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More Defense...Yay!

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I’ve said it time and again over the last several weeks: if you’re not checking out fangraphs every day, you’re missing great stuff. It has become, IMO, the preeminent source for baseball stats and analysis on the web. Earlier this week, the website went all-in for defensive numbers, adding runs saved by OFs’ arms and runs saved by being able to turn a double play. Jackpot!

On Thursday, they posted their best and worst OF arms over the last 3 years – which OFs have saved or cost their teams the most runs with their arms. Some of you won’t believe this, and others of you won’t like it, but guess whose name turned out #1 among OF arms over the last 3 years? The one, the only – Alfonso Soriano. It’s true. Soriano has saved his teams more than 25 runs over the last 3 years. Who’s been the worst? Brian Giles – costing the Pads nearly 20 runs over the same time period. From 2003-2005, Jim Edmonds was #1 in the bigs – saving Cards’ pitchers nearly 22 runs over that time period.

So what can we tell about our current array of Cards’ OFs? I’ve broken it up by OF position (damn, I love that site!). RngR is runs saved or, if negative, cost the team due to the OF’s range.

POS Year Inn ARM RngR
Ludwick RF 2007 252.1 0.9 1.7
Ludwick RF 2008 962.1 6.3 -4.2
Ankiel RF 2007 197.2 1.9 2.4
Skip RF 2007 115.1 -0.1 0.5
Duncan RF 2007 151.1 -0.6 -0.1
Ankiel CF 2007 137 0.2 -0.8
Ankiel CF 2008 766.1 2.8 -6.4
Skip CF 2008 552.2 -2.4 -2.3
Edmonds CF 2007 828.1 1.6 -2.7
Duncan LF 2007 747 2.7 -6.0
Duncan LF 2008 321.1 -3.2 1.5
Mather LF 2008 124.2 0.5 2.0
Ludwick LF 2007 324 -0.6 6.3
Ludwick LF 2008 169.2 -0.2 -2.5
Ankiel LF 2008 131 0.1 -3.3
Skip LF 2007 122.2 -1.0 -0.2
Skip LF 2008 338.1 2.3 5.0

First of all, is Skip even an OF anymore? I don’t know. Ludwick’s ARM number was tied for 4th highest in the bigs last year. 6 runs a year w/ your arm is pretty stout. I’ve been assuming, particularly since this Skip-to-second thing started, that Colby would start in CF w/ Ankiel in RF and Ludwick in LF. Perhaps Ludwick should start in RF and Rick in LF considering the fact that Ludwick saves more runs w/ his arm even than Ankiel. We know, of course, about Ankiel’s huge arm but sometimes he lets it get the better of him – making throws he shouldn’t make or air-mailing Glaus or Yadi in an attempt to make something out of nothing. Would keeping him in LF harness him a little, thus leaving the threat w/o him having to use it so often? There’s little doubt that Rick’s number last year would have been a few runs higher if he wasn’t so erratic, both with his throws and his decision-making.

The other thing that’s noticeable from looking at the major league leader boards, both in terms of ARM runs saved and Range runs saved, is that the top defensive OFs in baseball can save 15-20, and maybe more than 20, runs per year just defensively. In other words, replacement level offensive OFs can be league-average OFs just by playing great defense. With Rasmus’ defensive reputation, it’s not unreasonable to think that he could be a 12-15 run defensive OF so that it won’t take that much for him to be a 2.5-3 WAR player w/ just decent offense as a rookie.

Last year, the best double play 2B in baseball was the Rays’ Akinori Iwamura. He was worth almost 2.5 runs to his team just in turning double plays. The worst – Cards’ alumnus Placido Polanco. That really surprises me, as he’s always had a good defensive reputation, and, overall, he was slightly better than league average in the field but he cost the Tigers more than 3 runs last year trying to turn the DP. By the way, the 2nd worst in the bigs turning the DP was Brian Roberts – a slightly below average 2B last year (in the field).

So how did our guys do? It should come as little surprise that Adam Kennedy was tied for 6th in the big leagues at turning the DP, saving Cards’ pitchers more than 1 run last year just in being able to turn the DP. Miles was minus 0.1 and Lopez minus 0.3 – basically league average turning the DP in ’08. Brendan Ryan, in 149 innings was minus 0.7 – not very good, but maybe it’s too small a sample on which to make a judgment.

At short, both Izturis and Khalil Greene were minus 0.5 runs turning the DP. Bobby Crosby was the best in the bigs w/ just over 3 runs saved turning the DP and Yunel Escobar was the worst, costing the Braves nearly 4 runs.

A lot of us are concerned about how well Skip will be able to turn the DP when live action begins, and with good reason, IMO. However, what should be evident is that the difference between the best and the worst fielders in the big leagues last year was about 5.5 runs at the keystone and 7 runs at short. It’s just more than half a win between the best and the worst. If Skip hurts the team defensively, it’s probably not going to be b/c he’s bad at turning the DP. It’s unlikely that he’ll help the team much here, but his inability to turn the DP won’t harm the team appreciably either.

In other news, actually there’s quite a lot of it over at the p-d, Derrick Goold’s got a good article up about the Cards’ non-roster invitees to camp. We know that Rasmus, Freese, and Wallace are part of that group, but it gives some pretty good info about some of the relievers and IFs converted to Cs as well as Jon Jay.

Joe Mather, as we knew a couple of weeks ago, is going to get some time at second this spring as well. Why not? No word yet from Tony on how many weeks it will take Mather to become a league average second baseman. I’d say it’ll probably happen by mid-April. First of May at the latest!

And, oh yeah, Mo’s been in contact w/ Izzy’s agent about a possible return in ’09. Too bad I can’t find the link. I think I gave up due to frustration w/ the possibility.

Lastly, check out the Maple Street Cardinals Annual (there’s now a link in the fanshots as well) and consider placing an order. As Dan told you yesterday, he’s got an article, redbaron’s got one, erik’s got one, Will Leitch from Deadspin and, I believe, Brian Gunn’s got one as well. Of course, our esteemed alumnus lboros put the whole thing together. Almost forgot – I’ve got one there too on Dave Duncan’s impact on Cards’ pitchers since his arrival. That, alone, will be worth the price of the magazine (or, if not, there’s other good stuff in there!).