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Whither Miles?

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Bad loss yesterday afternoon. It’s difficult to underscore losses like that one. We’ve got Lohse on the mound against a floundering offense. We’re playing at home and frantically chasing the Brewers…It’s a game we needed to win. Now we’re trying to win just to have a winning series and a winning week. Can you believe that a loss today will put us at 2-3 for the week, at home, against the Pirates and Braves? Not what we needed.

Kyle Lohse has been a disappointment of late -- you don’t need me to tell you that – and it’s not helping the team in this playoff push. It may be, however, making it easier for the organization to make a decision about its to offer Lohse a long-term contract. Still, it’d be nice if he pitched well down the stretch and made that decision a little tougher. In his last 5 starts, Lohse has a 6.53 ERA. He’s given up 36 hits, 8 walks and 6 homers in 27.2 IP. While his walk rate has jumped during this stretch, the big jump of course is in his HR rate. 40% of the homers he’s given up this year have been yielded during this 5 start stretch.

So what’s the deal? Well, he really hasn’t changed his pitch selection that much. Over the last 30 days, he has been throwing a few more curveballs and changeups and slightly fewer fastballs and sliders, but it doesn’t seem like a material difference. Curveballs are up .8% and changeups are up 1.1% while fastballs are down 1.3% and sliders are down .6%. It’s a very small difference. Still, he’s been a lot more hittable over this stretch. The table below shows how his batted ball data over the last 30 days compares to the full season. Data is all courtesy of fangraphs. What a great site!

GB/FB LD% GB% FB% IFFB% HR/FB BABIP
full season 1.43 22.2 45.8 32.0 6.4 8.7 .297
last 30 days .86 27.2 33.7 39.1 13.9 16.7 .341

Big difference, no? Over the last month there’s been a big increase in the percentage of balls hit for line drives and hit in the air. His ground ball percentage has (pardon the pun) bottomed out. There may be a bit of bad luck involved, as his BABIP has jumped by more than 40 points and the percentage of fly balls that have left the park has nearly doubled. Still, it’s pretty clear that batters are hitting him harder – more line drives, more homers. To me it’s a pretty good indication that he’s having a hard time locating his pitches. More pitches left over the middle of the plate means more balls hit hard and more fly balls leaving the park. It also means he’s not getting the ball down (thus, the low GB rate) like he was earlier in the year. When you try to survive w/ a K rate as low as Lohse’s (5.0/9 IP for the year; 5.59 for his career), if you’re missing your location and not getting the ball down, you’re going to get hit hard.

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The other thing I wanted to discuss is the peculiar lineup pattern that has emerged ever since Felipe Lopez was acquired. His first game as a Cardinal was on August 6. Since he was acquired, he has played in 14 games, starting 11 of them. He’s started 4 times in LF, 4 times at 2B, 2 times at SS, and once at 3B. Now, I originally saw no harm in adding Lopez. It wasn’t as if Ryan was playing great baseball or that anyone really in our middle infield was. So why not? Then Tony started him 3 times in a row in LF. With our middle infield situation being so bad this year, to me it made no sense to sign Lopez if he wasn’t going to start at SS or 2B. Izturis was the starter at SS – he had played very good defense and been terrible offensively – and Miles had basically emerged as the everyday (or most everyday) 2B. He was having his best offensive season and was adequate defensively. Adam Kennedy, as we all know and have discussed ad nauseum, was positively craptastic.

So I was on board w/ signing Lopez and playing him at SS. What did the team have to lose? Izturis has been one of baseball’s worst offensive players this year (3.83 RC/27 outs; 2.2 VORP – 192nd in baseball!) and, though he’s been solid defensively, it was worth giving Lopez a shot at seeing if his offense could outweigh his poor defense at short.

Below is a table showing our middle infielders’ performances this year w/ the Cards. It shows each player’s batting runs above replacement and average, and fielding runs above replacement and average and only includes Lopez’s numbers as a Cardinal.

BRAR BRAA FRAR FRAA
Miles 10 0 16 1
Kennedy 3 -7 16 1
Izturis 2 -9 23 6
Lopez 4 3 2 0

As you can see, Miles has been almost exactly average at 2B this year – adding 1 run to the team above what an average 2B would have provided. Compare this to Kennedy who is 6 runs worse than an average 2B would have been and it’s easy to see that Miles should be playing over Kennedy. This should surprise no one.

Izturis has been the best defensive middle infielder and the worst offensive middle infielder. He has cost the team 3 runs compared to an average SS. Now, some will say that defense is more important from a middle infield position, or from a shortstop, than offense is. My response to that is that more runs in the Cardinals’ favor is better than more runs in their opponents’ favor and the bottom line is that Izturis’ offense has been so bad that it has actually worked to negate his contributions defensively. Playing him is costing the team runs over playing an average SS.

Now, it’s not at all clear that either Lopez or Miles would be an average SS so I’m not going to use this forum today to argue that Izturis should be sitting. Though Lopez has been an average defensive player since joining the Cardinals, we’re talking about 14 whole games. It’s really difficult to make an informed judgment about a player based on 14 games. For the season, Lopez is 6 runs below average defensively – and that’s playing most of the season at 2B. In 2007, he was 4 runs below average defensively and for 2006 and 2005 he was 14 runs below average and 20 runs below average defensively, respectively. All indications are that Lopez is a bad defensive shortstop. Still, he’s hit enough in his 14 games w/ the Cards to provide 3 runs more offense than the average middle infielder. If he can hit enough, he’ll be better than Izturis simply b/c his offense will provide more runs than his defense will cost the team. Izturis, despite his solid defense, has cost the team runs this season b/c his offense is just that bad.

What I find most peculiar, however, is how the playing time has been distributed since Lopez’s arrival. There’s one thing that’s clear from the table above and that’s that Aaron Miles has been, w/o question (and it’s not easy for me to say this), the Cards’ best middle infielder this year. Whether Izturis or Lopez should be playing shortstop is moot. Aaron Miles should be playing 2B. He’s the only 1 of the 4 who’s been even an average player this season. Surely Tony, long an Aaron Miles advocate agrees, right? It doesn’t seem so.

Since Lopez became a Cardinal on August 6, here is how the PA’s and starts have been distributed among the 4 middle infielders.

PA’s starts
Miles 30 6
Kennedy 31 7
Izturis 49 11
Lopez 51 11

Last, Tony? Last? Miles is last in the number of PA’s and last in the number of starts since Lopez arrived. Even fewer PA’s and starts than Adam friggin Kennedy! I can’t believe I’m here asking why Miles isn’t playing MORE but I am. I’ll admit it. I don’t get it.

Now, in Tony’s defense, Miles hasn’t hit at all over this period -- .267 OBP and .600 OPS. But Kennedy, who has hit a little, still hasn’t been much better. Kennedy has a .321 BA and a .644 OPS. Don’t tell me, "but Kennedy’s hot right now!" Really? He does have a .321 batting average but he has 1 walk over those 15 games. ONE! Still – that’s better than the number of extra base hits he has over that period – ZERO! In 31 PA’s, Adam Kennedy – who’s hot, remember – has 9 singles, 1 walk and 0 extra base hits. Now, Aaron Miles isn’t exactly a slugging machine but it’s telling that Kennedy’s hot, Miles is slumping, and Kennedy’s OPS over this short time period is still just 44 points higher than Miles’. Izturis and Lopez have been hitting. Izturis has 16 singles and 2 doubles – WOW! Be still my heart! Lopez has begun his Cardinal career w/ an .827 OPS. That’s why we took the chance, right? To see if the 28 year old Lopez would hit like he did a couple of years ago.

But I just don’t get it. Shouldn’t the 299 PA’s Miles had prior to Lopez’s arrival count more than the 30 he’s had since Lopez arrived? More importantly, shouldn’t Kennedy’s 305 PA’s count for something? Can we not, by now, figure out that, even when Kennedy is "hot" he still stinks? Now, is this the reason the Cards lost yesterday or to the Pirates the other day? Of course not. Playing Kennedy over Miles isn’t going to keep the Cards from making the playoffs, in all likelihood but w/ just over a month left in the season, it’s time to let the Cards best players play. The time for getting bench players PA’s so that they can be ready to pinch-hit has past. Miles is better at 2B than Izturis is at SS. Miles is certainly better than Kennedy at 2B. Sheesh, I can’t believe I’m saying this but it doesn’t make a lot of difference whether Izturis or Lopez plays SS right now but Aaron Miles should be at the keystone every day. He’s better, or has been this year, than each of the other 3.

Game thread around 1:00. It’s a game we need to win.