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

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St. Louis Cardinals 2013 Season in Review: Top Five Stories

2013 was another great year for the our beloved St. Louis Cardinals. Despite facing an incredible amount of adversity, they were still just two wins away from their 12th World Series title. Well, as part of our end-of-the-year project for the United Cardinal Bloggers, this post will be dedicated to bringing you my top five stories of 2013. Here we go:

stltoday.com

stltoday.com

5. The Emergence of Rookie Pitchers. Jason Motte went down before the season. Jaime Garcia required season-ending surgery after a handful of starts. Jake Westbrook pitched injured for much of the season.

Rookies–Shelby Miller, Trevor Rosenthal, Kevin Siegrist, Michael Wacha, Seth Maness, and Carlos Martinez–became key contributors to the pitching staff. Throughout 2013, other rookies–Tyler Lyons, Keith ButlerJohn Gast, Sam Freeman, and Michael Blazek–had roles of their own as well. Considering only one of the 10 listed were traded (Blazek), fans can expect much from this group in 2014.
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Photo Credit: Elsa/Getty Images

Photo Credit: Elsa/Getty Images

4. Matt Carpenter‘s Breakout Season. Carpenter filled two glaring team-needs in 2013 by taking over as the everyday second baseman and leadoff hitter. According to Fangraphs, he had the third highest WAR in the National League at 7.0. He made his first All-Star team and finished fourth in NL MVP voting.

With David Freese now in Los Angeles, Carpenter will return to his natural position at third base. Ideally, by the end of the 2014, this doubles machine will be moved down to the two-spot in the lineup, but that will be a direct result of the performances of Kolten Wong and Peter Bourjos.
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Photo Credit: USATSI

Photo Credit: USATSI

3. Yadier Molina‘s Brilliance was Ever Present. As I stated in story #5, the pitching staff was largely dominated by rookies. It is hard to fathom how 2013 would have gone without Molina’s presence behind the plate. He was a calming presence for the young arms and was the mentor they needed to get through the long, grueling season.

Molina remained one of the best defensive catchers in the league–winning his sixth straight Gold Glove Award. His offense picked up yet again–leading to a .319/.359/.477 slash line. Putting all of 2013 together, Molina finished third in NL MVP voting and moved one step closer to being known as one of the best catchers to ever play.
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Photo Credit: AFP

Photo Credit: AFP

2. The Cardinals Win the Pennant! The Cardinals Win the Pennant! The Pittsburgh Pirates were the “sexy” pick by the national media to win the National League in 2013. However, Wacha and Adam Wainwright had other plans–allowing just two total runs in Games 4 and 5 of the NLDS.

They moved on to face the big bad, $220+ million-payroll Los Angeles Dodgers in the NLCS. They won the series in six games with two wins from Lance Lynn and two wins from Wacha over the best pitcher on the planet, Clayton Kershaw.

They ended up losing the World Series to the Boston Red Sox in six games, but for the purpose of this post, let’s just focus on the positives.
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1. Stan Musial. On January 19, 2013, the greatest Cardinal to ever live passed away. I would love to write a paragraph embracing just what Stan meant to the Cardinals and the city of St. Louis, but I really could not do him justice.

However, the lovely ladies over at Aaron Miles‘ Fastball constructed the perfect post to check out because it contains links to article from across the Web about The Man.

Thank you, Stan Musial. I may not have been able to see you play, but your impact on the Cardinals and the city of St. Louis will last forever. Because of this, I feel like Stan was the only choice for the #1 spot on my list.

Until next time…

Joe

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

Hitting Analysis of Brandon Phillips: From a St. Louis Cardinals’ Perspective

Photo Credit: Jeff Curry/Getty Images

Photo Credit: Jeff Curry/Getty Images

Ever since this altercation (video) between Brandon Phillips and Yadier Molina back in 2010, Phillips has been one of the most despised opponents to play at Busch Stadium.

A large factor is obviously due to the incident, but another contributing factor has to be his success against Cardinals’ pitching over the years. In 117 career games against St. Louis, Phillips has a solid .264/.314/.437 slash line. He has 26 doubles, 5 triples, 14 home runs, and 61 RBI–arguably his most success against any team in the National League.

PhillipsWhiffLHP

In 2013, Phillips’ whiff rate against left-handed pitchers was exceptionally low at just 9.9% (74 whiffs/749 pitches). Down and out of the zone (boxed in yellow), his whiff rate is 18.3%–almost double that of his average whiff rate against lefties. 18.3% is still really low, but it’s the best shot Cardinals’ lefties have if they are looking for swings and misses from Phillips. Up and in (boxed in green) would be an area to avoid considering he faced 73 pitches in that zone and did not whiff on a single one.

PhillipsWhiffRHP

Phillips’ whiff rate against right-handed pitchers was 12.5% (219 whiffs/1750 pitches) in 2013. This is slightly higher than it was against lefties, but it’s still really low. Down and out of the zone (boxed in yellow) could be an area right-handers could target against Phillips, with a whiff rate of 21.3%–almost 10% higher than his average in 2013. Like with lefties, up and in (boxed in green) is an area to avoid when facing Phillips considering he had only one whiff in 83 chances.

PhillipsLHPLD

Phillips’ linedrive percentage on balls in play against lefties was 25.5% (40 linedrives/157 balls in play) in 2013. Down and away (boxed in yellow) is the best place for lefties (Jaime Garcia, Randy Choate, and Kevin Siegrist) to attack Phillips. His linedrive percentage in these zones was over 10% lower than his average at 14.3%. Lefties can also attack him down and in (boxed in orange), but they would have to paint the inside corner because he has high linedrive percentages in the zones immediately adjacent to this.

PhillipsRHPLD

Phillips’ linedrive percentage on balls in play against righties was 22.7% (87 linedrives/384 balls in play) in 2013. The zones boxed in yellow are areas right-handed pitchers could target when facing Phillips because his linedrive percentage on balls in play from these zones was just 7.3%–15.4% lower than his average in 2013. The two zones boxed in green, up and in, would be areas to avoid when facing Phillips.

Conclusion:

In short, Phillips does not swing and miss much. Because of this, he does not strike out very often. In 11 years of experience, he averages only 66.8 strikeouts per season. To break it down even more, he strikes out one time in every seven plate appearances against the Cardinals which is pretty impressive.

Thus, Cardinals’ pitchers should not look to strikeout Phillips in 2014 and beyond. Rather, lefties can attack him down and away, while righties can attack him away as well–both up and down in the zone. A quick look at his spray chart from 2013 (below) shows that the majority of his extra-base hits–and all but one of his home runs–occurred when he pulled the baseball. By pitching him away, he may still get hits, but these hits will likely be singles instead of doubles, triples, or even home runs.

phillipsSPRAY

There you have it. I have taken a look at Pedro Alvarez, Jay Bruce, and now Brandon Phillips. I hope, as fans, you can use these posts as references/quick guides going into next season to see how Cardinals’ pitchers will approach these “Cardinal Killers.”

Until next time…

Joe

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

The WAR against Molina (by Chris Tyrrell)

Credit: Cut4 of MLB.com

Credit: Cut4 of MLB.com

This is a guest post by Chris Tyrrell. You can find him at @LuckySTLFan on Twitter

If you ask the average BBWAA writer to break out the chalk and explain every aspect considered in WAR (rWAR or bWAR), not a single one of them could write a single equation and include all variables.  Not one.  For example, BsR, a stat provided on fangraphs is defined as the following:

A*B/(B + C) + D

Where A can mean H + W – HR, H + W or it can mean HBP – HR – .5*IW.  B can be (1.4*TB – .6*H – 3*HR + .1*W)*1.02 or it can be (1.4*TB – .6*H – 3*HR + .1*(W + HBP – IW) + .9*(SB – CS – GDP))*1.1

BsR further broken down here.

If you dig around the variables in fWAR, you can spend days taking notes and making spreadsheets and still find yourself lost with no greater understanding of the game when you finally give up.  This is not to say that WAR is not a great idea, because it is.  The problem with applying VALUE is that in anything in life, value is based on the eye of the beholder.  Mike Trout is the golden boy for fWAR and rWAR.  He seems to lead the world across the board each year.  Yet his team hasn’t made the playoffs with one of the league’s highest payrolls in that span.  How much VALUE can one centerfielder and one spot in the lineup truly add to a team?

So how do I intend to apply value to Yadier Molina? Simple truth is I can’t.  There is no one stat on catchers that I can justify weighing more than others, or that of other position players.  But I can point out the work of those who have tried, and then add a very blatant oversight in the game of sabermetrics just to show you how ridiculous the idea of WAR being objective when it so obviously fails to account for variables it never thought to account for.

Catcher ERA might be a function of pitching.  Ok, it IS a function of pitching.  But pitch framing changing catcher ERA is measurable and can objectively be argued.  Now this argument falls for one of the fallacies of all sabermetrics.  Instead of just being a statistic which should be compared between catchers, it tries to associate real world results as value.  Meaning RUNS SAVED, WINS vs. the average, something no stat should ever try to do.   You can’t assign runs to an individual in a game that requires other people on base during your hits or driving you in and have that equation be consistent over any period of time.  You can’t assume some coefficient that works one year to loosely associate WINS when every player faces different batters with different umpires calling different strike zones each night.  What you can do is index each stat based on its own merit without warping it into runs or wins and use that measure to compare players to one another.

That same issue occurs in the following study by Jared Cross of ESPN on pitch framing, based on the work of John Roegele’s strike zone analysis here.

It also tries to assign WINS to pitch framing.  How do you accurately translate strikes to outs, outs to runs saved, runs saved to wins?  You can assign a formula, and call it objective because it’s math.  That doesn’t make it accurate.  Same issue exists with WAR.

So based on this study, Jonathon Lucroy would have had a higher WAR than McCutchen.  And so would Molina.  They saved their teams 4-8 wins roughly just by expanding the pitching zone with their framing.  Think it doesn’t matter?  When Molina was on the DL this year with an injured knee, not a single Cardinals starter got through 7 innings not named Wainwright.  Even Wainwright never got through the 8th inning.  Every single starter was averaging significantly more pitches per inning.  There are two possible reasons.  1. Pitch framing failed to translate close pitches to strikes and more balls means longer at bats, more walks, and more pitches per inning.  2. The backup catchers Cruz and Johnson were simply not calling as aggressive of a game. “Pitch to contact” is a sure fire way to get pitch counts down.

So statistically speaking, pitch framing alone can make up the WINS according to studies derived from the same math that WAR is based on.  Molina’s framing scientifically has been proven to create 19 more strikes a game than the average catcher using pitchFX.  That’s an extra inning pitched by his starters.  That’s the difference between 180 IP and 210IP over the course of a season, and you know how much value is weighted on innings when debating similar pitchers with a 30 inning difference for a season.  That value is easily recognized for one pitcher.  Now apply that value to 5 pitchers.

Mike Current and Chad McEvoy wrote a great story on the value of base stealing, and its contribution to the statistic WAR and how it contributes to runs in both college and in the MLB.  I won’t go into UZR and DRS as these speak for themselves on Molina’s behalf.  But it should be noted that while stolen bases help the base runner’s value in sabermetrics, the catcher’s prevention of stolen bases is completely ignored.

For example, the Run Expectancy Matrix created by Baseball Prospectus reveals that a runner on first base with no one out is worth approximately 0.864 runs. A successful steal of second base would raise that figure to 1.173. However, a failed stolen base attempt drops that number to 0.270. In this example, the loss is nearly two times the gain.

So a stolen base in this case gains 0.309 runs if successful and loses 0.594 runs if unsuccessful.  Now it varies with how many runners on base, how many outs, etc.  But it is always worth more to the defensive team to catch a runner stealing than it is to the offensive team to steal the base.  Using a median value of 1.6 times caught stealing = 1 time successful steal, and 0.700 runs per base runner, Molina’s 26 stolen bases allowed are equal to 18.2 runs against.  Molina’s 20 runners caught stealing are equal to 22.4 runs for.  So his DRS should actually directly translate to 4.2 more runs saved.  And his WAR should be adjusted accordingly.  This is the hard evidence.  If we were playing poker, this would be calling a 10 dollar bet in a 20 dollar pot with a flush draw because your 10 dollars now wins 30 dollars, or 3 to 1 odds on a 38% chance of winning.  Those are known quantities that absolutely exist.  But a great poker player would tell you that the implied odds are even greater.  It is assumed even MORE money would go into the pot later in the hand and if you hit your flush draw, you stand to make that money as well.

Here are the implied odds of Molina and base running defense:  No one makes it a habit of running on Molina (outside perhaps Billy Hamilton who can run on anyone he pleases). Alden Gonzalez, of MLB.com, touches on the effect of having Molina on your team and base runners here.

He paraphrased two Cardinal starters:

Joe Kelly: Hey Adam, when’s the last time somebody tried to steal off you?

Adam Wainwright: I don’t know if somebody’s tried to steal off me the last three or four years of my career; I can’t even remember it.

Kelly: Yeah, same here.

Now my argument can be highlighted by this conjecture, but mind you this is NOT my argument.  I only want to use real world tangible numbers.  So let’s prove their pithy self-patting conversation with real world statistics.

The Cardinals allowed 39 stolen bases this year.  Again please note that 13 or 33% of these are against Cruz and Johnson, not Molina.  We will even ignore the 13 allowed by the other catchers to offset any error inherently associated with implied odds, or implied effects on run value here.  League average stolen bases allowed this year was 89.76 according to the following source:

http://www.sportingcharts.com/mlb/stats/team-stolen-bases-allowed-per-game/2013/

(…and some basic math of course)

This means the Cardinals have allowed, as a team, 50 less stolen bases than the average team.  MLB teams averaged 123 stolen base attempts during the 2013 regular season.  Yet only attempted 46 steals against Molina all year long.   Given Molina’s number of games at catcher, he should have seen 98.7 stolen base attempts based on league average.  So this ‘implies’ his presence behind the plate resulted in 52 less stolen base attempts, and 41 less stolen bases weighed by games played / 162.  Now using the same math from before that would have been 41 * 0.700 runs for steals or 28.7 runs minus 0.700 runs *11 caught stealing * 1.6 (weighted for more run value catching vs. successful steal as previously discussed) or 12.3 runs which comes to 15.5 runs saved simply because teams are scared to run on Molina.

Now we can argue runs saved in the stolen base department having a lot to do with pitcher delivery to the plate.  You hear this a lot from proponents of Buster Posey citing the Giants pitchers are very slow to the plate.   Even if half of the credit goes to the Cardinals pitchers, and half to the catcher, then you can statistically add another 7.75 runs to Molina’s DRS of 12 (fangraphs) just for the fear of other teams when he is behind the plate.

Just as a side note, the Cardinals had 1.10 higher ERA when Molina wasn’t catching.  It’s a small sample size, but a full run is extremely telling no matter how much you want to bury your head in the sand on catcher value.  I could argue semantics, or other lofty catcher value with no real statistical information like how he “handles the staff”.  When Shelby Miller recorded 27 straight outs, he said “I say it time and time again, what Yadi calls, I throw,” Miller said. “He was calling the right thing all night. He’s done a terrific job all year and he’s helping me out tremendously. I’m happy he’s my catcher, that’s for sure.”

You can google Molina and “called a good game,” and there will be thousands of stories full of such quotes.  Again, this is not quantitative and impossible to argue.  So it’s a good sentiment but doesn’t add to this argument objectively.  Unfortunately catcher’s ERA could only truly reflect this aspect of his game if you had 1500 games caught by Yadi, and 1500 games caught by his backups to definitely prove a gap in the quality of pitching based on the catcher.  One thing that can be looked at loosely is lifetime ERA of players throughout the minors and then their vast improvement when called up to the Cardinals and being caught by Yadi.  Even this is subjugated on the likes of pitching gurus Dave Duncan and Lilliquist influences at pitching coaches.  It is an impressive improvement, but again can’t be argued conclusively.

For the hopelessly romantic, Molina handled a staff with no less than 10 rookies this year. Carlos Martinez, a prospect noted for a lack of control and inconsistency, drastically improves when Yadi comes to the mound to settle him down in big spots.  Yadi can speed up a game, slow down a game, watch the batter’s eyes and posture, and move the defense around based on his homework of each batter.  The intangibles argument is lengthy and can go on seemingly forever.  Even polls of random ESPN sports fans largely agree he could be considered the best defensive catcher of all time.

http://espn.go.com/sportsnation/poll/conversation/_/id/3615869

Writers argue for and against that with Johnny Bench being his only substantial competition:

http://espn.go.com/blog/sweetspot/post/_/id/34292/molinas-defense-grows-to-legend-status

So his offense was good this year.  His defense was typical Yadi and off the charts good as seen by his 12.0 DRS.  His control of the run game conservatively saved 10 more runs (15.5 in raw data).  His pitch framing alone was worth another 4 wins above replacement based on some translations you may or may not agree with.  What is undeniable is he saved his pitchers 19 strikes a game in pitch framing.  As stated earlier, that’s about an inning a game, or 130 innings over the course of a season.  He was essentially worth the same number of innings pitched as a 5th starter.  And he’s not even a pitcher.

I don’t claim to define catcher value here.  If I spent the next 4 years working through every possible measurable quantity discussed in these last few pages, I might be able to come up with a stat about as legitimate as WAR, but I’d also probably emerge from the mountains of box scores with a PHD in statistics.

While some would argue this is insanity because it means catchers are the most valuable player on every single team if this were true, I can easily put your minds at rest.  These stats are not based on runs or wins vs. any other position player, these are just Molina vs. the average catcher.  For everything he is the best at as a catcher: Hitting, blocking balls in the dirt, throwing out runners, picking off runners, fielding his position, blocking the plate, pitch framing, calling a game; a typical catcher does not have positive value at all of these.  Most break even, with positive value at some of these, and negative value at others.

And while most members of the BBWA have no problem admitting that Yadier Molina unquestionably is the best at most of these aspects of being a catcher, it seems that 28 of 30 voters did not feel like applying value to most of them, just hitting, and to a much lesser extent fielding.

It’s not that catchers are the most valuable player on every team, it’s that Molina happens to be the most valuable catcher at almost every aspect of catching.  When combined with the bare minimum metrics people seem to care about these days (hitting, WAR and to a much lesser extent UZR and DRS), these other aspects which are much harder to define make Molina the most valuable player in all of baseball.  Even if I hit all of the derived runs and pitches and base runners wiped out by Molina with a coefficient of 0.50, claiming a 50% margin of error, he still tops the league in WAR if you add the outs added and runs saved into the equation.  Just one stat alone, pitch framing, can be shown to increase his WAR to tops in the NL.

But beyond WAR, which is not a proven metric on its own, Molina positively affects the game in all four aspects of baseball: Batting, Pitching, Defense, and Baserunning.  That is not arguable.  A quick look at game logs shows the Cardinals were a .500 team with Molina either not starting or hurt from the All-Star break until off the DL August 15th with a knee injury.  They finished the season 32 games over .500 meaning they were 32 games over .500 with a healthy Molina in the lineup and behind the plate.

Quote theoretical wins above replacement all you want for McCutchen, Gomez, and Goldschmidt.  The Cardinals were literally 32 ACTUAL wins better with Molina vs. his replacement in 2013, and there is no fuzzy math there.  Yadier Molina won’t have the trophy in his case, but he was without a doubt the most valuable player in 2013.

There you have it.

For more information from Chris Tyrrell, follow him on Twitter: @LuckySTLFan

This was a guest post for @stlCupofJoe‘s Sports Blog

Yadier Molina’s Hitting Approach AND 3 Monkey Sports Giveaway

Photo Credit: Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

Photo Credit: Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

Disclaimer: This will be a shorter post than usual so that we can get to the 3 Monkey Sports Giveaway at the end of the post!

Two and a half years (2004-2006) into his Major League career, Yadier Molina was a .238 hitter. Yet, during this time, Molina threw out 62 of 122 (51%) would-be base stealers, so his lack of offense was not too big of an issue.

In his book, One Last Strike, Tony La Russa said that he would have started Molina at catcher every single game during his tenure as manager even if he had a .000 batting average. This is a testament to Molina’s ability behind the plate. In nine years for the Cardinals, Molina has racked up an ample amount of defensive trophies: 5 Gold Glove Awards, 2 Platinum Glove Awards, and 5 Fielding Bible Awards.

Yet, if the last three seasons are any indication, Molina has shown to have developed quite the ability at the plate as well–hitting .305 in 2011, .315 in 2012, and .319 this year. Here is a quick look at his standard batting statistics from the last three seasons:

stats

As I looked deeper into the statistics, I found that of his 465 hits since the start of 2011, 105 of them (22.6%) have occurred on the first pitch of the at-bat. For perspective against his overall averages, Molina hit an incredible .361 on the first pitch from 2011 through this season. I used to question Molina’s approach when he swings at the first pitch, but after looking at his numbers, I can no longer complain.

Next, I looked at his yearly spray charts, and I found something quite intriguing–something that shows how good Yadi truly is at handling the bat and making season-to-season adjustments.

2011 Spray Chart
yadi2011

2012 Spray Chart
Yadi2012

2013 Spray Chart
MolinaSprayChart2013

As you can see, the majority of Molina’s hits were to center and right field in 2011–the year in which he hit .305. In 2012, pitchers undoubtedly made adjustments after watching game film of Yadi’s approach in 2011.

Yet, as you can see by the 2012 spray chart, Yadi was one step ahead of the pitchers and made his own adjustments as well. He hit .315, and the majority of his hits were to left field.

Finally, in 2013, a year after he was largely a “pull-hitter,” Yadi reverted back to his 2011 approach by having the majority of his hits to center and right field–while recording a career-best .319 batting average.

Brief Conclusion

Molina is obviously one of the best defensive catchers in the Major Leagues, if not the best. One of the main reasons he is so good defensively is his baseball intelligence–something raved about by both La Russa and current manager, Mike Matheny. Well, over the last three seasons, Molina has applied his baseball intelligence to the plate as well, and here’s how:

1) Molina realized that sometimes the best pitch to hit in at-bat is the very first pitch, and his .361 batting average combined with 12 home runs and 57 RBI on the first pitch have been an integral part of his offensive production over the past three seasons.

2) Molina, as a game-caller for his own pitchers, knew that pitchers would make adjustments to his hitting approach based on his performance the year before. Thus, he made adjustments as well–being an “opposite-field” hitter in 2011, a “pull” hitter in 2012, and an “opposite-field” hitter again in 2013. Is this merely a coincidence? It very well could be. However, with such a big sample size–an entire season–one would think that he has purposely brought different approaches to the plate each year.
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Information on the 3 Monkey Sports Giveaway Contest!

3 Monkey Sports was kind enough to provide a Matt Adams autographed baseball and a Joe Kelly signed photo for two lucky readers of my blog.

How to enter:
1) Follow them on Twitter: @3monkeysports
2) You can follow me on Twitter, too: @stlCupofJoe (optional)
3) Enter your Twitter handle/name into the “Comments” section of this blog post.
4) Only one entry per person, and only legitimate Twitter handles/names will be accepted

How the Winners will be Picked:
1) The contest opens at 11:30 AM CST on 10/3/13 (when this was published)
2) Entries will be taken up until 11:30 AM CST on 10/4/13 (one day later)
3) At this time, I will compile the list and place all names into a hat.
4) The first name picked (AND verified) will get first choice on their prize.
5) The second name picked (AND verified) will get the remaining prize.
6) @3monkeysports will contact the winners on Twitter via Direct Message.
7) Winners must reside in the United States or Canada for shipping purposes.

For privacy reasons, I do not want people to be sharing emails in my comments field because this can lead to unwanted spamming. Thus, this contest is limited to people who have a Twitter account. If you do not have a Twitter account, I am sorry, but this is just the best way to do it. You can always make one if you do not already have one as well.

Be sure to check out www.3monkeysports.com for all sports’ memorabilia! Thank you so much for their generosity in providing two awesome items of two young Cardinal stars!

Good luck to all! Make sure to share this blog and contest with other Cardinal fans!

#12in13

Until next time…

Joe

Is Adron Chambers the Spark the St. Louis Cardinals Need?

Photo Credit: Scott Rovak

Photo Credit: Scott Rovak

With Yadier Molina and Shane Robinson being placed on the 15-day disabled list, the St. Louis Cardinals have called up Adron Chambers and Brock Peterson from Triple-A Memphis.

With the offense scoring a grand total of six runs in the past six games (all losses), the team obviously needs a spark. Thus, can Chambers be the spark the team needs?

In 326 at-bats for the Memphis Redbirds, Chambers is hitting .252 with eight home runs and 42 runs batted in. His on-base percentage is .338, and he is 15 for 17 on stolen bases. 25 of his 82 hits are for extra bases (eight home runs, four triples, 13 doubles) which gives him a .390 slugging percentage.

The big problem the Cardinals have now is that both of their center fielders bat left-handed. With Robinson being a right-handed bat, the team had been splitting time–giving Jay starts against righties and Robinson against lefties.

Jay Against Lefties in 2013:

73 at-bats: .151 batting average, .262 on-base percentage, .205 slugging, one home run, six RBI

Chambers Against Lefties in 2013:

83 at-bats: .145 batting average, .209 on-base percentage, .241 slugging, two home runs, 10 RBI

Jay Against Righties in 2013:

278 at-bats: .277 batting average, .348 on-base percentage, .381 slugging, four home runs, 33 RBI

Chambers Against Righties in 2013:

243 at-bats: .288 batting average, .379 on-base percentage, .440 slugging, six home runs, 32 RBI

Analysis:

Thus, if you compare the numbers, Chambers and Jay look like identical hitters. They have average to above-average numbers against right-handers, and they struggle mightily against left-handers.

However, as we all know, Jay’s defense has been lacking this season. His arm strength is poor and his reads on fly balls are just a step slower than past seasons. Chambers is not necessarily known for his throwing arm either, but he can chase down fly balls with the best of them. His outfield range is probably the best in the entire organization.

Chambers is absolutely ON FIRE in July. He has a .354 batting average, .391 on-base percentage, .573 slugging, four home runs, and 16 RBI. He is also 7 for 7 on stolen bases.

Thus, with the funk that the entire team seems to be in right now, Chambers should be given an opportunity to start in center field for the Cardinals. He has a fresh mind that has not been around the clubhouse that is undoubtedly down right now. He can bring an enthusiasm to the lineup that the team does not necessarily have right now.

With Jay’s decreased range this season, Chambers will provide an upgrade in the field, a slight upgrade at the plate, an upgrade on the base paths, and frankly, he is on fire right now, so he deserves a shot.

He very well could come back to Earth now that he is facing Major League pitching, but to me, with the way things are going for the offense, he is fully deserving of a shot to be in the starting lineup.  Will Matheny do this? Probably not, but if I was the manager of a team currently in a six-game losing streak, I would switch it up and insert Chambers into the lineup.

Oh yeah, one more thing: as I noted on Twitter, in his MLB career, Chambers is 2 for 4 with two triples and three RBI when putting the first pitch in play. Thus, when he comes to bat for the Cardinals, look for him to be first pitch swingin’!

Until next time…

Joe

Follow me on Twitter: @stlCupOfJoe

Yadier Molina is the National League MVP (so far)

20130718-230900.jpg

Photo Credit: ESPN.com

In light of the official MLB twitter account inexplicably leaving Yadier Molina off of their first tweet (which was deleted within minutes due to an huge influx of argumentative tweets) on the first-half National League MVP, I decided it was a perfect time to write a post exploring the thought. If the season ended today, who would be the National League MVP?

Since that thought first struck my brain, the MLB has since posted another tweet which includes Molina, but this, too, sparked a debate for Cardinal Nation–well, MLB, what about Matt Carpenter? The All-Star second base man and extraordinary lead-off man.

Standard Hitting Statistics

Molina: 6 Standard Hitting Statistics with NL Ranks
Batting Average: .341 (1st)
On-base Percentage: .386 (9th)
Slugging Percentage: .489 (15th)
On-base + Slugging (OPS): .875 (10th)
Hits: 110 (5th)
Doubles: 27 (3rd)
Average NL Rank: 7.2

Carpenter: 6 Standard Hitting Statistics with NL Ranks
Batting Average: .321 (6th)
On-base Percentage: .394 (6th)
Slugging Percentage: .497 (13th)
On-base + Slugging (OPS): .891 (8th)
Hits: 115 (3rd)
Doubles: 28 (1st)
Average NL Rank: 5.7

Fangraphs Comparisons

Fangraphs has a “Clutch” statistic defined as “how much better or worse a player does in high leverage situations than he would have done in a context neutral environment.” Well, Molina takes the edge in Carpenter on this one–0.95 to 0.03. To put these numbers into context, anything 1 or higher is considered “great,” so Yadi is nearly great in the Clutch category; whereas, Carpenter, at 0.03, is just barely average in the same category.

To make offense sabemetrics fans happy, I will include one more stat: wRC+. This stands for weighted Runs Created Plus. This statistic basically shows, via percentages, how many runs a player “creates” for his team compared to the league average. The league average is considered 100. Molina’s wRC+ is 145 and Carpenter’s is 151. Thus, that means that Molina and Carpenter have created 45% and 51% more runs than the league average, respectively. Thus, both are considered excellent and despite Carpenter being higher, it really is not by that much.

Enough about offense, let’s discuss what Molina really excels at–defense. “Defensive Runs Saved” is a statistic that basically compares a fielder’s plays made to that of the league average fielder. Anything from 5-10 is above average, from 10-15 is great, and 15 or higher is considered Gold Glove Capable. So far this season, Molina is at 6 (meaning he is on pace for the “Great” range and could reach the “Gold Glove” range) while Carpenter (at second base) is just at 2–average.

Defensive Wins Above Replacement (dWAR), which I found on ESPN.com, not Fangraphs, is a good statistic to compare as well because it shows just how important a player is in the field compared to another player (either on the bench or in the minors) that could be used as his replacement. Molina’s dWAR is 1.2–4th highest of all catchers. Carpenter’s dWAR is just 0.4–30th in the second base category.

Well, let’s just be honest, Molina’s DWAR is that much higher than Carpenter’s because Yadi’s replacement/backup just is not really that good. I give a ton of respect for the role he has on this team, but he is barely a top-50 catcher in this league. Yadi has thrown out 13 of 29 base stealers–45%. His Catcher’s ERA is second in the league at 3.24. Conversely, Tony Cruz, who has started 11 games behind the dish, has the 78th best Catcher’s Earned Run Average in the MLB at 4.68. Of six stealing attempts, he has only thrown out one. I know it is a small sample size compared to Yadi’s 82 starts, but that is a huge difference.

Now, for almost everyone’s favorite statistic…

Wins Above Replacement (WAR). I will admit that I have used this statistic before without really describing it to my readers. Thus, according to Fangraphs, this is basically what it means, “If this player got injured and their team had to replace them with a minor leaguer or someone from their bench, how much value would the team be losing?” Thus, it basically is a pretty all-inclusive stat as to how valuable a player is to his given team. Molina’s WAR is 4.3 while Carpenter’s is 4.6. Given, this is basically a wash as a comparison, but I wanted to highlight that both are in the All-Star range (4-5). If they continue trending upward, both have a chance at eclipsing a WAR of 6 which is considered MVP range.

The Intangibles

Sure, you cannot put a number on intangibles. Thus, with no number available, how can you really put a value on a player’s intangibles? Well, some would argue you can’t, but I will make my attempt at it anyway.

Sabermetricians everywhere will cringe at the next few paragraphs I write, but with the offensive category being pretty close, and the defense statistics swaying towards Yadi, I have decided that it was the time to explore this aspect as well.

I undoubtedly agree that the Cardinals were in dire need of a quality lead-off hitter, and Carpenter has performed at an All-Star level to the point where if he keeps it up, he should most definitely be considered the MVP. I said this in an article back in May.

However, with the way the pitching staff has been, I truly believe that Yadi is the team MVP. The team has had nine different starting pitchers, and it is only mid-July. So far this season, Yadi has now caught ten different rookie pitchers. There are nine pitchers that have started at least three games for the Cardinals. Despite this, the team has still maintained what many see as a top five pitching staff. What role has Yadi played in this? Though there may be no true statistic for this, but his constant behind the plate cannot be understated.

Shelby Miller, just 21 years old, is probably the team’s second best starter. Just last season, fans were calling for his trade saying he was not mature enough to be a top-end starter. Thus, he either has really grown up in less than a year or his battery-mate has played a key role in his development this season. I tend to think that Yadi has played a huge role in his development as a pitcher. If given the opportunity to interview him, that would be the first question that I would ask him.

Conclusion

What it really comes down to is what the voters choose to consider for MVP. I do not have a vote, so does my opinion matter? Nope, but that obviously did not stop me.

To me, an MVP is exactly what it says–the Most Valuable Player. I know that Carpenter leads Molina in various offensive statistics (even more than I have listed above), but he really does not lead Molina by that much. How important is this, though? Because despite Carpenter leading Molina in these statistics, Molina is still among the league leaders in each of them as well. Thus, because of this, I give the slight advantage to Yadi based on his defense and the intangibles.

You may not be able to put a number on intangibles, but to me, they are incredibly important. That is why I consider Yadier Molina the league MVP at this point. It is simply my opinion, and I would appreciate any comments you may have regarding my analysis. Carpenter is more than deserving of MVP consideration, but the 2013 should go to Molina. Remember that this article was written based on if the season ended today. Both will need to keep up their pace if they want to be considered for the award at the end of the season.

Updated (7/20/13): Including other candidates to make it a better representation of MVP discussion.

Paul Goldschmidt: .309 batting average, .391 on-base percentage,  77 RBI, 4.1 WAR, 0.7 dWAR

Buster Posey: .324 batting average, .394 on-base percentage, 56 RBI, 4.1 WAR, 0.4 dWAR

Carlos Gonzalez: .299 batting average, .366 on-base percentage, 64 RBI, 4.3 WAR, 0.7 dWAR

Joey Votto: .319 batting average, .436 on-base percentage, 42 RBI, 3.7 WAR, 0.2 dWAR

Based on how the second half goes, other candidates like Troy Tulowitzki and Andrew McCutchen could make the list, too. However, I made my argument based on the first half alone.

Thus, all things considered and their team’s place in the standings, here is my top-6 for the NL MVP right now:

1. Molina
T-2. Goldschmidt, Carpenter
4. Gonzalez
5. Votto
6. Posey

Until next time…

Joe

Follow me on twitter: @stlCupOfJoe

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