Evidence that many members of Cardinal Nation have already jumped the proverbial shark abounds, and the perception seems greatly deviated from the reality. The Cardinals remain a division leading team, yet they have recently played like a farm club. On paper, they still look like a potential playoff team. On the field, they appear to fail repeatedly at nearly all facets of the game. The resulting impression for many fans creates a set of notions or opinions seemingly at odd with each other. How can the Cardinals be both good and bad at the same time? The answer is cognitive dissonance which can basically be defined as discomfort resulting from holding conflicting thoughts simultaneously.
PERCEPTION: Jon Jay lacks the ability to remain an every day CF, and he would be better off as a corner outfielder.
REALITY: There are 23 CFs in MLB that have played enough innings to be considered “qualified” by Fangraphs. Among those 23, Jay ranks 8th ahead of the likes of Rick Ankiel, Drew Stubbs, Cameron Maybin, Andrew McCutchen, Matt Kemp, BJ Upton, Angel Pagan, Dexter Fowler, and Curtis Granderson. Jay currently sits at 7.6 UZR/150. For those of you who like to apply the 2 or 3 rule to UZR/150, then you might be interested in the fact that Jay put up a 3.2 in 2011 and a 2.9 in 2010. I cannot completely discount the -0.9 dWAR Jay had in 2010, but it’s worth noting that he was not primarily a CF that season. As primarily a CF, Jay was good for 0.8 dWAR in 2011 and already has 0.4 dWAR in 2012.
PERCEPTION: Based on his speed, defensive prowess, and natural CF abilities, Shane Robinson deserves more playing time.
REALITY: Indeed, Robinson covers a lot of ground on defense. Unfortunately, he has dropped from a batting average of .419 and OBP of .471 at the end of April to an average of .259 and OBP of .306 about two thirds of the way through May. Since he splits .300/.323/.333/.656 against LHP and .214/.290/.357/.647 against RHP, he looks like a potential offensive liability right now. If Robinson has earned more playing time, it seems that it should be against LHP.
PERCEPTION: David Freese appears to be pressing and a day off will cure all his ills.
REALITY: Hard to argue that a day off would not benefit him, but it takes a bold move by a rookie manager to sit a guy who has 8 HR and 29 RBI in just 39 games. Whatever Freese’s problems, it seems unlikely that just a day off will help. Given that his range has slowly declined this month down to -1.7 according to Fangraphs, maybe (just maybe) the guy is just plain tired or pressing too hard. If that’s the case, a day off might help keep him fresh, but it won’t change his attitude or mindset. It’s worth noting that his swing percentage has reached a career high of 47.9%, but his contact percentage has reached a career low of 75.9%. According to Freese, he has not changed his approach at all, but the numbers suggest that he has.
PERCEPTION: The market for left-handed relievers looks really thin, so the Cardinals are probably stuck with internal options.
REALITY: Unless you are a GM who has spoken with a lot of other general managers about LHP, then you just don’t know enough about this particular market to say with certainty. It may look thin, but there may be plenty of teams ready to dump a little salary or pick up a few AA prospects that aren’t ready to loudly proclaim that they are throwing in the towel this season. Also, it really boggles the mind that the team would only consider a LHP. Plenty of RHP are great against LH hitters. Might be time for the Cardinals to even consider former closers who have lost their closing jobs with other teams. If the idea is to get the game to the 9th inning and Jason Motte, then a solid and reliable setup guy should help immensely.
PERCEPTION: Rafael Furcal plays great defense at SS, and his range is impressive.
REALITY: Granted, Furcal played spectacularly at times a few years ago, and he posted consecutive seasons of 6.3 and 6.8 UZR/150 in 2009 and 2010 respectively. Since then, he has managed a -9.4 UZR/150 in 2011, and he currently sits at -0.2 UZR/150 for this season. It won’t happen, but Descalso could be a defensive substitute for Furcal late in games when the Cardinals have the lead. While viewers and spectators may not perceive that Furcal’s range has diminished, it should be obvious that his throws have lacked accuracy on occasion.
PERCEPTION: Despite Carlos Beltran’s inability to move at full speed, the Cardinals are better off with him in the lineup, even if he’s playing at 80%.
REALITY: Beltran has been a 2.1 WAR player up to this point of the season. The current version of Beltran is NOT that same guy. He may maintain his gaudy offensive production, but he might be giving up almost as much on defense. Until he proves that he can run normally, teams will challenge him to make a play from the outfield. Every time that happens, it’s like giving away a free base. While the perception that Beltran playing injured beats any alternative surely exists, the reality may very well be that his current play results in a zero sum game AND risks aggravating his current injury.
Some of the aforementioned perceptions were picked cleanly from my own brain. Not surprisingly, I needed a reality check as well. The Cardinals still lead the division, have healthy players returning in 2 weeks or less, and they have 6 road interleague games in June to use and abuse the DH to keep some guys in the lineup but off the field. For a team still well above the .500 mark, things could be a lot worse.
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