The 2012 Report Card
A trying and tumultuous 2012 season has come to an end. It was a summer of difficult obstacles and personality shifts for the Cardinals that severely tested the players and the fans. Now that the Cardinals have come to the end of their 2012 quest, we can look back and assess the good, the bad, and the downright inexplicable performances that held our fascination all season.
So let’s break down all of the performances in 2012:
A couple of brilliant performances enhance this overall score, as injuries, defensive miscues up the middle, and offensive brownouts bedeviled many of our infielders.
Yadier Molina: A+ It was a transformational year for one of the greatest catchers in Cardinal history, as Molina elevated his amazing play in all areas. Most surprising was his extended dominance with the bat, as the formerly light-hitting Molina contended for a batting title until the end of the season and slammed 22 home runs. Yadi’s amazing year raised his profile from a fan favorite to a possible MVP candidate. We can easily forget Molina’s struggles in the postseason after he carried this team for months at a time during the regular season. His heart, his skill, and his leadership cannot be overstated. He is the soul of this team.
Tony Cruz: B- Thanks to Yadi’s stupendous year, Cruz only appeared in 51 games. He hit his first major league home run while hitting a decent .254 average. Behind the plate, Cruz deftly mimics Molina so well that you can barely tell the difference. Cruz is one of the best backup catchers we’ve had in years.
Bryan Anderson: C- Anderson, for whatever reason, never seemed able to overcome the La Russa hex levied on him last year. He’s a capable hitter (.250 average with a pretty good OBP), but he never gelled with the rotation. I expect him to be dealt this offseason.
Allen Craig: A- When Craig returned to the team in May following rehabilitation for a knee operation, it didn’t take him long to remind everyone why the Cardinals covet him so much. In just 119 games, Craig ripped 22 home runs and drove in an astonishing 92 runs. He had the highest slugging percentage of anyone on a team that featured five batters with 20+ homers. His defense is still shaky at times, but there isn’t a team in baseball not named Anaheim that wouldn’t want Craig at first base.
Lance Berkman: B A wasted season for Berkman, likely his last as a Cardinal. Berkman actually played in 32 games (feels like less) before blowing out his knee. Still, he was fairly productive in limited duty while providing the dugout with sorely needed comic relief during the tough times. The man loves to compete, and struggled against the limitations of his failing knees to help this team. One of the greats.
Matt Adams: C- Remember him? Adams arrived to fill in for an injured Berkman in mid-May, and excited the fanbase with his potential. However, it’s clear that the kid still has a ways to go. Known for his power, Adams hit just two home runs in 27 games while slugging just .384 (the same slugging percentage as my mother). He often looked overmatched at the plate, especially once opposing pitchers zeroed in on the enormous holes in his swing. Let’s not even discuss his defense. He has potential, though. Let’s see what he looks like after he rehabilitates from surgery and returns next year.
Steven Hill: D Uh, no. Keep working at it, kid.
Daniel Descalso: C+ By metric standards, Descalso had one of the worst defensive years among all players not named Bryan Anderson (a “-7″ and a .971 fielding percentage). That’s surprising given Descalso’s reputation as a glove man. Also problematic was Descalso’s lean 2012 at the plate (.227/.303/.327) and fewer “close and late” hits that defined his 2011 season. However, Descalso brings that “grit” factor so many Cardinal fans love so much. Still, I’m not sure if the Cardinals would be wise to rely on Descalso as the everyday second baseman going forward.
Skip Schumaker: B The demotion of Skip Schumaker remains one of 2012′s biggest controversies. Schumaker had a better fielding percentage than Descalso (four errors for a .986%) and hit for a higher average (.276), yet he disappeared without a trace down the stretch. I was going to give him a B-, but Skip’s terrific, team-based attitude about the mysterious benching raised it a tick.
Tyler Greene: D- Aside from the occasional great game, Greene was a disaster at second base. His nervous energy never translated in the clubhouse, and his depressing spells in the field doomed him with fans. The Greene Saga mercifully came to an end when he was shipped off to Houston for a lightly-used dishrag.
Rafael Furcal: C+ The injuries, the mid-summer swoon, and the surprising number of errors (15, tied for second-most on the team) disguises Furcal’s scalding April/May when he combined with Beltran to carry this team to their best month. Emotionally, Furcal is nearly impossible to replace. We needed him to stay healthy and remain consistent, however.
Pete Kozma: B- Stepping in for Furcal in August was the mostly-disregarded former number one draft pick Kozma, who had been unimpressive playing under the torturous gaze of La Russa the previous year. Under Matheny’s kinder, gentler tutelage, Kozma seemed to blossom. It’s safe to say that the Cardinals don’t make it into the postseason without some of Kozma’s timely hits down the stretch. Still, his jittery, inconsistent performance in the NLCS demonstrates that he still has a ways to go.
Ryan Jackson: F In his very first taste of the major leagues, prospect Jackson didn’t make much of a splash. He hit a paltry .118 and (somehow) had the same slugging percentage. His fielding was awful as well (fielding percentage of .929). As Jackson has advanced through the system, the praise has become fainter and fainter. I’m not sure he is (or will ever be) ready to assume the shortstop role from Furcal after next year. Still a lot of work left for him.
David Freese: B- In his first relatively-healthy season (144 games!), Freese showed much of the promise of his double-MVP performance in the 2011 playoffs. He hit 20 home runs and had 79 RBIs (curiously low given his lineup position) while crafting a .293 average. He also led the team in errors (18) and looked vulnerable during long, difficult stretches of the season. Navigating a 162-game schedule is difficult to learn, and Freese is still new to this. I expect bigger things from Freese in the next year or two, hopefully along with more consistency.
Matt Carpenter: B The super-utility split time between third, first, and the outfield, but third base was his initial backup position. Carpenter managed to find his way into 114 games, where he hit .294. He also drove in 46 runs, and each one seemingly clutch. Carpenter was electric down the stretch, quickly becoming a fan favorite. He plays the game hard, has a compact swing, and some surprising power (six homers, the most on the team outside of the 20-homer club). Can we find a place for this guy in the everyday lineup? The Cardinals are rumored to be considering him for the second-base job next year.
The outfield for the Cardinals may have been one of the best in baseball in 2012.
Matt Holliday: A- Another machine-like offensive season from Holliday, who manages to recreate the same numbers every year like clockwork. His average was down a bit (.294) due to a two-month slump to close out the season. Still, Holliday hit 27 homers, and his 102 RBIs led the team. However, I must say that his lumberjack swing and epic defensive failures are disastrous in playoff situations and they drive me CRAZY.
Jon Jay: A Jay has committed four total errors in two seasons as our centerfielder. He had no errors this season. At the plate, Jay accumulated a .305 batting average and 40 RBIs from the first/second spots in the lineup. Jay has been terrible in the postseason so far (a .185 average/.285 OBP for 2011/2012 combined) and is not convincing as a lead-off hitter. Still, over the course of a long season, Jay is a workhorse with a terrific personality who will give you lots of chances to win.
Carlos Beltran: A- I’ll admit it – I was wrong. I argued against the signing of Beltran due to the prolonged problems with his knees, as well as the inconsistencies of his recent offensive history. I’ve always loved Beltran, but I didn’t think he was worth a $13 million dollar gamble. But Beltran proved all of the naysayers wrong, ringing up a team-high 32 home runs while just missing the 100-RBI plateau (he had 97). He did it all with a kind of grace and fluidity that balanced out the “fetching bull” style of Holliday in the opposing outfield. A late-season fade put the team in a perilous position in the final weeks, but Beltran re-emerged in the postseason to remind everyone that he is the greatest postseason hitter in history. The big question: can he come close to this level next year, or will he be a “one-and-done” player much like Berkman last year?
Shane Robinson: C+ “Sugar” filled in well throughout the season, showing a little pop (three homers) for a guy the size of a Bic pen. I’m not sure I’d want to rely on Robinson as a mainstay fourth outfielder, though.
Adron Chambers: D How can a player with a perfect baseball body like Chambers produce so few results? I love Chambers’ enthusiasm and determination. However, where are the slap hits, the bunt hits, and the stolen bases? Chambers is one of the fastest guys on the team, but he had just two stolen bases. If you project that out over a full season, Chambers would have fewer stolen bases than Molina! Part of the problem with Chambers is hesitancy; he always seems to be holding back his natural talent. I’ve really watched this kid with great enthusiasm since he arrived on my radar, but this season has changed my mind a bit. Disappointing.
Erik Komatsu: D- Nice guy. Did you know he’s a really talented musician?
STARTING ROTATION: B
This was a trying year for the 2012 starting rotation, yet they banded together beautifully to carry the team through a prolonged offensive drought in mid-season.
Kyle Lohse: A A team with two potential aces already found another in a transformed Lohse. Finishing with a 16-3 record and a 2.86 ERA that ranked among the top five in the National League, Lohse enjoyed his best year ever. Truthfully, he should’ve ended the season with 20 wins and a possible Cy Young Award. Given that Lohse faces a contract year with the infamous Scott Boras as his agent, we’ve probably seen the last of Lohse in Cardinal red. Still, what a great way to end a curious Cardinal career!
Adam Wainwright: B- Wainwight deserves a lot of credit for working diligently to return two months early and battle through control problems following Tommy John surgery. The results weren’t always there in the numbers (14-13 record, padded with some atrocious games), but Waino fought hard to improve. Results began showing late in the season (when it counts) as his ERA finally dipped below 4.00 (finishing at 3.94) and he racked up some huge end-of-season victories. Look out for Wainwright next year.
Jaime Garcia: C- Anybody else tired of the Jaime Garcia show? The enigmatic left-hander continues to baffle with occasionally-magnificent stuff and emotional problems bordering on psychosis. One minute Garcia is tossing a two-hit shutout, and the next he’s curled up in a ball whimpering about taxi cabs and poor complimentary breakfasts. GROW UP, JAIME! Given that Garcia will likely need shoulder surgery in the off-season, we might be spared the Garcia melodrama for some part of 2013. That sounds like sweet relief to me.
Jake Westbrook: B- Look, Westbrook is never going to be anyone’s ace. He’s basically the current version of Jeff Suppan, an innings-eater with moderately-decent stuff who will keep the team close in most games. However, as an avid Westbrook basher, even I was surprised by Westy’s first half effectiveness. I also loved his antics with co-conspirator Wainwright in the dugout, always doing what he could to keep things loose. If Westbrook can duplicate his performance this year in 2013, I will be pretty happy with it.
Lance Lynn: B A ten game winner at the halfway point and a starter on the All Star team, Lynn faded dramatically in the second half. He ended up with 18 wins, but he also enjoyed the highest run support in baseball (5.90 runs per game). Lynn was demoted to the bullpen late in the season, and he didn’t take to that discipline well. That, coupled with his two emotional implosions in the NLCS, indicate that Lynn has a lot of growing up to do before he can live up to his incredible stuff.
Joe Kelly: B Don’t let the uninspiring 5-7 record fool you. The rookie stepped into the rotation in a desperate moment, and delivered several season-saving starts when we needed them most. Out of 16 starts, Kelly produced 14 quality starts (three runs or less); he was often sabotage by bullpen problems or little run support. He showed tremendous poise and gamesmanship for someone so young, particularly out of the bullpen in the postseason. I love this kid. I sincerely hope he gets a reasonably-long look for the rotation next year.
Chris Carpenter: C A tough year for the game’s toughest pitcher. After struggling again with a nerve condition that weakened his right arm, Carpenter underwent a risky operation to remove a rib that was causing pressure on the nerve. Although it was called a “season-ending” procedure, Carpenter forced his way back into the rotation early. That tenacity deserves some credit, but Carpenter wasn’t himself in his three season-ending starts (although his ERA was a pretty good 3.71), and was much worse in the playoffs. Truthfully, he shouldn’t have been pitching in such high-stakes games with reduced velocity and lack of command. His inclusion came out of respect and sentimentality, and that does still count for something in this game.
Shelby Miller: A- What a debut by Miller late in the season! He started once (and appeared in five other games as a reliever) against Cincinnati on the final day of the season and threw six dominant innings with seven strikeouts. Overall, Miller compiled a 1.32 ERA with 16 strikeouts in 13.2 innings. He was just as good under pressure in his limited duty during the playoffs. Shelby’s time has come.
This is really a tale of two bullpens: the pre-trade bullpen marred by awful performances and mismanagement, and the post-trade bullpen that gelled into a solid unit and was instrumental in the 2012 playoff run.
Jason Motte: A Why would anyone want to be a closer? It is a thankless job of high-wire gymnastics while dodging bottles from the crowd below. So many people complained about Motte because he had seven blown saves in 2012, easily forgetting that Hall of Fame closer Bruce Sutter once had 14 blown saves. Closing games is HARD. Motte had a terrific year, tying for the league lead in saves with 42, a stunning 0.917 WHIP, and a minuscule ERA of 2.75. He has one of the fiercest attitudes in baseball. We are lucky to have him in the ninth.
Mitchell Boggs: A If anyone seemed to benefit from the departure of La Russa, it’s Boggs. Why aren’t more people singing the praises of Boggs this year? He had a remarkable 2.21 ERA and combined with Motte to form one of the best eighth/ninth inning combos in the game.
Edward Mujica: A When the Cardinals acquired Mujica from Miami for prospect Zack Cox, fans yawned and grumbled. Little did they know just how important Mujica would be down the stretch, as he rattled off 18 straight appearances before surrendering a run. He led the entire team in ERA (1.03) and WHIP (0.873). He was the missing piece that helped Matheny balance out his struggling bullpen. A masterstroke for John Mozeliak. Again.
Fernando Salas: D+ Aside from a short stretch of good appearances, Salas was simply brutal this season. His WHIP of 1.415 was the fourth-worst on the team, which is unacceptable. His fastball was flatter, and his breaking stuff always seemed to be sitting in the middle of the plate begging to be creamed. I don’t think we can keep blaming arm fatigue for his troubles.
Marc Rzepczynski: D A truly grotesque year from Zeppo. Aside from getting rocked repeatedly, Zeppo developed the nauseating tendency to come into a game and immediately walk the left-handed batter he was supposed to face. THAT IS NOT THE IDEA, MARC! Everything went wrong for Rzepczynski this season. We need a steadier, more durable left-hander out of the pen next year.
Victor Marte: F Not even worth discussing.
Trevor Rosenthal: A- HO-LEE FUCK! Rosenthal blasted into the imagination of Cardinal Nation with a series of stunning appearances featuring a blistering 100 mph fastball. If his seasonal numbers weren’t good enough (2.78 ERA, 0.926 WHIP), Rosenthal dominated the playoffs, amassing 15 strikeouts in 8.1 scoreless innings. The 22 year-old fireballer had a WHIP of 0.462 (gulp!) in the postseason. This guy is a STARTER?? He should instead take his place among the great relievers of all time. Well, until his arm blows out, that is. JOKING!!
Sam Freeman: C- Freeman is interesting, a rare case when a left-hander has better statistics against righties than lefties. He throws hard, but he hasn’t yet learned the art of pitching. However, he did have a promising stretch near the end of the season that gives me a bit of hope that we haven’t seen the last of him yet.
Barrett Browning: D Still a raw talent with some possibilities from the left side. A work in progress. He just didn’t have the best debut under difficult circumstances.
Kyle McClellan: D A terrible year for Big Red, as control problems morphed into arm troubles that ended his season. Will we ever see him again? I hope so.
Eduardo Sanchez: F What a disaster. The fiery kid with the great fastball simply could not throw a strike to save his life. The Cardinals continue to attempt to fix his mechanics, but Sanchez doesn’t seem to take well to instruction. I sure hope he makes it back, because he is one of my favorites.
Maikel Cleto: F I keep thinking Cleto will someday harness that fastball and improve, but it doesn’t seem to happen. Cleto had a 7.00 ERA, and surrendered four home runs in seven innings (puke!). He showed up late in the season, so perhaps the Cardinals haven’t given up on him yet.
J.C. Romero: F Nice eyebrows. Stop plucking them. Also, stop pitching.
Brandon Dickson: F+
Brian Fuentes: F- Take your problems and our money and go away.
Chuckie Fick: F Funny name.
Mike Matheny: B In his first year of managing anything other than his checkbook, Matheny proved himself to be a mostly-competent strategist and a solid emotional leader. The constant bunting, the sometimes-terrible bullpen usage, and some other bizarre play-calling annoyed many knowledgeable fans. However, most managers deal with that kind of scrutiny, including certain first-ballot Hall of Fame managers I can recall. I feel confident that Matheny will develop a better grasp of strategy in subsequent seasons – give him time to grow. But, as a leader on a ballclub of very competitive men, Matheny passed every test. He was rational, reflective, deferential (almost to a fault), and steady. Injuries of the kind suffered by the 2012 Cardinals would have crumpled most first-year managers. Instead, a level-headed and practical Matheny guided that battered team to within one game of the World Series. That achievement deserves recognition.
Mark McGwire: B+ It’s clear that McGwire’s approach has increased offensive production from the club since taking over before the 2010 season. All three teams since then were among the league leaders in several offensive categories. If I had a complaint about McGwire, I would question why the teams under his guidance fail so often with RISP. It seems like a curious plague at this point.
Derek Lilliquist: B- Little is known about the quiet pitching coach outside the walls of the clubhouse. He seems quite reserves, but so did his legendary predecessor Dave Duncan. I would admit that, from my vantage point, Lilliquist doesn’t seem to work quite as closely with Matheny as I might expect. I also wonder why Lilliquist never seemed to have any answers for the bullpen woes that marred the first half. Of course, like Matheny, Lilliquist is still learning to tackle his responsibilities.
With the season over, there is finally a chance to reflect on a tough-but-rewarding summer of Cardinal baseball. It gives us all the opportunity to pick through the carcass of the 2012 campaign, choosing the best pieces of meat from it while discarding the rotten parts for the meal to come in 2013.