Wednesday, April 20, 2011
Old birds and new tricks in St. Louis
By Christina Kahrl
With the news that the Cardinals have both a closer conundrum and a pair of players headed to the DL, the thing that comes to mind isn’t that the Cardinals are now suddenly doomed, or even especially troubled. Instead, it’s that in the case of both Ryan Franklin and Skip Schumaker, they might be running up against the limits of what they might have reasonably expected from two ballplayers, having asked both to do something extraordinary in the context of their previous careers.
In Franklin’s case, there was perhaps some surprise that this has gone as long as it has. Before his arrival in St. Louis, nobody, perhaps not even Ma Franklin, envisioned Franklin notching a 38-save season at some point. Especially not heading further towards 40 years of age. Franklin’s subsequent success as the Cardinals’ save-generating dude is fairly easy to cite as an example that more people can close games than might automatically get associated with the label "closer." Certainly his pedestrian velocity and a more starter-like three-pitch ensemble doesn’t exactly conjure up classic visions of who gets to rack up the game’s glory stat.
That Franklin has done so as effectively as he has is another example that, while teams idealize what kind of pitcher racks up saves, there are people who can do it without lighting up the speed gun. He’s probably being replaced by Mitchell Boggs, whose fastball sits in the mid-90s -- something much more closer-y. However, even while lighting up the gun, Boggs will need to continue to make progress with his slider against lefties to reliably succeed in a high-leverage role. If it works out, the Cards could wind up a little better off than they were.
As for Schumaker, the converted outfielder’s travails at second base have hardly been a source of strength. Across the panoply of defensive metrics publicly available, the Schumaker's numbers rank sharply negative in all of the major available metrics -- BIS’ Plus/Minus, Total Zone, Fielding Runs, and UZR. That kind of damning consistency suggests that the attempt to make Schumaker a second baseman just hasn’t worked out especially well. When he was posting OBPs in the .350 range, you could make excuses for his defense, but he only reached base at a .328 clip last year, and that’s about the extent of his contributions as a hitter.
This doesn’t make the Cards dumb for trying to make Schumaker a second baseman. In 2009 they didn’t have a great set of options at the keystone, so converting an outfielder was a creative way of giving themselves an alternative. However, moves against the defensive spectrum, from "easier" positions to harder ones are fairly uncommon for a reason. As much hard work as Schumaker has put into the attempt, his trip to the DL makes for a handy way of acknowledging that, in Daniel Descalso, the Cards probably have another home-grown guy who might produce similar offense and better defense. Whether Descalso gets a clean shot at the job, winds up platooning with Tyler Greene, or if Nick Punto gets in on the action, this doesn't necessarily represent bad news in itself.
Instead, in both cases, with Franklin and with Schumaker, the Cards can feel pretty good about how well these surprising adaptations worked, for as long as they've worked. That they're forced to do something else in these circumstances highlights the possibility that they may find themselves rewarded again.
Christina Kahrl helped found Baseball Prospectus in 1996, is a member of the BBWAA, and covers baseball for ESPN.com. You can follow her on Twitter here.