Middle Infielders, Playoffs, The Social Network

Every time I see Ron Washington on the TV looking thoughtful and pensive, I assume he's recalling how much he loved blow. Dave Chappelle approves this message.

I've said previously that I don't think there's an obvious route to upgrading the 2011 Cardinals team.  You can't spend much on a right fielder or a pitcher, which would be the obvious positions to make a splash, given the payroll commitments as they stand. The middle infield positions are difficult to upgrade given the players expected to be available and those two spots certainly seemed like the problem positions this year. How bad was the performance of Skip Schumaker and Brendan Ryan and how much of that was luck?

Starting with Schumaker, let's take a quick look at offensive performance. In 2010, StatCorner has him down for a .311 wOBA with league average being at .324 wOBA. That's a -7 runs over 600 PAs. Schumaker was rather unlucky on his batted balls and when you regress for his distribution, his wOBA would have been a .336. That's a 13 run swing over 600 PAs. So, in a luck neutral environment, Schumaker would have been worth about half a win with the bat. He's still an atrocious defender with two full seasons of defensive data in the infield pointing rather starkly toward Schumaker being a -10 with the glove. All told, that would be about +5 runs (half a win) in 2010. If you correct for luck, he was closer to a 2 WAR player.

Schumaker will turn 31 next year and has had park/luck adjusted wOBAs of .359/.333/.336 for the last three years. If he was a 2 WAR player after correction last year, a reasonable back of the envelope adjustment would be something around 1.5 WAR. So if you look at alternatives at second base this offseason, remember that you really need to work from a base level of 1.5 WAR as that is what the team has in house.

Brendan Ryan has an even starker set of numbers. He hit for a .261 wOBA, which is undeniably terrible, but, based on his batted ball profile, he should have hit nearer to .290, which is slightly less terrible.  That translates to -31 and -17 runs respectively over 600 PAs. Obviously those are atrocious numbers but it's astounding the level of bad luck that Brendan Ryan had in 2010. Both UZR and the +/- system like Ryan (+/- might look to have his children in the future rating Ryan as a +20 or better fielder for two years running) and a +10 projection for defense is a safe assessment. So in 2010, Ryan was worth around 1 WAR unadjusted and around 2.5 WAR adjusted for luck/park.

Brendan Ryan turns 29 in March (is it just me or do are the "young" players not nearly as young as they are in your head) and should be right around average for next year at 2 WAR. His adjusted wOBA for the last three years is .290/.318/.290 leaving us with something around .295 for a simple projection.

So that's your baselines for improving either 2B or SS in terms of WAR. Those seem to be the two positions that earned the most ire from the fans in the past year and, to some extent, rightfully so. The question is whether there are players available who are both demonstrably better and worth the additional cost that is likely to come with them.

* * *

I was watching the Rays-Rangers game yesterday and I'm struck by the fact of how much fun it seems like those two teams are to watch. Admittedly, we had a crappy season so this is a certain degree of grass is greener. I've never had a problem with the Yankees but I'll be rooting for the winning of the Rays-Rangers series to trounce the Bronx Bombers and move ahead.

Meanwhile the NLDS have been fun to watch. Roy Halladay had an amazing start that will now be chronicled forever in baseball history. Orlando Cabrera contracted a case of, what Brandon Phillips described as Cardinal Syndrome, after that first game. I felt sorry for Jay Bruce (but not that sorry) as he lost an easy flyball in the lights. If you need an example of why the Matt Holliday 2009 postseason experience is just one of those tragic moments that happens from time to time, Jay Bruce 2010 is an example of that. The Reds actually fell apart further as Phillies were hit in the batter's box and errors were made in the field. I've got little sympathy for the Reds and the Phillies combination of dynamic offense and stellar starting pitching make them a fun team to watch. For my money, they're the team to beat in the NL.

As someone who never overcame Rick Ankiel walking away from pitching, regardless of the validity of the reason, I've no emotional attachment to him as a player. If anything, I dislike him. I know I'm in the minority there, so for the rest of you, there's Will Leitch.  I'd love to see the Braves win the series for Bobby Cox but that looks like a team with too many holes. The Giants bore me to tears. What an endlessly dull team.

* * *

I'm a week late to this but based on the modest box office haul last weekend ($24M) there's more of you I need to send to the theaters. The Social Network was a movie that 6 months ago, I had no desire to see. My generation's most mindnumbing creation writ large seemed destined to be both a lifeless movie going experience and a crotchety, old person's finger wagging.

About two weeks prior to the release, the buzz began to build. Strangely enough, the names that came up weren't actors. The film wasn't touted for the performance of Jesse Eisenberg (who rates a solid 7 on the Michael Cera type-cast scale) or Justin Timberlake (who is quite good) or Andrew Garfield (who should make a very whiny and scrawny Spiderman in the near future) but rather the buzz focused on the director (Finch) and writer (Sorkin). That's not entirely unheard of (see Cameron, James) but it's rather uncommon.

Against what I thought was my better judgment, I decided to see the movie. It was spectacular. The script was one of the best I've heard in years. I'm inclined to believe you could actually read the script as if it were a novel and be entertained. The dialogue was rapid, tight and concise. It was witty and helped with the pacing of the movie. Despite being two hours (aka my attention span limit), I did not once find myself checking my watch.

Personally, I'm someone who is obsessed with endings of movies. That so often will make or break a film for me. V for Vendetta is forever spoiled by the crappy ending soliloquy of Natalie Portman. Stranger than Fiction needed Will Ferrell to be hit by a second bus to kill him. Unlike those movies, The Social Network had the always stunning Rashida Jones deliver a clever, incisive ending in conversation with Jesse Eisenberg.  It was the entire movie's best attributes compressed into one poignant scene.

I highly recommend The Social Network for your viewing pleasure.

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