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nerds triumphant

our neighbors to the northeast decided belatedly to get in on the 2011 effort to concentrate all pitching talent in the NL Central. if we can just get philadelphia redesignated as an NL Central team, and send pittsburgh to the NL East, we could have the best division-wide pitching ever. the cubbies traded a pile of pretty good prospects to tampa in exchange for matt garza and two tampa prospects. the trade looks fairly decent on paper in terms of total value exchanged.

the trade certainly makes a ton of sense for tampa who had a great deal of pitching depth, likes to keep salaries low, and ended up with some interesting prospects. i have heard raves from the folks who have seen hak-ju lee in action. i would not be surprised if he ends up being the best part of this trade for tampa.

no doubt chicago got good value in their trade. i suspect tampa has a bit of an edge in real value, though some of that is explained by the win-now nature of the trade for the cubs, with tampa's haul discounted for the longer wait to see results from talent like lee. the real question is whether making a win-now trade makes sense for a team that looked an awful lot like a fourth place finisher in the NL Central.

the cubs still look like fourth place finishers after the trade to me. while garza is an upgrade to the rotation, he's an upgrade to a rotation that was all-around solid, without much in the way of star performance. per fangraphs, the cubs had seven pitchers contribute 2 WAR or more last year, and none who contributed 4 WAR. while not all of those pitchers are still with the club, garza looks like a guy who will hover around 3 WAR or so ,adjusting for the AL East to NL Central move. that means he fits in with the cast of characters already staffing the cubs, but doesn't augment the staff much.

now, granted, some of the benefit to garza's joining the team is that he is under club control through 2013. garza could be a less-expensive replacement for, say, dempster in 2012 and 2013, if the cubs decline dempster's 2012 option. but lots of the guys on the cubs' rotation are decent and cheap (wells, gorzellany, sean marshall). if there's a sensible analysis of the advantage to the cubs (beyond just raw trading in talent and value), it probably lies here, in the value after 2011.

for 2011, i doubt this trade moves the needle much, if at all, on the cubs total wins for 2011. maybe they go from an 81 win team to 82. that's a poor win-now return for a loss of some decently good prospects on a team that could have three teams winning 90 games in its division, and a team which desperately needs to reconstruct a working baseball team. the problems for the cubs are much more in the field (where they had only 4 position players put in 2 WAR or better in 2010) than the rotation. one has to imagine that the prospects used to get garza could have been better used to get help in the field.

in other news, there is now a single white flag flying over PNC park. houston is in negotations on terms of surrender with the remainder of the division.

 an item that was interesting to me was the continued rejiggering of the cardinals front office. i don't claim to have the inside scoop on who is in what camp, but to an outsider's ear, this seems promising.

as you may or may not know, cardinals assistant GM john abbamondi got an external promotion to the padres system, as VP. the cardinals named michael girsch as the new assistant GM. sig mejdal, a former NASA scientist, was promoted to director of amateur draft analysis.

perhaps more tellingly, the departure of scouting director matt carroll to atlanta will be followed by his duties being absorbed by others, rather than a promotion or acquisition of a new scouting director.

[Girsch] and Mejdal have both been instrumental in the team's advanced use of statistics and analytical models for amateur and professional player evaluation.

for those of you following at home, that sounds a lot like: Nerds 2, Jocks 0.

while i'm being flippant, i do think it's promising that the club is moving in the direction of pushing more and more statistical analysis and rewarding the people who have moved the club in that direction. the club's ability to spot talent in the draft and in the minors has improved greatly. i think the 2009 and 2010 drafts will both prove to be among the best drafts for the cardinals in the last ten years, following only 2005 (where we had the advantage of 4 picks in the first and supplemental rounds).

on the continuing jocks v. nerds debate, is there any forum where the contrast becomes more painfully obvious than the P-D's "Round Two" series, in which VEB godfather larry borowksy and derrek goold are consistently the only two people who say things that make any sense? take the recent installment on where berkman should hit in the batting order.

first, strauss pipes up with this deep insight:

You don’t pay Berkman $8 million to hit No. 2 in the order.

good thought. there could be nothing more sensible that to hew to conventional baseball logic, where the amount of a player's salary determines where he hits. by that logic, kyle lohse is our #2 starter! if adam wainwright were any good, he'd be better paid. hooray!

gordon gets his kicks in:

I’d rather see Berkman hit fifth and Rasmus second than the other way around. Give Colby more fastballs and get his extra-base speed on the paths. A veteran presence behind Matt Holliday could help the clean-up hitter.

yes! let's put our speediest runner in front of pujols so that la russa can scowl at him every time he tries to steal! and matt holliday's hitting will improve just by virtue of the emanations of veteranny-goodness from the on-deck circle!

kevin wheeler is cogent and gets a point for actually using the word (words?) "on-base" in his reply, which neither gordon nor strauss did. yes, two people who write about sports for a living replied to this question without discussing the skill of getting on base. neither noticed, for instance, that lance berkman's worst-ever OBP (.368) last year was still better than either season's OBP for Rasmus. that berkman has a career .409 OBP has not yet entered the conversation.

derrek goold has a well-thought out response (and, the editor notes, actually wrote a whole blog post on the issue). it makes sense! he gets on base! why not put him in front of the best hitter in the game of baseball? maybe his veteranny aura will envelope skip schumaker or ryan theriot or aaron miles or whoever bats leadoff?

larry borowsky takes the cake however with his revolutionary notions about overthrowing the bourgeoisie and benching an $8M player in favor of a rookie. yes, larry noticed that berkman no longer actually hits left-handed pitching very well at all (a .236 wOBA against LHP in 2010, and only a .305 wOBA against LHP in 2009). and hey, we have this young guy i saw once on a milk carton who hits lefties like nobody's business and is nominally a right fielder. larry also notes that, while berkman's on-base skill is likely to stick, his power may be slipping with age.

hooray for nerds!