Being that we aren’t quite out of April, it’s a little early to read into most statistics but certain numbers become meaningful before others. Under the definition of ‘sample size’ in FanGraphs’ glossary, you’ll find a list of stats and the corresponding sample sizes needed before they achieve reliability. For offensive players, the first of those numbers is swing percentage, or how often a given hitter decides to swing the bat.

Theoretically, swinging less often is viewed positively since it suggests that the hitter could be cultivating a more disciplined approach. Selectivity is important for two reasons: (1) Hitters have a better chance to reach base via the walk if they resist swinging at pitches outside the strike zone, and (2) abstaining from pitches that would likely induce weak contact allows them to avoid making easy outs.

According to FanGraphs, swing percentage stabilizes after 50 plate appearances. Most of the Cardinals’ regulars have accumulated enough plate appearances for us to visit this stat and observe whether any obvious trends have emerged. It’s important to note that even though a trend is established after the stabilizing threshold (in this case, 50 PA) occurs, it does not mean that said player will continue to perform at the new rate, just that we can expect his performance to trend in that direction in the future.

The chart below portrays those Cardinals who have stepped to the plate at least 50 times this season and it pits their 2012 swing percentages (blue line) against their career swing percentages (red line). For the record, I’m using the PITCHf/x plate discipline numbers available at FanGraphs (as opposed to BIS data) for the reasons outlined by Colin Wyers in this Baseball Prospectus article. WARNING: I augment each individual player description with other statistics (strike out rate, line drive rate, walk rate, etc.) that have not yet stabilized, so while they are adequate descriptions of what has transpired thus far, they do not imply trends… yet.

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Another loss, another eh performance by the offense.

 

The Good:

Berkman showed the solid on base skill that the Cards need from him over the long haul drawing two walks to add to his single.

Kyle Lohse got more swings and misses (7 according to Brooks Baseball) than I had anticipated.

 

The Bad:

Berkman made his first error of the year, to continue a trend of less than stellar defense out of the club.  We all knew the defense was going to be rough in some places, but hopefully things will improve some.

Theriot continues to struggle at the plate, as does the team in general.  Is it too early to panic?  Clearly not, but I’m not overly optimistic about Theriot turning it around.

The Ugly:

The 6 and 7 spots in the order (Freese and Molina) combined to go 0-8 and a combined -0.390 WPA.

 

Commentary:

The team seems to be pounding the ball into the ground so far this season, and this game was no exception, 19 of the 24 balls in play were ground balls, including 15 of 17 against Charlie Morton.  Coming into the day the Cards had hit over 51% of their balls in play on the ground, “good” for 5th in baseball.  Nothing to be alarmed about yet, but something worth keeping an eye on as the season progresses.  I’m sure it’s something we’ll look at with pitch f/x if the trend continues.

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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On October 19, 2010, the Yankees had two outs in the sixth inning of game four of the ALCS.  They led by one (3-2) and had A.J. Burnett on the mound while Benjie Molina and his well below average regular season wOBA (.275) stepped in to the batter’s box (.275 wOBA).  It’s easy to question Girardi’s decision to intentionally walk David Murphy.  Generally speaking, it’s a poor tactical decision to give the opposing team free baserunners; there are very few situations in which statistics justify doing so.  Murphy’s regular season wOBA (.358) demonstrated that he was a much better hitter than Molina.  One can at least sympathize with Girardi’s temptation to give A.J. the easier assignment even if they wouldn’t have arrived at the same decision.  The tying run was already at second base after all and, according to the game log at B-R, the IBB only increased the Rangers’ chances of winning by two percent.

A closer look at the players’ batted ball data may have hinted towards the ensuing disaster that occurred.  A.J. Burnett’s fly ball percentage has been on an upward trend rising from 22.3% in 2005 to 37.5% in 2010.  More fly balls in the air mean an increased chance of home runs.  Put those fly balls in Yankee Stadium whose LF and RF fences are only 318 and 314 feet away respectively and one can imagine why he’s struggled to have as much success in New York.  Now consider the hitters.  Despite Murphy’s much more impressive wOBA, he only hit 36.5% fly balls in 2010 compared to Benjie Molina’s 48%.  Of course, Murphy’s fly balls (.449 SLG) generally had more authority than Molina’s (.326 SLG) but a fly ball down either foul line doesn’t exactly have to be a monster shot and, in other stadiums, might even be an out.  The next play was summed up best by this tweet for Cardinals fans who also happen to hate the Yankees.  As history would have it, Molina hit an improbable home run into the left field stands that damaged the Yankees chances’ to proceed to the World Series and sent the Rangers into Game 5 with a 3-games-to-1 lead.

Have you ever stopped to think how crazy it is that the Molina family can boast of three brothers who all play in the major leagues, all play the same position (catcher), and have all won World Series rings?  Now two of the brothers (Yadier and Benjie: click each name for clips) have hit memorable postseason home runs sending their respective teams to the World Series to defeat  New York on the exact same day (October 19) in the exact same city just four years apart.  Even the camera angles following Benjie around the bases were remarkably similar to the footage that captured Yadi’s trip around the diamond.

Below is a table detailing the postseason careers of Yadier and Benjie Molina.  Only offensive numbers are represented in the table as caught-stealing percentages for postseasons prior to 2010 were surprisingly difficult to locate.  In case you’re unfamiliar with wRC, it’s total runs created based on wOBA.  Clutch represents the player’s performance in high leverage situations compared to context neutral environment (from FanGraphs’ glossary page).  Remember: any player’s clutchiness has very little (none) predictive value as talented hitters perform better than poor hitters regardless of context; it simply describes what’s transpired to date.  Also, Jose Molina wasn’t included because he’s only accumulated eighteen postseason plate appearances to date.

Postseason Molinas
Year wOBA wRC WPA Clutch
Yadier
2004 .127 -0.3 -0.22 -0.03
2005 .285 -1.2 0.19 0.35
2006 .405 11.1 0.55 0.27
2009 .303 1.3 -0.33 -0.23
Career .339 15.0 0.22 0.20
Benjie
2002 .300 5.6 -0.38 -0.27
2004 .148 -0.2 -0.09 -0.05
2005 .371 5.8 0.20 0.01
2010 .468 6.3 0.76 0.34
Career .351 17.5 0.49 0.34

Each of the Molinas have held their own in October, easily outperforming career wOBAs (Yadi – .303; Benjie – .309).  Whereas most of Yadi’s value comes from 2006, Benjie had a very strong 2005 in support of his incredible 2010.  Benjie still has another series left to cushion his lead of 2.5 wRC over Yadi… or he could regress to his actual talent level against the Giants/Phillies subtracting from his overall numbers.  The pitching he’ll face in the World Series won’t be any easier than what he’s seen in the Yankees/Twins staffs.

Although Benjie was a stellar defender in his own right once upon a time, Yadi’s defensive greatness has been sustained for a longer period of time.  One might argue that his defensive value would give him the edge in postseason performances to date.  Unfortunately, I could not find any worthwhile defensive information to add to the discussion.  Feel free to offer any insights/arguments/ideas you might have in the comments area.

But how do the two brothers’ infamous (in NY anyways) home runs match up with one another in terms of win probability?  When Benjie took A.J. deep, the Rangers’ win expectancy jumped by an impressive 41%, but it was the sixth inning and the Yankees still had time to do some damage… so it’s reasonable to assume that Yadi’s homer was more decisive, right?  Wrong.  Amazingly, Yadi’s blast off of Aaron Heilman in Shea Stadium on October 19, 2006 improved the Cardinals’ win expectancy by 41%.  Baseball.  Family.  You can’t make this stuff up.

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.

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.

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