Throw It Like a Ballplayer

providing baseball commentary and ponderings since April 2010

Meet Me in Saint Louis…

Posted by dannmckeegan on January 25, 2011

Chemistry Over Replacement Player. aka CARP. aka “The Kevin Millar Effect.” aka “Aaron Miles‘ Continued Employment.” And so on and so forth. You can never have too many clubhouse guys, or so the saying goes. And fortunately for the five other teams in the National League Central, no one over the years has informed Tony LaRussa that it doesn’t help if your good clubhouse guys are also guys who never should leave the dugout. Thankfully this off-season St. Louis has made it a priority to improve their CARP rather than their WAR (Wins Above Replacement) potential. With the recent signing of free agent utility man Nick Punto – whose CARP apparently didn’t outweigh his SUCC (Suckiness Under Competitive Circumstances) in CARP-heavy Minnesota – St. Louis has committed itself to an opening day infield that will contain (besides Prince Albert) some combination of Skip Schumaker, Ryan Theriot, Nick Punto and rookie Allen Craig. In the words of C. Montgomery Burns, “Excellent…”

Slurry - About as productive as the STL triad

A visualization of the production quality to be expected of the Punto-Theriot-Schumaker offensive juggernaut

CARP in St. Louis is the only thing that can explain Tony LaRussa’s penchant for employing mediocre hacks on his infield. Well, that and the fact that the team has $88.2 million tied up in 4 positions players and 4 starting pitchers. When Kyle Lohse is making $12 million (almost twice as much as perennial Cy Maddux Award candidate Wainwright, mind you), the $6 million committed to The Schu and The Riot in 2011 doesn’t seem quite so bad. Wait. It does. Because Lohse is only on the field to suck every 5th day

But if you are going to punt on middle infield offense, as the Schumaker/Theriot tandem implies, why in the wide, wide world of sports are you going to trade away Brendan Ryan, quite possibly the preeminent defensive shortstop in the game (with a minuscule price tag)? Even if they bring in Punto as a swing guy, their 8-man lineup is still something out of a Charles Dickens novel:
C – Molina
1B – Pujols
2B – Schumaker (.325 career wOBA)
SS – Theriot (.319 career wOBA)
3B – Punto (.293 career wOBA)
LF – Holliday
CF – Rasmus (.356 R/.291 L platoon split wOBA in career)
RF – Berkman (career-low .345 wOBA & .166 ISO in 2010; .305 and .236 asLvR/.416 and .372 asRvL platoon split wOBA in 2009 and 2010)

So basically, STL is (unofficially) relying on young Allen Craig, with all of 8 career games played in RF, to platoon with Berkman once his numbers against lefties go south. And then Jon Jay, a lefty with no discernible platoon splits yet, will get playing time vs. LHP in place of Rasmus. Even if he regresses to a .280/.335/.398 line – as Bill James projects – his subsequent .326 wOBA would still be an upgrade as far as 4th outfielders go.

I’m not saying that’s a LOGICAL solution to the Cardinals’ roster. I’m saying that’s a Tony LaRussa solution. You know, because having two of your four most dangerous hitters (Berkman and Rasmus) alternating playing days is ALWAYS great for the team. And platoons are a great way to keep everyone fresh!

Their lineup would look something like this:

  1. Theriot
  2. Rasmus/Jay
  3. Pujols
  4. Holliday
  5. Berkman/Craig
  6. Molina
  7. Schumaker
  8. Starting Pitcher
  9. Punto

And to be honest, the whole “pitcher hits 8th to create another leadoff man” thing might actually work out here. You know, since Punto’s only slightly better at the plate than most of the Cards’ starters (and appreciably worse than Wainwright).

With St. Louis handing the ball to Carpenter, Wainwright, Westbrook, Jaime Garcia, and Lohse every turn, they have some room for slop on the offensive side of things. The question is, can they wade through the slurry? And if not, how long until Tony presses the panic button and brings back Aaron Miles, David Eckstein, or even tries his hand at Ronnie Belliard? The NL Central is a fascinating place in 2011. Three teams with high expectations, one team with a whole lot of future going on, one team completely lost, and one team (the Cubs) that are a complete enigma with no identity and no expectations.

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