Heart Healthy

by on January 12, 2011 · 2 comments

C’mon!  You didn’t think I was going to go into some long-winded analogy about cholesterol, heart-healthy diets, and cardiology, did you?  Did you?  I’m not that predictable, or at least I hope I’m not that predictable.  No, I’m talking about the heart of the order.  In this case, I’m specifically talking about Rasmus-Pujols-Holliday.  Consider what the “heart” did in 2010:

  • Colby Rasmus.276/.361/.493/.859 with 66 and 23 hr  (534 plate appearances)
  • Albert Pujols.312/.414/.596/1.011 with 118 rbi and 42 hr (700 plate appearances)
  • Matt Holliday.312/390/.532/.922 with 103 rbi and 28 hr (675 plate appearances)

That’s 287 rbi and 93 hr from the heart of the order.  Of course, that obviously wasn’t the problem last season.  The two glaring problems on offense were the lack of base-runners at the top of the order, and the lack of production from the bottom of the order.  How does that get rectified using the pieces that the team has in place?  Consider Freese, Berkman, Schumaker, Theriot, and Molina and how they could be put into place around the heart of the order:

  1. Ryan Theriot – Had a .321 OBP and 20 stolen bases last year. 
  2. Colby Rasmus – Led the team in pitches per at-bat in 2010.
  3. Albert Pujols – As if you’d hit anybody else here.
  4. Matt Holliday – Ditto
  5. David Freese.319/.374/.469/.843 when hitting 5th
  6. Yadier Molina.316/.381/.400/.781 when hitting 6th
  7. Lance Berkman – Switch hitter behind Yadi
  8. Pitcher – Who else?
  9. Skip Schumaker – hit .281 when leading off an inning in 2010.  

This is a lineup based on conventional wisdom, anyway.  The top goes righty-lefty-righty, and it puts a guy who sees a lot of pitches behind Theriot, so Theriot would theoretically have plenty of opportunities to steal bases.  There’s only one problem.

.257/.295/.405/.700 in 79 plate appearances

That’s Colby Rasmus‘ line when hitting 2nd in the lineup.  He was good for .290/.377/.539/.916 with 13 of his 23 hr and 43 of his 66 rbi in 285 plate appearances when hitting 5th, though.  Another option is to put Lance Berkman in the 2nd spot.  It would be nice to see that his knee is 100%, and that he’s back to his old form to make that really work, though.  Why?  Consider his splits from 2010 (source:  baseball-reference.com – where else?)

  1. Berkman hit 2nd in the lineup in 4 games last season (17 plate appearances), and he produced a line of .250/.294/.625/.919.  Sure, that’s a really small sample size, but it’s worth noting, anyway.
  2. When hitting 6th (14 games / 56 plate appearances), his numbers improved to .283/.411/.370/.780.
  3. When hitting 7th (11 games / 39 plate appearances), his numbers moved to .265/.359/.471/.830.
  4. Against “power” pitchers, Berkman had 97 plate appearances and was good for .185/.320/.284/.640.
  5. Fortunately, he was an on-base machine against “finesse” pitchers to the tune of .275/.407/.476/.883

What does all this mean?  As one might expect, Berkman’s keen batting eye still works as good as ever, but his knee problems really impacted his ability to turn around the fastball.  If he made an adjustment to start his swing early to catch up to the fastball, then that just made him more susceptible to the change-up.  If his knee is healthy, then it’s a completely different story in 2011.  Still, it might be worth considering other options just to shake up the lineup a bit.

Why not switch Rasmus and Freese.  Freese raked when hitting in either the 5th or 6th spots.  Why not let him in front of Albert?  Sure, he’s an rbi guy, but he’ll get his chances with the pitcher hitting 8th anyway, right?  Overall, Freese hit .296/.361/.404/.765, so imagine what he could do with some lineup protection.  As a bonus, he hit .324/.397/.441/.715 with runners in scoring position, so he could do some damage with the “2 lead-off hitters” batting ahead of him.

Also, the 5-6-7 spots would be then be filled by Rasmus, Molina, and Berkman.  That’s a lefty who has started to take the ball to the opposite field more, a guy who is notorious for taking the ball the other way, and a switch hitter with some pop.  That’s where the addition of Berkman may be key, because he’s a switch hitter with some power near the end of the lineup.  Even if he isn’t there, keep in mind that Jay hits RHP about as well as LHP, although he hits for more power against righties.  FYI – The same thing may be said for Colby Rasmus.  His split against RHP’s in 2010 was .278/.365/.510/.875 with 19 hr and 52 rbi in 403 plate appearances, and his split against LHP’s was .270/.349/.461/.810 with 4 hr and 14 rbi in 131 plate appearances. 

As you can see, the Cardinals have some interchangeable parts.  Having two left-handed hitters who can hit left-handed pitchers gives TLR some flexibility in match-up situations that a lot of managers don’t have.  That may explain why the Cardinals appear to be going into the season without several switch hitters.  It will be interesting to see how many different lineups LaRussa uses in 2011, because I don’t think some of these numbers should be ignored.  If Berkman or Rasmus bat in the #2 spot in spring training and fail to absolutely shine there, will TLR give someone else a shot?  Does he already have his mind made up?  Will the training wheels finally come off of Colby in favor of letting him hit against anybody and everybody? 

Maybe 2011 is the year of the “What if?” in Cardinal Nation, but that beats 2010 which was the year of the “Oh, not him!”

TIDBIT:  Jon Jay hit .296 in the #2 spot in 2010 with a .368 OBP.

TIDBIT PART DEUX: David Freese hit .300 (.333 OBP) when leading off an inning (63 plate appearances)

Like it?  Are you “heart healthy”?  Find gr33nazn on Twitter and let’s chat about the year of “What if?”

Cardinals fan since I could hold a fishing pole steady. Accidental blogger. Opinionated. I could care less about what you think of me. Constantly confounded, bemused, and confuzzled (ie I'm a pc and a mac). I'm an IT infrastructure analyst with a penchant for breaking tech toys. I ate a sabermetric primer for breakfast. I love playing "All-powerful GM of MLB". The 2010 Cardinals represented a good, practical definition "cognitive dissonance". The 2011 version got by on duct tape and a prayer, and I'm fine with that. They just need new tape for #12 in 12.
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PH8 January 12, 2011

The pitchers per at-bat stat for Colby fascinates me, I would’ve never guessed that.

I don’t envision a scenario where Tony bats Berkman any lower than fifth – I’d expect either two or five – but not any lower. MAYBE sixth if Freese comes out raking.

I also wonder if we might see a platoon order for the lead-off spot. Schu versus righties, Theriot versus lefties. In the pitcher hits eighth scenario it makes some sense, if the pitcher is largely hitting ninth again like in 2010, that could be a real wild card in the lineup.

Dennis January 12, 2011

Well, it does take 3 pitches (minimum) to strike out. Seriously, Rasmus led with 4.05 P/AB with Albert close behind at 4.03, and Allen Craig at 4.02.

I’d be more than a little disappointed, if Berkman doesn’t have to earn either that #2 or #5 spot by hitting in spring training. The same goes for someone like Freese as well. The player who makes the most sense in the lineup spot should be in the lineup spot. If Freese shows even more OBP potential, then he makes sense at the 2. If Berkman shows he can rip doubles both ways, then he’s a logical choice there. Healthy competition.

I don’t remember if I mentioned this tidbit in another post, but it’s worth noting that Skip hit .385/.437/.462/.898 as the 1st batter in the game, and he hit .281/.357/.327.684 leading off an inning in 2010. Even if he hits 9th, that’s not a bad lead-off hitter when the pitcher makes the last out of the previous inning.

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