Yearly Archives: 2010

NL Central Preview: Catchers

The first in my series of previews of the National League Central Division. The system, I will use to determine the best team in the division will be to rank the starters at each offensive position, including top-5 starters and the closer. The best will receive 6 points, and down to just 1 point given out to the worst starting player at that position in the division. At the end I will total the points up to see who is the best team (and whether this system is actually a viable preview method). So let’s go find out!

I will look at the catching position to start the series. The catching position is difficult to equate because it isn’t all offensive ability, though that plays a large part. A players defense will also be taken into account and might give a player an advantage over another. I used a three-year average to get a grasp on players who may have had a career year versus a slump year.

After looking at rosters, the current starting catchers in the NL Central are expected to be the following: Geovany Soto in Chicago, Ramon Hernandez in Cincinnati, Humberto Quintero in Houston, Jonathan Lucroy in Milwaukee, Ryan Doumit in Pittsburgh, and Yadier Molina in St. Louis.

Taking a look at wins above replacement, it’s very quick to notice that Geovany Soto and Ryan Doumit possess the best bat of the catchers in the NL Central with Soto posting a 2.5 and Doumit posting a 2.2 with their bats.

Meanwhile, Yadier Molina is by far the best defensive catcher in the NL Central with his 1.1 defensive WAR while Humberto Quintero in Houston is the only other starting catcher with a positive defensive WAR with a 0.5.

Ranking simply by WAR is a little unfair to players who didn’t quite play as often as others. Quintero and Lucroy have the fewest games played with Quintero playing just enough to be considered the primary while Lucroy was a rookie last year. So that is taken into effect when deciding between two close players.

Following a look at a balance between offense and defense, I’m ranking the NL Central catchers in the following order:

  1. Yadier Molina, STL (6 pts, 2.5 WAR)
  2. Geovany Soto, CHI (5 pts, 2.4 WAR)
  3. Ryan Doumit, PIT (4 pts, 1.5 WAR)
  4. Ramon Hernandez, CIN (3 pts, 1.0 WAR)
  5. Jonathan Lucroy, MIL (2 pts, -0.2 WAR)
  6. Humberto Quintero, HOU (1 pt, 0.2 WAR)
Yadier Molina was the gold standard on defense and the only player who posted positive WAR both on offense and defense. He’s hit .286 and averaged 6 HR a season for St. Louis and posted a 94 OPS+ in his 133 games per season.Geovany Soto was the best hitter in the NL Central at the catcher position with his 2.5 offensive WAR. He hit .264 and averaged 17 HR a season for the Cubs and posted a 111 OPS+ in his 116 games per season.

Ryan Doumit was the second best hitter, but his defense dropped him below Soto and I considered moving him behind Hernandez as well simply for the defense, but his offense was really nice. He hit .277 and averaged 13 HR a season for Pittsburgh and posted a 107 OPS+ in his 105 games a season. However, Doumit’s numbers are bouyed by his .313 he posted in 2008. He has two consecutive seasons hitting in the .250s, despite that his power has remained.

Ramon Hernandez was a solid all around catcher. Had some bat and didn’t give up much on defense. He hit .269 and averaged 9 HR a season for Cincinnati and posted a 95 OPS+ in his 104 games a season.

Jonathan Lucroy was a rookie last season for Milwaukee and got the most playing time at catcher. His season was rather successful too. He hit .253 with 4 HR last year for Milwaukee along with a 71 OPS+ in his 75 games. With the lack of playing time, yet being close to Quintero for everything else, with a full season, I would give the edge to Lucroy between the two.

Finally, Humberto Quintero split a lot of time at catcher in Houston. He hit .232 with an average of 3 HR a season for Houston along with a 61 OPS+  in his 69 games per season. Last season was his first as the primary catcher in Houston.

So the totals thus far:

  1. St. Louis — 6 pts — 2.5 WAR
  2. Chicago — 5 pts — 2.4 WAR
  3. Pittsburgh — 4 pts — 1.5 WAR
  4. Cincinnati — 3 pts — 1.0 WAR
  5. Milwaukee — 2 pts — -0.2 WAR
  6. Houston — 1 pt — 0.2 WAR
I’ll likely take the week off for Christmas and resume next Monday with the NL Central first basemen, which is quite the power position with guys like Albert Pujols, reigning MVP Joey Votto, and Prince Fielder. Should be a fun one.

A look at the Cardinals minor league system

The debate has raged for awhile. Can the Cardinals build from within? Is Jeff Luhnow doing a good job? Overall opinion of the Cardinals minor league system has been down for some time. Part of that is because it was standard operating procedure for the Cardinals to usually trade valuable minor leaguers for veteran talent to fill out the major league roster.

While there is no way to quantitatively measure the production of our minor league system, one can look at who was produced, how long it took them to produce, and how old they were when they got to the major leagues.

So that’s what I did. For reference purposes, I began my look in 1995 with the first draft that was supervised by the new Cardinals’ GM Walt Jocketty. At that point I had two eras for my draft picks: Pre-Luhnow and Luhnow. (I can’t find any dates, I do know that Luhnow joined the Cardinals in 2003, but the earliest I can find of him being in charge of scouting and development was 2006 so this study might now be completely accurate in that regard.)

What I was looking at were players that have stuck in the major leagues. Played a regular part of a few years worth of major league teams or, in the case of some of the newer era study, have recently stuck and are expected to continue. What I used for the date they were “established” at the major league level was the first season that they were a regular contributor to a major league team.

Keep reading and let’s take a look.

There are the list of players that I determined were major league productions from the drafts of the last 15 seasons thus far. Pretty unimpressive when you consider that more than 40 players are drafted by each organization every season. That’s well over 600 players that were drafted and there are this few major league contributors is amazing. It goes to show you just how difficult it is to get to the major leagues in baseball (and why televising the MLB draft is a pointless idea). I wonder how productive other systems are in comparison, but I really have no desire to research them the same way.
Anyway, as you can see, the Pre-Luhnow era generated 13 major league players in 8 drafts. The players were an average of 22.8 years old when they reached the major leagues and took 3.4 years in the minor leagues to get there. On average, Pre-Luhnow drafts generated 1.6 major league players per draft.
What I did was then took those 3.4 years and subtracted them from 2010. Using that as a baseline, it’s unrealistic to expect any talent from the 2007 draft and beyond to have made the major league ballclub yet, though players like Daniel Descalso and Brett Wallace may begin their major league careers in the 2011 season.
In the Luhnow era, the draft has generated 8 major league players in 4 drafts. The players were an average of 23.9 years old when they reached the major leagues and took 4.1 years in the minor leagues to get there. On average, Luhnow era drafts generated 2 major league players per draft.
The extra year in age it is taking our minor leaguers to stick on the major league rosters concerns me. Granted there were no “can’t stop me” players like J.D. Drew, Albert Pujols, and Dan Haren. The Luhnow era numbers are also thrown off by players who were slowed by injury like Jaime Garcia or who changed positions like Jason Motte.
You can also see that the players we did end up keeping (rather than trading away) are slower to the major leagues in the Luhnow era than they were in the Pre-Luhnow era.
I also think that managerial philosophy has something to do with it, and Tony LaRussa certainly, I feel, has more pull and say in this under John Mozeliak than he did under Walt Jocketty. Tony prefers veteran ballclubs and the Berkman acquisition, blocking Jon Jay and Allen Craig front an every day position, is one that has his name written all over it. (So did Randy Winn and Jeff Suppan last year too)
We’ve been far more successful in the Luhnow era in producing pitchers, though they are mainly relievers except for Jaime Garcia. Meanwhile Pre-Luhnow we drafted a handful of solid major league position players. Unfortunately now we need those solid major league position players to be developed.
We seem to be producing more solid major league players, but fewer top level players. We might have a couple in Colby Rasmus and Jaime Garcia, but those would be the first two of the Luhnow era.
Considering that the Cardinals have only in the last three seasons really discussed changing from the mentality that “minor leaguers are used to trade for veteran talent” to a “build from within” philosophy, I don’t think you can quite declare it a failure just yet.
There is definitely talent down there that has potential. Guys like Shelby Miller and Zack Cox just to name a few. We brought in a handful of good players in this year’s draft alone. This was the first year that the Cardinals went and drafted straight talent, regardless of the cost involved in signing them. Previously, they were a little more careful with that.
Like it or not, it’s going to take a few more years to really be able to judge the failure or success of the Cardinals swap to a “build from within” philosophy, but I do know that the acquisition of Lance Berkman slows that down.
My complaint has always been that they sign veteran players who block the young talent they do retain, more so in recent years. We will probably have to wait one more year to find out if Jon Jay or Allen Craig are viable major leaguers. That is, unless we go sign another veteran to a one-year deal for 2012.

Brendan Ryan dealt for Maikel Cleto

The news just broke. Cardinals’ SS Brendan Ryan has been dealt to the Seattle Mariners in exchange for RHP Maikel Cleto.

So just who is Maikel Cleto?

Cleto is a 21 year old right handed pitcher from the Dominican Republic. He has a power arm that can throw in the high-90s, however, the main complaint on him is that his fastball has no movement. His second pitch is a slider that needs a lot of work.

The general understanding is that Cleto will need to move to the bullpen due to his control issues and the fact that he has no real plus pitches behind the fastball. He also needs to work on getting some movement on his fastball.

Last season he started 21 games and made 2 relief appearances for the High Desert Mavericks of the Advanced Class-A California League. He posted a 6.16 ERA and a 4-9 record in 102.1 innings pitched.

In his minor league career he has a 5.17 ERA and a 10-27 record across 56 starts and 13 relief appearances.

Is this the kind of return I was hoping for from Brendan Ryan? Not at all. So much for not giving him away. Cleto is a very, very raw power pitcher. They are big gambles, but to me he looks like the second coming of Jason Motte, before he managed to begin controlling his fastball. He’ll need to develop a solid second pitch and figure out how to make that fastball move before he can be effective.

But considering that right handed reliever depth has been the only hallmark of the Cardinals’ minor league system over the last few years, I don’t quite understand this acquisition. Cleto will be most successful in the bullpen as you have to hope he turns into a solid late innings reliever. It makes me wonder what #10 told the GM to make this trade go through.

Options for a backup catcher

The Cardinals have stated their desire to acquire a backup catcher for their 2011 roster. In contrast to previous seasons where Jason LaRue was the backup catcher to simply because of his defensive skill and not his offensive ability, the Cardinals have said that they want someone who can handle the bat.

I’m a firm believer that the Cardinals need to have a solid backup catcher. Personally, with the wear and tear on Yadier Molina the past two seasons from playing virtually every day over the course of the season, I’m afraid that he is going to break down very soon. So we need someone who is worth of starting 30-40 games at catcher.

Put me on Team Anderson. Bryan Anderson, to be specific. The 23 year old Anderson was a 4th round pick of the Cardinals out of the 2005 draft. Anderson hit .270 with 12 HR last season in Memphis. In his 15 games on the big league roster this season, Anderson hit .281. He was the best defensive catcher in Memphis last season, handily beating Matt Pagnozzi for that honor.

While there are questions to Anderson’s ability to manage a pitching staff, it wouldn’t be his pitching staff to manage. It’d still be Yadier’s staff and with Anderson paying close attention through Spring Training and next season, he could pick up on what he needs to do to be that major league caliber catcher.  I do know one thing though, he won’t get that learning experience in Memphis.

Carpenter, Wainwright, Lohse, and Westbrook are all veterans who should be able to handle a young catcher. Garcia would be the question mark, but he and Anderson have worked together at every level of the minor leagues and it shouldn’t be hard to have Molina out there for his starts either.

However, word from management has said that it is highly unlikely that Bryan Anderson will be the backup catcher in the 2011 roster, so what are the other options?

First, let’s look at the option we had. Jason LaRue hit .219 with 8 HR in 119 games over his three seasons with St. Louis. That chalks up to an average season of .219, 3 HR and 47 games. He started, on average, 28 games a season.

Gregg Zaun has been listed as a catcher that the team was pursuing for this option. The 39 year old Zaun is coming off a season where he missed a majority of the time due to shoulder surgery. While this would ensure that he would come cheap, one has to question his durability. Last season with the Brewers, Zaun hit .265 with 2 HR and 14 RBI in 28 games.

Bengie Molina has also gotten some discussion as a possible backup to his brother. The eldest Molina picked up a double playoff share last season as he began the season with the World Series Champion San Francisco Giants and finished the season with the AL Champion Texas Rangers. A rare feat to be sure. Talk from the Molina camp is that he is considering taking a season off. Last year he hit a combined .249 with 5 HR in 118 games. He would certainly be the most expensive backup option, but maybe he’d enjoy being his kid brother’s backup for a year? Bengie would be my second choice.

Josh Bard is a name that has been tossed around by fans mostly. I haven’t seen anything specifically saying that the Cardinals are in on the 32 year old catcher. Bard played last season for Seattle and posted a .214 batting average with 3 HR in 39 games. Not exactly the player that I would target if I were looking to improve offense from my backup catcher.

Gerald Laird is also being looked at. While Laird probably has the most pop, 5 HR in 89 games last season, his .207 batting average does scare me off. Laird has played in the AL all of his career and his .220 seasons far outnumber others. The 31 year old played the last two seasons with the Detroit Tigers.

Personally, I feel that the organization’s decision to overlook Anderson is one of the reasons why this organization has failed to consistently develop from within. Either we trade our solid minor leaguers or we block them with veteran talent and their star fades. Anderson has performed solidly and did well in part-time duty last year. We need to allow some of these young players to get a chance to play at the major league level to determine whether we can rely on them to be contributors to the major league club.

However, few get that chance unless they leave #10 no other option and force his hand. Like Albert Pujols did when he tore up Spring Training in 2001 or Jon Jay when he was hitting over .300. Randy Winn even got first crack at the RF job when Ryan Ludwick got hurt, despite having Jay waiting in Memphis.

Cardinals’ Rule 5 Draft

The Cardinals lost RHP Brian Broderick to the Washington Nationals in the major league portion of the Rule 5 Draft, and selected LHP Jean Mijares from the Minnesota Twins in the minor league portion.

Broderick, 24, led the Cardinals’ minor league system with 14 victories last season between A+ Palm Beach and AA Springfield. Overall he posted a 3.66 ERA with a 14-7 record in 26 starts. Though those stats are averaged down due to a poor start in Palm Beach, he was 11-2 with a 2.77 ERA at AA. He also had a 1.09 WHIP at AA. He was drafted in the 21st round by the Cardinals in 2007.

In six starts in this season’s Arizona Fall League, Broderick was 3-1 with a 4.39 ERA and 1.39 WHIP in his 6 starts.

Broderick will have to make the Nationals’ major league roster or be offered on waivers to the rest of the league then offered back to the Cardinals for half the $50,000 claim fee.

Mijares, 22, has never stepped above the rookie level in the Twins’ organization. Last season he posted a 2.67 ERA and was 2-1 in 13 relief appearances and 2 starts for Elizabethton in the Appalachian League.

While he has not been above rookie league, his numbers have improved each season. His minor league career numbers are decent. He has a 3.69 ERA with a 3-4 record in 33 relief appearances and 7 starts.

Mijares is a long shot, but since he was selected in the minor league portion, he can be placed anywhere in the minor leagues for the Cardinals without the same restrictions as in the major league portion. Plus, the Cardinals system doesn’t have a lot of promising lefties, so this is a very low risk, high reward move.

Have the Cardinals improved?

There’s a big question about whether or not the Cardinals have improved their lineup so far this offseason. With the signings of Ryan Theriot and Lance Berkman, are the Cardinals a better team? Well, that’s what I set out to find out.
After looking at a few different options, I looked at it two different ways. The first question I wanted to ask, is our projected opening day lineup better than last year’s? While there are a few ways to look at this, I used Baseball Musings’ Lineup Analysis Tool (LAT). It’s a really neat tool that, while it’s numbers are off and I might not try any of it’s lineup recommendations, it should adequately answer the question whether the lineup has improved.
The Lineup Analysis Tool takes the averages of the players in the lineup and figures what they would produce in a consistent environment.
It is interesting to note that the LAT’s recommendations like to bat the worst hitter in the lineup in the #8 slot. Much like a certain St. Louis Cardinals manager. 

So I took the 2010 Opening Day lineup and plugged in it’s values into the LAT. For this valuation, I used three year averages for the players, except for Rasmus and Freese whose averages include their entire two year careers. Also, I only used the 2010 OBP and SLG for our pitching staff.
The 2010 Opening Day lineup comes out with an average of 4.813 runs per game. 
So I moved onto crafting the 2011 Opening Day lineup. With the talk about Theriot, I expect him to move into the leadoff spot while Schumaker will be dropped in the order. I also think Berkman will be better off in the #2 spot in the lineup. This allows him to be protected by Pujols and it allows him to be pulled earlier in the game for a defensive substitution. There was some talk on the Cardinals forums I visit about Rasmus hitting #2, but I feel that Rasmus has more power than Berkman and would take RBI opportunities away from Pujols and Holliday. I also think that Berkman’s OBP makes him a better candidate for setting the table than his power does for driving in runs.
At this point I ran with their three year averages and using those numbers, the LAT comes out with an average of 5.091 runs per game.
At first glance we can be expected to better. But what if we get last year’s Berkman or last year’s Theriot? Both are coming off of bad years and part of our reason for getting them was hoping that they rebound. 
With the 2010 Berkman the LAT comes out with an average of 4.908 runs per game.
With the 2010 Theriot, the LAT comes out with an average of 4.968 runs per game.
If we end up with both the 2010 Berkman and the 2010 Theriot, the LAT comes out with an average of 4.786, which would make us worse.
So the answer is that the overall lineup should be better offensively. However, offense is only one part of the puzzle. 
The next step I took was to look at Runs Above Replacement for both offense and defense. Since both statistics are quantified by the same methods, a run on defense should equal a run on offense and vice versa, making it an excellent way to gauge offense performance versus defensive performance.
To attempt to make it equal, I took Berkman’s defensive RAR from the last three seasons that he played in the outfield. Now, can he duplicate a 0 dRAR on 34 year old knees without having played the outfield in years? That remains to be seen, so I’m betting that will be lower.
As you can see, Albert Pujols is clearly the best offensive player we have. Meanwhile Brendan Ryan is the best defensive player in the lineup.
With the additions of Theriot and Berkman, the opening day lineup gains 13 more runs on offense. However, that same lineup also has a loss of 13 runs on defense. So are we going to end up a push? 
By looking at the Runs Above Replacement values, it’s interesting to see that the team might be exactly where it was last season. Except the difference will be that instead of losing 3-4, we’ll lose 4-5. 
As with all statistics, these are only a picture of what has happened as we look at the future. Will the Cardinals be any better off than they were last year? Will we have a better offense and a worse defense? 
Only time will tell. It’s why we play the game.