Stats & Info: Rick Ankiel

Cold markets in this year's hot stove

November, 5, 2011
If you’re a team that needs a catcher, second baseman, or centerfielder, you might struggle to find what you’re looking for in this year’s free agent market. Here’s a closer look at what is available among these positions.

The first thing to know about the market for backstops is that there are no catchers on this year’s free agent market who played in 100 games last season. The only available player who even caught 700 innings was Rod Barajas.

The top-rated catcher available statistically is Ramon Hernandez, who finished last season with 2.0 Wins Above Replacement. His WAR over the past three seasons is 4.4, the best among free-agent catchers.

Ramon Hernandez
For perspective on Hernandez’s value, a 2.0 WAR is someone who would barely be considered an everyday player. In fact, his WAR ranked 16th-best among all catchers in 2011.

Aside from his below-average production, another potential reason against signing Hernandez is that he is a Type A free agent. If the Cincinnati Reds offer him arbitration, the compensation for another team signing him could be a first-round pick.

Second Base
There are plenty of second baseman in this year’s free agent pool, but the market lacks a star player. It does have a large group of players who played a lot of innings, but produced in a limited fashion.

The highest-rated second baseman in Wins Above Replacement are Kelly Johnson, who hit .222 with 21 homers for the Toronto Blue Jays and Arizona Diamondbacks, and Jamey Carroll, who had a .359 on-base percentage but no home runs for the Los Angeles Dodgers. Both players finished with 2.2 WAR last season.

How thin is the second base market? There are four free agents who played at least 100 games last season and finished with a WAR below 1.0: Aaron Hill, Aaron Miles, Adam Kennedy, and Orlando Cabrera.

Center Field
The highest-rated centerfielder by Wins Above Replacement is Coco Crisp, who finished with 2.2 WAR in 2011, followed by Rick Ankiel at 1.4.

What’s interesting about center field is that there are two players who were formerly great centerfielders, who would be highly coveted and could be put in centerfield if a team is willing to take a risk.

Carlos Beltran showed himself to be an adequate defensive player in right field for the New York Mets and San Francisco Giants, with two Defensive Runs Saved last season. However, a factor that would work against him moving back to center field is his age, as he turns 35 in April.

Beltran also showed that he is still capable of handling himself at the plate. His .910 OPS was third-best among major-league right fielders last year, and his 39 doubles were surpassed only by Joey Votto among all NL players.

When healthy, Grady Sizemore was one of the top centerfielders in the game, averaging 27 homers and 29 stolen bases from 2005-08. However, he’s played an average of just 70 games in the last three seasons and has hit .234 over that span.

With their 6-5 come-from-behind win against the Angels Sunday, the New York Yankees increased their lead in the AL East to 3 ½ games in front of the Boston Red Sox. Mariano Rivera picked up his 40th save this season and 599th of his career. He's now one save away from joining Trevor Hoffman as the only players with 600 saves.

Prior to Sunday, the Yankees’ biggest lead in the AL East at the end of any day’s play this season was three games and their largest deficit was also three games. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, no major-league team has ever gone through an entire season without either leading or trailing in its division (or league before 1969) by more than three games at the end of any day’s play. Since 1900, no other team had done that as far into a season as this year’s Yankees.

B.J. Upton
The Tampa Bay Rays completed a sweep of the Red Sox after B.J. Upton blew the game open with a grand slam in the fifth inning. With Justin Upton having hit a bases-loaded homer on July 23, Elias also tells us the Uptons became the tenth pair of brothers to hit grand slams in the major leagues in the same season. The Molinas are the only other brothers to do that over the last ten seasons (Bengie and Jose in 2004, Bengie and Yadier in 2010). All three DiMaggio brothers (Joe, Dom and Vince) hit grand slams in 1941.

After 14 straight wins when Vance Worley has started, the Philadelphia Phillies finally lost Sunday with Worley on the mound, 3-2 to the Brewers. According to Elias, the 14 straight wins matched the longest such single-season streak for a rookie pitcher in the Live Ball era. The 1970 Reds won 14 straight behind Wayne Simpson, as did the 1944 Cardinals behind Ted Wilks.

Finally, in our nation's capital, Ian Desmond, Rick Ankiel and Ryan Zimmerman homered back-to-back-to-back as Washington beat the Astros 8-2. It was the first time the Nationals accomplished that feat since July 2009. Stephen Strasburg lasted just three innings and got another no-decision, the shortest start of his career.
LAST NAMELAST NAMEWho would have thought that when Kansas City traded Rick Ankiel and Kyle Farnsworth to Atlanta for three players at the trade deadline, it would have had so much impact in the postseason?

Friday night Rick Ankiel was able to do with one swing, what his five wild pitches in 2000 were unable to: earn the Braves a postseason victory. For those that don’t remember, in 2000 Rick Ankiel was a flame-throwing rookie pitcher who struck out a Cardinals rookie record 194 batters and earned a NLDS Game One start against the Braves. Ankiel would throw a record five wild pitches in the third inning of that game and only last 2.2 innings. His Cardinals did however go on to win the game and eventually the series.

10 years later, the Braves picked up Ankiel at the trade deadline with fellow ex-Royal Kyle Farnsworth. Farnsworth’s major impact Friday came in the bottom of the tenth inning when he induced Buster Posey into an inning-ending double play with the bases loaded (score was 4-4). Prior to Friday, Farnsworth had written his own piece of Braves postseason lore, but we’ll forgive you if you don’t remember his connection. In 2005, he blew the save for the Braves against the Astros, which eventually led to an 18-inning game that included, among other things, a Roger Clemens appearance as a pinch hitter. Interestingly enough, the Braves started a postseason scoreless streak in that game that they only managed to snap Friday after 24 innings.

One more Braves factoid: three of the four players with an RBI in Game Two were not on the team’s roster last season. Ankiel and Alex Gonzalez were both midseason acquisitions and Melky Cabrera was part of the Javier Vazquez trade in the offseason. Plus 5 of the 7 pitchers who saw action Friday (including rookies Mike Dunn, Jonny Venters and Craig Kimbrel) were also not on the roster a year ago.

One2Watch4: Cardinals OF Ryan Ludwick

March, 16, 2010
Matt Holliday drew all the offseason attention with his mammoth contract and Albert Pujols is again expected to be "the Mang" in the Cardinals lineup. Production from those two is taken as a given, but Ryan Ludwick's success - or lack thereof - will likely determine just how much fear the Cardinals lineup puts into opposing hurlers.

If you subscribe to the alternating-year theory (and hey, it's Spring Training, you can believe in anything), then Ludwick is due to mash this year. In his three seasons with the Cardinals, his stats have followed the path of the keyboard carat (^): low, then high, then low again.

Here are the basic slashlines:
2007 - .267/.479/.339
2008 - .299/.591/.375
2009 - .265/.447/329

It's no surprise then that the Cardinals offensive fortunes mirrored Ludwick's over those three seasons, following a similar carat path:

Cardinals NL OPS rank, last three seasons
2007 10th
2008 2nd
2009 6th

So what did Ludwick do in his 2008 season that differentiated him from the 2007 and 2009 years? The answer to that question could help determine what he needs to do this season to regain that form. We'll pull out a few things...

-He walked more. Ludwick walked in about 10 percent of his plate appearances in 2008, compared to about a 7.5 percent mark in his two down seasons. The league average hovers near 9 percent, so when Ludwick was an above-average walker, his batting lines were much higher than when he took the free pass less frequently. How big of a difference is there between a 7.5 percent rate and 10 percent rate? Over a season of 500 plate appearances, that's at least 12 more walks for Ludwick.

-He struck out more. This seems paradoxical, but it's a necessary message to Cardinals fans groaning every time Ludwick whiffs - more strike outs doesn't mean Ludwick is a less productive hitter. Only one Cardinal struck out more frequently than Ludwick last season, and that player isn't back with the team this season - Rick Ankiel. While Ludwick is likely to be the team's biggest whiffer again this season, consider this tradeoff: his strikeout rate was higher in 2008, but so was Ludwick's home run rate, extra-base hit rate and RBI rate.

-He hit the ball in the air. Ludwick isn't going to beat out many grounders to the left side; his reputation is as a power hitter, which means doubles in the gap and big flys on the regular. In 2008, Ludwick's line drive percentage jumped significantly - from 19 percent to 28 percent. Not surprisingly, it dropped back down last season, to 21 percent. His ground ball-to-fly ball ratio was at its lowest in 2008 as well. It went from 60 percent in 2007 down to 37 percent, back up to 48 percent last season.

Ludwick stands to bat fifth in the order regularly this season after spending the first half of last season fourth before the Matt Holliday trade bumped him down a spot. Tony LaRussa's lineup-tinkering is well-documented, but he figures to leave the Pujols-Holliday-Ludwick heart of the order intact, even though it must pain LaRussa that it's righty-righty-righty. That puts pressure on Ludwick to match the production of other notable National League five-hitters (Jayson Werth, James Loney, Troy Tulowitzki).

He's affectionately earned himself the nickname "Thudwick" among Cardinal fans when things are going well at the plate and "Dudwick" when they're not. In a Cardinals lineup with its two top banana's returning, Ludwick returning to form could push the heart of the order into a fearsome threesome.