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Greene w/ envy --- and I'm not ryan!

Maybe I’m less concerned than most over the 7th inning implosion last night but I’m not particularly bothered by it. Reyes and Motte have both been very good for most of the season and these kinds of games are going to happen from time to time. Wainwright also has been terrific over his last 4 starts and was solid through 6 last night before walking the leadoff hitter in the 7th. Still, when you walk 4 of the first 5 batters in one inning, you’re looking for trouble. The other reason I’m not really all that troubled about last night’s events is that the Cards have the 3rd best BB rate in baseball and the best BB rate in the NL. Our pitchers just don’t have that much trouble finding the strike zone so, by and large, they make hitters earn their way on. Like I said, every now and then these things are going to happen and I’d almost rather Reyes and Motte blow up in the same game than have 1 blow up last night and the other blow up tonight.

On the other hand, it had to be good to see Ryan Ludwick go deep last night. Our #2 home run hitter this year has half as many homers as Pujols, so we need more from Ludwick. This was his first homer in almost a month (May 9). Since returning from the DL, Ludwick had been 2 for 23 w/ 2 BBs entering last night so we definitely need to see him get off the schneid. Perhaps the best thing we saw last night involved Tyler Greene. It wasn’t the 2 hits and it wasn’t the stolen base either. The best thing we saw from Tyler Greene had to be the 2 walks b/c, in 1 game, he tripled his walk total for the season. In Greene’s first stint as a Cardinal, there was a lot to like. He’s got pop in his bat, plays a good shortstop, and runs well. You can see that there’s a lot of talent but he walked only 1 time in his first 41 PAs. Only Ankiel and LaRue have higher swing percentages among Cards’ position players than Tyler’s 51.0%. He’s also made contact on only 73.7% of his swings – 3rd worst on the team among Cards’ position players. Guess who #1 and #2 are… Like Ankiel and LaRue, he tends to swing early and often and misses frequently. One of the things the Cards’ organization wanted him to work on when they sent him down was his plate discipline.

He played 12 games at Memphis after being sent down and he walked 6 times in those 12 games. That’s 6 walks among 51 PAs (11.7% BB rate) after walking 12 times in his first 88 PAs at Memphis (13.6%). This is a distinct improvement over his first 4 years in the minors where he averaged a BB rate of 7.4% So in his 139 minor league PAs this year he’s shown a distinct improvement in his ability to get on base; he just has to bring that approach to the big club. This is something he didn’t do in his first stint in St. Louis. While it’s too early to tell if the approach he seemed to discover at Memphis this year will be part of his major league repertoire, last night was definitely a good start. Frankly, if he has a chance of sticking as our shortstop, I think he’s going to have to maintain the plate discipline that has been part of his ’09 Memphis approach.

There’s lots of talk about adding another right handed hitter and our issues w/ 3B and the OF, but it seems as if much of the rest of the season is also going to be about trying out for the 2010 shortstop position w/ the team. The 2 leading contenders are, obviously, Brendan Ryan and Tyler Greene and I suspect that the organization and the coaches want to see if either or both can handle the position in order to help them figure out how to handle the situation this offseason. It seems, at first glance, that both contenders can handle the position defensively. This is a big step, of course, b/c the shortstop position is a premium position and being league average defensively goes a long way toward being at least an average major leaguer.

An average major league ballplayer is 2 wins above replacement level. The 3 closest shortstops in 2008 to 2 WAR were Clint Barmes, Jason Bartlett, and Cesar Izturis. Barmes was at 2.1 and Bartlett and Izturis were at 1.8. All 3 of them were above average major league shortstops in ’08 – worth 4, 2.1, and 9.4 runs, respectively, on defense. Offensively, Bartlett and Izturis were poor offensive players worth minus 5.9 and minus 12.5 runs, respectively, at the plate. Even so, their defense at a premium position made them nearly league average players, worth about $8 M to the Rays and Cards, respectively.

So far this season, Ryan has been worth nearly 4 runs on defense and Greene has been worth 2, according to UZR. Last year, the best defensive SS in baseball, Orlando Cabrera, was worth 14 runs to the Angels on defense. It’s, therefore, not unreasonable to believe that either Ryan or Greene might be worth at least 5-10 runs to the team on defense over a full season. Unfortunately, to this point neither have shown a lot on offense. Greene clearly has more tools and more offensive potential. We’ve seen flashes of what he might do, but that’s about it. Greene does have 2 home runs in 45 PAs but a 27.5 K rate to go w/ it.

We’ve seen much more of Ryan at the major league level than Greene. This year, he’s sporting a .322 wOBA and a 6.9 % BB rate. He clearly doesn’t belong at the top of the order – at least not against righties. He’s more adept against southpaws (.368 career OBP) so his inclusion in the leadoff spot can at least be justified when a lefty’s on the mound. Ryan’s been fairly respectable at the plate so far this season; he has a higher wOBA than J.J. Hardy, Edgar Renteria, Troy Tulowitzki, Stephen Drew, Rafael Furcal, and Jimmy Rollins – and that’s just among NL SSs. It doesn’t make him a plus offensive player but it does leave him close to league average. Combine that w/ above average defense and you’ve got a pretty good player.

One of the things I’m interested in seeing as the year goes along is how these 2 players progress. Our biggest hole for the last couple of years has been that at shortstop and the team keeps trying to fill it w/ veterans that no one else will take so it will be interesting to see if one of these young ex-farmhands can take control of the position for the next 2-3 years.

7:00 game tonight. Game 2. Wellemeyer on the mound. Game thread goes up around 6:45.