Andy Beard

Proud STL resident. Baseball enthusiast. Music lover. Theology thinker/reader. MA in Clinical Psych. Never met a pizza I didn't like.

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.

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?

On October 19, 2010, the Yankees had two outs in the sixth inning of game four of the ALCS.  They led by one (3-2) and had A.J. Burnett on the mound while Benjie Molina and his well below average regular season wOBA (.275) stepped in to the batter’s box (.275 wOBA).  It’s easy to question Girardi’s decision to intentionally walk David Murphy.  Generally speaking, it’s a poor tactical decision to give the opposing team free baserunners; there are very few situations in which statistics justify doing so.  Murphy’s regular season wOBA (.358) demonstrated that he was a much better hitter than Molina.  One can at least sympathize with Girardi’s temptation to give A.J. the easier assignment even if they wouldn’t have arrived at the same decision.  The tying run was already at second base after all and, according to the game log at B-R, the IBB only increased the Rangers’ chances of winning by two percent.

A closer look at the players’ batted ball data may have hinted towards the ensuing disaster that occurred.  A.J. Burnett’s fly ball percentage has been on an upward trend rising from 22.3% in 2005 to 37.5% in 2010.  More fly balls in the air mean an increased chance of home runs.  Put those fly balls in Yankee Stadium whose LF and RF fences are only 318 and 314 feet away respectively and one can imagine why he’s struggled to have as much success in New York.  Now consider the hitters.  Despite Murphy’s much more impressive wOBA, he only hit 36.5% fly balls in 2010 compared to Benjie Molina’s 48%.  Of course, Murphy’s fly balls (.449 SLG) generally had more authority than Molina’s (.326 SLG) but a fly ball down either foul line doesn’t exactly have to be a monster shot and, in other stadiums, might even be an out.  The next play was summed up best by this tweet for Cardinals fans who also happen to hate the Yankees.  As history would have it, Molina hit an improbable home run into the left field stands that damaged the Yankees chances’ to proceed to the World Series and sent the Rangers into Game 5 with a 3-games-to-1 lead.

Have you ever stopped to think how crazy it is that the Molina family can boast of three brothers who all play in the major leagues, all play the same position (catcher), and have all won World Series rings?  Now two of the brothers (Yadier and Benjie: click each name for clips) have hit memorable postseason home runs sending their respective teams to the World Series to defeat  New York on the exact same day (October 19) in the exact same city just four years apart.  Even the camera angles following Benjie around the bases were remarkably similar to the footage that captured Yadi’s trip around the diamond.

Below is a table detailing the postseason careers of Yadier and Benjie Molina.  Only offensive numbers are represented in the table as caught-stealing percentages for postseasons prior to 2010 were surprisingly difficult to locate.  In case you’re unfamiliar with wRC, it’s total runs created based on wOBA.  Clutch represents the player’s performance in high leverage situations compared to context neutral environment (from FanGraphs’ glossary page).  Remember: any player’s clutchiness has very little (none) predictive value as talented hitters perform better than poor hitters regardless of context; it simply describes what’s transpired to date.  Also, Jose Molina wasn’t included because he’s only accumulated eighteen postseason plate appearances to date.

Postseason Molinas
Year wOBA wRC WPA Clutch
2004 .127 -0.3 -0.22 -0.03
2005 .285 -1.2 0.19 0.35
2006 .405 11.1 0.55 0.27
2009 .303 1.3 -0.33 -0.23
Career .339 15.0 0.22 0.20
2002 .300 5.6 -0.38 -0.27
2004 .148 -0.2 -0.09 -0.05
2005 .371 5.8 0.20 0.01
2010 .468 6.3 0.76 0.34
Career .351 17.5 0.49 0.34

Each of the Molinas have held their own in October, easily outperforming career wOBAs (Yadi – .303; Benjie – .309).  Whereas most of Yadi’s value comes from 2006, Benjie had a very strong 2005 in support of his incredible 2010.  Benjie still has another series left to cushion his lead of 2.5 wRC over Yadi… or he could regress to his actual talent level against the Giants/Phillies subtracting from his overall numbers.  The pitching he’ll face in the World Series won’t be any easier than what he’s seen in the Yankees/Twins staffs.

Although Benjie was a stellar defender in his own right once upon a time, Yadi’s defensive greatness has been sustained for a longer period of time.  One might argue that his defensive value would give him the edge in postseason performances to date.  Unfortunately, I could not find any worthwhile defensive information to add to the discussion.  Feel free to offer any insights/arguments/ideas you might have in the comments area.

But how do the two brothers’ infamous (in NY anyways) home runs match up with one another in terms of win probability?  When Benjie took A.J. deep, the Rangers’ win expectancy jumped by an impressive 41%, but it was the sixth inning and the Yankees still had time to do some damage… so it’s reasonable to assume that Yadi’s homer was more decisive, right?  Wrong.  Amazingly, Yadi’s blast off of Aaron Heilman in Shea Stadium on October 19, 2006 improved the Cardinals’ win expectancy by 41%.  Baseball.  Family.  You can’t make this stuff up.

When I started writing this post, the season hadn’t quite ended so it might seem a little out of place but I had already set the foundation so here’s a belated entry in which I lament the Rockies inability to reach the post-season despite an incredible performance by their SS. After that, we’ll turn our attention towards 2011 and John Mozeliak’s ambitious checklist.

2010 Ends Fittingly
When it became clear that the Cardinals truly had went “poopy in their pants,” as Jack Clark so eloquently put it, I started rooting for the patented late-season Rockies surge. Troy Tulowitzki appeared to be on a mission in September when he accumulated 40 RBIs and 15 HRs. Don’t like counting stats? Me neither. That’s good for a ridiculous .492 wOBA (twenty-six points better than the second place guy who also happens to play for the Rockies; Carlos Gonzalez). Tulo hit 14 HRs between 9/3 and 9/18; according to Hit Tracker, all but two of them would have left a majority of MLB parks and none were considered lucky. He also plays a premiere defensive position well (6.1 UZR/150 on season) and features a mullet that he’s promised to keep growing as long as fans continue donating money to charity. Other than my soul, what wouldn’t I be willing to trade for Troy Tulowitzki?

The Phillies were the only NL team that had a better cumulative wOBA for September as a whole but the Rockies offense faded in the second half of the month with a .306 wOBA in the past fourteen days. Don’t blame Troy; he stayed strong with a .396 wOBA. The Rockies pitching simply couldn’t match the crazy awesome Giants staff that posted a 2.75 Team FIP and 4.03 K/BB. The Rockies ended the season having lost thirteen of their last fourteen games. It was kind of fitting then, that the Cardinals and Rockies were left to face off in the season’s final week to see who ended 2010 with the dirtier trousers. Unfortunately for the Rockies, they had an above .500 record which meant that the Cardinals would inevitably win the series.
Mozeliak’s 2011 Checklist
Looking toward 2011, John Mozeliak provided a check list of sorts in Bernie’s not-so-recent column:

  1. “…a couple of guys who can hit 15 to 20 homers.”
  2. A number two catcher who can provide more offense.
  3. Cleaning up middle-infield defense.
  4. Improving overall poor base running.

Let’s break down each bulleted point and compare the Cardinals’ top offensive performers against all postseason teams (Phillies, Giants, Reds, and Braves) within the parameters established by Mozeliak (at least 15 HRs).

2010 Postseason Teams Vs. Cardinals
Player HR wOBA
Huff 26 .388
Uribe 24 .322
Posey 18 .368
Burrell 18 .371
Torres 16 .363
Votto 37 .439
Rolen 20 .367
Bruce 25 .363
Stubbs 22 .345
Phillips 18 .332
Gomes 18 .330
Howard 31 .367
Werth 27 .397
Victorino 18 .339
Utley 16 .373
Ibanez 16 .341
McCann 21 .361
Heyward 18 .376
Glaus 16 .331
Prado 15 .352
Pujols 42 .420
Holliday 28 .396
Rasmus 23 .366

Yes, I’m aware how ugly that table looks compared to the width of the page. Turns out all of the division winners had at least five such players (Reds have six) while the Cardinals only had three (Pujols, Holliday, and Rasmus). Although that sounds like a significant difference, when you consider numbers that encapsulate a more complete offensive picture, only the Giants(!) had more players with at least .360 wOBAs. Maybe the Cardinals don’t have as large of an offensive chasm to fill after all. With that said, there are already Rasmus trade rumors swirling and we haven’t even made it out of October yet. Yikes. Let’s hope that the Cardinals resist the urge to placate a manager only willing to go year-to-year and look beyond HR totals when signing/acquiring new players this hot stove season. Beware of guys like Uribe who, despite hitting at least 15 HRs since 2004 (exception of 2008), has only managed to post above average wOBAs twice.

Next on the list is a back-up catcher who can provide more offense. Of course, this is not the type of player that will make or break a team’s competitiveness but it would be nice to have someone capable of posting an OPS+ of at least 75. That’s something the Cardinals haven’t had since, well, Yadier Molina in 2004. Speaking of Yadi, Brian McCann is the only NL catcher that has logged more innings behind the plate in the past three years. At just 28-years-old, we’re starting to see the physical repercussions of such a demanding work load. Maybe the Cardinals are recognizing this as well and they’d like to give him more rest in future seasons. Despite this indication, I remain skeptical that they follow through with pursuit of an offensive minded back-up catcher. Exhibit A: In Molina’s absence, Matt Pagnozzi (.586 OPS in minor league career) has been given regular playing time over Bryan Anderson (.782 OPS in minor league career). That Anderson can’t accumulate AB’s in meaningless September games despite offering this exact skill for the major league minimum price is perplexing; would it be that surprising to see him packaged in a trade this off season?

Mozeliak’s vow to shore up the middle-infield defense seems to be an indictment on Skip Schumaker. See this video for proof. Brendan Ryan doesn’t really care which defensive metric by which you judge him: 11.6 UZR/150, 15 total zone total fielding runs above average, and 27 BIS defensive runs saved above average. Boog’s glove appears to have bought him at least one more season to put things together offensively. The effort and professionalism with which Skip tried to convert to 2B from the OF was much undoubtedly won him points in the clubhouse and made him a fan favorite but the Cardinals appear ready to abandon the experiment. And that seems like the right move. According to UZR, Skip’s defense was actually worse in 2010 (-17.7 UZR/150 in 2010; -8.5 UZR/150 in 2009). Combine that with an unfortunate offensive season (.299 wOBA) and he’s essentially become a replacement level player (-0.2 WAR).

Last on Mo’s agenda is to improve the team’s value on the base paths. According to Baseball Prospectus, however, the Cardinals were in the top third of the league, ranking 9th in equivalent base running runs (EqBRR). Of the top eight teams, only three made the playoffs. In fact, the league overall seems to be pretty bad at adding runs via base running. Only the top ten teams had positive EqBRR and the Cardinals were one of them. Fungoes has more on this topic here. Not that they couldn’t improve in this area, but base running doesn’t appear to be one of the team’s greatest needs.

The positive? John Mozeliak appears to know his team well. I wouldn’t argue with his assessment of team needs. If the Cardinals were able to improve in these four areas, we’d likely have a better team to root for in 2011.

The negative? I’m not convinced that he understands how to make these improvements. In Derrick Goold’s “Thrills and Spills” article, Mozeliak is quoted as desiring, “a more experienced presence,” on next year’s bench and roster. In 2010, the Cardinals added experience to the roster in the form of Aaron Miles, Randy Winn, Jeff Suppan, and Pedro Feliz. These players “helped” the club in the form of the following WARs: 0.0, -0.2, 0.1, and -0.5 (respectively). Maybe triple-A guys like Tyler Greene and Allen Craig wouldn’t have helped much more offensively, but they certainly had the upside that warranted giving them an extended chance. And now the Cardinals will go into 2011 with these guys still needing to wet their feet in the big leagues. 2010 was a wasted opportunity to learn more about guys that the Cardinals need to contribute in the future. The Cardinals don’t need experienced, seasoned, or veteran players. They just need more talent… and their failure to utilize that talent in 2010 even when freely available was (and is) disconcerting.

After the Cardinals lost to the Marlins on Monday (9/20/2010), I knew that I wouldn’t have to search long or far to discover one of my biggest pet peeves in baseball analysis.  Florida scored all of their runs in this 4-0 loss on one swing of Brad Davis’ bat.  Anytime this happens in baseball, it inevitably begets these types of post-game comments:

From FoxSports:

Carpenter gave up five hits and struck out six in six innings, but made one giant mistake to Davis.

And it isn’t always the writers; La Russa in the P-D:

“One rally. One ball that got in the wind. But that’s four runs,” La Russa concluded. “(Carpenter) wasn’t perfect that one inning, and they got four runs. That shouldn’t be enough to beat us.”

These kinds of comments insinuate that the starting pitcher only threw one bad pitch the entire game.  Of course that’s never true.  And, in the form of pitch f/x location data (from Brooks Baseball), here’s the proof:

It’s easy to see that Carpenter made many “mistakes” that night. There were plenty of pitches in the middle of the strike zone. This isn’t an indictment on the quality of his pitching that night, it’s just what happens when a grown man hurls 100 baseballs towards an imaginary zone… they aren’t machines and it’s impossible for them to paint the corners with every pitch.  Obviously, this explains one reason about why it’s imperative that pitchers change the speed of their pitches.  Of course they are going to miss location from time to time (if not most of the time) and they have a better chance for the opposing hitter to make poor contact if they are off balance.  In short, Brad Davis could have easily missed that 2-0 offering (86 mph cutter; black dot approximately 2.4 vertical & 0.3 horizontal location in above chart) and, assuming that the rest of the game played out identically, the Cardinals could have ended up in extra innings.

When people comment about a pitcher making, “one mistake,” that cost their team the game, they never seem to refer to the type of pitch thrown but fixate upon its location instead.  Carpenter faced Brad Davis again in the fourth inning and, after falling behind 2-0 (again), he delivered a change-up (yellow dot approximately 2.2 vertical and 0.3 horizontal location in above chart) that had very similar location to the cutter that Davis deposited into the left field seats previously; this time, however, Davis hit a pop fly to center field.

So here we have two pitches with nearly identical location thrown by the same pitcher to the same hitter… yet one becomes known as a mistake and the other is overlooked as success… a rationale that roots itself entirely upon the outcome of the pitch.  I’m willing to concede that the pitch might have been a mistake… but the notion that the rest of Carpenter’s pitches that night were flawless is bogus.  A quick glance at the location of his various pitches that night blatantly reveals that other pitches had even worse location.

Furthermore, if you really think about it, Carpenter’s “mistake” wasn’t really a mistake at all… it was actually a pretty good pitch.  Carpenter fell behind two balls and no strikes on a guy that has yet to accumulate 100 big league plate appearances with a decent but not great AAA line of .267/.333/.423 in 313 plate appearances; to Davis’ credit, he laid off a pretty touch 1-0 pitch just low and outside.  Tell me how Carpenter could have made a better pitch in that situation.  Should he have tried to be too fine, he would have risked digging an even deeper hole by going 3-0 with the bases load.  Rather than becoming dangerously close to giving the Marlins a free run (by walking Davis with the bases loaded), he decided to take his chances by leaving a pitch over the plate to an unproven hitter.  There’s nothing wrong with that.  The baseball myth of pitchers making, “one mistake,” is misguided.  It annoys me.  Maybe the hitter should be given credit rather than the pitcher penalized; that certainly seems to be the case in this situation.

I’ve seen the word, “bipolar,” tossed around when characterizing the 2010 Cardinals’ version of offense.  Borrowing from a graph created by Steve in this VEB post, I generated a similar one that portrays frequency of runs scored by the Cardinals in games dating back to 2006.

To me, the most noticeable difference between the 2009 team (only one to make playoffs since 2006 World Champions) and this year’s model are the amount of games in which three runs were scored.  The Cardinals scored three runs 33(!) times in 2009 but only 9 in 2010.  Conversely, the 2010 Cards scored 8-10 runs 21 times; a feat accomplished by the 2009 team only 13 times.  It’s easy to wonder how the Win/Loss record would look if their 2010 runs scored were more evenly distributed.  Would it be enough to compensate for the seven games they’re trailing the Reds?  Of course not.  TLR has written out too many questionable lineups  (see today) and Mozeliak has made too many confounding acquisitions (see Miles, Feliz, Suppan, trading Ludwick, etc.).  I planned on airing out more rants on these matters but I’ll save them for another day.

For a baseball team to have bipolar offensive tendencies suggests that its fans may never know what to expect in terms of runs scored on any given day.  They may put up 7 earned runs against a stellar pitcher like Chad Billingsley (3.33 FIP) one day but inexplicably roll over when facing a lesser-known foe in Bud Norris (4.04 FIP) the nextor the next.  As an aside, did anyone else notice Bud’s respectable FIP?  He’s quietly posted an impressive 9.2 K/9 over 118.1 IP; not one pitcher (including starters and relievers) on the Cardinals achieve K’s at that rate.  Nevermind that 60% of them have come against the local nine… I digress in jest.

But, seriously… this post isn’t about Bud Norris.  Being that I studied psychology in school, I’ve found myself pondering the term, “bipolar,” quite a bit.  In the mental health field, a bipolar diagnosis indicates that an individual has drastic fluctuations in mood ranging between major depression and full-blown mania that occur within a span of days, weeks, or  even months.  Of course, this is a baseball blog, so I’ll spare you from the boring nuances of the diagnosis (unless you’re interested).  As is custom within the field of sabermetrics, I started wondering whether statistics could quantify a traditionally qualitative term.  Quick Google searches left me empty handed and, honestly, I have no ideas other than teams’ standard deviation of runs scored per game.  I’m turning my internal meanderings over to you, the reader; I assume that you’re smarter and more creative than I am.  Any ideas?  I’m hoping that maybe this will lead to interesting discussion for me to revisit at times during the off-season… which, apparently, will start in October rather than November for Cardinals’ fans.

If you don’t follow Erik, Steve, and me on Twitter, then you are unfamiliar with PAH9′s reaction to the Cardinals’ acquisition of Pedro Feliz.  In summary, I think it’s fair to say that we each joined in on the collective disapproval voiced within the sabermetric community.  In truth, however, one really doesn’t need to be an avid number-cruncher to look upon this move critically.  The Cardinals, in the midst of a pennant race, are looking to a 35-year-old displaced veteran on a horrible Astros team to correct their own problems at third base.  If that seems counter-intuitive, it’s because it is.

In yesterday’s P-D, Feliz claimed that his poor offensive numbers in 2010 were a reflection of the difficult situation in Houston rather than a true measure of his ability.  Below is a monthly breakdown of Feliz’s wOBA since the beginning of 2008.  I did not include any years before 2008 because he was relatively successful (from a power stand point) hitting at least 20 HRs in four straight seasons.

It’s true that Feliz’s horrid 2010 campaign has been pitiful even by his own standards.  July 2010 was clearly Feliz’s worst month within this span of time; he only accumulated 30 plate appearances (PAs).  But even if we give Feliz the benefit of the doubt and bought into the idea that his productivity truly did suffer because of inconsistent playing time, what excuse is there for the rest of his underwhelming career?  Since 2008, he’s played in seventeen months worth of baseball and has posted (at least) an average-ish wOBA in only four of them.  Even in seasons where Feliz has displayed a decent amount of power, he’s only managed to approach league average wOBA (roughly .330) twice — in 2003 & 2004.

He has contributed in three games for the Cardinals thus far going 6 for 13  with 2 RBIs.  But it really doesn’t matter if he had hit 6 HRs already.  Over a career of 4400+ PAs, Feliz’s skill set is well-established.  His only positive value with the bat is that he will hit a few HRs; he’s never hit for average and rarely takes a walk (career BB% is 5.1%).  He doesn’t strike out a lot (highest K% is 12.7% since 2007) but that doesn’t matter when he has such weak contact on balls in play (2010: 13% LDs and 15.1% IFFBs).

Of course, much of Feliz’s perceived value is in his defense.  Over his career, how much has it atoned for his poor offense?

Pay attention to the purple line as it represents Feliz’s total RAR.  For Feliz to have the value of an average major league player, that purple line must approximate the +20 horizontal grid line.  Over the course of his career, he has managed to do that about six times (just short in 2009).  He only touched +30 Total RAR (or ~3 WAR) once and it was in his best defensive season when UZR graded him as a stellar defender at the hot corner (worth 23.8 runs); for reference, Scott Rolen has recorded +20-run seasons with the glove only twice.  As the graph shows, his defense has been in decline since 2007 and, in 2010, has dipped into negative values for the first time.

Combine Feliz’s historically awful bat with a glove that’s trending downward and it’s hard to believe that the Cardinals don’t have equal or better internal options.  Below is a chart comparing Pedro Feliz’s value going forward against the Cardinals’ internal options at third base.  Each player’s offensive contributions were based on ZIPS ROS (rest of season) projections for wOBA found at Fangraphs and defensive value was generated by prorating  UZR/150 for games remaining.

I made some adjustments in order to be very conservative with these numbers.  First of all, Allen Craig did not have ZIPS ROS projections at Fangraphs, so I assigned him a roughly league average wOBA (.330).  I killed him on defense using Ryan Braun’s UZR/150 at 3B in 2007 when he must have been playing with bare hands (he was worth -41.5 RAA).  UZR/150 sees Felipe Lopez as a much better defender at 3B than the rest of Cardinal Nation listing him as near average (-.7 RAA); because I figured this wouldn’t fly with readers and since UZR is an imperfect defensive metric, I downgraded his defense to be worth -8 RAA (or nearly one win).  I did the same for Tyler Greene since there is such limited data available to judge his ability at 3B.  Lastly, I gave Pedro Feliz a huge benefit of the doubt since his lowest UZR/150 was 8.9 before this year.  Instead of assigning him -7.9 as rated by UZR/150, I allowed him a hypothetical +6 UZR/150.

There you have it.  According to my calculations, the Cardinals would have been better suited to pass on this acquisition.  Rather than improve a stagnating team, Mo has hypothetically made this team worse as Felipe Lopez would have likely offered equal or better value from the hot corner.  Worse yet, if Feliz’s defensive decline is reality, then he might be closer to Aaron Miles or Tyler Greene than Felipe Lopez.  At least Tyler Greene would have offered upside as a young player that has hit well in limited duty this year.  Apparently, improving on defense was a desperate enough proposition that the Cardinals were willing to downgrade an already struggling offense.  Yet here we are three days into the Feliz era and Felipe Lopez is playing SS over Brendan Ryan or Tyler Greene.  Combined with questionable roster management (adding Miles, Suppan, etc) and still unsettling trade of Ludwick, I’m starting to question the process.

With Kyle Lohse likely to get the start against the Cubs on Sunday, I thought we could take a moment to ponder his potential impact on this club along with some other general observations.  Given the Cardinals’ reputation with projecting pitchers’ returns from injury, I had little hope that Lohse would take the mound again in 2010, especially since his injury was apparently so rare amongst other pitchers.

Much of the Cardinals’ fanbase developed unreasonable expectations for Kyle Lohse when he had a career year in 2008 (200 IP, solid 3.89 FIP, 3.1 WAR)… all for a bargain price of $4.25 million.  Unfortunately, the front office bought into the hype and extended Lohse through 2012.  According to Cot’s Contracts, he’ll make a guaranteed $11.875 million (each year) in the final two years of the deal.  From a value standpoint, assuming that a free agent win costs around $4 million, he’d have to perform at his career peak in 2011 and 2012 to justify future paychecks.  Not a likely proposition for a guy that’s only been worth 1.6 WAR in 2009 and 2010 combined.

First, let’s take a look at the three guys at the back end of the rotation: Lohse, Suppan, and Hawksworth.  What is the makeup of each player’s arsenal of pitches (taken from Fangraphs)?

They all go to the fastball between 56-59% of the time.  The major differences are in their secondary offerings: Lohse has a slider (-1.77 runs/100 pitches), Hawksworth has a changeup (-1.64 runs/100 pitches), and Suppan has a mish-mash of other junk (changeup being only pitch with positive value at .8 runs/100 pitches).  Remember that pitch values do not account for pitch sequences so a negative value does not necessarily mean that a pitcher has lost something on a given pitch, or that the pitch itself is bad.  Sure, it could indicate either of those scenarios… but it could also simply be a matter of hitters knowing when (specific pitch count, always follows another pitch, etc.) a given pitcher will throw a certain pitch.  In other words, if the hitter is expecting any given pitch, he likely has a better chance at hitting it hard regardless of its velocity or movement.

Since Lohse’s other offerings for 2010 season are pretty much in line with career norms (FB and CB slightly below average; CH above average), I’m mostly interested in his slider and how it has changed (if at all) since it had been an above average offering since 2007 (until now).  The table below was generated with numbers from Joe Lefkowitz’s site which provides awesome pitch f/x data (though 2007 data was unavailable).

Kyle Lohse’s Slider
Year Velocity Horizontal Vertical Swing-Miss%
2008 84.4 2.34 0.08 14.3
2009 83.8 3.3 -0.77 16.1
2010 83 1.7 -0.47 15.4

Though his velocity has decreased on the pitch since 2008, it’s not by a lot.  Seems doubtful that a pitch only .8 mph slower than last year would cause it to suddently be a below average offering.  However, it does appear that Lohse’s slider has been noticeably flatter in 2010 as evidence by less horizontal movement.   Furthermore, Lohse has thrown the slider much more often in 2010 to both RH (32.3%) and LH (12.8%) batters.  For comparison’s sake, he threw sliders to RHB 25.7% and LHB 4.5% of the time in 2008.

Given the flatter nature of the pitch, perhaps hitters are making more solid contact when they do connect even though their swinging strike percentage is stable.  Another possibility is that hitters are able to sit on the pitch more often since he has thrown it more often this year.  At any rate, seems like a poor combination for a pitch to be thrown more often despite having less movement and (however slightly) decreased velocity.  Maybe the forearm injury can provide another explanation.  Seems reasonable to allow that it may have been harder for him to throw off-speed pitches given their more complicated grips.  It’ll be interesting to see if some of that horizontal movement returns now that he’s supposedly healthy.

With that said, it is important to remember that Lohse’s struggles probably cannot be explained by his less effective slider or even the injuries that have complicated his past two seasons.  In reality, it’s more likely that Lohse’s ability just doesn’t match the numbers that he managed to accumulate in 2008.  Though he may not be as good as he was then, he may not be as bad as we’ve seen since.  I guess that’s the silver lining.

The question for 2010, of course, is how much better does he make the Cardinals than if Jeff Suppan or Blake Hawksworth were taking the ball every fifth day?  Utilizing Fangraphs’ seven part win value series on pitching WAR (scroll to bottom of page) and Nick Steiner’s VEB fanpost as guides, I calculated the difference in projected WAR between these three pitchers.  I utilized ZiPS’ rest of season projections (FIP) and gave each player eight remaining starts at their average innings per start in 2010.  My calculations had Lohse, Hawksworth, and Suppan at .49, .32, and .08 WAR respectively for the rest of the season.  Unsurprisingly, Lohse is apparently the best option of the three.

The Cardinals made a surprising move today by trading Ryan Ludwick at least one-half season in advance of what was expected (if at all).  It made sense for the team to gauge others’ interest in the slugger given Pujols’ (likely?) extension and Ludwick having only one year left of team control.  In 2011, Ludwick would have either had an arbitration case, signed another one-year deal to avoid arbitration, or signed a contract extension to keep him in Saint Louis beyond 2011.  No matter what, Ludwick’s salary was going to increase from 5.45 million one-year deal he signed in 2010 and the Cardinals decided their money could be wiser spent elsewhere.  This decision clearly places a feather in Jon Jay’s hat and, if he doesn’t work out to be an everyday player, Allen Craig is always waiting to take some platoon ABs against left-handed pitchers.

The decision to trade Ludwick is rational but the timing of the move is questionable given the Cardinals’ middling wOBA (.325; 15/30 MLB teams) and impressive xFIP (4.10; 4/30 MLB teams).  To avoid flippantly airing my own knee-jerk reaction, I’ll just post some bullet points addressing pros/cons of the deal.

The arguments in favor of the trade:

  1. The Cardinals free up cash for another trade that will upgrade their MIF.  The trade deadline is drawing near and time will tell whether this rational played a factor in the swap.  Regardless, it frees up money for 2011 and beyond which, again, is important for potential Pujols extension.
  2. Difference between Westbrook and Suppan/Hawk is more than difference between Jay/Ludwick. Therefore, the 2010 team is better (in terms of WAR).  See full details of this rationale by Azruavatar at Viva El Birdos.

Arguments against the trade:

  1. According to MLB TradeRumors’ most recent Elias Rankings Update, Westbrook will not even qualify for Type B (worth sandwich pick) free agent status after 2010 season meaning that the Cardinals will not reap benefits of other young players in this deal when he presumably signs with another team.  Meanwhile, Ludwick is listed as a Type A (worth 1st rounder and sandwich pick) free agent.  Given his reliable production over the past 2.5 seasons, I think it’s reasonable to assume his Type A status will stick.
  2. The Cardinals could have kept Ludwick and still traded for Westbrook.  The player Cleveland obtained for Westbrook was Corey Kluber; a guy whose ceiling Kevin Goldstein describes (subscription needed) as, “a back-end starter.”  Surely, the Cardinals could have matched this without compromising their thin minor league system too much.  Such an approach would have allowed the Cardinals to trade Ludwick in Winter 2010; what kind of return would he have netted?  We may never know but it seems reasonable to assume that the return would have been more valuable to the Cardinals than two months of Westbrook and another guy that hasn’t yet made it to AA.
  3. Instead, the only “prospect” the Cardinals are  getting for Ludwick is Nick Greenwood (22 years old; still playing A ball); Erik provided this take on the player at Future Redbirds:

Nick Greenwood is 22 years old, left-handed and has a 6 K/9 in the Midwest League. He was a 14th round pick in last year’s draft. He did not make Baseball America’s Top 30 Padres list last season, for what it’s worth, and it’s unlikely he rates very highly in our system either by seasons end. He has fringe stuff, save for a decent change-up, but he has good command. He’s a C grade pitcher, arms of his ilk are a dime a dozen.

Hopefully, this is a pretty thorough review of the discussion being had right now about Ludwick’s abrupt shipment out of Saint Louis.  In my opinion, the move seems like a wash (at best) for what it provides the Cardinals this season unless, of course, it precedes another deal for a middle infield upgrade over Skip or Boog.  But that seems unlikely; today’s deadline has come and gone.  We’ve heard the term, “Year of the Pitcher,” thrown around the MLB this year.  Whether it is league wide or not, it may have to be in Saint Louis if the Cardinals are going to last deep into October.

Research for this post began with full intentions to point out how ridiculous the Cardinals’ production from RF has been since Ryan Ludwick hit the DL.  My main objective was to dissuade fans from believing Al/Dan when they inevitably claim that the lineup should see a boost in production from his return to the lineup.  Then I looked at the numbers.  Clearly, I had forgotten how much of a stud Ludwick was in 2008.  First, let’s take a look at production from RF using Fangraphs’ sortable statistics and  last 30 days’ feature. Note that these numbers only reflect plate appearances that these players made while playing RF; the parenthesis following each players’ name reflects plate appearances made during sample size.  Ludwick’s line, however, is for the entire 2010 season.

You probably didn’t need this graph to realize that Jon Jay has been performing at an otherworldly level.  The rest of the players represented are clustered right around the same area in wOBA (with the exception of Nick Stavinoha).  The blue line entitled, “Cardinals,” represents a combination of all of the guys in the chart not named Ludwick.  Overall, this group of players (.387 wOBA) has outperformed  Ludwick in 2010 (.351 wOBA).

If Jay were to continue playing everyday, however, his performance would surely decline.  His only full season in AAA resulted in a roughly average wOBA (.328).  Furthermore, his BABIP over the past thirty days is a ridiculous .500, a number that doesn’t match up with a batted ball profile of 10% LDs, 50% GBs, 40% FBs, and 8.3% IFFBs.  Everyone else in MLB who puts the ball on the ground 50% of the time and have a BABIP of at least .330 generate at least 17% line drives with no more than 31.7% fly balls. And most of those guys (if not all) have a speed score of at least 5.0 while Jon Jay’s is 3.0 for the season.  I like Jay as a platoon with Craig once/if Cardinals decide they can’t pay Ludwick beyond 2011.  But would you blame them if they decided to sell high on the guy?  Seems doubtful that his trade value will ever be higher than now.

Can Ludwick be expected to step in and improve an offense from a position whose July numbers actually outperformed his season to date? Since the beginning of the 2009 season, Ludwick has had only one month that was better; he posted a .411 wOBA in July 2009. But go back a little further to his career year in 2008 and he had wOBA’s of .392 or higher every month besides June. Take a look at his 2008, 2009, and 2010 seasons by RAR.

If common belief that Ludwick’s true talent level is somewhere between 2008 and 2009, then he’s certainly providing affirmation in 2010.  With his improved defense, he’s actually generated more RAR halfway through 2010 (23.7) than he did in all of 2009 (19.7).  Though it’s doubtful that Ludwick matches 2008′s 5.4 Wins Above Replacement (roughly speaking, 10 RAR equals 1 WAR) even with improved defense, it actually does seem reasonable to expect him to be an upgrade over the motley crew that filled in during his absence.  Furthermore, he appears physically sound in that he stepped up to the plate nine times in his brief AAA rehab assignment and smacked 2 HRs.  He’ll be a welcome addition to a lineup that’s been blanked over its past twenty innings.

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