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Stats that Matter (Quick Hits)

I’m too busy to write a good lede. Just read the article!

Detroit Tigers v St Louis Cardinals Photo by Jeff Curry/Getty Images

I have just enough time tonight after some Friday night football to provide you with a little Saturday reading. That means a quick return to my “Stats that Matter” series.

Fair warning. This is a “quick hits” format. If you’re looking for in-depth analysis, sufficient context, or nuance, you’ll have to provide that yourself. To the stats!

Jake Woodford: Sinker %

Woodford recently supplanted Kwang-Hyun Kim in the rotation, a move that I’ll admit I didn’t fully understand at the time. Kim has been a pretty reliable starter for the Cardinals for two seasons. Jake Woodford… well, he’s featured on a giant banner outside Great American Ballpark. He hasn’t been particularly good and if I was trusting in one of these two players to help the ballclub in a final playoff push, it would be Kim. The Cardinals are going with Woodford. So far it’s worked out.

If you’re looking for some kind of magic in his Statcast rates that will prove Woodford is not the sub-replacement level pitcher he’s been, I really can’t help you. Instead, I’ll simply point to this: Jake Woodford is not the same pitcher that he was last year.

In 2020, short-season that it was, Woodford was pretty much a three-pitch pitcher. He threw a pretty bad 4-seamer fastball 43% of the time and relied on a decent slider and curve. He tossed in a sinker and change for kicks and grins.

This year, that’s flipped. He’s throwing that sinker 35.3% of the time – up from 7.5%. That’s higher than his 4-seam rate, which is at 24.8%. Now, his sinker hasn’t been very good. It has a .342 wOBA against and should be a little worse (.362 wOBA). However, the shift to the 2-seamer has had two positive effects on his results. First, his 4-seamer is better. As his featured fastball in 2020, hitters could sit on it and they destroyed it. The revised fastball combo seems to be keeping hitters a little more off balance. His 4-seam wOBA against is just .317 this season. Second, it’s keeping his homers down. He has allowed the same number of HRs as last season but in over twice as many innings. His HR/FB rate is 14.9%. That’s not exactly exciting, but it is an improvement over last year.

All that really means is that this new Jake Woodford might be able to stick around in the majors. That’s… something.

Tyler O’Neill: 450 Plate Appearances

From 2018-2020, Tyler O’Neill had a cumulative 450 plate appearances spread over the three seasons. He had a collective 91 wRC+ and 1.9 fWAR. Not so good.

Heading into Friday night’s contest against the Reds, TON has 443 PAs – just 7 shy of his career to this point, for those that can’t do simple subtraction. In those 443 PAs, he has produced a 137 wRC+ and 3.9 fWAR.

It’s amazing what consistent plate appearances – and a more stable BABIP – can do for a young player.

Some things about his performance haven’t changed that much. His 7.1% BB rate is now 7.4%. His 34% K-rate is now 32.1%. About the same. However, his ISO has jumped 60 points. His BABIP has jumped from .305 (brought way back by his .189 BABIP in 2020) to .368. That might not look that sustainable, but he did have high BABIPs in both ’18 and ’19.

Anyway, Tyler O’Neill is really good and his full-season stats this year have pretty much erased the questions that plagued him in the past. Going forward, the Cardinals just need to hope that BABIP doesn’t normalize.

Paul DeJong: $99.6M

Paul DeJong seems to have settled in as the official whipping boy of Cardinals Twitter. He’s had a poor season. No doubt about it. There have to be real questions about if he’ll return as a starter next season.

That has some Cards social media fans lumping his contract extension in with Miles Mikolas and Matt Carpenter as proof of Mozeliak’s incompetence.

I have trouble seeing the connection. DeJong’s contract was an arbitration buy-out deal that spread the likely value of his pre-free agency period out, instead of forcing the team to absorb an unknown salary figure on an annual basis. These deals are typically team-friendly – allowing a player to sacrifice a bit of earning potential for a whole lot of income security. They are rarely a bad idea with a starter-caliber bat because the value of the contracts is so low.

So far, DeJong’s contract has paid him a little less than $8.3M. For that $8.3M, the Cardinals have received 12.5 fWAR, including a 1.3 fWAR season in ’21. By the value of one WAR on Fangraphs, that means DeJong has produced $99.6M of value for the Cardinals or $91.3M in surplus value.

To put this another way, if the Cardinals wanted 12.5 fWAR of production over the last five seasons from the shortstop position but they had to go to the free agent market to acquire it, they would have had to pay nearly $100M for it – about $20M per year.

That’s great production per cost and typical of what teams get out of productive young players. That’s why draft and development matters so much!

His contract and the surplus value it already holds also doesn’t obligate the Cardinals to DeJong going forward. Next year, they are set to pay him just $6M. In 2023, that number jumps to $9M. He has reasonable buyouts after that, so the Cards can get out from under him easily if they want. Neither of those guaranteed amounts are even close to Matt Carpenter or Miles Mikolas. Those salaries are comparable to what the Cards would have to pay for a 1-2 fWAR platoon caliber player on the open market.

So, the Cards have already gotten huge value out of DeJong. His salary really won’t stop them from doing whatever they want to do going forward. And he’s still likely to at least be worth what he’s being paid – even if he’s no longer a 3-4 WAR player. If he becomes that player again, they’re right back to printing money.

Cardinals: 3 games back of the Reds

The last stat that matters is probably the one that matters the most. With the loss tonight, the Cardinals are three games behind the Reds in the Wild Card race, with the Padres still playing against the Dodgers. This weekend won’t decide the second Wild Card but it could have a lot to say about it. Here’s hoping that they pull out games two and three of this vital series and that the Pads lose.