The Case for Chris, etc.

Chuck mentioned Chris Burke in passing yesterday, which is probably the way Chris Burke—like most of the backup second basemen currently available to the Cardinals—deserves to be mentioned. But I like him as a Miles replacement, in the calm, mostly disinterested way one must effect when talking about utility infielders, for a few reasons. 

He can really play second, for one thing. Miles, for all his pennant-winning grit, has always lacked the steady defense typically associated with the utility infielder species; he's fringy at second, and he displays all the range at shortstop of someone who is standing at second base. His career UZR/150 rates at each position—it's amazing how ubiquitous a stat becomes the instant it's easy for bloggers to get their hands on—are -3.5 and -18, respectively.

Burke hasn't played much shortstop, and there's no reason to believe he'd be all that good if he ever did, but in 850 innings at second he's +10. His +/- numbers are less impressive but still positive. So Burke, who was admittedly awful last year—he hit .194/.310/.273 over 165 at-bats with Arizona—would have less ground to make up on what certainly seems, at first glance, to have been a flukily effective season from Miles on offense.

And he really did suck, but at the risk of getting too carried away Burke's got a history of being downright unremarkable with the bat.

Year AB AVG OBP SLG
2005 318 .248 .309 .368
2006 366 .276 .347 .418
2007 319 .229 .304 .357
2008 165 .194 .310 .273

That career progression came after he had a big year in AAA—.315/.385/.507, 37 stolen bases, 16 home runs—and was heralded as the perfect Craig Biggio replacement at second, right up until Biggio went back to  second and marooned Burke in the outfield, where his fluky PCL power would hardly have been adequate even if it had really existed. 

What's left with Chris Burke is a player who's twice shown flashes of worth that have been taken for something more than that; after 2004 he was a major prospect, and after 2006 it seemed like, having finally spent significant time at second, he was going to turn the corner. Neither follow-up panned out as the storyline dictated.

I don't think Burke was ever the dynamic Knoblauch type he appeared to be before he got reverse-Pipped by Craig Biggio, but I don't think he's a AAAA lifer, either. If the Cardinals replaced Miles with Burke they would be trading one offensive question mark for another, only this one can run the bases and play defense. And would be a little less ridiculous, at least, than Adam Kennedy: outfielder. 

Some weekend links of interest on this Monday morning: 

  • At Future Redbirds roarke has an excellent profile of the forgotten man at third base, Allen Craig. His comparison to Josh Willingham, another displaced, non-star bat, seems pretty apt to me, although coming from shortstop/third base instead of catcher I've always assumed Craig to be more athletic than that. 
  • Our cross-state rivals won the heated Kyle Farnsworth bidding race by a landslide. Farnsworth has always struck me as one of the few living, breathing examples of a kind of pitcher who's way more common in fiction and sportswriter fantasy than on Major League rosters. He is the straight fastball damn-the-torpedoes guy that everybody on talk radio intermittently accuses their closer of being. He is the million dollar arm with attached ten cent head. He really did give up fifteen home runs in 60 innings last year. I'm not sure how a righty relief pitcher with more games played than innings pitched, with more home runs allowed than saves, wrangled a multi-year deal out of Dayton Moore, but it seems like GMs still see something in Farnsworth that no Cubs fan ever has.
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