All posts by Jon Doble

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.

Why Brendan Ryan should be the starting Shortstop

There’s no question that Brendan Ryan had a difficult 2010. However, there’s also no question that he was one of the best major league short stops of 2009.

In 2009, Brendan Ryan earned the starting job at short stop for the St. Louis Cardinals. Ryan hit .292 with 3 home runs over his 129 games as he proved his worth. His +18 defensive RAR was the among the best major league short stops. He proved himself solid with the bat and among the top defensive short stops in the game.

Now cut to 2010. It was a season filled with disappointment and frustration for Ryan. He began the season rehabbing from a wrist injury which slowed his start. Frustration from being unable to hit as well as he had resulted in those frustrations translating into his fielding early in the season.

It was a season also filled with mental errors. From making awkward throws to first in order to try to beat the play to forgetting his glove in the dugout during a Chris Carpenter start.

At the end of the season, the final line on Ryan was .223 with 2 HR in 139 games. He posted a +14 defensive RAR, the highest among short stops in the major leagues. Making him one of the best defensive short stops in baseball.

It was one of the two positions that Cardinals’ GM John Mozeliak singled out as needing to improve for 2011 when he designated his plans for the offseason.

Just a week ago, the Cardinals acquired Ryan Theriot from the Los Angeles Dodgers for Blake Hawksworth. After getting him he was declared the starting short stop.

Now Theriot had a bad year in 2010 himself. It was his worst season in the majors. He hit .270 with 2 HR in his 150 games between the Chicago Cubs and the Dodgers. Unfortunately, the Cardinals plan on playing him at short stop when he best defensive position is clearly second base.

Over the past three seasons, Theriot has posted a -8 defensive RAR at short stop while posting a +4 for his career at second base. When you take a look at our second baseman Skip Schumaker, who is a combined -11 in his two seasons at second base, you have to ask yourself why we make that call?

A 2B Schumaker and SS Theriot has an expected defensive RAR of -8. A 2B Theriot and SS Ryan combination has an expected defensive RAR of +24. What does that mean? That means that the Schumaker/Theriot combination is expected to allow 32 additional runs on defense over the Theriot/Ryan combination just by playing to their averages.

I remember sitting through last season with all the complaints about the defense of Schumaker at second base and now many support playing Theriot who is just as big of a liability at short as Schumaker is at second.

Why would you acquire a player and not play him at his best defensive position, especially when he can displace your worst defensive player? Instead you’re going to play your new player at a position where he is a proven defensive liability and displace one of the best defensive major leaguers at that position. Where is the intelligence in that?

In just 4 seasons at the major league level, Brendan Ryan has a higher total RAR than Theriot does in his  6 seasons. That should demonstrate the increased value of Ryan over Theriot. It does to me.

I think it is irresponsible and stupid to sit there and pick up other players who were bad in 2010 and hope for a rebound like their previous seasons when we have that same hope on our roster. The interest of other teams in acquiring Brendan Ryan illustrates his value at short stop. With Lance Berkman we’re hoping for him to rebound to previous success. With Theriot the same thing.

Why not play the best defensive short stop in the league and hope he rebounds offensively?