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Monday Morning Mop-Up Duty: what the Pirates can learn from the Cardinals

SOUTH HILLS COMMAND CENTER – Take solace in this Pittsburgh sports fans: your club took the Cardinals —  they are two wins from a World Series title — to an elimination game. And when combining the regular season and postseason games, the Pirates went 12-12 against the Cardinals in 2013. That’s progress.

 

But also feel free to feel anxious about this factoid: the Cardinals entered the Sept. with the fourth youngest roster in baseball, they have perhaps the most young pitching in the game, and Oscar Taveras is on the way  … it doesn’t look like they’re going anywhere. They look to be contenders through the rest of the decade, which the Pirate front office is hoping marks the Pirates’ window of contention.

 

Whether you like them or not, you have to have a respect for how the Cardinals do business, most notably, how they draft players.

 

Seventeen players on the Cardinals’ World Series roster were drafted or signed as amateur international free agents by the team.


Joe Kelly draft 2009
Lance Lynn draft 2008
Seth Maness draft 2011
Carlos Martinez free agent 2010
Shelby Miller draft 2009
Trevor Rosenthal draft 2009
Kevin Siegrist draft 2008
Michael Wacha draft 2012
Tony Cruz draft 2007
Yadier Molina draft 2000
Matt Adams draft 2009
Matt Carpenter draft 2009
Allen Craig draft 2006
Daniel Descalso draft 2007
David Freese trade 2007
Pete Kozma draft 2007
Kolten Wong draft 2011
Jon Jay draft 2006
Shane Robinson draft 2006

 

Compare that to seven players drafted by Boston. (One reason not to fear Theo Epstein in Chicago?)

Then consider there are only seven holdovers from the Cardinals’ 2011 World Series team: Lynn,  Molina, Carpenter, Descalso, Freese, Holliday, Jay and Craig (Wainwright was recovering from TJ surgery). The Cardinals have essentially rebuilt a World Series contender in two years.

Whether you like it or not the Cardinals are the model organization in baseball and they are worth being studied, particularly for how they draft.
STARTING NINE THOUGHTS

 

9. If you are going to study any one draft, of any team, it might be the Cardinals’ 2009 class, which we included in our five-year study of the NL Central from earlier this year:

Eleven players drafted by the Cardinals over the past five drafts have contributed this season. Fifteen players from those classes have advanced to the majors, including last year’s first-round pick, Michael Wacha, who made his major league pitching debut Thursday night with seven shutout innings.

“If I were a GM, I’d be emulating them,” ESPN’s Keith Law said. “I used to work in consulting. BDP: best demonstrated practices. That’s the Cardinals. Go figure out what they are doing. If you have to hire one of their people, go do that.”

Baseball America’s John Manuel credits the Cardinals with doing the best job of combining analytics with traditional scouting and a strong development system.

“The analytics helped them identify some of the players: ‘Hey, go scout this guy. He is dominating this league.’ They go, and their scouts say ‘yes’ or ‘no,’ ” Manuel said.

In 2009, Cardinals scout Aaron Looper saw Trevor Rosenthal pitch one inning in a community college tournament in Wichita, Kan. Later that spring, the Cardinals drafted Rosenthal in the 21st round. Rosenthal now is touching the upper 90s as a key member of the Cardinals’ bullpen.

That same spring, the Cardinals drafted Division II slugger Matt Adams (of Slippery Rock U.) in the 23rd round. Adams emerged as one of the top power hitters in the minor leagues and is now a major league contributor.

In the 2009 draft, the Cardinals picked Shelby Miller — one of the best pitchers in the NL — and found another everyday player in Matt Carpenter, who is starting at second base, in the 13th round.

Five players on the Cards’ World Series roster came from the 2009 draft, and all are significant contributors: Miller, Kelly, Rosenthal, Adams and Carpenter. It’s an amazing return.

 

Matt Carpenter

Carpenter led NL 2B in WAR. One of the best later-round picks – 13th round – in recent baseball history 

 

8.  As we reported in May, Cardinals scout Aaron Looper saw Rosenthal pitch just one inning.

The Cardinals drafted him.

Now it was a late-round draft pick, but Cardinals GM John Mozeliak told me during the NLDS that the deeper the draft goes, the more freedom the Cardinals grant to a scout who might have a strong feeling or hunch on a player.

The Cardinals’ lean heavily on analytics but they also trust “gut” feelings.

Lesson No. 1: They trust their own human assets along with their computers.

 

7. In the most recent Sports Illustrated there is an article focusing mostly on the 2009 draft that sheds some light on the process.

Mozeliak notes that unlike many clubs, the Cardinals invited as many scouts as possible into their war room on draft day.

Said Mozeliak: “Having the person there who knows the player best, at a time you need to make a decisions, is really important to me.”

 

 6. The Cardinals have done particularly well unearthing college hitters – Carpenter, Craig, Adams – who might lack a tool or two but can really hit and reach base. Part of this is looking at the numbers, but part of it also is looking at what a player CAN do not focusing on what he CAN’T do.

Lesson No. 2: don’t focus on warts

 

5. It’s not just Sports Illustrated and the Tribune-Review that have taken an interest in the Cardinals’ draft practices… it’s other clubs.

A Pirates official told me the club has studied the Cardinals’ 2009 draft and according to SI, a Cardinals “rival” studied the draft class and found it to be in the top 99 percentile of all drafts since 1990 – as far as producing MLB players (9) – and there’s potential for more as we are still just four years removed from the draft.

 

4. You might have initially despaired that Houston left for the AL, the Central division’s punching bag was gone. But this might be a very good thing long-term for the Pirates.

 

3. Houston is a huge market and they hired Jeffrey Luhnow to be their GM two years ago. Luhnow, the former NASA whiz, ran the Cardinals’ drafts that included the 2009 selections. It’s a considerable loss for the Cardinals that might not be known for some years.

Lesson No. 3: have some really smart people that know a thing or two about computers

 

2. Pirates GM Neal Huntington believes the Pirates were in much better position to draft this year than in his first several years with the club.

He said the Pirates have improved their process – they didn’t even have a computer database or analytics team in 2008 – and have a better understanding of what they are targeting in prospects.

I do believe they are constantly looking to refine their process and have studied the Cardinals.

 

1.  And backing up Huntington’s assertion is that Baseball America rated the Pirates’ 2013 draft as the best in the game in their very early report card this month. It’s all about the draft. And as much money as the Pirates pumped into from 2008-12 (MLB high $51 million) they had to become more efficient. They might have turned a corner in 2013…perhaps with some help from the Cardinals.

 

STAT OF THE WEEK 

94.3 percent

That’s the share of homegrown players on the Packers roster — 50 of 53 players. The path to success, regardless of sport, and particularly in small markets, is draft and development.

 

NON-BASEBALL RECOMMENDATION

Not a huge pumpkin beer guy, but go try that 2013 Pumking batch by Southern Tier before it’s gone.

 

- TS

37 Comments

  1. That is an amazing return on a draft that is only 4 years ago. No amount of preperation can produce that. Some luck has to be involved but they deserve credit for putting themselves in the position to do that with their process.
    .
    I’m glad the front office and Nutting realized the value in allocating resources to the scouting side of things. It is the easiest and maybe only way to create sustainable winning in a smaller market.
    .
    Well done again Travis. I look forward to your Monday mop-up every week. It is always an enjoyable read. Hopefully the Pirates/Cards can become a rivalry that last to the end of this decade and beyond. It certainly was fun to watch this year.

  2. Great entry, Travis. I’m 0 for my last 3 attempts at getting a case of PumKing
    .
    -I think the Cardinals success should shine the spotlight on their baseball developement staff, first and foremost. Not a single one of those 2009 guys were they player they are now when drafted. Even more amazing, Miller was the only non-college draftee, meaning the other four couldn’t even be considered “projectable” due to age and physical maturity.
    .
    -Substitute “tools” for “warts” in Lesson 2 and I think it is more accurate. The Cardinals success demonstrates that drafting for upside is not necessarilly the way to go. The Cards focus on college players – yes, even pitchers (Kelly, Lynn, Wacha, etc) – who are good at baseball, not good at being athletes. Imagine that.
    .
    -Winning helps everything. Look back at the much-criticized 2008 and 2009 drafts. Tanner Scheppers, Jordy Mercer, Justin Wilson, Robby Grossman, Tony Sanchez, Vic Black, Brock Holt, Phil Irwin are every bit the quality of Maness, Seigrist, Cruz, Descalso, Jay, Kozma, Robinson.

    • Good points NMR. Unfortunately we had to already trade 3 of the players you had on the Pirates list away. The Cardinals have gotten to the point were they don’t need to use those developed assets to aquire players through trade. They just reload or have players waiting. It also helps to be able to go and get a Beltran and Holliday. I’m not sure the Pirates can commit to a player that is already proven like Beltran for 4 or 5 years. Which makes deals like the one they gave Cutch even more important even if they are a little risky.

      • Except shortstop. Even the vaunted Cardinals can’t find a damn shortstop.
        .
        They could be scary good if they actually fielded an average shortstop and center fielder.
        .
        Matt Adams is an average, at-best, first baseman and Joe Kelly probably isn’t any better than Rosenthal and Martinez, let alone the young guys they actually have starting. The Cards could trade Adams, Freese, Jay, and Kelly and become a much better team by promoting prospects and pushing those two relievers into the rotation while solving the SS and CF issues at the same time.
        .
        They’re good, and they could get better.

        • When responding to Jim below I almost mentioned their need at shortstop and center is alot like our need at first and right field. The teams are very similar. Both have young hard throwing arms in already playing and on the way. Both have holes in the field but they know what they do well and play to those strengths.
          .
          The numbers may say they are younger but that is deceiving. Byrd and Morneau made us a lot older and I’m not sure Morneau helped much. They also didn’t have Carpenter on their roster which would have added to their average age.

          • True, Nate. Take away Byrd, Farnsworth, Buck, Morneau, GIJ, possibly AJ and Barmes, and suddenly we might be very young. The Bucs core is young. The pitching staff could be ridiculously young very soon.

        • Defensively,the Cardinals out field is severly lacking,CF particularly. Third base is becoming a major deadspot offensively also,while SS is one spot I don’t even have to comment on.

          • Freese was worse with the glove than he was with the bat last year and Carpenter could conceivably move to 3rd, but I don’t think they do it until Wong shows he can hit.
            .
            Peter Bourjos for whatever young pitcher not name Miller or Wacha makes a ton of sense in CF. Frankly, grabbing Aybar while they’re at it would make sense, too.

  3. The Cardinals are the model franchise. Ok, we know that. They finished with 97 wins to the Pirates’ 94, then parlayed homefield advantage into a 3-2 series victory. They have a great young pitching staff, and they have a great offensive lineup. Their defense is average to below average. We beat them 10-9 in the regular season series.

    The Pirates have put a team on the field that is extremely competitive with the Cardinals already, if this year’s results are to be believed. The Cardinals have had a great deal more success than the Bucs over the last 20 years. But, are they better positioned for the future? I don’t think that is a slam dunk yes at this point. As you mentioned, the Pirates were rated to have the top draft in MLB this year, to add to an already strong minor league system. We seem to finally be doing things pretty well on our own. Who’s to say we won’t do better on-field than the Cards over the next handful of years? I’m not saying it will happen, but I don’t think it would that unheard of.

    Joe Buck can continue to tell me how fast every fastball is from the Cardinals amazing young pitching staff every night of the World Series, and Tim McCarver can tell me 50 more times this week just how brilliant Yadi Molina is. That doesn’t make me change my opinion of the Cardinals going forward. I don’t doubt they are doing everything right. I just happen to think the Pirates are doing a lot of things right now as well, and already have a plan in place that is yielding as good of results in recent drafts than the plan the Cardinals have in place. Maybe they should emulate us in 2013. I like what the Pirates are doing right now as much as what the Cardinals are doing right now.

    • I’m not sure Travis was really saying the Pirates fall far behind the Cardinal as much as he was trying to point out that maybe the Cardinals way of doing things played a role in the Pirates doing things they way they currently do.
      .
      I think the teams are very similar in current make up and in future talent coming thru the system. The Cardinals may be a few years ahead of the Pirates in the farm system as they are already seeing the benefits of a strong system helping them overcome the loss of a few key players. They will always have an extra 20-30 million to play with but you have to appreciate the way they do things.
      .
      If payroll is not a consideration I would think many GM’s would take what the Pirates currently have considering years of control over core players and what they have coming up the pipeline. It will be very important for them to target appropriate players to extent early and hit on some mid level free agents. The days of picking through the left over free agents has to be left behind.

      • Two biggest reasons Cards have a leg up on the Pirates now and in the near future are Wainwright and Molina. Veteran ace and catcher. The only way the Pirates were able to keep pace with the Cards in 2013 were, not coincidentally, the performances of Francisco Liriano and Russell Martin.
        .
        Way too far ahead to give it much thought, but the 2016 Cardinals will owe Matt Holiday, Adam Wainwright, and Yadi Molina a combined $51m at ages 37, 35, and 34 respectively.

      • You’re right, Nate, and I wasn’t really meaning to be critical of Travis. He’s the best writer in Pittsburgh on the SABR side of things for the Bucs, which is something I am very interested in. I was more being critical of the proliferation of Cardinals love, over and over, from the national media. They are lemmings. Doesn’t matter the story. They are so lazy that they are fed a storyline and they run with it and jam it down our throats continuously. Travis doesn’t do that, and I should have been more clear. I’m a big fan of Travis’.

        • Jim S. : Plus 1 !

        • Thanks, Jim.

          The intention wasn’t to hammer you over the head with the idea ‘The Cardinals are good and have been good’ because we know that … but what interests me — and the Pirates’ front office — is how the Cardinals have become so efficient in the draft, particularly with seemingly low-upside college seniors. Teams are studying the Cardinals’ 2009 draft and for good reason.

          We all know the Pirates have made major strides, too, and that’s not to diminish them. Every org is looking to learn something all the time, at least the smart ones.

          NL Central is going to be very fun through for the foreseeable future

  4. the only thing i can stand reading is blogs (no magazines, books, etc.) and if your blog was a book, i would read it! Love your work and look forward to it every single day. Your analytical knowledge is great and your opinion is honest and fair.

  5. For anybody interested Bucs Dugout actually has a really good look at the Cardinals over the past 8 years. It concludes that they are overrated and that maybe the Cardinal way has not produced the results that you wuold expect.
    .
    After reading it I think that maybe the Cardinals way had nothing to do with the 2 World Series wins but does have more to do with how they have remained good as some of the those players have left. Even that is a little overstated I think because have they really lost many players.
    .
    They had the very public decision of not retaining Pujols but they offered him more money then the Pirates ever would dream to offer any player. They get credit for having the courage to let the face of the franchise leave but he just as easily could have signed the offer they gave him and they would be looking bad right now. Craig would have been traded and they wouldn’t have money to sign free agents over the next 5 years.

    • Let me summarize that Bucs Dugout post: WAAAHHHH!!!
      .
      Seriously. Embarassing. I get it, the World Series coverage is nauseating. But the correct reaction is not to tear a hammy stretching to try to disprove the idea that the Cardinals are a damn good organization, very likely the best.
      .
      At least the comments section did a fine job bringing the topic back to reality.

      • That is your opinion which your entitled to but facts are facts. Their wins are about what you would expect from a team with their payroll. Most players from their world series teams were not drafted and developed by them. It’s only recently that the Cardinal way has produced players from within. It hasn’t been consistant enough to garner all the praise they have received in my opinion.
        .
        Don’t get me wrong I think they are a tremendous organization but the idea that they are head and shoulders above others is a bit much. Like I said in the previous post if Pujols takes that 7 year contract they offered they don’t look like an organization that makes great decisions. There is some luck involved.

        • Facts? As in, some butthurt Pirate fan set out looking for reasons to support his narrative that the Cardinals are overrated? Sure then. Facts. Not sure how the Cards payroll or the fact that not all of their players were actually drafted by them some kind of investigative report.
          .
          Seems like the guy who wrote that article is more upset at the narrative than anything, and thats none of the Cardinals fault. His conclusion literally states as much.
          .
          No, the Cardinals do not walk on water. No, the Cardinals do not draft and develop every single one of their players. No, the Cardinals have not been this good forever.
          .
          But they’re good. Damn good. And one can easily make the case that they’ve been better than anyone for the better part of the last decade.

          • That is hardly the point I was trying to make or the guy who wrote the article in my opinion. The “Cardinal Way” that everyone is using says that they develope within and replace players that left with their own developed players. It is almost always implied that they have been doing this for a long time. Yes this current team was built that way. Previous teams have not been.
            .
            It’s hard to say at this point if they have a system that works more often then not or if they just lucked into a really good draft and had some nice playoff wins when they barely snuck into the playoffs. How often does a 83 win team even make the playoffs? I think it has only happened twice. The 06′ Cards and the 05′ Padres who had 82 wins.

          • You’re still arguing narrative. Not baseball. Flame away at the national advertisers who write the scripts for these writers and broadcasters to use. But the Cardinals themselves deserve absolutely no blame or any less credit.
            .
            “Yes this current team was built that way. Previous teams have not been.”
            .
            Why does it matter?
            .
            Can you imagine what Pirate fans would be saying if Cards fans were reducing the organization’s accomplishments to mere luck? Meltdown.

          • Why does it not matter? I really don’t understand your side of this debate. If a lot of people (maybe not you) but definately others around baseball are going to start saying the Cardinals are the team you should model your franchise after it definately matters how they won in the past and not just this year.
            .
            Until this year at no point did they finish with a top 3 record in the NL in the previous 7 years. This is with by far the best player in baseball over that time in Pujols. Most of their success is based on a guy in Pujols that all 30 teams including the Cardinals past over for 12 rounds. They lucked into him.
            .
            Myself and the writer of the column at no point said the Cardinals are not a well run organization but to act as if they have been winning using the “cardinal way” for decades is wrong. If I was a fan of the Cards I would be very happy with how they are run. I never reduced it to mere luck and I don’t think the writer did either.

          • The Cards are the best at what they do because they excel in all facets of putting together a baseball team. They win trades, they get good value out of free agents, and they develop premium talent. THAT is what teams should be modeling their franchise after. Any whining about “Cardinal Way” narratives is focussing on what mainstream media force feeds the audience, not actually about baseball.
            .
            By the way, might wanna check your middle paragraph. You know, the one where you claimed Pujols was responsible for the last seven years of success(hint, you used the “L” word). :)

          • Me using the word luck does not make your comment that I said they are winning merely on luck accurate. I stated some luck is involved. I never implied all their success could be attributed to mere luck.

  6. ehhhh…the Cards have just been lucky!

    :) :) :)

    But, seriously, I hope Luhnow leaving has one deleterious effect on their drafting!!!!

  7. Obviously, the Cards have not been all luck. If this was all luck for the last decade, it would be the luckiest lucky streak in the history of luck-filled lucky streaks.

    My hope is they get a collective swelled head about their success, and it causes their downfall. I see a certain Pittsburgh sports team suffering from that condition now that has been coming on for a few years now IMO. I have detected a bit of a cocky attitude from Mozielak of late. He likes to be quoted commenting on how well other organizations are doing as though he is now the authority on all things baseball. I could be wrong, but we’ll see. Nothing is as easy as the Cards have made it seem of late.

    • Tim…..my ‘luck’ comment was tongue-in-cheek. Hence the smilies. :)

    • Really enjoyed your post above, Jim.
      .
      I think this winter will shed a lot of light on Mozeliak. They have a blatantly obvious hole at shortstop and are subpar in centerfield. They also clearly have the farm system to fill their needs through trades. If the Cards go into 2014 with Kozma and Jay penciled into the lineup, an argument could be made that Mozeliak may be more focused on maintaining a top farm system than a top baseball team.

      • Drew is rumored to be a top target of theirs.

        • Is that based on actual information or some guy saying that the Cards need a shortstop and Drew is a free agent?
          .
          As a Pirate fan, I’d be more than happy if the Cards decided spending $10m+ for each of the next three years or so on Drew while giving up their 1st Rd draft pick in the process.

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