More on why I’m so bullish on the OTHER Martinez

I wanted to add something to my post from yesterday where I advocated for using Jose Martinez to be a major part of the team’s infield during 2018. In it, I essentially made the argument (without supporting it) that the ZIPS and Steamer projections for Martinez are selling him short. I felt that needed to be explained.

Back in September, Dave Cameron — then of Fangraphs; now of the San Diego Padres — came to this conclusion about Martinez. He said:

“But if I’m John Mozeliak, I’d probably just keep Martinez and make him my everyday first baseman next year.”

It was this article that really got me starting thinking about Martinez because he referenced a lot of the same sorts of things I mentioned in my post yesterday — that his exit velocity was among the highest in the league, that his xwOBA was 5th highest in baseball, and that — in contrast to what we normally think about these “fluke” type seasons — Martinez was probably actually unlucky in 2017.

About a week ago, Zach Gifford over at Birds on the Black, authored an article entitled, “Tempering Expectations about Marcel Ozuna.” The main idea of the article was that, if Cards’ fans were expecting Ozuna to have a season similar to 2017 or that his career might be on upward trajectory, they might be bitterly disappointed if he actually turns out to be worse. His xwOBA in 2017 was about 26 points lower than his actual wOBA and that he was only 70th in baseball in barrels, according to Baseball Savant. These numbers indicate that Ozuna was very lucky in 2017 and might not be able to repeat it in 2018. The difference, however, is that the ZIPS and Steamer projections both seem to account for that luck — though Steamer is much more bullish on Ozuna than ZIPS.

The projections for Martinez, on the other hand, don’t really appear to factor in Martinez’s unluckiness in their projections. Truthfully, it’s probably much more likely that Martinez has much less of a track record even than Ozuna and so projecting him is much more difficult than projecting Ozuna is. Still, Martinez was a .379 wOBA guy last year when unlucky and he’s projected for around .336 by Steamer and .331 by ZIPS. Xstats does have him projected for a .370 wOBA in 2018.

So, yeah, I think the projections are selling him short and, if so, he’s going to be a really good hitter for the team in 2018 and should be getting a lot more playing time. If he can put up the kind of batting line he did last year — which, to me, isn’t unreasonable considering the fact that he was so unlucky last season — and the team gives him around 500 PA’s by using Matt Carpenter or Jedd Gyorko as the super-sub, he could add another 1 to 1.5 wins to the team’s total. ZIPS has Martinez pegged for 1.1 WAR in 2018 in just 399 PA’s. Give him another 100 PA’s and another 30-40 points of wOBA and he’s now probably a 2.5 WAR player. The team — now projected for 88 wins by Fangraphs — then becomes an 89 or 90 win team and probably 1 player away from being a strong contender for the division title.

Ultimately, it wouldn’t surprise me 1 bit if:

  1. Martinez is the team’s leader in wOBA in 2018 AND
  2. Martinez has more WAR than any of the other Cardinal infielders

But to do those things, Matheny is going to have to write his name in the lineup card regularly.

I’m not a guy who routinely bad-mouths the projections. The people who put those together are much smarter than I am and those projections do a much better job projecting player performance than I ever could. I’m not going to quibble with the projections for Ozuna, Paul DeJong, or any other Cardinal player but I think they’re awfully light on Martinez.

Thanks for reading.

Maybe the impact bat the Cardinals need is already on the roster

A few days ago, I had this interaction with @GirschMo on Twitter:

It was a flippant, offhand remark I made without thinking but I still think I was right. Let’s see.

2017 BB% K% ISO wOBA wRC+
Martinez 10.4 19.5 .210 .379 135
Moustakas 5.7 15.7 .249 .345 114

 

So, Moustakas had a lower K rate and a higher ISO in 2017 but Martinez was pretty clearly the better hitter with the caveat that it came in just 307 plate appearances. Still, Martinez had never done this before. Players have fluky seasons all the time. He won’t be able to repeat it. This was probably one of those Bo Hart sort of experiences that Cards’ players have every now and then, right? Maybe not.

Here’s some other data for Martinez in 2017, courtesy of Baseball Savant.

Player xwOBA xwOBA – wOBA Avg Exit Velo Avg Launch Angle
Martinez .411 .025 90.6 10.8
Moustakas .339 -.016 87.3 18.3

 

So, as far as the predictive stats go, aside from Moustakas being more likely to hit homers (and popups) than Martinez, Martinez shows all the characteristics of being a better hitter than Moustakas going forward. He hits the ball harder and it was actually Moustakas who was relatively lucky in 2017. If anything, Martinez was relatively unlucky as shown by the fact that his actual wOBA was .025 lower than his xwOBA. In fact, only 4 hitters in the game had a higher xwOBA than Martinez in 2017 — Aaron Judge, Joey Votto, Mike Trout, and J.D. Martinez. That’s pretty good company.

But it’s probably a fluke, right? I mean, he only had 307 PA’s last season and both ZIPS and Steamer take a relatively conservative approach when projecting Martinez for 2018. (ZIPS has him projected for a .331 wOBA and a 104 wRC+ and Steamer has him projected for a .336 wOBA and a 107 wRC+.) Actually, though it was in very few PA’s, his xwOBA in 2016 was .426. The point is that every available indicator tells us that this guy can really hit.

Of course, there are other things to consider. Moustakas can play 3B which would make Jedd Gyorko available for super-sub duty and would also add the left-handed hitter that the team seems to think is necessary. Martinez is limited to corner OF and 1B and isn’t very good at either. On the other hand, Fangraphs projected Moustakas would receive a 5 year, $95 million contract this offseason and MLB Trade Rumors projected him for 5 years and $85 million. Martinez has 5 more years of team control and will make the major league minimum this year. Now, considering the way the market has played out so far this offseason, the fact that the Cards might even be involved in any discussion for Moustakas means he’s going to get less than $85 million but I don’t really see the point even if we’re talking something like 3 years and $50 million.

I get that Moustakas makes the Cardinals somewhat more versatile this year and beyond by offering the lineup another left-handed hitter and allowing Gyorko to be the super-sub. I also get that Matt Carpenter isn’t a very good fielder and probably belongs at 1B, but I feel pretty confident saying that Martinez is a considerably better hitter than Moustakas. If the team wants to use Gyorko as the super-sub, they should just move Carpenter back to 3B and install Martinez at 1B. When they want to sit Martinez, Carp goes to 1B and Gyorko to 3B. The team would be better off spending that Moustakas money on the rotation where there is a more obvious hole.

Get rid of Martinez so that we can pay Moustakas $50+ million? No way, Jose.

The Cards may have just decreased their chances of trading for Josh Donaldson

This is going to be a short commentary on today’s trade with the Blue Jays. The Cards traded Randall Grichuk today for Jays’ reliever Dominc Leone and minor league pitcher Conner Greene. This obviously fills a need in the bullpen and also clears out some of the excess from the team’s outfield.

Leone had an outstanding year last year and Greene has some potential as a hard-throwing reliever. The Cards were able to get some quality in exchange for Grichuk because Grichuk himself has value. He’s projected as a 2 win outfielder who can play CF and potentially hit 30 bombs.

Meanwhile, the Jays are in a bit of a pickle regarding Donaldson. He’s a free agent at the end of the season and stands to be the recipient of a huge contract next off-season. He’s unlikely to re-sign with the Jays, who are caught in a sort of purgatory as a team that projects to be not quite good enough to contend and not quite bad enough to rebuild. As such, the Cards have been interested in trading for Donaldson, though the Jays have resisted all advances.

The Jays basically have 2 options this offseason if they’re not able to extend Donaldson — either trade him and rebuild or go all-in to try to win this season which might have the side benefit of convincing Donaldson that they can be a winner in the future. Going all-in means repairing all the holes they have, particularly in their starting lineup. Considering the fact that the Jays outfield AS A WHOLE accumulated just 2.8 WAR in 2017 and only Kevin Pillar projects to be worth more than 1.3 WAR in 2018, the team needs massive help in the outfield. Prior to the trade, the Jays projected to be an 83 win team so Grichuk puts them around 85. They can’t be done yet but it’s pretty clear that if they add a guy like Lorenzo Cain or trade for Christian Yelich then now they’re projected for 87 or 88 wins and are squarely in the playoff hunt. The trade for Grichuk gets them closer to that goal.

Needless to say, the Jays won’t be trading Donaldson if they’re in the playoff chase. Only if they fall out of the race by July will they even make him available as the trade deadline approaches so the Cardinals’ chances of trading for Donaldson went from slim to extremely unlikely.

Don’t get me wrong…I’m not saying this was a bad trade. The Jays were probably not going to be trading Donaldson anyway and tomes have been written on the interwebs just over the last week or so about how desperate the Cardinals’ reliever situation was. The Cardinals needed Leone almost as badly as the Jays needed Grichuk and the team is better off having made the trade. But it’s clear that the Cards’ management had become convinced that Donaldson would not be traded until July at the earliest and, as a result, decided to add an excellent reliever even if it meant helping the Jays get a little bit closer to being an AL playoff team.

Thanks for reading.

What to expect from Waino

Once the Cards traded for Marcell Ozuna and we got the corner OF and middle of the order hitter we needed, the buzz was that the Cardinals were going to acquire their new closer. To be sure, the 9th inning was a huge problem for the team last season but I couldn’t get over the nagging feeling that the rotation was a little bit short. The goal certainly was to play deep into the postseason and, if the postseason began today, Michael Wacha would be the team’s starter in game 2. Now, I like Wacha just fine and, in fact, Joe Schwarz over at Birds on the Bat recently discussed how good he actually was last year (hint: nearly as good as Carlos Martinez) but he’s still, in my mind, just a 5-6 inning guy who shouldn’t be pitching to anyone a 3rd time through the order. Maybe he should be on the bump in game 3 but not game 2 against Strasburg, Rich Hill, or Lester or Quintana.

I like the addition of Miles Mikolas and Luke Weaver obviously demonstrated that he’s ready to take the next step and become a regular member of the rotation. Martinez is a borderline ace and there’s lots of depth in the upper minors. There’s a lot to like about the team’s rotation but it also seems that 1.) there may not be much margin for error or injury and 2.) the rotation looks a lot like the rest of the roster with a lot of average-ish guys but lacking the stars it needs to be a postseason contender.

Mo’s declaration a few days ago that Luke Gregerson would be the team’s closer if the season started today wasn’t his first pretty shocking declaration of the offseason. The first shocking declaration of the offseason was that Mo was confident in the team’s starting rotation at this point. There’s no uneasiness about the rotation at all? Maybe I’d get it if Alex Reyes would be part of the rotation when he joins the pitching staff in May but all indications are that the team will need every live arm it can find to bolster the pen.

Now, of course, Mo wasn’t as confident as he declared a month ago because it was revealed this week that he spent a lot of time doing legwork attempting to acquire Chris Archer from the Rays, something I’ve been wanting him to do all offseason. Still, those talks reached an impasse and the rotation still has Mikolas, Weaver, and Adam Wainwright following Martinez and Wacha. As curious as it seems, Wainwright is the biggest question mark.

Despite a horrible ERA, Wainwright’s fielding-independent pitching numbers last year weren’t all that bad. His ERA was a ghastly 5.11 but his FIP was just 4.29, giving him 1.5 fWAR in 123.1 innings. He was OK into July and then had a pretty good start results-wise against the Cubs in mid-July and then 3 pretty bad starts in early August when it was clear to anyone watching him that Wainwright wasn’t OK. Both the eye test and the numbers indicated that something was wrong when the P-D revealed that something was wrong with the soon-to-be 36 year-old’s elbow. Waino rested and when he returned his strikeouts and velocity were way down.

Wainwright had elbow surgery in the offseason and turns 37 in August. Still, Steamer projects Wainwright to reach 1.7 WAR in 142 innings and ZIPS projects him for 1.6 WAR in 127 innings. That’s a pretty good rate for a guy who struck out 1 batter in 13 innings in the last 2 months of the season in 2017. Not only is Mozeliak confident about Wainwright’s 2018, but ZIPS and Steamer are pretty confident as well. Where does that confidence come from?

In August and September, Wainwright faced 61 batters and gave up 18 hits and 10 walks…and struck out 1 batter. His K rate was 1.6% and his BB rate was 16.4%. According to Brooks Baseball, his average 4-seam fastball velocity was 90.44 in July, 2017 and 86.68 in August, 2017. He lost 4 mph on his fastball between July and August. It’s pretty clear that something was wrong and all indications are that it had something to do with his elbow.

So where does all the confidence come from? In order for Mo to be confident about the rotation, he’s got to be confident in Wainwright. ZIPS and Steamer seem to be reasonably confident in him so is that where it comes from? Surely the team’s internal projections must be giving Mo something similar to what ZIPS and Steamer are showing. But aren’t all of those projections based on a lot of historical data? Isn’t it possible (or even likely) that all those projections aren’t weighting the last 2 months of 2017 heavily enough?

If he can produce roughly 1.5 WAR in 120-130 innings, I think most Cards’ fans (and coaches, teammates, members of management) would be pretty happy. The team could supplement the other innings with Jack Flaherty and others from the farm and would have a solid 5th man for the rotation. But what if the Wainwright that shows up on Florida mounds in March is the same guy the team saw in August and September? Then, the team has no 5th starter going into the season?

Or maybe it’s worse if Wainwright is OK in March and suggests that it’s possible he might pitch well during the season and then the team runs him out there 8 or 10 times and he’s awful. The team loses 7 or 8 of those games and Wainwright has an ERA around 8.50 or something and now the team has to find a 5th starter.

It seems to me that the best case scenario is probably something around what the projections are projecting — 1.5 to 2 WAR for somewhere between 140 and 160 innings — but the worst case scenario is probably replacement level or even lower and the team loses a bunch of games while they’re figuring out what to do. That’s not what we normally expect from projections. The projections the public sees are usually something around the 50th-percentile projection meaning that a pitcher who projects for 1.5 WAR could have a best case scenario maybe around 3 WAR. But I just don’t see that as Wainwright’s 90th-percentile projection for 2018. Does anyone?

I don’t think it would be the worst thing in the world if Flaherty ended up getting Wainwright’s innings. In fact, ZIPS actually projects Flaherty to be better than Wainwright in 2018 and worth 2.0 WAR. But if he takes Wainwright’s spot, that still eats into the team’s depth and adds another average-ish piece to an average-ish rotation.

The bottom line is that the team still needs to be trying to trade for Chris Archer. Honestly, I feel somewhat better about the bullpen right now than I do the rotation. I realize most of Cardinal nation right now is up in arms (so to speak) about the pen, but a stronger rotation could help alleviate some of those concerns.

Thanks for reading.

 

 

Cheap, Cheap…Fun, Fun

In the wake of the realization that there are nearly no more decent free agent relievers on the market, and Mo’s declaration that, as of right now, Luke Gregerson is the team’s closer, a lot of the team’s fans are upset. After 2 frustrating years without watching October baseball under the Gateway Arch, a lot of fans had high hopes for what the offseason would bring. As I alluded to the other day, Mo stated that acquiring a middle of the order hitter was priority 1 and finding a closer would be priority 1A. Lots of good relievers entered and exited the free agent market and, when the music stopped, Luke Gregerson was sitting in the Cardinals’ seat. It’s like being promised a great Italian meal and ending up at Olive Garden.

And the howls from Cardinal nation are loud and vigorous. No one wants to end up at Olive Garden, after all. The most common complaint is that the team is cheap, that management won’t spend the money it has, and within every Twitter comment thread someone’s going to use the pejorative “DeWallet” to refer to Bill DeWitt, Jr.

To me, it’s reasonable to not understand what’s going on with the pursuit of a closer. I questioned the process in my post a couple of days ago. It’s not like Addison Reed, Juan Nicasio, or most of the other free agent relievers signed for inordinate sums of money. So why was the team unwilling to spend $17 million on Reed? Is the team really unable to come up with $17 million to fix its closer situation?

I don’t buy the notion that Cards’ management is cheap. After all, just a few weeks ago, the team was willing to give Giancarlo Stanton $250 million. The Oakland A’s weren’t willing to do that. The Tampa Bay Rays weren’t willing to do that. In fact, not one other team in baseball was willing to do that. Even the vaunted New York Yankees — the team most recognized for its prolific spending — when they ultimately acquired Stanton received $30 million from the Marlins and passed Starlin Castro and his roughly $23 million on to the Marlins.

Just 2 offseasons ago, the team offered nearly $200 million to David Price and another $200 million or so to Jason Heyward. Some fans complain about the team “always finishing 2nd” in these negotiations but it’s pretty well established that the Cards’ offer to Heyward included more guaranteed money than the Cubs’ did and the team’s offer to the Marlins for Stanton was better than the Giants’ and the Yankees’. Cheap teams don’t do these sorts of things.

So, $250 million for Stanton but they can’t even go to $18 million to add a closer? How can that be?

The team seems to believe it’s got lots of potential relievers and lots of candidates for the closer’s role. Tyler Lyons is really good. Sam Tuivailala has great stuff. There’s Brebbia, Cecil, and the young guys — Hicks, Hudson, Helsley and, of course, Alex Reyes. But none of them fit the category of “proven closer.” Nevertheless, it’s pretty obvious that the team feels like it has internal candidates who are close to being as good as Reed and Nicasio. The team’s attitude seems to be that it will be willing to pay lots of money for players it doesn’t have in its system (including stars like Price, Heyward, and Stanton) but will not be willing to pay lots of money for a guy when we’ve got someone just as good ready and waiting in our system? In the team’s bullpen, there are several candidates and they’re not just depending on one.

(*as for the “Heyward is a star” argument, it appeared that way while he was a Cardinal and appeared he was going to be a star in the future. His most recent 2 years as a Cub have shown that’s not really the case. This pleases me.)

To me, this is a defensible position. I’m not saying that I’m convinced that Hicks (or whoever) is as good as Reed because I’m not but there is merit to the argument that the team should give its young guys a chance to play and should save that money for when it is needed as long as there is money available for the team to add or keep one of its stars.

I still don’t understand why Mo didn’t just come out at the beginning of the offseason and say, with regard to the bullpen, “we’re going to give the kids a chance; we think they’re as good as any of the relievers out there.” Some of us wouldn’t have bought it but at least it wouldn’t have seemed as if management pulled the ol’ switcheroo later on. I would not have understood, however, if the team had not done everything within its capacity to trade for Stanton.

I still think that the team needs to add some star talent. The Cards still aren’t where they  need to be in order to be successful this postseason. The team still needs a talent upgrade but I can see the argument that Addison Reed doesn’t really offer the upgrade the team needs. I’m not sure I agree with them, but I can see a world in which Reyes is a dominant closer the likes of which Addison Reed wouldn’t have been. I can see one of the H’s combining with Lyons, Cecil, Gregerson, and Brebbia to get the team through the 6th, 7th, and 8th innings. And, finally, while some of these guys won’t work out, I can see the kind of depth that will allow for some of them to get injured or pitch poorly and the team ends up just fine. It’s a risky strategy, and I would have preferred signing at least one of those relievers, but I’m starting to see what the team’s plan is.

I Don’t Get It

I don’t get it.

When the offseason began, the Cardinals announced that they had 2 offseason goals. Priority 1 was to add a middle of the order hitter and the addition of a closer was called “Priority 1A.” Six weeks ago the team was willing to spend $250 million on Giancarlo Stanton. Two days ago, the team wasn’t willing to spend $17 million on Addison Reed. I don’t get it.

To a degree, the Cards’ bullpen problems in 2017 were overblown. The pen wasn’t awful; their FIP was 8th in the majors and 2nd in the NL. By ERA, it was 7th in the majors and 4th in the NL. A lot was made throughout the season about the team’s number of blown saves but they had the 6th fewest blown saves in the majors, 4th fewest in the NL. On the other hand, the Cards’ pen’s record was 22-29 and they had 90 (yes, count ’em…90!) meltdowns (most in the NL and 4th most in the majors).

Last season the team went through 3 closers, all of whom left the team at the end of the season as free agents. The Post-Dispatch’s Derrick Goold wrote earlier today about many of the pen’s struggles in 2017. He wrote that the team, “blew 41 leads, 20 more than the LA Dodgers. The Cardinals had 101 games decided by three or fewer runs, and they went 48-53 in those games. The only teams with a worse record were retched (sic): Philadelphia and San Francisco. The Cardinals had more one-run games (53) than any winning team, and they lost 29 of them.”

It just makes no sense that, with only Reed and the questionable Greg Holland left on the free agent market, a team that was willing and able to give Stanton $250 million would be unwilling to beat the Twins’ $17 million offer to Reed.

It sort of made sense that the team allowed Wade Davis to sign with the Rockies — $52 million over 3 years for a 32 year old reliever who’s had some arm troubles in the past is a little rich. I also understood when Juan Nicasio, the best of the team’s 3 closers last year, chose the Mariners over the Cardinals (for another $17 million) because, with Davis still on the market at the time and the team apparently attempting to trade for Alex Colome (though in the same article, Goold basically shot that down as well), I could see that the team might not be able to guarantee Nicasio a shot at the closer’s role. But with the very obvious need for a closer and ostensibly only Reed and Holland left, the team allowed Reed to be banished to the Land of 1000 Lakes for just $17 million.

When the offseason began, there were a lot of solid free agent relievers out there and it was my contention that the team needed to add 2. Over the last month or so, we’ve seen them sign with other teams, one by one, and the Cardinals ended up with Luke Gregerson. Now, Gregerson’s ok — though Zach Gifford raised some legitimate concerns about his ability to consistently get hitters out — but he’s still a fastball-slider guy who has been outstanding against righties but struggled against lefties throughout his career. Despite being a really solid closer for the Astros in 2015, he doesn’t really have the requisite profile for a closer.

Still, I’m not that appalled by Mozliak’s declaration that Gregerson would be the team’s closer if the season ended today. I’m more interested in who the team’s closer will be in August and September and, despite all the mystery about the closer’s role and the team’s refusal to add one this offseason, I think there are reasons to be optimistic about the pen.

First, I’ve long been a fan of Tyler Lyons and think he has the ability to be an outstanding reliever. He could probably close but might even be more effective in sort of an Andrew Miller-type role. He’s always destroyed lefties and was nearly equally potent versus righties out of the pen last year. John Brebbia performed very well for the team in 2017 and Brett Cecil was much better than a lot of fans recognize in his first year in St. Louis. A lot of people are very high on Sam Tuivailala, even though I’ve struggled to see what so many others have seen in him. Matt Bowman is a useful, if overused, piece as well.

While there are no obvious, well-recognized big-name relievers among that group, it has the makings of a deep and decent core. What is really intriguing, however, is the prospect of prospects like Jordan Hicks, Dakota Hudson, and Ryan Helsley joining the pen this season. They are all hard-throwers with potentially dominant stuff that could add some real horses to the bullpen this season. Add to that the fact that Alex Reyes will likely become a member of the pen when he gets back on the mound in May and there may be reason for some excitement.

Still, of those 4, right now only Reyes is on the 40 man roster so, in order for those guys to help the team, some players will have to be removed from the 40-man. Moreover, despite their talent and stuff, it’s unrealistic to think that all of them will succeed in their first opportunity to get major league hitters out. As Goold pointed out in the article above, Hicks has never pitched in a game above the class-A level and Helsley only has experience in 7 games above that level.

There’s clearly a lot of talent and the potential for a very good bullpen in 2018 but any honest assessment also has to acknowledge that there’s a great deal of uncertainty as well. While this may work, and I certainly understand the desire to see what all these good arms can bring to the pen, it’s really difficult to maintain that the team approached the closer’s role or the bullpen this offseason as “Priority 1A.” They’ve added Luke Gregerson…and no one else.

And it’s not like the free agents who signed with other teams signed for outrageous salaries that couldn’t be predicted. If you look at the free agent predictions from both MLB Trade Rumors and Fangraphs, most of the actual signings are either in the same neighborhood as predicted or were actually a little lower. It’s not like the reliever market exploded and the team just decided it was more prudent to go with the team’s prospects instead.

So I don’t get it. It’s not that I don’t get the team’s decision to go with the young guys. I can see why they’re interesting and potentially exciting. What I don’t get is the “Priority 1A” stuff. I don’t get that the team seemed to create the expectation that they were going to go after some big fish (or 2 medium-sized fish) and instead decided to go after Luke Gregerson and some guys from Springfield. Why tell the fans that the closer’s role is a priority instead of telling everyone, “we’ve got a bunch of great, young, hard-throwing pitchers and we’re going to go with them.”

It should be clear from this that I still think the team should have signed someone like Tommy Hunter or Nicasio or Bryan Shaw. There were good pitchers on the market who signed for contracts that weren’t prohibitively expensive and would have provided some insurance if those young guys showed that they’re not quite ready. That said, this strategy could work and, while I would have preferred at least something better than Gregerson in the pen, I can see wanting to find out if Hicks, Helsley, or Hudson can help. I, too, am excited about the prospect of seeing what Reyes can do out of the pen. But I don’t understand what appears to be the change in strategy since the offseason began.

There’s no doubt that a lot of fans will react to the Cards’ decision here as though the team is being cheap and there will be howls of “DeWallet” all over the internet. I sincerely don’t think this decision was a financial one. Those relievers haven’t signed for that much money — in baseball, $17 million just isn’t that much — and the team was willing to take on more of Stanton’s contract than any other team was, including the Yankees. They gave Gregerson $11 million so why not add just $6 million more and add some like Nicasio or Reed who is objectively better than Gregerson? I don’t know. I don’t understand much of this. I just don’t get it.

Thanks for reading.

Glad to be Back

A lot of Cards’ fans have been clamoring for the addition of another big hitter, and with good reason. Most of us expected to add Giancarlo Stanton this offseason and instead ended up with Marcell Ozuna. Now, Ozuna’s a really good player in his own right but he’s not Stanton. Stanton not only is a superstar who would’ve transformed the lineup but he’s also under contract for the next several years. Ozuna, on the other hand, only figures to be a Cardinal for the next 2.

The persistent chatter about adding another big bat to the lineup seems primarily driven by 2 things. The first is the fact that the Cardinals have missed the playoffs the last two seasons and fans have seen the team fall behind the loathsome Cubs, who won their first championship in 1008 years (not a typo). We’ve been spoiled by the team’s success and demand a return to its winning ways. The second is that Matt Carpenter has some positional versatility and there are several players on the free agent market who could fit the team’s lineup. The team could add a third baseman, turning Jedd Gyorko into the super-sub a lot of fans believe him to be, leaving Carpenter at first. Another option is to add a first baseman, moving Carp back to his original position at third base.

I’ll admit that the prospect of turning Gyorko into a Ben Zobrist-like super-sub has its allure. First, Gyorko is a strong defensively at both 2B and 3B and has the ability to fill in at SS and 1B in short stints. Considering Kolten Wong‘s relative weakness against lefties, the right-handed Gyorko is a natural platoon partner and then he could bounce around the infield, allowing Carpenter, Paul DeJong, and the new first or third baseman the days off they need to stay healthy and strong for a playoff run. It’s pretty easy to envision Gyorko getting 100+ starts at the 4 positions and 450 or so plate appearances which would make him a big step up over Greg Garcia as the utility infielder.

When there was discussion about a month ago about the prospect of the Cardinals trading for Evan Longoria (especially as part of a Chris Archer trade), it was hard not to see how much depth this would provide the infield. The problem, as lots of people on the internet were all too willing to point out, was that Longoria just wasn’t that big of an upgrade over Gyorko at third. To be sure, the team would gain quite a bit by replacing most of Garcia’s PA’s with Gyorko’s, but it wouldn’t gain much, if anything, by replacing Gyorko’s with Longoria’s.

The free agent market right now is flush with corner infielders, most notably 1B Eric Hosmer, The Cards have been linked to Hosmer as rumors have circulated that he’s received multiple 7 year, $140+million offers. Adding Hosmer would move Carp back to third and makes Gyorko the super-sub. That sounds like a lot of infield depth and would surely make the Cardinals better…but at what price?

If the Cardinals didn’t want to spend $140+ million on this experiment, they could always add a third baseman such as Todd Frazier or Mike Moustakas. Frazier and Moustakas aren’t as good Hosmer but they’re pretty good players in their own right and wouldn’t come with Hosmer’s Scott Boras-driven high price tag. Let’s begin with Hosmer.

Most of the discussion about Hosmer is about whether or not he’s worth the high price tag that Boras has attached to him. Here, Craig Edwards makes the point that $140 million isn’t really out of line (though Travis Sawchik argues that a team wouldn’t really benefit from signing Hosmer to a 7 year deal). Still, for a team sitting where the Cardinals sit on the win curve, where an additional couple of wins could really be the difference between making the playoffs and having its fans lament for another offseason how long it’s been since the Cardinals were part of that elite group, the team may not need to insist on getting a ton of surplus value from a free agent acquisition.

Hosmer, of course, isn’t a superstar but he is a pretty good player and a solid upgrade over Greg Garcia. Adding him to 1B, moving Carpenter across the diamond, and replacing Garcia with Gyorko would surely help the team and perhaps push them into the playoffs. Steamer projects Hosmer to be worth 2.6 WAR next year while ZIPS has him at a paltry 1.9. He was a 4.1 WAR player last year (though -0.1 in 2016) but that was aided by a .351 BABIP. But he’s young, maybe still improving and it’s not beyond the realm of possibility that he’s a 3 – 3.5 WAR player in 2018. Fangraphs presently has the Cardinals projected for 88 wins so adding another 3 puts the team in prime playoff position and puts the team right in the thick of the NL Central race.

What about Frazier or Moustakas?  Moustakas is projected for around 2.5 WAR next year (2.5 from ZIPS; 2.7 from Steamer) while Frazier is projected for around 3 (3.5 from ZIPS; 2.3 from Steamer). Like Hosmer, those guys would certainly help.

The question or concern, however, isn’t so much about how any of these players produces in isolation but rather, how much do they add to a team that already has 8 solid starting position players? And, are they worth that addition? For instance, if we assume Hosmer is a 3.5 WAR player and, as one, is worth $140 million over 7 years, that doesn’t mean that he adds 3.5 WAR to the Cardinals. Gyorko, for his part, is projected as at 2.9 WAR so the addition of Hosmer, even at 3.5 WAR, only adds about half a win to the Cards’ starting infield. Now, turning Gyorko into a super-sub is an improvement over Garcia but, in doing so, also reduces his plate appearances. He wouldn’t be a 2.9 WAR player as a super-sub, so maybe 2 WAR is more likely. Because of that, he’s probably only about a 1 win upgrade over Garcia because getting him 450 PA’s reduces Carpenter’s, Wong’s, and DeJong’s as well. It’s an upgrade, to be sure, but probably only about a win and a half, not the 3.5 Boras wants the Cardinals to pay for. All that assumes, also, that the defensively challenged Carpenter would be worth as many WAR as a starting 3B as he is as a starting 1B. Personally, I’m skeptical that’s the case, as he’s a decidedly below-average 3B but a pretty good 1B but maybe the positional adjustment helps it all come out in the wash.

The point is that Hosmer, even if he’s a 3.5 WAR 1B, he’s probably only worth about 1.5 WAR to the Cardinals and, thus, not worth anywhere near $140 million to the Cards. He might be worth that much to the Royals or Padres — where he’d actually be replacing a replacement level player — but that’s not what he’d be doing with the Cardinals.

The same sort of logic applies to Frazier and Moustakas, though Carpenter remains at first base, in that they wouldn’t be replacing a replacement level player. In fact, it’s dubious whether either of them is even an improvement over Gyorko but at least Gyorko is an improvement over Garcia and adding them probably adds 1 win or so to the Cardinals’ total. Is 1 win per year, even where the Cards are on the win curve, worth a 3 year, $45-50 million contract? Questionable, at best. And one opportunity cost of adding a 3B to a multi-year contract this offseason is that it makes attempting to sign, say, Josh Donaldson to a long-term contract next offseason much more difficult. Perhaps the team should stay away from one of these guys for that reason alone.

There’s good and bad to the Cardinals’ roster as it stands today. The good is that the team is pretty solid at all the non-pitching positions. Every starting position player projects (according to ZIPS) for at least 2.1 WAR. The bad is that there really are no superstars in the mold of Stanton. Ozuna is the best the team has and he’s projecting for *only 3.7 WAR.

Because the team is so balanced, therefore, the only real way to improve the lineup is to add a genuine superstar. Hosmer, Moustakas, and Frazier just don’t fit the bill. The guy who does, of course, is Donaldson but the Blue Jays don’t appear to be all that interested in parting with him…at least, not yet.

Finally, I’d like to thank @StlCardsCards and Dave Cameron for inspiring me to get back to writing. I’ve been wanting to do it and needed a little nudge. CardsCards’ advice on Twitter and Dave’s “retirement” from Fangraphs were the inspiration I needed to get back at it. Back when I was writing at http://www.vivaelbirdos.com, I was reading fangraphs religiously trying to learn as much as I can about the game and come up with ideas to write about at VEB. I learned so much from Dave and Fangraphs and being a dedicated reader of that site for the last several years has also helped me appreciate how much I don’t know. Thanks to both of you and to everyone else for reading.