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Comparing Andrew Knizner and Carson Kelly

Knizner appeared to make Kelly redundant, but Kelly is the better bet.

Atlanta Braves v St Louis Cardinals Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

I’m conflicted. I want to write this article, but I also don’t. This is an article that I would have written eventually had Carson Kelly never been traded as part of a package deal in the Paul Goldschmidt trade. I’m going to address what I’ve wanted to address in the very limited amount of time where talking about Carson Kelly is relevant still. But I would like to have written this with Kelly still on the same team, because now I feel like I’m arguing against a Cardinal instead of comparing two Cardinals.

I’m comparing Kelly to Andrew Knizner of course. You can read headlines. Knizner was drafted out of college in the 7th round of the 2016 MLB Draft. He was sent to Johnson City, crushed the ever living hell out of the ball and was sent to Peoria to begin 2017. He was pretty good in Peoria too, good enough to get promoted midseason to Springfield, skipping Palm Beach entirely. He actually improved his numbers in Springfield in 51 games, but in 77 games this year, his numbers dipped to a still well above average line. In only 17 games in Memphis, he had a 114 wRC+.

Knizner’s story on the Cardinals starts at 21-years-old in Johnson City. Kelly’s started earlier. In fact, when Kelly was 21 - Knizner’s age when drafted - Kelly hit at a similar level to Knizner’s 2018 AA line, and was promoted midseason to Memphis. To repeat, Kelly was in Memphis while Knizner was at Johnson City at similar ages. This is not Knizner’s fault of course. He was promoted about as fast as possible.

If you look closely at Knizner’s stats, you notice a funny thing. He has a remarkably similar offensive profile to Kelly. It may not appear that way at first. Knizner has vastly better wRC+ than Kelly, who mostly struggled to be average most of his minor league career while he was about 3-4 years younger than most everyone he was playing against. But they are.

Kelly is a good contact hitter so he won’t strike out much (career 15.3 K% in MLB - yes as shitty as he’s been, he hasn’t struck out much), he has a good eye so he’ll get his fair share of walks (projected 8.9 BB% by Steamer), and has minimal power (.126 ISO). Andrew Knizner is a good contact hitter so he won’t strike out much (projected 14.8 K% by Steamer), he has minimal power (.127 ISO in Springfield in ‘17-18 combined), and actually has about an average eye for walks (projected 5.8 BB%).

What’s the difference between the two besides walks, which would seem to favor Kelly? BABIP. Kelly has a projected .276 BABIP while Knizner has a projected .293 BABIP. Kelly is also projected to strike out more, but that’s more than offset by the walks. Knizner had BABIPs of .355, .339, and .370 in AA and AAA the past two seasons. Minor league BABIP, is to say the least, unreliable. It could be a skill, because they are too good for the league. It could just be noise. We don’t know.

Now, I’m a Kelly fan. So me saying Knizner is equal to him offensively is clearly not a bad thing. Knizner needs to do one of two things in order to be better at offense than Kelly, neither of which are that unlikely. He needs to have a better BABIP or add power to his game. For whatever it’s worth, Knizner is considered slow. Real slow. He has a 30 grade on Fangraphs. Kelly is a 20 grade so he’s a little faster, but not by much.

Of course, the other separator is defense. Kelly’s defense is highly regarded. Knizner’s defense is not. Fangraphs says “He remains below-average in most aspects of catching, but isn’t so bad that he’ll surely have to move,” which is not a terribly encouraging thing to say if you’re not sold on his hitting! John Sickels, for what it’s worth, says Knizner is “solid with the glove, not quite as good as Kelly but certainly decent.” That was mid-2018 too.

I don’t know. I’m not sure how, but I somehow feel simultaneously better and worse about Knizner. He’s pretty similar to Carson Kelly, which is good! If you want to put on the pessimistic blinders, it’s pretty easy to see how he’s worse in every way too though, especially defense. I feel more certain that Knizner could be average which is good, but less certain he can be much more than that, which is a little deflating.

Anyway, I’m just working through my thoughts on the Carson Kelly loss. I’ve been defending him for a while and hoped he would prove me right, and unfortunately, even if I’m right, he won’t be doing it with the Cardinals. This post has helped my crystallize my thoughts on Knizner though. Let’s hope that this post looks really dumb in a few years when Knizner becomes an All-Star when his power improves and he becomes a good defender.