A couple of times every year, we take a glance at how the team’s performance rises and falls depending on who is playing which position. Since there are many factors that commonly spell the difference between victory and defeat, these are numbers to take with a couple of grains of salt. However, if the team consistently does better with a particular player in the lineup while another player sits, there probably something to that.
All season, I’ve been trying to get a feel for Andrew Knizner. I knew that it would be difficult, as the starting catcher – Yadier Molina – takes fewer days off than most catchers. The difficulty is complicated by Andrew’s batting struggles. While his minor league history strongly suggests that he is a better hitter than he’s shown so far, the fact is that he brings a batting line of .178/.267/.222 into the final series before the All-Star Break.
Hitting woes aside, Andrew’s small body of work this season hasn’t been without its moments. The last game in San Francisco was his twenty-third start of the season, and even with the loss the team is 13-10 when Knizner starts behind the plate. The team ERA is a solid 3.62 in the games Knizner has started.
The fact that both of those numbers are better than the team’s performance with Molina behind the plate (and the team is 30-34 with a 4.37 ERA in his starts) isn’t an indictment of Yadi. No one who follows this team even casually has any misperceptions of Molina’s worth to the team.
But it is an encouraging sign that Andrew is more than capable.
Among the starters who have worked significantly with Knizner is Jack Flaherty. In his 11 starts before he hit the injured list, Jack was caught by Yadi 6 times and Knizner 5 times. He threw quality starts in 4 of his 5 starts with Andrew, going 5-0 with a 1.45 ERA. With Molina as his catcher, Jack had 2 quality starts and a 3-1 record with a 4.35 ERA.
John Gant has also done somewhat better (3-1, 3.16) with Knizner than Yadi (1-5, 3.80).
Adam Wainwright, of course, only pitches to Molina – if Yadi is healthy. The Waino-Molina collaboration has added 16 more games to their ledger this season. Adam is 6-5 with a 3.33 ERA pitching to his long-time battery-mate. He did win his only start with Andrew, but was touched for 5 runs in 5.2 innings.
Second base has been the great mix-and-match position for the Cards this season. Tommy Edman was written in as the starter here at the beginning of the season, but Tommy’s defensive versatility has allowed the Cards to plug Edman in wherever an injury has provoked a need, and allowed Mike Shildt to cycle several players in to play some at second.
Eighty-eight games into the season, and Edman has made starts at three different positions, while four players have made starts at second – with three of them making at least 12 starts there.
By winning percentage, the best of that group is Edmundo Sosa. The Cardinals are 7-5 in his 12 starts at second. The team’s ERA (3.09) is also lowest with Edmundo playing there – although the offensive runs-per-game (just 3.25) also drops when Sosa is playing second.
Edman places second among the three gentlemen who have played second for the Cards. He has played there most frequently (49 games) and the team is a solid 27-22 (.551) when Tommy starts at second. Offensively, the club is scoring 4.29 runs per game in his starts (the most of any of the three) with an aggregate ERA of 4.19 in those games.
Matt Carpenter has made 25 starts at the keystone position. The club’s fortunes haven’t fared quite so well with Carpenter there. They are 9-16 with a 4.38 ERA in his games at second. Offensively, the team scores 3.68 runs per game in his starts at second.
St Louis has used two principle shortstops this year. Projected starter Paul DeJong has played there the most (58 games) with Sosa making 27 other starts there. Here, all the numbers support DeJong. The team is 30-28 (.517) in Paul’s starts, scoring 4.00 runs per game against a team ERA of 3.86. They are 12-15 (.444), scoring 3.93 runs per game against a team ERA of 4.73 in Sosa’s starts.
A couple of injuries have kept starter Tyler O’Neill on the bench for a good chunk of the early season. Still, when he’s healthy, he’s the man in left, making 61 of the first 88 starts there. The Cards are 32-29 in those starts, scoring 4.08 runs per game – albeit against a 4.43 team ERA.
Five other players have made at least one start in left, but the principle back-up here is the currently injured Justin Williams, who has made 16 starts in left. The team ERA is best with Williams out there (3.23), but the Cards are only scoring 3.81 runs per game in his starts, going 8-8.
They are 3-8 in when anyone else starts in left.
Harrison Bader was supposed to be the starter in center, but Bader has had more trouble than any regular staying healthy (the pitching staff, of course, is another matter). Bader has only made 29 starts in center in the team’s first 88 games. The team is 16-13 in those games (.552) and both the run scoring (4.07) and the team ERA (3.69) are better than the team averages without him.
In his absence, Dylan Carlson has filled the void. In 57 starts with Dylan in center, the team is 27-30 with a 4.40 team ERA, while averaging 3.96 runs per game.
The frequent injuries to Bader and O’Neill have scrambled right field more than any other position. Seven different Cards have made starts in right, with the bulk of the opportunities going to Edman (32 starts), Carlson (22) and Williams (17).
Of the three, the best record belongs to the projected starter, Carlson. The team is 13-9 when he starts there. They are 9-8 in Williams starts, and just 12-20 when Edman plays out there. St Louis is 9-8 with the other four sometimes right-fielders (Lars Nootbaar, Lane Thomas, Jose Rondon and Austin Dean).
Offensively, the team also does better with Carlson there (4.50 runs per game), with Williams ranking second (4.47) and Edman third (3.63). The team ERA with Carlson in right is 3.90 –the only one of the three right fielders who has helped the team to an ERA below 4.00.
First and Third Base
It’s hard to paint any kind of idea what this team looks like without Paul Goldschmidt and Nolan Arenado manning the corners. These are easily the two most stable positions on the team, with Goldy making 83 starts at first, an Arenado making 85 at third. For the record, Carpenter has made the 5 starts at first that Goldy hasn’t made. The team is 2-3 in those games. Three other players (Carpenter, Rondon and Max Moroff) have made one start each at third. St Louis is 2-1 in those games.
The projected starting lineup has only made 5 starts together this year – May 8 against Colorado, May 11 and 12 against Milwaukee, and July 1 and 2 – again against Colorado. They are 3-2 in those games.
My Designated Hitter Rant
Every year now, baseball purists in the National League are continuously threatened with the permanent infliction of the designated hitter. Last year, I responded with an extensive rant against the DH. While trying to update that document, I managed to delete it. So, I have re-written it here. The hope is to set forth a reasonable argument for keeping the DH far, far away from National League parks. I encourage you to read it and pass it along to other like-minded fans of this great old game.