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.

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.

First off a hello to all you PAH9ers; second, thanks to Erik for letting me tag along over here.

For those that haven’t heard of me I used to write here.  I’ll basically be doing the same thing over here that I did over there, which means a steady diet of numbers, graphs, and pitch f/x.  Some of it will be broad spectrum, but most of it will be Cards focused (or at least brought back to the Cards).  Now back to your regularly scheduled analysis.

CHONE projections for hitters are out, so now we can provide another piece of the 2010 projected value puzzle.  First just a quick table of the “relevant” Cardinals and their projected wOBA (for full stat lines go poke around the linked site)

Name 2010 Projected wOBA
Albert Pujols 0.433
Ryan Ludwick 0.356
Colby Rasmus 0.334
Skip Schumaker 0.330
Yadier Molina 0.329
Brendan Ryan 0.310
Julio Lugo 0.311
Allen Craig 0.346
David Freese 0.337

It’s good (but maybe overly optimistic?) to see both Freese and Craig come out as better than league average performers offensively. That really bodes well for Freese as all signs point to him being a capable (i.e. league average-ish defender).  It’s much less stellar to see Boog so low.

Keep reading after the jump for some FA projections along with a little more Cards analysis

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Only two Cardinals remain eligible for salary arbitration; the Cards have signed Todd Wellemeyer, Chris Duncan and Brad Thompson have all re-upped for another year. Let’s do a quick rundown: 

  • Todd Wellemeyer signed for $4.05 in his final year eligible for salary arbitration. While the stupid sector of fans continue to lambaste Mozeliak for taking his chances on low-hanging fruit, taking a flyer on The Colonel has certainly worked out rather well, hasn’t it? Consider this: Welley was traded by the Cubs for two minor leaguers who never panned out, then DFA’d by the lowly Marlins and again by the Royals. Dave Duncan worked his magic by helping Wellemeyer morph a respectable starter. I have serious doubts he’s going to repeat his 3.71 ERA, 32 starts from last season, but if he can hit 150 innings and manage his to make his CHONE projected 4.38 ERA, he’ll be worth double his salary.
  • Chris Duncan is a walking science experiment now with his new titanium disc. He says he feels as good as new, so it’ll be an interesting to watch, maybe his surgery will prolong a few more major leaguers careers.  Dunc signed for $825,000. If he can get to his CHONE projection (around 460 PA’s, .351 wOBA, terrible defense), I have him down for .8 WAR, worth $4M on the free agent market. With the OF as crowded as it is, and the uncertainty of how Metal Dunc will pan out, I scaled him back to 200 plate appearances, reducing him to .4 WAR, which is worth $2M on the FA market. 
  • Brad Thompson, $650,000. Kyle McClellan seems to have already bumped him out of the “6th starter” spot, and if the team keeps the normal two LOOGY’s on the roster, he looks like the odd man out for a roster. CHONE has him at .2 WAR, worth $1.4 M. I don’t think Puppy Kicker will get a whole lot of innings other than garbage time, but perhaps he’ll get a few spot starts here and there.

That leads us to the two outfielders, both due for a couple of good sized raises: 

  • Rick Ankiel asked for $3.3, the Cards countered with $2.35. Look, Ankiel has done it two years in a row now, just give him his money. I’ve guesstimated Ank to get 500 plate appearances and CHONE has him at a .345 wOBA good for 1.9 WAR. That’s worth about $9M on the free agent market, and Ankiel is just a year away from that. I know they try and compare apples with apples when working these contracts out. The problem is Rick is a mackinaw peach. :Flag! No more than 2 Seinfeld references per post!:  
  • Ryan Ludwick is asking for $4.25 M, a pretty hefty raise. The Cardinals offered only $2.8M, so they are worlds apart right now. Is Luddy Bubba Trammell or Jim Lemon? (Hat tip to Pip for coming up for the Lemon comp). I think he’ll get a healthy amount of playing time and CHONE has him projected at a .364 wOBA. If he can net that and 575 PA’s, I have him at 2.6 WAR, worth a fair market value of $12.3. Considering his service time is less than 4 years, I think $4.25 actually seems pretty fair. Of course, I have no idea as to what all goes into these negotiations, but I’m sure it’s not WAR and CHONE projections.

With the exception of Thompson, these players represent some pretty strong value to the team, a total of 6.6 wins above replacement according to my little spreadsheet. Hopefully the Cards get things done w/Ank and Luddy without having to resort to arbitration. It just doesn’t seem worth a whole lot of haggling with their agents at the expense of possibly hurting some feelings.

I realize I’m late to the party. Heck, I’m crashing the party. I’m sure C70 won’t  mind. Here are my top 5 stories for 2008:

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