2008 St. Louis Cardinals: Team in Transition


Posted Feb 8, 2008


Brian Walton tries to define “team in transition” and how much the phrase applies to the 2008 St. Louis Cardinals compared to their recent predecessors.

It seems to have become trendy during this winter of 2007-2008 for many St. Louis Cardinals watchers to tag this coming season’s unit as a “team in transition” without any clarity as to the meaning of the term. At face value, the label is true of course, as I doubt there has been any club in the history of the game that did not see year-to-year change.

Instead, the implication seems that low expectations for the 2008 season are being established, with that hope displaced one year later, to 2009. The anticipation established for 2009 is driven by a vague combination of having the opportunity to get out from under older, higher-priced contracts, the perception of a more plentiful, less-costly group of free agents entering the market and the results of an improving farm system becoming ready to contribute at the major league level. The unknown provides greater hope for some, though I am unsure whether or not I am among them.

Back to the here and now in 2008, though. I have been pondering how to determine in some sort of defendable manner whether or not this current Cardinals team is in the midst of an unusually high level of transition.

The high-profile departure via trade of two of La Russa’s “core” players, two-thirds of the 2004 “MV3”, Scott Rolen (center) and Jim Edmonds (right), certainly has an impact on the perception of the lack of team continuity. But, is the transition perception accurate and if so, by how much?

The first and most basic method to consider is a simple comparison of the number of new players on the team year-to-year. For consistency, I will compare the Cardinals opening day rosters from this decade.

One assumption required is to forecast which players will make the big league club out of spring training next month. That will be the in-depth focus of a future article, but for now, I will take my most likely candidates from the current 40-man roster. This is despite the odds that one or two non-roster invitees (NRIs) could certainly make the team. Sorry, Juan Gone, but you will have to play your way in.

2008 assumed roster (25)

Starting pitchers (5): Clement, Looper, Pineiro, Reyes, Wainwright
Bullpen (7): Ra Flores, Franklin, Isringhausen, Johnson, Springer, Thompson, Wellemeyer
Infielders (5): Glaus, Izturis, Kennedy, Molina, Pujols
Outfielders (3): Ankiel, Duncan, Ludwick
Reserves (5): Barton, LaRue, Miles, Schumaker, Spiezio
Disabled list (4): Carpenter, Encarnacion, Kinney, Mulder

The nine players whose names are in bold above would be exiting their first spring training on the Cardinals 25-man roster this March. One final assumption is that players expected to eventually join the active roster, but are starting the season on the disabled list, such as Chris Carpenter, are not considered “new” players the next year.

Number of different opening day players 

Total 25-man

 

 

2008 (vs. 2007) 

9?

2007 (vs. 2006)

8

2006 (vs. 2005) 

12

2005 (vs. 2004)

11

2004 (vs. 2003)

14

2003 (vs. 2002)

11

2002 (vs. 2001)

9

2001 (vs. 2000)

10

2001-2007 average

10.1

Again, by definition, the 2008 numbers are speculative. Yet, at face value, in six of the last seven seasons the overall roster turnover was higher than the 2008 forecast of nine new players. Even if one NRI does make the team, ten new players in 2008 would be just about on the average turnover rate this decade.

The next step is to look at the average major league experience levels of the players on those rosters. Now, it could be argued whether too much experience (heading over the baseball hill) is better than too little experience, or perhaps in some cases extremes of the two could cancel each other out. Still, let’s see what this tells us.

One decision made was to use the last full season of experience, rounding off any partial seasons. For example, coming into 2008, Cesar Izturis has six years, 74 days of service. I used six years in this analysis. This makes all the data from all the seasons slightly lower than actual, but should be uniform in comparing the years.

25-Man Roster

Years MLB Service

YTY change

 

 

 

2008

130?

-3

2007

133

12

2006

121

-44

2005

165

9

2004

156

0

2003

156

12

2002

144

16

2001

128

-45

2000

173

 

2000-2007 avg.

147

In aggregate, the 2008 forecasted roster is very close in total MLB experience to the 2007 club, though both clubs fall under the 2000-2007 team average.

The risk in drawing any hard conclusions from this data is illustrated by the large swing that would occur if, for example, the 15-year MLB veteran Gonzalez makes the team instead of the rookie Barton.

Historically, the largest year-to-year delta occurred in the 2005-2006 off-season, as veterans Larry Walker (right) and Cal Eldred retired and Reggie Sanders was not retained. That is the loss of 40 years of MLB service time right there. Still, the less-experienced 2006 club won the World Series.

A fallacy in placing too much emphasis on experience alone was called out in 2000. While it was the most veteran Cardinals club of any in this analysis period, the roster was littered with role players nearing retirement. Examples included Eric Davis, Shawon Dunston, Thomas Howard, Jesse Orosco and Heathcliff Slocumb, totaling 67 years of service.

That leads to the next question. If the opposite of transition is continuity within the Cardinals teams, then one could argue that we should look only at years of play with St. Louis, rather than years of MLB experience with any club.

25-Man Roster

Years StL Service

YTY change

 

 

 

2008

38?

-4

2007

42

10

2006

32

1

2005

31

-14

2004

45

5

2003

40

-3

2002

43

0

2001

43

19

2000

24

 

2000-2007 avg.

38

Oddly, here the big drop was in 2005 following relatively-consistent levels in 2001-2004, with a loss of 14 years of Cardinals player experience. This was an anomaly due in a large part to the retirement of long-time Cardinal Ray Lankford.

Conversely, there was a major bump up in team service time between 2006 and 2007, which is consistent with the data shown before in which only eight players departed, the fewest this decade. Logically, the remaining 17 Cardinals each accrued one more year of service with the club.

The current forecast for 2008 is down just four years of Cardinals service from 2007 despite the departures of long-time Cardinals Rolen and Edmonds. Much of that loss is offset by bullpen continuity, where our assumption is that only Todd Wellemeyer (right) would be new from last April.

All told, the total years of Cardinals experience on the projected 2008 roster is identical to the club’s average team experience level since 2000.

Even this view could still leave one wondering, though. After all, one season of Albert Pujols certainly means more than a year of So Taguchi, for example. Therefore, the final view shows Cardinals experience for the starting eight position players plus the five-man rotation only, leaving out the 12 bullpen members and reserve position players. The intent here is to try to narrow the focus to those players who pitch the most innings and receive the most at-bats.

Here is the number of changes in this subset of 13 each season. 2008 seems destined to rank among the highest turnover seasons among this group in recent history.

Number of different opening day players 

Starters*

 

 

2008 (vs. 2007)

6?

2007 (vs. 2006)

4

2006 (vs. 2005) 

3

2005 (vs. 2004)

5

2004 (vs. 2003)

6

2003 (vs. 2002)

3

2002 (vs. 2001)

2

2001 (vs. 2000)

2

2001-2007 average

3.6

Starters *

Years MLB Service

YTY

Years StL Service

YTY

 

 

 

 

 

2008

66?

-11

17?

-10

2007

77

0

27

2

2006

77

-18

25

2

2005

95

-9

23

-15

2004

104

19

38

7

2003

83

-6

31

1

2002

89

15

30

8

2001

74

-20

22

4

2000

94

 

18

 

2000-2007 avg.

87

 

27

 

* Rotation plus eight position players

 

 

Looking at this core of players, we can see that the opening day 2008 group as projected would represent the most junior flock of Cardinals fielded during this period, whether measured by MLB time or experience with St. Louis only.

This is significantly skewed downward by the seven years of Cardinals service and 17 seasons of MLB service accrued by Chris Carpenter and Mark Mulder that are not included in the numbers above. Those years of experience are expected to return from the disabled list during the 2008 campaign, likely displacing other less-senior Cardinals pitchers from the rotation.

Further, had Carpenter and Mulder been ready to start the 2008 season, the total MLB experience of the Cardinals 25-man roster noted above would actually be up from 2006 and 2007, not down.

The trend in starters* years since 2004 stands out, as the core roster has become steadily less MLB-experienced each season. Yet when compared to 2008, there certainly have been other seasons this decade with more churn among the core. In terms of MLB service, major drains in 2001 and 2006 quickly catch one’s eye.

Recall the Davis, etc. example above to explain the drop in 2001. In 2006, losses were driven in a large part by the departure of free agents Matt Morris and Mark Grudzielanek and the retirement of Larry Walker.

I find it interesting in that given all the attention the changes in the rotation during 2006-2007 received, the losses of Jeff Suppan (right) and Jason Marquis via free agency and Mark Mulder due to injury, the experience level of the Cardinals’ core players in aggregate remained basically flat year-to-year.

In terms of Cardinals experience, 2008 represents the greatest year-to-year decline this decade, save the 100-win 2005 team, that is. Between 2004 and 2005, veterans Edgar Renteria, Mike Matheny and Ray Lankford departed, but the team plugged their gaps with a free-agent, a rookie and a trade acquisition - David Eckstein, Yadier Molina and Larry Walker - and kept right on winning.

Though 2008 did not particularly stand out in any of the other metrics shown previously, I guess one might still argue that this subset of data represents our best opportunity to assert this could be a transition period for the Cardinals.

Overall, the data seems to imply that the current transition is not unusual in terms of raw numbers of players moving in and out or in terms of experience lost for the roster in total. Yet, the transition does seem significant in terms of the experience lost among the projected eight starting position players and five rotation members in 2008, at least until the return of Carpenter and Mulder.

We will revisit this at the start of the season when the initial roster is set if it changes these conclusions significantly.

For example, the experience totals would change only a little if Brad Thompson or Todd Wellemeyer would win the fifth starter’s role instead of Anthony Reyes. Same for Aaron Miles over Cesar Izturis or Adam Kennedy.

One change that would make the Cardinals decidedly even less experienced than forecasted would be if Brendan Ryan earns a middle infield nod over one of the three veterans named. A possible swing in MLB experience in the other direction was illustrated in the Barton-Gonzalez example noted above.

Finally, to end this, let’s put it all together along with a view of wins each season.

 

Total wins

YTY wins

Full roster YTY MLB Service

Full roster YTY StL Service

Starters * YTY MLB Service

Starters * YTY StL Service

2008 (vs. 2007)

?

?

-3

-4

-11

-10

2007 (vs. 2006)

78

-5

12

10

0

2

2006 (vs. 2005) 

83

-17

-44

1

-18

2

2005 (vs. 2004)

100

-5

9

-14

-9

-15

2004 (vs. 2003)

105

20

0

5

19

7

2003 (vs. 2002)

85

-12

12

-3

-6

1

2002 (vs. 2001)

97

4

16

0

15

8

2001 (vs. 2000)

93

-2

-45

19

-20

4

2000

95

 

 

 

 

* Rotation plus eight position players

On a side point, while none of the roster movement and service time-oriented approaches here fully capture the results of the players, it is worth noting that David Pinto from Baseball Musings predicts the 2008 Cardinals offense will improve to 4.76 runs per game, up from 4.48 last season.

I hope you enjoyed this look at how one might attempt to quantify a Cardinals “team in transition”.



Brian Walton can be reached via email at brwalton@earthlink.net.

© 2008 stlcardinals.scout.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, rewritten or redistributed.


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