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Joe Mather and February and March Players

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Whatever it brings over the course of the season the Globe-Democrat has already given us one thing—a feature about, it seems, nearly every player on the forty-man rosters. Yesterday brought Joe Mather, who can tell by the way the ball jumps off his bat that his wrist is ready to be part of this year's best shape of his life montage. 

Mather's one of my favorites—I am no more resistant than the next fan to guys who look like a baseball player, and nobody looks more like one than Joe Mather—but he still comes with all the warning labels that should apply to players of his type. He is the kind of player who risks occasioning more discussion in February than he does for all the rest of the season. He's a February Guy—as PECOTA would say, he has a high collapse rate. I'd love to do community projections for guys like this, but there's just too much risk—he could get 300 at-bats as a (pretty inexplicable) third base/center field supersub, or his wrist could still be a mess and he struggles in the Texas League. The middle ground doesn't tell us a lot. 

Let's pretend we were doing one, though—here's the usual combination of MLEs and Major League numbers, with a ZiPS projection thrown in because the table I'm copying and pasting from the Rasmus projection has five rows in it.

Year G AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB AVG OBP SLG
2007 134 500 65 135 26 1 23 64 41 85 8 .270 .344 .464
2008 103 350 58 94 21 2 23 52 39 68 7 .269 .359 .520
2009 56 196 22 46 12 3 3 27 12 41 7 .235 .288 .372
ZiPS 101 349 47 91 20 2 12 54 29 70 5 .261 .327 .433

As a late bloomer Mather doesn't have a long track record suggesting he can hit, but what he did have, prior to his lost season, was indeed impressive for this kind of player. (I'm certain that combining MLEs—and throwing them in, unseparated, with Major League numbers—overemphasizes what are translated numbers, but it seems like the best way to contextualize what a player with little Major League time has been doing his whole life.) If his wrist is healthy he's the Cardinals' best bet for a fourth outfielder who can half-platoon with Colby Rasmus, provided neither party is too determined to see him as a third baseman. As the team is made up now, if both of them hit he seems more likely to make the team, and contribute to it, than Allen Craig.

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The rest of the Cardinals' February Guys seem concentrated in the pitching staff, where whichever sixth starters and long relievers that don't win jobs on Opening Day will be out of sight and mind until someone hits the disabled list. The fifth starter role seems fluid enough that we'll be seeing most of these guys—Walters, Hill, Garcia et al—again by June. On the pitching staff it's going to be the March Guys we might never see again. 

It might just be because it was the last year I hung out among the people of the Cardinals' official Fan Forum, but for me the prototypical March Guy is Colin Porter, who had his big Spring Training in 2004 but failed to beat out Ray Lankford, among others, in the fourth outfielder derby. The March Guys will blow the doors off camp, either literally or figuratively, just miss making it into a bullpen that is filled with quantity if not quality, and then have perfectly adequate seasons in Memphis. 

My best guesses for this year's March Guys in the bullpen are Fernando Salas, Pete Parise—who already has a remarkably thorough and occasionally combative official website—and Eduardo Sanchez. All three can have big Marches, but only one can get called up in the Kelvin Jimenez role when one reliever or another has an ERA around 9.82 in May. The pen is unstable enough that a big March will get at least one reliever a shot at being this year's Kyle McClellan, especially now that the old one is candidate number one for the rotation, but if two guys manage to inspire their own FREE PLAYER X campaigns it will get messy.