Bernie Miklasz recently wrote an article titled LaRussa hungers to win—his way. I wanted to touch on a couple of the comments and suggestions made in the article. First of all, I love looking at stats and the new world of sabermetrics. Defensive stats are becoming more relevant for everyone in MLB except for Derek Jeter. However, I also feel like there is something to be said for guys like David Eckstein, where you can look at his stats and it not tell the complete story. The hardnosed, hustle all the time, all out, always prepared, no mental lapses are things not easily measured. If you watch enough baseball and are a baseball junkie, you know what I mean.
A lot has been made recently of the demotion (and I don’t know how else you could say it) of Jeff Luhnow. As Bernie said, “The fancy Jeff Luhnow project has, at least for now, been moved to the side. The Cardinals will still rely on the Luhnow-initiated movement toward advanced analysis to make decisions in scouting and drafting”. “But there will be no mention of that in Don Tony’s dugout. TLR is absolutely back in command. And the John Mozeliak-LaRussa partnership is looking a lot like the old Walt Jocketty-TLR model”.
Bernie makes a lot of good points after this, talking about how most teams are stressing run prevention and LaRussa is going rogue and rebelling against the revolution. Bernie also says that “LaRussa wants ballplayers who hustle and scuffle and rip the knees on their uniform pants”.
I’m not going to give any more quotes, as most have probably already read Bernie’s article. The problem I have with it is that I think there is a lot to say about both sides of the argument. First of all, I think there is a lot to team chemistry. I also think that Tony has problems with younger players at times. None of us will really ever know what prompted the trade of Brendan Ryan, but I think we all know it had to do with more than his play in the field. I’ll put it like this, since we signed Lance Berkman, I wish there was a way to keep Ryan. Maybe the Cardinals could have hidden him in the lineup a little better. On the flip side, I think Ryan Theriot is one of those players that is going to thrive in St. Louis. Our pitchers ERA might go up a bit, but it’s possible we win more games.
On paper, it appears the Cardinals have a chance to be an offensive force. A part of me wanted to see if Brendan Ryan could bounce back offensively, but I also felt he looked so lost at the plate most of the time, that I think it might have been the right move.
The Cardinals are going to have some problems on defense. Berkman isn’t going to cover much ground in RF, and it’s possible both Theriot and Skip Schumaker make up the least productive defensive middle infield. However, if Berkman, Theriot and Schumaker can all hit, a lot of the defensive problems can be hidden a little bit better. The fact is the Cardinals lost too many games last year because of the lack of offensive production at the end of the lineup. There wasn’t a lot of fear from opposing pitchers after Albert Pujols and Matt Holliday.
So while I don’t agree with Tony LaRussa’s decisions a lot of the time, the fact is he’s the man in charge. I think there’s some give and take with Tony and Mo, if not, Colby Rasmus would be gone. Also, we can never forget that the best thing about Tony LaRussa is the package he brings with him in Dave Duncan. If Tony leaves, Dunc is probably gone as well.
The reason I’m going to start of the season more on the side of Tony is because of what the rest of the division has done. Like I’ve said, the Brewers have the potential to rule the NL Central, and it’s a 4 team race now between the Cards, Brewers, Reds and Cubs. The Cardinals may have downgraded defensively, but they had to upgrade on offense to make sure when they get down 3 or 4 runs in a game, it’s not over. I think Berkman is a great gamble. While Theriot may not be an Eckstein clone, I can see him being a huge asset. The point is, we need to get behind them and hope it’s going to work out for the best.
So like Don Tony, I also like players who hustle, scuffle and rip the knees of their uniform pants. I like stats as well, but there has to be some balance. Tony LaRussa will probably only be here another 2 years, so he’s going to get what he thinks he needs to win. For a groundball staff, this year could be a nightmare, but I think there’s enough mental toughness in guys like Carpenter and Wainwright that will make up for some defensive problems. In September, the Cards may be out of the race, but I’ll take that bet, and if you look at the Vegas odds, they will too.