Wednesday, November 13, 2013

How can the Cardinals improve their lineup against lefthanders?

Its no secret that the Cardinals struggled against left handed pitchers in 2013.  As a team, the Cards hit just .238/.301/.371 against southpaws and their .672 OPS against lefties was 13th in the NL.  This was highlighted even more in the postseason, when the Cards hit a combined .211/.268/.295 (.563 OPS) against lefties, including two losses in the World Series against Jon Lester, who allowed only 1 run against the Cardinals in 15.1 innings.

Its pretty obvious that the Cardinals need to make some adjustments to their roster in order to fare better against lefties.  Here are my suggestions for doing just that:

1.  Hold on to David Freese

The much maligned Freese had a down year in 2013, hitting just .262/.340/.381 with 9 homers, after a 2012 campaign which saw him hit .293/.372/.467 with 20 homers.  With Freese eligible for arbitration this year and projected to earn $4.4 million, per MLB Trade Rumors, many are saying the Cardinals should trade Freese and install Kolten Wong as the everyday second baseman (thereby moving Matt Carpenter back to his natural position at third).

However, I think the Cardinals would be wise to hold on to Freese.

They can make Freese a platoon partner with lefty Wong and help strengthen a pretty weak bench.  Essentially, Freese would be filling the role that Ty Wigginton was suppose to for just about $2 million more.

He would give the Cardinals some much needed pop off the bench and be a fallback should Wong struggle.

2.  Find a better shortstop

This is something the Cardinals are already working diligently on.  The Cardinals desperately need to upgrade offensively over Pete Kozma at short.

Kozma hit just .217/.275/.273 on the season, but he was even worse against lefties, hitting just .184/.280/.256, by far the worst on the team.  If the Cards want to improve against lefties, replacing Kozma would go a long way towards that goal.

The guy on the top of my list to replace Kozma would be Elvis Andrus.

Not only would provide the Cardinals with a bona fide leadoff man and some much needed speed, but look at these lefty/righty splits:

vs RHP as RHB .275 .337 .347 .684
vs LHP as RHB .273 .346 .352 .698
Provided by View Original Table
Generated 11/13/2013.
You cannot get much more consistent than that.

3.  Add a righthanded OF to the bench

Kozma was just one of two Cardinals regulars who struggled against lefties in 2013.  The other was Jon Jay.

Jay hit just .220/.306/.314 against southpaws, but hit .291/.363/.386 against righties.  Maybe 2013 was an aberration for Jay, as he is a career .269/.343/.346 hitter against lefties.  However, I do not want to take that chance, not when there's an opportunity for improvement.

Jay got most of the starts against lefties as the Cardinals alternative, Shane Robinson, wasn't much better (.228/.319/.278 against lefties in 2013).

Thus, the Cardinals need to find an upgrade over Robinson for their 4th outfielder/backup center fielder.

Thankfully, this year's free agent crop offers 3 guys who can fill the bill.  Rajai Davis (.294/.354/.425), Franklin Gutierrez (.287/.344/.474) and Reed Johnson (.311/.366/.456) all hit lefties very well and would fit nicely in a platoon with Jay. 

All are capable of playing center field, but Davis is probably the best defender of the bunch.  In addition, all of them should be relatively cheap.  Gutierrez made $7 million last year, but will likely have to take a hefty pay cut, as he amassed just 295 at bats over the last two years due to injuries.  Davis made just $2.5 million in 2013 and Johnson made just $1.6 million, so neither of them will break the bank.

Personally, I would like to see the Cards sign Davis.  

With these moves, here's how the Cardinals lineup and bench could stack up:

Lineup vs Righties

  1. Elvis Andrus, SS
  2. Matt Carpenter, 3B
  3. Matt Holliday, LF
  4. Allen Craig, RF
  5. Yadier Molina, C
  6. Matt Adams, 1B
  7. Jon Jay, CF
  8. Kolten Wong, 2B
  • David Freese
  • Rajai Davis
  • Daniel Descalso
  • Shane Robinson
  • Tony Cruz
Lineup vs Lefties

  1. Elvis Andrus, SS
  2. Matt Carpenter, 2B
  3. Matt Holliday, LF
  4. Allen Craig, RF
  5. Yadier Molina, C
  6. David Freese, 3B
  7. Matt Adams, 1B
  8. Rajai Davis, CF
  • Kolten Wong
  • Jon Jay
  • Daniel Descalso
  • Shane Robinson
  • Tony Cruz
While not perfect (Adams only hit .231 against lefties in 2013), its still an improvement over the 2013 lineup and would give the Cardinals a more balanced team against both lefties and righties.

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