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semi-fond goodbyes

a quick corral of news around baseball:

ex-cardinals division, vol I: braden looper retired. looper had a mostly replacement value career, briefly peaking as a reliever in 2003-06.  after a year of backing up the train wreck that was jason isringhausen in 2006, he famously underwent a conversion to starter. he was a tolerable starter, which made him a veritable gem on the 2007 team which saw starts from kip wells, a struggling anthony reyes, an inexplicably present mike maroth, . . . . ugh. i successfully block out the keenly physical pain i felt in the 2007 season watching this hideous parade of sub-replacement value starters. looper's retirement has made me recall it.

to express how appalling that team was, braden looper was our #2 starter on the team in value. he tied for our second most valuable pitcher. the other second most valuable pitcher goes to . . . russ springer. randy flores, of all people comes in fourth. randy keisler, mark maroth, brad thompson, and mark mulder all started 30 games between them, and none of them even managed a replacement value performance.

although looper was a decent starter, his okay performance as a starter basically matched his peak value as a reliever. he put together 1.7, 1.1, and 1.0 WAR in his best years as a reliever and managed 1.2 and 1.6 WAR as a starter in 2007 and 2008. the bottom dropped out later, and a 34, 35, 36 year old looper was not what he had been.

anyway, for being a part of our 2006 champion team, for being a steady presence on our 2008 team, and most of all, for being our #2 starter in 2007 and saving me from having to watch even worse pitchers start games, i salute you braden looper.

ex-cardinals division, vol II - not knowing when to quit: kip wells signed a minor league deal with the nationals. i believe earlier this off-season i said something like, there's no such thing as a bad minor league contract. that remains true, but there sure are some not very good ones. remember how painful it was to watch kip wells in 2008? here's a stat for you: 2008 was his BEST SEASON of the last five. you have to go back to his pittsburgh days to find a decent season of work. i guess if i were 33 and knew i could make $400K a year by hanging on as a seventh reliever somewhere, i'd probably keep going, too. at least he's on the nats, and not our team.

for those of you who like to salivate over colby rasmus, this is a nice blurb.

confidential to joe s. at the post-dispatch: if you're going to loudly defend ryan theriot by saying that spring stats don't mean much and that he's working on his swing (which i think is a fair response), it's intellectually inconsistent to kvetch about jaime garcia and jason motte's poor spring stats when both are working on their pitches. of course, if you make your living as a mainstream media concern troll, you have to complain about something . . . .

for reasons which are unclear to me, the good people at fangraphs are bringing back their annual team rankings features. i was very critical of the rankings in 2009 (as well as dave cameron's condescending responses to decent questions). then, the 2010 rankings came out which made #6org almost as big a twitter phenomenon as bieber fever. i fail to understand why a group of writers who pride themselves on putting together a blog of objective, statistically reinforced observations about baseball want to dive in to such a subjective, speculative rankings system with both a poor track record and no meaningful methodology.

the rankings have a history of putting together terrible assessments of teams, assessments that prove wildly inaccurate. the assessments are better than random assignment of rank by computer - a random number generator sometimes would give you the yankees at #28, the pirates at #1, the indians at #4, the phillies at #14, the giants at #23, etc. the rankings are not clearly better, though, than polling a randomized group of baseball fans. these annual rankings don't contribute at all to any objective understanding of baseball and serve mostly to discredit a highly visible SABR site. feel free to review the 2010 rankings and  the 2009 rankings. a cynical person might suggest that the site enjoys the page views stirred up by the controversy. while that might lead to short-term gains, it seems like bad long-term policy for a site whose main asset is ultimately its credibility. well, that, and a wonderful trove of statistical information which i find very useful.

personally, features like this mean i mostly go to the site to look up stats on the database rather than read the articles.

* * *

i wanted to challenge, at least partially, some of the conventional wisdom on our catching prospects. first, bryan anderson is a real prospect. he has had a pretty steady, though unspectacular level of production in memphis. he has, according to anecdotal reports, significantly improved his defensive skills. he has also been stuck at AAA for three seasons, far too often splitting playing time with absolute non-prospects (e.g., pagnozzi).  

in the past four seasons, here's the line that anderson has put up, with the level and number of PA's indicated.
















 the wOBA numbers are from, which vary by a few points from those at fangraphs.

tony cruz has had a pretty successful run in the minors, though his development has been far slower than anderson, who reached AAA at the age of 21. he only converted to catcher in 2008. 



















 the raw offensive numbers for cruz are comparable. the obvious and significant caveat  is that the numbers come mostly from palm beach and springfield, while anderson's numbers come from memphis. the PCL is not quite as hitter-friendly as the Texas League, and the pitching is more developed.

i am NOT saying that cruz and anderson are similar prospects or equally likely to pan out. i am saying that a major, and to my mind the major, difference between the two is anderson's level of experience. it may be cruz can't hit a lick at AAA. i suspect that he will have substantial success, however, and there's some chance that he hits comparably to anderson. without much time at AAA for cruz, anderson is projected by ZIPs for a .706 OPS, and cruz for a .657. that's a meaningful gap, although both would be pretty acceptable for a backup catcher. gerald laird nets a .644 projection - but the decision to go with him is a story for another day.

the trump card that cruz holds is his defense. catcher defense is still a very subjective matter. however, what little statistical evidence there is at the minor league level militates in his favor. cruz has had a caught stealing rate of 53% for two seasons running. anderson's CS numbers at memphis go, in reverse chronological order: 31%, 28%, 36%. anecdotally, cruz is now ranked the best defensive talent on the team. there's no good way to turn catcher defense, especially in the minors, into a measurable quantity. but there's lots of reasons to be bullish on cruz's defense.

the broad theme i am aiming at here is that it will be very interesting to watch how these two fare in memphis. if cruz puts up even comparable numbers to anderson, we could see a change in our top catching prospect list.