Go ahead and vent about this play from Tuesday night that allowed the Cubs to win consecutive games in walk-off fashion. Feel better? Good. Let me provide a couple of reminders.

In the table below, I submit to you the cumulative triple-A performances of three mystery players now on the Cardinals’ roster. Which performance is most appealing?

Mystery Triple-A Players
Player AVG OBP SLG OPS
A .275 .344 .396 .741
B .291 .373 .477 .851
C .297 .348 .407 .755

Find out who they are after the jump…

Continue reading »

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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When I started writing this post, the season hadn’t quite ended so it might seem a little out of place but I had already set the foundation so here’s a belated entry in which I lament the Rockies inability to reach the post-season despite an incredible performance by their SS. After that, we’ll turn our attention towards 2011 and John Mozeliak’s ambitious checklist.

2010 Ends Fittingly
When it became clear that the Cardinals truly had went “poopy in their pants,” as Jack Clark so eloquently put it, I started rooting for the patented late-season Rockies surge. Troy Tulowitzki appeared to be on a mission in September when he accumulated 40 RBIs and 15 HRs. Don’t like counting stats? Me neither. That’s good for a ridiculous .492 wOBA (twenty-six points better than the second place guy who also happens to play for the Rockies; Carlos Gonzalez). Tulo hit 14 HRs between 9/3 and 9/18; according to Hit Tracker, all but two of them would have left a majority of MLB parks and none were considered lucky. He also plays a premiere defensive position well (6.1 UZR/150 on season) and features a mullet that he’s promised to keep growing as long as fans continue donating money to charity. Other than my soul, what wouldn’t I be willing to trade for Troy Tulowitzki?

The Phillies were the only NL team that had a better cumulative wOBA for September as a whole but the Rockies offense faded in the second half of the month with a .306 wOBA in the past fourteen days. Don’t blame Troy; he stayed strong with a .396 wOBA. The Rockies pitching simply couldn’t match the crazy awesome Giants staff that posted a 2.75 Team FIP and 4.03 K/BB. The Rockies ended the season having lost thirteen of their last fourteen games. It was kind of fitting then, that the Cardinals and Rockies were left to face off in the season’s final week to see who ended 2010 with the dirtier trousers. Unfortunately for the Rockies, they had an above .500 record which meant that the Cardinals would inevitably win the series.
Mozeliak’s 2011 Checklist
Looking toward 2011, John Mozeliak provided a check list of sorts in Bernie’s not-so-recent column:

  1. “…a couple of guys who can hit 15 to 20 homers.”
  2. A number two catcher who can provide more offense.
  3. Cleaning up middle-infield defense.
  4. Improving overall poor base running.

Let’s break down each bulleted point and compare the Cardinals’ top offensive performers against all postseason teams (Phillies, Giants, Reds, and Braves) within the parameters established by Mozeliak (at least 15 HRs).

2010 Postseason Teams Vs. Cardinals
Player HR wOBA
Giants
Huff 26 .388
Uribe 24 .322
Posey 18 .368
Burrell 18 .371
Torres 16 .363
Reds
Votto 37 .439
Rolen 20 .367
Bruce 25 .363
Stubbs 22 .345
Phillips 18 .332
Gomes 18 .330
Phillies
Howard 31 .367
Werth 27 .397
Victorino 18 .339
Utley 16 .373
Ibanez 16 .341
Braves
McCann 21 .361
Heyward 18 .376
Glaus 16 .331
Prado 15 .352
Cardinals
Pujols 42 .420
Holliday 28 .396
Rasmus 23 .366

Yes, I’m aware how ugly that table looks compared to the width of the page. Turns out all of the division winners had at least five such players (Reds have six) while the Cardinals only had three (Pujols, Holliday, and Rasmus). Although that sounds like a significant difference, when you consider numbers that encapsulate a more complete offensive picture, only the Giants(!) had more players with at least .360 wOBAs. Maybe the Cardinals don’t have as large of an offensive chasm to fill after all. With that said, there are already Rasmus trade rumors swirling and we haven’t even made it out of October yet. Yikes. Let’s hope that the Cardinals resist the urge to placate a manager only willing to go year-to-year and look beyond HR totals when signing/acquiring new players this hot stove season. Beware of guys like Uribe who, despite hitting at least 15 HRs since 2004 (exception of 2008), has only managed to post above average wOBAs twice.

Next on the list is a back-up catcher who can provide more offense. Of course, this is not the type of player that will make or break a team’s competitiveness but it would be nice to have someone capable of posting an OPS+ of at least 75. That’s something the Cardinals haven’t had since, well, Yadier Molina in 2004. Speaking of Yadi, Brian McCann is the only NL catcher that has logged more innings behind the plate in the past three years. At just 28-years-old, we’re starting to see the physical repercussions of such a demanding work load. Maybe the Cardinals are recognizing this as well and they’d like to give him more rest in future seasons. Despite this indication, I remain skeptical that they follow through with pursuit of an offensive minded back-up catcher. Exhibit A: In Molina’s absence, Matt Pagnozzi (.586 OPS in minor league career) has been given regular playing time over Bryan Anderson (.782 OPS in minor league career). That Anderson can’t accumulate AB’s in meaningless September games despite offering this exact skill for the major league minimum price is perplexing; would it be that surprising to see him packaged in a trade this off season?

Mozeliak’s vow to shore up the middle-infield defense seems to be an indictment on Skip Schumaker. See this video for proof. Brendan Ryan doesn’t really care which defensive metric by which you judge him: 11.6 UZR/150, 15 total zone total fielding runs above average, and 27 BIS defensive runs saved above average. Boog’s glove appears to have bought him at least one more season to put things together offensively. The effort and professionalism with which Skip tried to convert to 2B from the OF was much undoubtedly won him points in the clubhouse and made him a fan favorite but the Cardinals appear ready to abandon the experiment. And that seems like the right move. According to UZR, Skip’s defense was actually worse in 2010 (-17.7 UZR/150 in 2010; -8.5 UZR/150 in 2009). Combine that with an unfortunate offensive season (.299 wOBA) and he’s essentially become a replacement level player (-0.2 WAR).

Last on Mo’s agenda is to improve the team’s value on the base paths. According to Baseball Prospectus, however, the Cardinals were in the top third of the league, ranking 9th in equivalent base running runs (EqBRR). Of the top eight teams, only three made the playoffs. In fact, the league overall seems to be pretty bad at adding runs via base running. Only the top ten teams had positive EqBRR and the Cardinals were one of them. Fungoes has more on this topic here. Not that they couldn’t improve in this area, but base running doesn’t appear to be one of the team’s greatest needs.

The positive? John Mozeliak appears to know his team well. I wouldn’t argue with his assessment of team needs. If the Cardinals were able to improve in these four areas, we’d likely have a better team to root for in 2011.

The negative? I’m not convinced that he understands how to make these improvements. In Derrick Goold’s “Thrills and Spills” article, Mozeliak is quoted as desiring, “a more experienced presence,” on next year’s bench and roster. In 2010, the Cardinals added experience to the roster in the form of Aaron Miles, Randy Winn, Jeff Suppan, and Pedro Feliz. These players “helped” the club in the form of the following WARs: 0.0, -0.2, 0.1, and -0.5 (respectively). Maybe triple-A guys like Tyler Greene and Allen Craig wouldn’t have helped much more offensively, but they certainly had the upside that warranted giving them an extended chance. And now the Cardinals will go into 2011 with these guys still needing to wet their feet in the big leagues. 2010 was a wasted opportunity to learn more about guys that the Cardinals need to contribute in the future. The Cardinals don’t need experienced, seasoned, or veteran players. They just need more talent… and their failure to utilize that talent in 2010 even when freely available was (and is) disconcerting.

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.

Used as the Cardinals’ lead-off hitter the past two seasons, Skip Schumaker is finding himself in one of the worst funks of his career. His .292 wOBA combined with sub-par defense (-6 runs according to UZR) means that he’s been a replacement level second baseman so far on the season, not at all what we were hoping for out of Skippy this season, to say the least.

So what’s wrong? Looking at his plate discipline numbers, it doesn’t seem he’s seeing the ball very well. His strikeout rate is up 1% and his walk rate is down 1%. That doesn’t sound like a big deal, but digging a little deeper we see that he has been hacky, so this trend of more K’s and less walks could continue to get worse. Schumaker is swinging at 33.1% pitches out of the zone so far this season, a 6% increase from the season earlier. What’s he swinging at?

By the looks of things, Skippy is having trouble discerning letting a few pitches that are wide outside and low outside. It’s particularly amusing to how low some of these pitches are that he’s swung at.

If Schumaker wants to go back to leading off, or for that matter keep his job as the every day second baseman when Freese returns, he’ll need to show a little better discipline than he has this year so far.

There’s been some concerns raised about the Cardinals’ plate discipline, most notably about Pujols swinging at a lot more pitches out of the zone than usual. The problem isn’t just limited to Albert. Holliday, Schumaker and others have all been a little more hacky than usual. On the flip side, Colby Rasmus has really raised his game in the on-base percentage department. He’s taken a much more disciplined approach overall, but his strikeout rate has raised some concerns.

The problem with even bothering looking at batter’s walk and strikeout rates this early in the season is we’re talking about small samples. Studies have shown that it takes about 150 plate appearances for a player’s strikeout rate to become something we can draw conclusions from, and 200 plate appearances for his walk rate. But Swing% and Contact %’s become a safer guide as early as 50 PA’s and 100 PA’s respectively. These stats give us a better idea of a batter’s plate discipline than K% and BB% this early in the season.

Jeff Zimmerman has found a way to use plate discipline stats such as these to estimate a player’s future walk and strikeout rates. Armed with this knowledge, we can get a good idea of what to expect in the plate discipline department from the Cards going forward.  The stats are from FanGraphs, batters must have a minimum of 50 PA.

Name Est. K% Est. BB% Actual K% Actual BB%
Colby Rasmus 25.4% 13.3% 35.6% 17.7%
David Freese 23.8% 10.4% 23.2% 8.8%
Brendan Ryan 20.9% 9.3% 24.7% 10.7%
Ryan Ludwick 25.1% 10.3% 27.2% 10.7%
Yadier Molina 17.8% 9.1% 12.1% 8.9%
Matt Holliday 18.2% 8.8% 18.3% 4.8%
Albert Pujols 15.5% 13.3% 16.9% 13.2%
Skip Schumaker 10.8% 4.5% 14.8% 10.1%

Intentional walks are taken into account, and some of the Cardinal batters have some gaudy IBB totals. Colby Rasmus has five intentional passes! So instead of factoring in the batter’s current IBB%, I used their Marcel projected IBB%.

Some observations:

  • Colby Rasmus really has shown a better eye, and should be counted on for walks going forward. This isn’t a big surprise judging by his minor league history, but his pitiful walk rate last year was a little worrisome. Colby should cut down the K%.
  • If David Freese really walks 10.4% of his plate appearances, I will be thrilled. He’s made me a believer with his performance to date.
  • Matt Holliday should revert back to normal when the dust clears.
  • Now the bad news. Skip Schumaker’s walk rate looks good now, but he could be on his way to a terrible walk rate unless something changes.
  • Albert is on his way to his highest strikeout rate since he was a rookie, and his lowest walk rate since 2004. He’ll still be really, really good, but just not the Albert we’re used to. The thing about Pujols is when he has a flaw, he seems to be able to correct it in short order.

So we meet again.

For $2 million, this is a fantastic deal for the Cardinals. Lopez offers a lot of flexibility across the infield. He can fill in for Brendan Ryan at short as he recovers from the surgery to his wrist, he can platoon with Skip Schumaker at second base, and he’s nice Freese insurance, should the rookie fail to make good on his promise. Continue reading »

Skip Schumaker slid headfirst into a 2-year, $4.7  million extension. Seems like a nice enough deal for both sides. Let’s crunch some numbers and see just how good this deal really is.

Continue reading »

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.

© 2011 Gas House Graphs Suffusion theme by Sayontan Sinha