Jon Jay, Lead Off Hitter

Jon Jay

No debate sparks more argument among Cardinals fans than the center field debate. I wrote about it preseason, in which I voted for Peter Bourjos to start in center.

Here’s that link: https://gatewaysc.wordpress.com/2014/02/17/pb-jay/

I still like Bourjos, and think he is a really nice piece to have on the roster, but the debate is over. Jon Jay has up and run away with the centerfield job, and frankly has become criminally underrated. Let us not forget that Jay was the leadoff man for the Cardinals not long ago, and possesses a career OBP of .358.

Fans turned on Jay last year because of a career low .276 average. Amazingly, Jay still maintained a .351 OBP which was higher than the .344 OBP he carried while hitting .297 in 2011. However, the Cardinal Centerfielder also posted career lows in slugging, and had a horrendous year defensively.

That is all in the past. Jon Jay is back, and better than ever. Jay’s average sits at .302, creeping up on his career high .305. His OBP of .372 is one point lower than his career high, and he is carrying the second highest SLG% of his career. Shockingly, Jay’s OPS sits at .772, higher than Matt Holliday and Yadier Molina.

People will say what they will about Jay’s average being fueled by BABIP, and they aren’t wrong. Jay posts a ridiculously high .355 BABIP this year, .056 higher than the league average. I hear all the time on twitter “once Jay stops BABIPing, he will decline.” That would absolutely be true, but frankly, there is no sign that Jay will stop having an insanely high BABIP. In 2010 Jay had a .350 BABIP, and people called in unsustainable. In 2011, that number dipped to .340, and again it seemed unsustainable. Last year, Jay’s career low average was caused by a career low .325 BABIP, which was still good for .028 above the league average. That was the only year of Jay’s career in which he did not post a BABIP of .340 or better. It’s hard to say that Jay is going to decline once his BABIP does, because for the last five years, BABIP has been no issue for the Miami native.

In the offense’s current state, I would love to see Jay moved to the leadoff spot. Many, including myself, believe that Matt Carpenter makes for the ideal number two hitter. The only thing hindering that is that the Cardinals haven’t had anyone else to hit leadoff, now they do. This works for many reasons. Number one, Kolten Wong’s .292 OBP belongs nowhere near the top of the lineup. Secondly, the Cardinal offense has been crippled this year by double plays from the two hole. Four players have taken 40+ AB’s from the two hole this year, Jhonny Peralta, Matt Holliday, Kolten Wong, and Jon Jay. Those four also happen to carry the four highest double play percentages on the roster. I have grown weary watching Matt Carpenter lead off the game by getting on base, only to be erased seconds later.

Moving Jay to lead off, and Carpenter down to second almost completely erases this issue. Jay’s OBP is only .007 lower than Carpenter’s and would be a .81 improvement over Kolten Wong. Simply put, the top two spots in the order would be getting on base 8% more often than they currently are. As far as the double play situation, Matt Carpenter holds the lowest double play percentage on the roster, so that issue would be relieved as well.

For an offense struggling as mightily as the Cardinals have, a little lineup reconstruction certainly wouldn’t hurt. The point being, is that Jon Jay can provide a healthy boost to the offense if used correctly. It’s time to stop with BABIP argument, and start appreciating the offensive weapon that Jay is becoming.

It’s not crazy, it’s sports

AJ

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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.

Follow me on twitter @GSC_AJ