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2006 Team Previews: St. Louis Cardinals, Positional Players

Before starting, I'd like to thank Dan Scotto for taking the time to create a directory for our team previews. If you have missed any of them, or would like to refer back to one, this is the page you want to go to.

The St. Louis Cardinals, seemingly ignoring injuries to some of their best players, managed to win 100 games and secure the NL Central title once again. They scored 805 runs, and only allowed 634, the second best total in the majors behind Houston's incredible pitching staff. Cardinals fans know all too well how dominant that Astros rotation can be in a short series, as they were defeated in the NLCS, with the 'Stros moving on to the World Series.

The Cardinals had a few defections this offseason, and also had to deal with the retirement of Larry Walker. I have been relatively critical of these moves, but this was before the PECOTA and ZiPS projections came out, so we'll see if they forced me to dig deeper and find something I like. My guess is no, but I like to be cynical, so we'll see.

The Red Birds are the favorites in the NL Central; I like to say they are the favorites by default. They are a very strong team, one capable of winning a great deal of games and reaching the World Series, but I see the National League as full of potential playoff teams rather than definite ones. The Cards present the closest thing to a definite, although their margin for error is not as large as it was in the past two seasons. That said, I fully expect to see them in the playoffs, and possibly even the World Series, as long as they remain healthy. This assumes everyone else's roster remains static; a midseason trade to one of those potentially strong teams could sway the balance of power away from St. Louis, but I'm not sure any of those teams have the trading chips to do so. Minaya has just about exhausted the Mets, and has no real areas of strength left to deal from, and the entire NL West is playing for 2007-2008.

Leaving hypothetical transactions behind, let us move on to the real world ones that already occurred.

  • Acquired
  • Gary Bennett
  • Deivi Cruz
  • Juan Encarnacion
  • Junior Spivey
  • Lost
  • Einar Diaz
  • Mark Grudzielanek
  • John Mabry
  • Abraham Nunez
  • Reggie Sanders
I'll get to Spivey and Encarnacion later. Mark Grudzielanek isn't necessarily a great loss, as he is basically a league average second basemen, but Spivey is unpredictable it seems, and usually fragile. The backup plans aren't as secure as in previous years either. Abraham Nunez, who filled in for Scott Rolen a great deal of the time in 2005, moved on to Philadelphia. Reggie Sanders was injured and only appeared in 93 games for the Cards, but his bat and defense will be missed, although I am not entirely sure he is going to put up numbers of that high of a quality again. Re-signing him should not have been on their to-do list, but replacing him with someone of his talent level should have been. It was extremely difficult to do this offseason, especially after the Padres retained Brian Giles, so I'm not being too hard on them for it.

The rules are the same as last time. I'm using Baseball Prospectus' PECOTA Cards in order to assess the projected AVG/OBP/SLG of the new players. I am also calculating positionally adjusted Net Runs Above Average. If you've read any of the previous team reviews posted here, or already are full of wonderful NRAA (and pNRAA) knowledge, feel free to skip down to the section labeled Catcher

NRAA of course measures offensive and defensive value together in rate or cumulative form, depending on whether or not I leave it in per 100 game form, or if it is adjusted for games played. The idea behind pNRAA is -- you guessed it -- to adjust for positional differences. My favorite example so far is Darin Erstad. Using the raw figures for Net Runs Above Average, Erstad is an above average combination of offense and defense. In fact, he is considered to be worth 2.51 NRAA per 100 games (which from now on, will not have a per 100 games after it; NRAA is in the per 100 game form). Using the positional adjustment, Erstad's value drops all the way to -9.90; first base was the position with the most offensive contribution in 2005, and Erstad's adjusted numbers suffer for that. In fact, if Erstad was a league average defensive player rather than 9 runs above average per 100 games, his pNRAA would be -18.90, which is to say in my Boston speak, "wicked awful". With results like this for various players, I really enjoy what pNRAA brings to the table analysis wise.

AVG/OBP/SLG will be used along with pNRAA (remember, per 100 game form) and pNRAA/GP (Games Played). Powered by the musical excellence of Anthrax in the background, let's move on to the positional analysis.

Catcher
2005: Yadier Molina .252/.295/.358; +15.65 pNRAA; +17.84 pNRAA/GP
2005: Einar Diaz .208/.248/.277; -2.83 pNRAA; -1.64 pNRAA/GP

2006: Yadier Molina .261/.316/.363; +4.65 pNRAA; +3.95 pNRAA/GP

You might be asking yourself, "How does Molina improve offensively, and then end up with a pNRAA roughly 10 runs lower than before?" Well, Molina is one of the other catchers from my little defensive dilemma involving Rate. His Rate2 of 121 from 2005 seems extremely high, along with Danny Ardoin and brother Jose Molina's Rate2's. David Gassko's numbers don't help make things less complicated, as he has Molina #1 overall at catcher in 2005, at +10 RAA.

On another note, I just really don't believe Einar Diaz was almost a league average catcher with an EqA of .198...if there is one weakness in pNRAA, you can find it in catcher's with high defensive ratings.

First Base
2005: Albert Pujols .330/.430/.609; +33.65 pNRAA; +54.18 pNRAA/GP

2006: Albert Pujols .338/.433/.625; +37.58 pNRAA; +60.13 pNRAA/GP

That plantar fascitis really bit into Pujols' value last year huh? I seem to have trouble gushing over the very best players in the game, because what is there to say? Look at those numbers. That is his weighted mean projection, the conversative, middle ground one. His 90th percentile projection has a .377 EqA; that is reaching Ted Williams territory. I'd love to see him just pull off one season in that range. When your MLVr figure looks large enough that it could be mistaken for the league leader in OBP, you know you're a special hitter. What amazes me the most is that Pujols, according to pNRAA, wasn't the best player on the Cardinals in 2005, and if I'm correct in my 2006 assessment, he may not be the best this year either. That isn't to say that Pujols isn't going to end up in the Top 10 all-time, because every year he hits like he has is a step closer to that goal. Appreciate Pujols while we have him.

Second Base
2005: Mark Grudzielanek .294/.334/.407; -2.83 pNRAA; -3.88 pNRAA/GP

2006: Junior Spivey .247/.321/.395; -9.19 pNRAA; -5.88 pNRAA/GP

I tend to look at the 25th and 75th percentiles as the other possible outcomes for a player. The 90th is a great deal of fun to look at, but the chances of it occuring are usually very low, and from what I've seen seems to happen in players who are league average more often than a star like Pujols. The 10th percentile usually is a terrible omen, unless you are Jim Edmonds, and you hit your 10th percentile projection in 2005 and still manage to be among the league leaders in pNRAA. The point of this little pseudo-rant here is that Spivey's weighted mean projection is a reflection of the two outcomes most likely to occur, his 25th and 75th percentile projection. His 75th has him down for .261/.336/.421, and his 25th has him marked at .202/.272/.312. Now I don't expect to see the 25th, because it does seem a tad low, and if Spivey is healthy (I think a few Brewers' fans just chuckled lightly) he will avoid it. If he ends up playing hurt or for a short period of time, I can see him putting up paltry numbers and a limited number of plate appearances. The plate appearances is the thing to take away from the 25th percentile, as Spivey is only expected to have 228 of them there. The Cardinals replaced a semi-fragile second basemen with league average numbers with a severely fragile second basemen with less than league average numbers. And they are backing him up with Aaron Miles. Check out those home/road splits...that is not a well thought out plan of action.

Third Base
2005: Scott Rolen .235/.323/.383; +2.46 pNRAA; +1.38 pNRAA/GP
2005: Abraham Nunez .285/.343/.361; -8.83 pNRAA; -12.27 pNRAA/GP

2006: Scott Rolen .270/.385/.475; +15.03 pNRAA; +14.13 pNRAA/GP

Personally, I think Scott Rolen is probably the best defensive third basemen in the game. His defensive rating from PECOTA is very good, but seems a few runs low. Offensively speaking I think it is right on the nose. Rolen is one of the best players on this team; the fact that he is as little thought of as he is in comparison to the other guys is the reason this team somehow won 100 games without him. Edmonds and Pujols are both Cooperstown quality players, Edmonds even at this stage of his game. Larry Walker played extremely well when he was on the field, and the same can be said for Reggie Sanders. Rolen is the third wheel on this team, but I think I know 29 other franchises that would love to be in that sort of position.

The Fielding Bible shows that Rolen's 2004 season was the best defensive season by a third basemen during the three-year period it covers. His 2005 season was on pace to be better prior to his exit due to injury, and his 2003 season was an anomaly of sorts, as it was well off his normal pace. Rolen doesn't have to hit to be valuable, but when he does (see: 2004), he is one of the best all-around players in the game.

Shortstop
2005: David Eckstein .294/.363/.395; +5.92 pNRAA; +9.35 pNRAA/GP

2006: David Eckstein .266/.328/.338; -8.45 pNRAA; -11.99 pNRAA/GP

PECOTA really doesn't like Eckstein in 2006. I expect a drop from his 2005 production, but this does seem a bit low. PECOTA is conservative though, and to be fair, his weighted mean projection was well off the mark in 2005 (.267/.336/.342)...the Cardinals should consider moving Eckstein to second and searching for an alternative at shortstop. It would solve the second base issues, and make Eckstein more valuable defensively. Granted, you need to find a shortstop, but finding a shortstop better than the aforementioned second base duo shouldn't be that difficult. Of course, the one shortstop in the system besides last year's first round pick Tyler Greene is Matt Shepherd, who apparently has the same arm issues Eckstein has, and would be better suited to second base. Thanks to the Sickels 2006 Prospect Book for that information. Normally I would link to the order form, but lucky for John and Jeri, they basically ran out of books.

Left Field
2005: Reggie Sanders .271/.340/.546; +12.65 pNRAA; +11.76 pNRAA/GP
2005: So Taguchi .288/.322/.412; -1.56 pNRAA; -2.24 pNRAA/GP
2005: John Rodriguez .295/.382/.436; +11.44 pNRAA; +6.41 pNRAA/GP

2006: Larry Bigbie .272/.342/.426; -6.98 pNRAA; -5.23 pNRAA/GP

Bigbie doesn't have the bat for a corner outfield spot, but his EqA is expected to come in at .264, which is somewhat close to league average for a left fielder (.272). His defense is where he loses his points with pNRAA, although there seems to be some disagreement over his abilities within the defensive systems. Surprise, surprise eh? John Dewan has him at a +2 from 2003-2005, with a +17 in 2004. Gassko didn't release numbers for him, so I can't turn there, but Pinto has him at dead last among leftfielders, with -1.677 Runs Saved per 27 Outs. There is the small sample size to worry about from 2005, as Bigbie only played 54.5 AdjG there.

So what is my point? Bigbie, although probably the acquisition that has induced a great deal of head scratching, may be my favorite pickup of the offseason for the Cards. With Bigbie's defense in left and Edmonds in center, it won't matter too much that Juan Encarnacion ranks 25th among 27 right fielders defensively from 2003-2005...right?

One more interesting note...from what I've heard/seen, UZR is a great deal like the defensive statistics that John Dewan uses in The Fielding Bible. If that is the case for Bigbie's numbers as well, and Mitchel Lichtman, developer of Ultimate Zone Rating, is working for the Cardinals...I really like this Bigbie pickup.

Center Field
2005: Jim Edmonds .263/.385/.533; +36.66 pNRAA; +52.05 pNRAA/GP

2006: Jim Edmonds .285/.407/.582; +33.70 pNRAA; +43.48 pNRAA/GP

Remember when I said Pujols wasn't the best player on the team in 2005? Here is the reason. Edmonds had a .305 EqA and a Rate2 of 116 in centerfield last season, giving him the best pNRAA this side of Derrek Lee in all of baseball. As I also said before, it was his 10th percentile projection that he matched.

There are some differences in opinion when it comes to Edmonds' defense. Rate2 had him at 116, which is excellent, but his projection comes out at a Rate2 of 101 for 2006. Dewan has him as -6 for 2005, Gassko has him at +32(!) per 150 games played in center, and David Pinto has him at +3.072 Runs Saved per 27 Outs, good for fifth among centerfielders. One of two things is going on here: either Dewan is right and everyone else is wrong, or the exact opposite choice applies. The report for Edmonds seems much more positive than the statistical rating he receives from The Fielding Bible, so I admit, I am completely baffled, and may have to side with BP, Gassko and Pinto on this one. I know UZR and Dewan's system are supposed to be relatively similar, but if a certain Anonymous Hero feels like giving me a heads up as to what Edmonds UZR rating is like, it would be much appreciated.

By the way, if Edmonds is as good defensively as those three systems say he is, then yes, he is more valuable than Pujols, although I don't think he'll have quite the career value when all is said and done. Consistency means a lot in the grand scheme of evaluating career value, and Edmonds has put together his Hall of Fame resume almost entirely with the Cardinals. Five of his seven best seasons have come with the Cards, and if he puts up two more years like 2005, all seven will have been in Cardinal Red. Edmonds will most likely finish his career as one of the top five centerfielders of all-time, which is an amazing feat considering the other names on that list.

Right Field
2005: Larry Walker .289/.384/.502; +8.28 pNRAA; +8.28 pNRAA/GP
2005: So Taguchi .288/.322/.412; -1.56 pNRAA; -2.24 pNRAA/GP
2005: John Mabry .240/.295/.407; -15.87 pNRAA; -17.78 pNRAA/GP

2006: Juan Encarnacion .273/.329/.439; -9.58 pNRAA; -11.39 pNRAA/GP

I know the Cardinals weren't going to retain Larry Walker, as he was planning on retiring, but the fact that all they signed to replace him was Juan Encarnacion comes off as a major surprise to me. I thought they would fight a little harder in the Brian Giles sweepstakes, and pay a little less attention to A.J. Burnett. I was wrong on both counts. I would've preferred, in order:

  1. Available RF'ers
  2. Brian Giles
  3. Jeromy Burnitz
  4. Whichever Reds outfielder was available, including Ryan Freel
  5. Jacque Jones with a platoon partner
  6. Juan Encarnacion
I don't trust Encarnacion's bat...he reminds me of Richard Hidalgo with less upside, and without the potential gold glove caliber defense. In fact, Encarnacion ranks 25th out of 27 rightfielders defensively according to Dewan, 25th of 27 in Gassko's system, 30th of 37 according to PMR, and Rate feels he is a few runs below average. Considering the .276/.349/.454 line that Cardinals' rightfielders had in 2005, they figure to lose a little offensively, and defensively according to these nifty team charts from 2005 I'm looking at right now. The Cardinals team Rate2 in right was 97, 3 runs below average per 100 games. That is Encarnacion's expected Rate, but once again, I don't trust Encarnacion's production.

Time for the lineup projections. As always, I'll use the expected lineup for the Cardinals, based off of last year's as well as the depth charts I have access to, and then show my own idea for the lineup afterward.

  1. Projected Lineup
  2. Eckstein
  3. Bigbie
  4. Pujols
  5. Edmonds
  6. Rolen
  7. Encarnacion
  8. Spivey
  9. Molina
  10. Pitcher
This lineup is expected to score 5.079 runs per game, or 823 for the season. This would be an improvement over last year's lineup, a great deal of which I think has to do with Edmonds improved production, as well as a healthy and raking Rolen.
  1. Lineup Analysis Tool
  2. Rolen
  3. Pujols
  4. Molina
  5. Edmonds
  6. Bigbie
  7. Encarnacion
  8. Spivey
  9. Pitcher
  10. Eckstein
This lineup would produce 5.329 runs per game, or 863 for the year; that is four wins. I think a great deal of that comes, once again, from the pitcher moving to the eighth spot. Shouldn't be too hard to convince Tony La Russa to at least do that much tweaking, eh?

Overall, I think the Cardinals are going to end up winning the National League Central crown, and most likely will end up in the World Series. Of course, making any sort of prediction that far into the future on a team level is pointless in my mind, so I'll leave it at playoff berth via divisional title. If you haven't read Ryan Van Bibb's assessment of the pitching staff yet, make sure to do so.