Over the last five seasons the St. Louis Cardinals have had 12 different players spend time at second base. Skip Schumaker, who is competing for the position against Daniel Descalso and Tyler Greene this spring, was the last player to play over 100 games in a season at the position (2010). He has led the team in games played at the position since 2009. Unfortunately for him, he has not done enough to warrant manager Mike Matheny just handing the job over to him. The Cardinals will make a decision about their starter by the end of the spring training schedule. It would be beneficial if the player they selected was able to play a full season at the position.
In the five year period, the player with the highest WAR was Schumaker (1.8 WAR in 2009) and Nick Punto (1.8 WAR in 2011). Punto played excellent ball during his brief stay with the Cardinals particularily in the field where a majority of his WAR was generated. During the last five seasons there has not been a player who fully embodied what a team wants in a full-time player.
With Descalso and Greene now in a full fledged competition with Schumaker, it stands to reason that the Cardinals are finally looking for a resolution to the revolving door at the keystone. Descalso is a natural second baseman and Greene a natural shortstop who has had a little experience at second. Due to the inexperience, Greene has and will continue to receive a bulk of the initial starts this spring at second base. Matheny will find places for Descalso and Schumaker on the field so they continue to get some at-bats. Matheny wants to have a complete understanding of what they offer at the plate, which signals a mindset that the winner will be given a long leash.
I believe it is easy to see what we will get from Schumaker since he has manned the position extensively over the last three seasons. He is a less than mediocre defender (-12.1 UZR/150 in all second base appearances) with a bat good enough to minimally compensate for his lackluster glove work. He has generated a total WAR of 2.2 in 407 games played since 2009. Now you know why he is not the everyday second baseman, nor an option in my opinion.
For Descalso and Greene, I’d like to review their statistics in the minor leagues first before checking out what they accomplished with the Cardinals to date. Using the simple WAR calculator, I generated the chart below with each player’s last AAA season.
Descalso’s season is 2010 and Greene’s is 2011. It is somewhat easy to see why Greene continues to generate a lot of buzz. His bat for a middle infielder is above average and he possesses plus speed on top of it. The BABIP is high, but his previous seasons were .342 in 2009 and .361 in 2010, so there is some trend with him registering marks well above average in this area.
Descalso is a nice player, but he is not on the same level as Greene at the plate especially when comparing upside. Descalso’s work in the field is not that much better where Greene’s deficiencies would make Descalso the preferable choice. Other factors to consider; Greene would have had WAR values of 2.7 and 2.1 in 2009 and 2010 respectively, so the value in 2011 is reliable. In terms of wRC+ for the seasons reviewed, Descalso had a 98 and Greene a 155.
Here is the problem; Greene has been downright awful during his three separate stints with the Cardinals. Descalso played a decent third base for the Cards when David Freese was out last season. He played well enough that when Freese returned, La Russa continued to find playing time for Descalso. Greene’s only redeeming value was his speed, leading the Cardinals in steals last season with 11, while hitting a paltry .212 with only 1 HR.
The question is what would either of them do with a full season under their belt? Can Descalso be anything more than a duplicate of Schumaker? They seem to be very similar players. Can Greene become half the player he was in his AAA seasons? Half the player at worst with upside of the production he enjoyed in AAA is worth it to me.
I see the second base position as Greene’s to lose. I believe he will have to have a terrible spring in order for the Cardinals to not give him a chance. He has nothing left to prove in AAA. Schumaker and Descalso are good players, but are better suited for utility roles. If Greene does in fact win the job, the Cardinals need to have patience with him and allow him to figure things out if he gets out to a slow start. The rest of the lineup should be able to withstand a poor beginning. Further, it is not like his replacement would bring down the house. Greene’s ability to hit for power along with his base stealing capabilities, place him at a level above Schumaker and Descalso. Now he just has to prove it on the field.