With One Hand Tied Behind Their Back

As I’m writing this, Albert Pujols is playing at third base. He’s starting there for the first time in almost a decade. Apparently it was his idea, and he approached La Russa about it. The whole thing is ridiculous given the history Pujols has with his throwing elbow. I’m tempted to write about that, but there’s not much more to say than “what the hell?” especially when I heard La Russa’s justification. He wanted to get Allen Craig into the lineup without playing Allen Craig at 2b. Never mind that Craig’s spent significant amount of time at 3b himself…

This brings me to what I really want to talk about. For some reason, the Cardinals have insisted on handcuffing themselves with their defensive alignment. In my last post, I complained about the pool of players that have been “hitting” in the 7-1 slots for the Cardinals. Theriot, Punto, Descalso, and Greene have been Very Bad at Hitting and ideally we wouldn’t see so much of them on a day-to-day basis. But assuming that we have to see them, why is TLR playing them all at the wrong position?

There have been several variations of this problem, but I’ll use the May 14 lineup as the best example.  Tyler Greene at 2b, Ryan Theriot at SS, Daniel Descalso at 3b.

I’ve already talked about Ryan Theriot and how he should play 2b instead of SS.  He’s lost some range in the last couple seasons, and he proved he can play there last season.  He was mediocre, with 7 errors in 119 games, a -1.6 UZR, and fangraph’s Total Zone runs above average pegged him as neither a plus nor minus defender.  It’s not great, but if you have to play Theriot for some reason, 2b is the place to play him.

Daniel Descalso is also a 2b.  Not because of age or skill reasons–he’s actually shown a good arm for 3b so he has the natural talent for the position–but because of experience.  Between his rookie season in 2007 and the beginning of this season, Descalso made 17 plays at third (all last year).   He doesn’t have much experience there.  Counting this season, where he’s gotten almost all of them, Descalso has 239 innings at 3b.

Tyler Greene, meanwhile, never played 2b in the minors.  The first time he was ever asked to play second in pro ball was in the majors.  In two seasons, Greene has shown himself to be a bad second baseman.  He made 2 errors in 76 innings there last year, and has already made 2 errors in 66 innings this year.  His time at 2b is so limited that there simply isn’t enough of a sample size to use advanced fielding stats to determine anything.  Counting this season, Tyler Greene has 160 innings total at 2b in his 7 year pro career.

To put everything together, the Cardinals are surrounding a bad SS (Theriot) with two players who have played less than 1/3 of a season at their respective positions combined.  There’s no reason for this.  Nick Punto, as much as I like to trash him, should probably never be on the bench with the current roster composition.  Not only does he have significant experience at 2b, 3b, and SS…  But he’s actually a good fielder.

The composition of the Cards’ roster isn’t great right now.  But they’re utilizing what little they have terribly.  When the Cardinals keep sending out lineups with defensive alignments like the one on May 14  (or ones featuring Pujols at 3b) they are practically playing with a handicap…and against the Reds, they shouldn’t be hurting themselves like that.

UCB Progressive Game Blog: The Third Inning

Today I am participating in the United Cardinals Bloggers progressive game blog, an annual UCB event where a number of Cards Blogs each cover an inning of a single game.

For coverage of the second inning of today’s game, check out the awesomely-named Aerys Sports Cardinal site Aaron Miles’ Fastball .  For a full list of bloggers participating in the UCB Progressive Game Blog, head over to the main United Cardinals Bloggers page.

After the third inning, the Milwaukee Brewers have a 1-0 lead.  It could be a lot worse.  Fortunately, we can thank Casey McGehee for giving Colby Rasmus the chance to get his first outfield assist of the season, allowing the Cardinals to escape the top of the inning with minimal damage.

It could have been a great inning for Lohse, who struggled with his pitch count through the first two.  He retired Counsell and Braun quickly.  Then Prince Fielder came up and spooked Lohse, probably by looking at the pitcher like he was an extra-large veggie burger.  Lohse all but pitched around him, setting up McGehee’s RBI double.

Prince Fielder scored from first base, the ground shook as far west as Colombia, and Rasmus threw to the cutoff man instead of trying to nab fielder at home.  This was a heads-up play, not only avoiding a potential fatal collision between Fielder and Molina, but catching McGehee off-guard.

If you believe in momentum, that was the sort of play that should have reversed it.  Rasmus stopped a rally before it could get out of hand, and the Cardinals came to bat with the wind at their sails.  Unfortunately, it was also time for the 7-8-9 spots in the lineup.

First up was Daniel Descalso, who earned some leniency with a well-timed HR on Tuesday to give the Cards the lead over the Marlins.  Single game heroics aside, Descalso has been awful so far at the plate.  He came into today’s game batting .221/.276/.368.  After him was Tyler Greene, who has managed to be even worse at .206/.289/.324.

Nine pitches later, Kyle Lohse came up to the plate with two outs to complete an easy inning for Brewers starter Yovanni Gallardo.  If Lohse reached base, next up would have been Nick Punto and his .222/.349/.306 line.  That’s a nice IsoD.  It’s remarkable that pitchers throw Punto anything but strikes.  But it’s still abysmal.

Counting the pitcher, the Cardinals have four players in the lineup with an OPS under .660.  Ryan Theriot is out today.  At least at the moment, he would marginally improve the situation with his .682.  .682 is also bad.  And this success, which is only relative to the rest of the light-hitting infielders on the team, has come from a BAbip-fueled high batting average.  Even when he comes back, the Cardinals are conceding almost half their at-bats to fringe hitters.  Three out of nine starters are utility players who would be fine bench options or #8 hitters on a good team.  Surrounding the pitcher, they create an oasis for opposing starters.  Berkman and Holliday aren’t going to hit .400 forever, and when they regress it’s going to get ugly if they don’t have some backup from the rest of the lineup.  Hell, even an off day from the heart of the lineup could turn into a no-hitter.

To make things worse, we’re not sacrificing offense for defense with these guys.  As long as Theriot continues to start at SS, the infield defense will be shaky.  And it doesn’t look like he’ll be moving any time soon.  So the Cardinals aren’t getting anything out of the black hole at the bottom of the lineup… although I admit that Descalso is incredibly impressive at 3b considering the last time he spent significant time there was 2007 at low-A ball.  It’s not good enough to make up for his hitting, and it’s not good enough to make up for the error machine that TLR installed at shortstop at the beginning of the season.

So, what’s the solution?

I want to see Matt Carpenter and his .429 OBP in AAA on the major league team.  Bat him leadoff.  No, I’m not kidding.  He’s got a career .107 IsoD in the minors.  He gets on base.

Move Theriot to 2b, and platoon him with Skip when he comes back.  Theriot against lefties, Skip against righties.  I don’t like Skip’s defense at 2b at all, but he’s got a .780 OPS against righthanders for his career.  Theriot has a similar .782 against lefties.  It’s not fantastic, but it’s a lot better than what we have.

I wouldn’t mind handing the position to Descalso, hoping he could work out the kinks and find the success he had in the minors.  But TLR won’t give up on Skip or Theriot.  Descalso should work on his hitting in AAA as a starter at 2b.  If putting Carpenter at leadoff isn’t an option (and I know it isn’t) a Schumaker/Theriot platoon could probably get on base at a decent clip.

As for shortstop?  Well, absent a trade I don’t think we have any great internal options.  Punto can take a walk and he has decent defense.  I’d let him have it for now but explore trade options.  Tyler Greene?  At 27 he hasn’t shown any indication he can be a major leaguer.  He needs to go.

Carpenter-Rasmus-Pujols-Holliday-Berkman-Molina-Schumaker/Theriot-Punto.  It’s not perfect, but it’s better.  The Cards need to do something if they’re going to avoid ugly innings like the bottom of the third.

For the fourth inning, head on over to Fungoes.

Tyler Greene: Leadoff Hitter

It’s been said, by people far smarter than me, that the day-in and day-out batting orders aren’t that important.  Specifically, this was noted in the excellent book The Book by Tom Tango and company, which I feel is underrated or at least under-discussed mostly because of its terribly generic name.  I don’t have my copy of The Book with me right now, probably because its in storage, but if I recall correctly the very best lineup, used in every game, only nets about 5-6 wins over a season compared to the very worst lineup.  No one uses the very worst lineup, except maybe the Royals, and the value in each individual game is fairly marginal.

Nevertheless, when I see someone like Tyler Greene batting leadoff, I sit up and take notice.  Some Tyler Greene facts:

  • Career .200 hitter in the majors
  • Career .264 OBP in the majors
  • Career .335 OBP in the minors
  • Only decent offensive year at any level inflated by a .350 BAbip
  • Named his son Brayden

Brayden?  Christ, that kid is stuck with the douchiness of the name “Braden” multiplied the uncalled-for need of every parent these days to stick a “y” where it doesn’t belong.  No, I don’t want to meet your baby daughter Tyffyny.  I already know I won’t lyke her.

Inexcusable parenting decisions aside, those aren’t the stats you want to see from a leadoff hitter.  Those aren’t the stats you want to see from any hitter in the lineup, but assuming you absolutely must play Tyler Greene for some reason, you’d ideally like him getting as few PAs as possible.  So why was Tyler Greene setting the table for Ryan Ludwick and Albert Pujols?  I’m going to give Tony La Russa the benefit of that doubt that he hadn’t placed a bet on the Phillies before the game, so I’m pretty sure the answer is because he’s right handed.

In fact, the entire lineup was right handed last night, which also meant that four out of nine of the batters in the lineup were batting somewhere around .200.  That is A Bad Thing and against a good pitcher like Hamels there’s really no doubt in my mind why the Cardinals only scored one run last night.  You can’t play with half a lineup and expect to do some damage.  Mather and Greene are AAAA players and Brendan Ryan is the kind of guy you accept in the lineup only when there aren’t two other guys hitting even worse.

I realize that in Tony La Russa’s mind, sending a lefhanded batter to face a lefthanded pitcher is like trying to beat “rock” with “scissors”.  In years past, he’s been able to get a lot out of marginal guys by playing the percentages.  But Greene and Mather don’t look like marginal guys.  There’s no reason to be running them out there instead of Colby Rasmus or Skip Schumaker.  Rasmus, especially.  It’s one thing when you’re platooning a Schumaker, a vet with several years under his belt and a .522 OPS against lefties.  But Rasmus is young, has success in the minors against southpaws (.826 OPS compared to .860 against righties), and is the future of the team.

Sure, Rasmus has struggled in (limited) playing time against lefthanded pitchers so far in the majors.  But he’s not going to learn to hit them sitting on the bench.  I’m having flashbacks to 1999 and a young J.D. Drew losing playing time in CF to the corpse of Shawon Dunston.  That’s not something I want to see repeated this season.  If we’re going to have a black hole in the lineup, let it be the slick fielding young player who is still developing, not Joe Mather.

And if Tyler Greene absolutely must be in the lineup, please don’t bat him leadoff.