The Cardinals have, for a while, been known as the ground ball team. Many a pitcher has joined the pitching staff, told to induce grounders, and enjoyed immense success as a result. Joel Pineiro is one example; Jake Westbrook and Jaime Garcia others. Since 2009, the Cardinals have ranked second, first, first, and and third in ground ball rate by starting pitchers, according to FanGraphs. The ground ball approach was implemented by former pitching coach Dave Duncan and continued by new manager Mike Matheny.
Derrick Goold reports that the Cardinals are evolving, focusing back on the upper part of the strike zone for some of their pitchers.
But during spring training and already during the regular season, manager Mike Matheny and pitching coach Derek Lilliquist have asked several starters to explore a neglected area of the strike zone — the high-rise, where strikeouts happen.
A few are being encouraged to embrace elevation.
“We still preach (low). We’re still all over that,” Matheny said. “But part of that philosophy is when you get two strikes how do we put the guy away right now? What do you do when you’re throwing at the bottom of the zone all the time? You’ve got to have something to put somebody away with. That elevated fastball can help with that. It’s an art. Because you’re flirting with danger. That’s why it’s effective. It’s something they have to practice.”
Last year, the Cardinals threw the fewest percentage of pitches in the upper part of the strike zone with two strikes, under 21 percent. The league average was 28 percent. The Cardinals led in two-strike pitches in the lower part of the strike zone with two strikes at 51.5 percent. The league average was 45 percent.
According to Jorge Castillo of the Washington Post, Nationals infielder Danny Espinosa declined to attend the team’s annual Winterfest because of his dissatisfaction with management following their trade for outfielder Adam Eaton.
A source told Castillo that Espinosa’s unhappiness stemmed from a belief that the acquisition would jeopardize his starting role in 2017. With Eaton in center field, Trea Turner will likely return to his post at shortstop, leaving Espinosa out in the cold — or, as the case may be, on the bench. The move shouldn’t come as a big surprise to Espinosa, however, as Nationals’ GM Mike Rizzo spoke to the possibility of trading the infielder or reassigning him to a utility role back in early November.
Offensively, the 29-year-old had a down year in 2016, slashing just .209/.306/.378 with 24 home runs in 601 PA. Defensively, he still profiles among the top shortstops in the National League, with eight DRS (Defensive Runs Saved) and 8.3 Def (Defensive Runs Above Average) in his seventh year with the club.
Espinosa will reach free agency after the 2017 season.
The Red Sox might be trying to move the wrong pitcher, according to the Boston Globe’s Nick Cafardo. Cafardo revealed that while the Sox have been trying to market right-hander Clay Buchholz, more teams would be interested in trades involving southpaw Drew Pomeranz.
The club appears reluctant to deal Pomeranz, especially because his price tag comes in at a cool $4.7 million to Buchholz’s $13.5 million in 2017. Those who have already expressed interest in the veteran hurlers, including the Twins, Mariners and Royals, also seem put off by Buchholz’s salary requirements as he enters his 32nd year.
Health could be another factor preventing teams from jumping to make trade offers, as Cafardo quotes an AL executive who believes the “medicals on both Pomeranz and Buchholz probably aren’t that great.” Neither pitcher suffered any major injuries during the 2016 season, though Pomeranz missed just over a week of play due to forearm soreness.
Pomeranz outperformed his fellow starter in 2016, pitching to a 3.32 ERA and career-best 9.8 K/9 through 170 2/3 innings with the Padres and Red Sox. He got off to an exceptionally strong start in San Diego, where his ERA dropped to 2.47 through the first half of the year before the Padres dealt him to Boston for minor league right-hander Anderson Espinoza. Buchholz, on the other hand, struggled with a 4.78 ERA and saw a decline in both his BB/9 and K/9 rates as he worked out a career-low 1.69 K/BB through 139 1/3 innings with the Sox.