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Musings on the Cards Moves

December 12, 2010

I haven’t really formed a powerful opinion of the Card’s off-season.  All of the moves have really been “eh” moves.  They’re fine on the face, but not likely to substantially improve the club.  I’ll take the two major moves in order.

Trading Blake Hawksworth for Ryan Theriot:

Giving away the Hawk doesn’t bother me too much.  He’s pretty much “just a guy”; an o.k. piece to have around, but replaceable in an instant.  This move boils down to whether you see Theriot as an improvement over Brendan Ryan or not.  Basically you’re taking playing time away from someone who is likely to be a +10 to 15 defender with -15 to -20 bat for someone that will be a -5 to -10 fielder and a -10 to -15 bat.  Seems to be to be a horizontal move at best, with a definite possibility to be a downgrade.

In order of preference, I think Theriot would best be deployed

  1. Starting ~20 games at 2nd and ~20 games at SS; and would be the guy to take over if either got injured (This assumes a competent 2nd baseman; which the Cards lack)
  2. Starting ~130 games at 2nd (this is actually the best for the Cards since they lack an actual 2nd baseman)
  3. Starting ~130 games at SS

So the Cards are going to pick the worst option (where they likely have the best player already in place).

Signing Lance Berkman:

At least Berkman brings something the Cards don’t have too much of; a high OBP bat.  Clearly the question here is can Berkman hit enough to overcome what will likely be large defensive shortcomings?  Assuming health (clearly a big assumption, but if not healthy then all that is lost is $8M)  I think we’re looking at something like a 0.375 wOBA with the error bars being ~0.015 to 0.020.  For him to be a 2 WAR guy with that kind of offense he’d need to be about a -10 defender.  Is that possible?  Probably.  Likely?  Don’t know, my guess would be no.

All in all it appears the Cards made two depth moves.  The problem is they are being spun as more than that.  The question is, “Will they need to be more than that?”.

Will Boog and/or Theriot Rebound Offensively in 2011?

December 4, 2010

First of all, go read Fungoes’ excellent take on the Cardinals’ decision to replace Brendan Ryan with Ryan Theriot in 2011.

Having realized that each player had terrible offensive seasons in 2010, I wanted to take a look at which player was more likely to rebound in 2011 given batted ball data from FanGraphs.  As Joe Strauss pointed out in his most recent chat, exercises like this may prove futile in that the Cardinals’ decision to trade Brendan Ryan is rooted in far more than statistics.  About the Theriot acquisition and its implications for Ryan, Strauss wrote:

He IS an offensive upgrade over a guy who hit .223 last season and was twice benched by his manager for pouting. I’m a Ryan honk due to his spellbinding defense. But those who base their opinion on Ryan’s .292 average in 2009 are missing it. This isn’t solely a statistical issue. It’s also a clubhouse matter.

I’m averse to making personnel decisions based on team chemistry as I’m among those that believe team wins breed chemistry rather than vice versa.  Strauss is probably right in reporting that the decision was more of a, “clubhouse matter,” but that doesn’t mean Mozeliak is justified in his decision to replace Ryan with Theriot at shortstop.  He must believe that Ryan/Theriot would approximate equal value in order to consider Theriot’s character as the tipping point.  Theriot clearly isn’t going to eclipse Ryan’s value defensively, so Mozeliak must believe that Theriot’s offensive contributions will be significant enough to disregard Ryan’s defensive prowess.

Could the Cardinals be expecting too much out of Theriot?  After all, he generated a career-worst .286 wOBA in 2010 and has only posted above average offensive numbers once (2008) when given more than 500 AB’s; even in that season, he was only one percent greater than league average (101 wRC+).  Of course, Ryan’s .256 wOBA indicated even more pathetic offense.  The below table displays each player’s 2010 batted ball data with the numbers in parentheses representing career norms minus 2010 rates.  Let’s see if either player is due for upward regression given unlucky results.

2010 Batted Ball Data (Career – 2010)
Player BABIP BB K LD GB FB IFFB
Ryan .253 (.039) 6.8% (-0.2) 13.7% (0.1) 17.9% (0.7) 47.2% (2.2) 34.9% (-2.8) 12.2% (-0.1)
Theriot .305 (.011) 6.4% (1.9) 12.6% (0.04) 19.6% (1.5) 54.1% (-1.7) 26.3% (0.02) 4.6% (0.9)

Theriot’s career offensive season was largely predicated on a solid 11% walk rate and impressive 23.2 LD%.  The Cardinals can’t bank on Theriot being a very disciplined hitter since his walk rate was 2.6% above career norms in 2008.  Although his annually high LD% is encouraging, his BABIP didn’t really suffer in 2010 despite hitting 1.5% fewer line-drives.  Whereas hitting more ground balls isn’t necessarily a bad thing for a player with decent speed, grounders don’t result in hits as frequently as liners.  Theriot’s 2010 batted ball data doesn’t suggest unluckiness; rather, his numbers were more or less representative of his overall skill set.  For what it’s worth, Bill James does project Theriot to regain some patience at the plate in 2011 (8.3% BB), but I’m not so optimistic as Theriot has seen fewer pitches within the strike zone while walking less often every year since 2008.

Brendan Ryan, however, had a huge disparity in 2010’s BABIP, losing thirty-nine points from his career norm.  Some of this was undoubtedly due to hitting more balls in the air, not a positive development given Ryan’s lack of power.  But even after replacing more than two percent of ground-balls with fly-balls, 39 points is too big of a discrepancy to explain away his decrease in BABIP altogether.  I also wonder how much of Ryan’s struggles can be attributed to experimenting with various batting stances throughout the 2010 season.  Instead of vowing to return to his 2009 batting stance, Ryan continues to tinker with new ideas such as choking up on the handle, using a bigger bat, and following through with two hands for at least 1,000 swings.  Therefore, any team relying on him will have to accept his inconsistent approach at the plate or convince him otherwise.  Regardless, he’s due for some positive regression.

Offense be damned, Ryan was still worth 1.0 WAR in 2010 (according to FanGraphs) thanks to 11.5 fielding RAR while Theriot accumulated 0.0 WAR in time split between the Cubs and Dodgers.  Had Theriot spent more time at SS, he would have gained a couple of runs in the positions adjustment, but his overall value still would have fallen short of Ryan.  This gap would have been even larger had Ryan not hit into such poor luck in 2010.

Combine all of this with the reality that Ryan is three years younger and roughly $2 million cheaper, and I don’t see how replacing him with Theriot makes sense financially or competitively.  I’m trying to withhold judgment since other moves could still be made… but I’m haunted by a similar anticipation that was met by the acquisition of Pedro Feliz following the departure of Ryan Ludwick last July.

PAH9 Roundtable Discussion: Cards Prospect Man Crush

November 27, 2010

The discussion question of the day is who is your prospect man-crush (non Shelby Miller division, we all have man crushes on him)?

Steve: My prospect man crush is Matt Carpenter, which would have been a lot less cliche if we had done this before he was announced the systems minor league player of the year.  That said I did rank him 3rd on my UCB prospect list.  I like Carpenter because he has been fairly productive at every level he’s played while playing a position that is not value sucking on the defensive spectrum.  Last season Carpenter put up an 0.889 OPS across high A and AA based on a solid OBP and some (albeit not a lot) power.  Additionally in the one season that he has total zone data for, Carpenter was well above average at each stop.  Putting together an advanced plate approach with a solid fielder at his position and you have the recipe for a league average player.  I put together a quick projection during the season using MLEs and came up with something like ~1.8 WAR next year if he were to get everyday playing time in the majors.  At worst he appears to be a good backup plan for Freese’s ankles.

Andy: Being that Carlos Matias has yet to throw a professional pitch outside of the DSL, I’ll take a cold shower and anoint Aaron Luna as my prospect man crush.  From 2009 (3 levels: A, A+, AA) to 2010 (2 levels: AA, AAA), the 23-year-old improved his walk rate by 4.4% and decreased his strike-out rate by 1.1% while posting an impressively nerdy .262/.415/.455 line that was good for a .416 wOBA.  Though the organization flirted with the idea of having Luna play second base for one season, this experiment was abandoned in 2010 and he returned to the corner outfield, spending nearly equal time in left and right fields.

Despite legitimate skepticism regarding Luna’s hit by pitch totals (24 and 28 HBP’s in 2009/2010 respectively), his ability to reach base is encouraging, especially within an organization lacking dependable OBP players to bat first and second in the order ahead of Pujols.  Though his ceiling may not be much more than a 4th OF type, he may quickly approximate a less powerful but more disciplined Allen Craig, which is a valuable commodity when you are paying the league minimum for his services.  Hopefully, this will allow Cardinals’ brass to regard Jay/Craig as the expendable cost-controlled players rather than Rasmus (let me dream).  You can read a more in-depth summary of Luna’s minor league career to date in a recent entry at Future Redbirds.  The Jack Cust comparison made in that article is probably unfair in that Luna’s ceiling for OBP matches Cust’s floor; also, Luna is probably better defensively, makes better contact, but is considerably less powerful.

Erik: As the godfather of Future Redbirds you might think this one would have been a slam dunk for me,  but I really struggled over who to pick. The prospects on the radar – Miller, Cox, Matias and so on are there for good reasons, and I don’t have any one player I think of as a big sleeper or personal cheeseball. I guess if I have to pick one player that I like more than most,  and someone I think that could be underrated, it’s the Cardinals 4th round pick of this past draft, catcher Cody Stanley. The fine nerds at College Splits rated him the 2nd best catcher in the draft. Stanley does everything rather well. He’s good at stopping the running game, he hit well in college and hit for a .397 wOBA in his pro debut, albeit in short season A ball. He’s just a solid, all around player at a premium position, which is enough for me to rate him as my man-crush.

PAH9 Roundtable Discussion: Is Ted Simmons Hall Worthy?

November 21, 2010
Photo of the interior of the Baseball Hall of Fame

Image via Wikipedia

Erik: The Veteran’s Committee has some interesting choices to make this winter with 12 people on their ballot, including former Cardinal great Ted Simmons. The backstop with the caveman hair of amazing-ness never got the credit he deserved, having played his career in the shadow of Johnny Bench, Carlton Fisk and Gary Carter.  Simmons also played for some forgettable Cardinals teams and suffered a bum wrap for his defense, which I don’t think is as horrible as critics make out.

I’ve covered Simba in more depth in an earlier post. Then I thought he wasn’t quite up to snuff, but I’ve softened my stance. Why? Simmons ranks 9th among catchers on Baseball Reference‘s WAR leader board. The 8 players ahead of him: Bench, Pudge Rodriguez, Fisk, Gary Carter, Yogi, Piazza, Bill Dickey and Mickey Cochrane, all Hall of Famers or very likely future Hall of Famers. A total of six 6 Hall of Fame catchers are below Simmons. My objection to Simmons making the Hall might be that out of the 21 seasons he played, only 6 of them were seasons he posted 4 WAR or higher. He also never really had an MVP caliber-season, although he was excellent in ’77-’78. ( around 6 WAR per season)

To close, he’s no slam dunk, but because Simmons was a one of the best offensive catchers ever to play the game, I say “aye” for induction, not that it matters. What say you fellas?

Andy: I won’t pretend to be an expert on Hall of Fame credentials and who is deserving of entry, but type, “catcher hall of fame standards,” into Google and the first result is an article about Ted Simmons’ worthiness.  Maybe it’s because I sought out sabermetric analysis, but it seems just as hard to argue against Ted Simmons’ credentials than deny him HOF enshrinement.  Some argue that he spent too much time playing DH/1B to be considered a full-time catcher, but his numbers were slipping when he occupied the DH spot in the latter years of his career.  It’s not as if he was just padding his statistics during those years.  In fact, Simmons actually lost 26.8 batting RAR from 1984-1988.  Offensively, Simmons posted a career wOBA (.346) right in line with Fisk (.354) and Carter (.341).  Although Carter and Fisk’s defense are universally regarded as better than Simmons, I feel uncomfortable denying him entry into the HOF based on defensive metrics that are even more tenuous for catchers than other defenders.  Thinking more like the voters, Simmons’ traditional stats even seem HOF worthy.  Judged against his peers (Berra, Fisk, Carter, and Bench), Simmons tied Berra for the highest AVG (.285) and only trailed Berra in RBI’s.  I see how voters would be on the fence about his induction, but he certainly deserves more consideration than he’s received to date.  If I had to go one way or another, I’d vote yes.

Steve: Like Andy, I’m not a Hall expert, but I do have access to Baseball Reference just like my two colleagues.  As Erik mentioned, Simmons sits behind only Hall of Famers on the career totals for catcher rWAR.  I think this graphic portrays the situation rather well

The graph shows the WAR totals (ranked best season to worst season) of the players 2 above and 2 below Simmons on the career catcher rWAR list.  As mentioned, Dickey and Cochrane are in the HOF, as is Hartnett.  It seems to me that Simmons is in a dead heat with those that are in the Hall (I’d say he’s better than Hartnett, with the other two questionable).  My personal opinion is that none of these guys probably should be in the hall, but that’s an argument for a different day.  Given that 3 of the 5 are though, and have set the standard for inclusion, I have to vote yes on Simmons as well.

Mozeliak’s 2011 Wish List: Part 1

November 14, 2010

Here at PAH9, we’re going to start a series of posts in which a question is asked about various baseball topics (mostly Cardinals related though we may dip into other MLB subjects such as the major awards) and each contributor will offer their opinion.  Hope you enjoy the first installment.

Right before the end of the season, Bernie had an article that detailed John Mozeliak’s wishlist for 2011 in which Mo first mentioned desiring, “…a couple of guys who can hit 15-20 homers.” Now that the hot stove season is officially burning up, who do you see as legitimate free agent possibilities? Who would be your number one choice?  I dealt with this a little bit already in this post.

Below is a table with those free agents who hit at least 15 home runs in 2010; I made exceptions for a few players who had high home run totals despite accumulating few at-bats and those that have a history of hitting more than 15 but didn’t for whatever reason last year.  Taking a look at such hitters is reasonable since the Cardinals are presumably trying to lock up Pujols long term and will try to save as much money as possible when filling other needs.  In the UZR/150 column, I used players’ total defensive RAR (not per 150 innings) for utility players logging innings at multiple positions.  Lastly, I eliminated all 1B/DH types because they don’t have a place on this team, mang.

2010/2011 Free Agents
Player HRs wOBA UZR/150 WAR
Carl Crawford 19 .378 21.2 6.9
Jayson Werth 27 .397 -7.2 5.0
Adam Dunn 38 .379 -3.3 3.9
Adrian Beltre 28 .390 12.7 7.1
Manny Ramirez 9 .382 -20.9 1.6
Juan Uribe 24 .322 6.8 3.2
Aubrey Huff 26 .388 6.7 5.7
Magglio Ordonez 12 .375 2.8 2.5
Bill Hall 18 .342 -7.3 1.0
Miguel Tejada 15 .306 -6.8 1.3
Ty Wiggington 22 .316 -7.7 0.3
Brad Hawpe 9 .330 -10.0 0.5
Jorge Cantu 11 .305 -7.2 0.0
Andruw Jones 19 .364 0.7 1.8
Jose Guillen 19 .321 5.8 0.9
Austin Kearns 10 .334 -1.8 1.5

Andy: It’s always good to start with a process of elimination.  On whom will the Cardinals NOT spend money?  Exit Crawford, Werth, and Beltre.  Next, we can rule out any outfielders unwilling to accept a bench role if we’re comfortable with a cost-efficient platoon of Jay/Craig in RF (are we?).  Exit Manny Ramirez (but gosh how I’d love to hear the Busch Stadium jeers turn into cheers) and Adam Dunn.  The most obvious choice is Miguel Tejada, for whom TLR has been a long time advocate.  I’m sure that Mozeliak will kick the tires on this possibility but I’m hopeful that he resists the urge to placate the manager once again by adding another veteran (see Miles, Winn, and Suppan) whose ceiling offers average contributions at best.  Such an acquisition runs the risk of being advertised as SS/3B insurance but, in actuality, enables TLR to deprive Ryan, Freese, and Greene of at bats.  I don’t like the inconsistency of Hall or Cantu.  Wiggington’s bat has been useful in the past and he is supposed to play several positions… but UZR rates him dreadfully at every infield position and other metrics aren’t much kinder.  This seems to leave us with Juan Uribe who I trashed in the post linked to above.  Though his home run totals look better than his actual offensive output, Uribe’s fielding has been surprisingly steady (at 2B, SS, and 3B) over the years… which suggests that he would also be a fit for Mo’s vow to improve infield defense.  Remember, 1.0 WAR on the free agent market is generally valued at approximately $4 million.  Having posted ~3.0 WAR seasons for the past two years, Uribe should easily be worth his contract assuming it doesn’t exceed the $3-4 million neighborhood he received in 2010.

Erik: I’m with Andy, Uribe makes a lot of sense for a lot of the reasons I thought Felipe Lopez made sense last year. Unfortunately, Flip flopped, but I think Uribe is a relatively safe bet to hit some dingers and play a decent enough defense at several different positions. He has his shortcomings – OBP – but he has been worth about 3 WAR per season the past two seasons. Of course the previous two seasons, he was worth only .5 WAR. He could be a little overvalued now in this market, but he makes a lot of sense for the Cardinals given their needs. Bill Hall might be Uribe light, and at a fraction of the cost, but it’s hard to see him as anything more than a spare part.

Having watched quite a few White Sox games this past season, I guess wouldn’t mind seeing Andruw Jones if it’s on the cheap. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want him to be signed because that  means blocking Allen Craig, but I won’t cry if the Cardinals did sign him. Jones is always swinging for the fences, and I have some sort of odd feeling he’d be a fit under McGwire, not that Big Mac is some sort of fix-all. I’m just saying I have a hunch. Andruw still has some power and a cannon of an arm in RF, and Jones and Jay could form a decent platoon.

Steve: Just to try and change things up I thought long and hard to come up with a name that isn’t Juan Uribe.  That said, my amigos above know what they are talking about and he is pretty obviously the best option of those listed.  I think Cardinal nation would be extremely happy if he were picked up to be a infield depth guy with the chance to step in and start at various positions when needed.  As Erik said he’s basically a power hitting version of Flip, with a little better defense.

I think the other options to add power are probably either redundant (Hall = Tyler Greene, Kearns=Allen Craig), out of the Cards price range (those Andy mentioned), or just not a great fit.  If Uribe goes somewhere else the Cards would likely be best served to try and add OBP and defense instead of 15+ HRs.

Pitching Prospects

November 5, 2010

Over in the comments at VEB I posted a notional chart that attempts to illustrate the “there’s no such thing as a pitching prospect” adage.  The basic idea behind the chart is that pitching prospects will have a lot more variance in their projection that would hitters.  This additional variance leads to a lower mean projection if you want to assume that two players have the same peak and same peak probabilities (i.e. both have the potential to be 6 WAR players).  Here’s the chart I used to illustrate my point (the values are completely notional)

In this case the red is the position player and the blue is the pitcher.

Chasing Edgar

November 3, 2010

Everyone has probably heard enough about the World Series MVP, Edgar Renteria, by now,  but here’s a quick chart I threw together depicting WAR generated from the SS position for the Cardinals since 2002 (just click the image for a larger version).

Much has been made of the revolving door at 2B and the curse plaguing 3B since Scott Rolen’s departure, but the Cardinals have had a difficult time replacing Renteria’s production at SS since Boston lured him away from Saint Louis following the 2004 World Series (as if the four game sweep and Fever Pitch production weren’t heart breaking enough).

Since Edgar’s peak years (2001-2003: 13.4 combined WAR), the Cardinals have been searching for someone to rely on at SS.  Most noteable: Not once has a Cardinals’ SS posted an offensive season half as valuable as Renteria’s bat in 2003 (31.5 RAR).  The closest was Renteria’s 2002 (14.5).  David Eckstein became a fan favorite but only achieved above average value once in 2005 (3.0 WAR); though he was still a bargain for the team if you consider the free agent market’s going rate for WAR (roughly $4 mil/1 WAR).  In 2009, Brendan Ryan BABIP’ed his way towards near average offense with a .324 wOBA while netting win via his glove as well.  Of course, Ryan’s offense crumbled in 2010.  Despite being even more valuable with the leather last season, he only accumulated 1 WAR total (otherwise known as the worst season represented in the graph above).  Let’s all cross our fingers and hope that Big Mac can inject (pun totally intended) a little more reliability into Brendan’s swing.  Boog could be a very valuable player if he just managed to muster something approximating league average offense.  Now who will hold his hand during ingrown toenail operations since the Braves claimed Joe Mather off waivers?

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