Witness For The Defense

by on May 15, 2012 · 4 comments

Have an opinion about a particular player, coach, manager, team, or franchise you wish to express?  Try tossing stones 140 characters at a time on Twitter, and then wait for every keyboard jockey with a view contrary to yours to find you.  Either nature or some universal law entitles everyone to their own opinion, and in theory there are no wrong opinions.  Great theory.  Poor execution.  Consider for a moment that you wish to play “armchair GM” for a moment.  You better be prepared for the inevitable onslaught of both knee jerk reactions and well-reasoned opposition.

  1. Do you understand the logical ramifications of what you propose or suggest?
  2. Does your opinion or suggestion violate any current rules, laws, treaties, or the Geneva Convention?
  3. In addition to blasting some person, persons, or entity with a candid assessment, do you have a reasonable alternative to propose?
  4. Are you being in any way logical, or are you simply allowing your opinion to reflect some deep-seated personal bias?
  5. Based on all the information available, do you fully comprehend the situation which are choose to address?
  6. Do you understand the concepts of both libel and slander?
  7. Can you support your conclusion with any facts?
  8. Are you able to address any detractors with a logical argument, or are you just going to throw intellectual mud at them and run away?
  9. Have you checked to make sure someone more knowledgeable and/or eloquent than you has not already expressed your opinion in much better form than you can?
  10. How much consideration have you put into understanding a particular team’s financial constraints, discrete goals, and plausible personnel options?
  11. Are you familiar with the minor league teams affiliated with the team of your choosing?
  12. Do you actually watch baseball games, or do you simply like to start debates for the sake of starting debates?

“Abandon all hope ye who enter here.” -Inferno (Dante)

Here are just a few examples of armchair GM tidbits floating around the interwebz:

Mitchell Boggs has not pitched well, and he should be optioned/released/taken snipe hunting.”  Well, Boggs happens to have a relatively solid 2.81 ERA, a 1.313 WHIP, and averages 10.1 SO/9, but that does not satisfy everyone.  In 15 appearances this season, Boggs has surrendered 5 earned runs, and he has yet to allow more than 1 earned run in a single appearance.  Beyond the obvious here, why shouldn’t Boggs be taken on a one way snipe hunting trip?

  1. For starters, most of his stats are trending in the right direction and have been since his introductory year in 2008.  His ERA has gone from 7.41 to 2.81, WHIP has dropped from 1.881 to 1.313, and his H/9 has steadily fallen from 11.1 to 8.4.  Unless I’m mistaken, that’s the career arc of someone who is actually improving as he gets older.
  2. Relatively speaking, Boggs has struggled a bit in his last 2 outings, and by “struggled” I mean he has allowed 2 earned runs in 3 innings.  Workload may be responsible for this performance drop.  After all, Boggs made 4 appearances in 7 days, and he threw 28, 15, 31, and 46 pitches respectively during that time.
  3. The real underlying problem for Boggs might be traced back to May 9th when he surrendered 3 hits without register a single out.  Boggs has only pitched on consecutive days twice this season, and the first occasion (1 1/3 innings combined) required only 13 pitches total.  On May 8th, Boggs threw 28 pitches through the course of a rather lengthy inning, and he was not nearly as sharp or strong the following day.  After that May 9th appearance, his 4-seam fastball that frequently registers in the high 90’s has hardly been seen at all.  Arm fatigue much?
  4. Finally, exposure to LHB might be problematic as well.  Boggs has a 5.50 SO/BB rate and .211 BAA when facing RHB, but he allows LHB a .333 average and .500 BAbip.  His BAA and OBP allowed against LHB are well above his career numbers, and the extra 36 points of OBP probably helps explain his slightly elevated WHIP in spite of a below average walk rate.

While he certainly does not post numbers that most elite relief pitchers do, you might be hard-pressed to find a better option for $506K a year.

“Designate Skip Schumaker for assignment, because all he can do is hit for a decent average and play mediocre defense.”  Yeah, hitting for a decent average – just horrible.  Granted, “mediocre” might be putting it kindly, but he isn’t getting the kind of paycheck that Robinson Cano, Ian Kinsler, or Dan Uggla are getting, either.  The Cardinals put forth no pretense that Schumaker represents a defensive stopper, so fan expectations might be slightly misaligned with the team expectations.  While impossible to divine the team’s internal expectations, I consider it fair to compare him to similar “combo” players with similar experience and numbers.

  1. Go hunting for combo players who play both the corner OF positions and 2B.  Then whittle that list down to the ones with 5+ years experience.  After that, go ahead and cut out the ones make $2M+ per season.  You’ll find yourself with a relatively short list of players you probably wouldn’t pick ahead or behind Skip.  Since the Cardinals cannot afford an All-Star at every position, they could do worse than Schumaker.
  2. Schumaker has played in just 17 games, and he is hitting .325/.400/.425/.825.  He currently stands at 0.1 WAR, and based on his 2 year deal at $1.5M per season, the Cardinals basically break even at around 0.3 WAR per season.
  3. Descalso plays a much more competent 2B (-6.8 UZR/150 vs -25.8 UZR/150), but Descalso’s struggles at the plate this season make this a matter of picking your favorite poison.  Tyler Greene currently represents the worst of the 3 defensively and offensively, and his current claim to fame is that he is 5th on the team in stolen bases despite having only a fraction of playing time the 4 players ahead of him have had.
  4. For his career, Skip is a .261 pinch hitter.  Maybe that does not count for much, but having an experienced pinch hitter rarely hurts a team.
  5. Lastly, Skip’s prowess as the team’s 4th (or 5th) outfielder should not be undersold.  He managed a 49.0 UZR/150 in the OF for 2010 and 35.1 UZR/150 for 2011.  Not surprisingly, his arm strength benefits him greatly in that statistical department, but you might be surprised to learn that his range component in both of those years was above zero.

Daniel Descalso should be the starter at 2B.”  Tough call.  Descalso certainly should be the late innings defensive guy at 2B as long as he has not been charged with that responsibility at one of the other positions he can play competently.

  1. Descalso currently boasts a line of .203/.311/.359/.670 in 27 games this season.  While I expect him to move that up closer to his career numbers, he still doesn’t represent a better offensive option than Skip.
  2. Double D’s built a substantial portion of his .255 career average by facing mostly RHP.  In fact, he has 403 plate appearances against RHP and just 84 against LHP.  His .266/.338/.369/.707 line against RHP helps makes the case he should start against RHP, but Schumaker’s .306 career average against RHP trumps all.
  3. If anything, Descalso probably deserves the label “super utility guy” for his ability to play multiple positions.  In 2012 alone, he has already spent time at 1B, 2B, SS, and 3B.

“When Chris Carpenter eventually returns 1 of the 5 current starters must move to the bullpen.”  Another tough one here.  Even if Carp returns, he may not be at 100% in terms of conditioning right away.  Even if his conditioning checks out fine, he may experience “dead arm” issues or require some time to get command of all of his pitches.  Rather than risk upsetting the apple cart, the Cardinals could get creative.

  1. Move Chris Carpenter to the bullpen.  That eliminates almost all concerns about pitch counts and innings pitched.  Also, Carp could actually be just as valuable in a relief role as he could be as a starter so long as the starters are holding up reasonably well.
  2. If Carp comes back and only has solid command of 2 pitches, he probably won’t last long in games as a starter.  Considering the mileage on his arm, working him up from being the long guy in the pen to being a starter in what Cardinal fans hope is the playoffs might pay dividends in the long run.

Jaime Garcia has some issues and needs to mature, seek help, or just pitch better.”  The Cardinals could certainly use the best Garcia can give them, but some might argue that Jaime has actually had more good starts than bad ones this season.

  1. Garcia’s record currently stands at 2-2, but he could easily be something like 5-2 right now.  The Cardinals have dropped 3 1-run games Jaime has started.
  2. Run support for Jaime may look good based on average (5.26), but the bulk of that came from an 11-5 win over the Brewers and an 11-1 win over the Reds.  Beyond that, the Cardinals have scored just 3.2 runs per game in his other starts.
  3. While Garcia certainly could improve in some areas, it should be mentioned that his WHIP has only increase .157 over last season.  This implies that while Jaime certainly has some control issues, he also isn’t so far away from where he was last year that all hope is lost.

I’m not declaring this team “perfect” in any way.  The point here is that 35 games into the season for a team that is 20-15 may be a bit too early to make significant changes.  20-15 projects to something in the mid-to-high 90’s in terms of wins, and the NL Central may only require 90-91 this season.  Finally, just consider the kind of starting lineup the Cardinals can trot out on a regular basis.

Think about that lineup, and then consider that Allen Craig (.372/.420/.814/1.234 with 5 HR and 16 RBI) isn’t even in the list.  Even if they drop off the pace a bit, that’s 7 players headed for 80+ RBI seasons.  Circumstances could be a whole lot worse, and a 4-game losing streak does not portend the end of all things.

Follow gr33nazn on Twitter, because the Defense has not rested quite yet!

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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Marilyn Green (@Marilyncolor) May 15, 2012

Come on Dennis, you cherry pick two years where he played in the OF the least amount of time to argue that he is better than a mediocre outfielder?. His career UZR/150 in the OF is -4.9. I don’t mind him so much in a corner OF position as a spot starter or temporary DL replacement, but at CF his career UZR/150 is -10.4. Unfortunately, CF is the only OF spot he is likely to get any starts this year. But he is not and will never be a good defender at any position. His value to the team is limited to PHing and spot starting or late inning replacement in a corner OF position. As for his hitting, yes he hits for averaqe and that’s not bad in and of itself, but when you are a poor defender, and have no power in your bat to make up for it, a singles hitter who hits for average is not someone I want in the lineup on a regular basis.

Dennis May 15, 2012

Maybe you are reading something different than I am, but I never argued that Schumaker was better than a “mediocre outfielder”. I only mentioned that maybe his value there is “undersold”. If anything, I don’t see what a player’s UZR/150 from 6 or 7 years ago has to do with what he can and does do now. Also, the his innings played in the OF in the last 2 years probably more accurately reflect the kind of time he is likely to see in the OF this year and next. That makes the last 2 years more relevant than the first 2 or 3 even.

I never said that his primary value was as a regular starter, and I never will. In late inning situations, I like the fact that he can pinch hit, and he’s especially useful in position that require someone to get on base ahead of the run producers. I like the fact that his arm is a plus when he moves to right field as a defensive replacement. Beyond that, I consider him a reasonably good “combo” guy at a reasonable price. I’m not sure how you could mistake that for an endorsement of playing him over anybody else, though.

As for who you want in the lineup, you and I may not disagree at all. If you had read this blog regularly during the off-season, you would know that I advocated signing or trading for a more consistent starting 2B with a bit of pop in his bat. I have specifically mentioned guys like Rickie Weeks and Dan Uggla before they both received new contracts. Personally, I’d still favor a high profile signing of a premier guy at 2B to the 2-year deals for older players, even if that means no Beltran or something like that.

Based on the team’s current makeup, I would prefer to see Schumaker at 2B primarily against RHP pitchers that he is likely to hit well. Beyond that, I’d prefer Allen Craig bumbling around at that position if only to keep his bat in the lineup when everybody is healthy.

Also, I disagree with you about Schumaker never being a good defender at any position. I feel confident that if they moved him to the bullpen, he would be one of the best defensive pitchers in the game. 😉

Marilyn Green (@Marilyncolor) May 15, 2012

I don’t agree that his time spent in the OF in the last two years is more indicative of his abilities there. That is a conclusion without verifiable correlation. That is why we have career averages, to better project a player’s abilities. Averages are more likely to weed out statistical anomalies that might occur with year by year stats. The bottom line with me is that Schumaker should NEVER play CF or 2B, he is simply a liability there. His poor defensive performance in those two positions cancels out any advantage his hitting might bring.

I didn’t intend to give the impression that I thought you were advocating Schumaker as a primary starter, because I don’t believe that, despite my having never been a regular reader of the blog until recently. I got that from your Tweets on the subject. My point in my comment was that I thought you were giving him more credit for his performance in the OF than he deserved. The two years of UZR stats you cited, in my opinion, do not accurately reflect his abilities in the OF in general. His good arm is basically his only tool there, but it is essentially useless if you can’t get to balls for the putouts. He may occasionally be able to get an assist on balls he doesn’t catch, but I don’t consider that a skill that is worth putting him in CF for. He does OK in the corners because he has less ground to cover, and so, as I said, I don’t mind him too much there as a general rule.

As for Craig at 2B, I think that is just as bad or worse. I just cannot advocate putting someone in a defensive position that they are not capable of playing at least at an average level, just to get their bat in the lineup. I am deadset against the Ryan Theriot experiment of sacrificing defense for offense. Craig can get at bats at RF, LF and 1B and can DH during interleague games in AL parks. With the health of Berkman and Beltran always an issue, and the need to give Holliday some rest on occasion, I think he will get plenty of ABs.

I still have not given up on the idea of a Descalso/Greene platoon at 2B, or Greene full time if he can get it together. We have Wong coming up, and he may be ready sooner rather than later. No sense in committing money on a Weeks or an Uggla type unless it is a cheap rental at the deadline to get us through the season.

The Schumaker thing is a sore issue with me, as you have probably figured out, but I have learned to mostly suffer in silence. 🙂

Dennis May 16, 2012

Interestingly, we had a discussion about projections in the comments of a post several months ago, and it is commonly accepted to use a rolling 2 or 3 year window of recent seasons for predictive sabermetrics. UZR/150 and ZiPS were both discussed. If anything, weighted averages which exclude outliers from calculations may weed out anomalies, but the simple fact is that what you call anomalies may be easily explained by smaller sample sizes due to less exposure at a position.

I don’t know that he deserves a lot of credit for his defensive abilities, but the estimate that he only needs to produce 0.3 WAR per season to earn his contract indicates that he could easily be a slight bargain as a combo player. I realize that not everybody views player value this way, but I believe it eliminates a lot of personal bias.

The concept of playing a defensive position at an average level is intriguing. The problem for me is defining “average” for a defensive player. Quite a few starters probably play below average defense, and that is not just limited to the Cardinals. If you expect every single player who plays defensively to at least be average, then you may be sorely disappointed. I also think that ignores the much bigger picture. Craig may be a defensive liability at just about every position he can play, but it seems a little silly to not find a place for the most productive player on the team. His 0.8 WAR in just 55 plate appearances over 12 games is beyond ridiculous.

I never said I wanted Weeks or Uggla or anybody like them now. I mentioned them several months or even over a year ago in the case of Uggla. I think Wong is far more than a season away from being ready, and that in itself may have been part of why Skip was re-signed.

If you are in favor of a Descalso/Greene platoon, then I really have trouble taking your statement about someone playing a position at an average level at face value. Greene simply has not played 2B at an average level. If you go through and list of players who have played 2B this season and even filter out as much as possible, Greene still falls near the bottom 3rd in almost every single category. Don’t misunderstand me, though. I’m a fan of Greene, but I don’t think he looks like he’ll succeed with the Cardinals unless some misfortune befalls someone else, and he gets handed starting time for several weeks.

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