Seth Maness is Awesome

Drafted in the 11th round in 2011, standing all of 6’0 tall, a fastball hovering around 89 MPH, and no devastating off speed pitches to speak of, Seth Maness simply shouldn’t be good. The Cardinals 2012 minor league pitcher of the year is defying odds and he’s not just good, he’s awesome.

Credit: SI.com

Credit: SI.com

Maness entered the league with one strength, control. In 247.2 minor league innings, Maness walked only 18 batters, which is 0.7/9 innings. That walk rate has inflated to 1.7/9 innings, but is still Maddux-esque (Maddux had a career 1.8 BB/9 IP). A starter in the minors, Maness has been used as a double play specialist of sorts out of the bullpen for the Cardinals in his brief career. In a defiance of the odds, Maness has actually dropped his 2.80 minor league ERA to 2.40 in the majors. Fellow blogger of mine @elmaquino broke down the concept of a double play specialist last year.

Here is that link: http://wp.me/p2DXa4-187

Last year Maness induced 16 double plays in a matter of 62 innings, no other relief pitcher induced more than 12. In 2014, the right hander has induced only six double plays in his 43 innings of work, still good for fourth in the National League among relievers. After a slow April posting a 4.09 ERA, Maness has settled in and had ERAs of 2.31, 1.84, and 1.59 in May, June, and July respectively.

So what makes Maness so awesome? Obviously the ability to throw strikes and induce ground balls while doing so has been the key to his success. Maness doesn’t have the “stuff” to issue free base runners, therefore his ability to throw strikes becomes even more vital. Fangraphs database suggests that the league average for groundball% (GB %) is 44%. The Cardinals secret weapon blows that number out of the water with a career 63.6 GB%. Essentially, Maness is inducing a groundball ~20% more often than the average pitcher. That has allowed him to keep his through the roof 25% double play percentage.

Maness utilizes a sinker in his arsenal of pitches, as most groundball specialists do. However, that isn’t necessarily the key to his success. Mixing pitches, and being able to get groundouts with any one of his weapons has gotten Maness to this point. The East Carolina product has produced 44 groundball outs to go along with his 6 double plays this year, doing so with a variety of pitches.

Pitch GB Outs
Fastball 4
Sinker 24
Changeup 16
Slider 6
Total 50

The fastball and slider haven’t been the most effective pitches for Maness’ groundball habits, but he still has gotten 20% of his groundballs with those two pitches. Besides, it would makes sense that the two pitches with the most downward vertical movement, sinker and changeup, are the most effect groundball getters. Here is a heat map of all of those groundball outs.

Credit: Baseball Savant

Credit: Baseball Savant

Maness doesn’t necessarily keep the ball down as often as he should, but his stuff is so effective, hitters haven’t been able to elevate it regardless of location. It’s obvious that Maness checks out in all the basic pitching categories, but given that he doesn’t really pass the eye test of what a dominant pitcher should be, I wasn’t sure his peripheral stats would check out. They do.

If you’re interested in reading about how effective Maness sinker really is take a look at a post by @stlcupofjoe on Viva El Birdos. Here’s that link: “The Seth Maness Sinker, How Good was it?”

FIP which stands for fielding independent ERA is a stat that defines what a pitchers ERA would have been over a given time period given a league average defense. For a pitcher like Maness who relies heavily on balls in play, this stat can vary greatly from real ERA. Compared to his 2.40 ERA, Maness FIP is 3.39, while that seems like a big jump Fangraphs still defines that FIP in the above average to great range.

The only worry is that Maness is subject to regression due to a sky high left on base percentage (LOB %). This is the number of runners that reach base, and are stranded there. The league average is 72% and 80% is considered extraordinary. Seth Maness leaves 82% of runners on base. Maness is forced to be this great because he allows a higher batting average on balls in play (BABIP) than most pitchers, not to mention has more balls put in play than most pitches. The worst part of Maness game is that he allows a 12.3% HR/FB ratio (the number of home runs hit per fly ball) which falls in Fangraphs category of “awful.” Any sabermartrician will tell you that a high LOB% mixed with a high BABIP and HR/FB makes any pitcher subject to regression.

Regression isn’t in Maness’ future, and here is why. BABIP is used unfairly when looking at performance. He gives up a slightly higher than average line drive percentage, which is what leads to his slightly above average BABIP, but given his ridiculous GB%, that BABIP will always remain reasonable. The HR/FB is glaring, but given the very few amount of fly balls that Maness allows, it’s not a terrible issue that 12% of them leave the park.  The reason that LOB% is so high and will stay so high is because of the groundball and double play ability.

The reality is that the only test Seth Maness doesn’t pass, is the eye test. People underestimated him coming out of college, hence the 11th round draft position, and people continue to do so now. Maness is living proof it doesn’t take a 98 MPH fastball and a devastating slider to be an effective relief pitcher. He has proved a valuable weapon in the Cardinal bullpen, especially when being used in a pinch. His quick pace, and ability to throw strikes make him as fun to watch as any pitcher in my opinion. Here is to hoping Seth Maness continues to be awesome. Thanks for reading.

It’s not crazy, it’s sports

AJ

*all stats and info courtesy of Baseball Reference, Baseball Savant, and Fangraphs

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Disappointing Series Finds Cards in 3rd Place

It certainly wasn’t the first disappointing series of the year for the Cardinals, but perhaps the toughest to swallow. The Cardinals edged out a nail biting victory on Friday to capture the first of three games against Miami. Saturday started with a feeling of exuberance as Allen Craig and Jhonny Peralta hit back to back jacks to put the Cardinals up 5-1 and in full control of the series.
How quickly things change in the game of baseball. The Cardinals found themselves with their first pair of back to back home runs of the year, a four run lead, and four innings away from being eight games over .500 for the first time all year. Then some offense from the Marlins fused with mismanaging from the Cardinals’ skipper changed it all. Trevor Rosenthal struggled Friday night throwing over 30 pitches, and nearly blowing game one of the series. Pat Neshek had only thrown nine pitches in the 8th inning and seemed like the perfect candidate to finish the game. However, Mike Matheny elected to go back to his closer.

Matt Holliday was lifted from the one run game for Shane Robinson due to an apparent “knee issue” that failed to keep him out of the line-up on Sunday. Rosenthal struggled all the way through the ninth, and the bullpen remained bare because “we want him to feel like a king in the ninth,” said Matheny. While I understand wanting to keep a closer’s morale high, not being willing to take him out of a game before the lead is blown is stubborn. You are costing the team victories at the expense of one player not getting his feelings hurt for a day. It was another one that got away, not the first time this year. It has seemed all year

Credit: Post-Dispatch

Credit: Post-Dispatch

long that every time the Cardinals seem close to getting over that hump, something devastating like Saturday’s loss happens.

Sunday was perhaps more mismanaged than Saturday, and the Cardinals now find themselves in 3rd place with the 2nd place Pirates coming to town. Whenever the lineup card reads Daniel Descalso’s name, Mike Matheny has already done the team a disservice that day (the Cardinals are 28-8 when Descalso does not see the field). In this particular instance, he was starting over Jhonny Peralta who had two hits including a home run the day before. The offense wasn’t able to muster a lot without Peralta, not to say they would have with him, but it wouldn’t have hurt.

Marco Gonzales put together his “best” start of the year if you want to call it that. Gonzales allowed only 1 run on 7 hits, and 5 walks in his 4.2 innings of work. Seth Maness was brought in to get out of a jam in the fifth, and in true Seth Maness fashion, induced an inning ending ground ball. Skipper struck again, letting Maness hit for himself, but then pulling him for Nick Greenwood. Maness was only out there for three pitches before Greenwood took over. The lefthander gave up 3 runs, letting the game get away from the Cardinals. Kolten Wong homered in his return for one of the only Cardinal highlight of the day, on the way to an 8-4 defeat.

The Pirates are as hot as any team in baseball, defeating the Phillies 6-2 on Sunday. Pittsburgh has won 12 of their last 15, and closed quite a bit of ground to surpass the Cardinals in the standings. With a four game sweep in this upcoming series, the Bucs could essentially bury the Cardinals in the standings before the All-Star Break.

The Cardinals have been devastated all season by lack of consistency not only from their offense, but from their manager. Mozeliak and Matheny need to sit down and have a long talk about what needs to be done going forward. Matheny simply has to start putting the best lineup possible on the field every day; anything else is crippling the team. If a roster move needs to be made, it is Mo’s job to make it, but the reality is that this roster is good enough to win if utilized properly. This upcoming Pirates series very well could define where the Cardinals go from here, but for now they find themselves in 3rd, looking up at the pack.

Mid-Season Awards

Well baseball fans, the midway point of the season came and went this weekend. Unfortunately for us in St. Louis, the Cardinals continue to underachieve and the angst within the fan base grows game by game. League wide there has been plenty of excitement though, and it’s that time of year to discuss who the mid-season award winners are.

Fortunately for you all, I won’t just subject you to my opinions on that matter. I’ve gotten the thoughts of some fellow members of the UCB (United Cardinal Bloggers). On the panel today we have me (@GSC_AJ), Dan Buffa (@Buffa82), Cole Claybourn (@HighSocks_Sunday), and some quick thoughts from head man of the UCB Daniel Shoptaw (@C70).

NL MVP:

Blankenship: Troy Tulowitzki
I begged and pleaded in the offseason for the Cardinals to do anything and everything to get Troy Tulowitzki. Well he is still in Colorado, having his best season to date. There is a reason all four of us agree on this, because it’s really not debatable. Sure the Rockies aren’t very good, but neither are the Marlins and Giancarlo Stanton is obviously Tulo’s closest competition. Dan and Clay covered the stats for you, and while playing at an elite level defensively at short, no one is really touching Tulo right now in the MVP race.

Colorado Rockies v Pittsburgh Pirates

If Tulowitzki can avoid injury he may be in line for an MVP award.

Buffa: Troy Tulowitzki
While Giancarlo Stanton is leading the league in HR and RBI and only two spots behind Troy in batting average, the dynamic play of Tulo is too hard to ignore in the 2014 season. He is vital to the success of the Rockies and without him; they surely would be in last place in the West. Tulo has 18 HR and 46 RBI to go with a ridiculous .348 batting average. However, all one has to do is look at his off the charts Albert Pujols in 2005 like OPS of 1.060. Tulo has a .442 on base percentage and a .618 slugging percentage. While injury always creeps around the corner with this player, Tulo is staying healthy and delivering another Gold Glove season at a premium defensive position with his play at shortstop. His walks (45) are barely behind his strikeout total (46) and he already has 93 hits and 61 runs scored. When it comes to value, Troy signifies it at the halfway mark with his 4.9 WAR.

Claybourn: Troy Tulowitzki
Troy Tulowitzki. He’s first in batting average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage, OPS, runs scored and runs created. He’s second in WAR, offensive WAR, home runs and adjusted batting. He’s not Mike Trout, but he’s the NL’s best answer to him.

Shoptaw: Troy Tulowitzki
Even with the Rockies not doing much in the standings, it’s hard to ignore a .350 average and almost 20 home runs. Sure, the home field helps, but he’s doing it at a premium position as well.

AL MVP:
Blankenship: Mike Trout

Well this whole “agreeing” thing is already getting old. Again though, is there much of a question? Trout arguably could’ve been the MVP the past two seasons, and in my opinion is unarguably the greatest baseball player on planet earth. Again, Dan and Cole covered the stats about as well as you can. The Angels are finally starting to convert talent into wins, and Trout is at the forefront of that process. A true five tool guy, his OPS is nearly 28 points higher than Victor Martinez, his closest competition. Not to mention that he is a potential gold Glover with elite speed on the bases as well. The scary part is that this is considered a down year for the Angels center fielder. Fortunately for him, his arch nemesis Miguel Cabrera is even more down.

Buffa: Mike Trout
Trout has spent enough time staring up at Miguel Cabrera in this category. In 2014, Trout is putting it together in a complete way. Carrying a .312 batting average, 18 HR, 59 RBI and an on base percentage of .403, Trout helps the Angels in a variety of ways. He plays a very good centerfield and also makes for a deadly leadoff hitter in LA. There are two stats to settle this case. Trout’s 5.0 WAR and his 1.013 OPS are off the charts.

trout

After finishing 2nd the last 2 years, this may be Mike Trout’s time to win MVP.

Claybourn: Mike Trout
Mike Trout. If your vote is for Josh Donaldson, I won’t blame you. But in Trout you’re getting a player who is first in WAR, Offensive WAR and OPS, and a number of other specialized saber metric ratings, including runs created. He’s hit 18 home runs and driven in almost 60 runs while maintaining a .312 batting average. You won’t find a more complete player.

Shoptaw: Mike Trout
He’s got to win sometime, right? Besides, he’s the only player with a 1.000+ OPS and that’s after a slow start.

NL CY Young:

Blankenship: Johnny Cueto
Ugh, I need a shower after this, it feels so wrong. My initial thought was Wainwright, especially after seeing my three fellow bloggers vote for the hometown ace. However, after further review, Cueto has been much better than I thought. I knew his ERA was the lowest in baseball, but the head kicking maniac also leads Wainwright in strikeouts, WHIP, and innings. The Reds just caught the Cardinals in the standings, so there is no argument there either. I love Wainwright, but Cueto’s superiority just can’t go unaccounted for.

waino

Adam Wainwright has anchored an injury plagued staff to keep the Cardinals in contention.

Buffa: Adam Wainwright
Pardon me if I sound a bit like a homer here but it’s hard to deny what Wainwright is doing on a Cardinals team without a consistent offense. He is doing what aces do. Waino carried an earned run average of 2.01 in 116.1 innings so far in 2014 and has a 10-4 record. Due to a lack of run support, Waino has been deprived of at least 2-4 wins this season. He is pitching as well as he has in the past 3-4 years on an individual hitter versus pitcher level. He is holding opponents to a .199 batting average and average 8.12 strikeouts per 9 innings. He has 3 complete games, 2 shutouts and has only surrendered 4 home runs. His WAR of 3.7 ranks among the league leaders in starting pitchers. With the Cardinals suffering injuries to 3 starting pitchers already this season, Waino has proved more valuable than ever.

Claybourn: Adam Wainwright
The National League has a two-horse race between Wainwright and Johnny Cueto of the Reds. But to me it’s Adam Wainwright. He’s been arguably the most consistent pitcher in the Major Leagues this season, with only a couple blemishes. He’s tied for the league lead in wins with 10 and has been the rock for a team that’s struggled to find consistently good starting pitching all season. Like the AL, though, you could make a solid argument for either two.

Shoptaw: Adam Wainwright
Call me a homer, but Waino’s been one of the huge reasons the Cards haven’t packed up for the winter already. Even when he loses, he pitches great. Besides, what am I going to do, pick Johnny Cueto?

AL CY Young:

king felix

King Felix is finally getting the run support he deserves in Seattle.

Blankenship: Felix Hernandez
This is why I don’t understand WAR. Hernandez is leading Tanaka in WHIP, innings, strikeouts, and they are tied in ERA, but Tanaka has a WAR of 4.5, significantly higher than King Felix at 3.1. If anybody has an explanation, please by all means leave me a comment of contact me on twitter. Alright, enough with my WAR tangent. Sure none of these stats are elaborate saber metrics, but it says all we need to know about the Mariners’ ace. The King has been as dominant as ever, and while Tanaka is very close to winning it as a rookie, Hernandez has my vote.

Buffa: Masahiro Tanaka
The Japanese sensation transferred over to the Yankees with a big contract and big expectations inside a big city and hasn’t disappointed. His 11-3 record and 2.11 ERA(in the hitter friendly AL and Yankees Stadium nonetheless) are shiny and nice but look at his K/BB of 127-18 and the .217 average he is holding hitters to. Felix Hernandez is right there in case Tanaka slips up but right now it’s the new guy’s title to lose. With respect to Jose Abreu and his monstrous rookie season, it’s easy to slap the ROY label on Tanaka as well. No rookie is coming close to this new Big Apple sensation.

Claybourn: Felix Hernandez
Right now this is an extremely tight race between Masahiro Tanaka of the Yankees and Felix Hernandez of the Mariners, and you could make a strong case for either. But I’m giving Hernandez the edge here only because Tanaka will also likely win Rookie of the Year. The numbers are nearly identical, and while Tanaka boasts a slightly better earned run average (2.10) over Fernandez’s 2.24, he’s fallen victim to the long ball. He’s given up 13 home runs, just four behind David Price‘s league-leading 17. Hernandez, meanwhile, has given up just four.

Shoptaw: Felix Hernandez
Not only is King Felix as great as ever, with an ERA around 2 and more than a strikeout per inning, but he’s also getting enough support to tally some wins as well.

NL Rookie of the Year:

Blankenship: Nobody
Fine, I guess if I have to vote, it’s Billy Hamilton. Damn, I voted for two Reds, but there simply is no better candidate in a horrendous NL rookie class. Hamilton has an atrocious .313 OBP for a leadoff hitter, and no amount of speed can make up for that. The speed has been as good as advertised, swiping 34 bags and making a number of electrifying plays. You truly can’t wrap your head around how fast this kid is until you see him play.

Buffa: Billy Hamilton (or no one)
I will be honest. It has been a weak year so far for rookies in the National League. The right choice right now would be nobody. Hamilton has increased his batting average to .277 and has stolen 34 bases, but he has been caught 11 times and has an on base percentage barely on .300. That’s just bad for a leadoff hitter. He only has 40 runs scored, which speaks to the depth of the Reds lineup. Hamilton is a difference maker but doesn’t have the average or true ability to get on base and become that consistent lethal threat. He isn’t the guy who struck out 4 times in the home opener against Wainwright but he isn’t a legit rookie of the year candidate. Chris Owings, the shortstop for the Arizona Diamondbacks is having an okay season. His 2.2 WAR and .438 slugging is admirable but Owings has slowed down after a fast start and has 50 strikeouts to go with ordinary overall stats. Right now, the Rookie of the year in the NL is missing a prime candidate.

Claybourn: Billy Hamilton
The group of rookies in the National League isn’t as deep as the AL. Purely by stats alone, I have to go with Billy Hamilton right now. He leads the National League in batting average among rookies with at least 100 at-bats with a .282 average and his 27 RBIs & 77 hits are tops among rookies. On top of that, he’s stolen 34 bases, which is good for second in the NL.

MLB: New York Mets at Cincinnati Reds

In a weak rookie class, Billy Hamilton’s speed separates him from the pack.

Shoptaw: Billy Hamilton
We all knew about the speed (which has been as advertised) but his bat and his defense have been much stronger than we thought. There’s a reason Cincinnati is making a run up the Central.

AL Rookie of the Year:

Blankenship: Jose Abreu
As bad as the NL rookie class is, the AL is just as strong. Names like Jose Abreu, George Springer, and Masahiro Tanaka. Masahiro Tanaka, right? Wrong. All the credit in the world goes to Tanaka; he is having a CY Young caliber season as a rookie, and is the latest name on the list of Japanese pitchers who have successfully made the transition to the bigs. The problem is, he only plays every five days. A player that plays every five days simply can’t make as big of an impact as one that plays every day (hence why I think pitchers should never win MVP). Abreu did have a short stint on the DL which makes the fact that he has hit 25 jacks even more impressive. The White Sox’ slugger leads the AL in HR, 3rd in RBI, and 5th in OPS.

tanaka

Masahiro Tanaka may be the best Japanese star yet.

Buffa: Masahiro Tanaka
See: AL CY Young

Claybourn: Masahiro Tanaka
Technically, Masahiro Tanaka is a rookie, and that makes him the leading candidate for the AL Rookie of the Year based on all of the stats listed above. The guy is absolutely dominating American League hitting in his first year and is near the top in virtually every pitching category. Jose Abreu is probably the only other AL rookie that poses a threat to Tanaka in this race, but Tanaka’s overall dominance is too much to ignore. His 4.5 wins above replacement rating is tops among all AL pitchers.

Shoptaw: George Springer
My preseason pick has been as advertised since coming up to the Astros.

There was surprisingly a lot of agreement here, but that’s a testament to the great seasons that some of these players are having. A lot can change over the next half a season; let’s hope that starts with the Cardinals fortunes. Please give myself, and my three fellow bloggers a follow on twitter (handles can be found above) as well as following the UCB (@utdcardbloggers).

Thanks for reading!

It’s not crazy, it’s sports.

UCB Weekend Through the Eyes of a 1st Timer

This weekend I was blessed with the opportunity to join many of my fellow bloggers and members of the United Cardinal Bloggers at Busch Stadium for a wonderful weekend of baseball. The weekend began with a dinner at J Buck’s downtown on Saturday night where we were treated to great good and I was first introduced to many people I had previously known only through twitter conversations.

Sunday morning we reported to Busch Stadium and the bright and early hour of 11 AM. My fellow bloggers and I were given some time to have a Q&A session with Cardinals’ GM John Mozeliak as well as team president Bill Dewitt III. Mozeliak answered questions ranging from the Oscar Taveras situation, to the Darryl Kile death, and even shared with us a humorous story about Scott Rolen’s departure. After that we were shown to our suite where the stadium chefs accommodated us with more food than one could ever hope to eat.

Overall it was a truly amazing weekend and I feel beyond blessed that I was presented with this opportunity. I can’t say enough for how accommodating the Cardinals organization was for us bloggers. There are some really great people throughout the blogging community, many of whom put in a lot of hard work to make this weekend happen and I can’t thank them enough. It was nice to finally put faces to twitter handles, and if you’re not already I urge you to follow the following people:

  • Dan Buffa  @Buffa82
  • Joe Schwarz @stlcupofjoe
  • Cole Claybourn @highsocks_sunday

Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to meet all the bloggers that I have been in touch with via twitter, and I hope that will change. Again, I commend all those who put in the hard work to make this weekend happen, and the Cardinals for being so accommodating to our band of misfits. It was an experience that I will treasure for a long time, and completely exceeded any expectations I may have had. I hope you all will continue to read and support me along my blogging journey.

Thank you!

It’s not crazy, it’s sports

It’s Time to Worry About Kolten Wong

Just a quick post here. Usually this would be just a couple quick stats shared via twitter, but since its 2 AM, and 99% of my followers wouldn’t see it, I’ll make it a post.

Credit: FoxSports.com

Credit: FoxSports.com

Let me start by saying I have never been sold on Kolten Wong as a Major League hitter. That paltry .153 BA from last year still rings in my head, and it was the lack of hard hit balls that really got to me. Wong tore it up in the spring, struggled early, got demoted, came back up, tore it up, and now may be in his worst slump yet. At the time of his demotion the Cardinal 2nd baseman was in a 4-28 funk and hitting .225 on the season. Currently, Wong is in a 4-45 slump and batting only .228 on the season.

After the demotion, Wong “got his head right” down in Memphis and came back up hot as a fire cracker. From May 16th through May 28th the speedy prospect hit .363 capped by a 4-5 day against the Yankees on the 28th. On the 29th, Wong went 0-3 against the Giants and now, three weeks later, has only four hits since. There was a shoulder problem thrown in there which I suppose could still be nagging. However, aside from a 12 day stretch of hot hitting, what has he shown to make me, or anyone else believe that we are going to get substantial offense from him.

I don’t want to come across as a Wong hater. I’m as excited about his potential as anybody, but potential is a scary word. The reality is that over 213 Major League AB’s, Kolten Wong is a .211 lifetime hitter. The only basis behind any belief that Wong can hit at the highest level is his .303 average as a minor leaguer.  A line drive percentage hovering around 16% sits approximately 4% below the league average, showing an inability to hit the ball hard, making his .257 BABIP no excuse. Take away the fact that Wong is 3-8 on bunts this year and his average drops eight more points down to .220.

213 AB’s is still a relatively small sample, and Wong is still very young, so the panic button can wait for now. It is curious though that after panic at the beginning of the season, not much has been made of Wong’s recent struggles. For an offense that as a whole is struggling, this team really can’t afford to not get production from any spot in the lineup. I mentioned in my Matt Carpenter post the possibility of trading for a power bat at 3rd base and moving Carpenter back to 2nd. I’m not willing to give up on Wong now, or at any point this season, but its worth looking into. If come late July, Wong is still hovering around .220 change has to be made if the team expects to contend. It isn’t time to panic, but it is time to worry about Kolten Wong.

It’s not crazy, it’s sports.

Follow me on twitter: @GSC_AJ

*Again I apologize for not having player links, if any fellow bloggers have troubleshooting tips for BBR Linker that would be great!

Matt Carpenter’s Value at 2nd vs. 3rd

Twitter GM’s across the land have been devising ways for John Mozeliak to improve this Cardinal team as the trade deadline approaches next month. Giancarlo Stanton and David Price have been the darlings of Cardinal fans in trade rumors thus far, but many have suggested the idea of moving Matt Carpenter back to 2nd base, and acquiring a big bat at the hot corner such as David Wright or Evan Longoria (both are having down years on non-contenders). Admittedly, I was a fan of this idea, under the impression that Carpenter’s bat provides significantly more value at the 2nd base position than at 3rd. Upon further review, this may not be the case.

Last year Carpenter was not only an elite 2nd baseman, but one of the elite players in the entire league. Posting a .873 OPS and breaking Stan Musial’s record for doubles by a Cardinal left hander. Carpenter finished fourth in the NL MVP race while hitting lead-off for the National League Champions. It is no secret in baseball that big things are expected offensively from the third base position, while this isn’t necessarily the case at second. Just ask the Cardinals who have made sure to fill third base with big bats such as Rolen, Glaus, and Freese while letting second base be occupied by the likes of Schumaker, Miles, and Theriot. Thus it seemed that moving Carpenter’s bat to 3rd would hurt the value of what ranked amongst the elite at 2nd.

However, when taking a closer look, the value of Matt Carpenter’s bat is practically even at both positions given an evolution of the game. That .873 OPS last year was the second highest among qualifying 2nd baseman, trailing only Robinson Cano. Shift Carpenter to 3rd and his OPS still ranks third at the position. In 2014, Carpenter has seen a significant drop in production, his OPS all the way down to .760. As for how it compares, Carpenter is currently tied for seventh in OPS at the 3rd base position, whereas he would be ninth if still playing 2nd base. Given this, it is hard to make any case for a difference in value from 2nd to 3rd.

Credit: St. Louis Post-Dispatch

Credit: St. Louis Post-Dispatch

The counterpoint that is sure to be made is power. Even though 2nd base has become more of an offensive position, 3rd base is still expected to be a “power bat.” Carpenter’s value is as a leadoff hitter, not as a home run hitter. The Cardinal lead-off man is 16th among qualifying 3rd baseman in slugging percentage this year with a .386, which would be tied for 11th among 2nd baseman. In 2013 his .481 slugging was second at 2nd base, and fourth at third. There is something to be said about Carpenter’s lack of pop decreasing his value as a 3rd baseman, but with a progression to his career .450 slugging, that wouldn’t be the case.

None of this even takes into consideration that Carpenter’s value as a defender is actually higher at 3rd base, given that it is his natural position. Based on almost any metric, Carpenter has ranked around the top five defensively at 3rd base in 2014. In contrast, Carpenter was very average at 2nd base in 2013, ranking 10th in DRS (defensive runs saved) and 15th in UZR (ultimate zone rating). For a team as poor as the Cardinals were defensively in 2013, this improvement is much needed.

There is a case for the Cardinals needing more power, and 3rd base is an easy target. In fact, I still don’t think acquiring a powerful 3rd baseman is a terrible idea. Kolten Wong is very young, and at some point going to be a hell of a player, but right now he would have the 2nd lowest OPS at 2nd base if he had enough AB’s to qualify. I’m not willing to give up an arm and a leg for to improve that position though, Carpenter is above average no matter what base he is manning.

It’s not crazy, it’s sports

Follow me on twitter @GSC_AJ

*apologies for not having player links, been having trouble with BBR Linker, if any fellow bloggers know how to troubleshoot the problem, let me know, thanks!

Offense is RISP-y Business for the Cardinals

Unfortunately for myself and for my readers I haven’t had the opportunity to keep up my writing here at GSC as often as I’d like. Working for a pool company keeps me very busy through early baseball season and 80 hour work weeks making writing nearly impossible. Work is slowing now, and UCB Weekend is right around the corner, so here I am, back in action.

Credit: CBSSports.com

Credit: CBSSports.com

It is no secret the Cardinals offensive production has been down this year, leading to an unfortunate amount of underachievement by this talented bunch. I wrote before the season even started that scoring runs could be an issue for this team because of their lack of pop and the randomness of the RISP stat.

Link: Why the Cardinals Won’t Be Successful in 2014.

In that article I referenced the Cardinals record setting BA w/ RISP last year, and how that was sure to decline, it has, hard. The Cardinals hit the fourth fewest home runs in the major leagues last year, which has fallen to the second fewest this year. A team that doesn’t hit home runs relies heavily on being able to produce runs. Given the Cardinals lack of speed, hitting with RISP become essential to run production.

The Cardinals main run producers last year were Matt Carpenter, Allen Craig, Matt Holliday, and Yadier Molina, all of whom have seen significant drops in production, particularly with RISP. The following table depicts drops in production with and without RISP from 2013 to 2014 for the four aforementioned players.

table

 

The numbers speak for themselves. When one of these four core players are at the plate, the Cardinal are getting a hit nearly 4% less often, and almost 10% less often with a RISP.  Those four have totaled 259 AB’s with RISP this year.  For simplicity we will operate under the false pretense that one run scores per hit with RISP. That means if the four core hitters for the Cardinals returned to their 2014 numbers with RISP, the Cardinals would have approximately 24 more runs on the season.

According to most run/win expectancy theories 10 runs = 1 win, so essentially the Cardinals are missing out on 2-3 wins due to a drop in RISP production. Projected over a full season the Cards would be missing out on approximately five wins dropping their win projection from 93 to 88. In the past five full seasons, every NL team that has finished with 93+ wins has made the playoffs, while four teams have missed the playoffs with 88+ wins. If not for the expanded wildcard, that number would be increased to six.

Surprisingly, these four are actually coming to the plate with RISP MORE often this year than last. Over the entire 2013 season Carpenter, Holliday, Craig, and Molina combined for only 495 AB’s with RISP, this year they are on pace for 599. Part of this can be attributed to the lack of production. Look at it this way, if Matt Holliday bats with a RISP and commits an out, Allen Craig will then also bat with a RISP and so on and so forth. In any case, it’s obvious that the Cardinals are still hitting, just not as timely as they need to be for a team with such little power.

Most would agree the Cardinals are still playoff bound this year regardless of their RISP production. They currently stand as the first wildcard team with a one game lead over the Dodgers and a two game lead over the Nationals. Besides, this roster is likely to undergo some sort of transformation before the trade deadline, and the dynamics within what already exists are surely to undergo ebbs and flows. The Cardinals offense is not where it should be though, and it’s due to an over reliance on a stat that is almost completely random.

When I previously discussed this topic, I stated how I did believe that approach has something to do with how you hit with RISP, and I think the Cardinals excel in this department. Even despite the drops in production, the four discussed are still average to above hitters in this situation. However, numbers will always find their way back to the norm and the Cardinals offense is finding the harsh reality of that fact this year.

It’s not crazy, it’s sports.

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