Pete Kozma & the Worst Individual Batting Seasons in St. Louis Cardinals History

Christian Petersen

The St. Louis Cardinals have the best record in baseball even though their starting shortstop is on pace for one of the worst individual offensive seasons in franchise history.

On Saturday, Dan looked at the shortstops presently in the St. Louis Cardinals system that could replace current shortstop Pete Kozma. The impetus for the post was Nate Grimm's tweet on Kozma's bad hitting line and St. Louis Post-Dispatch columnist Bernie Miklasz's belief that the Redbirds probable will not be trading for a shortstop this season. Left unexplored in Dan's insightful post was just how horrendous Kozma has been on offense this season.

The shortstop Jeff Luhnow compared to Nomar Garciapara after the Cardinals selected him with the 18th overall pick in the 2007 draft has posted an on-base percentage (.282) and a slugging percentage (.300) that are each lower than Garciapara's career batting average (.313). Behold the horror of Kozma's offensive stats:

PETE KOZMA OFFENSIVE STATS (2013)

Player

PA

BA

OBP

SLG

ISO

OPS

wOBA

wRC+

Pete Kozma

333

.242

.285

.300

.058

.585

.300

61

*Stats are through play on Saturday, July 27, 2013.

To date Kozma has tallied 333 plate appearances (PA) this season. He will make more. It's a question of how many. The Cardinals could severely cut down on the number of PAs Kozma takes and the number of outs he will make by trading for a shortstop or installing Daniel Descalso at the position. This post looks at what Kozma could accomplish if the Cardinals do not displace him via trade or Descalso. If Kozma plays the whole season as the club's primary shortstop, how historically bad will his offensive line be?

We must first set up the parameters for measuring Kozma's futility against the Cardinals of yore. To do this, I'm simply going to use the updated 2013 forecasts from the ZiPS and Steamer projections available for free at Fangraphs. For Kozma, Steamer finds it most likely he will notch 500 PAs in 2013 while ZiPS forecasts 546 as the shortstop's most likely PA total.

How many Cardinals players have been allowed to be as bad as or worse than Kozma in a season in which they've totaled 500 or more PAs?

Establishing our benchmarks for futility over the various eras of baseball history is done fairly easily. The "plus" offensive stats do this type of comparison quite well. They do so by adjusting a player's offensive stats for ballpark and offensive environment. This allows us to compare Cardinals who played their home games in Sportsman's Park with those who played in astroturfed Busch II with Redbirds who call Busch III home.

For this exercise, I'm going to use Weighted Runs Created Plus or wRC+. The Runs Created stat was first put forth by Bill James and has subsequently been refined. Essentially, it takes each offensive act of a player--strikeout, walk, single, double, triple, homer, stolen base, caught stealing, etc.--and assigns to it a run value. Unlike OPS, which overvalues slugging percentage (SLG) as compared to on-base percentage (OBP) by placing them on equal footing, Runs Created properly gives reaching base safely more value than hitting for power. Thus, wRC+ is a more accurate reflection of the value a player's offensive profile gives his club than OPS+.

The Fangraphs Glossary gives a further explanation for wRC+:

Similar to OPS+, Weighted Runs Created Plus (wRC+) measures how a player's wRC compares with league average. League average is 100, and every point above 100 is a percentage point above league average. For example, a 125 wRC+ means a player created 25% more runs than league average. Similarly, every point below 100 is a percentage point below league average, so a 80 wRC+ means a player created 20% fewer runs than league average.

Entering play on Sunday, Kozma's wRC+ was 61, which means he had created 39% fewer runs than league average. Even for a shortstop, this is quite bad. Amongst shortstops who have qualified for their league's batting title this season (and through play on Saturday), Kozma's 61 wRC+ placed 17th out of 19 players, just ahead of Elvis Andrus (60) and Alcides Escobar (57).

How many St. Louis players have notched 500 or more PAs and posted a wRC+ as bad as Kozma's current 61? Going all the way back to 1887, there have been nine ballplayers with over 500 PAs and a wRC+ of 61 or lower. Three of them played in the 19th century, before the club was even called the "Cardinals."

I put together the following chart of the 15 worst individual offensive seasons in the history of the St. Louis franchise where the player tallied 500 or more PAs. This gives a broader spectrum of where Kozma might land. Given Kozma's offensive ineptitude to date, it seems that he could finish as bad as second on this list or as bad as fifteenth. (There is no "good," "okay," "mediocre," "meh," or even "below-average" on this list; it's all bad.)

WORST 15 OFFENSIVE SEASONS IN ST. LOUIS FRANCHISE HISTORY BY wRC+ (MIN. 500 PAs)

Player

Year

PA

BA

OBP

SLG

ISO

OPS

wOBA

wRC+

Leo Durocher

1937

520

.203

.262

.245

.042

.507

.244

33

Harry Lyons

1888

522

.194

.230

.259

.064

.489

.233

52

Mike Tyson

1973

506

.243

.279

.299

.055

.578

.256

54

Joe Quinn

1893

584

.230

.279

.285

.055

.564

.277

56

Julian Javier

1970

551

.251

.284

.306

.055

.590

.264

56

Tommy Thevenow

1926

608

.256

.291

.311

.055

.602

.285

56

Terry Pendleton

1986

626

.239

.279

.306

.067

.585

.257

57

Shorty Fuller

1889

574

.226

.303

.284

.058

.587

.292

61

Emil Verban

1944

538

.257

.287

.293

.036

.580

.276

61

Shorty Fuller

1891

657

.217

.301

.276

.060

.577

.292

63

Dal Maxvill

1967

530

.227

.297

.279

.053

.576

.258

65

Arlie Latham

1885

508

.206

.242

.256

.049

.498

.236

65

Marty Marion

1948

613

.252

.298

.333

.081

.631

.297

66

Vince Coleman

1986

670

.232

.301

.280

.048

.581

.270

66

Red Schoendienst

1947

710

.253

.304

.332

.079

.636

.300

66

Leo Derocher's 1937 consisted of 520 PAs with an offensive line of .203/.262/.245 that equals an astounding 33 wRC+. Derocher's offensive production in 1937 was 77% below league-average. His wRC+ is 19 points lower than the franchise's second-worst offensive season. St. Louis offensive futility has two categories: Derocher and everybody else. It's hard to imagine Kozma's offensive numbers falling to the sub-basement level of 1937 Derocher.

Where would Kozma's 2013 fall amongst the worst offensive seasons in St. Louis history? If he winds up with a 61 wRC+, he would tie with Shorty Fuller and Emil Verban for the eighth worst offensive season ever for a St. Louis ballplayer. Given Kozma's ineptitude, his 2013 placing as low as second on the all-time list is not out of the realm of possibility. This makes the Cardinals inquiring about shortstops via trade understandable. However, the list also gives some support to the notion that trading for a shortstop is not a necessity.

In 1926, the Cardinals defeated the Murderers' Row Yankees in the World Series with Tommy Thevenow posting the fourth-worst offensive season in franchise history. As if the oddity of postseason small sample sizes needed additional reinforcement, Thevenow was instrumental in the Cards' defeat of the Yanks. He hit .417/.440/.583 over 26 PAs in the seven-game World Series.

Verban was the Cardinals' starting second baseman in 1944. He totaled 538 PAs and posted a .257/.287/.293 line that ties for the eighth-worst in franchise history. The Cardinals won 105 games that year, the National League pennant, and the World Series. As with Thevenow, Verban provides evidence that anything is possible in a Major League postseason series. Verban hit .412/.474/.412 during the Cardinals' 4-2 series win over the Browns.

Dal Maxvill was the primary shortstop for the original "El Birdos" Cardinals of 1967. His awful .227/.297/.279 over 530 PAs equals a 65 wRC+, the 11th worst individual offensive season in the history of St. Louis baseball. One might say that El Birdos won 101 games and the World Series in spite of Maxvill. In the World Series, he hit .158/.304/.263. His October .568 OPS was actually a bit worse than his horrendous regular-season .576 OPS.

Kozma helped propel the Cardinals into the Wild Card and NLCS just last year. However, the offensive production of a year ago has proved an illusion. Kozma's true offensive talent level is all-time bad. While allowing Kozma to earn a dubious spot in franchise history undoubtedly hurts the club's World Series aspirations, there is historical precedent for world champions trotting out a no-hit middle infielder daily. As the trade deadline approaches and the season's home stretch begins, it will be interesting to see if the Cardinals give Kozma a chance to make history.

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