Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Will the Cardinals resign Beltran?

How will the 2014 Cardinals look? A lot of that depends on what the Cardinals do with Carlos Beltran. The Cards have so far have been happy with paying Beltran the $26 million Beltran will make over his two-year contract.  Do the Cards see what else they can get from the veteran slugger?  Or do they decide its too risky and instead go with the young talent they've developed?

Beltran has exceeded expectations as a Cardinal.  Last year he clubbed 32 HRs which lead to a .227 ISO.  He contributed a 3.3 WAR.  His average tailed off, ending the year at .269, but his power numbers made up for it.  This year he has hit well again, this time his average up to .305 and his ISO is a smidge larger at .229.  His wRC+ is at 145, meaning he’s created  45% more runs than the average hitter.  So it, seems like the Cardinals should continue with Beltran, right?

Well, the Cardinals do have alternatives.  At the big league level there’s Matt Adams.  Though Adams plays only first base, current first baseman Allen Craig can also play outfield.  Through 90 PA Adams has put up similar numbers, hitting .314 with a .221 ISO.  Here’s some stats comparing the two (all stats come from fangraphs and current as of 6/25):

Matt Adams 90  27 4 4.4% 23.3% .314 .344 .535 .221 146 0.5
Carlos Beltran 284  81 17 5.6% 16.2% .305 .345 .534 .229 145 1.2

So, pretty similar stats.  The only major difference is Matt Adam’s K%.  Adams is almost 44% more likely to strike out in an AB.  So Adams hits for power but in order to do it he has to swing and miss more often.  To see why let’s look at some plate discipline numbers:

O-Swing% O-Contact% Z-Swing% Z-Contact% SwStr%
Adams 31.1% 49.3% 68.2% 90.3% 12.1%
Beltran 32.1% 61.9% 61.9% 91.7% 8.9%

The biggest difference isn’t that Adams is swinging at too many pitches, he just misses more often.  Beltran is actually a little more likely to swing outside the zone. But when Adams swings at pitches outside zone he is way more likely to miss than Beltran. 

So while a lot of Adams’ numbers are close to Beltran’s, but the strikeout numbers are a big win for Beltran.  There just aren’t very many players who hit for average and power without striking out that much, but Beltran has been doing it for years.  Adams is an example of a growing segment of hitters, those OK with striking out a little more often if it adds a decent amount of power.  Chris Davis in Baltimore is showing this is a viable strategy.  

Adams’ big advantage is age.  At 24, Adams is yet to hit his prime while Beltran’s best years are long behind him.  He also will be more likely to hit the DL.  Adams’ biggest negative may be the lack of a sample size.  While he has several strong minor league seasons, his play in 2012 and 2013 still totals less than 200 PA.  Adams is far from a sure thing.  Adams has both a higher ceiling and a lower floor than Beltran in a 2014 season.  However Beltran is much more likely to spend a significant amount of time on the DL

However, Adams would not the only player competing for Beltran’s job.  There is also number one hitting prospect Oscar Taveras.  The 21 year old lefty owns a .306/.341/462 slash line that is very respectable.  If not for ankle issues this year he could take some starts away from Jay who is still hitting under .250.  

In fact, this whole discussion would be easier if Jay was hitting better.  If Jay wasn’t an issue than the Cardinals would be very confident that either Taveras or Adams could replace Beltran.  But now Taveras may be needed to replace Jay in the lineup.  We can’t forget about Holliday either.  At 33, most of Holliday’s numbers have been down from his career averages.

Career 5823 1597 240 9.6% 16.6% .221 .310 .385 .531 45.5% 19.2% 35.3% 138 43.2
2012 688 177 27 10.9% 19.2% .202 .295 .379 .497 46.2% 18.9% 35% 141 4.7
2013 306 72 11 10.5% 14.7% .171 .268 .350 .439 50% 16.8% 33.2% 120 1.4

Holliday’s BABIP is also at .284 for the year compared to .342 career for his career is the source for his lower numbers.  He may be getting unlucky and hitting it right at people or it may be a sign he’s just not hitting the ball as hard or well as he used to.  Also telling is his batted ball stats. His GB% is higher than usual, and his line drives and fly balls are lower than usual. That can explain his drop in ISO. Notice that 2012 was a down year for Holliday as well, as his numbers are a little worse than his career averages. Interestingly though, his wRC+ stat was better than his career average this year. I assume this is because earlier in his career Holliday played through the steroid era where offense was stronger than usual, and wRC+ compares you to the rest of the hitters in the league that year.

Anyways, 2012 was worse than career average for Holliday and 2013 so far has been worse than 2012. Not a good combination when thinking about 2014.

So, it isn’t really as simple as replacing Beltran.  It’s more about the outfield as a whole.  Between Jay, Holliday, Adams, and Taveras, all options have their downsides.  Holliday is having a predictable decline from being past his prime.  Adams hasn't played every day in the lineup and Taveras hasn't even made it to the big leagues yet.

So, without Beltran, our options include Jay, Holliday, Adams/Craig, and Taveras. So we have some options, but what if things go wrong?  What if Holliday hits the DL?  What if niether Taveras or Adams work out?  What if Jay continues to slump?  Shane Robinson would be our next best outfielder.  That’s how bad our outfield depth would be.

So we could add someone to improve depth, and perhaps the best option could be Beltran.  But that would be dependent on price.  Despite the fact that Beltran has exceeded expectations during his 2 year, $26 million contract, I don’t think the Cardinals should offer him anything too similar to that.  We’re just looking for a one year deal to add outfield depth in case there are multiple issues between Holliday, Jay, Adams, and Taveras as all have possible downsides.  But Beltran may not be interested in such a role or taking a pay cut. At the same time who knows how much longer Beltran can play full seasons in the field? Ultimately at this point the best fit for Beltran may be in the AL as a DH.  

If the Cardinals want to be the contender next year like they may need more depth in the outfield.  But we don’t need it to be from Beltran and he may not be a particularly good fit anyways. I’d be happy to have Beltran but he’ll likely want more than we would want to pay him for this particular role.  

Overall, I think Beltran’s clock is running out and paying him much would be too risky at this point.  Of course, people said that almost two years ago and they’ve been wrong.  But it’s more true now.  Beltran has to slow down at some point, and the Cardinals front office don’t want to be the ones holding the bill when he does.  That's why I think unless Beltran is willing to take less money and a reduced role, the Cardinals would probably be better off betting on their developed talent in Adams and Taveras. As a backup the Cards should acquire someone that could play everyday if needed, but Beltran may not be very cost effective for that role.

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