Five topics from columnist Ben Frederickson that St. Louis sports fans should be discussing:
1. BASEBALL BIBLE MISSED THE MARK
I'm a fan of Baseball Prospectus. The annual preseason book is a sacred bible for the dedicated baseball consumer. I learned from Post-Dispatch colleague Derrick Goold that it's very, very helpful to have a decade's worth of the editions stacked next to your writing desk, so you can grab one and flip to a page before searching every corner of the Internet when it's time to refresh the mind about a player. Plus, the PECOTA projections give us something to get fired up about as we wait for games that count. And I don't even mind the detours, the curveballs in the pages that occur when an entry is more of a riff than a rigid stats-based projection. That approach keeps things fresh. It can be fun.
But I have to say, Baseball Prospectus lost me when it came to the Cardinals this season. Especially its entry on comeback candidate Dexter Fowler. It reads:
The Cardinals' decision to move Fowler to right field during the winter of 2017-18 was fraught with risk. Fowler's weaknesses as a center fielder (a lack of confidence in charging ground-ball hits, a weak arm) could only be exacerbated by that change. Asking him to learn new angles and still cover an outfield spot didn't reduce the risk of injury to his lanky, sometimes-fragile frame, the way a transition to first base might have. Most importantly, however, the move sent a clear message to Fowler: one year into a five-year, he was being demoted and deprioritized. He also lost his place at the top of the batting order, forcing him to alter his approach at the plate. He tried to do so; he failed.
Then, amid a painful season with a player with a sterling reputation for clubhouse citizenship, Cardinals president John Mozeliak piled on, wielding harsh and implicitly racist remarks about Fowler's effort and focus. Fowler was unable to make the mental and physical adjustments necessary to succeed, but few players in recent memory have been more unfairly mistreated and misunderstood by their own team.
No mention of Fowler being, statistically, one of the worst hitters in baseball in 2018. No mention of Fowler's minus-18 Fielding Runs Saved as a center fielder in 2017, a number that improved quite a bit (to minus-5) after he was moved to right field. No mention of Mozeliak and Fowler repairing a relationship that was ruffled by the Mozeliak interview mentioned above, an interview that did call into question Fowler's effort, but offered no signs of racism — unless Mozeliak was also being racist toward Brett Cecil, whom he spoke about in even harsher tones that same season. No mention of the repeated chances Fowler received to turn his season around, including the one given by then-interim manager Mike Shildt, a chance that would have continued if Fowler's season had not ended in injury. And what is a popular story line this spring? Another chance for Fowler.
Here's hoping Fowler has a better season, for all involved.
This BP entry needed a better editor.
2. CUBS FALL FROM HIGH HORSE
On a similar note, does anyone remember all of the hemming and hawing that came out of Chicago when Fowler-gate was taking place last season? Media from the North Side was quick to cite all of the reasons this never would have happened with the Cubs. Careful, I warned then, because pro sports teams thumping their chests about a moral high ground almost always wind up looking foolish for that claim. The Cardinals saw it as the Cardinal Way got warped, thanks in part to former manager Mike Matheny. The meaning was distorted to go beyond baseball, and that came back to bite the Cardinals during the hacking scandal.
Let's check in on Chicago, shall we? The team's owner is choosing his words very carefully after his father's racially insensitive emails were leaked to the media. The team is fielding questions about its commitment to Addison Russell despite allegations of domestic violence. See what I mean?
3. BADER BECOMES BIGGER NAME IN NEW YORK
This offseason, it was MLB Network. Entering spring training, it was The Players' Tribune. A week or so into spring training, it's The New York Post. When is The Times going to arrange its Harrison Bader interview? The hard-charging, hair-flapping, headfirst-sliding new starting center fielder for the Cardinals took St. Louis by storm last season. Now the wave is reaching his hometown. That's how it works in New York, I guess. You make it big somewhere else before you move the needle back home. The latest Bader-related headline comes from Kevin Kernan. Don't miss him comparing Bader's playing style to the approach one must take to successfully board a subway car.
“Anything when it comes to the game, I just do on the aggressive side," Bader tells Kernan here. "I always like to apply pressure — whether it is an 0-2 rollover down the third-base line to beat it out, steal a bag and end up scoring. My game is getting on base and allowing the guys behind me to drive me in, somebody who sets a tone and brings energy on both sides of the baseball. That is the most important thing. Gotta be aggressive.’’
4. MORAL VICTORY AT MIZZOU?
Add this to the file reserved for reasons to be optimistic about Cuonzo Martin's program moving forward. The Tigers, using an increasingly young lineup as Kevin Puryear continues to fade, fought and clawed in a 66-58 loss to No. 4 Kentucky on Tuesday. Now, some context. The Wildcats' conference wins, of which there are 11 and counting, have come by an average of 15 points.
5. NO MOVES FOR THE BLUES?
I'm not the only one who thinks Blues general manager Doug Armstrong should not mess with a good thing as the NHL trade deadline nears — besides welcoming back David Perron when he's ready to roll. Here's ESPN hockey writer Emily Kaplan's take: A sizzling six-week stretch has the Blues (a team we left for dead) back in the mix. With goaltending settled, why mess with the chemistry here? This roster is good.