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.