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Skip to the Lou

Recently, Derek Goold and Joe Strauss at the p-d posted their ideas of who will be in the opening-day starting lineup for the Cards. You can find them here and here .

What’s interesting about both lineups is that they both have Skip Schumaker as the leadoff hitter, playing RF. To me, Skip has always been this year’s So Taguchi – the guy who can play any OF position, pinch-hit, maybe pinch-run, very little power, defensive replacement sort of #5 OF. It’s possible that Brian Barton will fill that role on this year’s team and it’s also possible that So, had he remained on this year’s team, would be in the opening-day starting lineup but I find Skip’s inclusion a little surprising.

Set aside the fact that Colby Rasmus has been the team’s best OF this spring, assuming everyone finishes the spring healthy, we have a pretty good idea who the 5 OFs will be on the opening-day roster – Ankiel, Barton, Duncan, Ludwick, and Schumaker. Of the 5, only Ankiel appears to be an every day OF as he appears set to start the year in CF. As we know, Chris Duncan is relegated to LF (and Pujols’ backup) but the other 5 OFs have the ability to play more than 1 of the OF positions – an essential skill considering the fact that none have established themselves as everyday players. That said, both Goold’s and Strauss’ opening-day lineups have Ankiel in CF and Skip in RF. Strauss likes Ludwick to start in LF but Goold likes Barton to start in LF.

Below is a table that shows the number of PAs and games played in each of the OF positions for everyone except Duncan this spring. Duncan’s been hurt and is relegated to LF but the other #s should give us an indicator of where things are headed once the games start counting.

Ankiel 61 7 11 0
Barton 54 7 3 7
Ludwick 60 13 3 7
Schumaker 57 5 6 11

We can see that LaRussa seems to be trending toward Ankiel being the everyday CF. This is a big step for someone w/ as little experience playing the OF as he has though he certainly has the arm for it and, I believe, has the athleticism for it as well. Suffice to say, however, there will be some adventures out there as well. Tony clearly has more faith in Ankiel in CF than any of the other OFs on the roster. Tony seems to like Ludwick in RF – perhaps that’s partly b/c Duncan is limited to LF but it’s not too tough to imagine an OF vs. righties w/ Duncan in LF, Ankiel in CF, and Ludwick in RF. It’s the idea of Schumaker being the regular platoon vs. left-handed pitchers that I’m struggling with.

Jeff Francis is set to start opening-day against the home team. He’s a very good left-handed pitcher and our struggles over the last couple of years vs. lefties have been well-documented, not the least of which came exactly two weeks ago. So, of the two right-handed hitters in our OF, one of them will start on opening day. It seems to be a foregone conclusion that Duncan will sit. Does this indicate that Duncan will remain strictly a platoon player, only seeing the field against right-handed pitchers? I’m not sure how I feel about that. I’m not altogether opposed to platoons. Quite the contrary, I think they can be very effective if utilized correctly and Duncan, throughout his career, has been a pretty poor hitter vs. lefties,

On the other hand, this is a developmental year and Duncan has exactly 142 PAs against lefties throughout his career. He still has as much power as anyone in our OF and there’s no time like the present to find out if he is a platoon player or someone who can play every day. It’s a little strange to me that Ankiel has become an every day player who won’t sit vs. lefties on the basis of his 76 career PAs against lefties. I know he’s hit them well but we’re talking about 76 career plate appearances, for crying out loud! Sample sizes don’t get much smaller than that! It’s not like Ankiel has established himself as a tremendous CF or as the only OF on our roster who can play the position either.

So then why does Skip get the start against lefties ahead of Duncan? Skip does have better numbers against lefties than Duncan but, again, we’re talking about 41 PAs against major league lefties. His minor league numbers, again, are OK but in ’07, with just 73 PAs, his OPS was just .676 despite a .333 OBP. With Duncan’s power, couldn’t he put up a .676 OPS even if his OBP is considerably lower? Maybe this is just to give him an opportunity to play early in the season and it’s not the sign of a trend.

But maybe it’s LaRussa choosing Skip’s defense in LF over Duncan’s against lefties. That’s not altogether unreasonable considering Duncan’s absolutely horrid defense. Skip’s defensive advantage breaks the tie in their offense…maybe. Still, the difference between one of the better LFs last year (Matt Holliday) and one of the worst (Duncan) was about 14 runs defensively. That’s about a win and a half difference between the very best defensive LFs and the very worst. Last year, about 27% of major-league ABs came against lefties so, if we assume that Skip would be among the best defensive LFs in the game, he would be worth about .38 wins defensively over Chris Duncan in a platoon scenario. Isn’t it worth 2/5 of a win to find out if Duncan can hit lefties consistently? Isn’t it possible that, b/c of Duncan’s power and batting eye, his offense would be worth 2/5 of a win over Skip’s? To me, this is a very strange platoon. Skip offers virtually no power – has 3 career major-league homers – and doesn’t offer a lot in terms of stolen bases either – 4 in his career and a 65% success rate throughout the minors. Duncan’s upside, even against lefties, seems to be much bigger than Skip’s and Skip’s defense, though clearly better, doesn’t seem to provide a significant enough boost to offset Duncan’s offensive upside. That said, it is entirely consistent w/ LaRussa’s preference entering this year of focusing on defense, as evidenced by the Izturis signing.

    In other matters:

  • it appears as though Brendan Ryan should be OK for opening day. He is, after all, the backup 3B as well as another backup middle infielder. D’Angelo Jimenez’s chance of making the major league roster just fell to next-to-none.
  • and, for those of you who still harbored dreams of Miguel Cabrera joining Albert in our lineup, Detroit has apparently signed him to an 8 year, $153 million contract. According to the report, he would receive just over $11 M this year and then $19 M for the next 7 years. This strikes me, at first glance, as a very good contract for the Tigers. First of all, he’s only 24 and could conceivably become the premier hitter in the AL during the next 8 years. Hell, it might happen this year. Consider the fact that A-Rod is 32 now and set to earn an average of $27.5 M for the next 10 years and Cabrera’s contract seems to be a hell of a bargain. Yes, I know he was fat last year and he’s a terrible 3B defensively. Is A-Rod 45% better than Cabrera? I’d say "NO" – emphatically. The guy can mash and to get him for less than what the Yankees will pay Jeter this year is a pretty good deal. Though it means he’ll likely never be a Cardinal, I wonder if it doesn’t bode well for the Cardinals’ chances of extending Pujols’ contract in 2010.

Happy Easter to all. I hope the Easter Bunny put lots of joy and self-fulfillment in each of your basket and I hope he (do we know the Easter Bunny’s a "he"?) brought all Cards’ fans some extra patience this year. I fear we’ll need it.