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How to be an Educated All Star Voter and a Loyal Hometown Fan (Part 3)

AllStarGame

 

I previously covered first and second base in part one of the series, and short and third base in part two. Here is part three.

 

CATCHER

Royals: Salvador Perez .293/.316/.401. WAR: 1.1

Perez’s inability to take walks has been discussed quite a bit. His decent batting average keeps him a very respectable player, but if he could draw more walks, he would be in the discussion as one of the better catchers in the game.

AL Leader: Joe Mauer .330/.413/.504. WAR: 3.4

Mauer is a really good player who is having a really, really good year. Even though he is benefitting from a high BABIP, he is having a very good year offensively, along with having a good year defensively; which comes after last year where he fared poorly defensively. Catcher voting appears similar to the situation at third base, where there just happens to be an exceptional player in the competition at the position, crushing everyone else statistically and with votes. Besides Matt Weiters, who is almost a million votes behind him, the next closest player in votes is two million votes behind Mauer.

If you vote for Perez? PRETTY UNNACCEPTABLE BASED ON THE YEAR MAUER IS HAVING. He is just that good so far. I do think though, Perez will be in the All Star game someday. He is just an adjustment or two away from being that good. And maybe Brett can help him with that adjustment.

Cardinals: Yadier Molina .353/.397/.502. WAR: 3.3

Molina is neck and neck with Mauer (and Posey of course) as best catcher in baseball. He has very similar numbers to Mauer offensively and defensively. It would be interesting seeing those two players battling it out in the same league.

Molina is both a fan favorite and just a great player. Joe Buck says he is the most irreplaceable player on any team in either league (though I’m not sure if that’s true or how you necessarily evaluate that). Molina has gone from a free swinging, slap-hitter to a player who draws many walks and occasionally crushes the ball. He is known now possibly more for his hitting than his defense and is the heart of the Cardinals.

NL Leader: Molina by 90 votes (they each have over 5 million cast for them) over Buster Posey

Posey .307/.383/.488. WAR: 2.7.

Molina is having a better year than Posey. The debate between the two of them really gets to the core of how you vote for the All Star Game. Do you just use this year’s states? Do you take their past in consideration at all? Do you go back to last year to see more? Last year Posey had a slightly better year and led Molina in WAR. Same for 2010, his rookie year (’11 he was out most of the year due to the collision at home).

If you vote for Molina? VERY VERY ACCEPTABLE. Molina deserves it this year. His numbers are better, and even if Giant fans want to argue that it may be a different situation by the end of the year, as of now, Molina deserves the support from the home-town voters along with other educated voters.

OUTFIELD

Royals:

Alex Gordon .288/.345/.413 WAR: 1.7

Lorenzo Cain .262/.325/.380 WAR: 1.4

Jeff Francoeur .212/.254/.330 WAR: -0.7

Gordon has a great on base pct, but his slugging is low (though, there’s a reason for that, according to Dayton Moore). But on inspection, his slugging pretty much matches up with previous years. He’s always a reliable fielder and great on the bases. Gordon is far from a great player, but in certain ways, is one of the best all-around players we have in the game.

Cain is better than I thought. I haven’t looked at his slash in quite a while, but I fell into the conventional wisdom that he never took walks. Maybe that monster swing he has leads to the idea that he is a free-swinging hacker. But that impressive slash with great fielding metrics, and Cain is pretty much on par with Gordon this year.

Frenchy is just awful. Possibly the worst starter in baseball. His on base is worse than most bad hitter’s batting average. He is respected slightly more than he should be because of his cannon of a throwing arm. He is a right fielder who throws like a pitcher. Unfortunately, he hits like one too.

AL Leaders:

Adam Jones .290/.322/.483 WAR: 1.9

Mike Trout .306/.384/.534 WAR: 4.1

Nick Markakis .289/.341/.414 WAR: 0.7

Markakis third in voting is just pitiful. Have offensive numbers just become that weak? Trout is a beast, like always. I didn’t realize he was so on pace to repeat his stats from last year, but he is. Easy MVP candidate. Jones is overrated, but having him up there is not nearly as sinful as Markakis.

If you vote for Gordon? ACCEPTABLE

If you vote for Cain? ACCEPTABLE

If you vote for Francoeur? UNACCEPTABLE

Gordon and Cain, two players better than the traditional stats will indicate, versus some weak competition and poor voting, gives them a chance. Heck they both deserve it more than Markakis. Francoeur has no business even close to the All Star Game. Not even over Markakis.

Cardinals:

Matt Holliday .268/.350/.439 WAR: 1.4

Jon Jay .247/.326/.335 WAR: -0.2

Carlos Beltran .305/.345/.495 WAR: 1.2

 

Because of being a defensive liability, Beltran is pretty overrated. I mean if you just look at his offensive numbers you assume he’s a superstar. But that defense really pulls him down.

Jay is having a very bad year. I don’t think this is who he is as a player, but so far this year there is something wrong. Last year I would have argued he was underrated. This year, overrated.

Holliday needs to get his slugging up a little more. Hit some more gappers for doubles. He’s having a mildly disappointing year so far, but would still feel comfortable if I was managing the All Star Game and he was my starting left fielder.

NL Leaders

Beltran

Justin Upton .240/.350/.454 WAR: 1.4

Bryce Harper .287/.386/.587 WAR: 1.7

Upton’s hot start has given him the reputation that helped him get votes. Harper’s name alone got him votes. Harper probably has the best slash of the 3. Upton hardly gets any extra base hits. If these three start, I would love to see a study (or maybe do the study myself) on if this is the weakest statistical outfield to start the All Star Game.

If you vote for Beltran? ACCEPTABLE

If you vote for Jay? UNACCEPTABLE

If you vote for Holliday? MILDLY ACCEPTABLE

Bernie Micklasz wrote a column for the Post-Dispatch surmising if this is the beginning of the decline for Holliday. He points out the almost 100 point drop in his slugging pct from his career slugging. He also points to his very weak numbers against left handed pitchers.

He also criticizes his amount of double plays he has grounded into. Holliday’s 20 double plays leads the majors. Though Micklasz does forgive him for the myth he is a bad “clutch” hitter, calling “clutch” a stupid concept. I would agree with that, but then find it confusing as to why he would criticize Holliday for grounding into double plays if he is going to exonerate his clutch performance. How you hit with runners at second and third is a myth but how you hit with a runner at first is to be evaluated?

Beltran will start, and if people want to criticize looking at defense at all in terms of All Star voting, they would probably have a point. His offense definitely make him worthy.

Don’t vote for Jay. Cargo of the Rockies deserves to start. He’s too good of a player not to. Transfer your vote for Jay to him. He’s much better than any of the current vote leaders

 

Next up: Pitching and warp-up

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Understanding McClellan, reliever only

Last year the St Louis Cardinals entered spring training with Kyle McClellan‘s role unsettled.  He wanted to be a starter but had spent his first years working high-leverage innings late in games.  With the loss of Adam Wainwright to Tommy John surgery, McClellan was thrust full-time into the rotation.

This year the Cardinals enter spring training with McClellan’s role settled, but his presence in the bullpen uncertain.  Now faced with the possible  loss of Chris Carpenter for at least a few starts,  McClellan, who has 17 major league starts to his name  . . . never came up as a potential replacement.  Lance Lynn is on track to fill in, as needed, for Carpenter.

What – what?  Why did that happen?

McClellan has major league experience out of the rotation, something Lynn doesn’t yet possess.  By all outward appearances Kyle was pretty good before he hurt his hip.  McClellan posted a 6-2 record in his starts prior to May 30, spent 15 days on the DL, then posted a 1-4 record prior to being sent back to the bullpen for the remainder of the season.

Doesn’t seem like enough to disqualify him from this year’s discussion.  If his hip is sound he should be able to return to his pre-injury form.  So why was he left out?  Let’s look a little deeper.

From his first start until the injury, opponents hit .250/.307/.404 against him with a .257 average on balls in play.  After he returned from the hip injury, opponents hit .272/.322/.426 against him with a .285 BABIP in games he started.  That’s not far off from what he was allowing prior to the injury; worse, but consistent.  As a reliever, he gave up a .264/.341/.496 line and a .269 BABIP.  His numbers got worse as the season progressed regardless of how he was employed.

Here’s what I found interesting.  According to Fangraphs, during his hot period as a starter he was worth exactly 0.1 WAR. In May, his last full month as a starter, he was worth -0.1 WAR.  Yes, WAR uses FIP to evaluate pitchers, FIP heavily penalizes home runs, and McClellan gave up a lot of those last season (8 of his 21 surrendered in those two months).  Nevertheless, isn’t it interesting he was exactly replacement level as a starter the first two months of 2011*?

Maybe the reason St Louis decided to go with Lynn, despite a belief he is more valuable long-term out of the bullpen, is his higher ceiling.  Don’t forget Lynn was the Cardinals minor-league pitcher of the year in 2009 as a starter.  McClellan’s spectacularly average performance while starting last season makes the selection of Lynn to be this year’s spot starter more understandable.

*for the record, in June and July he posted a 0.0 WAR.

Mike Metzger is a freelance writer based out of San Diego.  He also blogs about the Padres.  Follow him on Twitter.

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Freese Alert

See what I did with that title there? A pun, a play on words! I am writing from the beautiful land of 64 degree Austin, TX, but know many Cardinals fans are dealing with wintry precipitation goodness. Last week, we had a warm fuzzy remembrance of the Wizard, and took a look at the Cardinals shortstop position heading into the 2012 season. This week, I figured we could move one spot over in the infield and look at third base. Be prepared that you are about to be put on “Freese Alert”!

Photo Courtesy Of Erika Lynn

David Freese must have had the off-season of a lifetime, following his 2011 postseason heroics. His story of hometown hero leading his team to a World Series championship has been well documented to this point. More than a hometown hero, Freese exemplified the humility and character that Cardinal Nation loves following his postseasons successes.

With yesterday being Valentine’s Day, my twitter timeline was filled of thoughts of fondness towards Freese from female Cardinals fans. A lot of them think he is pretty easy on the eyes and make their opinion known in the cybersphere! So for many reasons, Cardinal Nation is pulling for Freese to have a great 2012 season on the heels of the 2011 playoffs. Everything is wine and roses right now, with all of the excitement of spring training just around the corner. As much as I do not want to be the guy that rains on that parade, I do want to bring to the forefront areas of concern for the Cardinals at the hot corner this season. You are officially on Freese Alert!

For the 2011 season, Freese hit seven home runs and batted .315 in 213 at-bats. The natural tendency is to multiply those numbers by three and project what kind of production we could see from him in a full season. The problem is he has yet to play a full season since coming to the Cardinals. From 2009-2011, Freese has a total of 667 plate appearances.

Digging even deeper into the numbers provides some telling statistics. Last season, Freese had a .357 babip (batting average on balls-in-play). This is extremely higher than league average. Also troubling is percentage of ground balls to fly balls. Of balls-in-play off the bat of Freese last year, 52% were hit on the ground and only 23% were fly balls. Freese does not have good speed to turn many of those ground balls into base hits, and the best power hitters in the league will have a 35-45% fly ball ratio. Freese was aided by the fact that 17% of the fly balls he hit left the yard. Obviously, he hit the ball well enough to leave the park, but the point I am making was that 17% was well above career norms for Freese. The prior two seasons, his home runs/fly ball ratio was 8 and 9%. Historically, league average always falls to 10% hr/fly ball.

So if (and that is a big if), Freese gets 600 at-bats in 2012, we know that he usually strikes out 20% of the time. That leaves 480 ABs where the ball is put in play. Of those, if he bumps up his fb% to 30 from 23, he will hit 144 fly balls. If hr/fb ratio falls back in line with his 09-10 totals and league averages (10%), we could reasonably expect 14 home runs from Freese over a full season.

My goal is not to bore you with stats, but hopefully provide a balanced perspective on what we saw last season. If healthy, Freese could hit 20 home runs this season. He also could get 400 ABs and hit 5 home runs with a .270 average.

Certainly not here to rain on anyone’s start of spring training parade, but I do feel the need to raise an issue of concern at the hot corner for the Cardinals this season.

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Will Jake Westbrook Slide

The St. Louis Cardinals got Jake Westbrook at the 2010 trade deadline, and he performed well enough down the stretch to earn a 2-year contract with a mutual option on a third year.  Last season he did not perform like the 2010 stretch Westbrook, though to be fair he did pitch to his career averages.  What do we want to to see from Jake in 2012?  More 2010 Westbrook, and less 2011 Westbrook, of course.  How does he get there?

Westbrook historically allows a lot of base runners.  Last year he allowed at least a runner per inning in his victories, and in his no-decisions and losses it was closer to 2 runners per inning.  If Jake was not on his game it was obvious early; he only threw 43 innings in his 9 losses, and allowed almost as many hits, walks, and HR as he did in the 75 innings he threw during his 12 victories.  Opposing hitters hammered him to the tune of a .368 BABIP in games he lost; in his wins, his BABIP was 100 points lower.

OK, if he pitches to less contact he’ll be more successful in 2012, right?  It’s not that simple.  In his 2011 losses, his K/9 was actually higher than in his wins (5.2 to 4.7), and in his no-decisions it was even higher.  The year before they were virtually identical (5.3 to 5.5), although again his K/9 in no-decisions was higher.  Striking out more hitters so there are fewer balls in play does not seem to be a key to Westbrook’s success.

So what can he change in order to return closer to his 2010 Cardinal form?  Take a look at his Fangraphs page, specifically the pitch type section, for a possible answer.  After the trade to St Louis Westbrook essentially ditched his cutter.  He threw a fastball more frequently, threw his slider marginally more frequently, and threw his change-up marginally less frequently than he had while with Cleveland earlier in the year.  In 2011, he threw his fastball slightly less frequently and his change-up with the same frequency as he had the second half of 2010.  He made two major changes:  he threw fewer sliders than in any year since 2007, and he threw more cutters than in any season ever.*

One has to wonder why the drastic change.  Arm trouble?  Inability to get a feel for the pitch that persisted most of the season?  A lack of feel would make sense, because his slider got hammered (based on Fangraphs linear weights) throughout 2011 and no sane pitcher would consistently throw a pitch they knew could cause whiplash while watching it leave the home plate area.

It would seem the key to Westbrook’s success is his slider.  It has been a crucial pitch for him throughout his career and had served him well up to last season.  As we prepare for pitchers and catchers to report to Spring Training 2012, we need to watch Westbrook’s progress with his slider.  If he has a feel for it, look for 2010-type performances this season, with 2011 game play a distant (and hopefully rapidly fading) memory.  If he can’t find it again, maybe we can get Roy Oswalt back on the phone.

*Some of the change in fastball/cutter percentage may be due to refinement in the pitch f/x systems ability to detect the difference, however the change in how often he threw a slider cannot be explained away by a measurement software change.

Mike Metzger is a baseball writer based out of San Diego.  He also blogs about the PadresFollow him on Twitter.

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Yadier Molina’s Prowess

The Cardinals have plenty of heroes to thank for their late charge into playoff contention. Albert Pujols‘ .388/.463/.626 slash line since August 11th. Jamie Garcia’s dominance since August 25th. And so on. One of the unsung heroes of this season has been Yadier Molina. Molina has had a down year defensively but has made up for it with a career year at the plate.

During Thursday’s game Molina knocked in his 62nd and 63rd runs on the year, the latter setting a new personal best for RBI in a season. Since RBI are more a measure of how well the hitters ahead of you in the order get themselves into scoring position, let’s also look at his OPS+. Molina has posted a 121 OPS+ this season, his best by 21 points, and fourth on the club among those with 450+ PA, behind the usual subjects (Lance Berkman (169), Pujols (156), Matt Holliday (154)). A big part of that has been newfound power – his 13 HR this season is almost double his previous high (7, in 2008).

His batting average is also up, sitting right at .300 going into yesterday. That is a bounce-back from the .263 he posted in 2010, and in line with the two seasons before that (.293 and .300, respectively, for 2009/2008). Sometimes when a player’s batting average ticks up we see a corresponding increase in Batting Average on Balls In Play, indicating the player is having a little better luck than other hitters. Not so with Molina – his BABIP in 2011 is .307. Yes that is the second highest he’s ever posted, but not out of line with his last 5 seasons, where it hovered between .281 and .310.

So what has changed? Well, his ground ball rate is down and his fly ball rate is up as compared to his two previous seasons. He is getting more loft on the ball, meaning he is driving the ball better. Both rates are right where they were in 2007, his previous best season. It appears he has re-discovered what he did well at the plate 4 years ago, with excellent results.

Molina’s year also puts him on the short list of current catchers who can hit. His wRC+ 0f 117 is almost identical to Miguel Montero‘s (119), the cleanup hitter for the pending NL West champion Arizona Diamondbacks. His fWAR of 3.7 places him in a virtual dead heat with Carlos Santana of Minnesota (3.7), Brian McCann (3.8), and Matt Weiters of Baltimore (4.0), three guys who came into the league with well-deserved reputations for superior offense.

It’s been a long time since St Louis had a catcher who put up this kind of offensive season. Since 1901, only 6 Cardinals have played 130 games or more at catcher and posted an OPS+ of 110 0r better. Molina is the first to do it since Darrell Porter in 1983. The other 4 names are a who’s who of great Cardinal Catchers: Ted Simmons, who did it six times; Tim McCarver, Bob O’Farrell, and Frank Snyder.

A lineup featuring Berkman, Pujols, and Holliday is imposing enough. Having a threat from behind the plate is a welcome luxury. Yadier Molina is having a fantastic year with the stick. We would be remiss if we did not acknowledge it.

Mike Metzger is a life-long Cardinals fan still with his fingers crossed in San Diego. He also blogs about the Padres. Follow him on Twitter.

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Albert Pujols Post Broken Arm

Albert Pujols hit a 2-run home run in the first inning Thursday, jump-starting the Cardinals to a 6-2 win. Jake Westbrook threw eight innings en route to his 8th win of the year.

Pujols’ recovery from a broken forearm suffered 19 June has been nothing short of remarkable. Mere mortals take 6 weeks to heal, and another 2-to-3 to regain enough strength in their atrophied muscles to swing a bat with their former authority. The Cardinals first baseman missed 15 games total. He’s also hitting the ball out regularly again; through last night’s game, he was homering once every 10.75 at bats, an improvement of almost 6 at bats from his 16.47 pace through the first 73 games (for the record, his career rate is 1 HR for every 14.12 AB). So he’s back and better than ever, right?

Yes and no. As mentioned above, he’s driving the ball over the wall more. Even with the power surge, though, Pujols’ slash line of .233/.277/.535 since returning is worse than his .279/.355/.500 line before the injury. His drop in batting average can largely be attributed to worse luck on balls in play. His BABIP was .253 up to the injury, and .182 since. His BABIP was due to improve – it was well below his career mark of .311 already in 2011 – even before his injury. It’s still likely to bounce back, and his average should respond.

Although I’m looking at a small sample size, his OBP is off. This appears due to both the low BABIP discussed above, and because he’s walking less. Pujols has walked 4 times in 47 PA since returning, or about once every 15 appearances. Before the injury his rate was once every 8 (that number includes the 4 intentional walks he’s gotten this year). It seems when the Cardinals struggle Pujols presses at the plate (or perhaps Pujols pressing at the plate causes the Cardinals to struggle). Low walk rates can indicate a player who’s trying to do too much.

Why would he be less patient? This year’s lineup is much deeper than that of last year when he walked about once every 7 plate appearances, meaning he doesn’t have to carry the team like he did in years past. Is it a desire to prove he’s 100% healthy in his contract year? Could it be just coincidence? Bernie Miklasz pointed out the Cardinals team OBP has dropped significantly from their .357 April/May to .309 since 1 June, so AP’s low OBP might just be indicative of a change in approach by all the Cardinal hitters.

The Cardinals are a much more dangerous club with Albert in the lineup. He has been productive since returning, which has quelled all discussion about him coming back too early, but he still is not the hitter he was his first 10 years in the league. He needs to maintain his patience at the plate, and continue to hit the ball hard. His next hot streak is just around the corner. Hopefully he turns that corner soon.

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Kansas City Fantasy Report Week 5

Swept by the Indians and a sweep of the struggling Twins leave the Royals at 15-13 and 4.5 behind the red hot Indians.

This week, the Royals continue their home stand with Baltimore and Oakland coming to town each for three. Kansas City has a much more favorable offensive schedule, finally. The O’s will throw Bergeson, Arrieta and Timlin and the A’s will send Gonzalez (L), McCarthy, and Ross.

Photo Courtesy of Minda Haas

Injury Front:

Jarrod Dyson had worked his way into some playing time but left Sunday’s game against the Twins with a sprained ankle. It’s uncertain how much time the speedster will miss, but an injured ankle will hamper his greatest strength, running. Dyson will be interesting to watch once he gets healthy as he has 7 stolen bases in 7 attempts.

Playing Time:

Mike Aviles’ playing time and hitting is still streaky. Wilson Betemit is still the guy to own at third as he continues to hit. Look to deal him now as he will not be able to sustain this pace and Mike Moustakas is a month away.

HOT:

Former Mizzou standout Aaron Crow was elected pitcher of the month by the Kansas City media for April. He went 2-0 and did not surrender a run in 13 2/3 innings while striking out 14. He was drafted as a starter and had 29 starts in the minors last year displaying good K rates (7.9) but some trouble with control (3.6 BB/9). He has been lucky with a low BABIP (.219) and a 100% LOB%. Still, his fastball is consistently 95 and his slider is an effective pitch as well. In a holds league he’s worth owning and in a keeper league he’d be worth stashing away as he might work into a starting role or closing role in the near future.

NOT:

Owning a Royals’ starter is not recommended at this time. Francis, Chen, and Hochevar have all shown flashes of being decent matchup starters. However, their inconsistency can play havoc on your team.

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Kansas City Fantasy Report Week 3

Four more wins this week for the Royals as they and the Cleveland Indians continue to surprise atop the AL Central.

The Indians come into town for four and an early divisional battle for first place. The Royals will then head south to Texas. Once again they face a tough schedule drawing the solid pitching of Cleveland in Carrasco, Talbot, Masterson, and Tomlin. Together they have thrown eight straight quality starts. They will then get Holland, Ogando, and Wilson for the Rangers who have thrown five quality starts in their last six outings.

Injury Front:

Bruce Chen hurt his back this week but should not miss his next scheduled start. He’s been solid in 3 starts with a 2.37 ERA. Not a bad fill-in if you are desperate in deeper leagues. Robinson Tejeda hit the DL this week with right shoulder inflammation. The team does not have a clear-cut set-up man and will play it by matchups.

Playing Time:

Jeremy Jeffress did pick up a spec save this week, which may be indicative of who would be next in line given a Soria injury or trade. Wilson Betemit still has seen playing time with his hot bat, however, Mike Aviles is still getting his chances and raked in 8 RBI this week.

HOT:

Luke Hochevar has posted back-to-back quality starts. He’s been prone to the long ball giving up 6 jacks. He’s also been very lucky sporting a .203 BABIP. He has displayed a good K/BB rate at 16/4 and his WHIP is 1.01. He shut down the Mariners this week only allowing one hit through seven innings. At this point, he’s a decent spot starter if the match-up is right. Remember, he once was the top overall pick.

Wilson Betemit’s bat remains hot as he slugged .824 over the last week with a 1.424 OPS. It’s hard to know what Ned Yost will do from game to game so watch your daily lineups closely and expect Betemit to keep getting looks as long as he is hot. Both he and Aviles are just keeping the spot warm for Mike Moustakas until June 1st.

NOT:

Kyle Davies should not be owned in any league. He’s surrendered 23 hits in 14 innings as opponents are hitting .383 off him. If the Royals continue to contend, Davies will have to be dismissed in favor of Dan Duffy who is polished and ready at AAA Omaha.

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Two Big Bats

Two big bats landed in the NL central this December. One, Lance Berkman, returns to the division and will don a once rival St. Louis Cardinal’s jersey. The other, Carlos Pena, makes his first appearance in the National League and joins a different Cardinal rival, the Chicago Cubs.

Each of the players received more money by accepting one-year deals with their respective clubs. Pena signed for 1 year at $10M and Berkman signed on for 1 year at $8M. With the Cards-Cubs rivalry and the similarity in the contracts let’s take a look at each addition and see the value they may bring to their teams as they battle for the same division crown.

Carlos Pena, 32, once a top ten draft pick, struggled to find his way early in his career. With stops in Texas, Detroit, Boston, and other places, Pena finally made his mark in Tampa with the Rays. In 2007, at age 29, Pena had his career year belting 46 home runs and driving in 121, all while batting .282. From 2007-2009 Pena was one of the more valuable first basemen in the league. Last year, Pena plummeted in production squeaking out a mere .196 AVG. His power was still evident in his 28 home runs, but even with that his ISO (SLG-AVG) dipped from .310 down to .211. Pena did suffer from a little more bad luck on balls hit into play (.222 BABIP) and from hitting more ground balls in general (1.11 GB/FB). Some of that should rebound this next season as he moves to a more hitter-friendly field- according to StatCorner, Tropicana Field depresses HR production by 11 percent compared to a neutral park, while Wrigley increases it by 19 percent. Offensively, Pena should be able to rebound. While his peak performance days are most likely behind him, he could near his career line .241/.351/.490.

Lance Berkman, enjoyed a consistent career as a Houston Astro. Since 1999, Houston’s mainstay, produced at a clip of .296/.409/.545. From 2000 to 2009, he hit 20+ home runs while playing both the outfield and first base. As a Cardinal, Berkman will be patrolling the outfield, either left or right, but also has some experience in center. However, he has not played outfield since 2007. The good news is that Cardinal’s outfielders face fewer fly balls than most teams as they are fueled by a ground ball pitching staff. In any regard, the front office still sees enough left in the 34 year-old’s tank to march him out to the outfield for 2011.

Like Pena, Berkman is coming off a down season. His .248/14/58 line was his career worst since becoming a regular. Some of that production decline came because of Berkman missing the first two weeks of the season after knee surgery; some of it also comes from the switch hitter’s inability to hit verses lefty pitching. From 2008 to 2010, his average while batting right against lefty pitching has slid from .277, to .230, to. 171. As a switch hitter, Berkman will probably face lefties less as LaRussa will find ways to move his bat down in the order against a left-handed starter or pinch hit for him against a left handed pitcher late. Along, with the natural production decline that comes with age and eliminating some left-handed pitching match-ups, Berkman should be able to rest some where just shy of his 2009 line of .274, .399, .509.

When one compares the two, Pena fills a big hole for the Cubs at first base and carries more offensive weight on his shoulders, as Chicago will be counting on his production to supplant Derrek Lee. Pena still has good plate discipline and is excellent at taking the walk. His defense at first is not as good as the three-time gold-glove winner Lee but Pena did garner a gold glove of his own in 2008. At $2M more per year, with the greater need the Cubs had, the difference in salary might be a bit more justifiable for the Cubs.

At $2M less a year and a track record that has screamed nothing but consistent production, the Cardinals have to be happy with what they have received in Berkman. As the third big bat in the line-up (depending on what Rasmus can produce) he should be able to “earn” what the Cardinals will pay him.

With the Cubs needs, and what they were willing to pay, one wonders why they did not make a run at Berkman. Paul Konerko, Adam Dunn, or even an attempt to bring back D. Lee would have also made some sense. However, when you run down the list of sizeable long term contracts in Chicago (Soriano, Zambrano, Ramirez), the long-term deal may have been exactly what the team was looking to stay away from, especially in a declining player. Perhaps the organization will slide Ramirez over to first as the break in prospect Josh Vitters at the hot corner in 2012.

Obviously, the proverbial proof will be in the pudding. If both aging sluggers remain healthy and produce they will no doubt have an impact on the division race and in perhaps a big at-bat or two in the timeless Cards/Cubs rivalry.

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2010 Year In Review: Cardinals Shortstop

Shortstop has been one of the most talked-about positions all year, during the season and off-season. Only three players spent time at shortstop in 2010, but Brendan Ryan was the obvious starter at short for the majority of the summer.

Felipe Lopez and Tyler Greene also contributed throughout the season, but both played less than 25 games at shortstop compared to Ryan’s 139. One thing they call had in common though was a poor season at the plate. All three batted lower than .231 and put together the worst offensive SS group of any team in the National League.

(Combined stats of the three players and NL ranks)

AVG .223 16th
OBP .289 16th
SLG .300 16th
H 121 16th
R 64 13th
2B 22 16th
HR 4 14th
RBI 46 16th
BABIP .255 16th
ISO .077 14th
OBA .262 16th
RC 41.6 16th

Those numbers above may very well be why John Mozeliak and the rest of the Front Office crew is looking for middle infield help this winter. Stephen Drew, Miguel Cabrera, Juan Uribe, Edgar Renteria, and Orlando Cabrera are among shortstops drawing interest from the Cardinals, and all three have had great success at the plate throughout their careers. Drew has averaged 70 RBI per season in five years, Tejada is an 8-time MVP candidate, Uribe was ranked second in the MLB with 24 home runs in ’10, Renteria hit .290 as a Cardinal, and Cabrera hit .288 from 2007-2009 and has averaged 18 stolen bases per year in his career.

Although all of those options would provide very needed help on the offensive side, none can account for Brendan Ryan’s glove. Ryan has proved to be one of the best defensive shortstops in the Majors. In the 2010 season, he ranked fifth in the MLB in defensive WAR, first in assists, fifth in putouts, first in total zone runs, and second in range factor. There were some who thought Brendan Ryan should have won a Gold Glove, something which none of the five mentioned above can say.

Ryan has vowed to make strides at the plate, and if he does, he could very well become one of the best shortstops in the National League. Which is why he will likely be the starter in 2011. He’s proved that he can hit in the big leagues. If you combine his 2007 and 2009 numbers, he hit .291 with a .345 OBP in 570 AB.

Even if his struggles with the bat continue, his glove is too good to part ways with. Management’s best bet is to improve the offense at second base, maybe third base, and stick with Ryan at SS. If his bat doesn’t come around, his defense will still be there, and he will always be a very cheap asset to the St. Louis Cardinals. Now, and in the future.

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