Tag Archives: Hazelbaker

Leake and Cardinals Trying to Turn the Corner

It’s fairly difficult to think of the Cardinals on any kind of “roll,” but last night’s 8-1 victory was their fifth in the last eight games – and the first of the season for Mike Leake.  The “streak” includes two humbling losses at home against the Pirates and a 1-0 loss to Aaron Nola and Philadelphia, but there have been hopeful moments in between.

Let’s point out, first of all, that half of the Cardinals last eight games (including last night’s) have come following a loss.  St Louis has won all four of them, scoring at least five runs in each game and allowing no more than 4 runs in any of them.  In these “response” games, the offense has contributed a .322/.393/.644 slash line with 11 home runs and 7.25 runs per game while the pitching staff has contributed 3 quality starts and a 2.75 ERA.

Among the most hopeful developments is the progress of the pitching staff.  Believed to be the team’s greatest strength coming into the season, they have been less than hoped for so far.  But, since the end of the Washington series, there have been positive signs.  Two quality starts from Adam Wainwright, dominant starts from Jaime Garcia and – finally – Mike Leake last night, and a well-pitched effort by Michael Wacha in the tough loss to Nola have all been very encouraging.

After managing just eleven quality starts through the first 25 games of the season, last night’s effort was the fifth QS in the last eight games (and the first for Leake in seven starts).  The team ERA over that span is a very serviceable 3.25.

Matt Holliday

Matt Holliday was in the middle of most of the offense last night with 3 extra-base hits.  Even better is that Holliday went 2-for-3 against left-handed pitching.  He is now 5 for his last 12 (.417) against lefties.

Matt Carpenter

One of the recent catalysts has been leadoff hitter Matt Carpenter.  Matt provided the ninth-inning home run that claimed our only victory over Pittsburgh this season, and was one of the big bats in last night’s win – hitting two more home runs.  In what has been an uneven season so far, Carpenter may finally be rounding into form.  He now has 10 hits in his last 30 at bats (.333), and seven of those hits have been for extra bases.

In his last plate appearance of the night, Carpenter finally got to hit against a right-hander.  He jumped AJ Achter’s errant pitch and drilled it for his second home run of the night.  Carpenter now has 7 hits in his last 16 at bats against right-handed pitching (.438).  Five of those hits are for extra-bases (3 doubles and 2 home runs).

Yadier Molina

In 2015, Yadier Molina started 131 of the 162 games behind the plate.  One of the goals heading into this season was to lighten the load on the veteran catcher.  The difficulty here, though, is that St Louis went 85-46 when Yadi started and just 15-16 when he didn’t.

In the “best laid plans” department, the Cards acquired a quality backup in Brayan Pena to help keep Yadi’s work-load to 120 games or less. Pena, of course, went down in spring training with an injury and hasn’t seen the field yet.  Eric Fryer has found himself thrust into the backup catcher role – and he hasn’t done badly.  St Louis is 2-1 in the three games he’s started.  The problem is he’s only started 3 games.  With St Louis scuffling a bit in the early going (and still trying to keep in sight of the steam-rolling Cubs), Eric hasn’t been trusted with too many opportunities.  At his current pace, Yadi will start 147 games.  Pena is expected to be back at some point in the semi-near future, so that pace will certainly lighten.  But St Louis has still lost the opportunity to give Yadi early season rest.

Yadi’s double last night came on a 2-2 pitch (in the eighth pitch of the at bat).  Molina now has 5 hits in his last 12 at bats when hitting with two strikes on him (.417) and his fourth hit in his last 7 at bats that have lasted more than four pitches.

Jeremy Hazelbaker

As Jeremy Hazelbaker has cooled off after his impressive start, he has found at bats more and more scarce.  His 0-for-4 last night still leaves him at .282 for the season, but only 2 of his last 14 (.143).  It’s starting to look like Jeremy’s will be the roster spot that Tommy Pham will claim when he is deemed ready to return.  Hazelbaker, I expect, will profit from more regular playing time.

Mike Leake

During his shaky first six starts for St Louis, considerable discussion centered around Mike Leake’s struggles pitching with runners on base.  Last night, the Angels managed two hits (both singles) in 13 at bats (.154) against Leake with runners on base.

Leake also did a more than adequate job of putting hitters away once he put them in 2-strike counts.  Those batters went 1-for-14 (.071) against him.  Over his last two starts, batters with 2-strikes are only 3-for-25 (.120) against Mike.

Leake is the only starter to have worked more than once with Fryer as the catcher.  In those two starts, Leake threw 12 innings, serving up 4 home runs and lost his only decision.  His ERA in the games Fryer started is 6.75.  Last night was his fifth start with Molina behind the plate.  Mike Leake is now 1-2 with a 4.45 ERA in those games.  He has pitched 30.1 innings in those games allowing just 2 home runs.

Tyler Lyons

Batters were 0-for-3 against Tyler Lyons last night once they got two strikes on them.  Lyons has now put 25 batters into 2-strike counts this season.  They are 0-for-24 with one walk.

The Cardinals punctuated their victory with four more home runs.  They now have 48 after 33 games and 1150 team at bats.  It took them 63 games and 2,119 at bats to hit 48 home runs last year.  Matt Reynolds hit that home run in the fourth inning of a June 15th game off of Minnesota’s Trevor May.

Last year they never hit more than 4 home runs in a game (and only did that once), while managing multiple home runs in a game just 36 times.  They had 7 other games where they hit three home runs.  Last night’s game was the Cardinal’s 13th multiple home run game of the year, the sixth time already this year that they have hit at least 3 home runs, and the fourth time that they have hit at least four.  They also have had a five home run game and a six home run game.

Garcia Dominates Milwaukee

In the best game of his career (a 7-0 domination of Milwaukee), Jaime Garcia pitched the Cardinals to their fifth win in the last six games.  A look at some of the numbers from the hot streak.

Matt Carpenter

While much credit for the recent surge in offense has deservedly gone to Hazelbaker and Diaz, let’s not overlook the turnaround from Matt Carpenter in the leadoff spot.  Billed in the offseason as baseball’s most dynamic leadoff man, Carpenter has been among the many to thrive since the team left Pittsburgh.  With two more doubles yesterday (and another hit by pitch), Matt is 8 for 23 (.348) in his last 6 games.  5 of the hits have been for extra-bases (3 doubles, a triple, and one home run).  Add in 3 walks and 3 HPB, and Carpenter’s slash line for his last 29 plate appearances is .348/.483/.696 with 8 runs batted in.

With his RBI double, Carp is now 5 for his last 7 with runners in scoring position.  Four of the five hits are for extra-bases.

Jeremy Hazelbaker

The league hasn’t quite caught up with Jeremy Hazelbaker yet.  With two more hits yesterday (including a home run), Jeremy now has hits in 11 of his last 22 at bats (.500), with 5 of them being extra-base hits (including 2 home runs).  He now has 6 RBIs in his last six games and a .955 slugging percentage since the team left Pittsburgh.  After going 7 for 12 with 4 extra-base hits and 3 RBIs in his first home series, the Brewers, for one, will be glad to be rid of him for a while.

Jeremy’s home run came on a 1-0 pitch.  Over the last six games, Jeremy is 9 for 12 (.750) when he hits one of the first three pitches thrown to him.  He is just 2 for his last 10 when the at bat stretches beyond 3 pitches.  The home run also came in the seventh inning.  Jeremy is 4 for his last 7 (including 2 home runs) in the seventh or eighth innings.

Randal Grichuk

It’s good to see the ball jumping off Grichuk’s bat.  Lucky two ways on his home run yesterday (lucky it wasn’t caught and lucky he wasn’t called out for passing Brandon Moss on the bases) Randall was nonetheless 2 for 3 and hit the ball hard.  He is now 3 for his last 4 with runners on base, and is 5 for 10 with a home run and 5 RBIs on the home stand so far.

Randal’s hits came in the second and third innings.  So far this year, Grichuk is 4 for 8 before the fourth inning and 2 for 16 thereafter.

With another walk yesterday, Randal Grichuk is now second on the team with 6, behind only Steven Piscotty, who has 7.  Randal hits mid-April with a .387 on base percentage and an .827 OPS.

Yadier Molina

Yadier Molina stayed hot with another 2 for 4 yesterday.  He is now 9 for 26 (.346) since the end of the Pirate series.  Molina was also 7 for 12 in the Milwaukee series.

Both of hits came with a runner on base.  Over the last 6 games, Yadi is 2 for 11 with the bases empty and 7 for 15 with at least one runner on.

Yadi’s seventh-inning single came on the first pitch thrown to him.  He is now 4 for his last 5 when hitting the first pitch.  That hit, coming with 2 outs, left Yadi 1 for 2 with 2-outs yesterday, and 5 for his last 10 when hitting with 2 outs.

Matt Holliday & Kolten Wong

Combining to go 0 for 6 yesterday, Matt Holliday and Kolten Wong haven’t prospered as much as the rest of the team has in these post-Pittsburgh days.  Holliday is now 5 for his last 22 (.227) with a .261 on base percentage, and Wong is 4 for 21 (.190) with a .190 on base percentage.  Kolten went 0 for 7 against Milwaukee.

Especially glaring for Holliday has been his recent struggles with runners in scoring position.  After ending the fourth inning by popping out with runners at first and third, Matt is now just 1 for his last 10 in RISP situations.

Kolten Wong did drive in a run with a sacrifice fly, but also flew out to end the seventh with runners on the corners.  He is now 0 for 11 this season with RISP and 0 for 16 with any runner on base.  He was 0 for 2 with 2-outs yesterday and just 1 for his last nine while trying to extend an inning.

Jaime Garcia

Twenty-four of the 29 batters that Garcia faced yesterday hit right-handed.  They went one for 23.  For the season, so far, righties (who hit only .218 against him last year) are just 5 for 39 (.128) – all singles – against Jaime.

Only 6 of Jaime’s starts last year came after a Cardinal loss.  He gave us 5 quality starts, a 3-0 record, and a 1.11 ERA in those games.  He is 1-0, 2.40 so far this year, as both of his starts so far this year have come after losses.

Only 3 of the 29 batters that Jaime faced extended the at bat for more than 5 pitches (they all struck out).  Through his first two starts, batters hitting his first pitch are 3 for 13 (.231).  Anyone who hasn’t hit Jaime’s first pitch is just 3 for 38 resulting in a slash line of .079/.163/.079 with 19 strikeouts.

Garcia, of course, had that rugged third inning in Atlanta when he gave up 4 runs on 5 hits and a walk.  In the 14 other innings that he’s pitched so far this year, he has allowed 1 single in 44 at bats (.023).  He has struck out 18 for the 47 batters he faced in those innings.

Overall

During their series’ against Atlanta and Milwaukee, the Cardinals have combined to hit .327, slug .576, reach base at a .404 clip, and score 8.67 runs per game.  After a 3 for 8 day with runners in scoring position, St Louis has punctuated its 5-1 run by hitting .375 (27/72) and slugging .639 with RISP.

Nine of the 11 Cardinal hits came in the 15 at bats that lasted 3 pitches or fewer (.600).  This included 5 of the 6 extra-base hits.

The late inning hitting continued yesterday as well.  With 3 hits in the seventh inning and another in the ninth, the Cards have a team slash line of .378/.459/.757 after the sixth inning of their last six games, scoring 20 runs in those innings.

With two more home runs yesterday, St Louis now has 11 for the season in 318 team at bats.  Their eleventh home run last season didn’t happen until game #15 (April 24), a sixth inning shot by Peralta against Garza in the team’s 501st at bat.  The Cards also added 4 more doubles (they now have 24 for the season), to push their team slugging percentage to .481.

Who Are Jeremy Hazelbaker and Aledmys Diaz

Less than two months ago, as the defending NL Central champs opened camp, the spotlight shone intensely on handful of critical body parts.  Yadi Molina’s thumb, Carlos Martinez’ shoulder, Jedd Gyorko’s glove and Jaime Garcia’s head dominated the news stories as Cardinal nation searched for reasons to be hopeful after an offseason that was regarded – by those outside the organization and clubhouse – as disappointing.  Out of the spotlight and under the radar, rookies Jeremy Hazelbaker and Aledmys Diaz labored in relative obscurity, hoping for just an opportunity to make the club.

Yesterday, as the Cardinal’s opened their home season, these two mostly unheralded rookies combined to go 7 for 9, with 3 doubles and a triple (12 total bases), 3 runs scored and 2 runs batted in to lead the charge in a 10-1 victory over Milwaukee.  The outburst gives the team three straight games in double figures for runs and 41 runs over the last four games that have been mostly dominated by Hazelbaker and Diaz.

OK, so let’s breathe here for a minute.  Diaz won’t hit .533 with a 1.067 slugging percentage for the season – just as Hazelbaker won’t finish at .526 and 1.053.  The league will make adjustments on them, and their futures as contributing big league players will depend on their ability to adjust – just as with every other player who manages to endure as a productive major league player.  That being said, there is no reason to assume that these players are merely April mirages.  Both have pedigree enough to suggest that this early success is more than just coincident hot streaks.  Diaz, of course, was a highly regarded veteran of the Cuban professional league when the Cards signed him two years ago, and Hazelbaker is a former fourth round draft pick who has always shown good power and great ability to steal bases in the minors, who hit .333 with a .594 slugging percentage in 200 AAA at bats last year.

There’s no reason to believe that these guys are not players.

Four games is an exceedingly small sample size.  As the season develops, the story will become more complete.  But, since the recent onslaught has been as unexpected as it’s been enjoyable, let’s take a peek inside these numbers and see what’s inside.

Jeremy Hazelbaker

Jeremy Hazelbaker certainly had an opening day to remember, going 4-4 in the midst of a 19-hit attack.  Jeremy has only started 3 of the last 4 games, but now has hits in 8 of his last 14 at bats (.571) with 4 runs batted in.

Jeremy’s early numbers speak of an aggressive hitter.  In his last 18 plate appearances he has swung at the first pitch 10 times (56%).  This includes 3 of his 5 plate appearances yesterday.  He is 4 for 5 when putting that first pitch in play.  The team as a whole only swung at the first pitch 29.5% yesterday ((13/44), and just 33% (61/185) over the last four games.  While the rest of the team has swung at slightly less than half the pitches thrown them, Jeremy has offered at 60.3% (38/63), an even higher percentage than Matt Holiday’s 56.3%.

Aledmys Diaz

After his 3 for 5 day, Aledmys Diaz – who the baseball gods demanded would get a shot this April – is on a 7 for 12 streak (.583) that began with his pivotal pinch homer in Atlanta and now includes 3 doubles and a triple.  Even though he has only started 2 of these last 4 games, he is still second on the team in RBI’s during the winning streak with 5.

In the early moments of his career, Diaz has also showed a surprising capability at hitting with two strikes.  He was 2 for 4 yesterday with 2-strikes on him.  Over his last 13 plate appearances, Diaz has hit with two strikes in seven of them, responding with 2 singles, 2 doubles and 2 runs batted in.  All of Diaz’ five plate appearances yesterday lasted at least three pitches, with three of them lasting five or more.  Beginning in Atlanta, Aledmys has seen at least three pitches in 10 of 13 plate appearances and at least 5 pitches 7 times.  When the announcers talk about Diaz’ veteran presence at the plate, this is the kind of this they are referring to.

Aledmys in the very early going also seems to have a very controlled swing.  In his five plate appearances, he swung the bat 11 times, putting the ball in play with five of those swings, fouling the pitch off five other times, and only missing entirely once.  This has been about what he’s done since he’s started playing regularly.  In his last 13 plate appearances, Diaz has swung at 24 pitches, resulting in 11 fouls, 11 balls in play, and only two swings and misses.  A couple thoughts on this.  1) Five of his seven hits have been for extra bases.  For a high-contact guy, he puts a charge into the ball.  2) This combination of taking pitches and putting the bat on the ball – if he can sustain it – would make Aledmys an ideal one or two hitter in the lineup.

In general, Milwaukee struggled to put the Cardinals away once they got two strikes on them.  The Cards responded with 9 hits (6 for extra bases) in 22 at bats with two strikes on them (.409).

Matt Carpenter

Behind the slugging rookies, the rest of the team is starting to put Pittsburgh behind them and join in the fun.  One of the most prominent is the resurgence of Matt Carpenter.  Leaving Pittsburgh 1 for 11, Matt has feasted on Atlanta and Milwaukee.  With his 2 for 4 yesterday, Carpenter is now 6 for his last 16 (.375), with half of his hits going for extra-bases and 6 RBIs during the winning streak.  He’s also walked twice and been hit by two pitches, so Matt’s on base percentage is .500 over his last 20 plate appearances.

Carpenter’s hits yesterday came in his only opportunities with runners in scoring position.  Since leaving Pittsburgh, Matt is 4 for 6 with RISP – a single, a double, a triple and a home run.

Steven Piscotty

Steven Piscotty has also left his season-opening 2 for 11 series at Pittsburgh behind.  He had two hits in the opener (both doubles), and has gone 7 for 18 (.389) with a home run, 4 RBIs, a .667 slugging percentage and a .500 on base percentage (courtesy of 4 walks) over these last four games.

Yadier Molina

Also having some fun yesterday was Yadier Molina, who went 3 for 4 with a double, a stolen base, a run scored and 2 RBI during the onslaught.  Yadi’s night featured going 2 for 3 with runners in scoring position.  He is now 3 for his last 6 in those situations.

Randall Grichuk

Randall Grichuk, who’s early season struggles have cost his some at bats to Hazelbaker, looked more confident at the plate, contributing a single, double, 2 more walks, 2 runs scored and his first RBI of the young season.

About those walks.  Grichuk had 5 plate appearances yesterday.  Once he hit the first pitch (for a single).  His other plate appearances lasted 5 pitches, 6 pitches (twice) and 9 pitches.  He now has 5 walks, none of them intentional, in his last 13 times up

Kolten Wong

Kolten Wong did add a sacrifice fly for his first RBI of the season, but his is the only bat that hasn’t joined in the fun of late.  Zero for 4 yesterday, Kolten is hitting just .222 during the streak (4 for 18) with 3 of those hits coming in one game.  Kolten is still looking for his first extra-base hit of the season.  Zero for 3 yesterday with runners in scoring position, he is also looking for his first hit in that situation.  He is 0 for 10 with RISP for the early part of the season.  Wong, in fact, is hitless in 15 at bats with any runner on base this year.  He is 6 for 12 with the bases empty.

The Team

With 19 hits yesterday, the team is now hitting .351 since leaving Pittsburgh.  A team whose offense was very much in question has responded with 23 extra base hits (6 of them home runs) and a .597 team slugging percentage over the last four games.  The run has been fueled by team-wide success with runners in scoring position.  They were 8 for 20 in those situations yesterday (with five of the hits being for extra bases), and 22 for 58 (.379) during the winning streak.  (9 of the hits have been for extra-bases and the Cards are slugging .621 during that span in RISP situations.

Six of St. Louis’ hits yesterday came in 13 at bats with two outs (.462).  During the winning streak, the Cardinals are hitting .370 (20/54) with two outs in the inning.  With 3 more yesterday, the team has 15 2-out RBIs over the last four games.  St Louis has also excelled in opening up innings.  Yesterday, they put the leadoff man on 5 times in the eight innings.  Two of them scored.  St Louis has successfully reached 17 of their last 35 leadoff hitters (.486) and scored 13 of them (76%).

A final efficiency note.  St Louis was 5 for 6 delivering the runner from third with less than two outs (and very efficient moving the runner to third with less than two outs).  This was frequently an area of difficulty when the offense struggled last year.  Since leaving Pittsburgh, they are 11 for 18 in bringing in that run with less than two outs.