A couple of days ago, Gordo had a very interesting piece on the middle infield of the Cards, specifically TLR's views on Izturis and Kennedy. Much panned on this site (and I would imagine throughout the known baseball world), the Izturis signing has been made all the more utterly incomprehensible to the rationally-minded Cardinal fan over the course of Spring Training. At least to those of us living in the here and now, but it seems that TLR is not, at least when it comes to Izturis.
Gordo writes that TLR "...remains a big Izturis fan, based largely on what he saw earlier in Cesar’s career." Apparently, this is why "...La Russa isn’t sweating Izturis’ poor offensive and defensive start this spring." But, this is why Cardinal fans are sweating the Izturis signing, and sweating .50 caliber machine gun bullets since the start of Spring Training.
THE GLOVE OF IZTURIS
TLR is still bullish on Izturis' glove:
"You just watch, he’s a real good looking fielder," La Russa said. "He has great, quiet hands. He has an accurate arm. He’s very quick. Picks a ball up like it’s nothing. Very impressive.
"I liked him from the first time I saw him with the Dodgers. He is really fun to watch catch the ball.
It has been widely reported (by VEB community members, Goold, and friends of mine who have been to games at Spring Training) that Izturis' hands have been anything but great and quite loud this spring. He has made 5 errors in 69 spring innings, which is the highest error total of all players reporting to MLB camp. It has also been suggested by VEB posters and some of my friends who made the trip to FLA for Spring Training that, has they been the official scorekeeper, Izturis would have a few more errors to his name.
For comparison, the immobile, should-be-3B Miguel Tejada has made 4 errors and has a .862 fielding percentage in Spring Training, but at least he is still a relatively threatening offensive producer, even if the sun long ago set on his ability to pass as marginal defensive SS.
I know, I know; it is a small sample size. But, TLR's mind operates in small sample sizes, as evidenced by his religious use of past performance to dictate who starts against which pitchers. Yet, he is very forgiving of Izturis' lackluster defense so far this spring.
THE LEGS OF IZTURIS
TLR also seems to like Izturis' legs:
"He’s also shown, by the way, good legs. That’s an important part of the game...The legs that we have seen so far would be a plus for us. He can steal some bases and he can go from first to third as well as anybody."
Maybe, he once had "good legs." Juan Encarnacion once did, too, stealing 33 bases in 1999. Juan then stole 21 in 2002 between the Reds and Marlins and 19 in 2003 with the Marlins. In 2004, 2005, 2006 and 2007, he managed just 19 SB combined. So it is with Izturis, who stole 25 bases in 2004, a career high. In the three seasons since that career year, he has never stolen more than 8 bases and has totalled a mere 12 steals combined.
Just out of curiousity, I looked at Baseball Prospectus' new baserunning metric, which measures the ability of a player to take an extra base, and Izturis isn't any better at it than Albert Pujols. (Sorry, I can't find this online. If you can, please link to it!) Yet, you don't hear TLR gushing about El Hombre's legs.
Perhaps deteriorating leg health is to blame? TLR explains:
"I just talked to him today...He’s had, twice in his career, hamstring issues. He had a little one in LA and a big one in Chicago."
An aging player with a history of hamstring injuries probably isn't the best bet to maintain or revive his former fielding range or baserunning skills. Curiously, however, TLR sees this history of injury as reason to be optimistic about Izturis in 2008.
IZTURIS AT THE PLATE
TLR also touts the new Cardinal SS's offensive skills:
"Offensively, he hasn’t had a big hitting spurt or anything like that, but he’s putting the ball in play. He’s working...He’s a very useful offensive player. He can do anything. He can put the ball in play, bunt."
Frankly, this sounds like the sort of standard one would set for an 8 year-old Little Leaguer, not an everyday Big Leaguer. If this quote were taken out of context, it would sound like a manager's assessment of a National League pitcher's offensive contribution: "He can bunt and is putting the ball in play."
Luckily for Izturis, this is about the only standard he can play up to and hope to make a roster, given his Spring Training. In 32 AB, the most of any Cardinal at SS this spring, he has posted this abysmal line:
4 H / 0 HR / 0 RBI / 3 SO / 2 BB/ .125 BA / .176 OBP / .188 SLG / .364 OPS
Again, this is a small sample size. It is also worth pointing out that Izturis has more errors (5) than hits (4) in 32 spring games. I am not going to completely re-hash Bernie's thoroughly researched column on how Izturis was, stastically, the worst offensive player in Major League Baseball one season ago. But, since I can't really llink to it because it resides in the $2.95/article St. Louis Post-Dispatch archives, I'll give you a brief rundown. But, it is only slightly better than what one would predict from the offensively inept former Pirate whose 2007 numbers, like his Spring Training stats, were among the worst in all of MLB and substantially worse than the production of the '07 SS platoon.
Izturis' EqA has not been above .226 in the last three seasons. How does this breakdown? His BA over that time period has not been above .276 (and that was over 123 AB in Pittsburgh); his OBP has not been over .310; Izturis has not slugged over .333; he hasn't drove in more than 31 runs. His VORP for 2005, 2006, and 2007 goes like this: -4.4 in '05, -4.4 (-2.5 in AAA) in '06 for LA, -4.6 in '06 for CHI, -4.2 in '07 for CHI, -2.5 in '07 for PIT. (His full statistics can be perused here.)
In short, Izturis is a horrendous offensive player who is getting worse. His baserunning skills are not any better than Albert Pujols' and are likely getting worse due to aging and injury history. His fielding, once great, is falling down to earth, making him, at best, average, which makes him the type of player that no MLB team could realistically put on their roster, let alone make their everyday SS. It makes one wonder how John Mozeliak can bring himself to make bizarre assertions, like the one he made during the STL P-D chat this last week, that Izturis the Cardinals organization "firmly believes that Izturis will make [the Cardinals] stronger up the middle."
His offense has been worse than D'Angelo Jimenez, who has justifiably just been put "on notice" by TLR that his days are numbered if he doesn't pick it up with quotes that could just as easily be referencing Izturis but bizarrely are not.
"He's a savvy player, but he needs to demonstrate it all the time, especially when he's trying to make an impression on an organization," the Cardinals' manager said.
"He has flashes of being a legitimate major leaguer and he shows flashes when he's struggling his (tail) off."
TLR seems poised to cut Jimenez, which is perfectly acceptable, yet name Izturis the starting SS despite being blown out of the water this spring offensively by Brendan Ryan (even if Ryan hasn't exactly set the world on fire) while Ryan also at least matches Izturis with the glove, an area in which Izturis is supposed to be far superior to Ryan. We can get into discussions about the Bo Hart-esque small sample size and how that contributed to his '07 success as well as how he might be exposed as an everyday SS in '08. That does not bely the fact that an exposed Ryan would be as good as an Izturis playing to his full potential as evidenced by 2,751 career Major League AB. It is also worth mentioning that Ryan is significantly cheaper with Izturis slated to make $2.85M this year. Does anyone really believe that Ryan can't put up a .295 OBP for a little more than 1/3 the cost of Izturis?
Nonetheless, a summer of Cesar Izturis seems to be the fate of Cardinal Nation.