Thursday, July 02, 2009

Where's DeRosa? (and other ideas for the defense)

One of the reasons the Cardinals exceeded last season’s expectations was superior hitting and fielding. They stayed in the race even though their pitching was decidedly average. The team ranked fourth in the league in runs scored, and second in OPS. Defensively, they were third and fourth, respectively, in the NL in UZR and UZR/150. The biggest driver for their offensive success was the OF, which led baseball in OPS; one of their defensive drivers was vastly improved infield defense across the board, with Troy Glaus and Cesar Izturis having Gold Glove caliber seasons.

This year the team has experienced a significant drop off in both areas, despite improving overall in pitching. They are ninth in fielding (UZR and UZR/150). The stack up sixth in the league in runs scored, but eighth in OPS. And the outfield? They left their potency in 2008 (13th in OPS). They have been hurt by free agency (Izturis left for Baltimore), injury (Glaus), and social anxiety disorders.

Something needed to be done, so the team went out and got Mark DeRosa. His 13HR and 50RBI in Cleveland make him second on the Cardinals in both to Albert, so he’s going to play every day. But where?

I took a look at the Cardinals fielders, based on starters only, through Monday’s games. Here’s a listing of who’s started where, and what their UZR/150 numbers are, for the first 78 games of the year.

From this list, several folks are either in AAA or on the DL. So we remove them from the list.

Now we begin to understand why Thurston’s played a lot of third base this season. To spice things up, and because baseball isn’t just about defense, let’s add in each player’s OPS for 2009.

Granted, the small sample size in terms of games started hurts the statistical validity of the analysis, but some interesting things jump out.

- How far the mighty (read: the OF offensive) have actually fallen in 2009. This team will not contend for the playoffs unless it starts getting better production from all three outfield positions.

- Skip Schumaker has the second-best (less DeRosa) OPS on the club among guys who can play the outfield – better than Ludwick, Ankiel, and Duncan. So why is he still playing second?

- Joe Thurston’s OPS is about 40 points lower than Schumaker, but the swing in defensive ability is 25 on the UZR scale. Based on Wins Above Replacement (WAR), Schumaker has been spectacularly average this season (-0.1), as has Thurston (0.3). Thurston gets the nod for his defense.

- Ludwick’s WAR (0.7) is more valuable than Ankiel (0.4), although like 2B the difference is negligible. Ludwick is the better hitter to this point, although Ankiel’s LF defensive numbers jump out, most likely due to the small sample size. Would Ludwick be able to play LF and approach Ankiel’s defensive prowess? Likely.

- Chris Duncan? His big bat (.734 OPS is third in the OF) is overshadowed by his lousy glove (-8.9). He’s WAR is also spectacularly average (0.1), which for this analysis sends him to the pine.

- There really was a huge hole at 3B defensively, and there still is. DeRosa's bat helps, but he's not the answer with the glove.

Based on all this, some suggestions:

- Start Thurston at 2B, and close that hole.

- Start Ryan at SS, and leave him there.

- Start Ankiel, Schumaker, and Rasmus across the outfield. However, LaRussa should strongly consider moving Ludwick to LF, keep his bat in the lineup, and bench Ankiel.

- DeRosa is the best of the team’s current options at third.

Not mentioned anywhere here is Khalil Greene. He should be shut down for the season. He showed lots of improvement playing a bad KC team, but if his 0-16 stretch after that returned him to the depths of depression his mental issues won't be fixed with another 15-day DL stint. He needs professional help, and apparently intensive professional help. Best wishes and Godspeed to Khalil.

Other than the transcendent Albert Pujols, this team struggles mightily to score runs. They can’t afford to give away runs with sub-standard defense anymore. Once DeRosa’s wrist is healed, the starting lineup should reflect the best possible opportunity to win every night. That means the lineup should look something like this:

Schumaker CF
Rasmus RF
Pujols 1B
DeRosa 3B
Ludwick LF/Molina C
Molina C/Ankiel LF
Ryan SS
Thurston 2B
Pitcher’s spot

Obviously LaRussa will mix/match based on pitcher handed-ness and success/failure of his players against specific hitters. But, in my opinion, the base lineup from which all changes are made should be the one above.

Comments welcome.

No comments: