Every year, President of Baseball Operations for the St. Louis Cardinals, John Mozeliak, is gracious enough to take a few questions from us and he answers them. He has done this every year for several seasons and never fails to respond. After the season begins we will get an invite to Busch Stadium for a meeting with him and ownership. The Cardinals have always been cordial and receptive to the Cardinal bloggers.
Here are the complete questions and answers we received:
Colin Garner (Cards Conclave)
Q: Do you have an update on Ryan Helsley’s health? What’s his path to reach the majors in 2019?
A: Ryan Helsley is currently having a normal off-season. I recently checked in with our athletic training staff and they told me that he is training very hard. He’s had a very aggressive off-season and is looking forward to spring training. In terms of what he has to do to get to the big leagues, it’s really two-fold. First, he has to show he’s healthy and secondly, is his ability to throw strikes and pound the strike zone. If he does that, with the type of arm he has, I would imagine he would move quickly. When you look at where he was a year ago—and I brought his and Jordan Hicks’ name up at last year’s Winter Warm-Up as possible relief depth—a lot of people scoffed. The irony is I probably at the time had Helsley ahead of Jordan, but part of that was because of Helsley’s age and experience. Nonetheless, when we bring him into camp this spring we’ll try to stretch him out, give him innings, but ultimately it wouldn’t shock me if he ended up in the bullpen at some point.
Diane Schultz (Women Who Love Cardinals Baseball)
Q: How does the organization view Tyler O’Neill and his role heading into 2019?
A: I get this question a lot, in terms of Tyler and what he needs to do or what he needs to work on. Tyler doesn’t have a lot left to prove at Triple A. When you put up the type of offensive numbers he’s put up the last couple of years, it’s pretty obvious he knows what that league is about. I think the big question for him is will he be able to improve his contact rate? Lower his strikeout rate? And if he does that, will he still be able to maintain his power? If he does, he has a chance to be an elite hitter in this game. When he gets into camp that will be something we’ll revisit with him.
Tom Knuppel (CardinalsGM.com)
Q: Defensive metrics show the Cardinals were not very good in many categories. How does the team utilize defensive metrics and what can you do to help improve the defense?
A: When you’re thinking about defensive metrics, obviously they’re light years ahead of where they were 5, 6, 7 years ago. So our confidence on using that is significantly higher. But rather than bogging down on defensive metrics in terms of positioning players or how to strategize for a game, mostly what we use defensive metrics for—including our own internal—is to have a better understanding of how to value a player. I think we can all gravitate to an offensive player and understand why a player has value, but I think the defensive side of things sometimes get overlooked. So we’re just trying to bake that into more of our decision making and I think we’re doing a better job.
Now, when you talk about club defense and how do you improve it, I think one of the things you’ll see under Mike Shildt is a very strategic approach to how he thinks about it. The good news is we still have Jose Oquendo that’s going to be available in camp. Obviously, Ollie Marmol has learned a lot from him over the last couple of years and will utilize modern metrics, as well as traditional coaching strategies. But when you look at where this club is defensively to where we once were, adding Goldschmidt and having Kolten on the right side makes a significant improvement. Paul DeJong clearly showed he was a regular shortstop at the major league level. I have heard that some people have question marks with Carpenter over at third, but most defensive metrics show him as a solid third baseman. I think the big question is how will he throw? I do know this off-season this is something he is focused on. How he lifts, how he trains and his throwing program. Everything I’ve been told as we approach the Christmas holiday is that he has been very compliant, very disciplined and is feeling very good.
Doug Vollet (Baseball Geek In Galveston)
Q: Does Paul DeJong stay at shortstop long term or does he need to be shifted to a corner infield spot?
A: When you look at his offensive profile, he could probably play anywhere. But I think he did an outstanding job at shortstop. I think if we were sitting here a year ago, you could see why there were questions. But he spent his off-season last year making the most or what he needed to work on and I think he did a great job. Candidly, I think he’s taking the same approach this off-season, which we’re very excited about. Our staff and I have a lot of confidence he can stay at shortstop.
Q; The latest fad in baseball is focusing on bullpens and using “openers.” While we have some good starting pitchers, would going this route with certain pitchers, say, the recovering Alex Reyes, be a smart move?
A: I think it’s a great question, and one that I don’t know if there’s a perfect answer for. But to ask if we would consider going down that road with someone like Alex, I think the answer would be sure. You wouldn’t want to paint yourself into a corner where, if you thought there was a way you could keep Alex healthy, I think is in everybody’s best interest. As we approach Spring Training, keeping Alex healthy and how we can best utilize him is going to be on everybody’s mind. When you look at Spring Training and how he’s used early on, I think everybody has to be open-minded.
Tyler Kinzy (Vive El Birdos)
Q: To what extent has the advent of Statcast data (spin rate, launch angle, etc.) figured into the Cardinals’ player development program? Related to this, is there any update on the pitch lab in Jupiter that was mentioned to bloggers in April?
A: With respect to the pitching lab, it did not get done like we had hoped. It’s not for a lack of effort, but we were having trouble getting permits [for construction] in Jupiter. I do believe we will break ground on that as early as April of 2019, so that will move forward.
As for the Statcast data, we’ve started collecting data–whether its from high speed cameras utilizing Trackman or other technologies like Rapsodo, to incorporate those even before we get the lab up and running so we can hit the ground running once the project is completed.
Q: What restrictions do you anticipate being placed on younger pitchers like Jack Flaherty and Jordan Hicks to manage their workload in 2019?
A: When you look at young pitching, you want to be smart. Nothing is worse than having volume be what takes someone out of actually being in a game. Both Mike Maddux and Bryan Eversgerd are very aware of and focused on how we manage workloads. When you look at last year and think about how few pitchers actually got to the 200-inning mark, the game’s changing. Understanding how to manage a rotation is something that is continuing to evolve. The interesting thing is, when you have starters that take you deeper than say, two times through the order, there’s a fine line between success and failure. And that falls on the manager to make those decisions. But guys like Jack Flaherty, who from a physical standpoint is hitting his prime and is in peak condition, will be prepping himself for something north of 200 innings. When you start to see stress is when you have to make decisions.
Q: How would you assess the use of analytics in amateur scouting relative to the use of data and advanced metrics when evaluating professional players?
A: It’s very similar. Division I schools have more data available. When you start going backwards and talk about junior college or high school, it’s a lot more difficult. I do think a lot of the showcases now allow teams to capture data points that they didn’t use to have. But, the great thing about the Amateur Draft is its part art and part science. What I mean by that is, we have a lot of scientific information we can use for our decision-making but we still rely heavily on the scouts. Of course, that is a much more subjective model, but trying to ignore one versus the other can be very dangerous.
Tara Wellman (Birds on the Black)
Q: Did anything stand out this October about the “path to success,” so to speak, in the current MLB landscape?
A: Postseason teams had much more of a shutdown bullpen, so they could shorten the game. Of course, that is one of the things that we have been thinking of this offseason and how to address that. Part of its going to be some of the depth we have in our rotation—some of those young men will end up in our bullpen. Clearly, if we want to have true success in 2019 we have to make sure the bullpen is strong. But I would also add it needs to be flexible because bullpen usage is much higher now, so keeping fresh arms is something that is very relevant. Offensively, it’s part of the reason why we went out and got someone like Goldschmidt, to add to our lineup depth and make our lineup more feared.
Q: Beyond the prospects at the very top of the Cardinals rankings, are there any minor league players who are on the radar as potential impact players down the road?
A: When you look at the depth we have at the major league level, it’s hard to imagine anybody who’s going to be knocking down the door from a pitching standpoint. I would say Jake Woodford and Austin Warner are guys that might have a chance to contribute sometime this year. When you look at it from an offensive standpoint, Rangel Ravelo is someone who is very accomplished at the Triple-A level and is there if you need a bat. I also think Lane Thomas is someone that, when you look at where he was a year ago and what he did last year, probably one of the more asked about players this offseason—is someone that could contribute.
Daniel Shoptaw: (C70 At The Bat)
Q: While the budget is obviously a consideration, what other factors go into determining how hard you pursue a free agent?
A: First off, it’s based on need. Secondly, there are financial terms that need to be considered—length has to be considered. Then when you put all that together, then you have to understand what the risk is. When you’re putting together a roster, there’s a lot of different ways to do that—build from within, the trade market, the free agent mark—ignoring any of those is a prescription for failure. For us, although we haven’t had a ton of success on the free agent market in terms of our long-term commitments, it doesn’t mean were not willing to considered that. You also have to remain opportunistic. You think about Bud Norris for example, he was signed in early February and ended up being a very good signing for us. For us, it’s always about ‘is this the best place to be deploying your resources?’ and if so, then we should do it.
Q: What’s one baseball article/blog post you’ve recently read that you found interesting, even if it was completely wrong?
A: Of course, we all gravitate to articles about the organization or specifically some of the on-goings of what we’re doing in the offseason, but in fairness, I’ve always been one of those guys that found the blogger world to be pretty insightful. I don’t know if it’s necessarily a “wisdom of crowds” theory, meaning that sometimes it might be a much more concentrated opinion, if you will, on what they’re hearing, writing or theorizing about, but I do find it valuable. I think the Cardinals are lucky because we have so many different people that actually have an opinion about it. It can be helpful to have at least a pulse of what’s going on. Nothing jumps to my mind as I sit here right now with respect to a particular article/blog post, but I do feel that our bloggers that write about the Cardinals are helpful. I certainly encourage people to do that because I believe any type of excitement, whether it’s positive or negative, is good to have.
Mark Tomasik (RetroSimba)
Q: What’s one aspect about the Cardinals baseball operations department you wish more people would understand or appreciate better?
A: I feel like this day and age, our fan base understands why and how we make decisions. When you ask about a specific department, I think most people know who Randy Flores is as our Scouting Director, most people know who Gary LaRocque is as our Farm Director. Most people are aware of Luis Morales as our International Director, but he might have less recognition just because he works out of Jupiter (and not out of St. Louis), but that’s a department that if you look back just 5-6 years, between Luis and Moises Rodriguez, they’ve advanced that department light years. As a matter of fact, we have our first graduating class from high school in the Dominican Republic, I believe, on January 27th. When you think back 10-15 years ago, we weren’t even providing education, now we have young men graduating from high school. That’s just a great compliment to what those guys have done and also shows that we truly are invested in the Dominican, not just as a place to mine talent, but as a place to try to improve young men’s lives.
Q: How do you determine whether you’ve had a successful year with respect to player acquisitions?
A: Fair question. There’s a lot of questions of ‘how do you measure yourself?’ I think you have to have an honest assessment because not every decision we make works. When you look at the nature of player acquisitions, is it more of an aggregate question—did we have a winning season or did we get to the postseason—or is it more specific on individual decisions—were they successful or were they smart? One thing I think we do fairly well in this organization is we’re willing to ask those questions, willing to understand the why and not afraid to change. There’s a lot of things in this industry you might be a part of that you never actually do—in other words, you may be in negotiations where you hope to get a player, but you don’t. You think about ‘what was the strategy?’ How could we have done something different? The same can be said for the misses and the hits. There is the 50,000-foot view you can look at and there is the much lower, in the weeds approach. All those are fair approaches and I think we try to do both.
Thanks to John Mozeliak!