Minnesota Twins infielder Nick Punto during a ...
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In case you haven’t already heard, the Cardinals signed Nick Punto.  With a team that increasingly looks to be more and more dictated by the whims of a certain sunglassed manager, why didn’t we see this one coming? Nick Punto is a classic La Russa utility infielder – he can play all over the field, and his grit factor is off the charts. He emanates scrappiness from the depths of his being. Just look at him, for crying out loud.

On with my pithy analysis. Nick Punto has a career wOBA of .293. His career high was .324 (twice), and last season his wOBA was a lowly .280. He does draw walks at a decent clip. Assuming he doesn’t go any further south than where he already is batting-wise, he’d likely cost the Cardinals 15-20 runs if, for some reason, he ended up playing almost everyday. So that means that Punto is worthless, right?

Well, no, because hitting isn’t the only thing that matters in evaluating a player. (Get with the now, man!) Punto’s teammates nicknamed him the “Human Highlight Reel” for his web-gemmy goodness. From what I gather, Punto can pick it. According to UZR, Punto rates at +6 at 2B, +19 at 3B, and +17 runs at SS, per 150 games played at each position. DRS and Total Zone like him as well, albeit to a lesser extent. Let’s just say he’s worth +6-10 runs in the field. I think that’s conservative. Punto is also known for his heady baserunning, so that’s another feather in his cap. If you give him a full season of plate appearances, you’re looking at a 1.5 WAR player or so; maybe better.

While I’m not a real fan of Punto potentially blocking younger players like Tyler Greene or Daniel Descalso, for a one-year, $700,000 contract, Punto makes plenty of sense. He’s probably a fit as far as the all-important clubhouse chemistry goes, and for a team that is counting on Skip Schumaker, Ryan Theriot and a recovering David Freese to anchor the infield, he’s nice insurance. Yes, his bat is anemic, but look around the league. 7th and 8th place hitters in the NL averaged somewhere around a .300 wOBA. I, for one feel a little better having Punto around, but if you think about it, he’s basically Brendan Ryan in a different package.

This is, in a way, another type of lateral move, but I’ll take it. Improving even modestly in what is shaping to be a tight division could prove to be crucial. I’d rather have the goofy guy, but Punto is just fine.

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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.

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?

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
Giants
Huff 26 .388
Uribe 24 .322
Posey 18 .368
Burrell 18 .371
Torres 16 .363
Reds
Votto 37 .439
Rolen 20 .367
Bruce 25 .363
Stubbs 22 .345
Phillips 18 .332
Gomes 18 .330
Phillies
Howard 31 .367
Werth 27 .397
Victorino 18 .339
Utley 16 .373
Ibanez 16 .341
Braves
McCann 21 .361
Heyward 18 .376
Glaus 16 .331
Prado 15 .352
Cardinals
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.

Before the season, CHONE projected the Cardinals were on course to win 91 games and enjoy a cake walk in a relatively easy division.  Someone will run off with this and say, “see, this is why projections are worthless”.  But before you go off an anti-metrics rant, let’s remember what projections are. In a nutshell, among other things, projections  use regression to the mean, age adjustments and weighted averages to derive their results. Projections are “50th percentile” projections; there are always players who are exceptions to the rule due to good or bad luck, or some sort of overhaul to their swing mechanics (hello, Jose Bautista!) or injury. It’s not divination.

It’s common for a team to have several players under or overshoot their projection. It’s just that in the Cardinals case, the under achievers have been particularly damning to the team. For this post, let’s just take a look at the hitters. The cut off is 100 plate appearances. I took the players individual CHONE projections and then adjusted them for their plate appearances and not their projected PA’s. Then I did a little color scaling for your eyes, because I’m a nerd like that.

  • The infield trio of death of Brendan Ryan, Skip Schumaker and Felipe Lopez has really hurt this team. All three were not expected to be some sort of offensive force behind Pujols-Holliday-Rasmus, but neither were they expected to hit for sub-.300 wOBAs, either. (Schumaker is at .301, being fair). I thought Flip was a good Freese-insurance signing, and instead he pooped the bed. Ryan and Schumaker picked a bad time to do the same thing.
  • Molina and Pujols also both were one WAR apiece worse than projected. Molina’s bat backslid after two good seasons, and Pujols has been a little off from his normal numinous standard. And yet he’s still an MVP candidate.
  • The sheer waste of roster space of the likes of Feliz, Winn, Miles and Stavinoha has been pretty frustrating to watch.
  • The most pleasant surprise has been Matt Holliday, who is doing his best to show that he earned the ginormous contract he got this past winter.

All told, the Cardinal’s hitters are five wins worse than we would have expected. Combine that with losing Brad Penny for the year, and Kyle Lohse being hurt and then horrible, you have a recipe for a pretty disappointing year. It’s really not that hard to figure out.

4 posts in 2 days. Look at PAH9 go. The following post is indirectly related to my Brendan Ryan post. You also should check out Andy’s pet peeve and my top 7 Cardinal prospects.

One of the common criticisms (especially among Cardinal fans) of DIPS pitching stats is that all batted balls are not created equal. Specifically, all GBs are not equal, all FBs are not equal etc. With that thought in mind I wanted to compare a couple of Cardinal pitchers to see if there was a discernable difference in their GBs. To level the playing field I only looked at RHB when Brendan Ryan was playing. I looked at Out+Error rate, making the assumption that the pitcher had no control over the error part. The following table summarizes the results across all hit angles (GBs only)

Out+Error Rate BIP
Carpenter 0.820 311
Wainwright 0.799 328
Lohse 0.731 186

And then across the SS area of responsibility (since that was who we held constant)

Out+Error Rate BIP
Carpenter 0.870 154
Wainwright 0.887 151
Lohse 0.818 88

And in chart form

So what can we attribute the differences to?

Ground ball quality – I would guess that harder hit ground balls would be more likely to make it up the middle (-7.5 in the chart) and through the hole (-27.5). The anecdotal evidence in the data above seems to agree. I’d guess that Lohse gives up the hardest hit balls of the 3.

Defense – Yes Brendan Ryan was in the field, but that isn’t to say that he played identically (both in reaction time and positioning) behind all 3 of these guys. As samples increase this effect would likely decrease.

Park effects – Infield speed isn’t constant across all parks (can adjust for these, but haven’t)

Stringer/Scorer Bias – Are these all groundballs? What is the difference between GBs and LDs? Is the hit location recorded accurately? Is there Hit/Error bias?

Luck – Bad hops, deflections etc.

The real question is what weight you put on each of those factors. I’m not sure we’ll get at the answer to that until we get Field F/X data (if we get field f/x data). For now I’d hesitate to weight the first one (which is what would be ideal to measure) as any more than 50% of the difference. There’s just too much other stuff that could be at play.

We all know Brendan Ryan is good at defense.  The advanced metrics tell us that and our eyes agree.   Where does he really gain his value though?  Is it going up the middle?  In the hole?  Something else?  In an attempt to gain insight on that I created the following chart.  It has hit angle along the bottom and out rate along the vertical axis.  The far left of the chart (~ -30) can be thought of as deep in the hole, while 0 would be up the middle.

I used data from 2008-2010 where a right handed hitter was at the plate and Carpenter, Wainwright, Lohse, or Garcia were on the mound.  These choices allowed for a decent sample size, while trying to introduce as few other variables as possible.  My take away from the chart is that Ryan has been better at balls deep in the hole and at those right at him than the other players to play SS for the Cards during the time period.  The point where Ryan dips below the other guys is where he has made a relative high number of errors (6 on 77 BIP) where the other players have made less errors in that zone.  In total, Ryan’s overall out rate is about 5% higher than the other players to have played the position (to include Cesar Izturis who is no defensive slouch).

The next logical step (or maybe it should have been the first logical step) would be to take the above chart and add a line for what a league average shortstop looks like.  That’s how the advanced metrics behave (more or less).  We’ll do that next time.

It’s no secret that Brendan Ryan is and has been struggling with the bat.  Anecdotally it seemed to me that he was hitting a ton of pop ups, so I wanted to check the data and see if my eyes were deceiving me.  Before we get to that though let’s take a quick look at his results in vertical and horizontal slices.  First the vertical

There’s nothing too dramatic here.  Yes, the 2-2.5 slice is interesting but not overwhelming.  The general trend is pretty solid.  Horizontal slices are a little more interesting

That’s abysmal hitting in the middle of the plate.  I will note that these are based on results, so there could be batted ball luck at play in these charts.  That being said, let’s check my earlier premise by looking at some batted ball data.  First on those pitches in the middle of the plate

and on fastballs

Both of these show less GBs and LDs and more FBs and especially more IFFs.  I have to think that this is a by-product of working with Big Mac, but I have nothing to back that up with.  Either way I’d be much happier if Ryan got back to hitting more ground balls (and clearly more LDs too) and it would likely lead to more success

There’s been a decent amount of discussion regarding Brendan Ryan’s offense and his early season slump.  With that in mind I wanted to frame the discussion a little bit on what would be required for him to be an average MLBer (2 WAR) or do what he did last year (3 WAR).  For the playing time portions of WAR I assumed 625 PAs which would be abut 150 games started.  With that in mind, here’s a visual representation

The interpretation is simply that the lines give pairs of wOBA and defensive runs saved above average (DRAA, think his UZR value) that correspond to 2 and 3 WAR. For example, if Boog were to have a 0.290 wOBA (think Joe Thurston) he’d need to save a little over ten runs (13) to be average and 23 to be 3 WAR. Raw data can be found here if you want the exact numbers.

Continue reading »

Steve already touched on Jeremy Greenhouse’s fantastic work over at Baseball Analysts of using linear weights on strike zone location for 2009 batters, and found a disturbing trend that outside of Pujols, Holliday and Schumaker, the Cardinals seemed to have done an awfully poor job on smacking a pitch down the middle when it comes. I thought it would be fun to put together some visualizations of the entire zone for the main members of the lineup and their run values per 100 swings for the 2009 season.

Here ya go -

Skip made his hay off of driving pitches down the middle, but seemed to sort of struggle with everything else, and was especially susceptible to high and inside pitches.

Rasmus liked low and in, high and away, but didn’t do much with anything else.

So there was a glitch in The Machine, and that’s pitches low and away, and low pitches in general. It’s not as if Pujols will be legging out a lot of ground balls. Pujols loved middle-up and high and away.

Luddy really struggled with pitches up in the zone, especially up and in.

Holliday handled pitches with low and inside and low and down the middle pitches, something most batters struggle with. He murdered a lot of pitched down the middle.

Yadi can handle himself on the inside of the plate, so long as the pitch isn’t up. He struggled mostly with pitches outside, which struck me as odd, because my general impression of Molina is that he’s pretty good taking the ball the other way. You’d think pitches on the outer half would be the type of pitches he could slap to the right side.

Now the Boogameister. It’s a little surprising to see a ground-ball hitter and a fast runner like Ryan to do so poorly with low pitches.

I’m going to pass on the more depressing cast-aways (DeRosa, Greene, Thurston), but I couldn’t resist putting together a zone for Ankiel. Ank handled pitches down the middle, but was helpless on just about everything else.

This was fun. Sometime soon we’ll have to look at pitchers.

© 2011 Gas House Graphs Suffusion theme by Sayontan Sinha