All posts by Brian Walton

Brian Walton runs The Cardinal Nation, covering the St. Louis Cardinals and minor league system.

Making Gold Glove Award Finalists Count

photo: Billy Hurst/USA TODAY Sports

Brian Walton shares his proposal to evolve the Gold Glove Award process to announce finalists ahead of the actual voting and why it would benefit all involved – players, voters and fans.


“This time, it counts!”

Long time baseball fans will never forget former MLB commissioner Bud Selig administration’s well-intended, but fatally flawed plan to award home field advantage for the World Series to the league that won that July’s All-Star Game. The gimmick was summarized by their marketing slogan noted above.

Putting far too much importance on an exhibition game was exposed when extra innings led to a depletion of available players and an unsatisfying outcome. Ultimately, winning the All-Star Game was returned to bragging rights only, which is the way it should be – but it took over a decade and a change in regimes to get it undone. Now, the World Series advantage goes to the best regular-season team, as common sense should have dictated decades ago.

I have a proposal for a “reverse Selig”, making something that does not count today, matter in the future.

I am talking about annual Gold Glove Award finalists.

Those who follow my work know that I have a healthy dislike for all things contrived. Right near the top of my contrived list is the announcement of the top three award finishers at each position in each league as supposed “finalists”.

In reality, there are no finalists – just the top three finishers in no particular order.

Voting has been complete for weeks and the results have already been tabulated. But instead of just announcing the specifics, some marketing whiz came up with the idea of spoon-feeding the public with these supposed finalists, apparently to build suspense.

That would be understandable, perhaps, if the end result could still be influenced following the disclosure of the finalists. However, that is not the case. It is just forced.


A staged award example that works

An example of how this kind of two-stage process works well is the motion picture industry. Annual Academy Award nominees are disclosed weeks in advance of the announcement ceremony, which is a really big deal, by the way.

One reason for its effectiveness is that once nominees in the various categories are disclosed, the general public is made aware of good movies and strong performances that we may have missed the first time around.

There is not only a buzz, but also an implied call to action.

We can then head to the local theatre and catch these notable films. The result is that everyone wins. We get to see more examples of fine cinema and the filmmakers make more money.

Contrast that with the Gold Glove process. There is no tangible benefit to be gained during the time between when the finalists are identified and the actual announcements.

Fans cannot go to games and see the best fielders do their thing, since the regular season concluded weeks earlier. Any discussion and debate about the relative merits of the “finalists” is wasted breath and keystrokes, because the voting deadline has passed.


The Gold Glove Award process has evolved before

Before I get into my proposal, another brief history lesson is needed to help set the stage.

Baseball created a major credibility crisis for its Gold Glove Award selection process when designated hitter Rafael Palmeiro took home the award in 1999, ahead of deserving candidates who actually played at first base on a daily basis. The winner appeared in the field in just 28 games that season.

Rafael Palmeiro (Getty Images)

While this was perhaps the worst example, it was far from an exception.

Here is a summary of data which illustrates that over 60 percent of the Gold Glove Award winners from 1988 through 2012 were not among the top two defenders at their position, according to the metrics.

With no substantive fielding data to guide them other than errors and fielding percentage, the voting managers and coaches frequently selected players who had good offensive years. MLB already has a parallel process to reward top hitters, the Silver Slugger Award, but the Gold Gloves were too often being given to the wrong players for the wrong reasons.

As advanced defensive metrics were developed and refined, more information on player defensive performance became available to all.

That evolved to the point that the SABR Defensive Index (SDI) was created – with the blending of five metrics which were given the importance of a 25 percent weighting in the Gold Glove Award selection process. Elevating the SDI essentially diluted the voters’ impact in naming the winners correspondingly.

Interim SDI results are published and shared with the public periodically throughout each season. Of course, the SDIs are also available to the voters. Whether or not they are really used when ballots are cast, however, is unknown.


The current system still has limitations

Even with the SDI helping to reduce the mistakes detailed above, more can and should be done.

Javier Baez (Jeff Curry/USA TODAY Sports Images)

Voter prejudices still creep into the process. For example, at second base in the National League in 2018, Chicago’s Javier Baez was announced as a finalist – despite his SDI being a negative 0.5, placing him 10th of 14 qualifiers at the position.

In comparison, the top two NL second basemen in SDI, Colorado’s D.J. LeMahieu and St. Louis’ Kolten Wong, were first and second respectively in SDI at 19.5 and 13.8, respectively. Appropriately, they were also finalists. (Coming in third in SDI was Atlanta’s Ozzie Albies at 8.5, but he was a non-finalist.)

In reality, Baez was more of a utilityman that season, with a whopping 218 fewer chances at second base than the ultimate winner, LeMahieu. However, Baez’ reputation as a flashy defender, making regular highlight reel plays, clearly influenced voters.

Unfortunately, so must have the Cubs star’s prolific offense, as he drove in a league-leading 111 runs and finished second in the Most Valuable Player voting. That strong MVP showing and his Silver Slugger Award were the right ways to honor Baez’ standout 2018.

Making Baez a Gold Glove Award finalist was not appropriate, however. Yet, the voters’ bias overruled his poor showing in the 25 percent-weighted SDI.

Ultimately, LeMahieu edged runners-up Wong and Baez for the honor, his third. Detailed voting results are not announced, just SDIs, so we don’t know how close Baez came to winning ahead of the two more deserving finalists.


An improvement proposal

My idea is to make the finalist process actually count and do a better job selecting the winners – using the SDI to identify the finalists in advance of the voting.

The finalists would be disclosed to the public on or about September 1, using SDI data from the first five months of the season.

Fans who want to see these finalists in action would still have a month to head to the ballpark or tune in to do so. More importantly, media and fan dialogue about the merits of the various defenders might actually matter – potentially influencing the voters, who would still cast their ballots at season’s end.

In this process, the winners would return to being entirely selected by the voters’ results, like it used to be. The key difference is that the SDI would do its screening work up front, narrowing the voters’ choices to those fielders most deserving per the metrics. A Palmeiro would never make it as far as voter consideration.

A footnote is that there is not a wide variation in the ranking of the top SDI defenders during the season, especially in the latter stages. So, choosing the finalists a month early should not leave a deserving potential winner behind. However, if this became a concern, one response could be to expand the finalists to the top five in SDI, for example, rather than three.


Conclusion

I believe this proposal would utilize the SDI more effectively, strengthen the Gold Glove Award voting process, increase fan engagement, and yes, make the finalist process count!


Weigh in

Stop by The Cardinal Nation’s free forum to offer your opinion on this, and any other baseball topics.


Bonus for members of The Cardinal Nation

Montero Making Up for Lost Injury Time in the AFL


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How Might Minor League Reductions Affect the Cardinals?

photo: 2019 Appy League Champion Johnson City Cardinals (Johnson City Cardinals)

Looking at MLB’s proposed reductions of minor league teams and players through the aperture of the St. Louis Cardinals system. Two franchises, 65-70 players and support personnel appear to be at risk.


On Friday, October 18, Baseball America disclosed numerous details of a proposal generated by Major League Baseball (MLB) to reduce Minor League Baseball (MiLB) by 42 teams and associated players starting in 2021.

Here is my overly-simplistic summary of the motivation behind the in-depth article of over 2,500 words – reduced to two sentences.

“You want us to give minor leaguers better pay? Well, we aren’t paying extra for it!” – MLB

The ongoing issue of sub-minimum wage minor league salaries is one that MLB tried to dodge by successfully lobbying Congress for legislation to protect their labeling of players as interns or seasonal employees. This enables them to continue to not pay players for spring training and extended spring training camps, among other required time spent in their job of minor league baseball player.

However, this stance does not pass the sunshine test for many, with ongoing court cases seeking back salaries as well as increasingly negative public sentiment towards the Lords of Baseball.

The current version of the operating agreement between MLB and MiLB, the Professional Baseball Agreement (PBA), has just two years to run, with these reduction proposals to take effect in 2021.


Two Cardinals affiliates at risk?

While there could be a number of franchise-level switches across leagues not yet decided, at first blush, it appears that two Cardinals affiliates are most at risk. State College of the short-season Class-A New York-Penn League and Johnson City of the rookie-level Appalachian League could be among the 42 teams eliminated in this scenario. Not coincidentally perhaps, they are the most geographically distant from the organization’s main bases in St. Louis and Jupiter, Florida.

Chuck Greenberg, Greenberg Sports Group

Telling the fans in State College and Johnson City they can have independent ball instead of their current affiliated club (part of the proposal) should fly like a lead balloon. Team ownership and local municipalities that have invested in upgraded facilities will surely fight for reimbursement, if not for their affiliated franchise lives.

The Spikes of State College play in a modern facility, Medlar Field at Lubrano Park, shared with Penn State University. The Cardinals have been affiliated with the Spikes for eight seasons – in 2006 and from 2013 through today. In those years, State College reached the playoffs three times, winning the NYPL title twice.

State College chairman Chuck Greenberg is a former CEO of the Texas Rangers and along with the Spikes, his Greenberg Sports Group  operates Frisco of the Double-A Texas League and Myrtle Beach of the high-A Carolina League.

Randy Boyd, Boyd Sports Group

The JC Cardinals are 10-time Appy League Champions, including 2019 and five of the last 10 years. The club has set new attendance records in each of the last four seasons thanks to new leadership and facility improvements.

Though there were interruptions since, St. Louis first paired with the Tennessee city in 1939. The two have been affiliated continuously since 1975, over two decades longer than the Cardinals’ second-longest running partnership (Memphis, 1998).

Boyd Sports Group is four years into its 10-year lease to operate the Johnson City Cardinals. Tennessean Randy Boyd’s organization also runs the Double-A Tennessee Smokies, Greeneville Reds and Elizabethton Twins. The latter two clubs play in the Appy League along with the Cards, making this proposal potentially especially challenging for Boyd Sports’ operations.


How might these changes affect individuals?

On paper, shutting down two clubs could eliminate up to 70 player positions in the Cardinals organization (maximum 35-man rosters times two). But, let’s see what a run through the real data might tell us.

Background, per BA:

“MLB teams would be limited in the proposal to fielding five minor league clubs in the United States. That’s four full-season teams plus one complex-based Rookie affiliate. In addition to their 40-man roster players, each MLB team club would be limited to 150 players under minor league contracts on MiLB rosters. The proposal does not address roster limits for international players playing in the Dominican Summer League.”

Though full-season minor league teams may have no more than 25 active players, there are a handful on the injured list at any given point in time, increasing the practical total. In addition, Gulf Coast League teams, including the Cardinals complex-based squad in Jupiter, may roster as many as 35.

In other words, 150 players in a new world with five US-based teams seems about right – up to 135 active players (25 times four plus 35) plus 15 others on the shelf. But what about the others?

Let’s break down the potential impact to the Cardinals system (using detail free to all at The Cardinal Nation’s Roster Matrix.)

Overall, the Cardinals currently have 325 players under contract. Subtract 40 for the 40-man roster (which includes those with St. Louis) and 70 more for their two Dominican Summer League squads. That leaves 215 players.

In this quick view, if the MLB proposal was implemented today, 65 Cardinals minor league player jobs would be eliminated (325-40-70-150=65). That is very close to the 70 in my initial estimate above.

Of course, not all players would be given a pink slip at once. Organizations could begin to slim down earlier in preparation via periodic releases and free agency losses without corresponding additions.

Further, 15-20 fewer players would be drafted each summer, since another aspect of the proposal is to both delay and substantially shorten the annual First-Year Player Draft. In today’s Cardinals world, the majority of the recent draftees are assigned to one of the two to-be-eliminated teams, so in the new construct, fewer and later dovetails with the overall reduction plans.

In addition, two sets of Cardinals managers, pitching and hitting coaches, trainers and strength and conditioning coaches would no longer be needed – not to mention the many jobs eliminated on the minor league team staffs and their stadium support personnel. There could be a ripple effect in the local economies abandoned by affiliated ball, as well.


What is next?

These negotiations for the new PBA over the next two years appear to have become a second set of potentially game-altering changes that should be very interesting to follow. They join the MLB-MLB Players’ Association (MLBPA) talks leading toward a new Collective Bargaining Agreement, running in parallel.

One key consideration is that I do not know how much (or little?) leverage Minor League Baseball has to fight MLB’s broad proposed changes. I suspect not that much.

Further, since the MLBPA has shown zero interest to date in the minor league salary fights, I expect Tony Clark’s union to remain on the sidelines here – other than a toothless PR statement of support, perhaps.

If these proposals come to pass, I predict the lawyers will prosper most once the lawsuits start flying. As usual, baseball fans and their home cities will have no voice on their future. Same with the many – both players and support personnel – whose jobs will be lost.

Perhaps the minor leaguers who remain will be better paid, though there is no guarantee of that. Even if it comes to pass, it would be at significant cost to so many others.

As usual, MLB wins – or will their moves backfire?

In a recent in-depth article at The Athletic, Evan Drellich wrote about the economic importance of MiLB to MLB, citing ongoing research by a company run by social psychologist Rich Luker.

“I can’t overemphasize how important minor league baseball is to the whole of the (history) of baseball and the future,” Luker said. “That is what makes it approachable, and allows people to have access in ways that are affordable, and then, in fact, makes it aspirational to attend games later on in life.”

Only time will tell if MLB – which generated $10.3 billion in revenue in 2018 – risks limiting its future fan base by cutting back on Minor League Baseball to save itself money.


Important update from BA

On Saturday, October 19, Baseball America added the following note to the top of their initial article, backing off certain specifics in their initial report.

Editor’s Note: This story initially reported that the proposal would move the MLB draft back to August. Further reporting has found that while the draft in the proposal would move to after the College World Series, it would not be moved as late as August. We regret the error. Also, the number of roster spots for minor leagues would be limited to between 150 and 200 players. The story initially said teams would be limited to 150 players.

Let this be a reminder to us all that what will be decided in the end could be very different from what appears to be an initial negotiating position taken by MLB.


Update – November 17


Bonus for members of The Cardinal Nation

TCN’s 2019 State College Spikes Player of the Year


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Brian Walton can be reached via email at brian@thecardinalnation.com or for fastest turnaround, pose your questions on The Cardinal Nation’s members-only forum. Follow Brian on Twitter.

© 2019 The Cardinal Nation, thecardinalnation.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Goldschmidt and Ozuna – TCN’s NLDS Co-Most Valuable Players

photo: Paul Goldschmidt and Marcell Ozuna (Jeff Curry/Imagn)

Continuing the tradition started in 2005 but suspended since 2014 for obvious reasons, The Cardinal Nation is once again stepping up to fill a void ignored by Major League Baseball – the lack of a Most Valuable Player in the League Division Series.

The LDS has always been MLB’s red-haired post-season stepchild – at least in terms of individual honors.

First off, the series is just five games instead of seven like the League Championship and World Series. Since there are two LDS matchups, there would have to be two winners, not that it should matter in the least. To make matters worse, fans have to search for the games, as they are often held at odd and floating times and not televised on networks usually covering games of this level of importance.

As part of the second-tier status of the LDS, Major League Baseball does not see fit to name Most Valuable Players for these series only. That is ok – we are more than up to it!


Our 2019 LDS Co-MVPs

The Cardinal Nation has named co-winners for 2019. St. Louis Cardinals first baseman Paul Goldschmidt and left fielder Marcell Ozuna share The Cardinal Nation National League Division Series Most Valuable Player Award.

Paul Goldschmidt

The third and fourth hitters in manager Mike Shildt’s lineup powered the Cardinals to a three games to two series win over the Atlanta Braves. Both hit .429 (9-for-21) over the five contests, including two long balls each. They each had a .478 OBP, as well.

Marcell Ozuna

Goldschmidt hit four doubles to Ozuna’s three, but the outfielder scored five runs to the first baseman’s four. Goldy drew two free passes to the Big Bear’s one, but Marcell plated five vs. two for his teammate. Both of their OPS’es are out of this world, with Goldschmidt holding the slight 1.383 to 1.335 edge.

In other words, there is no way to decide between the two, so we won’t!


Other Cardinals LDS standouts

Catcher Yadier Molina batted just .143 in the series, but had arguably the biggest moments. His RBI single in the eighth inning of the first elimination contest, Game 4, enabled the Cards to tie. His sacrifice fly in the 10th plated Kolten Wong and capped the comeback that led them to Atlanta, where they crushed the Braves in record fashion in Game 5.

Veteran Adam Wainwright certainly deserves prominent mention for his 7 2/3 scoreless innings in Game 3. The 38-year old was saddled with a no-decision when Carlos Martinez yielded three runs in the ninth to take the loss.

Ace Jack Flaherty was outdueled in Game 2, but had yielded just one score over six frames before a pinch-hit two-run home run from Adam Duvall in the seventh gave Atlanta its winning edge. Though the offense delivered a record-setting 10 runs in the first inning of Game 5, Flaherty kept his edge on the road, holding the Braves to a lone run over six innings in the clincher. The right-hander finished with 18 strikeouts in 13 innings and a 2.77 ERA.


TCN’s LDS MVP history

In 2005, I created our version of the NLDS MVP Award, earned by Reggie Sanders. The well-traveled veteran outfielder drove in an amazing 10 runs in the Cardinals’ three-game sweep of the San Diego Padres.

John Mozeliak (Brian Walton/The Cardinal Nation)

The idea really gained traction (at least in my mind) the next year. Then-assistant general manager John Mozeliak of the Cardinals was suspected of providing several of the club’s free agent signees the sleeves out of his vest – the inclusion of bonus clauses in the players’ contracts for the LDS MVP, an award that did not and still does not formally exist.

With creative thinking like that, it is no wonder Mozeliak soon moved up the ladder and has become one of MLB’s most successful senior executives.

In 2006, we bestowed our LDS MVP honors upon Ron Belliard. The second baseman was only briefly a Cardinal, having signed his 2006 contract with the Indians, so he apparently had no LDS MVP clause.

It did not matter. Belliard hit .462 and made several strong defensive plays as the Cards eliminated San Diego in four games on their way to the World Championship.

In 2009, when the Cardinals were dispatched most painfully in the NLDS by Los Angeles in three straight games, I did not give an MVP award for obvious reasons.

Chris Carpenter (USA TODAY Sports)

The story was once again much better in 2011 as the Cardinals defeated the 102-win Philadelphia Phillies in a hard-fought five-game LDS. Faced with two consecutive elimination games, the Cards took both.

The culmination was our LDS MVP Chris Carpenter’s three-hit complete game shutout at Philadelphia. The veteran right-hander led the Cards to a 1-0 victory in an epic battle with another former Cy Young Award winner and personal friend, Roy Halladay.

The 2012 NLDS was sparked by an unlikely hero, second baseman Daniel Descalso. Despite having hit just .227 in the regular season, the then-25-year-old led the Cardinals in RBI, runs scored and tied for the lead in home runs during the LDS. He scored seven runs, launched two homers, drove in six with a slash line of .316/.333/.684/1.017 in the five-game series.

Adam Wainwright (Steve Mitchell/USA TODAY Sports)

In 2013, Wainwright opened and closed the five-game LDS with wins, both at home. In the winner-take-all finale, the right-hander scattered eight hits while dominating the Pirates in a complete-game victory. In Game 1, Wainwright allowed a lone run on three hits in seven innings and drew a full-count walk that opened the team’s seven-run third-inning offensive burst.

Over his 16 innings, Wainwright yielded just two runs for a 1.13 ERA. He scattered 11 hits, walked just one and struck out 15. The Pirates batted a collective .196 against our 2013 NLDS MVP.

Matt Carpenter (Steve Mitchell/Imagn)

In 2014, Matt Carpenter took the honors. In each of the first three games of the series against the Dodgers, the left-handed hitting third baseman both doubled and homered. His hits tied one game and put the Cards ahead in two others.

The then-28-year-old finished the four-game set with a line of .375/.412/1.125/1.537. Carpenter went 6-for-16, with all three hits going for extra bases. He drew one walk, scored four runs and plated seven.

With the Chicago Cubs taking the 2015 LDS, again a Cardinals MVP was not given. But that was then and this is now.

Thanks to the leadership of Goldschmidt and Ozuna (and all of their teammates), the Championship Series is just ahead.


Bonus for members of The Cardinal Nation

Glendale Manager Luis Bolivar on Cardinals AFL Prospects


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Cardinals Announce NL Division Series Roster

photo: Randy Arozarena (Frank Ramirez/The Cardinal Nation)

On the morning of Game 1 of their National League Division Series in Atlanta, the NL Central Division-winning St. Louis Cardinals disclosed their 25-man roster.

Kolten Wong (Steve Mitchell/Imagn)

On Wednesday, manager Mike Shildt had disclosed several related usage decisions.

  • Coming back from his hamstring injury, Kolten Wong will be starting in Game 1.
  • Jack Flaherty will be the Game 2 starting pitcher, following Miles Mikolas in Game 1.
  • Dakota Hudson will be available out of the pen for both games in Atlanta and will start later in the series (likely Game 4 (if needed) after Adam Wainwright in Game 3).

The above roster includes 12 pitchers and 13 position players.


Genesis Cabrera (Steve Mitchell/Imagn)

Key considerations – Pitchers

Injured Michael Wacha, second half-ineffective John Gant and inconsistent rookie Junior Fernandez were among those left off, along with veterans Mike Mayers and Dominic Leone, neither of whom were expected to be active in the NLDS.

Instead, rarely-used Daniel Ponce de Leon will apparently be the second long man out of the pen (behind Hudson in Games 1-2). with rookie Genesis Cabrera also making the roster. Given Andrew Miller’s late-season shakiness, having a third left-handed reliever may prove to be a prudent decision.


Randy Arozarena (Steve Mitchell/Imagn)

Key considerations – Position players

Another rookie, Randy Arozarena, made the roster as a reserve outfielder ahead of power-hitting Tyler O’Neill. As expected, the Cardinals are going with two catchers, with first-year backstop Andrew Knizner inactive in the LDS.

Other minor league additions for September to not make the Division Series roster are catcher Joe Hudson, and infielders Edmundo Sosa and Rangel Ravelo.

An open question to be answered later on Thursday is which player sits with Wong’s return to second base. The primary options would seem to be third baseman Matt Carpenter or center fielder Harrison Bader.

I expect it will be the latter, with Tommy Edman moving from second to right field and Dexter Fowler shifting from right to center. In this scenario, Bader would become a late-inning pinch-runner and defensive replacement. Otherwise, Edman would start at third over Carpenter.


My self-audit

Prior to Wacha’s shoulder injury, I made my annual NLDS roster predictions for TCN members and got 22 of 25 correct. My misses were Ponce de Leon, Cabrera and Arozarena, with Wacha, Gant and Fernandez having been predicted, instead.

Walton’s 2019 Cardinals NLDS Roster Predictions

Based on what we know today, I think the Cardinals made the best decisions, but the games themselves will tell us much more.


For more

To track the Cardinals’ 25- and 40-man rosters as well as all players in the system by position and level, check out the Roster Matrix, always free and updated here at The Cardinal Nation. Also included is every player transaction across the full organization all year long.


Bonus for members of The Cardinal Nation

Cardinals League-Best Player Streak Continues


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Brian Walton can be reached via email at brian@thecardinalnation.com or for fastest turnaround, pose your questions on The Cardinal Nation’s members-only forum. Follow Brian on Twitter.

© 2019 The Cardinal Nation, thecardinalnation.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Break the Mold – Jack Flaherty Deserves More Support

photo: Jack Flaherty (Sergio Estrada/Imagn)

Despite being MLB’s best second-half pitcher, St. Louis Cardinals right-handed pitcher Jack Flaherty has as many no-decisions as wins during this historic stretch. The offense and bullpen share responsibility – and it could unexpectedly get worse.


I do not believe for one second that offenses vary their level of effort based on their starting pitcher. However, if anyone might be able to prove it, the St. Louis Cardinals behind ace Jack Flaherty would provide significant evidence.

Even if so, the 23-year old would appear to not need many runs of support. Flaherty is currently Major League Baseball’s hottest pitcher, with the lowest ERA (0.97) in MLB since the All-Star Break (in 14 starts). In fact, it is among the lowest five single-season post All-Star ERAs of all-time.

Inexplicably, the run support provided the right-hander by his offense all season long has been the lowest among the Cardinals’ starters and in the bottom 12 percent of qualifying MLB pitchers.

Jack Flaherty (Steve Mitchell/Imagn)

This script went to its extreme in Arizona on Tuesday night, as the combination of extremely limited offense and a leaky bullpen did Flaherty and the Cardinals in.

As those who stayed up late well into Wednesday morning learned all too well, even with a no-hitter working into the seventh inning, Flaherty ended up with a no-decision when his bullpen (Andrew Miller specifically) allowed the tying run in the ninth. That turned a slim 1-0 St. Louis lead into what became a very damaging 19-inning marathon defeat.

It was yet another no-decision for Flaherty, his 14th of the 2019 season. Eight occurred among his 18 starts in the first half and the final six came in his 14 post-break outings. As one would expect, that is tops on the Cardinals staff.

Flaherty’s pre-break win-loss record was just 4-6, improving to 6-2 after. But even so, he deserved multiple additional victories beyond his relatively meager season total of 10.

For example, Flaherty carried another no-hit bid into the seventh inning in San Francisco on July 7, only to be saddled with a 1-0 defeat. To add insult to injury, he also collected his team’s only extra-base hit.

It is hard to believe, but the Cardinals as a team are a mediocre 16-16 in Flaherty’s outings – despite his team-leading 18 quality starts.

And it is not getting better. Note that during his historic second-half, Flaherty has as many no-decisions as wins (six each).

Researcher Tom Orf put Flaherty’s poor support into Cardinals team historic context. The hurler’s 14 no decisions is tied for third all-time in Cardinals history. Also note that Flaherty’s ERA is lowest of the St. Louis pitchers who rank in the top seven all-time in single season no-decisions.

Everyone involved has to hope this trend of minimal support leading to a no-decision for the Cardinals’ best starter is a regular-season phenomenon only. Otherwise, St. Louis’ first return to the playoffs after three years away could end quickly.

In fact, it could be even worse.

Prior to St. Louis’ final stumble in Arizona on Wednesday, it was assumed that Flaherty’s regular season had concluded and he would be the well-rested NLDS Game 1 starter in Atlanta. Instead, he could be summoned to pitch in Game 162, Game 163 or the Wild Card contest.

If that turns out to be the case, the core issues with the 2019 Cardinals are far greater than the meager support they provide to Flaherty.


Bonus for members of The Cardinal Nation

2019 Dominican Summer League Cardinals Red Relief Pitcher of the Year


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Cardinals Change Minor League Hitting Coordinators

photo: George Greer, Oliver Marmol, Jose Oquendo (Brian Walton/The Cardinal Nation)

Greer is out

This is the time of year during which player development personnel across baseball are either offered new contracts for the next season or are informed that their services are no longer desired.

George Greer (Johnson City Cardinals)

In a move that was both surprising and not, the St. Louis Cardinals have let minor league hitting strategist George Greer go. The changes were first reported by Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

Many casual Cardinals fans recall that Greer was part of the two-headed interim hitting coach approach taken by St. Louis in July, 2018 after the firing of John Mabry. His partner, Mark Budaska, remained with the big-league club as assistant hitting coach for 2019 under new head man Jeff Albert, before his mid-season firing over differences in approach. It would appear that Greer’s departure is a continuation of these organizational changes in hitting philosophy.

Following last season, Greer, 72, returned to his prior role leading Cardinals minor league hitting instruction. His unique title was created when he joined the organization in 2015 because the Cards already had a hitting coordinator at the time, Derrick May.

After his playing days in the Cardinals system (1968-1971) ended, Greer began a long career in amateur coaching, including successful stints in the Cape Cod League, where he is a Hall of Famer, and at Davidson and Wake Forest Universities. He managed and coached in the New York Mets system and was brought into the Cardinals by Director of Player Development Gary LaRocque, who had been a Mets executive and like Greer, originally hailed from the Northeast.

Steinhorn is in

Russ Steinhorn (Clemson University)

Greer’s replacement is a former Houston Astros colleague of Alberts’, Russ Steinhorn. Steinhorn was most recently assistant hitting coordinator for the Philadelphia Phillies and was in charge of player development for Clemson University’s baseball program in 2018.

From 2013-2017, the 34-year old spent five years in Houston’s system. That included three years as hitting coach in the New York-Penn League and a year each managing in the Dominican Summer League and Class-A Midwest Leagues.

Prior to becoming a professional coach, Steinhorn coached and recruited for UNC Greensboro and Delaware State. He is a grad of Southeastern University (2008) and earned a Masters while at Delaware State.


Bonus for members of The Cardinal Nation

Walton’s 2019 Cardinals NLDS Roster Predictions


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Eight Cardinals Prospects Open 2019 Arizona Fall League Play

Wednesday night, September 18, marks the opening of the 2019 Arizona Fall League schedule. Six teams made up of prospects from all 30 MLB organizations will play 30 games each, through Friday, October 25. The league finals will be the next day, on Saturday, October 26. Also, the annual Fall Stars Game will be held on Saturday, October 12.

The 2019 AFL consists of two divisions, with the following make-up:

East Division

  • Mesa Solar Sox: Angels, Athletics, Cubs, Indians, Tigers
  • Salt River Rafters: Diamondbacks, Marlins, Rays, Rockies, Twins
  • Scottsdale Scorpions: Blue Jays, Braves, Giants, Mets, Phillies

West Division

  • Glendale Desert Dogs: Brewers, Cardinals, Dodgers, Reds, White Sox
  • Peoria Javelinas: Astros, Mariners, Padres, Pirates, Red Sox
  • Surprise Saguaros: Orioles, Nationals, Rangers, Royals, Yankees

2019 changes

This year’s schedule begins three weeks earlier than in the past, with the intent to eliminate the prior time gap of a month between the end of the minor league season and the start of the AFL.

In prior years, the AFL took Sundays off. That is not the case in 2019. Instead, teams will not play on three Mondays, two Thursdays, a Tuesday and a Sunday.

10 league games will be held against teams from the Mexican Pacific League and Mesa will play two contests in the Mexican Baseball Fiesta.

Now eligible for the AFL are rehabbing MLB players and any minor leaguers. There is no longer any restriction on players participating who played below the Double-A level during the prior season.

Because of the Arizona heat, all September contests will be held in the evening, starting at 6:30 p.m. local time. Selected day games, starting at 12:30 p.m. will be held in October.

Due to construction at regular AFL venues Surprise and Scottsdale, two teams will double up this year. Scottsdale will share Salt River Fields at Talking Stick with the Rafters and Surprise joins the Javelinas at their home in Peoria. (All AFL parks’ primary purpose is to serve as MLB spring training venues.)


Springfield hitting coach Brandon Allen (Springfield Cardinals FANatic Photos)

Cardinals – Glendale overview

The eight Cardinals prospects and their Glendale Desert Dogs teammates will play their home games at Camelback Ranch-Glendale, the spring home of the Dodgers and White Sox.

One of four coaches under Glendale manager Luis Bolivar (Reds) is Springfield hitting coach Brandon Allen. The 33-year old just completed his third season in the Cardinals system after serving in the same capacity at Palm Beach in 2018 and Johnson City in 2017. As a first baseman-outfielder, Allen played 13 years in professional ball, including parts of four seasons in the majors, 2009-2012.

Elehuris Montero (Memphis Redbirds)

One of Glendale’s two athletic trainers is Springfield’s Dan Martin.

While 20 members of MLB Pipeline’s top 100 prospects were among the initial group announced to play in the AFL, only one is currently on the Glendale roster, Reds third baseman Jonathan India (No. 92), their first-rounder in 2018. Cardinals outfielder Dylan Carlson, since pulled from the league, would have been the other and highest-ranked Desert Dog at no. 50 nationally.

Ivan Herrera (St. Louis Cardinals)

As is traditional, the Cards have assigned four position players and four pitchers to the AFL. The latter group includes one starter and three relievers. (Each club has the same target, ideally creating a five-man rotation and a 15-man bullpen, ensuring pitchers do not get overworked.)

Five of the eight are ranked in The Cardinal Nation August Top 50 plus one honorable mention. The headliners are third baseman Elehuris Montero, no. 3, and catcher Ivan Herrera, no. 12.

Outfielder Conner Capel was recently added to the group, replacing Carlson, and Roel Ramirez was chosen as the final relief pitcher.

Three of the Cardinals – all three of the relievers – finished the season with Memphis, though they all spent the majority of 2019 down one level, at Springfield. The Double-A Cards also have three representatives, plus the Palm Beach battery of Griffin Roberts and Herrera rounds out the group. Herrera, who played most of 2019 at Peoria, is the second-youngest player in the AFL, at the age of 19 years and three months.

Cards in AFL 2019 Pos Tm TCN Top 50 Rank
Pitcher Griffin Roberts RHS PB 30
Seth Elledge RHR Mem 29
Kodi Whitley RHR Mem HM
Roel Ramirez RHR Mem NR
Hitter Conner Capel OF Spr 35
Elehuris Montero 3B Spr 3
Kramer Robertson SS Spr NR
Ivan Herrera C PB 12

To read more about all eight players, check out these earlier articles.

Cardinals Add Capel, Ramirez to AFL Contingent

Seven Cardinals Named to the 2019 Arizona Fall League


What is Next

We will have all the details and analysis from the 2019 AFL campaign here at The Cardinal Nation. That includes our free daily Desert Dogs game recaps, starting with the opener on Wednesday, September 18, through the final games on October 26.

Others may talk about it, but we have been on the ground in the AFL every year for each of the last 15 years and will again bring you our exclusive members coverage directly from Glendale in October.


Bonus for members of The Cardinal Nation

Seven of Nine Cardinals Minor League Teams Declined in 2019


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If you enjoyed this article and you want to unlock more, please consider joining The Cardinal Nation to receive the most comprehensive coverage of the St. Louis Cardinals through the entire minor league system.

Brian Walton can be reached via email at brian@thecardinalnation.com or for fastest turnaround, pose your questions on The Cardinal Nation’s members-only forum. Follow Brian on Twitter.

© 2019 The Cardinal Nation, thecardinalnation.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.