Being that we aren’t quite out of April, it’s a little early to read into most statistics but certain numbers become meaningful before others. Under the definition of ‘sample size’ in FanGraphs’ glossary, you’ll find a list of stats and the corresponding sample sizes needed before they achieve reliability. For offensive players, the first of those numbers is swing percentage, or how often a given hitter decides to swing the bat.

Theoretically, swinging less often is viewed positively since it suggests that the hitter could be cultivating a more disciplined approach. Selectivity is important for two reasons: (1) Hitters have a better chance to reach base via the walk if they resist swinging at pitches outside the strike zone, and (2) abstaining from pitches that would likely induce weak contact allows them to avoid making easy outs.

According to FanGraphs, swing percentage stabilizes after 50 plate appearances. Most of the Cardinals’ regulars have accumulated enough plate appearances for us to visit this stat and observe whether any obvious trends have emerged. It’s important to note that even though a trend is established after the stabilizing threshold (in this case, 50 PA) occurs, it does not mean that said player will continue to perform at the new rate, just that we can expect his performance to trend in that direction in the future.

The chart below portrays those Cardinals who have stepped to the plate at least 50 times this season and it pits their 2012 swing percentages (blue line) against their career swing percentages (red line). For the record, I’m using the PITCHf/x plate discipline numbers available at FanGraphs (as opposed to BIS data) for the reasons outlined by Colin Wyers in this Baseball Prospectus article. WARNING: I augment each individual player description with other statistics (strike out rate, line drive rate, walk rate, etc.) that have not yet stabilized, so while they are adequate descriptions of what has transpired thus far, they do not imply trends… yet.

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The other day I was perusing through the stat lines of the triple-A players in Memphis and noticed that quite a few of them were getting on base frequently via the walk.

One thing that has helped the Cardinals charge their way to a league best wOBA (.344) is their propensity for drawing walks and limiting strikeouts. Check out how they are fairing in these two categories:

The Cardinals rank second in the league in walks (tied with the Pirates at 9.6%) and fourth in limiting strikeouts (tied with Athletics at 17.9%). In comparison, their 2010 rankings were eleventh in BB% (tied with the Dodgers, Brewers, and Tigers at 8.7%) and fifth in K% (18.5%).

Their increased ability to coax walks can partly be explained by the acquisition of Lance Berkman (17.4%) and the career best rates of Matt Holliday (12.2%) and Colby Rasmus (13.9%).

Now check out Memphis:

The Memphis Redbirds’ BB% (11.1) is good for third in the Pacific Coast League, though they strike out a decent amount (only five teams had a worse K rate than 18.3%). Recently promoted Matt Carpenter lead the team with a 17.6 BB%, but others displayed impressive walk rates as well: Andrew Brown (15.5%), Adron Chambers (13.3%), James Rapoport (13.2%), and Mark Hamilton (19.6%).

I don’t have much else to add, but I do hope the trend continues throughout the season… and maybe even beyond.

 

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Somehow I missed on Monday that Dan at Baseball Think Factory posted his Cardinals Zips projections.  Here are the projections converted to wOBA first for the MLBers (all calculations use the PAs in Zips and a 0.335 league average for RAA calcs)

Player wOBA RAA
Albert Pujols 0.434 55
Matt Holliday 0.376 23
Lance Berkman 0.368 14
Colby Rasmus 0.344 5
Allen Craig 0.337 1
Jon Jay 0.326 -5
David Freese 0.318 -6
Yadier Molina 0.315 -9
Skip Schumaker 0.311 -11
Tyler Greene 0.297 -17
Ryan Theriot 0.294 -23
Gerald Laird 0.284 -16

and then for the MiLBers

Player wOBA RAA
Nick Stavinoha 0.315 -7
Daniel Descalso 0.317 -10
Mark Hamilton 0.320 -5
Matt Carpenter 0.318 -8
Bryan Anderson 0.311 -7
Aaron Luna 0.306 -11
Andrew Brown 0.300 -13
Daryl Jones 0.297 -17
Thomas Pham 0.301 -14
Adron Chambers 0.291 -18
Steve Hill 0.292 -17
Tony Cruz 0.291 -18
Pete Kozma 0.285 -28
Donovan Solano 0.276 -25

 

These tables highlight the folly of the Brendan Ryan for Ryan Theriot swap. Theriot projects to only hit slightly better than Pete Kozma. Let that sink in for a while.  They also show the extreme lack of middle infield options, with Descalso posting the best wOBA projection.

 

The projection for Berkman is alright, but it is likely not good enough to overcome the defensive deficiencies.  On the whole the offensive projections do not inspire a whole lot of optimism.

 

On the positive side, the projection thinks that if David Freese were to get injured again, Matt Carpenter could step right in and be a suitable replacement.  As I’ve mentioned previously, that’s a sentiment I share.  Bryan Anderson would be a suitable backup with that line, with some potential to be more.  With the versatility of some of the bench options (Greene, Craig if he can backup at 3rd) would it be worth it to carry 3 catchers?  Probably not, but it’s something to think about.

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.

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Steve gave his Top 7 Cardinal prospects earlier today
. You didn’t think the godfather of FR was going to sit idly by and not chime in, did you? Without further adieu -

1. Shelby Miller – One year removed from high school, Shelby Miller struck out 32% of the batters he faced in the Midwest League while posting a walk rate under 3 per 9. That’s tremendous. He predominantly threw his fastball, which may account for some of his .366 BABIP. As he gets more of a feel for his breaking stuff and as luck corrects itself, I have a feeling that number will drop. I’m glad the Cardinals were careful with his workload.

2. Zack Cox – I really liked the Cox pick, and I’d like to believe there’s a good chance that he’s the everyday third baseman of the future. My only concern is the lack of power in his sophomore season at Arkansas, but from what I read about Cox, it seems like he has the aptitude to make adjustments. I’ve read mixed reviews about his glove, and I almost can’t help but wonder if he’s not Brett Wallace 2.

3. Carlos Matias – I’m going to go bananas here and buy into the the hype. 99 MPH with control? I need some oxygen. The Dominican Summer League isn’t somewhere to look for reliable statistical information, but 78 K’s in 59 innings is pretty good.

4. Lance Lynn – I seem to remember a period when Lynn was getting consistently hammered, but truth be told, he put together a pretty solid season. Triple-A has swallowed up some other Cardinal pitching prospects in the past in their first go (Ottavino, Hawksworth), but Lynn posted decent walk, strikeout and ground ball rates in his first season in Triple-A. There’s nothing really spectacular about Lynn, but he’s gotta be at least a win (maybe two better) than the monster that is Lohssan.

5. Seth Blair – I saw him pitch in the College World Series, and his change-up is a sight to behold. His fastball velocity wasn’t at the as-advertised range of 94-95; it was more in the 89-91 range, but I’m willing to chalk that up to fatigue for now.

6 . Eduardo Sánchez – I’ve fallen into the trap of rating relievers too high in times past, but Sánchez continued his success in the higher levels of the minors. He should be a solid set-up man, and could possibly be the closer of the future.

7. Matt Carpenter – He fell to the 13th round as a senior in last year’s draft, but has done nothing but produced. He has a line-drive, contact oriented type of swing and doesn’t have a ton of power, but that’s OK so long as he continues to walk at a good clip. I’ve seen him on one occasion and from what little I could gather, his glove was a plus.

Personal cheeseballs: Oscar Taveras, Tommy Pham, Joe Kelly. Oscar Taveras and Pham are cut from a similar cloth, while Taveras is the hype of the day while Pham has been languishing until this past season. Both have tools out of the ying-yang, power, speed and arm strength. Taveras probably has better power, while Pham has shown the ability to take a walk.

Joe Kelly is a ground-ball machine with his 93-96 MPH sinker of his, and he has a good slider. His numbers at the QC were a little underwhelming, but this was his first full season starting since high school, and if all else fails, he should do well in relief.

Just missed: Dan Descalso, Tyrell Jenkins.

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