Step right on up and take a peek at what I’m writing for you: do the Cardinals have a top-five MLB front office? … are the wacky Blues a better team without Ryan O’Reilly and Vladimir Tarasenko? … does Scott Rolen make it to Cooperstown this year? … Torry Holt, Pro Football Hall of Fame finalist for the fourth time… RIP, Nate Colbert … Jordan Kyrou, not Vladimir Tarasenko, for the NHL All-Stars … investment advice on TCU vs. Georgia.
Let’s get this ride going!
THE CARDINALS HAVE THE FIFTH–BEST FRONT OFFICE IN THE MAJORS: That’s the assessment of Zachary D. Rymer, baseball analyst for Bleacher Report. He wrote a piece ranking the 30 front offices in order, and made his evaluations based on drafting-development, trades, free-agent signings, contract extensions and innovation. Rymer’s Top 5, in order: Atlanta, LA Dodgers, Cleveland, Tampa Bay and St. Louis. That’s quite a compliment to Cardinal president of baseball operations John Mozeliak and his crew.
“It already feels like forever ago that the Cardinals won the World Series in 2011 and then went back in 2013, but not because the franchise has endured any kind of fall from grace. Indeed, it has yet to have even one losing season under John Mozeliak.
“Not bad, considering that the Cardinals have never had better than the league’s seventh Opening Day payroll in this span. Notable deals with Matt Holliday, Dexter Fowler and Willson Contreras notwithstanding, Mozeliak has largely favored the trade market over free agency for adding impact talent. That’s how Paul Goldschmidt and Nolan Arenado arrived in town, and one could say they’ve done well in St. Louis.
“Mozeliak has also kept up a strong tradition of developing players from within in recent years, and particularly in 2022, as the Cardinals got significant returns from five 25-and-under hitters. As the farm system remains loaded, it’s hard to see the Redbirds taking a turn for the worse under Mozeliak’s leadership any time soon.”
Moving On …
FIVE QUICK CARDINAL QUESTIONS FOR 2023: I’ll be writing a piece on this, adding more questions and in-depth answers. But here are a few things I’m wondering about on this 6th day of January.
— What kind of impact will Dusty Blake make as the new pitching coach? He has a forward-thinking mind, is well versed in the modern methods, and is up on all of the technology. With Blake as the pitching coach at Duke, the Blue Devils set program strikeout records in 2018 and 2019 and had the best ERA in the ACC in 2020. Blake has the approval of veterans such as Adam Wainwright. This will be interesting.
— Where does Moises Gomez fit in … provided that he has a legitimate opportunity to earn swings with the big club? The outfield already has many residents, and top prospect Jordan Walker is coming soon. Is there room at the inn for Gomez? Splitting the year between Double A Springfield and AAA Memphis, Gomes led all minor-league hitters with 39 home runs and slugged .624 last season Lots of strikeouts, though.
— OIi Marmol has several new coaches on board — and how much time will the new staff need time to make a smooth transition? Will the reordered staff work well, or will there be problems?
— Could a healthy Drew VerHagen emerge as an unexpected and positive surprise? I’m a skeptic, but …
— Why were the Cardinals (reportedly) willing to trade closer Ryan Helsey to Toronto in discussions for a Blue Jays catcher? That’s before the Cardinals signed catcher Willson Contreras as a free agent.
Moving On …
THE BLUES ARE BANANAS. There’s no sense in trying to figure this team out. They’re 7-2-3 in their last 12 games, including a 2-0 trip (so far) to Toronto and New Jersey. They’re doing just fine without injured defenseman Torey Krug, and they’ve won their first two games since captain Ryan O’Reilly and scorer Vladimir Tarasenko went on Long-Term Injured Reserve.
The question is admittedly premature, but are the Blues better off without O’Reilly and Tarasenko? We respect the heck out of O’Reilly but he’s having a mediocre season and is down from his usual high standards. O’Reilly has only six assists overall in 682 all-strengths minutes. And he has the NHL’s worst goal differential at even strength – minus 28 – among 198 forwards that have logged at least 300 minutes. As for the moody Tarasenko, his average of one goal per 60 minutes would be his poorest since his rookie year in seasons in which he’s played at least 34 games. Both guys are likely headed to free agency after the season, and could be moved before the March 3 NHL trade deadline.
With that 7-2-3 record, the Blues rank 8th in the NHL in points-collected percentage (.708.) since Dec. 11. That looks good, right? Well, since Dec. 11 they’ve also ranked 28th in expected goal share (43.2) at 5-on-5, and also rank 28th in high-danger shots percentage. They won at Toronto and New Jersey despite getting only 37.7 percent of the shot attempts, 41% of the shots on goal, and 45.5 of the goals scored at 5-on-5 during the two games combined. (Shakes head. Makes little sense.)
Moving On …
JORDAN BINNINGTON: He was outstanding in the 5-3 win at New Jersey, but the overall consistency is lacking. Among the 27 NHL goaltenders that have played in at least 20 games this season, Binnington ranks 23rd with a .467 Quality Start percentage. And he’s tied for the bottom spot in the “Really Bad Starts” category listed at Hockey Reference. Oddly enough, the two goaltenders with the most Really Bad Starts this season are Binnington and former Blue Ville Husso, now with Detroit.
JORDAN KYROU. NOT TARASENKO. It ain’t that big of a deal, but Kyrou is more deserving than Tarasenko in getting the invitation to play in the All-Star game the weekend of Feb. 3-4. For now Tarasenko is the lone St. Louis representative but could get the call to go to South Florida if Tarasenko can’t play because of his hand injury. In 36 games, Kyrou leads the Blues in goals (19) and points (38) and has more assists than Tarasenko as well. Kyrou has outscored Tarasenko 12-7 at even strength, and by an 11-5 count at 5-on-5. Kyrou isn’t exactly Spartacus when it comes to defending, but I don’t think we’ll see Tarasenko in contention for the Selke Trophy, which goes “to the forward who best excels in the defensive aspects of the game.”
So who’s the better offensive player?
— Goals per 60 minutes, all situations: Kyrou 1.74, Tarasenko 1.01.
— Points per 60, all situations: Kyrou 3.48, Tarasenko 2.93.
Moving On …
SCOTT ROLEN: IS THIS THE YEAR? Rolen made a significant move upward in the 2022 Baseball of Fame balloting, pulling in 63.2 percent approval from the baseball-writing voters. The threshold for induction is 75 percent of the vote, and Rolen has a shot to clear the mandatory requirement. The results will be announced Jan. 24. Rolen, a Cardinal for six seasons, seemingly is on the cusp of Cooperstown certification. Among voters that have made their ballots public, Rolen was standing at 81.3 percent as of Friday afternoon. The Cardinal Hall of Famer will advance to Cooperstown. But will it be this year?
THE CASE FOR ROLEN: Rolen was an NL Rookie of the Year. He was chosen for seven All-Star games and earned eight Gold Gloves. He ranks eighth in MLB history with 70.1 WAR among regular third basemen. (Edgar Martinez and Paul Molitor are listed as third basemen but took a substantially higher percentage of their at-bats as designated hitters.)
In MLB history only two third basemen have hit 300+ home runs and won eight or more Gold Gloves: Mike Schmidt and Scott Rolen.
Rolen ranks sixth all-time among third baseman with 21.2 defensive WAR.
Chris Budig of the essential CooperstownCred site provided this valuable research and information: Only nine other players with a WAR of 70 or higher that have been eligible for the Hall of Fame did not gain passage to the shrine. Three of the 10 exhausted their 10 years of eligibility on the 2022 BBWAA ballot. (Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, and Curt Schilling.) There’s Alex Rodriguez, who is on the ballot for the second time in 2023. The other five are Lou Whitaker, Bobby Grich, Rafael Palmeiro, and 19th-century players Bill Dahlen and Jim McCormick. Pete Rose (79.6 WAR) is not eligible for the Hall of Fame because of his lifetime ban from baseball.
(There’s so much more to Rolen’s case but I don’t think you want me to write a book here.)
Here’s Rolen’s yearly tracking in the voting in the quest of making it to 75 percent:
— 10.2% in 2018
— 17.2% in 2019
— 35.3% in 2020
— 52.9% in 2021
— 63.2% in 2022.
After a very slow start, more ballot spaces have gradually opened for Rolen because of other worthy candidates being voted into Cooperstown over the past five years. Rolen has made tremendous headway in the voting.
Here’s Jay Jaffe of FanGraphs, the highly respected Hall of Fame analyst: “Having advocated for Rolen from the beginning of his candidacy because the numbers fully support a player who always impressed and often wowed me, I’m gratified that the notion that he’s a Hall of Famer has gained wider acceptance. Even if he doesn’t get elected via this ballot, it’s clear that he’s on his way to Cooperstown, and by the time he’s in, the minds of more voters will have been changed over the course of his run than for any other candidate. Still, it would be particularly great if he could get there on the 2023 ballot, because without him, this summer’s Induction Day could be a very small ceremony.”
Moving On …
TORRY HOLT: The great St. Louis Rams wide receiver is a Pro Football Hall of finalist for the fourth time. The voting will be conducted before the Super Bowl. Holt has been waiting long enough. I will take a deeper look at his case before then, but for now I’ll offer a few brief points:
* Once again Holt is part of a glut of wide receivers on the modern-era ballot. In addition to Holt, the group of 15 finalists includes wide receivers Reggie Wayne and Andrew Johnson – plus Devin Hester, a WR better known for his extraordinary track record in returning kickoffs and punts.
* At the time of his retirement, Holt ranked third all-time in receiving yards per game, ninth all-time in receptions (920) and eighth in total receiving yards (13,382).
* In the history of the NFL, Holt has the highest number of catches and most receiving yards in a single decade. No matter what decade another receiver starred in, no one can match Holt’s 12,594 receiving yards and 868 receptions in the 2000s. These are both the highest totals for a receiver in ANY decade, going back to the 1960s.
More from me on Torry … soon.
Moving On …
GEORGIA AGAINST TCU, INVESTMENT ADVICE. The Dawgs are a 12.5 point favorite to beat TCU. But sharp Mike Tierney – who has a 24-14-2 record against the spread in his last 40 wagers – is on TCU to cover in Monday’s national college football championship.
Moving On …
CONDOLENCES: St. Louisan Nate Colbert passed away Friday at age 76. The Sumner High grad was a big–league first baseman from 1966 through 1976, and spent the bulk of his career (six seasons) with the San Diego Padres. From 1969 through 1973, Colbert ranked second among MLB first basemen with 149 homers; only Lee May (168) had more over that time. And Colbert’s 427 RBI from 1969 to 1973 were fourth among first basemen, trailing only May, Boog Powell and Willie McCovey.
Colbert is San Diego’s all-time franchise leader with 163 homers. His biggest day in the big leagues came on Aug. 1, 1972 when Colbert tied his childhood hero Stan Musial by hitting five home runs in a doubleheader.
Among the fans in Sportsman’s Park for Musial’s 1954 home-run barrage was young Nate Colbert, age 8. Fittingly, Musial and Colbert share that five-homer record which still stands today. From 1971 through 1973, Colbert played in three straight All-Star games and received MVP votes in ‘72.
Colbert took big swings and never worried about striking out … which he did frequently.
As the late writer-cartoonist Bob Carroll once wrote of Colbert, “He could hit home runs … but he also fanned more often than Scarlett O’Hara during a Georgia July.”
In 1972 Colbert knocked home 111 runs, which accounted for 22.75 percent of the Padre runs that season. For perspective, esteemed baseball historian John Thorn noted that Hack Wilson drove in 19.04 percent of the Cubs’ runs in setting a major-league record of 156 RBI in 1930. And a year later, when Lou Gehrig produced an astonishing 184 RBI, his remarkable total accounted for 17.24 of the Yankees’ runs in 1931. (This is such a fun stat; thank you John Thorn.)
“I was an everyday player,” Colbert said of his career. “I didn’t ask out of the lineup. I was hard working. I gave them great defense at first base. I was a power hitter. I hit home runs. I could run. I didn’t have a high average, but I thought I was a good, clutch player.”
Thanks for reading …
Have a great weekend.
Bernie invites you to listen to his opinionated and analytical sports-talk show on 590 The Fan, KFNS-AM. It airs Monday through Thursday from 3-6 p.m. and Friday from 4-6 p.m. You can listen by streaming online or by downloading the show podcast at 590thefan.com or the 590 app.
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