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PostPosted: April 30 19, 8:53 am 
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April 17, just a few weeks into the season, might mark an important moment of transition for the 2019 Cardinals. A day earlier, Gold Glove caliber CF'er Harrison Bader hit the IL with a knee injury. Tyler O'Neill tweaked his elbow the next day. Neither injury was significant and neither player was expected to miss significant time. Injuries, though, often open a door of opportunity, and the Cardinals suddenly found themselves in a position where they had to play Dexter Fowler in CF and Jose Martinez in RF.

Since that date, the Cardinals have lost 2 games in 10 and have surged to the best win% in the NL. Buoyed by a BABIP of .407, Fowler is sporting a 133 wRC+ and a OBP well over .400. Jose Martinez has an equally laughable BABIP and is batting .351. It sure feels like the offense generated by those two have been a key to our recent upsurge. It feels like they are quickly making themselves indispensable. With them hitting so well, how could Shildt possibly take them out of the lineup?

One of the problems with high BABIP production over small sample sizes is that it can effectively mask long-term deficiencies that could prove troublesome or even fatal to a player's production. Fowler, for example, has an ISO of just 113 - lower even than last year, which is pretty shocking. He is hitting a ton of LD's, but he can't translate those to anything more than the occasional double. When the LD% collapses and the BABIP with it, something that is certain to happen, it will get very ugly for Fowler at the plate. Jose Martinez's ISO is somehow even worse. He also has just 3 walks on the season, for an abysmal BB rate under 4%. Maybe an argument can be made that abundance in one area (BABIP) has to steal from something else -- power from Fowler and BB's from Martinez -- as if there were only a finite amount of batting juice in each player's universe. That seems like a stretch to justify how we might feel about a player's performance over small samples. The truth is that while hitting the crap out of the ball, neither player is hitting the crap out of the ball and many of the flaws that have been present with both players over multiple seasons can't even be masked by an amazing 2 week run.

But, this article is not exclusively about Fowler's and Martinez's offense. Can we survive their defense? There are always problems with looking at defense over small sample sizes. At the same time, both players have enough history behind them that we can compare their performance over an insignificant number of innings with their performance over a larger number of innings and draw some tentative conclusions from that.

In 118 innings in RF, Jose Martinez is at -4 DRS and -1.5 UZR. Combined in '17 and '18, Martinez was -8 DRS and -2.3 UZR in 435 innings. Put in laymen's terms, Martinez has always been a bad OF'er, but this season he has been almost twice as bad in RF as you might expect. There's just no way to put a positive spin on Martinez in the OF. I even made a halfhearted attempt this winter to argue that Bader's superhero CF range might somewhat mitigate Martinez's presence in RF, but now, that just feels like trying to spin yarn into gold.

Fowler's defense, on the other hand, has been shocking. In just 76 CF ip's, Fowler is +5 in DRS. That would rank 3rd in MLB in CF defense if he had enough ip's in CF to qualify. Fowler's UZR in CF is just .3, but that does translate to a whopping 41.8 UZR over 150 games played! If that doesn't show you how worthless early season defensive analysis is, then nothing will. The last time Fowler held down CF for an extended period of time (2017), he was -18/-7.4 DRS/UZR respectively. He is -77 in CF in career DRS. -61.6 in career UZR. Outliers can occur. In 2016, not all that long ago, Fowler was +1 in DRS and +.2 in UZR over a full season in CF. Maybe Fowler is poised to repeat his '16 performance and can lock down CF? Maybe he can also maintain a .400 BABIP all season. Maybe monkeys will fly out of my butt (ode to Wayne's World, which I introduced my kids a few weeks ago). I'll take even odds on all of those options if you're a betting man.

You throw all of that into the coffee pot, and what comes out? In 78 PA's, Cafecito has just .2 WAR. That's the same as Lane Thomas in his 11 PA's. It's .1 better than Tyler O'Neill, who somehow has a worse walk rate than Martinez and already has a stint on the IL. Jose Martinez has been a bad player for us. Despite all the love he is receiving at the moment, his presence in the OF isn't really helping us win. This is not new for Martinez, who has never been able to translate good contact (and typically decent BB rates) into equivalent WAR production. You know what Martinez would be great as? A pinch hitter.

Fowler has 94 PA's and .6 WAR, which would translate to a nice 3 WAR season... if he can maintain a .400+ BABIP. His BB% plays and I think his high LD rate might actually be stealing from his power. With only a 23% FB rate, he hasn't had much opportunity to push the ball out of the park. A dip in BABIP coinciding with an increase in his FB rate could actually result in an increase in power for Dex and more balanced production. Dex also seems to be uber-locked in defensively in the OF, which could translate to neutral defensive production with a return to RF. Maybe I'm just being hopeful.

Bader, though, started last night and reminded us of what we are missing, making an easy-for-him diving play on a LD that had a 10% catch rate. He also has .7 WAR already with, believe it or not, a BETTER OPS than Martinez. He's still one of the best CF defenders in the league (+3 DRS in just 132 innings) and he's walking more while also driving the ball out of the park. Harry is on pace for about 6 WAR this season. Yes, you read that correctly. Our .222 hitting CF'er is tracking to an All-Star caliber performance and we're contemplating relegating him to a platoon spot. Just as it feels like Martinez and Fowler have been cruising, it feels like Bader has been scuffling.

It just goes to show that you can't go by "feel" for a lineup and that even in small sample sizes there are positive trends and warning signs that should weigh heavily in deciding playing time. Right now, Bader in CF and Fowler in RF -- the same alignment that we used to start the season -- is probably the way to go. And O'Neill is right there waiting when Fowler's BABIP collapses.


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PostPosted: April 30 19, 9:14 am 
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Nice summary.

The problem with Bader is that he has nearly 200 games in MLB and he still has a 29/7 K/BB.

It's very dangerous to do WAR pace stuff. That almost never holds up with April numbers. Not unless you're a Trout/Bellinger type. Don't get me started on DRS/UZR in small samples. Essentially useless. But I understand your point that putting any spin on it one way or another can be hard. We know Bader is great...tremendous even in CF. We know his glove always plays. OPS is intro level stat that should be tossed out immediately when looking at performances.

I think what gets lost in all this individual WAR performance stuff is the role the players serve to the overall team goal. The pitchers-per-plate appearance, contact ability, etc. get lost when looking at the individual.

Jose Martinez's value isn't that he's a raking DH being a statue in OF for us, it's that his contact ability stabilizes the lineup. We have DeJong and Bader who, no matter what happens, will revert back to their not-so-great plate discipline...so having contact guys and OBP guys like Fowler and Martinez help keep the lineup moving, thus scoring runs. When a runner is on second, Tyler O'Neill, Harrison Bader, and hell even Dexter Fowler isn't usually scoring them (since he walks or hits light singles), it's Jose Martinez slapping one OPPO way bringing them in because he's not striking out. Contact ability and fighting off borderline pitches (Jose's specialty) gets lost in all of this WAR stuff.

Fowler's ability to just be Jon Jay level good (walks/singles guy with average to below-average glove) in his twilight years is just what an OF like Bader/O'Neill/Ozuna need. Someone with good walking ability to keep the pitchers honest and not getting away with junk balls. Defensively, it makes sense that Fowler might see a slight uptick playing the position he's used to playing in CF. I really like the stability and role Fowler and Martinez play beyond the box score in WAR--my overall point here.

As far as Bader goes, I see a gold glover, but someone who is just average at the plate. His bunting/stolen base/first to third speed really adds a lot to his value. But getting him on the bases has been the part that has been hard. He almost NEEDS a high BABIP to be successful. And it helps that his legs are still good and young to beat out ground balls to the left side. I don't know that he gets a lot of seasons like that beyond 26 or 27 age years. So it's good for the Cardinals to capitalize on them now.


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PostPosted: April 30 19, 9:44 am 
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As always, Strat, I appreciate what you bring to the board.


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PostPosted: April 30 19, 1:04 pm 
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Always giving us things to think about Fats.


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PostPosted: May 1 19, 9:54 am 
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Didn't realize it til just now but Fowler has the best LD% in baseball (by a full percentage point over...Luke Voit).


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PostPosted: May 1 19, 10:18 am 
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heyzeus wrote:
Didn't realize it til just now but Fowler has the best LD% in baseball (by a full percentage point over...Luke Voit).


And as much as that LD% justifies the BABIP, we know it's going to fall.

Interestingly, if you sort Fangraphs' leaderboard by LD% since 2010 (individual seasons), the first 7 results are all from 2019. That makes sense. Small sample size. Fowler isn't alone in having a crazy LD%; right now there are a number of players who are hitting LD's higher than anyone else in recent history. You can probably guess who the other players are and you can expect their LD%'s to drop like a rock soon. Dexter's included. So, since 2019 clouds the results, we can drop to 2010-2018 and you only find 3 seasons from batters who have had over 30% LD's. The top 30 on the list (most well below 30%) are filled with a lot of the same names -- Freddie Freeman is apparently a LD machine. As is Joey Votto. Matt "Not Yairo Munoz" Carpenter also has a few seasons on the list. Fowler himself makes an appearance -- in 2012, with a 27.2% LD rate.

That '12 season from Fowler really stands out from the rest of his career. Fowler has a good 22.3 LD% in his career, but he's not cracking batted ball leaderboards at that rate. Maybe, because of his hot start, we could squint and believe he's capable of ending the season with a LD% in the 22-25 range -- above average for him. But, even landing there is going to require 2-3 months at 12-17% (see '18).

I'm cautiously optimistic that Fowler is back to his old self. But, there is still a lot of '18 hidden in his current performance and potentially looming just beyond the horizon.


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PostPosted: May 1 19, 11:09 am 
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Isn't LD% determined by the official scorer and whether "lined" (versus grounded/fly) used? Edit: It's from BIS, apparently.

With BARREL% on Statcast, don't we get a better idea of a player's hitting?

Fowler's is awful and 290th in baseball. I think LD% doesn't tell us much in small samples.

Also one thing to note, league average for LD% is 21%.


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PostPosted: May 1 19, 12:37 pm 
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Line drive% is just batted ball trajectory, right? Does barrel% take into account exit velocity? Soft liners are still line drives…


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PostPosted: May 2 19, 5:32 am 
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I understand why babip maybcrater but not sure why line drive % necessarily would tank.

After reading the article on DeJong, about how he is swinging earlier in counts to avoid getting to 2 strikes, is an approach being used by other Cardinals batters. I don't know if the numbers suggest that or not, but if there is a conscious strategy with DeJong to do that, you know other Cards have probably at least considered it.


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PostPosted: May 15 19, 8:08 am 
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Two weeks later...

Fowler's WAR has more than doubled since I made this post on April 30. He is up to 1.3 WAR at the moment (on pace for over 5), and his BABIP has dropped to .400 (from .407). His ISO has climbed a bit as well, which really isn't saying much, because he only managed 2 extra base hits in 2 weeks. One of them just happened to leave the ballpark. The WAR difference is almost entirely defense -- and almost entirely Fangraph's UZR. At the time of this post, his UZR was .3. Now it's 2.4. That's a pretty significant gain in 2 weeks time. Time will tell, but Fowler remains something less than a liability in the field, even in CF.

Not surprisingly, Martinez has remembered that he can walk occasionally. His BB% is up to a respectable 8.3% - exactly what you would expect from him. ISO is bubbling up closer to norms as well, while his BABIP is now just under .400. Offensively, more PA's has helped stabilize his stats, which we would expect. Martinez is always a high BABIP player, so while his .394 is still way above normal, it's conceivable that we could expect something in the .350-.360 range. His fall, which will probably come, won't be as precipitous as Fowler's likely will be. Defensively, Martinez is just a complete disaster. He's down to -8 DRS and -2 UZR. The Cards and media can say what they want about needing his bat in there, but he truly is giving away as much with his glove as he is earning with his bat. Other players, with neutral or better defensive ratings and a 136 wRC+, have WAR values 2x higher than Martinez. He is literally losing half of his value with his glove.

I'm curious how the stat-friendly coaches and front office analysts for the Cards are reading this situation. While Fowler has been in and out of the lineup (mostly in), Martinez has only sat one game in two weeks. Bader has not thrived in PH duty and as a defensive replacement. In some ways, that represents the Catch-22 of these playing time issues. An injury or a hot stretch carves out playing time for a flawed player (in this case Martinez). The flawed player eventually displays his flaws, but the previous player has struggled in limited duty, which is usually what happens to a guy getting 1 PA per game. What do you do? Do you take Martinez, who can hit but not field, off the field and risk losing his offensive production by putting a very cold Bader back in to gain his glove? Or do you bench a warm player for a cold one and hope Bader can quickly get hot? Messy.

I also think our entire situation needs to be considered. The pitching staff is scuffling. Offense overall is slumping, but the SP's have been bad all season. To me, this club is built on the need to balance offense and defense. I would get our GG caliber CF'er back out there to give the SP's as much support as possible and never glance again at his slash line. If you need some offense later in a game, PH Martinez for Fowler or Bader. In other words, I would reverse the current playing time arrangement -- trying to give Martinez 1-2 PA's every game and getting Fowler or Bader out of there when the SP comes out. Maybe give Martinez an OF start when Mikolas or other GB heavy SP is on the mound.


(Lastly, since I often get the same types of replies when I make posts like this, let me continue to put this caveat in here... small sample size defense and WAR stats are unreliable at best. So, yes, these stats are shaky... we know this. However, tracking the movement of defense and WAR stats over the course of an extended period of time can give you a sense of how a player has progressed through a season (and then into multiple seasons), which is important when it comes to understanding how playing time and even roster decisions should be doled out.)


Last edited by Fat Strat on May 15 19, 8:18 am, edited 3 times in total.

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