Much has been said about the success of the Cardinals’ bullpen this postseason. It’s hard to imagine Saint Louis-ans still enjoying baseball this late in October had the likes of Ryan Franklin, Miguel Batista, P.J. Walters, Brian Tallet, and Trevor Miller still been employed. But then again, the Cardinals never would have made the playoffs without drastic upgrades in the bullpen (Dotel and Rzepczynski), rotation (Edwin Jackson), and at shortstop (Rafael Furcal). Per Buster Olney on Twitter yesterday, TLR echoed these sentiments by conceding that the team would have struggled to stay above .500 without said reinforcements.
Let’s take a look at the impact of these guys down the stretch. For the pitchers, I’m choosing to use rWAR (baseball-reference) since it uses ERA instead of FIP. This is appropriate for evaluating the impact these players had in August and September. Fangraphs’ WAR (fWAR) would be better suited for evaluating future value since it uses FIP, a better predictor of ERA than ERA itself (unless you’re talking about larger sample sizes).
Edwin Jackson: Accumulated 0.8 WAR in 12 games started (78.0 IP). Despite boasting a lower ERA after switching to the National League, other statistics suggested he actually pitched worse. Jackson struck out fewer batters (5.9 K/9; 7.18 K/9 with Sox) and generated 7-8% fewer ground balls. He did maintain his improved control (2.65 BB/9).
Marc Rzepczynski: Accumulated 0.1 WAR in 28 appearances (22.2 IP). In contrast to Jackson, Scrabble’s (tired of carefully typing his real name) ERA inflated after joining the Cardinals. However, he struck out more batters (11.12 K/9; only 7.55 K/9 with Jays) and maintained an impressive ground ball rate (63.2%). He did struggle a little with his control, adding an extra BB/9 to his walk rate. Even though he suffered 5 meltdowns (4 shutdowns), he was clearly a better option than Miller or Tallett, both of whom were eventually released by the Jays.
Octavio Dotel: Accumulated 0.2 WAR in 29 appearances (24.2 IP). Dotel pitched out of his mind after arriving in St. Louis as his modest 3.28 ERA doesn’t even begin to tell the story. He’s always been able to miss bats (career 10.91 K/9), but he improved his strikeout rate on the Cardinals (11.68 K/9) while also drastically improving his control (only 1.82 BB/9 compared to career rate of 4.01 BB/9). All of that combined for a stellar 1.57/2.31 FIP/xFIP.
Arthur Rhodes: Accumulated 0.1 WAR in 19 appearances (8.2 IP). Rhodes signed on to fill the other obligatory left-handed specialist spot in the bullpen and pitched like you’d expect a 41-year-old to pitch in the big leagues (5.90/4.77 FIP/xFIP).
Rafael Furcal: Accumulated 0.9 WAR in 217 plate appearances. Furcal’s .323 wOBA didn’t exactly light the arch on fire, but it didn’t need to when he was replacing Ryan Theriot (.292 wOBA) at shortstop. And the offensive upgrade wasn’t as obvious as the defensive improvement. While FanGraphs’ UZR ranked them closer than expected with the glove, Total Zone graded Theriot to be worth 8 runs below average while Furcal was good for 2 runs above average in considerably fewer innings at the position. Furcal accumulated more WAR for the Cardinals despite having 250 fewer plate appearances than Theriot.
Total: All in all, 2.1 WAR is represented here. That sounds pretty modest, but when you consider the guys they were replacing (arguably below replacement level talent), the impact was likely more profound. Trever Miller and Brian Tallet combined for -0.5 WAR during their time in St. Louis. And it wasn’t just the Cardinals that gave up on them: Tallet threw all of 0.1 inning before being released by the Jays while Miller only logged 3.2 innings before his release. Miller caught on with the Red Sox but he only threw two more innings in Boston. Dotel replaced P.J. Walters who spent most of August and September with Toronto’s triple-A affiliate.
What about the position players?
Furcal’s predecessor at shortstop (Ryan Theriot) had a 0.5 WAR through July. While his offense never significantly improved, defensive metrics (UZR and Total Zone) graded him as above average at 2nd base. So Theriot was transformed from an everyday liability into a serviceable part-timer. FanGraphs’ UZR grades Furcal to be nearly as bad defensively as Theriot. Honestly, that seems way off. According to Baseball-Reference – which incorporates Total Zone Rating into its WAR system – Furcal had a much larger impact in his short time with the Cardinals (1.4 WAR).
In center field, the Cardinals replaced Rasmus – who played below replacement level for the remainder of 2011 (-0.5 WAR) – with Jon Jay, who racked up 0.8 WAR over the season’s final two months. That’s a pretty significant swing in terms of 2011 outcomes. Now, as Marc Normandin outlined yesterday at SB Nation, Rasmus does have a much higher ceiling than Jay, so he may still develop into the better player, but that didn’t happen this season. Time will have its say.
Earlier in the season, I had this to say following Rasmus’ departure:
Do the Cardinals have a better chance of winning the NL Central in 2011? Probably. Have they sacrificed their ability to do so in 2012 and beyond? Perhaps considerably.
Given Colby Rasmus’s ceiling, I’m not ready to abandon that statement, but it is hard to imagine things falling into place any nicer for John Mozeliak. Having considered all of the above factors, I think it’s reasonable – if not conservative – to suggest that the above moves added 3 or 4 wins to the Cardinals’ 2011 record. At the same time, I’m not sure that Mo’s activity at the trade deadline should serve as a blueprint for other GMs around the league.
Jayson Stark had an article at ESPN earlier today that contained the following quotes from Mozeliak:
“So we just had so many questions about what 2012 would look like,” Mozeliak said, “we felt like now was the time to go for it.”
“I felt like it was aggressive, to try to do it. I know it wasn’t the most popular move. And I’m sure, if we don’t qualify for the postseason or we’re not playing here in mid-October, then yeah, you’re open to criticism. But I also know, if we don’t take risks, we’re probably not here, anyway.”
Mozeliak’s concern about the future should have provided all the more initiative to keep Colby Rasmus. He is under control for three more seasons and has the potential to develop into an impact player. In general, it’s not prudent to ransom the future by selling off one of your only cost-controlled position players when you’re worrying about where all of your other chips may fall. It’s easy to wonder if Mo’s hand was forced by TLR who openly criticized Rasmus one day before the trade. My guess is that TLR is likely to return in 2012 since he has the chance to rank 2nd in all-time managerial wins. Did Mo really want to manage this volatile relationship for another year? And Rasmus didn’t exactly help his cause when he requested a trade in 2010 anyways.
If you can’t tell, I still have mixed feelings about this whole thing. I worry about TLR’s ever growing influence in the front office and his ability to strong arm players out of the organization. There’s still the sense that something isn’t right between the player development system and big league personnel. And I’m still not confident in Mo’s overall decision making process or negotiating abilities. For every solid trade/signing (Holliday), there’s been some real head scratchers (Pedro Feliz) thrown in there.
I don’t know. All of these anxieties seemed much more valid before the Cardinals were about to play the Texas Rangers in the World Series. Now it just makes me seem like a killjoy. Mozeliak’s moves allowed the team to make a run this year. And even the most ardent critic of TLR has to pause for a moment and wonder how they got here, right? The man – and this team – deserves some serious credit. You’re familiar with all of the hurdles they encountered along the way. Wainwright’s injury. Franklin’s implosion. TLR’s shingles. Holliday’s injuries. Pujols’s wrist. Craig’s knee. Duncan’s extended absence to comfort his wife who had a brain tumor removed. And yet here they are. It’s time to put the nay-saying aside. And enjoy the ride. I know I am.