Cardinals put faith in defensive numbers in signing Jhonny Peralta

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Jhonny Peralta should be a terrible defensive shortstop.

Defensive ability peaks significantly younger than offensive ability, and Peralta wasn’t really any good defensively in what should have been his prime. As a 24-year-old in 2006, he was the game’s second worst shortstop by UZR. In 2007, he was the fifth worst.

By 2008, Peralta graded out better, playing pretty much average defense according to UZR, but the Indians moved him to third base the next year, making room for Asdrubal Cabrera at short. In 2010, the Tigers acquired him and moved him back to short, where he was again average initially. And then a funny thing happened. Here are Peralta’s career UZRs in the seasons in which he played 500 innings shortstop:

2003: 2.5
2005: -6.1
2006: -10.6
2007: -12.4
2008: -1.0
2011: 10.3
2012: 11.5
2013: 3.5

In both 2011 and 2012, Peralta rated as the game’s third best shortstop. In 2013, he was 14th.

It’s a pretty amazing turnaround made more complicated by the fact that we know Peralta was at least dabbling in PEDs for a portion of it. The narrative for baseball is that steroids=home runs, even though it’s never made much sense to look at it that way. Sprinters, cyclists and the rest didn’t take to doping to build up their biceps.

We know Peralta isn’t a particularly fast guy. He has 13 career steals in 11 seasons, getting caught 21 times. However, his range ratings have gone from horrible in his mid-20s to above average these last three years. The rest of his game has always been solid: even during his days as a bad shortstop, he was above average when it came to avoiding errors and average at turning the double play. His arm is a strength.

As for the range, well, that can largely come down to positioning. Cal Ripken Jr. wasn’t fast either. Troy Tulowitzki isn’t speedy. Adam Everett and Brendan Ryan, two of the game’s very best shortstops over the last decade, weren’t/aren’t factors on the basepaths.

Peralta has obviously gotten much better at learning where to play hitters through the years. To my eyes, he still looks for all the world to be a below average defensive shortstop. But after three years of UZR saying the opposite, I have more faith in the numbers than in my eyes.

I’m still not a fan of the Cardinals’ reported move to give him $52 million for four years. He’s a cheater, and if nothing else, it adds greater uncertainty to what we can expect from him going forward. Offensively, he was great in his 107 games when he wasn’t serving his steroid ban last year, hitting a career high .303 with a .358 OBP and a .457 slugging percentage. However, it took a ridiculous .374 BABIP to produce that .303 average; he actually had his highest strikeout rate since 2007. His career BABIP is .315, and he figures to come in much closer to there next year, which could result in a .260-.270 average. He’s far from a consistent force:

2009: .254/.316/.375 – .691 OPS
2010: .249/.311/.392 – .703 OPS
2011: .299/.345/.478 – .823 OPS
2012: .239/.305/.384 – .699 OPS
2013: .303/.358/.457 – .815 OPS

Of course, just getting average offense and average defense from shortstop would be a huge upgrade over what the Cardinals have received of late. I wouldn’t expect much more and I wouldn’t want to be on the hook for the back half of that contract, but for 2014, he makes the NL’s best team considerably better.

Joe Girardi won’t use Masahiro Tanaka in Game 7

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The Yankees and Astros are set for Game 7 of the American League Championship Series on Saturday, and neither team will hold back as they seek a World Series berth. The Astros are prepared to back starter Charlie Morton with any able-bodied pitcher in their ranks — including Justin Verlander, though A.J. Hinch said it would be a “dream scenario” to get anything more from his ace — while the Yankees are prepared to utilize all but a few of their arms. One pitcher you won’t see? Right-hander Masahiro Tanaka, who last took the hill for the Yankees during their Game 5 shutout on Wednesday.

Tanaka expended 103 pitches over seven scoreless innings in his last start, fending off the Astros with three hits, a walk and eight strikeouts. He hasn’t pitched on fewer than three days of rest all year, and even with a do-or-die scenario facing the Yankees on Saturday night, manager Joe Girardi doesn’t want to compromise his starter’s ability to stay rested and ready for the World Series.

Girardi will also play it safe with fellow right-hander Sonny Gray, who dominated in a five-inning performance in Game 4. All other pitchers should be available and ready to go, though the club is hoping for a lengthy outing from veteran starter CC Sabathia. Sabathia is no stranger to the postseason: over eight separate playoff runs, he touts one championship title and a collective 4.24 ERA in 123 innings. He held the Astros scoreless in his Game 3 start, blanking them over six innings on three hits, four walks and five strikeouts for an eventual 8-1 win.

Even without Tanaka or Gray likely to take the mound for Game 7, the Yankees will enter the series finale with history on their side. Per MLB.com, they have a 4-3 road record in Game 7s and are 6-7 in all 13 Game 7 finales to date. The Astros, on the other hand, dropped their first and only Game 7 clincher back in 2004, when the Cardinals capped the NLCS with a 5-2 win in St. Louis. The teams are scheduled to face off for the first-ever Game 7 at Minute Maid Park on Saturday at 8:00 PM ET.