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fun again

congratulations to the brewers and their fans --- first playoff season since ’82, and only their second ever (discounting the ’81 strike playoffs). the old Northwest Territory will be very well represented this october --- chicago, milwaukee, and either minnesota or the south side. (c’mon twins . . . )

in 2007, the season couldn’t end fast enough for me. when the schedule ran out, i mainly felt relief that i wouldn’t have to write or read about that awful team anymore. this year i feel just the opposite: i really liked the 2008 cardinals. perhaps the main reason i liked them is because they decidedly weren’t the grouchy 2007 bunch; by comparison, almost any team would have seemed likeable. but if this team had staggered through a 76-86 campaign, as was generally predicted, i doubt i would feel much affection for them, no matter how hard they played. after a year of tragedy and tension, we needed a year in which baseball was pure fun again. the organization delivered.

it caught my attention just last week that the cards had a fair chance to post the franchise’s highest team batting average of the last half-century; thanks to a furious closing burst of hitting, they actually did better than that. they finished the year with a team average of .28122, beating out the 1954 cardinals’ mark of .28085. the last cardinal team to finish with a higher batting average than the 2008 team was the 1939 club, which batted .294.

that ‘39 team had two players who batted .380 or higher in more than 100 at-bats, don padgett and curt davis. they are the last cardinals to pull off this feat until felipe lopez did it this year. lopez hit .385 in 156 at-bats after joining the cardinals, the 7th best average in franchise history (post-1900) by a player with more than 100 at-bats. here are the top 10:

ab avg
rogers hornsby, 1924 536 .424
rogers hornsby, 1925 504 .403
rogers hornsby, 1922 623 .401
don padgett, 1939 233 .399
rogers hornsby, 1921 592 .397
ray blades, 1930 101 .396
felipe lopez, 2008 156 .385
rogers hornsby, 1923 424 .384
curt davis, 1939 105 .381
stan musial, 1948 611 .376

can we conclude anything at all from lopez’s post-trade breakout? flukes do happen, but still --- .385? i mean, .330 is a fluke; .385 seems like a different order of magnitude, ie like it might be related to actual ability. since the divisional era began, there have only been 15 full or partial (ie, post-trade) seasons in which a player compiled more than 100 at-bats and batted higher than .370 --- 3 by tony gwynn, and most of the rest by stars like george brett, larry walker, ichiro, and rod carew. lopez becomes only the 4th journeyman player on the list; the others are broderick perkins (1980), david dellucci (1999), and oscar gamble (1979, after his midseason trade to the yankees). perkins batted .280 the following year, gamble .278, and dellucci .300 in just 50 at-bats; in 2001 he hit .276 as a half-time player on a world-championship team.

based on this extremely limited evidence, we might guess that lopez’s gaudy average really does mean something; can’t draw any firm conclusions from it with so few precedents, but in the last 40 years every guy who batted .385 for two months continued to produce at a decent clip the following year. lopez finishes this season with a .283 overall average; he batted .274 in 2006 and .291 in 2005, so it seems reasonable to characterize him as a reliable .280 hitter --- one with decent pop and good speed and an acceptable walk rate. pretty well-rounded offensive player for a middle infielder. he’s no good w/ the glove, but that’s why god made the defensive substitute. lopez will be 29 years old next year, and he wants to stick around; if the cards were to sign him up for a year or two, cheap, and make him the everyday 2bman, i wouldn’t mind.

re the lohse contract --- goold reports at Bird Land that it’s similar to the carlos silva deal from last winter, ie 4 years and $48m. if those figures are anywhere close to true, i think it’s a dreadful use of resources; all-star money for an average player. the contract has a chance to pay fair returns in year one, but by year three i think it’s gonna be a mangy dog --- the type of deal that makes the team worse, not better; the type of deal everybody bitches about on talk radio. at the very top of his game lohse might be worth $12m a year, but no player is at his peak all the time. he’s never going to give you a $15m season for your $12m --- he’s just not that good --- but he is very capable of having a $5m year. it’s nearly all downside risk; there’s almost no upside. check out the playoff teams this year; how many mid- to back-end starters are making $10m a year on those teams? i count two: ted lilly (who the cards could have had 2 years ago for less than they're now gonna pay lohse) and suppan, who had a joel pineiro-like season for the brewers and may not crack their postseason rotation. now look at the crappy teams ---- miguel batistas and jarrod washburns and kevin millwoodses and gil meches abound. the 2008 playoffs will be dominated by young, cost-controlled starting pitchers --- the dodgers, phillies, rays, angels, and twins / chisox are all trotting at least 2 of them out there. last year's playoffs were similarly skewed (see the rotations of the rockies, indians, dbacks).

ah hell; i'm repeating myself. here’s an old post that sums up my position. and here’s another one. whatever its defects, at least this contract will make la russa happy. . . . . .

tune in tomorrow for some information about important changes at VEB.