I told you they’d win at least one game this year. FanGraphs‘ win probability table:

Link to page

The Good:

Yadi’s hits have counted so far this season; he’s only had two singles, but they each brought someone across the plate. His RBI single in the fifth inning (.081 WPA) helped him lead the offense (.062).

The Bad:

The offense didn’t help Jaime’s cause today; the hitters combined for negative win probability (-.123).

The Impressive:

Jaime Garcia dominated the game, contributing .623 WPA all by his lonesome. He went the distance, generating 12 ground balls, 3 fly balls, and 4 line drives; the complete game included 4 H, 2 BB, and 9 K.

Commentary:

Today’s game offered about as clear an indication as any that Spring Training numbers offer zero insight into regular season performance. Despite giving up 25 runs (16 earned) in 23.0 IP down in Florida, Jaime’s 2011 regular season debut was a beauty. As Pip (Fungoes) noted on twitter, his Fielding Independent Game Score (FIGS) was 68. For context, his best performance of 2010 netted a 71 FIGS.

Although Theriot picked up an RBI with a single in the eighth inning, his overall offensive contributions were negative (-.014 WPA). Two of his four at-bats were leading off an inning, and he made an out each time.

We’re three games in and the Cardinals have yet to score more than three runs. That’s partly because Albert hasn’t done much damage, but this roster was constructed in such a way to sacrifice defense in order to offer a deeper lineup less reliant on production from Pujols/Holliday/Rasmus. Of course, it’s too early to tell whether Berkman is poised for a bounce back year, Theriot will be able to revert back to his 2008 form, Skip will be luckier, or Freese will stay healthy all season, but the first three games have been less encouraging than, say, the Texas Rangers, who have scored 28 runs in their first three games.

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Yesterday Bernie had a blog and a bit on his radio show (which I must say I enjoy listening to) about what he thinks the Cardinals should be concerned about based on the spring among other things.  He lists Ryan Theriot, Lance Berkman, Jaime Garcia, The Bullpen, and Overall Depth.  Read the blog post for all of his thoughts.  I thought it might be interesting to do the same thing in this very space.  Just looking to do some quick hits here, no in depth analysis.

My concerns, in no particular order:

  • The middle infield:  No surprise here.  I think ~3 WAR between the starters is a definite possibility.  Unfortunately 3 WAR (which means below average for the pair) might be close to the ceiling.  Bad defense, average-ish offense = below average.
  • SP depth:  I’m not concerned with Kyle McClellan in a starting spot.  Andy and I both have penned plenty of pieces on that already.  I even think Lohse might actually be serviceable.  That said, I’m not excited about the prospects of the starting five taking all of their turns in the rotation.  All have an injury history, so we’ll likely see Lance Lynn and others at some time this season.
  • Berkman’s health and defense:  Not much to say here.  This is a fairly obvious bullet.
  • Ryan Franklin:  I generally like the bullpen.  I like that the younger guys should get some chances (I’m looking at you Boggs).  That said I’m still worried about Franklin and his contact tendencies.  I think he’ll be ok, but not great by any stretch.

Sliding the GOTW in at the last minute :)

Values are rv100. Apologies for no strike zone, I’m still trying to figure out R. Keep getting an error when adding the zone.

Anyhow… I’ll keep working on the heat maps…

Big thanks to Millsy for the code to get me this far

I already kicked this dead horse once, but I finally got around to downloading the latest CAIRO projections, which come complete with platoon splits. I wish I would’ve known about that before I dinked around for a half hour or so getting splits for my lineup post. Anyway, the prognosis is rather negative for Cardinal hitters against southpaws.

Behold the ugly.

Player Vs L
Albert Pujols 0.453
Matt Holliday 0.396
Lance Berkman 0.348
Yadier Molina 0.332
David Freese 0.331
Allen Craig 0.325
Ryan Theriot 0.313
Colby Rasmus 0.307
Nick Punto 0.289
Gerald Laird 0.289
Daniel Descalso 0.287
Skip Schumaker 0.283
Bryan Anderson 0.277

Eno Sarris at Fangraphs already hit on how horrible the bottom of the Cardinals lineup is, but it just get so much worse against left-handed pitchers. For I’m afraid that after Albert and Holliday, things begin to unravel in a hurry. Berkman who is no guarantee to hit southpaws if the current trends continue, but I guess that more prone to believe this projection than just make a judgment based on last year’s splits. Molina and Freese are the only two players left that project to be league average.

Finally I will say that I’ll definitely take the over on Colby Rasmus here, but the larger point remains that after the Big 2, the Cardinals lineup against lefties ranges from league average to … well… poopy.

Minnesota Twins infielder Nick Punto during a ...
Image via Wikipedia

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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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.

I haven’t really formed a powerful opinion of the Card’s off-season.  All of the moves have really been “eh” moves.  They’re fine on the face, but not likely to substantially improve the club.  I’ll take the two major moves in order.

Trading Blake Hawksworth for Ryan Theriot:

Giving away the Hawk doesn’t bother me too much.  He’s pretty much “just a guy”; an o.k. piece to have around, but replaceable in an instant.  This move boils down to whether you see Theriot as an improvement over Brendan Ryan or not.  Basically you’re taking playing time away from someone who is likely to be a +10 to 15 defender with -15 to -20 bat for someone that will be a -5 to -10 fielder and a -10 to -15 bat.  Seems to be to be a horizontal move at best, with a definite possibility to be a downgrade.

In order of preference, I think Theriot would best be deployed

  1. Starting ~20 games at 2nd and ~20 games at SS; and would be the guy to take over if either got injured (This assumes a competent 2nd baseman; which the Cards lack)
  2. Starting ~130 games at 2nd (this is actually the best for the Cards since they lack an actual 2nd baseman)
  3. Starting ~130 games at SS

So the Cards are going to pick the worst option (where they likely have the best player already in place).

Signing Lance Berkman:

At least Berkman brings something the Cards don’t have too much of; a high OBP bat.  Clearly the question here is can Berkman hit enough to overcome what will likely be large defensive shortcomings?  Assuming health (clearly a big assumption, but if not healthy then all that is lost is $8M)  I think we’re looking at something like a 0.375 wOBA with the error bars being ~0.015 to 0.020.  For him to be a 2 WAR guy with that kind of offense he’d need to be about a -10 defender.  Is that possible?  Probably.  Likely?  Don’t know, my guess would be no.

All in all it appears the Cards made two depth moves.  The problem is they are being spun as more than that.  The question is, “Will they need to be more than that?”.

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.

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