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It's O.K. to Swim in the Deep End

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If there's a take away story to the start of 2012, besides the fact that the Cardinals are really good, it almost has to be one about depth. When the top player on the team (arguably in baseball) leaves via free agency, one would expect the team to falter. When one of your high inning, high production starting pitchers goes down with an unexpected injury, one would expect the team to falter. The Cardinals entered the season as a slightly older team with high-injury concerns and yet, they've performed well beyond expectations.

That's mostly because of their depth. Moving Lance Berkman to first base was intended to mitigate the loss of Albert Pujols. Lance Lynn's shift to the rotation has certainly mitigated the loss of Chris Carpenter. Heck, even our depth has depth. When Berkman went down due to a leg injury, Allen Craig was on the disabled list due to his own knee surgery in the offseason. No big deal, Matt Carpenter steps in and plays above average baseball. The dynamic right now is interesting and impressive given how well covered the Cardinals are to cope with injury.

Position Starter Contingency #1 Contingency #2
Catcher Yadier Molina Tony Cruz (Break Glass)
First Base Lance Berkman Allen Craig Matt Carpenter
Second Base Skip Schumaker Daniel Descalso Tyler Greene
Third Base David Freese Daniel Descalso Matt Carpenter
Shortstop Rafael Furcal Tyler Greene Daniel Descalso
Right field Carlos Beltran Allen Craig Matt Carpenter
Center field Jon Jay Shane Robinson (Break Glass)
Left field Matt Holliday Allen Craig Matt Carpenter

The Cardinals could be exposed at catcher if their $75M man goes down. They could be exposed in centerfield if Jay turns up lame for an extended period of time. That said, the depth is something that other teams have to envy. Consider the corner outfield and infield positions. Allen Craig is a heck of a player and until he's fully recovered Matt Carpenter may actually be the go-to guy in the outfield. I'd even prefer MCarp at third over Descalso but the point is that the drop-off to these guys is pretty slim. The table that follows shows the updated ZiPS projections for the starter and the difference between their backups. (PS - Matt Holliday's updates ZiPS, which includes his to-date 2012 numbers, is about 30 points off his season start ZiPS. Albert isn't the only one struggling this year.)

Position Starter Contingency #1 Contingency #2
Catcher .342 .080
(Break Glass)
First Base .371 .026 .052
Second Base .307 .001 .008
Third Base .351 .045 .032
Shortstop .344 .045 .038
Right field .371 .026 .052
Center field .348 .039 (Break Glass)
Left field .355 .010

Note also that the cardinals field a below average bat at eaxctly one position: second base. Over the course of a full season (650 PAs), .017 points of wOBA equates to approximately one win. Yadier Molina is very, very important to this team. Rafael Furcal is very, very important to this team though his hot start somewhat exacerbates the outlook of how important. If there's a position to not be concerned about, it has to be second base where everyone is about equally as mediocre.

Even in high production positions like right field and first base, the Cardinals would see just a slight drop-off (about 1.5 WAR) if they were to lose Lance Berkman or Carlos Beltran for a full season. Why? Allen Craig is really good at baseball. On a team where a lot of older players are likely to have nagging injuries over the course of a season, this kind of depth lends itself to conservative approaches to injuries. Allen Craig provides about 90% of the offensive production that a healthy Carlos Beltran or Lance Berkman does. So, assuming Allen Craig is 100% healthy, the easy (hypothetical) question each day is whether Beltran or Berkman is feeling more than 90%.

That's obviously a gross oversimplification of the process and approach but it should demonstrate the type of proactive injury questions the Cardinals are, hopefully, talking about internally. Depth matters and the Cardinals are not a shallow team.