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Cardinals put faith in defensive numbers in signing Jhonny Peralta

Nov 24, 2013, 12:35 PM EDT

Jhonny Peralta AP

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.

  1. chew1985 - Nov 24, 2013 at 12:45 PM

    Simply being on the Cardinals team right now would make ANYONE a better player. The Cardinals know what they’re doing, Matthew

    They always give the fans their money’s worth. Doesn’t matter which year or decade, ever since I’ve been alive. Wish they were my favorite team.

    • okwhitefalcon - Nov 24, 2013 at 5:03 PM

      Here’s a comprehensive look at the Peralta deal from every imaginable angle from StL Post Dispatch columnist columnist Bernie Miklasz.

      Read here:

      http://www.stltoday.com/sports/columns/bernie-miklasz/article_a9b51076-3237-54d7-99b0-809d29aaf796.html#.UpJzU5Kz_WM.twitter

      • gibbyfan - Nov 24, 2013 at 5:20 PM

        good article. You’re right –covers it all

  2. sometogethernow - Nov 24, 2013 at 12:56 PM

    As for the range, well, that can largely come down to positioning.

    Not only that, but one could reasonably guess that the aspect of middle-infield range that does have to do with speed is a somewhat different thing from speed on the basepaths. A quick reaction time matters more for middle-infield defense than how fast a player runs when he gets to full tilt, no?

    • spudchukar - Nov 24, 2013 at 1:27 PM

      No, the large range increase is not due largely to positioning. It can make a minor improvement, and that is all. It is more the result of UZR and other defensive metrics still struggling to be relevant.

  3. hustleandflomax - Nov 24, 2013 at 1:01 PM

    Good grief, chew, are you freaking serious with that assertation?? No wonder some Cards fans are laughingstocks.

    • biasedhomer - Nov 24, 2013 at 1:35 PM

      Not really sure how Cards fans are laughingstocks?
      They are loyal to their team and still come to the games, even after losing someone like Pujols, who was the face of the franchise for the past decade. If that happened to another team, the fans would have given up.

      • hustleandflomax - Nov 24, 2013 at 5:51 PM

        We are generally looked at as arrogant homers. I don’t necessarily agree with that, but if you read what chew said “Simply being on the Cardinals team right now would make ANYONE a better player.”, upon first read, that looked like an arrogant statement–that’s all I was saying.

    • paperlions - Nov 24, 2013 at 1:57 PM

      I don’t know if s/he is a Cardinal fan or not….many fans of other teams say such things since the Cardinals have been “lucky” in the development of so many players recently, including guys that were generally considered non-prospects or to have below league average ceilings (e.g. Freese, Craig, Carpenter, Jay, Adams) and their apparent ability to turn middling prospects into better prospects or productive major leaguers in a very short time.

      Just about everybody in the industry is trying to figure out what they are doing to be so “lucky” in development or if it really is just luck.

      • shawnuel - Nov 24, 2013 at 3:23 PM

        Totally agree with you paperlions. Cards have turned doodoo into gold too often to ascribe luck as the only factor. This is a top flight organization (who I don’t much like) and they seem to do things right.

      • hustleandflomax - Nov 24, 2013 at 5:56 PM

        To get to where the Cardinals organization is today, there is SOME luck involved, but mostly–I think they have a tremendous foresight (except when it comes to drafting middle infielders, but that probably says more about their draft positions year in and year out) and have everybody on the same page all throughout the minors regarding development philosophies.

  4. hustleandflomax - Nov 24, 2013 at 1:02 PM

    ok I admit I jumped the gun accusing you of being a Cards fan. glad you made that last statement.

  5. NYTolstoy - Nov 24, 2013 at 1:04 PM

    Chew I don’t know if your being sarcastic, but you don’t have to wish lol. You can root for them if that’s the team you like, what a wierd assertion to make.

    • chew1985 - Nov 24, 2013 at 1:10 PM

      I can’t start rooting for a team just because they’re on a nice run.

      Well the good news is that I’ve been a Patriots fan since 1966. Gino Cappeletti and Babe Parilli. Yeah baby.

      But when it comes to baseball, well, there IS crying if you know what I mean.

  6. proudlycanadian - Nov 24, 2013 at 1:28 PM

    Where is the outrage over a 4 year contract for a drug cheat? Last season, many fans were outraged when the Jays gave Melky a 2 year contract.

    • jvandever007 - Nov 24, 2013 at 1:35 PM

      Well said sir

    • paperlions - Nov 24, 2013 at 2:00 PM

      I don’t think that many fans cared. Now, the national MSM, they were off the rails crazy about it.

      I’ve seen plenty of fan posts deriding the “Cardinal Way” as now including signing cheaters. But remember, much of the MSM really only cares about cheaters if they break a record or something.

  7. rcj22001 - Nov 24, 2013 at 1:57 PM

    a little over 1 million dollars for every game he was suspended for last year. Do steroids kids, and you too can be a 50 millionaire… Congratulations cheater!

    • paperlions - Nov 24, 2013 at 2:01 PM

      Stay in school, kids. Otherwise your logic and critical thinking skills will look like this.

      • rcj22001 - Nov 24, 2013 at 4:19 PM

        are you telling me that if you’re some dirt poor kid, on the verge, you aren’t going to take PED’s for that edge? knowing full well the benefits far outweigh the consequences

    • churchoftheperpetuallyoutraged - Nov 24, 2013 at 2:08 PM

      Plenty of people cheat in all walks of life, and make fortunes out of it. Why focus on the few who cheat and not the many who do it the right way when teaching your kids.

      • paperlions - Nov 24, 2013 at 4:22 PM

        Exactly. There is not a single large corporation in the world that plays by the rules….and many dislike the rules so much that they pay law makers millions of dollars to change those rules.

        No one in business makes billions of dollars (or even tens of millions) by following the rules. If you follow the rules, you will be eaten alive by those that do not.

      • gibbyfan - Nov 24, 2013 at 5:04 PM

        Difference is Church when they do get caught there are often meaningful consequences.

      • paperlions - Nov 24, 2013 at 6:10 PM

        No there aren’t Gibby. The banks screwed everybody a few years ago and continue to do so and any penalties have been pennies (or less) on the dollar for the money they’ve made…and they are still doing the same illegal things right now.

      • gibbyfan - Nov 24, 2013 at 7:55 PM

        Note Paper that I said often. The bank situation is way to complex to discuss here but haing worked decades with prosecutors at the local and state levels of government, I can tell you that in the vast majority of cases those caught pay the price.
        The shame of it is that –in the real world the little guy really gets whacked……Our prisons are filled with way to many non violent offenders………..a little off topic of our SS and I am not one tha thinks taking PEDs should be a crime but I think you can see the basis of my response.

  8. churchoftheperpetuallyoutraged - Nov 24, 2013 at 2:13 PM

    He’s far from a consistent force:

    At his worst you assume a .700 OPS, which would be 7th last year out of 17 qualified SS. It would put you 16th/28 over the last three years. That’s his worst mark.

    But keep fishing for reasons why this is a bad signing.

    • Matthew Pouliot - Nov 24, 2013 at 2:40 PM

      That’s a very silly assumption, to think the worst outcome for him at 32 is to have the same seasons he did at 27, 28 and 30 (when he was probably cheating).

      Peralta’s profile through age 31 is a lot like Juan Uribe’s through 30, before he signed his three-year deal with the Dodgers. They probably thought, at worst, they’d be getting a .700 OPS, too.

      • spudchukar - Nov 24, 2013 at 3:08 PM

        The Cardinals put a lot more than “faith in numbers” into their decision making processes. The numbers are an integral part of their approach, but all you have to do is read Bill Baer’s post about David Laurila’s interview with assistant GM Michael Girsch to get the multiplicity of sources and analyses that the Red Bird brass inject into their moves. This just in, the Cards are way past advanced metrics only.

      • Matthew Pouliot - Nov 24, 2013 at 3:58 PM

        Yes, it’s a given that no team is using advanced metrics only (and the ones that use advanced metrics the most probably aren’t using the same ones us civilians use). Did that need clarification?

      • spudchukar - Nov 24, 2013 at 4:49 PM

        No, just a reminder to those who insist advanced metrics are the end all, that they are just a component in player evaluations.

      • churchoftheperpetuallyoutraged - Nov 24, 2013 at 4:15 PM

        That’s a very silly assumption, to think the worst outcome for him at 32 is to have the same seasons he did at 27, 28 and 30 (when he was probably cheating).

        Is it really though to take his worst seasons and assume, at worst, he perform like that and he would still be at least average? Is it any more different than assuming his best seasons were due to BABIP inflation but not assume that his worst seasons wouldn’t regress (BABIP) as well?

      • Matthew Pouliot - Nov 24, 2013 at 4:34 PM

        Maybe if we use the word “project” instead of assume we can get on the same page. Because I think we’d both project Peralta to have a .700 OPS or better next year (I’ll probably go .720-.750). But a random player with a .700 OPS projection is still as likely to finish at .650 or .750 as .700.

  9. schlom - Nov 24, 2013 at 2:18 PM

    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.

    One of the problems with the whole “steroid” era is the incredible stupidity of the reporting. So we are constantly bombarded by dumb statements like the one above. Of course no athlete took steroids to build up their biceps – they take them to get stronger. Muscle always helps (up to a certain point of course, I don’t think weighing 350 lbs would help much).

    • Matthew Pouliot - Nov 24, 2013 at 3:55 PM

      You sure took that awfully literally. Would you have preferred I wrote that “sprinters, cyclists and the rest didn’t take to doping so that they could hit home runs?” Because that sounded lame to me. I just thought the biceps comment was a nicer way to put it.

  10. gibbyfan - Nov 24, 2013 at 3:35 PM

    If this guy is such a great signing can someone tell me why Detroit did not even make him a qualifying offer? They coiuol dhave gotten a valuable draft pick but they apparently chose instead not to take the chance he would accepts it.
    Iv’e been a Cards fan for a long time and I do respect their great track record of late–but nobody is perfect in this business.

    • paperlions - Nov 24, 2013 at 4:24 PM

      Because Detroit severely mis-judged the FA market. A lot more guys could have received QOs and we probably still would have seen exactly zero of them accepted.

      • gibbyfan - Nov 24, 2013 at 4:56 PM

        Maybe they just didn’t think he was worth 14M for even one year.Giving up that draft pick was no small thing and still they were not going to take the chance…………………regarding talk about metrics, stats etc what about something this simple…Of course JP is an offensive upgrade over Kozma but my goodness they are paying him now what? 20X what they are paying Kozma–does that make sense? ande you can’t say it doesnt matter becuase in the end it is a business.

      • paperlions - Nov 24, 2013 at 5:01 PM

        If they didn’t think that….or if they thought he would accept a QO, they were spectacularly wrong.

        People in general were sooooo wrong about the likelihood of players accepting QOs that people even suggested that the Cardinals may not offer one to Beltran….which always seemed crazy because it was obvious he would turn it down. Any player that can pursue a multi-year offer would turn down the QO.

  11. buffalo65 - Nov 24, 2013 at 5:33 PM

    Might be good, might be bad, laugh how everyone has a definitive opinion on Nov 23rd. Wait and see, can’t argue with Cards success so far.
    Go Jays.

  12. astrozac - Nov 24, 2013 at 6:10 PM

    I’d have rather overpayed a couple years for Beltran and take my chances with Kozma and Descalso again. This feels like an early 2000s Yankees signing. I’d have liked to have seen them get an outfield bat or third baseman for a year or two and took my chances with the infielders we have.
    Then again Peralta might be playing third when Wong fizzles out.

  13. stevedubs11 - Nov 24, 2013 at 8:01 PM

    does this mean it pays to cheat?
    MLB needs to do something in the lines of limiting the value of former PED users’ contracts.
    otherwise, everybody shoot be shooting up goods to make more money.
    it’s obvious that a 50 game suspension doesn’t work.

  14. gostlcards5 - Nov 25, 2013 at 2:09 PM

    “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.”

    —————————————————————————————————————-

    Let’s be fair, Matthew. Brendan Ryan isn’t really a factor on the base paths, because his BA/OBP is something like .013 / .029. Improving that would be a start….

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