The appeals have already been made here and elsewhere to see Tyler Greene get the lion’s share of playing time this September. Shortstop is an obvious problem and one that needs addressing for the future. Ryan Theriot has proven that whatever defense might have been expected from him entering the season, simply was more than what he actually brought to the table.
To use a quick tautology: Apparent problems are obvious. Do the Cardinals have a less apparent problem that they should be dealing with.
I delve into Joe Strauss’s Post-Dispatch chats with great apprehension and a full bottle of TUMS at my side. One response this week particularly caught my eye.
Joe Strauss: Dickson is starting Thursday. Greene will receive significangt playing time. Freese endures from arthritic ankles so, yes, running is rarely free of discomfort. [...]
Emphasis mine. The Cardinals are employing a third baseman who, in his third year, still has yet to reach 600 major league plate appearances. There are plenty of reasons for this including some freak accidents but, as Struass notes, there are lingering effects to these injuries. David Freese is hitting well, let’s not be unclear about that. He’s posting a .343 wOBA which is significantly better than league average. His defense looks above average to the eyeball and the defensive metrics largely peg him around average.
He can’t run without pain though? At 28, Freese is no spring chicken in baseball terms and he’s entering his arbitration years where his price goes out and expected production needs to increase. The wrap on players like Skip Schumaker isn’t that their bad players, it’s that playing $2-4M dollars for a 1-2WAR player is questionable when there’s a player in the minors that has potential. In Schumaker’s case, you had Daniel Descalso, who provided a less clear line of advocacy than Matt Carpenter does with David Freese.
One of the arguments against Matt Carpenter is that he isn’t expected to hit for power. He saw the traditional left-hander in Texas League bump that added 50pts of ISO to his line from A-ball. Earlier in the year, coaches worked with Carpenter to add a little more loft to his swing. He’s nearly maintained his ISO since moving to Memphis. Even with some HR friendly parks out west, that wasn’t something that Colby Rasmus or Daniel Descalso did – other recent lefthanders who experienced the Springfield bump.
Perhaps the more apt rebuttal to this line of thinking is Matt Carpenter in the big leagues would be replacing a player who also hasn’t hit for power. David Freese has an ISO that hovers around his career average of .121; this year’s ISO would place him 105th in the majors among qualified hitters.
The advantage that Matt Carpenter has, and has long exhibited, is his exceptional plate discipline. Power is an easy number to inflate with park effects and varying park dimensions. Plate discipline and walk rate, while not immune (different batter’s eyes, environmental effects dampening breaking pitches, etc), is a more stable skillset. Carpenter has a minor league career OBP over .400. He has a mere 4 more strikeouts than walks (207 to 203). In 2011, he’s taken that to a new level with 82 walks against 66 strikeouts and a .420 OBP.
One of the recent arguments that John Mozeliak had when trading Colby Rasmus was concern that his value would erode further for various reasons. Given David Freese’s age, medical history and declining number of cost controlled years, shouldn’t we have the same questions about Freese? Has he reached the peak of his value?
Tyler Greene will get playing time in September because shortstop has been a disaster position all year long for the club. It’s obvious. The Cardinals face a lot of upcoming budget constraints and key, iconic players who will need to have their contracts negotiated in the near term. The loss of Colby Rasmus, even if you think the team is better for that trade, was a tough one to take on the balance sheet. The Cardinals have a chance to establish a young cheap player at 3rd base once again. No, he doesn’t hit for power but I’ll bet he isn’t in pain when he runs either.