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The Mysterious Case of Skip Schumaker, Likely 2011 Bounceback Hitter

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[I remain, for a few more days, out of town—filling in today is longtime fanposter and previous guest star bgh. He brought footnotes!*

*In the post-Posnanski internet-footnote sense.

 

"Know what the difference between hitting .250 and .300 is? It's twenty-five hits. Twenty-five hits in 500 at-bats is fifty points, okay? There's six months in a season, that's about twenty-five weeks. That means if you get just one extra flare a week--just one--a gorp...you get a groundball, you get a groundball with eyes...you get a dying quail, just one more dying quail a week...and you're in Yankee Stadium."

 -- Crash Davis in "Bull Durham"

Every year about this time I feel as if the phrase "the dead of winter" was conjured up by a Midwestern baseball fan in late December, when the landscape is largely white as opposed to green and the last season is seemingly as far away on the calendar as Spring Training. The winter meetings are over, the roster is largely set, and there isn't much left to do besides rehash the moves that have already been made and how they might affect next season's results, as there is very little in the way of baseball news to be had. This macabre silence was pierced on Tuesday with an article by Derrick Goold over at the Post-Dispatch which seems of a type more likely to come from the organization's propaganda wing, stlcardinals.com.

Goold's article was picked apart a bit in Tuesday's Main Post discussion thread. The usual dead horse, Trading Boog Was A Bad Idea (yes, the dead horse is a dead racehorse to me), was trotted out and beaten, as has been VEB's Hot Stove sport of choice. While I am sympathetic to the viewpoint of the dead horse beaters, this paragraph from the Goold piece still caught my eye:

The inspiration for moving Schumaker to second base was to keep his .300 average in the lineup. The Cardinals were willing to try a defensive experiment to keep an offensive asset, and though Schumaker's average sank in 2010, the club believes in his ability to rebound at the plate and improve in the field.

Goold's reporting that the organization believes Schumaker can rebound at the plate should surprise no one. After all, why else would they keep Schumaker in the fold and trade Ryan away? Nonetheless, this is a perspective on the middle infield machinations that has seemingly been given short shrift around here, so I thought it might be interesting to take a look at whether the club has a sound belief in Schumaker's ability to rebound at the bat. It is a task I feel imminently qualified to do as the author of the mid-May 2010 Fanpost: With Lopez Activated, Skip Should Still Start at the Keystone.* 

*Harking back to that Fanpost and writing this one has also left me wondering why I am defending Skip Schumaker seemingly more than most. I have no idea why I find myself in this position. I had seen Schumaker play for AAA Memphis on numerous occasions, back in the days when the whole team wore tall, striped socks, but he was never one of favorite Redbirds. In St. Louis, I was never a fan of him occupying an outfield spot because he is a bad defensive center fielder and doesn't hit enough to play a corner position. Furthermore, being a worshipper at the Altar of Oz,  I have never been in favor of the shift to second base because I value infield defense. Also, I cannot stand players sliding headlong into first base. All of this being said, bad luck is bad luck and Schumaker experienced quite a bit of it last season.

This exercise is certainly contrarian, even self-contrarian as I felt second base was the position that was the easiest to upgrade this Hot Stove due to Schumaker's ever-falling slugging and ever-stagnate defense. Banishing Brendan Ryan to the Pacific Northwest, far from the Best Fans in Baseball...for appreciation of wizardly defenders playing shortstop, was not a move I would have made. That being said, I find myself more hesitant in criticizing the Skip-over-Boog choice as I have not looked at how likely or unlikely an offensive renaissance for Schumaker in 2011 is. My initial reaction to replacing Ryan with Theriot (based on the Bill James projections) was: "Ryan with a .288 wOBA is more valuable to St. Louis than Theriot with a .307 wOBA." While most of us preferred Skip being replaced to Boog, and, in doing so, touted Boog's upside, we also failed to examine Skip's upside and the likelihood of him achieving it. So, I ask you to join me as I investigate the mysterious case of Skip Schumaker, likely 2011 bounceback hitter.

Up until 2010, Schumaker had been a consistent batsman during his few big-league seasons. As noted above, it was his consistent .300 hitting (probably to TLR) and league-average wOBA (probably to VEB) that made the Schumaker Experiment acceptable. That is, Skip's league-average offensive production allowed him to have value even with atrocious glove-work. Here are Schumaker's lines by season:

‘07:  188 PAs/.333/.358/.458/.353 wOBA

‘08:  594 PAs/.302/.359/.406/.341 wOBA

‘09:  586 PAs/.303/.364/.393/.336 wOBA

‘10:  529 PAs/.265/.328/.338/.299 wOBA

I am someone who now functions largely in wOBA. Recognizing that not all of us are so inclined, I have included the traditional BA/OBP/SLG slash lines as well as wOBA to give everyone some perspective. Most concerning for me is the downward trend in Skip's slugging percentage from .458 to .406 to .393 to .336. It is as if, in moving from a corner outfield defensive position to a middle infield defensive position, Skip has taken on the offensive profile of gritty middle infielder extraordinaire Aaron Miles.*

*Miles has a career slugging percentage of .354 and posted slugging percentages of .347, .348, .398, and .317 in his four (!) seasons as a Cardinal.

While the diminishing power in Schumaker's offensive production is concerning, if we had to pinpoint the key to his bad 2010, it would be his batting average. The reason for this is that Schumaker does not hit for power and does not walk a lot even if his walk rate is acceptable. As a full-time major-leaguer, Schumaker has posted walk rates of 4.3%, 7.9%, 8.9%, and 8.1%. Thus, to have an OBP acceptable for a top-of-the-order hitter, Schumaker has to hit about .300. When he does not, his defensive shortcomings completely offset his offensive production and render him the proverbial "replacement player," which is exactly what happened in 2010 with his -0.2 WAR. When Goold writes that getting Skip's .300 average into the lineup at second was the motivation for the Cards' experimentalism, he is dead-on. If Schumaker does not hit about .300, he has no value at the keystone. Let us therefore examine whether there is reason to believe that Skip can once again be that .300-hitting, no-glove second baseman that gives us value at second base in the form of a 1.5- or 2.0-WAR season.*

*Hitting .303/.364/.393 in ‘09, Schumaker posted a 1.5-WAR season. Hitting .223/.279/.294 in ‘10, Ryan posted a 1.0-WAR season. There's more than one way to skin a cat and there's more than one way to accrue WAR. Schumaker's ‘09 WAR came exclusively via his bat and Ryan's ‘10 WAR came exclusively via his glove.

It is somewhat heartening to look at Schumaker's batted ball profile on Fangraphs from ‘08 to ‘09 to ‘10, as it is rather consistent. His respective LD% in each season ranges by only two-tenths of one percentage point, being 21.7% in ‘08, 21.6% in ‘09, and 21.8% in ‘10. His GB% is also pretty consistent at 58.1%, 61.0%, and 58.6% respectively. Likewise, Skip's FB% is also largely similar: 20.2%, 17.5%, and 19.6%. All of this while his IFFB% (Infield Flyball Percentage) tanked, falling from 9.9% in ‘09 to 1.2% in ‘10, which may mean he was consistently making better contact in ‘10 than ‘09.

Despite how exasperating it was watching Schumaker's early- and late-season struggles bookend a decent middle of the season,* pouring over the spreadsheets in my mom's basement leaves me to believe Schumaker's poor season with the bat was largely the product of bad luck. Statcorner, with its lovely park- and batted ball-adjusted wOBAr, affirms this conclusion.

*Note the wOBA daily tracking chart on the bottom left.

Here is a side-by-side comparison with Schumaker's actual wOBA first and wOBAr second via Statcorner:

‘07:  .366/.322

‘08:  .346/.359

‘09:  .352/.333

‘10:  .311/.336

Statcorner's wOBAr demonstrates that Schumaker's ‘09 was about as lucky as his ‘10 was unlucky. The gap between Schumaker's actual ‘09 wOBA and his wOBAr is +19 and the gap between his actual ‘10 wOBA and his wOBAr is -25. This would leave one to believe that the Bill James projection for Schumaker in ‘11 of .285/.346/.372/.321 wOBA might be a bit low. Then again, Schumaker's batting average--and, therefore, his value--will likely come down to about 25 at-bats, as those batted balls will determine whether he hits .250 or .300. In other words, the organization's decision to keep Schumaker on as the primary second baseman is one that will likely turn out good or bad depending on the Gods Of Baseball. Given the strict observance of this fickle lot around these parts, one might think Schumaker should get more of a break, dFAWARP notwithstanding.