Sunday, July 31, 2011

Cardinals Trade For Rafael Furcal

And all they surrendered was Alex Castellanos and some cash. So not a costly trade, seeing as Castellanos was a 24-year old outfielder still in AA. He was having a good year offensively, but most players do, since the Cardinals' Springfield affiliate's stadium is a real hitters park. Besides, he doesn't walk much, and he strikes out a ton.

So Furcal. Well, I complained that the trade that sent Rasmus to Toronto did nothing to improve the Cardinals' most glaring weakness, the middle infield. This should take care of that, in theory. Furcal hasn't been healthy for much of the year, and hasn't hit well when he has played, but if there's anything of the player he was last year left, he should be a considerable upgrade on Tally Ho. If nothing else, his acquisition - along with the minutes Descalso logged at SS recently - means the team finally recognized Theriot isn't a major league quality SS. It only took them 8 months longer than it took me, but it's isn't as though it's part of their job to evaluate players or anything.

Oh, right.

There is the question of whether Furcal can regain last year's form. Looking over past 4 seasons, he the reverse of Reggie Sanders' odd year, even year thing. In 2007, his OPS+ was 78 (642 PAs). Next year, 168 (164 PAs). In 2009, a 91 (680 PAs). Last year, 128 (428 PAs). So far this year he has a 50 in 152 plate appearances. That's really low, even for Furcal, and he's been hitting better recently (though it'd be hard to hit worse), but there's still the question of how much he can turn it around.

On the positive side, he's only a -0.1 in defensive WAR, compared to Theriot's -1.1, though Furcal's logged only half the innings Theriot has. Still, even a SS who is "slightly below average" defensively is an upgrade over Tally Ho, who's defensive skills would be best described as "staggeringly inept".

In theory, the Cards can now use Theriot as a platoon with Schumaker, since Theriot is somewhat effective against LHP. At least until Punto is actually healthy, at which point I'd dump Theriot entirely, myself. Punto's actually having a good offensive season, and he's a better fielder than either of the other 2. If Punto's truly healthy, then his arm will hold up on the left side of the infield (which is the Cardinals' current concern with him).

If Punto can't handle it, there's still Descalso, who the Cardinals at least trust at SS more than Theriot, or there's always Tyler Greene, who actually is a SS. I'm not sure that would be the best thing for him, as being a sporadically used bench player doesn't seem to lead to the best performances from him. Maybe if Furcal gets injured and the Cards just let Greene be the starter for a few weeks he'd do better. Fat chance of that happening, though.

Furcal isn't a perfect solution, but he's a good one for what the team gave up. Though it is a little funny. The Cardinals gave up on waiting for Rasmus to fulfill his potential, but they're picking up Furcal based on what he can do, if he's healthy, and if he hasn't lost his skills. In other words, they're banking on potential production.

Guess we'll see how it goes.


Thursday, July 28, 2011

Cardinals Trade Colby Rasmus

Because hell, it's been 8 months since the last time the Cards traded a relatively young player because he didn't fit into their clubhouse. How's that swap of Brendan Ryan for Theriot working out? I'll answer for you, it's sucked.

Anyway, Rasmus is a Blue Jay now. The Blue Jays had acquired Edwin Jackson from the ChiSox, then flipped him to StL along with Marc Rzepczynski, Octavio Dotel, and Corey Patterson from Toronto. Corey Patterson? Don't they have enough terrible ex-Cubs on this fucking roster already? One is bad enough. The Cardinals also sent along Trver Miller, Brian Tallet, and P.J. Walters. Depending on how some of the players acquired perform, the Cards may receive up to 3 minor leaguers from the Jays.

So overall, how did St. Louis do?

They upgraded their rotation for the remainder of the season, but not dramatically so. Jackson won't be more than the #3 starter behind Carpenter and Garcia. In other words, Jackson will be what Jake Westbrook was supposed to have been, if he hadn't been terrible this year. Jackson's been alright for Chicago. Has an ERA+ of 104, but his WHIP is over 1.4. He does have a solid K/BB ratio of 2.49, and K's over 7/9. In theory, all those numbers should improve with the move to the NL and its easier lineups. Potential downside: Jackson's a free agent, so either they'll give him a big, potentially disastrous contract next year, or the Cardinals gave up Rasmus for a 2-month rental and the draft pick they'll get when Jackson leaves in the offseason. Still, it is an undeniable upgrade for the rotation.

With the addition of Dotel, Scrabble, and McClellan moving back to the 'pen now that Jackson's here the relief corps should be improved. Dotel's been pretty solid in about 29 innings. He's surrendering about 2 hits every 3 innings, 1.5 HRs/9, and striking out a batter an inning. And he's not walking too many guys. Rzep's apparently the only trusted lefty in the Jays' pen, as he's logged almost 40 innings this year, albeit in 43 appearances. He'll fit right in with LaRussa's bullpen methods. He allows one HR every 18 innings, has a K/BB ratio of 2.2, and like Dotel, his WHIP is just under 1.1. Not too shabby. Plus, the trade got rid of Miller and Tallet, so addition by addition and addition by subtraction. Dotel's a free agent at the end of the year as well, but he's pitched well enough the Cards could get a draft pick if he goes elsewhere. Then again, they might not want him to go. With Batista and Franklin gone, TLR might feel the 'pen is dangerously low on veteranosity. Or Dotel might retire. Who knows? Scrabble's under team control for another 3 or 4 years, though, so that's good.

Interestingly, Rzep was a starter the previous two seasons, with mixed results. He was OK in 11 '09 starts, but struggled in 12 starts last year, as his WHIP jumped from 1.3 to 1.6, and his hit rate with from 7.5/9 to 10.2/9. It's odd, his K rate is actually lower in the bullpen than it was as a starter, when he was over 8 K/9 both years. Most pitchers K more guys as relievers, since they'll throw fewer pitches and can throw harder. Anyway, I wonder if the Cards will continue shifting him back to starting next year. If he can be even average, he'll be a lot more valuable than as a LOOGY. And other than Garcia, the Cards don't have a lot of LH starting pitching. Haven't really had a lot of it since the early '90s, actually, and most of those guys didn't pan out (Allen Watson and Tom Urbani especially, Rheal Cormier and Donovan Osborne to lesser extents), so more is better.

So the pitching staff should be stronger. Great, because they didn't help the outfield any. Before they could trot out Holliday/Rasmus/Berkman, and Jay could sub anywhere. Now Jay has to start in center, unless LaRussa thinks Patterson can do that. Patterson's been the Jay's starting LF this year, but he was the Cubs starting CF for about 4 years, then two with Baltimore and 1 in Cincy. The numbers vary. Sometimes he's good (he was worth 1.1 wins defensively alone in '06), and sometimes bad (and worth -0.5 the next year). All his value this year is with the glove, but again, that's in LF. Considering TLR was willing to bench Rasmus in favor of Jay, I don't see Jay losing the starting job to Patterson. After all, the Cardinals ought to have seen enough of him to know his limitations (poor plate discipline chief among them).

Then again, they had years to watch Theriot play SS, and still thought he could handle it, so maybe they're blind. Or idiots. I'll have to hope Craig hurries and finishes his rehab stint, then picks up where he left off. At least then they'll have an offensively comptent backup to compliment their apparently defensively comptent new arrival. What it boils down to is, Rasmus being swapped out for Patterson is not an improvment. So that's a minus.

The big issue for me is this does nothing to address the Cards' most glaring hole, the middle infield. Descalso's getting some opportunities at SS, with Greene still in AAA and Punto apparently unable to hold up if he plays short. Descalso's an improvement over Theriot (though I think my dead grandmother would be an upgrade over Tally Ho), but combined with Skip, it still isn't an ideal situation for a pitching staff that relies heavily on groundballs. I don't know whether the team doesn't consider it an issue, or if there's simply nothing out there worth getting, without selling the farm. Then again, the team seems committed to win now, so what do they care about selling the farm?

Short-term, I think this trade improves the team, though not as much as they need. Long-term, I think it's a crap move. The potential draft picks and players to be named later don't impress me because wht are the odds any of them will be the player Rasmus is? Pretty small, I'd bet.

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Tuesday, July 05, 2011

Hitters At The Halfway Point

OK, I didn't manage to post it the following day. Life intrudes.

Yadier Molina - He's on pace for the best offensive season of his career, barely ahead of 2009 in OPS, though well ahead in OPS+. It's more slugging percentage heavy than is normal. His isolated power is .133, where his previous high was .106 in 2005. Seems strange in such an offense poor year, but it isn't as though the Cards can't use the offense. Most of his value seems to be offense, though catcher defense is always tricky. His throwing out an unusually low 29% of would-be basestealers. Not sure what the issue is there, except perhaps his pitchers are poor at holding runners on (Jaime Garcia's been stolen on 9 out of 10 tries).

Albert Pujols - Slow start, was turning it around, wrist collides with baserunner, supposed to be out until August, possibly coming back tonight. The impressive thing is, as poorly as he's hit by his standards, Albert's OPS+ is still 140, and he's generated 2 WAR with his bat (plus another 0.4 with the glove). He's also been successful on all 5 of his stolen base attempts, a total that ties him for 2nd with Rasmus and Jon Jay. I'm tired of the Cardinals never stealing bases.

Skip Schumaker - Skip spent some time on the DL. Hasn't really helped him. He's not hitting any better than he did last year, in fact, he's even worse. His batting average isn't quite as empty as an Aaron Miles special, but it's getting there. And his defense isn't noticeably better, either. Glad they held onto him and his -0.3 WAR.

Daniel Descalso - Thrust into the starting role thanks to Freese and Punto's injuries. Descalso's OPS has resolutely stuck in the .660s for awhile now, which actually qualifies as value this year somehow. His defense hasn't been as good as you'd hope for from someone moving from second base, but maybe it won't be an issue now that the other two are back.

Ryan Theriot - There is a level of production the Cardinals could receive from their shortstop that would get me to accept trading Brendan Ryan. Theriot's not capable of producing it, but it exists. However, I'd like to point out that at the 81-game mark, Theriot's WAR was -0.2, and Brendan Ryan's was 1.5. Ryan's is now 1.7, and Tally Ho's is still -0.2. Whatever value he generates with his bat is wiped out by his awful fielding. Not that Brendan is tearing the cover off the ball, but he's hitting as well as Skip and fielding a damn sight better than Schumaker or Theriot. Great upgrade there, LaRussa and Mozeliak!

Matt Holliday - Holliday's been on the DL twice, but at least he's come off hitting well both times. I still expect the Cardinals will end up regretting Matt's contract the way the Cubs do Alfonso Soriano's, but so far, it's worked out pretty well.

Colby Rasmus - Rasmus started hot, then went into a prolonged slump he's only recently shown signs of emerging from. He's not helping anything by playing an apparently poor centerfield (-1.0 WAR defensively, which subtracts from the 1.9 offensive WAR). There's talk of trading him, talk that he doesn't play hard enough, that he can't cut it here. I think trading him would be a mistake, but then I don't think Jon Jay is a long-term answer at centerfield. Or at least not one superior to Colby.

Lance Berkman - I have no idea how Berkman's doing this. He's stayed mostly healthy, which is no minor feat on this team this year, and he's been crushing the ball. His defense, well, did I mention he's been crushing the ball? Look, even with a dWAR of -0.8, he's still been worth almost 3 wins already, which, if you can hit that well, I will overlook the defensive shortcomings. It isn't as though they're a surprise anyway.

Jon Jay - Jay is pretty much the only bench player who has been a) healthy, and b) productive. Everyone else fails one of the two criteria. dWAR doesn't care for his defense (though they like it more than Colby's), though some numbers like him in center, but not the corners. Which seems backwards, but he's played a lot more innings in the corners, so that may be more indicative of his real ability. For a bench player he's doing alright. It's funny that people want Jay in CF instead of Colby and complain about Colby's Ks, because Jay's striking out quite a bit (about 1 in 6 PAs) for a guy with a .300 average. Though it's possible the people who complain about Rasmus' strikeouts aren't the ones clamoring for Jay. or not for that reason anyway.

Allen Craig - With Holliday being on and off the DL, plus LaRussa's perhaps not so surprising decision to play Craig at 2nd in Skip's absence, Craig was actually getting quite a bit of playing time. Now he's been hurt for around a month, which is tough, since he was the consistent power bat off the bench. The only position players with a higher WAR than Craig are Albert, Holliday, and Berkman, and strangely enough, the defensive stats generally like Craig. He has a 0.3 dWAR overall, which is great compared to a lot of his teammates. He has positive or neutral rtot at 1st, 2nd, LF, and RF. It's worth noting LF is the only position he's played more than 100 innings at, though. But hey, he's fulfilling the Scott Speizio "I play all corner positions and second because Tony figures anyone can play there" roster role.

David Freese - Missed time with an injury. What a surprise. Next you'll tell me Kerry Wood spent time on the DL. Freese, when he plays, has done what he did last year when he played. Hit for a high average, a little power, and hasn't walked much while striking out about once a game. I wonder if he'd develop more patience if he could stay in the lineup?

Tyler Greene - Greene's the first bench player to succeed at staying healthy, but fail to produce. He did run the bases well (8-for-8 on SBs), but that's about all he did well. Honestly, if he could make contact a little more often, he'd be OK. He's drawing walks, hit for a little (stress: little) power, though his defense has been poor at second, and about average at SS.

Nick Punto - Too bad Punto can't stay healthy. He's actually hitting this year, an event that only occurs every 4 years or so. If nothing else, his presence might spare us from some Schumaker at 2nd, which would be fine with me. At least Punto can play the position competently.

Gerald Laird - It was nice to see LaRussa actually use his backup catcher this year. He'd started 10 games in less than 2 months, where LaRue started 15 in over 4 last year. Then Laird got hurt. Too bad, his average was awful, but like Greene, he was drawing walks, and (unlike Greene) hitting for good power (isolated slugging of .167).

Mark Hamilton - He's been up-and-down with the injuries to various power hitters like Holliday, Craig, and Albert. Unfortunately, he hasn't hit and they aren't using him for his defense. Maybe more playing time would help, but he can really only play first, and Tony would rather use Berkman there and play Holliday, Rasmus, and Jay in the outfield. As well he should.

Tony Cruz - Cruz was called up to replace Laird, which is probably the death knell for Bryan Anderson, since he was sitting there in AAA, with major league experience already. LaRussa hasn't used Cruz much, and he's played him 20 innings combined at first and third, versus just 58 at catcher, which doesn't make sense, but it hasn't been a disaster so far. And Cruz has even hit some.

Andrew Brown - Brown was called up briefly for some reason and promptly looked over-matched. He's back in the minors now.

Pete Kozma - Kozma hasn't really shown anything in the minors to suggest he was ready for this, but Tony wanted/needed another middle infielder, so there he was. He didn't do terribly well, but honestly, in the absence of Punto, I'd rather see Kozma at 2nd than Schumaker (and Greene at SS over Theriot). I don't think either is cut out for starting in the majors, but I know that already about Skip and Tally Ho. Might as well find out about the younger guys one way or the other.

Matt Carpenter - I was actually excited about Carpenter's call-up. The solid contact, good on-base percentage, limited power description appealed to me. Results were less than optimal. He did draw some walks, but 1 hit in 19 plate appearances isn't going to cut it. I don't know whether he wasn't aggressive enough, or just not ready for the majors, or if it was bad luck in a small sample. His babip was .091, which suggests horrendous luck, but that doesn't tell whether he was hitting weak grounders, or hard line drives that found gloves. Baseball-Reference says he had 5 ground balls and 5 fly balls, all of which turned into outs, but his 1 line drive was a hit. So perhaps not bad luck.