Soft In The Middle

by on June 17, 2011 · 10 comments

“A man walks down the street,
He says, Why am I soft in the middle now?
Why am I soft in the middle?
The rest of my life is so hard! ”  ~You Can Call Me Al (Paul Simon)
Paul had it right.  Why are the Cardinals so soft in the middle?  The answer is right in front of all of us.  Just look at all the guys who they have played at either SS or 2B for a significant length of time.  Keep in mind that the numbers only tell part of the story, because guys like Allen Craig and Descalso accumulated a lot of their stats while playing other positions.  Still, they have 3 out of the 5 players below playing at below replacement level (as determined by WAR). 
  • Ryan Theriot.296 / .347 / .358 / .705 with -0.1WAR (0.9 oWAR & -1.0 dWAR)
  • Tyler Greene.194 / .307 / .265 / .572 with -0.1WAR (0.3 oWAR & -0.4 dWAR)
  • Daniel Descalso.240 / .294 / .357 / .651 with 0.7WAR (0.6 oWAR & 0.1 dWAR)
  • Allen Craig.336 / .405 / .523 / .928 with 1.7WAR (1.3 oWAR & 0.4 dWAR)
  • Skip Schumaker.233 / .276 / .310 / .587 with -0.6WAR (-0.4 oWAR & -0.2 dWAR)

If TLR wants to tinker with the lineup to get the best matchups, I wish he’d look at a complete, balanced picture and throw out his old notions of what will work.  We know he won’t do that, but here is what max offense lineups could look like until the team is completely healthy.  Note that I’m ignoring the “Pujols at 3B” possibility, because it greatly weakens the defense at 1B.  Pujols >>> Puma at 1B.

Against RHP:

Against LHP: 

So, why is Tyler Greene at 3B?  Well, he played over 100 innings at 3B in 2009 and 2010 combined, and he only made 2 errors there.  More importantly, Descalso is only hitting .067 against LHP this season.  If the pitcher bats 8th, then Greene could hit 9th and be another leadoff hitter at the bottom of the lineup.  Ignore the batting average for a moment and look at his OBP.  If he can reach base safely 3 out of 10 times, then the pressure shifts to the pitcher with the top of the lineup coming to bat. 

Unfortunately, there seems to be someone left out of the picture, and the odd man out right now is Skip.  Well, Skip is currently hitting .230 vs RHP and .250 vs LHP, so he could give Craig a breather occasionally, and he would definitely be useful for double switches.  He could also fit into the outfield rotation with Jon Jay, and I suspect that there will be plenty of games available as the team gets deeper into the season.

Finally, there is the question of what the Cardinals will do once everybody is healthy (assuming that ever happens).  Well, Descalso provides a great substitute for Freese to ensure that Freese has plenty of days off between his return and the end of the season.  As an added bonus, I don’t see why he couldn’t be a defensive replacement for Theriot, either.  After all, he’s up near the top of the NL in terms of range at 3B, and he’s 2nd in fielding %.  Not bad for a 2B who is playing out-of-position. (Bonus Info:  He’s played SS in both the minor and major leagues, albeit for a very, very brief time for the Cardinals.) 

Maybe the Cardinals are a little soft in the middle, but maybe that’s because they have guys in the wrong places.  Injuries to key players have a lot to do with that.  Don’t underestimate just how much they miss Nick Punto.  Without Punto, they’ve had to rely on guys like Pete Kozma and Matt Carpenter at key times, and that certainly wasn’t part of the plan for 2011.

TIDBIT:  Once completely healthy, the Cardinals have power, average, or both at all positions, and they even have some bench depth.  The real question mark is pitching, and it is not just the bullpen, either.  I have my own ideas on who needs to go.  Who should they target?

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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 June 17, 2011

I don’t expect that Descalso will play much SS if at all, nor do I hope he does. I fear his range would be exposed there. Fine at 3B, maybe even a better 3B than he is 2B, but I’d be leery about him at SS. Punto will be the stopgap there when he returns.

Speaking of returns, I see Tyler Greene as the odd man out when Freese, Punto, and Craig all return. FWIW, I think we’re in a sad state if the best output we can hope for is a 0.298 OBP. Not. Good.

Dennis June 17, 2011

I find it amusing that so many people seem concerned about Descalso’s range. He’s shown more range at 3B and 2B than a lot of players who play one of those positions and SS as well. You may be concerned about Descalso, but I’m even more concerned about the fact that Punto has only appeared in 25 games. In his limited action, he only hit .225 against LHP.

Greene probably should be the odd man out, but what are the odds that the team will stay healthy? With all the offense they supposedly have in the lineup from 1-7, the 8 & 9 spots shouldn’t be a huge deal, especially with the production they are getting out of Yadi. I’d put forth the idea that they are hoping that Greene rebounds enough to create some trade value. If that’s the case, then it would certainly behoove TLR to be picky about when he plays Greene.

PH8 June 17, 2011

Not any more amusing than referencing 12 games played at SS in the Florida State League 3 years ago or one garbage inning with the Cardinals last year as any sort of proof he could handle it for any extended period of time? I reckon there’s a reason he hasn’t played there yet, and given all of the opportunity provided by injury, it seems that it’s not for lack of chances.

Not sure what Punto’s supposed to do about being hurt. If he’s healthy, he will be their best option at shortstop if Greene isn’t on the active roster. And that .225 vLHP doesn’t look too bad compared to the .067 you referenced yourself for Descalso. Two ticks in the plus column for Punto, IMO.

The health of the club is question number one, absolutely. Speaking purely from an “is everyone healthy” viewpoint, Greene is the guy I expect to trek down 55. I’ve been wrong many, many, many times before. If someone else gets hurt the problem “solves itself.”

Dennis June 17, 2011

Actually, you should check the game logs for opportunities for Descalso to play SS. Either Theriot or Greene has been available, so he hasn’t had many (if any) chances. The point is that he’s improving his defense as he gets older, so it shouldn’t be discounted just like the idea of him playing 3B shouldn’t have been discounted by so many people.

I never suggested that Descalso should play SS against LHP, so I’m not sure why you are bringing that up. I was just pointing out that they don’t have quality depth against LHP on the MI.

PH8 June 17, 2011

Actually, that just proves my point. If they were hot on playing Descalso at SS, wouldn’t his number have been called there a few times versus RHP already?

You went Descalso -> Punto -> Punto hitting against LHP in an earlier comment, seemed like a pretty direct comparison/reference to me? Maybe I misunderstood.

Dennis June 17, 2011

I’m not sure how that proves your point. It just means that they have needed Descalso at 3B a lot, and Theriot has better numbers vs RHP anyway.

I never said that Descalso > Punto. I just pointed out that I was more concerned about his health than anything else. The bit about Punto’s avg vs LHP was a throw-in comment that is really more relevant to Greene than Descalso.

PH8 June 17, 2011

Right, so Theriot > Descalso at SS, hence why DD doesn’t play there?

Sorry, I’ve not gotten much sleep in the last few days…

Dennis June 17, 2011

Correct. My suggestion is that Descalso could be a defensive backup for Theriot instead of using Greene.

PH8 June 17, 2011

Agree to disagree. 🙂

Dennis June 18, 2011

Cool. You don’t think that Descalso could play SS, and I think that he could. That’s cool with me.

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