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.

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.

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