Tag Archive | "Ronny Cedeno"

Cardinals Position of Interest: Organizational Shortstop

The most talked about issue for the St. Louis Cardinals is what is going on at shortstop. The loss of Rafael Furcal to elbow surgery has hastened the future of the lone position on the organization’s map where there is no ideal succession plan in place. It was an issue that was on thin ice all winter, and could be a focus throughout the summer and into next winter as well. The options at shortstop include more questions than answers, and addressing the issue start both at the bottom of the organization all the way to the top of it.

Ryan_Jackson

Majors: The injury to Furcal set everything in a different direction than hoped for. While there was always a cautious optimism regarding his status, if not a given assumption that it would be a multiple man job this season. The worst came to be with Furcal never even making it to a spring lineup, and simultaneously activating every backup scenario possible at once for a replacement.

The initial answer to the question will be Pete Kozma, incumbent replacement for Furcal when the injury ended his season last fall. Kozma has been making a statement for his fitness for the spot, hitting .419, through 10 games, but due to his inconsistent past since being made the team’s first round pick in 2007, questions will continue to surround his performance. Defense will continue to be a work in progress for him, but the idea is that his only job is to keep the position stable for the time being.

Behind him, is a mixture of utility men in Ronny Cedeno and Ryan Jackson. Cedeno was brought in to be a support option in case Furcal wasn’t ready, and he has remained in that capacity behind Kozma. He has struggled in the spring, which has gone very noticed by GM John Mozeliak. Despite having a partially guaranteed Major League contract, prolonged struggles could make him this season’s J.C. Romero. Jackson was the first promotion to fill in for Furcal last year, due to his similar range to Furcal in the field, but his greatest advantage with the glove has been offset severely by his limitations at the plate.

High Minors: The minor league ranks have begun to blend with the Major Leagues as of late. Jackson could very well be the odd man out in the chase for a spot in St. Louis, and would be left to continue on in Memphis. He’s got the best glove of any shortstop in the system, but has shown no bat at all in brief stint last season (.118 in 18 at-bats) or this spring (.143 through 10 games). But he did manage to hit over .270 for three seasons while he rose from the Single to Triple A levels, so there’s some medium for him to improve upon…if he regains the chance to do so, due to a new teammate this year.

Greg Garcia is looming as perhaps the best current fit for the long-term picture up the middle. He played the entire season at Double-A Springfield, and hit .284 with 20 doubles and 10 home runs, while managing to have an impressive 80 walks vs. 83 strikeouts. He’ll be 23 this season, and will be the starter in Memphis this season. Garcia’s future is probably more of a Descalso (who he profiles quite similarly to thus far in the minors), but an offensive profile of this sort plays much better at shortstop than at second base. He has shown a steady improvement throughout the system, and is perhaps the lone prospect with a chance to actually fill into more potential as he matures.

Cardinals hitting coach John Mabry stated in February at the Cardinals Winter Warm Up that Garcia would see plenty of opportunities to show what he could do this spring, due to the World Baseball Classic’s impact on the spring roster, but the loss of Furcal has now made auditioning Kozma the top priority, and Garcia’s chances thus far have been less than originally anticipated.

The lone issue at hand is how Jackson fits into the picture now, especially with Kolten Wong being the everyday second baseman at Memphis for the time being. Garcia’s improved stock, combined with Kozma’s increased role and the presence of Cedeno, have thrown his role into question.

At Springfield, Jake Lemmerman, who was the return from the Dodgers for Skip Schumaker this winter, could see some opportunity. The 23-year-old hit has hit .285 as a minor leaguer, but has struggled since reaching Double-A, hitting only .233 in 137 games.

Low Minors: There’s no true emerging option at any of the lower levels of the Cardinal system. Many of players that take on shortstop do it in a moonlight capacity, while making most of their impact at second base. Some could find their future at shortstop due to organizational need, but the clearest sign of the team’s need to draft well up the middle is here. The only player that made a majority living at the position was Matt Williams, who played 126 games as short for the Class-A Quad Cities River Bandits.

Prognosis: If there is any position that the team could have its hand forced in, either via trade or draft, it is at shortstop. There is 0% chance that Furcal will retained after the season, so the page has been turned in real time for the Cardinals. While there are bodies to fill the space now, the answer over the long-term simply is not there, nor is it on the horizon. Even if Kozma, Jackson or Garcia can become an adequate major leaguer, the need to restock the organization’s depth at the spot is well past due. For a team that is full of succession plans, the lack of one at short has hit a dangerous level and isn’t going to be a quick fix.

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St. Louis Cardinals could win with Pete Kozma, Oscar Taveras in lineup

Spring training is generally the time of the year to focus on prospects that might have a shot to help the club in the future, and the St. Louis Cardinals might have already found two position players who can step into the regular lineup and fill important needs.

PeteKozma

And those players are shortstop Pete Kozma and outfielder Oscar Taveras.

Kozma  isn’t necessarily a prospect anymore after his 27-game stint with the Cardinals last September, but the team has thus far been reluctant to place much confidence in the 24-year-old shortstop.

However, Kozma hit .333 after he was called up to the big club last season, and he is hitting even better, .353, through the first week of spring training while also playing solid defense, especially compared to the other shortstop in camp, Ronny Cedeno, who had two awful throwing errors in Saturday’s 6-2 loss to the Washington Nationals.

The Cardinals also might desperately need Kozma once the season starts because of Rafael Furcal’s ongoing arm problems.

Furcal was hoping to return to game action Saturday, but his throwing arm still hasn’t recovered from a ligament tear he suffered Aug. 30 and bone spurs that also cause him discomfort. Right now there is no timetable for his return and nobody is willing to speculate about whether or not he’ll be ready for Opening Day.

When teams shuffle around that question, it usually means the player is pretty unlikely to start the season on the field instead of the disabled list, and that makes Kozma’s presence all the more important.

It is puzzling why the Cardinals don’t want to commit to Kozma. The team tried to find an outside option at the position during the offseason, but no team was willing to make a satisfactory deal that didn’t pilfer the Cardinals loaded young pitching staff.

So as the situation stands now, the Cardinals might be forced to give Kozma a real shot at the everyday job.

Now that might cause panic in the hearts of some Cardinals fans who remember Kozma as a high draft pick who produced next to nothing in the minor leagues. In fact, he was so bad the Cardinals considered releasing him four times while he was in the minors.

But considering the Cardinals have won with players such as Brendan Ryan and Skip Schumaker up the middle, they certainly have enough talent (and arguably better pitching) to field a winning team with Kozma at shortstop, and Daniel Descalso or Matt Carpenter at second base.

The outfield is a bit of a different story, however.

Taveras has been hitting the tar out of the ball so far in spring training, batting .318 with a grand slam and six RBIs. But the Cardinals don’t have nearly the same need for a player to come along and become a regular starter.

Matt Holliday, Jon Jay and Carlos Beltran make up a very solid outfield lineup, but there could be other ways to make Taveras productive without stunting the 20-year-old’s growth by stashing him on the bench.

All three of those outfielders will likely need consistent rest throughout the season to stay fresh, so Taveras could easily slide in as an excellent fourth outfielder. Plus, the Cardinals can play him in the field and use Beltran as the designated hitter during interleague games, which occur more often this year than in the past.

In any case, the Cardinals have accomplished one of the biggest goals of spring training. They have found young players who can potentially fill important roles on the team this year.

Now the team just has to follow through and actually use them.

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The Cedeno Scenario

The St. Louis Cardinals reached an agreement to bring infielder Ronny Cedeno to the club yesterday. The 29 year old will be paid just over $1.1 million on a one-year deal, with a chance to gain another $800 in performance incentives as well. On the surface, it is a depth move; a chance to add a veteran presence to a club that has multiple questions about the condition of its middle infield. However, is there more to it than that?

Ronny  Cedeno

The team’s hand was forced nearly all of last year at shortstop. Rafael Furcal played a high volume of games by his standards (his 531 plate appearances were his most since 2009) in large part due to lack of comfortable depth behind him on the roster, and in the system at large. When he was finally curbed by a back injury, then finally by the elbow injury that seemed to necessitate surgery (but he has avoided to date), the team was forced to scramble to fill his void. Both Pete Kozma and Ryan Jackson were plugged into action, despite neither being considered a strong candidate for the fill-in. Jackson never really worked out, but Kozma rode a hot bat that made him a viable everyday option in September. He hit .333 in 72 at-bats, and played a serviceable shortstop.

However, the postseason brought out the inexperience in him on the highest level. His bat dipped to a .227 clip, much closer to the .232 total he managed during a full-season at Memphis. The moment admittedly also bore down on him as well, “the moment did get a bit big,” Kozma stated, when referring to the crunch of the playofss. Among those moments was a failure to act, ending up in the biggest infield fly rule debate, as well as a late game error in Game 1 of the National League Divisional Series that led to the game winning run.

Kozma’s return to Earth, when coupled with Furcal’s unknown health status, made the position a red-hot spot for debate on if the team would make a move for more security there.  General Manager John Mozeliak didn’t dispel these rumors either, stating as recently as this month at club’s Winter Warm-Up event that “We still have not ruled out any additions in the middle infield, if necessary”. Which was a sentiment apparently not understood by Kozma yet, who revealed it was a point of confidence of his that the team didn’t go outside the organization to make additions in the middle infield this winter.

That possibility became a reality just a bit over a week after he uttered that sentiment when the team added a journeyman in the style of Cedeno to the roster. It is a move that definitively ends any debate about who the top backup shortstop would be, as well as who would be the starter if Furcal is unable to go right away. With Matt Carpenter, Daniel Descalso and Ty Wigginton all presumptively on penciled into the Opening Day infield starter/bench scene, the perspective for the spring has to change for Kozma.

Most importantly, the signing put a final emphasis on the mission of the club to get make improvements where it could a year ago. While Cedeno, a career .249 hitter, will not be counted on to win games, he does give the team experience where it couldn’t find it a year ago. If anything, it reduces the risk of the cupboard being bare if Murphy’s Law does take up residence between second and third base at Busch.

It’s not the death sentence for Kozma, Jackson or even another move being made later, but it’s a clear sign that the organization isn’t leaving anything up to chance this summer.

CheapSeatsPlease

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2011 Royals By The Numbers

• I noticed early in the season that Alcides Escobar was on pace to set a new low in win probability added (WPA) for not just the Royals but all of baseball history since 1950 (as far back as WPA has been figured by Baseball Reference). He had a hot streak out of nowhere in June that saved him from that record. The hot streak also lead to a lot of talk about Escobar having figured things out at the plate, and that narrative seemed to carry through the rest of the season. But Escobar actually turned right back into a pumpkin after June. His -4.8 WPA is second worst in Royals history, and the fifth worst in the last 62 MLB seasons:

Rk Player WPA Year Tm
1 Neifi Perez -6.8 2002 KCR
2 Sam Dente -5.2 1950 WSH
3 George Wright -5.1 1985 TEX
4 Gary Disarcina -5.1 1997 ANA
5 Alcides Escobar -4.8 2011 KCR
6 Ronny Cedeno -4.6 2006 CHC
7 Rob Picciolo -4.6 1977 OAK
8 Mario Mendoza -4.5 1979 SEA
9 Billy Hunter -4.4 1953 SLB
10 Mike Felder -4.4 1993 SEA
Here is how Neifi Perez‘s 2002 game-by-game WPA looks compared to Escobar’s 2011:
Escobar had the worst WPA in the majors for the second straight season. Add together 2010 and 2011, and here are the WPA trailers:
1. Alcides Escobar -8.6
2. Aaron Hill -4.5
3. Ronny Cedeno -4.5
4. Ryan Theriot -4.2
5. Jeff Mathis -3.7
Yikes. Escobar’s glove makes up for a lot, and the rest of the Royals lineup is strong enough to somewhat weather such a huge offensive hole, but it is still disconcerting to think Escobar might be the last player in the majors you want batting for your team.
• The Royals stolen base total ended at 153, falling to second most in the AL after the Rays stole three on the last day to bring their total to 155. So, great year for stolen bases by the Royals, right? Well, not necessarily. The team had a mediocre success rate (73% compared to the AL average of 72%). They did not so much do a great job swiping bases as just run a lot. Factor in the run values of stolen bases (around .2 runs) and and caught stealings (around -.4 runs), and the Yankees, Rangers and Mariners all had better years stealing bases. Still a good year by the Royals, but the overall impact was only about 7 runs. The rest of the AL Central was putrid, taking up the bottom four spots on this chart of AL stolen base runs:
Here is how the Royals did individually:
I hope you’ll forgive me if I can’t get too excited about Frenchy’s 20/20 season.

• Here are the final records for Royals starting pitchers if you give them a “win” for a quality start, positive WPA, or above average game score:
The biggest takeaway for me is that Royals starters had somewhere in the neighborhood of 72 acceptably okey-dokey starts. And in spite of a decent bullpen, offense and defense, the team still only managed to win 71 games. It’s almost like starting pitching is important and the biggest need for this team or something.
• Back in June, the starters were on their way to being the second worst unit in team history judged by FIP- (which measures strikeouts, walks and HR allowed against league average.) The improved second half by the starters slipped their total down to a tie for the ninth worst rotation in Royals history by FIP-. Here are the bottom 11 staffs:
So while the fielder independent numbers escaped being truly embarrassing, the starters adjusted ERA still managed to be about as bad as any in team history save for the dreadful ’05-’06 staffs.
Ned Yost leaned hard on Tim Collins out of the bullpen early in the year. He slowed down a bit in the second half, and Blake Wood actually snuck by Collins to face the most batters in relief:

• The outfield trio of Alex Gordon, Melky Cabrera and Jeff Francoeur was a major highlight through the year. This was only the third year in team history that the three most used outfielders achieved 2.0 rWAR or more. The combined rWAR of 11.8 is third best by a Royals OF trio, only behind 1999 and 2000:

• The Royals position player of the year is no-doubt, 100% slam dunk Alex Gordon. And that’s not just by the numbers. I watched the team all year, and Alex was clearly the man. Ryan Lefebvre said this week that Francoeur was the team’s MVP thanks to the witchcraft that Francoeur performs in the clubhouse that made the Royals such an incredibly awesome, 91 loss team this year. If the voters feel that way and do not recognize Alex’s season, I may go mental.

• The team pitcher of the year is much tougher to call. For me it comes down to Bruce Chen and Greg Holland, and they are so completely different it is hard to compare them. Pitch for pitch, there’s no contest. Holland was stinky filthy in his 60 IP. But Chen performed his magic act for 155 innings. They are both deserving.
• The team’s 105 OPS+ is the first above average mark since 1990, and the highest since 1982! Unreal. Here is how the Royals have fared each year since 2000 in OPS+ and ERA+:

2011 was just the fourth team with an above average OPS+ and subpar ERA+. It also happened in ’72, ’79 and ’90, and the 2011 squad had a higher OPS+ than any of those teams, making them something of an outlier:

• Finally, (with a nod to Justin Bopp) I’ve computed just how awesome Eric Hosmer is:

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The Good, Bad & Ugly In Royals Clutch Hitting History

I consider win probability added (WPA) to be the ultimate “story” stat—it tells you exactly who the heroes and goats were. Sabermetricians have pretty well disproved the myth of consistently clutch players; players are generally who they are regardless of the situation. Due to random variation, some players are going to have extremely clutch or un-clutch seeming games and seasons when they do or do not come through in crucial situations. I think of RBI in much the same why I think about WPA. RBI numbers do not tell us a great deal about a player’s individual talent, but they do tell the story of who knocked in the runs when guys were getting on base ahead of them. But WPA paints a more exact picture of how players performed in all of the contexts presented to them.

Here is a full explanation of WPA. Here is my short version: the sum of the change in a team’s chance of winning before and after each plate appearance. (It can be applied to pitchers as well, but for this post, I will only focus on hitters.) Keep in mind that for hitters it is a purely offensive number; defense does not enter into it.

I have parted ways with two American dollars for the pleasure of diving into the best and worst WPA performances in Royals history via the Baseball-Reference.com Play Index Tool. The most gob smacking find is Neifi Perez’s horrific 2002 WPA. Royals fans know the shortstop received in exchange for Jermaine Dye was an abomination, but they may not know his -6.8 WPA that year is the worst in at least the last 60 MLB seasons, and possibly of all time. (WPA is not available prior to 1950 on Baseball-Reference.) No other season in the last 60 even comes close. Perez’s plate appearances in 2002 decreased the Royals chances of winning by 682%, or close to seven games worth.

Worst MLB WPA single seasons, 1950-2010:

Rk Player WPA PA Year Tm G AB H HR RBI BA OBP SLG OPS
1 Neifi Perez -6.819 585 2002 KCR 145 554 131 3 37 .236 .260 .303 .564
2 Sam Dente -5.181 654 1950 WSH 155 603 144 2 59 .239 .286 .299 .585
3 George Wright -5.053 393 1985 TEX 109 363 69 2 18 .190 .241 .242 .483
4 Gary Disarcina -5.051 583 1997 ANA 154 549 135 4 47 .246 .271 .326 .597
5 Ronny Cedeno -4.570 572 2006 CHC 151 534 131 6 41 .245 .271 .339 .610

Neifi actually had a pretty good opening day in 2002. He went 3-for-5, moved some runners over with a single, knocked in a run with a triple, and scored two runs himself. His .047 WPA was good for second best on the Royals lineup that day. However, a sign of things to come occurred on the last play of the game: Neifi was up in the bottom of the ninth, Royals down 6-8, two on and two out. The Royals clung to a 10% win expectancy, but Neifi popped out and the game was over. On April 24th, he was the Royals WPA hero with a 3-for-4, three RBI game. But the good days were a rare exception in this season from hell.

Neifi hurting the team again...assumedly

Our Neifi came to the plate 585 times that season. Crucial moments of games seemed to find him. Alas, he was rarely up to the task. After only five percent of his plate appearances did he leave his team in a better position to win. Five percent! I do not even understand how that is possible when he got on base 26% of the time, but there it is. He had a few especially disastrous games, but he achieved the historic low more by being consistently bad day in and day out. With runners in scoring position, his already dreadful offensive skills tumbled even lower to the tune of .221/.246/.270. The Worst Season A Royals Player Ever Had may have hit its nadir when Perez refused to enter a game:

Perez…created a major clubhouse incident by refusing to enter a Sept. 9 game against the Chicago White Sox as a defensive replacement for rookie Angel Berroa. Perez later said his refusal was a joke that was misinterpreted, but his action caused a rift with several teammates. Many privately called for his immediate dismissal from the club.–Bob Dutton, November 19, 2002 Kansas City Star

Neifi makes Angel Berroa look like a golden god. Here are the Royals worst WPA single seasons:

 

Rk Player WPA PA Year Tm G H HR RBI BA OBP SLG OPS
1 Neifi Perez -6.819 585 2002 KCR 145 131 3 37 .236 .260 .303 .564
2 Angel Berroa -3.448 503 2006 KCR 132 111 9 54 .234 .259 .333 .592
3 Angel Salazar -3.437 332 1987 KCR 116 65 2 21 .205 .219 .246 .465
4 Greg Gagne -2.923 581 1993 KCR 159 151 10 57 .280 .319 .406 .724
5 Tony Pena -2.902 536 2007 KCR 152 136 2 47 .267 .284 .356 .640
6 Jason Kendall -2.832 490 2010 KCR 118 111 0 37 .256 .318 .297 .615
7 Cookie Rojas -2.828 409 1970 KCR 98 100 2 28 .260 .296 .326 .622
8 John Buck -2.818 430 2005 KCR 118 97 12 47 .242 .287 .389 .676
9 David Howard -2.805 485 1996 KCR 143 92 4 48 .219 .291 .305 .595
10 Jermaine Dye -2.756 283 1997 KCR 75 62 7 22 .236 .284 .369 .653

Jason Kendall sighting! Kind of ironic that Jermaine Dye makes the list.

Here is a happier list, the Royals best WPA single seasons:

Rk Player WPA PA Year Tm G H HR RBI BA OBP SLG OPS
1 George Brett 6.154 515 1980 KCR 117 175 24 118 .390 .454 .664 1.118
2 George Brett 6.048 701 1979 KCR 154 212 23 107 .329 .376 .563 .939
3 George Brett 5.498 665 1985 KCR 155 184 30 112 .335 .436 .585 1.022
4 George Brett 5.108 705 1976 KCR 159 215 7 67 .333 .377 .462 .839
5 Mike Sweeney 4.762 545 2002 KCR 126 160 24 86 .340 .417 .563 .979
6 Darrell Porter 4.684 679 1979 KCR 157 155 20 112 .291 .421 .484 .905
7 John Mayberry 4.618 683 1975 KCR 156 161 34 106 .291 .416 .547 .963
8 Amos Otis 4.569 567 1978 KCR 141 145 22 96 .298 .380 .525 .905
9 Johnny Damon 4.552 741 2000 KCR 159 214 16 88 .327 .382 .495 .877
10 George Brett 4.045 681 1988 KCR 157 180 24 103 .306 .389 .509 .898
George increased the team’s WPA in 40% of his plate appearances in 1980. With runners in scoring position, he upped his line to .469/.542/.815. He of course dominates the Royals all-time list as well:

 

Rk Player WPA PA From To G H HR RBI BA OBP SLG OPS
1 George Brett 52.107 11624 1973 1993 2707 3154 317 1596 .305 .369 .487 .857
2 Amos Otis 27.275 7969 1970 1983 1891 1977 193 992 .280 .347 .433 .780
3 Mike Sweeney 15.970 5278 1995 2007 1282 1398 197 837 .299 .369 .492 .861
4 Hal McRae 15.666 7361 1973 1987 1837 1924 169 1012 .293 .356 .458 .814
5 John Mayberry 13.528 3752 1972 1977 897 816 143 552 .261 .374 .448 .822
6 Danny Tartabull 10.832 2684 1987 1991 657 674 124 425 .290 .376 .518 .894
7 Carlos Beltran 9.043 3512 1998 2004 795 899 123 516 .287 .352 .483 .835
8 Darrell Porter 8.194 2262 1977 1980 555 514 61 301 .271 .375 .435 .809
9 Paul Schaal 5.541 2340 1969 1974 606 525 32 198 .263 .360 .368 .728
10 Kevin Seitzer 5.110 3163 1986 1991 741 809 33 265 .294 .380 .394 .774

 

At the other end of the spectrum is another team hall-of-famer. Frank White reached a positive WPA in just two of his 18 seasons. Good thing he had that golden glove.

 

Royals worst career totals:

 

Rk Player WPA PA From To G H HR RBI BA OBP SLG OPS
1 Frank White -16.325 8467 1973 1990 2324 2006 160 886 .255 .293 .383 .675
2 David Howard -9.272 1586 1991 1997 547 320 8 130 .229 .289 .302 .591
3 Cookie Rojas -8.135 3354 1970 1977 880 824 25 332 .268 .314 .346 .660
4 Neifi Perez -8.045 805 2001 2002 194 179 4 49 .238 .265 .303 .568
5 Freddie Patek -7.601 4867 1971 1979 1245 1036 28 382 .241 .309 .321 .630
6 Angel Berroa -7.287 2496 2001 2007 627 606 45 235 .263 .305 .384 .689
7 Brent Mayne -7.187 2200 1990 2003 664 483 20 205 .244 .305 .322 .627
8 John Buck -7.104 2116 2004 2009 584 450 70 259 .235 .298 .407 .705
9 Greg Gagne -7.092 1472 1993 1995 386 358 23 157 .266 .317 .392 .708
10 Onix Concepcion -5.841 1130 1980 1985 389 248 3 80 .238 .277 .293 .570

Bringing things to the present, here is how 2011 Royals hitters are shaping up this season:

 

PA WPA ▾
Jeff Francoeur 151 1.0
Wilson Betemit 112 0.5
Matt Treanor 80 0.3
Melky Cabrera 161 0.2
Jarrod Dyson 26 0.2
Alex Gordon 155 0.2
Billy Butler 150 0.1
Chris Getz 132 0.1
Mitch Maier 16 0.1
Eric Hosmer 22 -0.0
Kila Ka’aihue 96 -0.0
Brayan Pena 62 -0.3
Mike Aviles 108 -0.4
Alcides Escobar 142 -2.1
Team Total 1413 -0.3

Escobar is bringing up the rear in all of the majors, and is on pace to enter some seriously unpleasant territory. At his current pace, if he equaled Perez’s 585 plate appearances, he would end up with -8.7 WPA. Ruh-roh.

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