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?

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.

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.

Brief Introduction: You probably noticed that I’m not Erik or Steve but they’ve offered me a chance to contribute at PAH9.  I’ve been following the blog pretty closely and excited to see what I can bring to the table.  Thanks for the opportunity, dudes.

Just one game away from the All-Star Break during a season in which the Cardinals were expected to run away with a weak NL Central division, they remain one game back of the Reds. Saint Louis will be represented by five players in Anaheim including a clearly under-performing Yadier Molina. How fans overlooked Miguel Olivo for the starting job is beyond me. Per Fangraphs, the Colorado catcher has already been worth 3.2 WAR (good for best figure among all MLB catchers). Not only has he been superior with the bat, but his defense has also been worth 8 runs; he’s caught 51.3% of would-be basestealers compared to Yadi’s even 50%.

Below is a graph that illustrates the runs above replacement (RAR) that Molina has been worth over his career. There are a couple of things to keep in mind with this graph: (1) Roughly, ten RAR equals one WAR. (2) 2010 numbers are estimates based on season’s performance to date. For simplicity’s sake, I just multiplied current statistics by two because I was interested in what his worth would be at the end of the season assuming that current production sticks. (3) 2004 was left out since Molina only accumulated 151 PA. (4) Replacement level adjustments are made based on 20 runs per 600 PA; this explains why this value changes from year to year. (5) Likewise, positional adjustment for catchers is worth 12.5 runs (according to Fangraphs) per 162 games played. Therefore, this number will fluctuate based on how many games played in a given season. (6) All numbers courtesy of Fangraphs.

Molina’s batting and overall value have not been this bad since 2006 when he seemingly turned things around in the postseason. You’ll notice that his positional and replacement level adjustments have steadily increased since 2007 due to increased playing time. Despite positive value represented in the graph, it’s easy to speculate that increased playing time could actually hurt Molina’s overall line given the demanding physical nature of the catcher position. In the past three years, Russell Martin is the only NL catcher that has logged more innings behind the plate than Molina; interesting that he’s also experienced substantial offensive decline.

The above graph matches up with common perception that Molina’s offense has steadily improved ever since October 2006. He posted batting RAR of -5.2, -0.3, and +5.5 in 2007, 2008, and 2009 respectively suggesting that his offensive improvements were not a fluke but a newly learned skill. Let’s take a look at Yadi’s plate discipline and batted ball data for 2010. Again, I left out 2004; his career averages are listed on the bottom line for easy comparison.

Year O-Swing% Z-Swing% Swing% O-Contact% Z-Contact% LD% GB% FB% IFFB%
2005 21.7 73.8 51.8 57.9 94 18.5 51.1 30.3 10.2
2006 27.7 70.8 51.5 71.1 92 18.5 42.5 39.1 14.2
2007 24 73.1 49.8 70.3 91.2 18.8 46 35.1 7.3
2008 31.4 74.9 54.7 83.9 93 21 46 33.1 11.5
2009 22.8 75.6 50.4 73.7 90.7 19.9 50.8 29.3 4.6
2010 29.9 69.4 49.9 79.7 90.1 20.3 52.2 27.6 1.6
Career 25.8 73.2 51.3 73.4 91.5 19.5 47.8 32.7 8.8

Molina’s most glaring concern is that he is nearing a career high in swinging at pitches outside of the strike zone while swinging at a career low percentage of pitches within the strike zone. That’s a pretty clear indication that he just isn’t seeing the ball well this season. Not only that, but he’s making less contact on pitches within the strike zone and more contact on pitches outside of the strike zone (with the exception of 2008).

In his July 7th post, Steve demonstrated that Yadi is chasing pitches below his knees more often this season compared to 2009 (see the last graph).  Furthermore, Molina is besting his career mark of balls hit on the ground by 4.4%; that doesn’t bode well for a player as slow as Molina and helps to explain how he’s grounded into twelve double-plays which is good for second (Pujols has sixteen) on the team.

With that said, there is some room for optimism. Molina is still hitting line drives at a 20% clip, his infield pop-ups are at a ridiculously low 1.6%, and his BABIP sits at .240 (37 points below his career average), an indication that at least part of his putrid offense to date may be attributable to bad luck. Let’s hope this is the case as the organization is pretty bereft of other options. Jason LaRue has had his chance to be an everyday catcher and Bryan Anderson has seemed destined to be the 2nd/3rd tier prospect in a trade for quite some time now to the chagrin of #hpgf members everywhere.

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