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K's, KMac, and the Keystone

Ok, so let’s get right to the results of our pitcher projections.
Wainer 70
Lohse 50
Welley 50
Pineiro 50
Boggs 30
KMac 50
Franklin 50
Motte 50
Perez 70
Miller 40
Thompson 30
Kinney 50
Carp 70
Carp’s innings 119

Today I think we were a little more realistic. The 40 next to Miller’s name indicates that there was a tie between 50 and under. Erik can decide how he wants to handle that. I was surprised, given all the love on this board for Kinney and Motte, that their projections were not more optimistic (though I think their 50% projections are pretty optimistic) and a little surprised there’s so much love for Perez. I like Perez, too, but I’d be surprised if his ERA ended up in the low 3’s. Speaking of Kinney, I went w/ the ZIPS projection yesterday b/c I wasn’t (for some reason) able to access the new PECOTA spreadsheet. Talk about an optimistic projection for Kinney! If I had gone w/ that one – ERA of 3.19 and 48 Ks in 51 IP – I suppose there would have been a lot more "under"s. I hope Erik’s got enough info to get him going here. Thanks to him for letting us be involved.

Now that Randy Wolf has signed, I was going over this list of the still unsigned free agent pitchers over at mlbtraderumors and trying to see if there was anyone there worth having. Apparently we have some interest in Kris Benson, who was terrible for the Phillies’ AAA team last year. Remember, that’s the international league, not the PCL. Not sure why there’s any interest on our part. Isn’t Boggs or Todd a better option – or at least just as good? They’re close and I’d much rather see what we have in our system than offer some starts to a 33 year old retread like Benson.

Anyway, it appears as though our old friend Braden Looper is the top name on the list. Sheets is hurt and Schilling’s old. Suffice to say, there are no difference makers on the list. I believe we could sign Looper today if we wanted to. I’d rather give him 1 year and $6 M than give Kris Benson a minor-league contract but neither is a very good option, IMO. Looper’s at best a 2 win player – not a difference maker, and not the difference between making the playoffs and not. It’s been a long time getting me to this point, but I’m starting to believe that the best option for the 5th starter role, in the eventuality that Carp is unavailable for much of the season, is already on the roster. He’s one Kyle McClellan. Yes, his departure would make the pen slightly worse but, with the emergence of Motte and Perez and the health (God-willing) of Josh Kinney, we’ve got the depth to support moving KMac to the rotation.

AZ has been a big supporter of this move for some time and Dunc said recently that he’s going to prepare KMac to start. If his arm won’t hold up – he did tire and lose effectiveness toward the end of last season – he can return to the pen. If it does, we’ve got a solid middle-to-back of the rotation starter for next to nothing. I’d rather trade Ankiel for Andy Sonnastine but that horse left the barn some time ago.

Matthew Leach has a fairly interesting read over at the Cards’ page on Kennedy’s competition at 2B. It mentions Joe Thurston, Brendan Ryan, Brian Barden, and Skip. No mention of LaRussa’s plan to have Joe Mather take some balls at the keystone. I also read over at mlbtraderumors how Ray Durham is contemplating retirement since nobody loves him. Durham’s always been a hitter and never been a fielder though, according to UZR, he was basically an average fielder last year. That’s still 2 wins worse than Kennedy just on defense alone. There’s probably no need for Durham considering the players we have available and the fact that he’s not that much better than Kennedy at the plate to justify the defensive loss. Add to that the fact that any playing time Durham would get in the spring would take time away from any of the others at the keystone and I say – veto!

This whole "let’s move Skip and Mather to 2nd" thing has always seemed pretty absurd to me. You move players the other direction on the defensive spectrum, not toward SS and 2B. Additionally, Mather’s like 9 feet, 25 inches tall and built like an NFL tight end. Anybody else in the majors built like Apollo playing 2B? Skip LOOKS like a 2B but has been moved from middle infield to the OF. That doesn’t portend well for a move back to the middle infield. To me, it sounds a lot like the idea I had (kidding, of course…mostly) back in the early to mid-90’s when we had no pitching and were rotating Lankford, Gilkey, Whiten, and Jordan in the OF. My idea was to have each one of them pitch every 4th day so that we’d at least be able to get all their bats in the lineup on the same day. They couldn’t be any worse than Rene Arocha or Omar Olivares.

But Skip and Joe are considerably better hitters than the other guys – especially Mather…potentially, anyway. The question then becomes, "How well would these guys have to hit in order to justify their almost certain horrific defense at the keystone?" A player’s value, in terms of runs, can be figured by adding their wRAA, their UZR, their position and the replacement value of that position. The ability to play 2B would increase both Skip’s and Mather’s value but their defense would, as I said, likely be horrific.

Let’s assume that they are as bad defensively as the worst 2B in the league last year – Jeff Kent. Kent’s UZR/150 was -15.5 runs. Let’s also assume that last season’s defensive performance by Kennedy was an aberration. He’s always been a pretty good defensive player but last year he was the best in the bigs. His career UZR/150 is 9.9 – about 1 win above average – so let’s go w/ that number rather than the 22.2 he posted last year. I’m going to use their Chone projections for wRAA and expand them to reflect 600 PAs – a full season – in order to be consistent w/ using UZR/150 for defense.

wRAA UZR/150 positional adjustment replacement level total
Kennedy -10.3 9.9 2.5 20 22.1
Skip 0.2 -15.5 2.5 20 7.2
Mather 7.7 -15.5 2.5 20 14.7

If each meets their 50% Chone offensive projections, Mather and Skip are going to have to be much closer to average defensive players in order to justify any real playing time at the keystone. Kennedy’s nearly a win better than Mather b/c of the 2.5 win difference in their defensive abilities. Yes, Mather’s a much better hitter but not enough to compensate for the difference in what will likely be their defensive abilities. It wouldn’t surprise me if Skip is a better defensive player than Jeff Kent but his offensive abilities aren’t nearly what Mather’s are. The difference between Kennedy’s runs and Skip’s are almost exactly the difference between Skip’s defensive projection and the average 2B. That’s what Skip will have to be – an average defensive player at 2b – in order to justify taking any playing time from Kennedy. It doesn’t make him better. It makes him equal to Kennedy. I don’t mind seeing what they’ve got this spring but I think we’re deluding ourselves if we think that either Skip or Mather is going to win the 2b job and keep it throughout the season.