play ball

 

if you haven’t read Matt Lemmon’s Letter From Springfield, it’s directly below this post and getting a tremendous reception; recommended reading. here’s my contribution to VEB's opening-day coverage.

first of all: if you have any desire to enter the cards’ find-a-prospect scouting contest (aka "One for the Birds"), you have two more days to file your entries; the contest ends at midnight Tuesday night.

more after the jump:

second item: if you’re at the game today, please send me your video / pictures afterward (or better yet during the game, if you're wired) or post them in the fan shots. we remotely located fans want to soak up as much of the gravy of opening day as possible.

third item: in recent years cardinal fans have measured success in terms of postseason achievements: pennants and world championships. this year we can set the bar lower: the cards won’t have to win any titles for me to consider this year a success. what do they have to do? my criteria, in descending order of importance:

  1. get carp back healthy. as i wrote over at the Hardball Times three weeks ago, the size of carp’s contract makes it imperative that he return reasonably healthy. if he doesn’t, the multimillions remaining on his deal will ball-n-chain the payroll for 3 more years.
  2. have a good draft. obviously it’ll take a while before we can gauge the results, but we can already say that they’re on a three-year winning streak. draftees from 2005-07 dominate the upper levels of the chain and have lifted the organization from dead last in Baseball America’s farm system rankings as of 2005, to #13 today --- and still rising.
  3. get one cost-controlled position player other than rasmus established as a league-average-or-better contributor. rasmus is a given; there’s a job waiting for him, and it’s his to lose. but several others have an opportunity to play their way into jobs. this group of secondary prospects prominently includes barton, ryan, schumaker, and mather; you might even include ankiel on this list, because despite all he’s shown so far he still has a lot to prove imho.

how about the rest of you? what does this team have to do to make you feel they've succeeded in 2008?

a final thought to stoke your opening-day fires. i included skip schumaker on my list of guys who might lay claim to a big-league job in 2008. i’ve been very skeptical of this player’s long-term prospects, and i remain wary of him. but at least one analyst i respect, john dewan, might say that schumaker is a player to watch in 2008. in his "stat of the week" last week, dewan scoured this year’s spring training stats looking for breakout candidates:

A few years ago we discovered that there is a way to use spring training stats to predict future performance. . . . . [among] players doing exceptionally well in spring training, we found that about three-fourths of them performed better than their career average during the upcoming season. Our definition of "exceptionally well" was slugging 100 points higher in spring training than their previous career slugging percentage.

dewan then listed 24 players who have eclipsed their career slugging pct by 200 points or more this spring training. schumaker didn’t make the list, because at that time his spring slg was only about 175 points above his career slg. but schu went 2 for 3 with a triple in the last spring training game, pushing his spring slugging pct to .606 --- 206 points above his career average of .400.

so per dewan’s analysis, schumaker is extremely likely to surpass his career norms this season --- .294 / .331 / .400 in his very brief career (255 at-bats). even if skip merely matches those slash lines, he’ll be the equal of david eckstein as a leadoff man. if he surpasses them, he’ll be a revelation. i don’t want to get my (or your) hopes too high here --- for the preponderance of his career schumaker hasn’t showed very much potential. but he did make the hardest contact of his pro career last season, with isolated power of .160 at memphis and .125 in st louis. and the .600 slugging average this month --- even against spring-training pitching --- is evidence that he continues to hit the ball hard. schumaker’s a notoriously locked-in march hitter (in part because he’s always fighting to make a roster), but until last year he generally sprayed singles around in spring training. that changed in 2007; he showed some power in march (.551 slugging, .170 ISO), and it carried over into the main schedule. maybe i’ve underestimated this player; or maybe his limitations were real and he worked to overcome them. in any case, for the first time i have reason to believe that schumaker might surprise me. and i hope he does.

game thread (with new SBN 2.0 features!!!) will go up at about 1 p.m. central time.

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