know I wrote about the Boston Celtics star and native St. Louisan yesterday in the Bits — and how he seems to be dragging physically — but there’s some news. Speaking to reporters via Zoom on Tuesday afternoon, Tatum openly acknowledged the fatigue that’s still bothering him after his case of COVID-19.
“I think it messes with your breathing a little bit,” Tatum said. “I have experienced some games where, I don’t want to say (I was) struggling to breathe, but, you know, you get fatigued a lot quicker than normal.
“Just running up and down the court a few times, it’s easier to get out of breath or tired a lot faster. I’ve noticed that since I’ve had COVID. It’s just something I’m working on. It’s gotten better since the first game I played, but I still deal with it from time to time.
“I guess it’s just a long process. I’ve talked to other guys that have had it and they say they experienced the same thing and it kind of just gets better over time. But as much as we play, I guess it takes a little bit longer.”
AS OTHERS SEE US
In ESPN’S “Way Too Early Rotation Rankings” analyst Bradford Doolittle put the Cardinals at No. 10. And that’s optimistic when compared to other, more ominous calculations.
Doolittle wrote: “The Cardinals could stand to add another arm, even after the resigning of stalwart Adam Wainwright. Miles Mikolas is coming off surgery, and Daniel Ponce de Leon’s track record is short. Kwang Hyun Kim offers upside, as a pitcher who got better over the course of his first season in the U.S. But that trajectory could be offset by the severe downward shape of Carlos Martinez’s career. If that continues, and if Jack Flaherty doesn’t reestablish himself as the ace he is penciled in to be, the Redbirds’ rotation could drop in the pecking order. Still, the overall picture is one of stability, with only six teams featuring a higher rate of good starts based on recent records.”
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