i've been contemplating this post for a while. it's working title has been "suck it, baseball america" but joe strauss just had to be his usual obnoxious self this week, so he gets the honors.
in the past off-season, the cardinals farm system got a dangerfieldian level of respect from both local and national authorities, and even, in a fit of paternal pique last season, from dave duncan. recently, the titular "journalist" got his digs in yet again on the farm.
Agreed, the minor-league system has provided Rasmus and Garcia the last two years. But to argue Jay, Craig, T. Greene, B. Anderson & Co. make this self-sufficient for next season is insane. Simply put -- again -- the player development system is not mature enough to support a contending club despite what "third-party publications" may have boasted in 2009.
i'm not sure what third-party publications suggested that we had turned into the tampa bay rays, capable of sustaining a championship caliber team on a shoestring - if $40-50M can be called a shoestring. what i think was contended was that the farm was not nearly as bad as being portrayed in the media, as far as the media follows these things. in fact, joe strauss referred to baseball america earlier as just such a "third-party publication," and earlier noted that they trashed the st. louis system in the off-season as well.
back in february, for instance, jeff luhnow got his kicks in against keith law, after law denigrated the cards' farm system. luhnow noted the cards' farm had lots of "minor-league guys who can step in and produce, whether they be Freese, Tyler Greene or Jaime [Garcia]." (see the quote in the above linked article.) even considering a lot of luck swinging in our prospects' favor, luhnow now looks conservative in defending his farm. there's a substantial claim to be made that the cardinals had the best rookie turnout in the national league in 2010, with jaime garcia, jon jay, and david freese leading the way. the cubs, with good years from both tyler colvin and starlin castro probably make another good case for best teamwide rookie showings in the NL in 2010 -- ironically, another team ranked near the bottom of prospect ranking systems.
why joe strauss would take a look at this season, in which the remarkable rookie success was one of the only things to go right with the team, and complain about the player development system boggles the mind. his comments say more about his acuity of analysis than the cardinals' farm system.
right now, luhnow deserves some major apologies from strauss and his snide "hyperventilating prospect geek fraternity" garbage, keith law, walt jocketty, baseball america, etc., etc.
jaime garcia -- there's nothing not to like about this debut. he's a frontrunner for rookie of the year, along with jason heyward. he's a 3+ WAR pitcher in his first full year. for those of you who like more traditional stats, he is not far off the ERA title. had he not been recovering from surgery, he might have posted some even more ridiculous numbers as a rookie. the club has had to walk a very fine line in taking advantage of his performance and not abusing a still-mending arm.
to readdress strauss's above quote: "Agreed, the minor-league system has provided Rasmus and Garcia the last two years. But . . . ." hold on, there, joseph. don't glide away from that first sentence too quickly. let's rephrase that. sure, the cardinals have for two years running produced serious rookie of the year contenders. or, sure, these two players have the potential to be perennial all-stars at low cost for the cardinals.
if you're overlooking jaime garcia's performance this year, or acting like it's not something so serious that it merits a substantial kudos, then you're not paying attention. remember that jaime garcia entered the year as a contender - a contender! - for the fifth rotation spot. he will almost certainly finish the year with -- hold on to your pants -- the second best performance in the rotation. >braces for carp insta-death stare.<
we were pretty close to starting the year with rich hill in the rotation and jaime not in it at all. to go from that point to outperforming a perennial cy young candidate says that jaime is a huge talent. if he's not the best rookie in the league, he's a close second. that alone should make this year a win for jeff luhnow.
and also he should get to kick dave duncan three times in the shin, hard, for dave's snotty comments after chris duncan was traded to boston, about how there must not be anything good in the system. luhnow's system just saved your 2010 rotation, dave. you're welcome.
jon jay -- in ~250 PA's, jon jay has been worth 1.3 WAR. as with jaime garcia, this performance should be easy to grasp by non-spreadsheet types, because he has a high batting average. some of this is luck driven, given jay's longstanding high babip. still, he's clearly a talented player, and would have likely had a 2-2.5 WAR season if he'd played the full season, or even just gotten half of nick stavinoha (101 PA's, 0.0 WAR) and randy winn's PAs (127 PA's for the cards; 0.1 WAR). note that jay didn't even go north with the team from spring training, in lieu of known quantity nick stavinoha.
david freese -- worth 1.5 WAR in 270 PAs, david freese's only real flaw is that his gastrocnemius is no longer attached to his foot. strauss bellyaches that freese never put up the 15-20 HR that i guess someone once projected for him. lazy analysis like trying to account for a player's value using nothing but home run counts, especially in a shortened season, is one of the many reasons that people should disregard the traditional analysts. when untethered to a meaningful measure of value, one can prove or disprove any proposition one likes.
the truth is that david freese was in line to be a 3+ WAR third baseman over the full season. for league minimum, that would have been a tremendous benefit. even just the 1.5 WAR he provided was a huge boon to the club. there are about 20 clubs that would happily accept a free david freese right now. most clubs do not have multiple league average or better prospects jumping forth from their ranks every season.
that freese's achilles got detached is not an indictment of the club's farm system. freese was not a club-drafted player, but was a nice throw-in on the jim edmonds salary dump. still, he spent a couple years in development with luhnow and was part of the farm system.
what might have been
tyler greene - tyler was worth 0.4 WAR in 78 PAs and a smattering of appearances around the infield. he hit for a .347 wOBA. hopefully, we see more of him. he deserved better than what he got. we won't know what might have happened, had tyler been used regularly, but his 2010 was not a failure on his part. just a failure of the club to use him.
fernando salas - fernando salas had a fine relief performance for the cards in very limited innings - 20+. his ERA was 1.74, though his FIP was 4.51. still, he saw talent-free options like macdougal and others getting innings ahead of him, and was yanked on a yo-yo between clubs.
allen craig - limited to 89 PA's, he never got a chance to show much value. zips projects him to have .329 wOBA the rest of the way this season, despite a luckless performance so far, with a BABIP still dwindling at .228, despite a LD% of 22.0%. had he gotten more chances, he might have had a chance to have his luck regress toward a decent mean.
to sum up, the rookie contributions this year have been phenomenal. i challenge you to find any club that's gotten 6 WAR out of its top 3 rookies. if anything, this club has suffered this year by letting talentless roster refuse pick up far too many PA's while NOT playing its rookies sufficiently. had the rookies been played in keeping with their talents relative to other players, we would see an even higher yield of value from our farm. an unfortunate injury to david freese set back the likely accumulation of value from him.
people who labeled the cardinals' farm system as void of talent in the off-season have been proven wrong, and luhnow's braggadoccio about the quality of the system was vindicated. now, no one projects prospects and farm systems perfectly or even correctly most of the time -- if that were the case daryl jones would be starting in the outfield and samuel would be closing. there's no particular shame in having been pessimistic about the cards' farm system last season.
however, there should be some serious shame in watching the 2010 cardinals, seeing rookies outperform expectations almost across the board, and complaining that the farm system doesn't do enough to benefit the team. not giving luhnow and the farm system credit for the outstanding talent coming out of a system which was used as currency for trades in 2008-09 is just offensive.
we don't have a system like tampa or texas or baltimore filled to the brim with prospects that prospect-watchers love to adore. but it's clearly extremely well run. we've now put together several years of very strong drafts, with interesting players coming up. we're never going to run purely on one year's output of the farm system; nobody does.
but show me a team that had a better year of production from its rookies.
so, since jeff luhnow won't say it: suck it, dave duncan. suck it, keith law. suck it, baseball america. luhnow was right, and you were wrong.
and most of all, suck it, joe strauss. "it" being this "faberge egg" that i have left out of the refrigerator for the last year.