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April 20, 2006

Prospectus Notebook

Cardinals, Blue Jays

by Baseball Prospectus


ST. LOUIS CARDINALS
Team Audit | Team DT Cards | Team Articles | Team Statistics

  • The Cardinals headed toward the end of spring training with three players in the mix for the starting second-base job--Junior Spivey, Aaron Miles and Hector Luna. Surprisingly, Spivey was designated for assignment, sneaked through waivers and is now toiling at Triple-A. Miles opened the season with the starting job, but faded after a hot start. In recent days, Luna has been getting more playing time, so it's apparently still an open competition.

    Luna in 322 career at bats at the major league level (sample-size caveats apply in his case) is hitting .273/.328/.398, while Miles in 858 career at bats has authored a career batting line of .289/.325/.368, with more than half of those ABs coming at Coors Field. Defensively, Luna (in very limited exposure at second) has a Rate of 104, and Miles' Rate is 105, so that's mostly a wash. On the bases, Luna shows better speed and is more efficient at swiping bags. In terms of age, Luna, at 26, is three years younger, so he's at an age that better lends itself to skills growth.

    As long as Spivey remains squirreled away in the minors (and perhaps even after he's recalled), Luna should be the regular at second. So it is encouraging that the recent trend is to give him more time. Still, there's some feeling within the organization that Luna is best suited to a utility role, and that means that the team may opt for the time-sharing arrangement until circumstances demand otherwise.

  • The Cards' long-time, ball-hawking, righty-mashing center fielder has seen better days. On the season, Jim Edmonds is hitting .158/.267/.289, and he could be headed to the disabled list with an inflamed right shoulder (his non-throwing shoulder).

    Edmonds will be 36 before the All-Star break, which raises concerns that this is something more than early-season fits and starts. In fact, Edmonds is historically unaccustomed to early-season fits and starts. Here are his year-by-year April numbers for his career:

    Year     Games     AVG/OBP/SLG
    1994     13        .444/.545/.444
    1995     4         .200/.250/.200
    1996     24        .319/.398/.670
    1997     23        .315/.359/.511
    1998     24        .279/.354/.453
    1999     DNP
    2000     25        .382/.515/.776
    2001     20        .400/.443/.729
    2002     23        .355/.500/.724
    2003     23        .391/.500/.768
    2004     23        .286/.367/.595
    2005     21        .258/.370/.530
    Career   233       .321/.415/.604
    
    As you can see, only in 1995, when he played only four games for the month, was Edmonds worse in April than he has been this season (also note the robust career April numbers). It's too early to draw any firm conclusions from his 2006 numbers, but his current struggles are out of character. That Edmonds is past his prime and banged up only adds to those worries.

    If Edmonds is seriously hindered by injury or has seen his skills hopelessly erode over the winter, then the Cardinals' outfield depth comes in quite handy. Once Larry Bigbie returns from the DL (which should happen in early May), the Cardinals will have in him, Juan Encarnacion, John Rodriguez and So Taguchi four guys on the roster capable of playing center. Certainly, a healthy and effective Edmonds is optimal, but St. Louis has options in the event he's substantially less than that.

--Dayn Perry

TORONTO BLUE JAYS
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When you don't like a team's chances of making the playoffs, the accusations of bias are a given. But when that team is Canada's major league franchise, the claims of bias run toward nationality--we are accused of hating Canada.

The irony of such an accusation is that, here at Baseball Prospectus, we love Canadians, adoration that borders on worship. Hardly a Canadian has ever stepped into BP's Palatial Headquarters without being crowded by supplicant statheads, shouting requests such as "Will you tell us what paradise is like?" or "Is it true that everyone has health care in Canada?" or the ever-popular "Canadian! Bless my child!"

You might ask, if we feel so strongly about Canadians, how can the Blue Jays only rank 12th on this week's Hit List? How can such a poor showing be anything other than rank bias against our neighbors to the North? The answer is simple. While the Toronto franchise is technically Canadian, its players are not. Looking up and down the 25 man roster, one finds more than a half-dozen Californians, a number of people from the Southern United States, the odd fellow from Puerto Rico or Venezuela--but not a single man who understands all the jokes in Strange Brew, or who can properly explain the new off-side rules.

So, you see, it isn't that the Blue Jays are too Canadian for our taste, it's that they're not nearly Canadian enough.

Now that we've gotten that out of the way, let's talk baseball. As with much of the AL, the Jays are hovering near the .500 mark in the early going. The good news is, Toronto's leading the league in EqA--for those of you who are new here, that's Equivalent Average, a rate-based offensive statistic like batting average, just a bit more comprehensive. Some of the contributions are coming from the places you'd expect, your Vernon Wellses and Troy Glauses, while some contributions are coming from more mysterious sources.

For example, it took Alexis Rios 631 at bats to hit the first five home runs of his career. It's taken him 36 at bats to collect that same total in 2006. Now, Rios is a big kid listed at 6'5", and he just turned 25 years old, so he might have simply developed a new skill. But then again, this is April. Rios could easily wind up forty years from now in a rocking chair, telling his grandkids, "You remember that April, when I hit all the home runs? Of course you don't, you weren't even born yet. But it happened. You won't believe it, since I hit so few homers in my career, but your abuelito smoked Randy Johnson, smoked him like a Cuban cigar…"

On the other end of the offensive spectrum, Aaron Hill and Russ Adams may or may not be able to quit each other, but they certainly can't quit making outs. Through 48 at bats, Hill is running one of those lines where the batting average is higher than the on base percentage, .208/.204/.313. In April, that's an oddity--if it's still that way in June, it's time to see a doctor.

But the offense has so far not been the Blue Jays' problem. The Jays have the fourth-worst RA+ in the league, driven by their starting rotation, which is league-worst in SNLVAR--that is a support-neutral statistic for starting pitchers which isolates the pitcher's contribution from that of his teammates, and adjusts for the quality of lineups each pitcher has faced.

As Joe Sheehan pointed out this week, it's early. The team's top two starters have yet to get on track. A.J. Burnett only made his season debut this past weekend, Roy Halladay has been troubled in the early going by forearm trouble. Until and unless we see both of those players in the starting rotation at the same time, we won't really know if the skepticism toward the non-Canadian Canadian team is fully justified or not.

--Derek Jacques


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