Response to Phil Rogers: The 2014 St. Louis Cardinals are NOT ‘Most Damaged’

Photo Credit: Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

Photo Credit: Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

On December 31, 2013, MLB.com columnist, Phil Rogers, wrote one of the sloppiest sports articles I have ever read in my 23 years of life. In the post, Rogers took the time to review 15 teams’ offseasons–five as “Most improved,” five as “Most damaged,” and five as “Incomplete.” The link to his full MLB.com post can be found here if you are interested in checking it out yourself.

If you don’t have the time to read his full post or you simply don’t care to, then here is what he had to say about the 2014 St. Louis Cardinals–the fourth team he listed under “Most damaged” this offseason:

4. The Cardinals. Year in and year out, these guys are best judged over 12 months, not just the offseason. But Beltran leaves a hole in the middle of the order that the addition of Peter Bourjos won’t offset, and Peralta arrives with questions about whether he’ll be the same guy after his Biogenesis suspension. Chris Carpenter‘s innings can be easily replaced by the stable of young arms — Carlos Martinez for a full season in the rotation, yes! — but his presence will be missed in the way that the Rays’ pitching staff missed James Shields last season.”

Mr. Rogers, what does your first sentence even mean? Isn’t every team “best judged over 12 months, not just the offseason?” Last time I checked, the commissioner’s office doesn’t hand out World Series trophies in the winter. I would argue this opening statement more, but I honestly have no clue where to go from there.

Sure, Carlos Beltran has moved onto the New York Yankees, and his bat and leadership will definitely be missed. However, the purpose of the Bourjos trade was not to replace the hole left by Beltran. Bourjos was acquired to provide better range in center field and better speed on the base paths. Given his wrist returns to full health (and all signs from the organization point to this being the case), the Cardinals’ scouting department believe his bat will be just fine and hopefully provide more pop from the position–especially with regular plate appearances–something he did not receive while on the Angels.

Now that we have discussed Bourjos’ true role on the team, let’s revisit that “hole in the middle of the order” you speak about. If Beltran had re-signed with the Cardinals, you’re assuming Beltran would be hitting in the middle of the order? Well, 62% of his plate appearances in 2013 occurred from the 2-hole in the lineup–not the middle of the order. As long as Matt Carpenter remained the team’s lead-off hitter, this would have likely been the same in 2014.

Even if Beltran would have moved to middle of the order in 2014, how much better is the Allen Craig-Beltran combination than Craig-Matt Adams? At this point in Beltran’s career (37 years old next season) and his relative inability to replicate first-half stats after the All-Star break, I would tend to believe there is not much difference at all. Let’s take a look at Dan Szymborski2014 ZiPS projections just to make sure:

Cardinals ZiPS

Stats Credit: Dan Szymborski’s ZiPS and some simple math

As you can see by the totals (highlighted in green), there really isn’t that much of a difference between the two combinations if Adams gets 500 plate appearances next season. Single-digit differences in every single category, with the Craig-Adams combination actually having two more doubles. Thus, is the “middle of the lineup” really that much worse going into 2014? Sure, projections are just projections and many things could happen between now and opening day, but it’s the best we have right now. Frankly, it is irresponsible for an MLB.com writer to write such a comment about a team without at least first checking the data that’s very easily available to him.

Carpenter’s innings can be easily replaced by the stable of young arms.” Really? You’re still talking about this going into 2014. I think Carp’s innings have already been replaced, Mr. Rogers. He pitched ZERO innings in 2013 and was only able to grind his way through a mere 17 injury-ridden innings in 2012. You think Martinez will for sure take over in the starting rotation? I think Lance Lynn and Joe Kelly will have something to say about that. Is Martinez’s future in the rotation? I really do think so, but the start of 2014 may be a stretch. Does he have an opportunity? Of course he does, but he’s far from the shoe-in for the spot that you make him out to be.

Carp was one of the pitching staff and team leaders, arguably even more so than Shields was for the Rays, but what about Adam Wainwright? What about Yadier Molina? Did you watch any Cardinal games last year? Molina almost single-handedly guided a pitching staff full of rookies all the way to the World Series. Ask Shelby Miller his opinion of Molina. I promise you will hear nothing but utmost praise for the catcher. Wainwright watched many pitchers’ (especially the rookies) bullpen sessions and gave advice where he deemed necessary. Will they miss Carpenter’s presence? Of course they will, but last time I checked, they have fully capable leaders who have already taken over during the transition process.

Finally, let’s address your final point. To be honest, I really don’t care how far Peralta falls in production post-Biogenesis suspension–if he falls at all. Pete Kozma was one of the most frustrating hitters to watch last season, and I can assure you, PED-aided or not, Peralta can hit a baseball at a much more successful rate than ole Petey. Kozma had a .275 on-base percentage and hit one home run in 2013, and it occurred in the second game of the entire season. In Peralta’s 10-year career (a more than adequate sample size in my opinion), his lowest on-base percentage was .295, and this occurred in just 77 games during his rookie season. He averages just over 14 home runs a season–an amount that I doubt Kozma reaches in his career.

Let’s take a look at a point you did not look at as well–the improved defense compared to 2013. With Carpenter moving back to his natural position at third, Kolten Wong or Mark Ellis playing second, and Peralta making all the standard plays, the infield defense is much better than it was last season. A quick look at the UZR’s of these players at these positions makes this quite clear. What about the outfield? Holliday and Craig may be average to below-average defenders in the corners, but this is where Bourjos’ range in center helps immensely. I would provide concrete numbers to back up these defensive points, but this post is already much longer than I had expected.

Cardinal fans, instead of Phil Rogers, let’s see what Dan Szymborski, an informed (but quirky) baseball writer over at ESPN, had to say about the 2014 Cardinals in a previous interview with stlCupofJoe:

stlCupofJoe: In YOUR opinion, compare this year’s Cardinals (I realize some more deals may be made) going into the season to last year’s team. Which one is in a better position, projection-wise?
Dan Szymborski: I think they’re a better team, as frightening as that may be to the rest of the NL. Remember, they only got 9 starts from Michael Wacha during the regular season and a whole lot of starts from the Great Kozmandias (Look on his bat, ye Mighty, and despair). And they’re not even a million years old, there’s enough youth to cancel out possible age-related decline from Matt Holliday or a little regression from Yadi Molina.

In conclusion, I fully respect Phil Rogers for what he has done for the MLB. He has covered the game since before I was even born. However, if he is going to write a post about the Cardinals being “most damaged” after one of the most productive offseasons in recent memory, he better at least have numbers to back up his opinions.

You can find Phil Rogers on Twitter: @philgrogers

Until next time…

Joe

For more updates, follow me on Twitter: @stlCupofJoe or Facebook: stlCupofJoe’s Sports Page

Advertisements

On Jon Jay Versus Shane Robinson (by Jared Simmons)

Photo Credit: fantasycpr.com

Photo Credit: fantasycpr.com

This is a guest post written by Jared of @McGeeTriples. Thus, please read the post accordingly. Considering this topic can lead to heated debates, feel free to include your thoughts in the comments section below or by contacting either of us on Twitter.

It says a lot about your organization when one of the biggest questions you have about your team on December 31st is which solid bench guy should be the 4th or possibly 5th outfielder on the roster. But that’s the position the St. Louis Cardinals and their fans find themselves in as 2014 beckons. With the bulk of the roster written in blood and holes in its construct harder to find than Tim Tebow at a key party–there’s little left for Cardinal diehards to deliberate.

Be that as it may, St. Louis is a town where baseball sits ever on the conscious, and thus a debate rages among the more far gone addicts about who the better player and fit will be for the Cardinals in 2014: Jon Jay or Shane Robinson.

There is a strong contingent among us running the flag up the pole in support of Shane Robinson. Among that group there are two sub-groups: those with intelligent, well-reasoned and valid arguments for backing Robinson, and a second group racing to be first in line to support any diminutive, “gritty” player who gives them warm fuzzy feelings, and makes them believe that THEY TOO can become great.

You can count me out of both groups.

While I acknowledge that Robinson was a better defender than Jay in 2013 (and by a wide margin), it is clear to me that Jay is the better baseball player and the better fit for the Cardinals’ roster as presently constructed. This argument is built on analytics, advanced baseball metrics, and old-school eye test reasoning. I fully respect Robinson and what he has accomplished in life. Most of us would be lucky to get out of our gifts what Shane has produced from all 5 feet, 5 inches of his body.

That said, Major League Baseball and professional sports, in general, are a zero sum game. There are no points for being the best pound-for-pound and no moral victories. Feel-good stories are made for TV only. ESPN will nauseate you to death with heart-wrenchers and baby-mama drama. Yet, the fact remains that in the business of baseball, the sole measure of success is winning and losing.

So let’s get into it…

Jay’s defense drew much ire in 2013 and rightfully so. He had a UZR of negative 7.3 (beyond terrible). By contrast, Robinson’s UZR was a positive 4.0. While defensive numbers can be hard to quantify–the stark contrast in those zone ratings is hard to ignore.

The questions that all concerned parties must answer is whether or not at the age of 28 (generally considered to be a prime year in a player’s career), has Jay completely lost the ability to play defense? After all, in the prior year he played a solid CF, and his UZR was a respectable 3.7 (nearly identical to Robinson’s 3.6). I tend to think that the awfulness that was Jay’s defense in 2013 was an outlier and that given playing time in 2014, he would be more slightly below average and less albatross than he was in 2013.

Robinson also has a decent arm; while Jay terrifies no one with his wet noodle. I won’t offer you any numbers here, but ask yourself this question, how often does an averaged-armed starting outfielder impact a game with a throw? The answer is rarely. And if that guy isn’t playing very much, this impact is almost nonexistent. And let’s not kid ourselves, Robinson is an averaged-armed outfielder. Rick Ankiel, he is not.

The best fit for this team is going to be the player that hits the most. Matt Holliday, Peter Bourjos, and Allen Craig are going to patrol the outfield for the Cardinals for the most part in 2014. If one of those three (or Matt Adams) suffers a long-term injury, then the bulk of the playing time created will likely fall into the lap of Oscar Taveras. As a result, the opportunities for either Robinson or Jay to impact games are going to be few and far between, and they are also going to come in the form of pinch-hits.

There’s a reason a player (Robinson) makes it to age 29 and has amassed only 386 plate appearances for his career. Robinson’s career slash line is .246/.316/.327. Robinson has also posted a career RC+ (runs created plus) of 80 (100 is average).  Three leading projection sites project Robinson’s 2014 numbers to be:

Rotochamp: .255/.349/.355 (OPS: .704)
Steamer: .264/.337/.381 (.718)
CAIRO: .241/.312/.355 (.647)

I tend to favor CAIRO’s projection for Robinson as I believe that given full-time at bats, he would struggle to post a .700 OPS. Obviously, this is just one man’s opinion.

In contrast to Robinson, Jay is 28 (younger than Robinson) and has compiled 1956 plate appearances throughout his career. His career slash line of .293/.356/.400 completely dwarfs Robinson’s. He also has a career RC+ of 112. Jay’s projection:

Rotochamp: .294/.366/.388 (.754)
Steamer: .281/.349/.397 (.746)
CAIRO: .274/.340/.374 (.714)

I like the middle ground here with Steamer’s projection for Jay in 2014. In case you haven’t noticed, Jay is also left-handed and the Cards’ entire projected starting OF is full of RH hitters. Coveting a roster composition of diverse skill sets is another feather in Jay’s cap.

But perhaps the most decisive reason for Jay over Robinson is potential value. In short, Robinson has none and is never going to have any. Perhaps, only Jeff Luhnow in Houston would covet Robinson’s services. After all, he also wanted Tyler Greene.

Jay on the other hand, has established value in the major leagues. Even last year, as his defense completely tanked, Jay was basically a league average player. According to Fangraphs, he had a WAR of 1.9. Robinson posted a WAR of just 0.9 in limited playing time and would likely have seen that number decreased had he seen extensive exposure. Jay’s bat, and likely defensive rebound offer the most upside both in terms of tangible value to the Cardinals and speculative value as a trade chip mid-season.

Jay is a fringe starter and solid 4th outfield option. Robinson is a AAAA player. We all want to cheer for the little guy and pull for the underdog, but the Cardinals are best served by making calculated decisions. Not emotional ones. John Mozeliak has wreaked havoc on professional baseball by remaining steadfast in this approach (buh-bye David Freese), and we can only hope that he continues to do so by maximizing the assets at his disposal. Jon Jay is an asset.

Feel free to cheer on the best story if you like, but I’ll be rooting for the best team and hopefully…

…A World Series championship.

-Jared

Like I said before the post, feel free to include your opinions in the comments section below. Both Jared and I would love to see conversation result from this this post.

You can follow Jared on Twitter: @McGeeTriples

For more updates from stlCupofJoe, follow me on Twitter: @stlCupofJoe or Facebook: stlCupofJoe’s Sports Page

Q&A with National Baseball Insider, Chris Cotillo

Photo Credit: MLB Network

Photo Credit: MLB Network

In an attempt to keep bringing you the best content possible, I was able to participate in a quick email interview with national baseball insider, Chris Cotillo, of MLBDailyDish.com. It contains a variety of topics ranging from the offseason of the St. Louis Cardinals to his busy life as a high school senior and baseball insider. Though he may still be in high school, he is one of the best baseball insiders and writers out there, so I am extremely thankful to have had this opportunity.

stlCupofJoe: What are your thoughts on the Cardinals offseason thus far? With Peter Bourjos/Randal Grichuk, Jhonny Peralta, and Mark Ellis on board, Cardinal Nation is pretty pumped, so what’s a national media member’s thoughts?
Chris Cotillo: I think they’ve had one of the more interesting offseasons in baseball this winter. As one of the best teams in the league last year, they didn’t seem like they had a lot to do, but still found a way to improve. I like the Bourjos trade, and Ellis is a nice complementary piece as well. The loss of Beltran will hurt them, and Peralta’s success may not be sustainable over all four seasons. Only time will tell, though.

stlCupofJoe: Which of the three acquisitions will affect the team the most long-term? I have my opinion, which I’ve shared on Twitter, but would love to hear yours as well.
Chris Cotillo: I think the Bourjos/Grichuk deal will be the best for them. Bourjos is a very underrated, good player…and Grichuk is not a throw-in by any means. Both of those guys have a legitimate chance to help the Cardinals at the big league level for a long time, and a guy who needed a change of scenery (Freese) and a throw-in (Salas) don’t seem like too hefty of a price to pay for them.

stlCupofJoe: With the majority of the offseason checklist completed, do you see the Cardinals making any more complementary moves?
Chris Cotillo: I think they are pretty much done for now. Small waiver claim/40-man roster shuffling moves always happen, but there are no glaring holes after the moves that they have made.

stlCupofJoe: It appears that the final spot is down to Daniel Descalso and Pete Kozma. If you were in charge, who would you pick?
Chris Cotillo: I would pick Descalso, just because of the versatility he can provide. Kozma may have some trade value because many teams are looking for help at shortstop.

stlCupofJoe: As a soon-to-be high school graduate and national baseball insider, you’ve obviously got a lot on your plate. How are you able to handle it all?
Chris Cotillo: I get about 4 hours of sleep per night, but I feel like I’m not accomplishing anything if I’m not awake, so I get used to it. I prioritize school over baseball writing, but if it’s a time-sensitive news item that needs to be written about, pre-calc or Spanish work can wait.

stlCupofJoe: What is your favorite part of being a baseball insider?
Chris Cotillo: Actually, just the competition part of it. I know that there are dozens of excellent reporters chasing the same stories as I am, so being able to get something first is something that I take pride in. I bet the thrill of the competition of getting information before others wears off after a while, but for someone like me who can’t hit a beach ball with a tennis racquet–it’s the closest thing to a sport as I can get.

stlCupofJoe: As a Boston native, is it tough to stay as un-biased as possible while doing your job? Or do you still find the time to show your Red Sox pride?
Chris Cotillo: It’s becoming easier. I root for people in the game who have been good to me and have helped me out, regardless of team or opponent. Being able to cover the World Series in October at Fenway, I was thrilled to see the Sox win just because I knew it meant a ton to a lot of friends and family members of mine…and the city needed it badly after what we went through in April with the bombing. It truly brought everyone together once again, but this time for something extremely positive. I may not be a diehard Red Sox fan anymore, but I am still a diehard fan of the city of Boston and everything it stands for.

stlCupofJoe: I’m a Butler pharmacy student, but I also aspire to be a pretty respected baseball writer (which is why I started stlCupofJoe), what would be one piece of advice you would have for me?
Chris Cotillo: My biggest thing is to not make up stories or claim that sources are telling you things when they’re not. You earn respect from other reporters by citing sources, showing that you have a passion for all of this, and by not making things up.

For the latest breaking news in the MLB, I highly recommend you follow @ChrisCotillo on Twitter. You can also read some of his top-notch articles on MLBDailyDish.com. He is one of the few national insiders that I follow on a regular basis, and I highly recommend you do the same.

Until next time…

Joe

For more updates, follow me on Twitter: @stlCupofJoe or Facebook: stlCupofJoe’s Sports Page.

Cardinal Nation, Meet Randal Grichuk

Photo Credit: Mark J. Rebilas (USA Today Sports)

Photo Credit: Mark J. Rebilas (USA Today Sports)

With today’s trade, the David Freese era in St. Louis has officially come to a close. In return for Freese and Fernando Salas, the Cardinals have received speedy centerfielder, Peter Bourjos, and outfield prospect, Randal Grichuk.

As hundreds of people have already noted all across social media, Grichuk was selected by the Los Angeles Angels one pick before the team drafted Mike Trout back in 2009. Thus, he has to have some tools, right? This is a logical assumption, so I decided to take a look at some of his numbers to see what I could find out.

Grichuk, listed at 6′, 195 pounds, is a 22-year-old right-handed hitting (and throwing) corner outfielder. He has played a little bit of center in the minors, but he projects as a right or left fielder. Since a lot of you are probably wondering about his professional statistics, the table below documents his numbers in the minors over the past two seasons–2012 in High-A and 2013 in AA:

grichum

As you can see, he has solid power numbers–averaging 28.5 doubles, 8.5 triples, and 20 home runs per season in 2012 and 2013. One thing you definitely cannot teach is hitting power, and this is obviously not a problem for Grichuk. However, his batting average and on-base percentage are lagging behind somewhat. His batting average in High-A was partially inflated due to his unusually high BABIP (the league average falls into the .290 to .310 range), and when it came down to earth in AA (.272), his batting average suffered–falling to just .256.

His on-base percentage in AA was just .306. For perspective, the Cardinals had nine players with higher regular season OBPs than Grichuk on their post-season roster. The only regular with a lower OBP than Grichuk’s? Pete Kozma, but no one can really be surprised about that.

Though he has improved on his strikeout rate (down to 17% in 2013 when he was at 22.8% in 2011), he needs to take more walks. In 1,117 plate appearances over the past two seasons, he has taken just 51 walks–or one walk per every 22 plate appearances. This will likely improve with the Cardinals minor league coaching staff helping him further develop his approach at the plate.

His defense, one of his biggest flaws coming into the draft, has vastly improved in his time in the minor leagues. He had 11 outfield assists last season, and his range factor per game was a respectable 2.41 (Range factor/game = (assists + putouts)/games played). His defense has improved to the point where he won the 2013 MiLB Rawlings Gold Glove for outfielders Overall, he has average to slightly above-average speed giving him the ability to steal bases on occasion and patrol the corner outfield spots with ease.

In conclusion, I consider this a terrific trade for the Cardinals. They not only acquired a center fielder that can stir up some competition with the incumbent, Jon Jay, but also a solid, power-hitting outfield prospect with significant upside. They were able to get both of these players for essentially Freese since I consider Salas just a throw-in player in the deal.

Grichuk will likely start 2014 in newly-purchased, Triple-A Memphis. However, the outfield will be crowded there with Oscar Taveras, James Ramsey, Tommy Pham, and Mike O’Neill all vying for playing time. Because of this, and the fact that I do not see Allen Craig as an outfielder long-term, I would not be surprised if the Cardinals made another deal very soon–one that likely includes slugging first baseman, Matt Adams, a fringe pitcher prospect, and one or two of the excess outfield prospects down on the farm.

Will this trade be for the shortstop of the future? I sure hope so.

In the meantime, let’s extend a warm welcome to the newest members of the St. Louis Cardinals. You can find Grichuk on Twitter: @RGrich15, but I have not found an official account of Bourjos just yet. If Grichuk reads this, maybe he can help us out! 🙂

Until next time…

Joe

For more updates, follow me on Twitter: @stlCupofJoe