BERNIE BITS 

Our condolences to the family, friends, former teammates, coaches, managers and everybody who knew and loved Bruce Sutter — the Hall of Fame reliever, split-finger fastball pioneer and World Series-clinching Cardinal who died Friday at the age of 69.

Sutter, inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 2006, had to wait a long time for the call. But he was eventually honored to become the fourth reliever inducted into the Hall. And though Sutter ended his career with three injury-ravaged seasons with the Braves, Sutter was a bright star in his years with the Cubs and Cardinals.

Sutter won the voters over with a Cooperstown case built on several prominent high points.

Sutter was the top reliever in the National League during his career peak (1977 to 1984). Over the eight seasons he won the NL Cy Young Award (1979), closed out a World Series triumph in a stellar 1982 postseason performance for the Cardinals, was voted to six All-Star teams, received league MVP votes in six different seasons, and was cited on Cy Young ballots in five seasons – including four top-five finishes and three top-three finishes in the voting.

Sutter emerged as a star reliever at a time when baseball managers began to rely heavily on elite, full-time “closers” to handle the pressure-packed situations late in games. Closers became extremely valuable to teams, and Sutter was one of the best and most trusted finishers in the business and his influence propelled the rise and the popularity of the closer within the industry.

He reached 300 career saves at a time when saves weren’t as plentiful or routine. During Sutter’s years of service, saves were more difficult to earn because a guy like Sutter was given the ball for increasing number of multiple-inning appearances. (Astonishingly, 188 of Sutter’s 300 saves consisted of more than inning. My goodness.) At the time of his retirement Sutter was only the third reliever in MLB history to have amassed 300-plus saves – and was third on the all-time saves leaderboard. And Sutter had another unique twist to his career: he became the first pitcher in major-league history to be inducted into the Hall of Fame without ever starting a game.

Sutter was a pioneer … and no, that isn’t an exaggeration. He became the first successful and prominent pitcher to make extensive use of the split-finger fastball. It was a ruinous pitch that overwhelmed hitters.

“After he threw (the splitter) his fastball looked like it was coming 100 mph,” retired MLB outfielder Garry Matthews told ESPN in 2006. “He could throw it for a ball, he could throw it for a strike. It was such a devastating pitch. If you stayed off of it, he’d get a called strike. If you swung, you would miss. He perfected something … something new on the scene … It broke in different ways. And his arm speed was the same as his fastball.”

Sutter had 127 saves during his four years as a Cardinal (1981-1984) establishing a franchise record now owned by Jason Isringhausen (217.) In the 1982 World Series championship season, Sutter worked 102.1 innings and led the majors with 36 saves. That year he finished third in the Cy Young and fifth in the MVP voting.

During the 1982 postseason Sutter notched two wins and three saves in six appearances. And he was huge in Game 7, taking over in the top of the eighth with the Cardinals leading 4-3 on the way to the decisive 6-3 victory over Milwaukee. Sutter faced six batters and got six outs to set off the city’s first World Series celebration since 1967.

Sutter was low-key but polite. He referred to himself as “a country person.” He never sought the spotlight – but commanded it. “I simply wanted to play baseball and be respected by my teammates and the opposing players,” he said.

FIVE CARDINALS NOTES

1. Adam Wainwright went on Twitter to explain his late-season collapse — attributing it to faulty mechanics (a short stride) after he’d been struck on the knee by a comebacker in his final start in August. After six mostly terrible starts and a 7.22 September ERA Wainwright finally spotted the flaw, made corrections, and was ready to start Game 3 of the wild-card round series against Philadelphia. But the Cardinals never got there, falling to the Phillies in two straight games.

So now comes the inevitable drama? Will Wainwright come back in 2023? Deep down inside, do the Cardinals really want him to be a part of their ‘23 rotation at age 41, going on 42? And if so, will it be a baseball decision, based on what’s best for the team? Or will it be a business decision, with ownership-management knowing that a Waino Hero Tour will generate another financial windfall.

While we await the decisions, I’ll just be the guy sitting over there at my desk, pointing out something that should require attention. Do the Cardinals have a true ace? Do they have a dominant No. 1 starter? No, they do not. They have lots of No. 3 and No. 4 starters, which works well in the regular season … but not necessarily the postseason. Whether Waino is in, or Waino is out, the Cardinals will likely go into 2023 with a collection of middle rotation types.

2. I still don’t understand why Oli Marmol changed the top of his lineup for the Philly series. Marmol got it right by batting Lars Nootbaar at leadoff; Noot had strong numbers when batting first including a .831 OPS. And in park-and-league adjusted runs created (wRC+) Nootbaar was 38 percent above league average offensively as a leadoff hitter. Brendan Donovan was excellent as a No. 2 hitter in the lineup during the regular season, performing 44 percent above league average offensively in the two spot. But Marmol moved Donovan to No. 5 in the lineup against the Phils and relocated Albert Pujols into the No. 2 slot. I would have preferred to see the two high onbase percentage guys batting first and second, with the potential of creating more RBI opportunities for the No. 3-4-5 hitters. Including Pujols. But I guess it wouldn’t have mattered, because Paul Goldschmidt (No. 3 hitter) and Nolan Arenado (No.4 hitter) were a combined 1 for 15 in the series with six strikeouts. But if you’re going to use Goldschmidt and Arenado and Pujols in middle-lineup spots, you have to go with the high OBP guys at the top to set the table … with the hope that Goldy and Arenado would snap out of their hitting funks.

3. We all talk about STL’s hitting woes in the postseason. As we should. But there have been other problem areas for the Cardinals since the beginning of the 2019 season. Here’s another one: in going 1-9 in their last 10 postseason games the Cardinals have a bullpen ERA of 5.45. You can’t win a lot of postseason games with a malfunctioning offense. But you sure as heck won’t win a lot of postseason games when you consistently lose the battle of the bullpens.

4. I don’t know where Alec Burleson will fit in next season. I’m not saying he won’t fit in, or that he’s a non-factor. But when we take a look at a big picture, how does he move to the front row of a crowded and confusing outfield? Is he a potential trade piece? Or will the Cardinals give him a platoon role in the corner outfield, and/or at designated hitter?

5. Here are the Cardinals’ final major-league rankings in the 2022 regular season:

– Runs per game: tied for 5th at 4.77 per game.
– OPS+, 2nd overall at 114+ (14%) above avg.
– Runs allowed: 9th with an average of 3.93 runs allowed.
– ERA+, 16th at 101+ (Only 1% above avg.)
– Home Runs: 9th most, 197.
– Home Runs Allowed: 146, 3rd fewest.
– Defensive Runs Saved: +67, 4th.
– Baserunning Net Gain: +70, 7th.
– Stolen Base Gain: +45, 7th.

READING TIME, 5 MINUTES

The Blues will find a way to get to 100+ points on the season and make the playoffs. As for their postseason chances, well, it’s too soon to know. It depends on injuries, the quality and consistency of the goaltending, maintaining the high-level effectiveness of the special teams. There’s also the danger of potential regression; will their eight returning 20-goal scorers still have the touch? Or will their scoring rate decrease? Last season the Blues led the NHL in the percentage of shots that resulted in goals – and did so at all strengths (12.4%) and at five-on-five (10.4%.) And that simply isn’t sustainable. The Blues haven’t been close to scoring on such a high percentage of their shots in recent seasons … not even close … not even when they won the Stanley Cup in 2018-2019. Turning shots into goals is a concern. And over the last two seasons, the Blues have made it more difficult on themselves by ranking 29th in the NHL in high-danger shots. This will be a real challenge in the new season.

On his hypothetical National League MVP ballot, Keith Law (The Athletic) chose Nolan Arenado No. 1, Manny Machado No. 2 and Paul Goldschmidt No. 3. Just a reminder that the MVP is a regular-season award, and the postseason is 100 percent irrelevant. Here’s Law: “I went with Arenado because he’s the best defender of the group (+14 Outs Above Average, ahead of +8 for Machado) and was roughly Machado’s equal with the bat, as both had wRC+ figures of 152 on the season. The three players are separated by 0.2 (FanGraphs) WAR right now, which is useless for distinguishing between players.”

Scoring is down in the NFL this season, with teams averaging 21.7 points per game compared to an average of 23 points per game in 2021. Red Zone touchdown percentage is dropping with only 11 teams scoring RZ touchdowns at a rate of 60 percent or higher. Last season 15 teams had a RZ touchdown rate of at least 60 percent. Last season 12 teams averaged at least 0.400 points per play; this year only six teams are doing that so far. Another thing that jumps out at me is a decrease in touchdown passes. In 2021 NFL teams averaged 1.54 TD throws per game; so far in 2022 that rate is 1.36 TD passes per game.

The NFL slowdown on offense is good for sharp investors. One impact of the decline in points scored: better profit opportunities for those who see the connection between fewer points scored and more success on bets made against the spread. Specifically, betting on the underdogs. And, of course, investing in the under in the Vegas-set total of points scored by both teams in a game. Given the drop in scoring, the larger point spreads and higher over-under totals are unrealistic given the drop in scoring. So far this season underdogs are 46-23-3 against the spread for a 59 percent success rate ATS. That includes a 28-18-1 record ATS by road dogs. And the “under” wagers have come through with a winning percentage of 60%.

I can’t wait for Jordan Walker to join the Cardinals. Hopefully at the start of next season. Their No. 1 prospect is turning heads (again), this time in the Arizona Fall League. After going 1 for 8 in his first two games, he followed up by delivering five hits in 13 at-bats in his next four games. In six games through Thursday, Walker had two homers and six RBIs. And earlier this week he made a throw from right field to the catcher that traveled at a speed of 99.5 MPH – the fastest thrown ball by a Cardinals outfielder (minors or big league) since Statcast began tracking this in 2015.

A determined Jayson Tatum is ready to roll. The St. Louis native needed time to recover after his Boston Celtics lost to Golden State in the NBA Finals. Tatum had an up-and-down series, being plagued by streaking shooting and too many turnovers. He felt that he let the Celtics down … and himself down. “I was exhausted,” Tatum told Sports Illustrated. “Didn’t feel like talking to anybody. Didn’t feel like being bothered. It’s hard to explain if you have never been in that situation. But losing a championship was (effing) miserable.” Tatum rebounded by getting into the gym to work on his ability to get to the basket with much greater frequency to draw fouls. Tatum worked with his friend and Olympics teammate Kevin Durant to learn how to better protect the ball and reduce his turnover rate. Tatum was intense during pickup games over the summer. Tatum is determined to lead Boston back to the Finals to win it all in 2023. Said Sports Illustrated writer Chris Mannix who interviewed Tatum: “He went into the summer really locked in on finding his weaknesses and shoring each one of them up.” And when Tatum played in the pickup games, Mannix noted “It was all about team wins. Tatum played a lot of 5-on-5 with different people over the offseason. He made sure that his teams never lost. He was entirely focused on winning games, not about putting up his numbers.”

I’m looking forward to watching the Blues’ third line hit the ice. The combination of Brayden Schenn, Ivan Barbashev and rookie Jake Neighbours has considerable potential to be feisty, productive and entertaining. The Blues have underrated depth on their forward lines.

My preferred NFL investments for this week: Tampa Bay at Pittsburgh, taking the under (46); Minnesota at Miami, taking the under (45); taking Baltimore at on the road (minus 5.5) over NY Giants; taking Jacksonville (minus 2.5) on the road vs. Indianapolis; taking Seattle getting 2.5 points at home against Arizona.

My preferred college football investments this weekend: Taking Navy (+12.5) at SMU; taking Illinois (+ 6.5) at home vs. Minnesota; taking Oklahoma State (+4) at TCU; taking Clemson (minus 3.5) at Florida State; taking the under (66) in Alabama-Tennessee.

One more fun note from Keith Law, who recently made a scouting trip to the Arizona Fall League and was impressed by St. Louis pitching prospect Tink Hence. Excerpt: “Cardinals fans are justifiably excited about the ascent of right-hander Tink Hence, who was dominant in 52 innings this past season with 81 strikeouts, 15 walks and a 1.38 ERA for Low-A Palm Beach. The 19-year-old Hence is out in the Fall League, throwing an inning at a time, and was 95-96 mph with a plus changeup with big fading action and at least an average curveball in his appearance on Tuesday. He’s small, listed at 6-1, 175 pounds and maybe an inch shorter than that, but athletic as all get-out with a loose, fast arm. If he stays healthy, we might talk about that 2020 Cardinals draft — which also included Jordan Walker, Masyn Winn and Alec Burleson — as an all-timer.”

Thanks for reading and I hope you have a great weekend.

– Bernie

Bernie invites you to listen to his opinionated sports-talk show on 590-AM The Fan, KFNS. 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 which is available in your preferred app store.

Follow Bernie on Twitter @miklasz

State used here are sourced from FanGraphs, Baseball Reference, Stathead, Bill James Online, Fielding Bible, Baseball Savant, Brooks Baseball Net, Spotrac, Football Outsiders, Hockey Reference, NaturalStatTrick

 

 

Bernie Miklasz
Bernie Miklasz

For the last 35 years Bernie Miklasz has entertained, enlightened, and connected with generations of St. Louis sports fans.

While best known for his voice as the lead sports columnist at the Post-Dispatch for 26 years, Bernie has also written for The Athletic, Dallas Morning News and Baltimore News American. Bernie has hosted radio shows in St. Louis, Dallas, Baltimore and Washington D.C.

Bernie, his wife Kirsten and their cats reside in the Skinker-DeBaliviere neighborhood of St. Louis.