Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Return to the Team-Building Exercise - The Starting Lineup

I know, it's been 5 months. I was focused on football. But with Arizona's season over, and the majority of the team left in the playoffs being ones I either despise (New England, Seattle), or figure are doomed (Indy), I'm tuning out on that. So time to wrap this up. I think for the starting position players we'll ditch chronological order and go through in in order of the positions.

Catcher: Yadier Molina, 2012 - 138 games, 563 PAs, 505 at-bats, 65 runs, 159 hits, 28 2Bs, 22 HRs, 76 RBIs, 12 SBs, 45 BB, 55 Ks, .315 AVG/.373 OBP/.501 SLG/.874 OPS, 137 OPS+, 6.9 WAR

Molina's always had the defensive chops, he's generally been regarded as a fine handler of pitchers, and the data they're starting to collect now suggests he's quite good at pitch framing, though one of his brothers is supposed to be a real whiz at it. So in that regard, almost any of his 9 years (at the end of 2013) as a starter would have worked. 2012 is the obvious choice though, because it's his best offensive season. He set career highs (so far) in plate appearances, at-bats, homers, stolen bases, on-base and slugging percentage, and isolated power. It's his second best year for runs, hits, walks, batting average, and RBIs. 2013 is the lead year for most of those, but he's not quite as spectacular a player overall that season, and besides, there's a better option at a position with fewer of those in 2013 as well.

Ted Simmons had been regarded as the clear cut best catcher in franchise history, and I wonder sometimes whether that's changed yet, or if it will. Simmons was a better defensive catcher than his general reputation, but he was essentially average. Baseball-Reference's two defensive stats - Total Zone and BIS Defensive Runs Saved - list him as being at 0 and 1 runs above average, respectively, across his 10 years at starter. Molina was at 9 years after 2013, and he scored +104 and +98, respectively. But SImmons was a vastly superior hitter. The stretch Molina's had from 2011-2013, where he posted OPS+ of 124, 137, and 129? That's basically what Simmons did for a solid decade. All 10 of his years are between 114 and 148, and his WAR stays solidly between 3 and 5. When Molina can hit like Simmons, he's a much better player, owing to his defensive value. When he hits as he did for most of his career, he doesn't appear to be (acknowledging how little we know about their respective pitching framing abilities), and it isn't close. I don't think 3 years are enough, but I'm hoping he'll bounce back in 2015 to make it an argument.

First Base: Albert Pujols, 2008 - 148 games, 641 PAs, 524 at-bats, 100 runs, 187 hits, 44 2Bs, 37 HRs, 116 RBIs, 7 SBs, 104 BBs, 54 Ks, .357/.462/.653/1.114, 192 OPS+, 9.2 WAR

There really wasn't another player in the running. He's too good. McGwire's best years would be some of Albert's worst as Cardinal. This was the year of his second MVP award (with a third to follow in '09), and it was after this season he had a minor surgery on his elbow to move a nerve that was periodically getting pinched and going numb. As I noted at the time, this meant he posted a 192 OPS+, while playing with essentially one arm part of the time. Which is ridiculous. 2008 was still in the time period when the Cards were transitioning from the MV3 of Albert/Edmonds/Rolen, and were not always able to put sufficient protection around him. Which is part of why this was his first season with over 100 walks (though he'd topped 90 each of the 3 previous years). It's not his best year on the basepaths (7 out of 10 on steals, so right at the break even), and 2009 was in some ways an even more prolific season (WAR of 9.7!). But again, there was a more pressing need that season could fill, and Albert's worth about 1 win on his defense alone in both years, which is a nice plus.

Second Base: Matt Carpenter, 2013 - 157 games, 717 PAs, 626 at-bats, 126 runs, 199 hits, 55 2Bs, 7 3Bs, 11 HRs, 78 RBIs, 3 SBs, 72 BBs, 98 Ks, .318/.392/.481/.873, 140 OPS+, 6 WAR

And this is part of the reason 2013 Molina was never in serious consideration. The Cards haven't exactly had a lot of great seasons out of second basemen over this stretch, and so the only other candidate was Oquendo in '89. But a) there was another player who was over a win better from that season, and b) Carp still beat the Secret Weapon by half a win, anyway.

It remains to be seen whether the power Carpenter demonstrated in 2013 was a fluke or not. The 7 triples probably were to a certain extent, but I'd like to think the doubles power and low double digit home run totals are legit. But since we're going to be using 2013 Carpenter, it's there for the purposes of this exercise. I figure Matt's going to be leading off, anyway, so the OBP is the most critical part. I would hope this lineup would be able to drive him in from first if need be. Matt's not exactly likely to excel defensively (though B-R has him at 0.3 defensive WAR), but with the other guys I'm putting in the infield, it shouldn't matter.

Third Base: Scott Rolen, 2004 - 142 games, 593 PAs, 500 at-bats,109 runs, 157 hits, 32 2Bs, 4 3Bs, 34 HRs, 124 RBIs, 4 SBs, 72 BBs, 92 Ks, .314/.409/.598/1.007, 158 OPS+, 9.1 WAR

Holy crap. Rolen doesn't have another season within 3 wins of this one. Probably because of his crazy defensive numbers. Don't get me wrong, the hitting is good (his 2nd best OPS+ is 139 in '98), but he had other years where his offensive WAR is close to '04's numbers. But in 2004, his defense was worth 3.3 wins all by itself, and there's no other season where it's above 2 (which is still damn good).

Anyway, this was the height of the MV3, and for this year, Rolen was the best of the 3. So naturally he finished 4th in MVP voting, because the voters penalized him (and Albert and Edmonds) for having each other as teammates. Also for winning their division by like 15 games, so they didn't play meaningful September games. Because sportswriters are idiots. Anyway, this was about as good as it got for Scotty. The next year he collided with Hee-Seop Choi and injured his other shoulder. In '06, he and LaRussa started to have problems when Tony benched him during the NLCS for Spiezio. In '07 his power evaporated, and then he was traded for Troy Glaus. But 2004, what a season.

Shortstop: Ozzie Smith, 1989 - 155 games, 664 PAs, 593 at-bats, 82 runs, 162 hits, 30 2Bs, 8 3Bs, 2 HRs, 50 RBIs, 29 SBs, 55 BBs, 37 Ks, .273/.335/.361/.696, 97 OPS+, 7.3 WAR

Like it was going to be anyone else. The odd thing is that, like Rolen, this is graded as an unusually good year for Ozzie defensively, rather than offensively. He's rated at 3.5 oWAR, but that's worse than each of his previous 4 seasons, and his 1991 year. But his dWAR is a ludicrous 4.7, which is over a win better than any other year. And he did this in his age-34 season.

It is a bit of a strange season at the plate for Ozzie, though. His batting average is almost dead on for his Cardinals' career (.272), but his OBP is 15 points lower, and his slugging is 17 points higher, I'm guessing because of the 8 triples (he never had more than 6 in any other season). Between his 25 steals in 1982, and his 21 in 1993, the 29 he had in 1989 is his lowest total, though admittedly it's very close to his 31 in '85 and '86.

Left field: Matt Holliday, 2010 - 158 games, 675 PAs, 596 at-bats, 95 runs, 186 hits, 45 2Bs, 1 3Bs, 28 HRs, 103 RBIs, 9 SBs, 69 BBs, 93 Ks, .312/.390/.532/.922, 149 OPS+, 5.9 WAR

The Cardinals haven't had a lot of standouts at left field over the previous 25 years. Coleman was kind of a limited player, Gilkey had his best years after he left, Lankford was in decline by the time he moved to left. This was Holliday's first full season here, and far and away his best so far. Best batting average, best on-base and slugging (though not best OPS+), most steals, most homers, most doubles. Matt's not going to be winning any Gold Gloves, but as with the other Matt, I expect Holliday's outfield cohorts to more than pick up the slack there.

Center Field: Jim Edmonds, 2000 - 152 games, 643 PAs, 525 at-bats, 129 runs, 155 hits, 25 2Bs, 42 HRs, 108 RBIs, 10 SBs, 103 BBs, 167 Ks, .295/.411/.583/.994, 147 OPS+, 6.2 WAR

The MV3 trifecta! '04 is actually a better year for Jim, but he was still worth 2 fewer wins than Rolen that year, so on to 2000. 25 doubles seems kind of low, and he did hit at least 30 each of the next 5 years, but his homer total also fell (2004 excepted), so maybe it was a case of some of those doubles traveling just that little extra distance. Or he had something to prove after having been traded for Adam Kennedy and Kent freaking Bottenfield. Ignore the fact stupid 2000 Calvin thought it was a bad trade for the Cards.

Look, I had reasonable concerns about the stability of the Cards' rotation, and thought Bottenfield was a valuable potential fallback.

This is a pretty standard Edmonds season, though. Lotta power, lotta walks, shit load of strikeouts, good defense. Jim will be on the Hall of Fame ballot next year. I have to think he's a longshot (he won't even be the best centerfielder in his first year on the ballot), though I hope he'll at least get enough votes to hang on the ballot for awhile, maybe build up some support. The Cards have had a lot of good centerfielders in my lifetime (Jon Jay, who is at least average is probably the worst, which is saying something), but Edmonds was easily the best.

Right Field: Brian Jordan, 1998 - 150 games, 617 PAs, 564 at-bats, 100 runs, 178 hits, 34 2Bs, 7 3Bs, 25 HRs, 91 RBIs, 17 SBs, 40 BBs, 66 Ks, .316/.368/.534/.902, 134 OPS+, 7.0 WAR

Right field has been an unstable position for the Cardinals over the last 25 years, or really, since the end of the George Hendrick era. The only guys to be the starter for even three seasons are Jordan (3), Ryan Ludwick (3), and J.D. Drew (4). Which isn't to say they haven't had good players. Those 3 were all good, not to mention Larry Walker, Lance Berkman, Carlos Beltran, just that there hasn't been a good longterm solution. Jordan could have been that guy, but the Cardinals didn't want to give him a longterm, big money contract. Makes a certain amount of sense, considering Jordan's difficulties staying healthy, although then they turned the job over to Drew. At least Jordan missed time for legit injuries like separated shoulders, instead of turf toe or whatever. But they definitely would have been buying based on past production, rather than what he would do.

This is Jordan's best offensive year, and it's his second best defensive year (behind 1996), and they're close enough on that score that the offense makes a big difference. But that defense is pretty sweet. B-R's defensive stats rate him as 22 and 27 runs better than average in right field in 1998. Not quite up to the +27 and +31 from two season earlier, but, combined with Edmonds in center, I think they can compensate for Holliday being essentially average in left.

The biggest surprise here is how little speed is on this team. Other than Ozzie and Jordan, there's really no one who can run. I mean, Albert and Yadi will try, but neither of them has blazing speed. Of course, Ozzie is the only starter whose season isn't coming from the LaRussa era, which probably accounts for it. The Cards didn't exactly have a lot of runners during his tenure. Neither did baseball in general, though.

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Saturday, January 03, 2015

An End Both Depressing And Unsurprising

The first time I checked in on Cardinals-Panthers, Arizona was down 10-0. The next time, they were up 14-10. I was confused. As it turned out, the defense had forced two turnovers deep in Carolina territory, enabling Arizona to score two touchdowns while covering only 47 yards. Once Carolina stopped turning over the ball, things fell apart, and Carolina won, 27-16.

Arizona had 78 yards of offense. Seventy-eight. They had 8 first downs, and averaged 1.7 yards per play. Lindley threw two INTs, and went 16-28 for 82 yards. Oh, but then you subtract the 31 yards he lost on 4 sacks.

I don't even care about the defense's day. Yeah, they gave up a shitload of rushing yards, but I'm not surprised. The defense has to keep trotting out there basically every three plays, and the Panthers can stay balanced because there's no pressure to score. Arizona isn't going to pull away, not unless Carolina helps them immensely.

This is the first time I've seen Arizona make the playoffs and not win at least one game. Of course, I've only seen them make the playoffs three times previously, twice with Kurt Warner, once with Jake Plummer. Either of whom would be 20 times better than Ryan Lindley, and I mean as they are right now. Hopefully, this is the last we see of Ryan Lindley.

Unfortunately, it might also be the last we see of Larry Fitzgerald, since the Cards' front office is making rumblings that Larry needs to restructure his contract, or he'll get cut. I want Larry Fitzgerald to finish his career with the Cardinals, but he should not restructure his deal. The Cardinals have consistently failed to find good QBs, considering Palmer is easily the best non-Kurt Warner QB Fitz has played with, and Palmer a) missed two-thirds of this season, and b) was throwing 2 INTs a game for the first half of last season. The Cardinals have failed to build a running game, they haven't built a decent offensive line. All that is on the front office, not Larry Fitzgerald, and for me, it's on them to improve this team. Losing Larry Fitzgerald does not sound like a way to do that.