Here's one of the things people hate about sabermetrics, I think, even when it isn't their stated reason: It gives us license to be glib. That's a pitfall of any situation in which you find yourself knowing more about something than you knew before, of course, but sabermetrics are about sports, and sports make us want to be glib and knowing. And the numbers offer us that. Pete Kozma gets the St. Louis Cardinals into the postseason and past, improbably, certain defeat in the NLDS, and the numbers say nothing so clearly as they say, "He won't do that again."
I don't think sabermetric thought precludes appreciating Kozma in the moment, though, or wishing for his future success, or any of the things I would have done if I'd watched his September run in perfect ignorance of Bill James. In that spirit, then, let's use this holiday weekend as an excuse to thank every last member of the Cardinals' 40-man roster. Today: The catchers, and possibly the infielders.
Thanks, Tony, for costing exactly as much as a replacement-level player should cost. The Cardinals' inability to develop catchers they trusted invited Einar Diaz ($600,000), Gary Bennett ($800,000 a year), Jason LaRue ($900,000), and Gerald Laird ($1 million) onto their roster. Bennett, LaRue, and Laird earned plaudits for their folk heroics, but all of them were mediocre, on the decline, and at least twice as expensive as a pre-arbitration player.
Tony Cruz has a good arm and a good-enough bat, he might get a little better than he is now, and unless Jeffrey Loria successfully pushes for the institution of a 24-man roster or hourly pay for bench players the Cardinals' payroll could not fill his spot for any less than it has now. Tony Cruz: You are not the perfect backup catcher, but you are a perfectly good backup catcher. Thanks.
I could do without the neck tattoo. I'm not sure what it means, but I think any tattoo that's on your neck ends up connoting more than it denotes. Anyway. Tattoo aside.
Yadier Molina has taken a body designed to do one baseball-related thing and maxed out his potential in every other category that makes for well-played, aesthetically pleasing baseball. You could look at the 2006 version of Yadier Molina and infer a few limits on his ultimate skill-set. Like:
- This player is too slow to ever be a plus baserunner or a contend for a batting title.
- This player will never put up huge double or home run numbers.
Most of those limits are still there.
But since 2006 Molina's gone from one of the slowest players in baseball to an incredibly slow baserunner who can steal 12 bases in 15 attempts--and find room for 15 attempts in a single season. He's gone from a slap-hitter who couldn't take advantage of his ability to put the ball in play to a line-drive hitter who no longer inspires so many questions about what his batting average would look like if he could beat out a ground ball. He also smiles a lot, which is a good skill to have while playing baseball for money.
He's not really a home run hitter, or a speedster, and he's probably not really the star hitter he was last year. He can't not be aggravatingly slow. But he's the player people imagine when they think of the gritty utility infielder in Plato's firmament: Within his obvious, significant limitations, he's the best he could possibly be. Thanks, Yadier Molina, for that.