At the Crossroads

It’s a part of life….reaching a crossroads……often in your job, sometimes in your friendships, sometimes in your hobbies, and its also true in the sports world.
…..with the arrival of Nolan Arenado and departure of Kolton Wong, the Cardinals & several players have reached a crossroads. The outfield status was “cleared” a bit by the departure of Dexter Fowler. But…. Tyler O’Neill & Harrison Bader have reached a crossroads in their career. Can either of them be a “regular” player? Both own tremendous physical attributes. Bader can “fly” on the bases & in the outfield while O’Neill looks like a weight-lifter with his huge body shape but really is an outstanding athlete. However…both have struggled batting in the MLB.
… Bader has 1050 AB in MLB….I feel like after 1000 bats, you have enough data to measure the real progress of a player…Bader posts a .234 avg, with on OB% of .322= OB%. Last year 13 of Bader’s 21 hits were for extra bases. . He’s whiffed it 306x…about 1/3 of his career AB’s. It’s clearly due to his inability to hit breaking balls. Take a look at his career to this point…against 881 sliders, he holds a .157 avg with a.270 slug. Against 456 curves, Bader’s batting .172 with a .232 slug. Now…I’ll admit…I love his speed. No one else on the team runs the bases close to him. In the OF, his speed provides him the chance to reach some fly balls that most can not reach. But…he does dive a great deal in CF for sinking line-drives….some think, too often! If he misses it, that single becomes a triple. At the plate, he’s just not putting the ball in play with enough frequency. Last year he struck out 40x in 125 plate appearance—32% of the time! You can’t use your speed racing back to the dugout after a strikeout😊 He’s 26 years old…should be in the prime of his career! He’s at a crossroads!
…O’Neill, a gold glove winner last year—covers lots ground while the ball is in the air but often…it seems.. his jerky glove movements as he catches the ball make me jittery. His batting is similar to Bader. He batted .173 last year with 5 doubles, 7 HR out of his 24 hits—so exactly 1/2 of his hits were extra base hits. His .173 avg coupled with his .261 OB% were discouraging. O’Neill is 25 years old.
…Basically, Dexter Fowler was moved to ensure playing time for Dylan Carlson. Carlson appeared overwhelmed in his 1st stint last year with StL. He played much, much better when he returned later in 2020. Nonetheless, he still held a sub-par .200 avg & OB% of .252 last year. He struck out 35 of his 110 AB! Generally, it was on breaking pitches. His OBP was actually lower than Bader & O’Neill. So…. While he’s much younger @ 22 and not quite at the same crossroads, the leash on Carlson may not be as long as normal since his OF comrades have been struggling at the plate. The Cards MUST have at least 1 strong batter in the OF.
…At a different crossroads, highly touted Nolan Gorman’s world was turned upside-down with the Arenado trade. Once listed as the 3B in 2022 for StL, he’s already made it known that he’d be willing to change positions to get playing time. Could he play 2B (move Edman to OF), or the OF? The Cards are sky high on his batting skills. If he can hit MLB pitching, he needs to be in the lineup. They can’t afford to waste a full year of Goldschmidt/Arenado alone carrying the load. They’ll be reaching their own career crossroads in a few short years. Arenado IS going to play every day. Either play or peddle Gorman!! With the paltry batting numbers of current Cardinals and his minimum level salary (not to be dismissed), now is the time to make a place for Gorman!
…..At a different crossroads after a herky-jerky, up-down last couple seasons is Carlos Martinez. For his first 4 years, he was exclusively a starter. 2016 was his best year…yep 5 years ago!… he was 16-9, 3.04 ERA in 31 starts. In 2017, he still racked up 205 innings but his ERA moved up to 3.64 and he faced a career high 858 batters in the season. He just couldn’t get out of innings quickly & easily. “Mechanical” issues began being heard about his delivery in ’17. Then, arm issues…these two are totally related. Less than a perfect release each pitch leads to more stress someplace else. In 2018, he had 18 starts & 15 relief appearances. Maybe the thought was that the shorter the performance …the less strain on the arm. In 2019, he was exclusively a bullpen man with 48 appearances as the closer. He pitched in 5 games in 2020 with horrid results… 0-3, 0 saves, 9.90 ERA before being shut down. The Cards have an inexpensive buy-out option after this year soooo…injury, ineffectiveness, unreliability…any or all will lead to his departure. He’s at a Career crossroads.
….At a different crossroad is Cuonzo Martin. This is Cuonzo’s 4th stop as a Head Coach. In 2011, he left Mo State after 3 years and his final year was his best 26-9. He went to Tennessee and left after his 3rd year (his best record there). At California, he departed after his 3rd year. Now, at Mizzou, he’s in his 4th year. This club is an “old” team. Check out their ages– Xavier Pinson-20, Dru Smith-23, Jeremiah Tilmon-22, Mark Smith-21, Javon Pickett-22. This is basically his starting lineup. Does it look like he’s coming back ? He struggles in the SEC where he’s 28-38 while @ Mizzou. Remember, Cuonzo’s Mizzou career began with the signing .. then leaving… of the highly recruited Porter brothers. It hasn’t worked out for him in Columbia and this seems to be his usual length of “tour” at a school.
….Are the Blues at a Crossroads with a couple of their forwards? Vlaidimir Tarenseko is now in his 9th year with the Blues @ 29 years of age. His most productive years were at the ages of 23-25. This is no surprise. In an article that I wrote a few years ago, scientists’ chart that we reach our highest physical abilities at 23 year of age. A nagging, persistent shoulder injury seems to have played a larger role than we expected in Vlad’s play-both in quality & quantity. He only played in 10 games last year. Unsure of his reliability, the Blues bypassed him as one of the captains this year & Vlady was upset. He’d been there longer than some of the players who were named captains!But…it’s hard to be a team leader when you aren’t on the ice. Then there’s Klim Kosten. Still just 20 years old, he was drafted by the Blues as a highly touted scoring forward from Russia. The Blues on-off again scoring from the forwards mandates some changes. Kosten was more highly regarded in recent years than some of the younger Blues forwards currently on the team. In addition…the Western Division plays a more wide-open style. Btw….did someone flunk geography in the NHL? How is it that St Louis is in the Western Division and Dallas in the Central?
….in a different blue uniform, Coach K is at a crossroads in his career. Now 74 years old, his Duke team is struggling to stay afloat in the .500 waters. His club is 8-8 currently. When I saw him during a game, he looks to be in agony. He’s had a unbelievable career—5 NCAA championships, over 1000 Duke wins, 35 NCAA tourney appearances (most of any coach), National Coach of the Year-12x and many, many more accolades but….. Is it time?
…Well…I’m at a crossroads right now….time to “close it up”. Thanks for the read & pass the word to any of your “sports” oriented friends/family. They can find it on my Facebook page (Bob Ryan)