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how greene was my backup infielder

August 1, 2012; Denver, CO, USA; St. Louis Cardinals second baseman Tyler Greene (27) turns the double play during the third inning against the Colorado Rockies at Coors Field.  Mandatory Credit: Chris Humphreys-US PRESSWIRE
August 1, 2012; Denver, CO, USA; St. Louis Cardinals second baseman Tyler Greene (27) turns the double play during the third inning against the Colorado Rockies at Coors Field. Mandatory Credit: Chris Humphreys-US PRESSWIRE

[UPDATE - Tyler Greene was traded to the Houston Astros for money or a PTBNL this morning. No corresponding move has been made, and the Cardinals will play today's game with 24 men on the active roster.]

i guess i hardly have a choice of what to write about for today.

in the wake of a humiliating 15-0 victory by the usually light-hitting giants, tyler greene was for some reason designated the goat in what was more or less a team effort to lose a game. from an embarassing pickoff at first base, to a proclivity for the strikeout, to a declining role on the team, tyler greene has not made himself a favorite with the fans, nor with either major league manager he's played for.

the clock is ticking on tyler. he's turning 29 in a couple weeks. he's out of options. he now has 553 MLB PAs and -0.2 fWAR to show for it.

at the beginning of the season, a lot of people complained that he hadn't been given an adequate chance to play, that if he were given extended time to start, to get comfortable in the majors, that he'd flourish. i never really bought into that concept, since there doesn't seem to be good evidence that people need a consistent role to play well. certainly, they need an adequate sample size (which is different from consistency) to draw meaningful conclusions, but i'm not clear why that entails the lion's share of starts at a position.

tyler has some good points, or at least points that inspire hope:

defensive skillset - while he's had some times that he's made terrible plays, remember that he's starting from a high threshhold. being a middle infielder, even a not very good one, is valuable. he also has some clear defensive tools: he's obviously the fastest person on the team, which correlates well with range, and he has a very strong arm.

baserunning - like i said, he's the fastest guy on the team. he's stolen 25 bases in 27 attempts, indicating he has not only excellent speed but great instincts about when and how to steal a base. he's stolen 125 bases across six minor league seasons and across numerous levels, and been caught 25 times. that gives him an 83.3% success rate in the minors and a 91% success rate in the majors. that's extraordinary talent.

minor league track record - greene had a great minor league career, flaunting power not often seen from a shortstop (logging ISOs of .256, .172, and .191 in three seasons at AAA). he learned a little patience at the plate, after starting out as an impatient swinger (walk rates of 12.2%, 8.3%, and 9.8% in the same AAA seasons). put all those skills together with a strong-armed, rangy, base-stealing shortstop and you should have a pretty good player, right?

well, tyler has some downsides.

strikeouts - greene has long had a problem with strikeouts. his full-season strikeout rates in the minors ranged from 29.7% in high A to 22.2% in AAA in 2009. right now, he's sporting a 27.8% K rate in the majors, with a 25.5% MLB career rate. he swings aggressively (51.8% swing rate in 2012 v. league average 45.7%) and he makes poor contact (71.9% contact rate in 2012 v. league average 79.9%). i'm quoting the 2012 stats, but these trends are borne out throughout his MLB stats.

defensive miscues - greene's tools have not clearly made him a great, or even good, fielder. he seems to suffer from a lot of very pronounced and untimely miscues and errors. while his UZR numbers don't indicate a good fielder - logging negative UZR numbers at shortstop and at second base - the sample size of his fielding numbers aren't really enough to draw any conclusions from. he has almost 1200 major league innings in the field, far short of the 3000 innings you'd need to make meaningful statements. i'm not convinced, personally, that greene is even an average defender, but i also recognize that his errors have often been remarkable and dramatic, and thus likely to assume an outsized psychological significance.

offensive underperformance - tyler's minor league slugging has not translated at all to the majors. he has a .110 ISO over his major league career. his best season offensively in the majors came last year, when he put up a few eztra walks (walking at a 10.7% rate). generally, however, the patience hasn't translated to the majors, with only a 7.8% walk rate for his MLB career.

and that's how you take a pile of tools and turn them into a replacement value, utility infielder.

what's to be done, after the jump:

well, one might ask, do you need to do anything? "replacement value" and "utility infielder" are more or less synonyms in baseball. if tyler greene were a a better than replacement value infielder, he'd probably be used a lot more than 194 PAs in 110 games. you also have to remember that across MLB, there are a ton of terrible middle infielders. rickie weeks, jemile weeks, and gordon beckham have 1325 PAs and 0.6 WAR between them. orlando hudson somehow amassed 247 PAs while hitting for a .237 wOBA. times are tough for people who want to fill out a middle infield. to date, the cardinals have gotten 2.3 WAR out of their second basemen, which is good for twelfth best in the majors. if you'd told me in january that, after 110 games, the cardinals would have gotten more value from their second basemen than the reds (cumulatively, 2.0 WAR), i'd have been ecstatic. so, it's not clear that anything really needs fixing at all.

"but, tom," i hear you cry, "he's so bad, and i really just don't like him." okay, if you were to try to fix this situation, what would you do?

in terms of outside acquisitions, both the market and the calendar work against us. like i noted above, other teams have really bad middle infields, too. five teams have below replacement value performance from their second basemen. further, it's august, which means that any acquisitions would have to come through the waiver market.

that means that you're looking for someone expensive enough to reach the cardinals and someone not playing for a contender. well, those criteria exclude most of the good second basemen. contenders like the yankees, pirates, reds, rangers, nats, and braves are not trading a second baseman. aaron hill is pretty cheap and signed through next year; i think he'd get picked up off waivers before he reached us. ben zobrist is similarly too cheap and too good, as are jose altuve and darwin barney.

the only even semi-plausible trade targets are kelly johnson and chase utley. johnson is signed only through this year with toronto; at $6.375M, he's probably not likely to make it through the waiver process to st. louis, but it's at least conceivable. moreover, he's in the middle of a terrible year. he's hitting for a 90 wRC+, after hitting for a 93 wRC+ last season. at 30, he's on the decline end of his talents. he's left-handed and a bad fielder at second. i doubt he's any better than daniel descalso going forward (ZiPS projects 0.7 WAR from johnson, and 0.5 WAR from descalso the rest of the season).

chase utley is a plausible waiver candidate because he's making $15m this year and $15m next year. i don't know if you've noticed, but the phillies have found they are encumbered with a lot of expensive contracts. utley is 33 and has a lot of nagging injuries. taking on his contract would be a big risk of money for the cardinals. on the other hand, the cardinals have some money coming off the books next year and a lot of intriguing replacements coming up through the system. it's hard to think where they could improve more by risking some money than at second base. on the other hand, $20m is a lot of money for a declining, injured second baseman. and while the phillies owe him a lot of money, they have no ready replacement for him, and they have an enormous budget. they may be hesitant to let utley go, regardless of the money.

internally, there are two straightforward candidates. both are right-handed hitters, and both are offensive laggards.

pete "not rick porcello" kozma is right-handed, capable of playing second and short, and on the 40-man roster. that is pretty much the extent of the pluses. before the season ZIPS projected him to hit for an appalling 58 OPS+. he's managed a 62 wRC+ . . . at memphis. if the cardinals promote pete kozma, they're doing it to preserve 40-man space. however, given tyler greene's lack of options and the increasing pressure from below in the middle infield, this is pretty much greene's swan song with the cardinals. if they release him, there will be a 40-man opening. maybe they want to save the slot for flexibility at the Rule 5 deadline? in any event, if the cardinals decide they must conserve 40-man spots at all costs, they may pick pete.

the other, to my mind more serious, option is ryan jackson. jackson was reputed to have a major league glove at the time of being drafted. he's ranked as a plus fielder, although some of the scouting reports indicate just that: a plus fielder, not a boog-type fielder. he hits a little better than kozma, although that's not saying too much. jackson was projected to hit for a 70 OPS+ (think: tony cruz) in his ZiPS projections. he walks at a respectable, though not good, rate. he doesn't strike out too much. he's hit below average at memphis and springfield (89 wRC+ and 99 wRC+, respectively).

jackson might look a lot better offensively if used in a strict platoon: he has an .870 OPS between AA and AAA against LHP, with only a .681 OPS against RHP. this could work to his benefit in the future, since most of our up-and-coming middle infielders (wong, greg garcia) bat leftie. but almost any way you look at it, jackson is unlikely to be an offensive improvement on greene offensively. he may be stronger on defense, and he certainly won't run like greene. he has gotten a little taste of second base (13 games at memphis), despite being brought up as a shortstop. like i said above, given greene's lack of any remaining options and his limited future in the club, i think his 40-man status isn't as big a deal as for other prospects, but it is still a real factor.

i do think the club may have missed a chance to get something (anything!) for tyler greene before the deadline, in a market pretty starved for even infield adequacy. now, he's essentially relegated to pinch runner status. i think he can still serve a useful purpose on the field, but if the management has lost faith in him, it may be time for a new face. the cheapest and easiest options are internal, and the external options are scarce and high-risk.