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.

Jered Weaver dealing with “dead arm”

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Padres starter Jered Weaver lasted just two-thirds of an inning in Wednesday afternoon’s Cactus League appearance against the Royals. He yielded four runs on three hits, throwing 31 pitches before getting pulled. His spring ERA now sits at an ugly 10.13.

Weaver said he’s been dealing with a “dead arm” since his last bullpen session, but added he’s dealt with the issue in previous springs, Dennis Lin of the San Diego Union-Tribune reports.

The Padres signed Weaver to a one-year, $3 million contract last month. The right-hander is coming off of the worst season of his 11-year career. His fastball averaged a career-low 83 MPH and he put up a 5.06 ERA with a 103/51 K/BB ratio in 178 innings.

Ian Kinsler doesn’t think Puerto Rico or Dominican Republic players play the game the right way

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Update: Whoops…

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Earlier, Craig wrote about Dan Duquette’s dogwhistle language in his criticism of Blue Jays outfielder Jose Bautista. We have some more dogwhistling, this time coming from Tigers (and Team U.S.) second baseman Ian Kinsler. Via Billy Witz of The New York Times:

I hope kids watching the W.B.C. can watch the way we play the game and appreciate the way we play the game as opposed to the way Puerto Rico plays or the Dominican plays. That’s not taking anything away from them. That just wasn’t the way we were raised. They were raised differently and to show emotion and passion when you play. We do show emotion; we do show passion. But we just do it in a different way.

The goal of the World Baseball Classic, created by Major League Baseball, is to promote baseball across the globe. It’s players like Puerto Rico’s Javier Baez who are doing the best job in that regard, not boring white guys from the U.S. Potential baseball fans are not swayed into liking the sport when a player hits a home run and solemnly puts his head down to stroll the bases. They get excited and energized when players show emotion, flip their bats, celebrate. Baez did more to make baseball appeal to new and lapsed audiences with his premature celebration tag than the entire U.S. team has done this tournament.

Furthermore, it is hypocritical to want to diversify the sport’s audience while squelching incoming cultures.

Jim Leyland also got in on the action:

Go Puerto Rico.