The Emperor's New Glove
(I look forward to the SEO hits the title of this piece brings.)
Thus far into the season, the Cardinals have allowed the 51 runs behind only Washington. They have scored 111 runs behind the Rangers, Red Sox and Yankees. Clearly the Cardinals are not only a good team but well rounded one based on early season returns. As is the tradition of internet prognosticators everywhere, however, there is one position that the Cardinals clearly need to improve, right?
With the trio of Daniel Descalso, Tyler Greene and now Skip Schumaker at second base, the Cardinals have continued their time honored tradition of punting that position. Descalso can't hit. Tyler Greene is all unfulfilled potential and Skip Schumaker is the Emperor with no glove even though managers keep swearing to us that he's wearing a glove. (He's wearing a new glove, the best glove ever.)
Despite the ineptness that many of us, myself included, perceive the second baseman to exude, they have been uninspiring in their adequacy.
Rest assured that Descalso, Greene and Schumaker constitute a circus act of midgets playing second base. But they're OUR circus act of midgets and, somehow, they're taller than a bunch of the other midgets we've got running around in the MLB. Cardinal second baseman actually rank square in the middle of second base offensive production when evaluating by OPS.
|16. St. Louis||.693|
|28. San Francisco||.527|
That is one hell of a spread from Houston's Jose Altuve all the way down to the White Sox Gordon Beckham. The Cardinals fall neatly in the middle. While Skip Schumaker has shown some ability to hit in his few at bats this season even Descalso's line (.681 OPS) in and of itself is enough to keep the Cardinals out of the bottom third of offensive production at that position.
Fun Fact: The Cardinals second baseman are currently out producing Matt Holliday. (Sorry, Matt Holliday.)
A .693 OPS is not terribly convincing that the club is fielding a competent squad of players at that position. When was the last time that the club's second base show wasn't subtitled "Thoroughly Mediocre"? We've been entrenched in the middle third of the league for several years now. Though that's an improvement over 2007 when Aaron Miles and Adam Kennedy combined to rank 29th out of 30 teams for second base production. Even in the glory years of 2004 and 2005, the team failed to drag themselves out of the doldroms of second base mediocrity.
You have to go all the way back to 2001. All the way back to a team with Mike Matheny behind the plate rather than in the dugout. All the way back to a team where Mark McGwire was the one hitting dingers. All the way back to a team where Rick Ankiel threw strikes from 60' and 6" rather than from the outfield. Led by Fernando Vina, the 2001 Cardinals ranked 9th in OPS for second base with a .772 mark.
So when we talk about second base and the lack of production there, it's very true that the Cardinals have been very mediocre for a very long time. Kolten Wong seems to be the only hope of turning that around. Much as Jose Altuve has created a spot for himself in Houston, Wong will look to do the same as early as next year based on who you ask. And why not? The bar isn't set very high. The trio of Schumaker, Descalso and Greene have been adequate in 2012 but adequate does not preclude unexpected contenders for your job.
Whether or not Kolten Wong is ready in 2013 is a hypothetical that can be considered another day. The Cardinals have to consider the reality of second base now. After 10 years of "getting by", the team is headed for another season of the same vanilla production. It's difficult to imagine a long term solution coming in 2012 by trade given the presence of Kolten Wong so close to the majors but if it feels like a long time since the Cardinals have had a good second baseman, that's because it actually has been a long time since the Cardinals have had a good second baseman.
As teeth-grindingly frustrating that second base production and defense can be, we should be accustomed to it. Perhaps in the near future, we'll have a nice surprise when we see Wong in a box. A batter's box, that is. Until then, enjoy the Cardinals as a whole because the sum of the parts -- even a few thoroughly mediocre parts -- has proven to be pretty great in 2012.