MLB the Show 15: The Passion of Lance Lynn

On Monday, the Cardinals announced that Adam Wainwright would be out for the season with an achilles injury, which made Lance Lynn the de facto ace of the team. Some people might debate this and say that Michael Wacha headlines the rotation, since he’s been pretty much untouchable throughout his short career. But he’s not proven. Not just yet. Others–crazy people–might elect to call John Lackey the number one starter. While Lackey is perfectly useful, he’s not the pitcher he used to be. He gave up three runs to the Phillies, after all.  And then there’s Carlos Martinez, who has electric stuff but is better known for his NSFW twitter fav skills than his pitching. The ace is Lance Lynn, to the extent the Cardinals have an ace. And that’s terrifying to anyone who has watched the team for longer than a year. Lynn put everything together last year, but he’s hardly been a model of consistency. I like Lance. I’ve always liked him. But the frontline starter? Yikes.

All of this coincided with the Cardinals experimenting with some very interesting defensive alignments. For at least a couple days this weekend, Pete Kozma was the backup catcher. He didn’t play there but the possibility still loomed, with ol’ Petey just a single errant foul ball away from donning the tools of ignorance and demonstrating his #framing abilities. Meanwhile, Mark Reynolds headed out to left field for literally his first appearance in LF and his sixth career appearance in the outfield EVER.

I had to do something. I had to try something–combine these two events into something special. So I fired up MLB: The Show 15 and put the new Cardinals ace, Lance Lynn, into the ultimate trial: a complete game, with an entire lineup designed in the spirit of Pete Kozma the Catcher and Mark Reynolds the Outfielder. So it begins.

MLB® 15 The Show™_20150427202749

The rules were simple. The lineup above would backup Lance Lynn, Cardinals ace. No one was at their proper position. Lefthanders were positioned in the infield. Chaos. Absolute chaos. To make matters worse, I set the game in Petco Park, the largest ballpark in baseball, so each out of position player would have to cover the most ground possible. The weather would be rainy, surely a boon to drought-blighted southern California, but yet another obstacle for the Cardinals ace. Obviously, this could go real bad real fast, but Lance Lynn would have no way to escape. He was going to pitch the entire game. I turned off injuries so even a strained oblique couldn’t save him.

MLB® 15 The Show™_20150427212307

This is the passion of Lance Lynn.

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The Yadier Affair

There is something wrong with Yadier Molina and that means bad news for the Cardinals.

If there is anything that Cardinals fans should take for granted, it’s a good defensive catcher. Over the last decade, the Cardinals have employed two excellent starting backstops.  First there was Mike Matheny.  Then, after he left for San Francisco, Yadier Molina took over and has held the job ever since.

First, there was Mike Matheny. Matheny was an abomination with the bat. In 2001, he got 424 PAs despite a .218/.276/.304 line.   Don’t look too long at that stat line.  It’s  been known to cause headaches, confusion, nausea, and abandonment of hope.  Also you can add the BA, OBP, and SLG together and it’s still lower than Barry Bonds’ 2001 SLG (.863) so there’s that.

There’s probably a good argument that Matheny should not have been an everyday player for a major league team.  But that’s not what I’m writing about today.  Matheny managed to keep the starting job because Tony La Russa loved him, and because he was amazing behind the plate.  A disclaimer: evaluating catcher defense with statistics sucks right now.  I’m not sure if anyone has come up with a good stat yet, so I’m stuck using the eye test (which is both biased and bad in general) and numbers that may only be marginally illuminating.  But I don’t think anyone will argue that Matheny was a bad catcher.  What stats we do have back up my assertion: in his five years with the Cards, he averages 4.4 passed balls a year, 27.2 wild pitches, and 2.8 errors.  For his career, he threw out 35% of attempted basestealers.  He also won a few Gold Gloves, but so has Derek Jeter so Gold Gloves mean nothing.

Yadier Molina followed him with more excellence.  In his first 6 full years as the Cardinals’ starting catcher, Molina averaged 6.3 passed balls, 28.7 wild pitches, 6 errors.  Not as good as Matheny, but outside of a godawful 2006 (which he redeemed with a certain timely HR) he’s a better hitter and he’s thrown out a stunning 46% of baserunners.

Granted, there are a lot of things wrong with all these numbers I’ve thrown out there.  The difference between a passed ball and a wild pitch is the whim of the official scorer.  CS% is also dependent on the pitcher and the speed of his delivery.  Errors?  Official scorer again.  But Molina, like Matheny, passes the eye test.  Almost every game, we see his strong throws and his quick feet and his ability to block the plate.

Something’s different this year.  He’s not as quick as he has been in the past.  His arm is weaker and more errant, though he’s still managed to nail 38% of runners.  This speaks to the baseline that he’s deviating from–a bad throw from Yadier is still a good throw.  His errors yesterday were bad, and that’s what prompted me to make this post, but that’s not the biggest issue.  Most pressing, he’s not protecting his pitchers like we’re used to.  He’s not getting out in front of pitches before they can fly errant.  It shows both on the field and in the (admittedly bad) stats.  He already has 14 wild pitches and 2 passed balls.

What does this mean?  It’s not just bad for Yadier and his quest for a fourth Gold Glove.  It’s bad for our pitchers.  For a decade now, our pitchers have never had to fear bouncing a curveball in front of the plate.  They’ve been able to throw a slider off the outside corner without worrying about it slipping from the catchers glove.  And they’ve rested a bit easier with a speedy runner on first base.  Undoubtedly, TLR and Duncan’s pitch selection has been influenced by this security as well.  But what if it went away?  If Molina is injured, or age and workload are catching up to him, the pitchers will have to adjust.  Hopefully the “Dave Duncan Effect” wasn’t actually the “Cardinals Catcher Effect”

Hopefully this is just a slump.  People say defense doesn’t slump.  Those people never watched a full year of Brendan Ryan.  If Yadier Molina works his way out of this, then I’ve written a whole bunch of words about nothing.  But it’s a concern, especially when the defense everywhere else on the diamond is so suspect.

PS: This weekend I will be taking part in the fourth annual UCB Progressive Game Blog.  It’s a collaborative look at a single game, with each inning handled by a different blogger.  Check out the information here.