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Oscar Mercado: A Regression in Drafting Philosophy?

OscarMercado

The philosophy for the Cardinals while drafting under Jeff Luhnow was always “best player available”. Don’t worry necessarily about specific needs or who is already filling what position on the big league club, but rather create a good problem by having too many players for a certain position. That has created situations where The Cards have both Allen Craig and Matt Adams ready to be big league starters at first. And the idea that it’ll all work itself out was exemplified with the transition of Matt Carpenter to second base, where his fielding has been adequate (enough) and allowed that impressive bat to hit lead-off.

But the philosophy of drafting for need may have permeated itself back into the Cardinals since the departure of Luhnow. I want to focus on the Cardinals 2nd round pick (57th overall), Oscar Mercado. The Cardinals chose Mercado, possibly with pressure to fill the need they have at SS with underachieving Pete Kozma filling the role now and uncertain Ryan Jackson in the minors. Mercado, who was ranked relatively high by Baseball America, was selected over other players who they even ranked higher (and from some analysts and scouts, they believe Baseball America ranked him too high.) Higher ranked players available at the time of Mercado being drafted included RHP Bobby Wahl, RHP Alex Balog and LHP Hunter Green.

Every report on Mercado states he provides basically no offense at all. The 2nd round seems to be awfully high to select a player solely on defense. He is stated as being able to possibly develop a “solid swing” that could lead to high-average, though minorleagueball.com states he COULD, with added strength, have a slash line up .280/.330/.400. But that is implied to be a ceiling for Mercado.

What else is troubling is the contention Mercado is highly overrated at defense. Scouting reports will comment on his skill at defense, including a recent  Post-Dispatch article which quotes from the scouting report at BA claiming him to be a “smooth, fluid defender whose glove will give him a chance to survive as a pro while his bat develops and strength catches up.” But his abilities has been questioned by other writers and scouts who have seen him in person, including Keith Law, who wrote:

Shortstop Oscar Mercado from Gaither HS in Tampa was similarly disappointing when I saw him over the weekend, playing a low-energy game on Saturday that featured two throwing errors to first on routine ground balls and a sloppy uppercut swing that helped him work his way out of hitters’ counts in two of his trips to the plate.

Mercado’s reputation in this draft is that he’s one of the only shortstops who is a lock to stay there, but he didn’t show the hands or the arm for that on Saturday and he certainly didn’t show the effort level, even in pregame warm-ups. He looked better last summer, but another scout who’s seen Mercado this spring said what I saw was representative of his showing so far this spring.” 

2nd Round picks do not always transfer to good major league players, in fact they rarely do. Looking at the Card’s 2nd round picks during the 2000s, with the exception of Dan Haren, who was an all-star pitcher, most of the others never made it up or just had a cup of coffee in the majors. But I fear the draft of a shortstop who is only optimistically projected to have an OPS barely over .700 due to absolutely no slugging, is a predetermined destiny to begin with. And when you add possible holes at defense, which is his strength, it may all signal to a regressive philosophy of drafting on needs and desperation in spite of talent.

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To Start Or To Relieve: Wade Davis

James Shields was the “big name” in the Shields/Wade Davis trade, but the success or failure of the trade hinges on Davis. Shields is the Kansas City Royals’ ace, but he’s a free agent after the 2014 season. Whether he pitches well or not, it’s likely he’s gone after two years. However, Davis is under team control until 2016. The Royals believe Shields will improve the team now. As for Davis, the Royals believe he will develop into a two or three starter and be a part of the starting rotation the next few seasons.

wadedavis2013springtraining

This spring, the Royals plan to give Davis every chance to make the starting rotation as their 3-4-5 starter. From 2009-2011, Davis started 64 games for the Tampa Bay Rays. But last year, Davis stayed in the bullpen, appearing in 54 games. During Spring Training, the Rays gave Davis a shot as their fifth starter, but he lost out to Jeff Niemann. And when Niemann went down with a broken ankle, the Rays promoted Alex Cobb to the starting rotation, leaving Davis in the bullpen.

So is Davis a better starter, or a better reliever? Let’s see what the stats say:

Year ERA G GS IP ER WHIP H/9 HR/9 BB/9 SO/9 SO/BB
2009 3.72 6 6 36.1 15 1.266 8.2 0.5 3.2 8.9 2.77
2010 4.07 29 29 168.0 76 1.351 8.8 1.3 3.3 6.1 1.82
2011 4.45 29 29 184.0 91 1.375 9.3 1.1 3.1 5.1 1.67
2012 2.43 54 0 70.1 19 1.095 6.1 0.6 3.7 11.1 3.00
4 Yrs 3.94 118 64 458.2 201 1.315 8.6 1.1 3.3 6.7 2.04
162 Game Avg. 3.94 44 24 171 75 1.315 8.6 1.1 3.3 6.7 2.04
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 2/20/2013.

Davis prefers a starting role, but his stats say he’s a better reliever. He had a much lower ERA, and over nine innings gave up fewer hits and struck out more batters. However, he did walk more batters over nine innings, which isn’t good if you’re a reliever. And with the Rays talented starting rotation last year, Davis stayed in the bullpen.

But how does Davis as a starter compare to the 2012 Royals starting rotation? Here’s the stats of the top five Royals starters:

Rk ERA G GS IP ER WHIP H/9 HR/9 BB/9 SO/9 SO/BB
1 Bruce Chen* 5.07 34 34 191.2 108 1.367 10.1 1.5 2.2 6.6 2.98
2 Luke Hochevar 5.73 32 32 185.1 118 1.419 9.8 1.3 3.0 7.0 2.36
3 Luis Mendoza 4.23 30 25 166.0 78 1.416 9.5 0.8 3.2 5.6 1.76
4 Jeremy Guthrie 3.16 14 14 91.0 32 1.132 8.3 0.9 1.9 5.5 2.95
5 Will Smith* 5.32 16 16 89.2 53 1.606 11.1 1.2 3.3 5.9 1.79
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 2/20/2013.

If you take Davis’ worst year, 2011, he had a better ERA than the Royals rotation, save Jeremy Guthrie and Luis Mendoza. The Royals rotation had more SO/9 than the 2011 Davis and except for Mendoza and Will Smith, the Royals rotation had a better BB/9 ratio than the 2011 Davis. If Davis was in the Royals starting rotation last year, he would likely be the number three starter behind Guthrie and Mendoza.

So what does this mean? Well, Davis is a good middle of the rotation starter, but is a better reliever. If Bruce Chen and Mendoza regress, Luke Hochevar pitches like Luke Hochevar and Davis pitches like he did in 2010, he’ll be in the starting rotation. But if Chen, Mendoza or Hochevar have a great Spring Training, Davis might end up in the bullpen.

But that’s not likely, despite what happens this spring. The Royals will give Davis every opportunity to make the starting rotation, just to show the Shields/Davis trade wasn’t a bust like some Royals fans and pundits think it is. If Shields and Davis are starters, the trade doesn’t look bad. The team got two quality starters to improve their rotation. But if Shields is a starter and Davis is a reliever, then the trade looks like the Royals got an ace for only two years and another bullpen arm in an already strong bullpen. Not bad, but not that good either.

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