Sabermetrics, common sense and the Cards middle relievers

The Cards offense is close to being the best in all of MLB, even with the pitcher hitting instead of the DH.  For those out there who like or dislike Wins Above Replacement (WAR), it’s hard to argue with how it stacks up with best to worst teams in MLB.  Here is the complete list so far in 2012.  The top 5 teams and their WAR totals from that list are as follows:

1)      Braves—19.2

2)      Cardinals—19.2

3)      Rangers—18.0

4)      Yankees—16.5

5)      Angels—16.1

The Cards are only behind the Texas Rangers in AVG and OBP at .275 and .340, and 3rd in all of MLB in OPS at .775.  They’re tied for 5th in defense in the NL when you look at fielding percentage (FP) at .974.  However, the team Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR) has the Cards ranked 14th in the NL at -16.8.  UZR is a sabermetric statistic used to measure fielding.  It compares the event that actually happened (hit/out/error) to data on similarly hit balls in the past to determine how much better or worse the fielder did than the “average” player.  UZR divides a baseball field into multiple zones and assigns individual fielders responsibility for those zones.

A good example of UZR is to use Scott Rolen and Adrian Beltre for those who want to question its validity.  The data on UZR goes back accurately to 2002.  Beltre and Rolen rank first and second in that time frame in all of MLB at all positions combined.  If it would go back further to 1996, Rolen would easily be alone on the top of the list.  I don’t think there’s a Cardinal fan out there that would argue that they’ve ever seen another Cardinal 3B get to more balls than Rolen.

The problem with those who use just FP or UZR is that they want to discount the other one.  They both have a place in my opinion.  What these two stats say about the Cards defense is they don’t have a lot of range as a team, but they make most of the routine plays with no problem.  To take it a bit further, I think most will agree that Carlos Beltran is limited in RF because of his knee problems, but makes all the routine plays.  Most Cards fans would probably also agree that Skip Schumaker is not a great defender.  Well, Beltran is at the bottom of the list among Cards defenders in UZR with a -1.8.  Schumaker is at the bottom as well at -1.1.  Those are only for RF for Beltran and 2B for Skip.

When we get to individual offensive performances, Allen Craig and David Freese are proving they’re more than a flash in the pan.  Freese has an OPS of .829.  Craig has 44 RBI’s in only 46 games played.  Beltran leads the NL with 65 RBI’s and is playing like it’s 2006, when he was 4th in the MVP voting.  Matt Holliday has left the short attention span crowd behind as he does his usual thing and puts up top 10 MVP type numbers.  Holliday is hitting .317, has an OBP of .397 with 14 HR’s and 56 RBI’s.  Rafael Furcal has brought back a true leadoff threat.  Yadier Molina has shown he’s the Cards team MVP, and his offense is now right up there was his defense.  His power numbers are coming along to what many of us thought they could be, as he has 13 HR’s already, 1 shy of his career high 14 in 2011.  Matt Carpenter is a great super-sub, always seems to work the count and can play all the corner positions.  I’m not a big Jon Jay fan, but he covers a lot of ground in CF to make up for his weak Johnny Damon type arm.  Jay’s lack of power is hidden because of a deep team offense.  As long as he continues to get on base at a .385 clip and cover a lot of ground on defense, it’s hard to argue against him.  The .385 OBP won’t be sustained more than likely, but his career .356 will be good enough with the team around him.

On the pitching side, Kyle Lohse and Lance Lynn have to be the first mentioned.  Lohse is quietly putting up the best year of his career.  In 18 starts, Lohse is 9-2 with a 2.79 ERA and a 1.08 WHIP, and I hope the Cards find a way to bring him back for 2013 and beyond.  Lynn has done more than anyone projected as his first year as a starter, going 11-4 with a 3.41 ERA and 105 K’s in 103 IP.  Jake Westbrook went through a 6 game slide after a fast start, but has bounced back to be a well above average #4 starter.  Adam Wainwright is coming around after TJS, and is making strides to becoming the old Wainwright.  Wainwright’s numbers aren’t great, as he’s 7-8 with a 4.56 ERA, but he does have 98 K’s in 102 IP and has only given up 3 or more ER in his last 10 starts. Joe Kelly is holding his own after replacing Jaime Garcia, but his 1.44 WHIP means he’s pitching out of some problems he’s created on his own.  That may catch up to Kelly, but so far so good with a 2.70 ERA.

After reading this, you would think the Cards are close to their Pythagorean W-L record of 50-36, however, they only sit at 46-40.  They’re 2.5 games behind the NLC leading Pittsburgh Pirates, and 1 game behind the Reds.  There’s one major reason for this, and of course we all know it’s the bullpen.

The BP is not being overworked, as there are 19 teams whose BP’s have more IP.   The problem is the BP just has a few pitchers who shouldn’t be in MLB at this point.  Let’s start with Maikel Cleto and Victor Marte.  FSM announcers continue to rave about Marte, but I don’t see it now, and haven’t from the beginning.  His slider hangs, his fastball is straight, and his ERA of 4.38 and WHIP of 1.46 are bad, but they don’t even tell the whole story.  When opposing hitters put the ball in play off of Marte, there are too many times he is bailed out by rockets off the bat right at someone.  There’s a reason the Royals dumped him for $1 and without Dave Duncan around to get the most out of him, the Cards can’t keep relying on him.

Cleto is still a work in progress, and that progress should be in AAA.  I don’t understand why Mike Matheny has pitched him in close games lately.  He cost the Cards in game 1 vs. the Marlins, and again in the last game against the Marlins if not for their closer Heath Bell (6.75 ERA, 1.81 WHIP) and the Cards offense bailing Cleto and Marte out.  Cleto has a lot of work to do before he’s anything other than a pitcher you use in a blowout.  Cleto has learned a slider to go along with his fastball, but the same can be said about him as was said about Marte.

Mitchell Boggs has been electric, and the one real bright spot in the BP in 2012.  His 1.91 ERA easily leads the team as no other pitcher who has pitched more than 4 innings has an ERA under 3.   Jason Motte is coming around, but is still only 5 out of 9 in 1 run games.  Fernando Salas has been more stable since passing a kidney stone, and Barret Browning has solidified the desperate need for a dependable LOOGY.  Marc Rzepczynski continues to struggle, and now has a WHIP of 1.60 and an ERA of 5.52.  At some point you have to pull the plug on using him in close games, and that time has long passed.

With a couple of additions to the BP, these 2012 Cards could go a long way.  If a move is not made for the middle relievers, this season will be lost.  If John Mozeliak is not in a position to make a move, I would hope he would at least consider starting the clock on a young pitcher like Trevor Rosenthal to replace Cleto or Marte.  This team is too good from players 1-22 to let the season be lost to the last 3, especially when they’re middle relievers.

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