wastes of space

Dilip Vishwanat

one of my perpetual frustrations with the cardinals' rosters over the last several years has been the insistence on giving below replacement value players lots of playing time. fortunately, last year and this year, that trend has improved with the rise of the farm system.

nick stavinoha. khalil greene. pedro feliz. over the past several seasons, we've seen a lot of players who have represented negative value to the team, to the great frustration of the club and its fans. in 2011 and 2012, we have fortunately seen a reversal of that trend. on the position player front, in particular, the team is largely avoiding giving away wins (other than small sample size issues from bit players).

between 2008 and 2010, nick stavinoha somehow amassed 278 major league PAs and was worth a negative 1.4 wins to the team in that fraction of a season. ignoring the contributions of pitchers on offense, the cardinals in 2009 amassed a total of 2.3 negative WAR from a handful of position players. in 2010, 2.0 WAR was lost from the team by sub-replacement value players. in 2011, that shrunk to -0.7 WAR. in 2012, that negative WAR again stuck at -0.7.

you're never going to really be rid of some negative performance. you have to give rookies a chance to develop, and small sample size issues will often give someone a negative WAR. this year, for instance, matt adams, ryan jackson, and tyler greene were responsible for all the negative position player WAR; there's a case to be made that each of those players had adequate potential to justify the playing time, and that it's likely that each of them will afford positive value in the future (tyler greene detractors can feel free to snort derisively here).

but it's good to see real black holes on the roster becoming a thing of the past. we lost about as much value in 2009 and 2010 from sub-replacement value players as we gained from ryan ludwick each year.

we have been less successful at staying away from value loss in the bullpen, which becomes increasingly inexplicable and inexcusable as our pitching depth improves (indeed, much faster than our position player depth). in 2009, we lost 1.6 wins to sub-replacement value pitching. in 2010, which was not a particular heyday for pitching depth to my mind, we lost 1.2 wins from bad pitching. in 2011 - even as our position players were looking sharp - we lost 3.7 wins to bad pitching. in 2012, we lost 1.9 wins to bad pitching.

a lot of that lost value has been closely associated with an ill-considered love affair with left-handed relievers. almost half the below replacement value pitching in 2012 was attributable to left-handed relievers (-0.9 WAR). in 2011, we lost 1.1 wins to left-handed relievers. over the past four seasons, left-handed relievers have provided only 1.2 WAR in positive value, for a net loss of a full win above replacement over that time.

i know i drive this point home repeatedly, but it bears repeating: while platoon splits are real, a good pitcher of either handedness is much preferable to a mediocre left-hander. mindlessly replacing a very good right-handed pitcher with a poor left-hander is rapidly becoming my pet peeve. while handedness is a good place to start when looking at platoon splits, it shouldn't be the end of the manager's thought process either.

right now, our bullpen management of left-handed relievers is giving away wins. that should be concerning to everyone. and it's not just a feature of the lefties being effective in high-leverage situations and amassing bad stats covering in blowouts: left-handed relievers across 2011 and 2012 lost a net 4.4 WPA.

as with some of the sample size issues seen with position players, you're unlikely to ever have a year when nobody produces negative WAR; somebody's going to appear for three innings and pitch badly. but it's good to see the cardinals increasingly willing to cut ties with guys whose claim to a roster spot seems to have more to do with longevity than skill. the release of kyle mcclellan this week - exactly replacement value for his career - was the latest of these gestures.

every year, the cardinals seem to go out and get some dreadful left-handed retread, just for the sake of having another left-hander in the bullpen. trevor rosenthal and edward mujica are very good at getting left-handed batters out, better than almost anyone we are likely to pick up on the reliever market. the club should learn to value what it has on hand, so we can stop wasting money, roster spots, and wins on bad pitchers.

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