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.