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Skip's Lament: The Curse of Too Many Decent Players

While I was reading this piece comparing the Cardinals to the Phillies, I was remembering the old Bill James comment that one challenge of improving a team is not that of fixing obvious problems (like the Cardinals currently have in LF), but of how one handles the need to improve overall where there aren't positions that are obvious problems. 

For the last few years, the Cardinals have an offense that is increasingly built around Albert Pujols, which limits their ability to have big innings and can make the offense easy to negate. As the linked piece points out, the Phillies have more hitters who are dangerous than the Cardinals do. The Cardinals need a sequence like they had a few years ago: Walker, Pujols, Edmonds, Rolen. 

The problem is not that the current Cardinals have a lot of bad position players:

  • Skip is a nice little hitter at second
  • Ryan, if he can keep up his current level of hitting, has a glove that carries his bat
  • Molina has a decent OBP and a great glove
  • Rasums, while he did not hit particularly well in 2009, needs to play to grow into a good hitter
  • Ludwick (2009 version) was OK
  • Freese could hit at above replacement level

And so on. It's not like it's obvious that any of these players in particular needs to be replaced.

The problem is that none of these players are currently a strong offensive player. Skip, Ryan, or Molina, if they are the worst hitter in your lineup, aren't going to hurt you. But when they are amongst the best hitters in your lineup, you have a problem. 

This would seem like a difficult problem to solve. Plugging Freese into third doesn't solve this problem, and none of the free agent third basemen do, either. Putting Holliday in LF is a step in the right direction, but it doesn't solve the problem alone

The mistake is that the team reviews things position by position--the problem with Skip isn't that he is bad, it's that the team needs some great hitters someplace other than 1B, and Ludwick, Skip, etc., aren't helping. We've got to get some great hitting at three positions from among LF, CF, SS, 2B, RF, 3B, and C. In short, some decent players need to be replaced, not because they are bad, but because they aren't great.

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