Saturday, February 25, 2012

The Cards Over The Last 32 Seasons - Second Base

Moving on to second base. This position has a peculiar sort of stability during the later Herzog years, through the Torre era, and into the first year of LaRussa's run. From 1988 through 1996, the Cards had 3 different starting second basemen, but only one held the job for more than 3 consecutive seasons (Jose Oquendo). Luis Alicea was the starter for all three managers at least once, and there's a year of Geronimo Pena in there as well. Actually, he and Alicea practically split the innings from '92-'94, but I couldn't tell if it was a planned platoon, or injury issues. Since that time, things were highly erratic under TLR. So that'll be fun.

Herzog Era: 4

Best: Tom Herr. He has the years (7, no other candidate has more than 2), and his performance is solid enough to back that up. His 3.3 WAR/162 games is almost certainly buoyed by the 6.1 he posted in 1985, but Jose Oquendo's 3.7 is almost all about the 5.4 WAR he was worth in 1989. Oberkfell was excellent in 1980, but like with Ted Simmons, you're only talking about half a season.

Worst: Luis Alicea became a pretty good ballplayer later on. Didn't even have to go to another team for it to happen, which is sometimes the case. But in 1988, he wasn't ready, which is why he'd lost the starting job by season's end to Oquendo. But Alicea was still the second baseman of record, which means his -2.8 WAR/162 gets the nod. Yes, almost 3 wins worse than a replacement player. Posting a .559 OPS, even in a down year for offense will do that to you, especially if your defense isn't otherworldly.

Torre Era: 3

Best: Speaking strictly in terms of WAR/162, it's Geronimo Pena. His average is 3.1, which is over a win better than Luis Alicea, and almost a win and a half ahead of Oquendo. But, that's taking essentially half a season of games and extrapolating it to a full season. Even the year Pena was the starter, he split time with Alicea. Of course, you could say the same thing about Alicea the years he was the starter. In Pena has the WAR edge in all three seasons, though it's one-tenth of a win in two of them (in the other it's 1.3 wins). Oquendo has the longevity edge, but it's hampered when you consider we're counting the third of '90 and the third of '95 Torre managed as "seasons". Really, Jose was Torre's starter for 1.7 seasons, so probably about even with Alicea and Pena when you consider how much those two were each starting across 92-94. Edit: Taking that into account, I compared Alicea and Pena from those three seasons, to see who was better. Pena won handily. They're basically even in batting average and OBP, but Pena has almost 50 points of slugging, better defense, more steals, and at a much better success rate. Geronimo Pena it is, then.

Worst: Just leaves Jose Oquendo. I'm impressed, though, that he could be worth 1.7 WAR with a .302 SLG. That .340 OBP (with a .230 batting average) really helps, and I imagine his defense carries the rest of the water. It certainly wouldn't have been his speed making up the difference (1 SB, versus 11 for Alicea and 18 for Pena).

LaRussa Era: 10!

Best: This is kind of a mess. There are six guys with only one season as starter. One of the six (Mark Grudzielanek, 3.6 WAR in 2005, at 4.2/162) has the second best season by any second baseman for LaRussa. I'm not giving it to him, even this position's choices aren't so anemic I'll award it to a guy with one season as starter, I just wanted to give Grudz some love as the last good starting second baseman the Cards have had. Yes, it's been six years of crap since then. Swell.

Moving on, there are 4 guys with multiple seasons. Adam Kennedy was terrible, so he's out. That leaves Delino DeShields (3.0 WAR/162), Fernando Vina (2.3), and Skip Schumaker (0.9). I'll mention here Tony Womack was the starter in '04, and for that single glorious year, he was also better than any of these guys (3.6/162). Anyway, DeShields has the highest WAR rate, the best single season (3.7 in 1997), and he had lots of speed (averaged 13 triples and 49 stolen bases per 162 games). Defensively kind of iffy, but at least he was productive speedy middle infielder for TLR to bat leadoff. Vina has the longevity (3 years), had a good first season (3.1 WAR in 2000), was also fast (7 triples, 17 SBs per 162), and compensated for a lack of walks by getting hit by pitches a lot. Skip also has the longevity argument (3 years), and. . . in my more cynical moments, he's the philosophically perfect LaRussa second baseman.

LaRussa clearly didn't believe second base was an important position to get locked down with a good player. He believes this so strongly he'll play anyone, from backup catchers (Tony Cruz, Danny Sheaffer), to corner outfielders (Allen Craig), to his Hall of Fame first baseman with leg problems (Albert Pujols) there at different times. And he'll hand the starting job to a slap-hitting corner outfielder who hasn't played the position since college and let him continue to start for 3 years. The man doesn't give a shit about the position, and Skip being in this conversation exemplifies that.

All that aside, the other two represent certain aspects of LaRussa's style as well, and are actually good at their jobs, so let's give it to Delino DeShields, who was better than Vina by enough to make up for one less year as starter. Vina might have managed to win if he hadn't fallen off so badly by '03 that he lost his starting job to Bo Hart. A good season there, and we'd have a different result, that's for sure.

Worst: I'd love to give this to Skip, as a "reward" for watching him butcher the position for 3 seasons. Unfortunately, the Cards have used a worse guy than him under LaRussa. Take a bow, Adam Kennedy! If not for Luis Alicea's terrible 1988, your 2007 would be the worst season by a Cardinals' second baseman in the last 3 decades! You're so terrible, I'm hardly even going to mention that Aaron Miles was the starter in 2006. Seriously, Aaron Miles (platooning with first Hector Luna, then Ronnie Belliard)!

To Kennedy's credit, he was at least solid defensively in 2008, even if he couldn't hit a lick. But that '07, geez, what a disaster. Shutting down for the season with knee surgery was a blessing for the fans.

Next time, third base. There's not much mystery here, except for the best of the Herzog Era. Will steady production over 3 years win out over a production rollercoaster of 7 years?

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Saturday, February 18, 2012

The Cards Over The Last 32 Seasons - First Base

Moving on to the next position on the diamond, we reach first base. First base is a position that hasn't seen much stability over the last three decades. Since Keith Hernandez was traded, the Cardinals have had 13 different players as the primary first basemen for one season. That's with Albert Pujols holding the position for 8 years. Only one other player has been starter for more than 3 years in between him and Hernandez. Recall that stats are expressed as per 162 averages.

Herzog Era: 6 1st basemen

Best: It's a two-horse race between Keith Hernandez and Jack Clark. They have the longevity (3 years as starter apiece), and none of the others really come close in production, either. So which to pick? Clark averaged more runs (99 to 94), Hernandez more hits (181 to 150). Hernandez has the edge in doubles, triples, and stolen bases (big edge there, 18 to 2), but Clark has a three to one edge in homers, and twice as many walks. He posted a .935 OPS to Hernandez' .846. Still, Hernandez has a slight edge in WAR, 5.8 to 5.7, which suggests a) the weaker offensive environment of the early '80s and b) that he gets a big bonus from his defense.

Philosophically, though, one would lean towards Clark. Hernandez ended up being traded, either because of a drug issue or because he wasn't totally on board with Herzog's demands on him. Clark was apparently expected to resist being moved to first from the outfield, yet ultimately accepted the change. Which would be a nod towards Clark. Still, I'd pick Keith Hernandez. He only missed out on being starter for 4 seasons under Herzog because he was traded partway through '83, meaning George Hendrick wound up with the most innings at first, and Clark had durability issues. In three years with the team, he played less than two full seasons worth of games. His production is impressive for how much time he missed, but being able to stay on the field matters.

Worst: Bob Horner. Horner was the first attempt at replacing Clark after the front office dicked around to long resigning him after '87. Horner's season (and career) ended before the 4th of July in '88, but at the time he was only on pace for 8 HRs, and a .703 OPS. Given the down year offense experienced in '88, that's still a 102 OPS+, which is slightly better than the 101 David Green produced in 1984. But Horner's season only translates to a 0.5 WAR, while Green's is a 1.5, because Green was a better than average gloveman (Horner was slightly below average, and Green had speed Horner couldn't match (on pace for 5 triples and 22 SBs, versus 3 and 0, respectively, for Horner). The other option might be Pedro Guerrero, whose 1989 was outwardly impressive, except he was horrific defensively (about two wins below average at first, which is a win worse than Lance Berkman was in right field last year). His 1990 wasn't anything great, either, but he was still worth an average of 1.6 WAR.

Torre Era: 4

Best: Gregg Jefferies. There's really no competition. Guerrero had a poor showing in his two seasons (well season and a third). Andres Galarraga was a disaster, and Zeile was the starter for a third of the '95 season, at which point he was traded and Torre was fired. Which shouldn't be seen as a slight against Jefferies. Even if he wasn't much defensively (about equal to Horner), he was worth on average 4.6 WAR over his two years as starter. A lot of that is batting average (.335), but he drew a fair number of walks (.401 OBP, 71 walks/162), and mostly doubles power (.487 SLG, 34 doubles to 19 HRs). He also averaged 38 stolen bases per 162 games. So he wasn't bad, he just doesn't have any decent competitors to distinguish himself against.

Worst: Pedro Guerrero, over the third of '90 Torre coached and 1991, was worth -0.1 WAR. Andres Galarraga, in the part of 1992 he actually played, produced at a rate of -0.7 WAR. He was outhit by both Ozzie Smith and Luis Alicea. He's also the guy the Cardinals received for giving up Ken Hill, just as Hill apparently decided to become an All-Star caliber pitcher. Salt in the wound wins it for Andres Galarraga.

LaRussa Era: 5

Best: Albert Pujols. Period. I was going to describe how McGwire doesn't stack up, but he doesn't, unless you just really love dingers. In which case, go somewhere else.

Worst: Well, it's either Mabry in '96 or Dmitri Young in '97. They have equivalent 0.4 WARs. Mabry's batting average and isolated power are better, Young walks at a better rate. Young only had part of the season to be starter before McGwire showed up, so perhaps he would have turned his season around. Eh, Mabry always bugged me for some reason, so let's hear it for John Mabry.

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Sunday, February 12, 2012

The Cards Over The Last 32 Seasons - Catchers

Well, I have to do something to fill time. The basic idea is the St. Louis Cardinals have had 3 managers for any extended period of time since 1980: Whitey Herzog, Joe Torre, Tony LaRussa. There have been others who managed parts of seasons after Herzog resigned and Torre was fired, but those are the only ones with at least one full season. Which isn't too shabby. So I thought I'd look at who were the best and worst starters at each position for each manager. Starter is defined by any player who had the plurality of innings at a given position in a given season.

As to determining best and worst, performance is an issue, but so is longevity, and to the extent I know anything about it, how representative of the manager's philosophy a given player is. In cases where the manager was only there part of the year, I went the lazy route and multiplied the player's stats by the percent of the season the manager was there. Stats are given as a 162 game average for their stint as starter. When I refer to Wins Above Replacement (WAR), I'm using the Baseball-Reference version. You prefer Fangraphs or whomever, use it for your own study. With all that out of the way, let's look at Catchers.

Herzog Era: 6 catchers.

Best: Darrell Porter (1981-1984). Strictly speaking, Ted Simmons had the best single season in 1980, when he was worth 6 WAR over 162 games. An .881 OPS out of a catcher will do that for you. But that was the only season Simmons was the starter for Herzog, who felt he wasn't defensively adequate enough and traded him to make room for Porter, acquired as a free agent. Porter was the starter the next 4 years, and platooned with Tom Nieto in '85, though Nieto logged more innings, so he's the catcher of record here.

So Porter has longevity, as the only other catcher to log more than 1 year as starter is Tony Pena (1987-1989). He also was the defensively top-notch (or believed to be top-notch) catcher Herzog wanted, which gives him a bonus in that vague "philosophy" category. But he also has some impressive statistics. Over his 4 years as starter, Porter had only a .240 batting average, but since he drew walks at a rate of 83 per 162 games, his OBP was .349, and with a pace of 24 doubles, 5 triples, and 16 home runs, his SLG was an even .400. All that plus his defense made him worth 3.3 WAR per 162 games (I know I'm mentioning 162 games a lot, I just want to make sure that point is sticking with you. I'll try to stop that henceforth). Simmons has better numbers, but not the years (though he'd headline any list of All-Time Cardinals' Catchers). Pena's stats don't come close to stacking up (0.6 WAR, dragged down by an injury plagued first season), and none of the others have the years or the numbers.

Worst: Tom Nieto (1985). I'm not sure why Herzog platooned this guy with Porter. He must have either been trying to save Porter's energy for the postseason, or he thought his defense had really slipped. Nieto's '85 would have been worth a -1.4 WAR for an entire season, as there's probably never been a catcher so good defensively they could compensate for a .586 OPS (Porter posted a .747 that year, good for a 108 OPS+). One could argue Nieto was only a starter for a half-season, but all the other guys are so far ahead of him, it doesn't help much. Even Mike LaValliere was worth 1.8 WAR in 1986, though that was a down year for offense. Pena did struggle his first year, but the other two at least partially compensated.

Torre Era: 1

Best: Tom Pagnozzi. Todd Zeile played the most innings at catcher in '90, but when Torre became manager, he gave Pagnozzi more starts behind the plate, and used Zeile more at 3rd (though Terry Pendleton still had more starts there). After that, there were no serious challengers to Pagnozzi. The backups changed, from Rich Gedman to Erik Pappas, to Terry McGriff, and Danny Sheaffer, but other than Sheaffer, none of them managed more than about half Pags' innings in a given season. Pagnozzi is the weakest of the three catchers who'll be selected, but he was still worth 2.0 WAR/162 from '90-'95. His biggest issues were an inability to stay healthy, and an inability to draw walks. His batting average is .258, but his OBP was only .303.

LaRussa Era: 5

Best: Yadier Molina (2005-2011). Molina has the years, he has the numbers, and he clearly offered what TLR wanted from a catcher. They let Mike Matheny walk and gave Molina the starting job, then stuck with him even after a 2006 where his OPS+ was an abysmal 57 (worse than Brendan Ryan's 2010). Molina's offense has picked up since then, to the point his OPS over this span is .708, and he's worth an average of 2.5 WAR. Pagnozzi's '96 comes close to that, but it's only one year. Matheny (2000-2004) was the starter for 5 years, but with a .643 OPS, he was only worth around 0.9 WAR. Bit too large of a gap there. The only offensive category I looked at where he beat Yadi was the gap between batting average and OBP. Matheny's was 59 points, Molina's was only 53. Of course, the difference in batting average means Molina's OBP still beats Matheny's by 22 points.

Worst: It's a two-horse race, Mike Difelice (1997) or Eli Marrero (98-99). On the one hand, Difelice's WAR is worse, -0.5 to 0.0. But that means Marrero was exactly replacement level for two years as a starter, which is possibly worse than being sub-replacement level for one. Plus, Difelice wasn't supposed to be the starter, but was pressed into the role because of Pags' injuries, and because TLR didn't trust Tom Lampkin to start (never mind Lampkin could actually hit a little. . .) But Marrero had to deal with a serious illness, which killed his '99. His '98 was actually not bad, over a whole season he'd have been worth about 1.5 WAR. But his next year was as bad as that was good and here we are. Based on that, I'm gonna have to give the nod to Mike Difelice.

That takes care of the catchers. Next time, whenever that is, we'll move over to first base. It'll be a little tricky in the Herzog Era, not so much for the others, on the "best" lists, at least.

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