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Rigging the Deck: The Cards, 2004 v. 2005, Part 1

Earlier today, user cephyn posed an interesting question, and I'm always looking for things to write about. So I took the liberty of answering it.

"Which team is better: the 2004 Cards or the 2005 Cards?"

The teams are relatively similar, but there are a few changes. Let's start with the position players.

Catcher: Yadier Molina and Mike Matheny are roughly the same player, offensively. Don't believe me?

Matheny, 2004: .247/.292/.358
Molina, 2005: .255/.292/.365

Matheny's defensive prowess, however, was and remains often overstated.

Molina: 64.5% CS percentage.
Matheny: 29.6% CS percentage.

Matheny's right around average last year, and Molina is striking fear into the hearts of basestealers everywhere. 31 have tried, 20 have died.

Molina's a slightly better player based on his unbelievable defensive skills, but it's not really a significant edge.

First base: Pujols v. Pujols

Pujols, 2004: .331/.415/.657
Pujols, 2005: .337/.433/.629

Eerily similar players.

Second base: Tony Womack manned the position last year and did so admirably. The position currently belongs to Mark Grudzielanek.

Womack, 2004: .309/.349/.385, 26 SB, 5 CS
Grudzy, 2005: .302/.341/.417, 8 SB, 5 CS

Too close to call. This seems like a good time to break out Secondary Average.

Womack: .181
Grudzy: .168

Womack was a slightly better player offensively last year, but Grudzielanek compensates for that with his defensive ability. Rate puts Grudzielanek at 109 and Womack at 90. Grudzielanek ranks second in the league among second basemen in zone rating and has only made 4 errors. Womach's zone rating was in the middle of the pack: 9th out of 19 qualifiers. He also made 15 errors.

Grudzielanek's superior defense, to me, makes him the better second baseman.

Shortstop: The shortstop carousel brought scrappy David Eckstein to the fold. Whether or not he's a better PLAYER than Renteria, the money that they saved on Eckstein for a player who would not be much of a downgrade has certainly more than covered any difference between the players.

You could also make a case that Eckstein's a better player.

Renteria, 2004: .287/.327/.401
Eckstein, 2005: .275/.353/.369

Eckstein has added an element of on-base to the team that it lacked with Renteria (who really did have only one superb season). Neither Eckstein nor Renteria plays a very good shortstop at this point in their careers. I'd give the slight edge to Eckstein, on the OBP. And, hell, he won a game with a grand slam. What's not to like?

Third base: While the current Cardinals are running small circles around their counterparts from 2004, third base will be costly for them. Scott Rolen announced today that he needs surgery to repair a torn labrum and he will be out for six months.

The 2004 version of Rolen, the legitimate MVP candidate (WARP of 10.5, all-world defense, .314/.409/.598 line) has been replaced by "injured Rolen," who was not hitting this year and has had, essentially, a lost season. One thing about our two budding legendary fielders at third base in the league (Rolen and Chavy), when they're not hitting, they still play great defense. The Cardinal offense is good enough to make the playoffs without Rolen. They will never be able to completely account for all the runs that Rolen saves at third base.

It looks like Abraham Nunez, Scott Seabol, and John Mabry will be splitting time at the hot corner for the Cards this year. Here's a telling stat, though:

3rd Base, 2004: .313/.403/.591
3rd Base, 2005: .275/.356/.398

Huge disparity, there. The St. Louis third basemen NOT named Scott Rolen, this year, have actually been a bit better than that; the Rolen replacements have put up a .307/.386/.411 line. That's not bad, but it's not Scott Rolen. I'd also venture to say that those numbers are a bit higher than they will be on October 3.

Outfield: I'll take the outfield together because of the injuries and how they've left this outfield.

Earlier this year, the Cards had the potent outfield of Jim Edmonds, Reggie Sanders, and Larry Walker. Sanders and Walker were both in the midsts of big years, Sanders raking to the tune of .281/.344/.553 and Walker right behind him with a .271/.378/.483. Walker might be back for early September, and the most recent estimate I saw for Sanders was for the end of this month or early in September, as well. John Rodriguez was called up from AAA, and he's done very well as a replacement. (He had a very nice year for the AAA-Yanks in 2004, but he never got any major league action. He hit .294/.382/.542). Check out these stats, though:

4/8-6/9, AAA-Buffalo: .247/.323/.447
6/9-7/18, AAA-Memphis: .342/.419/.808
7/18-8/17, St. Louis: .283/.343/.446

I don't know what changed when he left Buffalo, but I do know that since then, he has put up a very serviceable line, translated or not. In total, the man had 43 extra base hits in 90 minor league games, and he just happened to start popping those over the wall in Memphis.

The news isn't all good on Rodriguez. If you've been reading the local papers, the Cardinals aren't happy with his fundamentals and baserunning skills.

Either way, he's an interesting story and I hope he hangs around for the playoff roster.

Here's what I said about So Taguchi on June 24:

If I have one criticism of this team at this point, it's how many at bats they waste on So Taguchi, who spells Jim Edmonds frequently. If they're concerned about Edmonds health / age, they should have a better option as a replacement; Taguchi is hitting .266/.307/.367 in 128 AB...

So Taguchi, is, of course, proving me wrong about his abilities. Since my erroneous comment, Taguchi has hit .333/.367/.508 and has been a great fill-in for Walker. He also plays solid defense.

I've written on how I think that Jim Edmonds will be a Hall of Famer before it's all said and done, and he's having another very, very good year:

Edmonds, 2004: .301/.418/.643
Edmonds, 2005: .272/.401/.532

He's certainly a year older, but he's not done yet. These resemble old player skills to me, though; I would not be surprised to see Edmonds really tank next year or the year after. But, for now, he's still one of the best centerfielders in the game (4th in the league among centerfields in VORP), and he does have a chance for election to the Hall.

Finally, the team batting:

  1. .278/.344/.460, 423 offensive VORP, 855 R
  2. .272/.342/.431, 333 offensive VORP, 820 R (on pace for)
It looks like, overall, the Cardinals were a better team offensively in 2004 than they are in 2005, but a lot of that is attributable to the injuries that they've faced. I would say that, without Rolen, they are a worse team, offensively, than the 2004 bunch, but they have improved at several positions to lessen the blow of that severe loss. They've also managed to get great work from backups when guys like Sanders, Walker, and Rolen have been out for an extended period of time.

So the 2004 offense is better, but not by much. We'll examine the pitching, hopefully, tomorrow night or Saturday.