Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Looking At Arizona Drafts Over The Last 20 Years - Round 1

It doesn't look like the St. Louis Cardinals are going to do much of anything for the time being, so I thought I'd crank out some of those odd posts I do from time to time. I have one planned for the baseball Cards in the future, though it's more revisiting something I did several years ago. For now, though, we'll look at the Arizona Cardinals.

This year marked the 21st season that I've been an Arizona Cardinals fan. Which means they've had 20 drafts since then. I wanted to look at the best and worst picks they've made in each round. To be clear, I'm interested in what the players did for Arizona only. Which is why Chad Eaton (1995) is not their best 7th round pick. He never played a down for them. I'm probably going to reserve judgment on most of the picks from 2013, simply because so few of them have substantive playing time so far.

1st Round (21 total picks):

Best: Larry Fitzgerald. Honorable mention: Patrick Peterson

Worst: Wendell Bryant. Dishonorable mentions: Matt Leinart, Levi Brown

The Cardinals actually haven't flubbed as many first round picks as I feared. Oh they've botched several, but as you'd expect (hope?) they actually managed to find quite a few good players in there. Unfortunately, being the Cardinals, many of those guys didn't find success until they left Arizona.

Simeon Rice was pretty good for the Cardinals, disinterest in run defense aside, but he had his two best seasons by far after he joined the Buccaneers. Thomas Jones ran for almost 10,600 yards, but less than 1,300 of those were in Arizona, where he couldn't hold the starting job over first Michael Pittman, and then Marcel Shipp. I don't know how useful or accurate Pro-Football Reference's AV statistic is, but just for point of comparison, it rates Leonard Davis as being worth 39 AV in 6 seasons with Arizona (which would still rank him as one of their 5 best O-linemen of the last 20 years), but 42 in just 4 seasons with Dallas. In 5 years with the Cards, Calvin Pace had 14.5 sacks, 1 INT, forced 5 fumbles, and recovered 4. In 6 years with the Jets, the numbers are 38 sacks, 2 INTs, 14 forced fumbles, and 6 recoveries. Some of that could attributed to the players around him, but surely some credit has to be given to the various Jets' coaching staffs, which were able to get production out of him the Cardinals could only dream of.

Or maybe they just gave up on him at the wrong moment. His highest AV with Arizona was the 8 he posted his last year there. Since joining the Jets, he's posted 9, 8, 7, 9, 9, 8. So maybe he simply hit his stride too late to convince Arizona to keep him. Antrell Rolle's best years have been with the Giants, though it's two widely separated (2010 and 2013) seasons, with a bunch of much weaker years, roughly similar to his Arizona years, clustered around and between them. Maybe 2013 and 2010 are fluke years, or perhaps it's a consequence of him playing safety exclusively for the Giants, while he was a cornerback until his last season in Arizona. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie was traded to help get Kevin Kolb, which was certainly a mistake, but he hasn't been that spectacular outside of a season and a half for Arizona, and this year in Denver.

For players that actually stuck and had success, Fitzgerald has to be the runaway winner. He's, if not one of the 10 best players in franchise history, very close to it. He owns pretty much all the cumulative receiving records in franchise history, and that's having spent 3 consecutive years catching passes from shitty QBs. Patrick Peterson has a chance at challenging down the line if he can maintain or even improve his play at CB, and Michael Floyd looks promising, but those guys have 3 and 2 seasons under their belts, respectively, and can't stack up to Fitzgerald. Beyond them, there are a few guys who had some decent seasons, but either weren't with the team long, or never moved beyond solid players. Jamir Miller for one (who might also qualify as a player who excelled after leaving, since he had easily his best season while a member of the Browns), and the two first rounders they had in 1999 draft, David Boston and L.J. Shelton.

Among the worst picks, there were several options. Given how little he did for Arizona, Jones was briefly under consideration. Matt Leinart would have been an even better choice. After all, Jones at least had a 189 yard day against Seattle in 2002. Likewise, Beanie Wells at least had one 1,000 yard season, plus other stretches of useful play. I'm not sure what Leinart's signature moment with Arizona would be. The Monday Night game where they blew the 20-3 lead against the Bears, because Denny Green kept having Edgerrin James futilely slam into the center of the line? That game against the Titans in '09, where Vince Young engineered the 98-yard drive to beat the Cardinals while Warner was out that week? Maybe that game where he threw 51 times against the Vikings, because Denny felt their running game was so bad there was no point even trying to run (they had 6 rushes in a game they lost 31-26)?

I also considered Levi Brown, for being rated the worst starting left tackle in the NFL at one point, but he also had stretches of competent play. Bryant Johnson wasn't even the best wide receiver Arizona took in the first 2 rounds of the 2003 draft. But he was useful as a third receiver, and at least a few other teams gave him chances once he left the Cardinals. At the end of the day, I had to give it to Wendell Bryant, who managed 1.5 sacks and 28 tackles in 2 years as a regular for Arizona (plus another seasons where he played in just 3 games). the thing is, the Cardinals' defensive lines of the 2002-2004 years were pretty awful. Someone needed to step up, and you'd sort of expect the first round pick to be the guy. Nope, he couldn't even manage to be the starter, nor did any other team take a flyer on him after Arizona cut him loose.

I had thought I might do all the rounds in one post, but I rambled a lot more than I expected, so I guess I'll plan on one round per post for the time being.

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Monday, January 06, 2014

Back To The Other Cardinals

In the month since the last post, the St. Louis Cardinals have only made one move of note, which was to sign Mark Ellis to a one year contract.

This isn't a bad idea. Ellis is a somewhat below average hitter these days (OPS+ the last three years: 68, 93, 92), but he's better than average for a second baseman. He bats righthanded, which makes him a decent platoon partner for Kolten Wong. He grades out as solidly above-average defensively at the position, so this wouldn't hamper St. Louis' defense improving moves earlier this offseason. The last two years, as a starter for the Dodgers, he's been worth 2.5 and 3.0 WAR. If it comes to pass he needs to play everyday, his track record suggests he can at least be an average second baseman overall.

The one thing that concerns me is that he's a temptation Matheny might not be able to resist. Wong is young, inexperienced at the major league level, and what experience he has isn't particularly positive. When he was called up in August, it was to allow Matt Carpenter to move back to 3rd, in the hopes that Carpenter/Wong would be more productive than Freese/Carpenter. Matheny stuck with him for about 10 days. Wong had 25 of his 62 PAs from August 16th (his first game) and August 24th (his 9th). He made 6 starts in that time. Wong played in 23 of the Cardinals' remaining 33 games after that, but collected just 37 PAs, and just 4 starts.

Granted, Wong hit absolutely horribly, but Freese was hardly setting the world on fire. Not before Wong was called up, and not after Wong was effectively benched. Wong was, at the very least, an average defensive presence, if not better, and could conceivably add some value on the basepaths. Freese couldn't manage either. If Wong is to be the franchise second baseman, as the team seems to hope, he has to learn to hit major league pitching. It's very difficult to do that without regular playing time, getting one pinch hit chance per game.

Presumably Matheny felt he had to focus on winning, and that Freese being back in the lineup was the best chance of that. Fair enough. But the Cardinals are likely expected to contend this year as well, so what worries me is if Wong struggles again out of the gates, how much of a leash does he get? How soon does Ellis start grabbing 60%, 70% or more of the at-bats, while Wong sits on the bench?

Luis Alicea had an awful 1988, when he was made the starting second baseman after the trade of Tom Herr to Minnesota. The only season by a Cardinals second baseman in my lifetime that's worse, is Adam Kennedy's 2007. Herzog did eventually send Alicea back down and hand 2nd base to Jose Oquendo - who held the job for three more years before injuries provided another chance for Alicea (and Geronimo Pena) - but he at least gave Alicea 330 PAs first. I would assume the front office would like to see Wong get some more playing time, and Matheny knows this, but I'd also imagine he's given leeway in that regard. I trust him more than I would LaRussa, and I'm glad Ellis is here to bolster the bench, and as a "just in case", but I'd really like to see Wong succeed and become the Cardinals' starting second baseman for the next decade.