Shin-Soo Who? Cardinals have no reason to concede after Reds trade

Posted by Scott Wuerz on December 12, 2012 

I've been listening to the reaction of fans to the Reds trade for former Cleveland outfielder Shin-Soo Choo. And I am starting to wonder why the Cardinals should even bother to play the 2013 season.

The formulas say that Cincinnati, which beat the Redbirds by nine games in the race for the National League Central title before the the Reds presented themselves a store-bought trophy, are basically unreachable for St. Louis now.

But it's funny how the best laid plans of general managers are often undone by injuries, luck and unexpected contributions from players young and old.

The use of metrics assumes that players are going to perform consistently with how they have in the past. One only has to look at the ZIPS projections for the 2012 Cardinals to see how much things can vary from the scientific formulas.

ZIPS predicted Lance Berkman was going to hit .269 with 20 homers and 85 RBIs. And why wouldn't he? The guy had a career renaissance with St. Louis is 2011, leading the Cardinals to a World Series win as the club's best hitter for much of the season.

I'll tell you why. He suffered one injury after another. Berkman actually hit .259, which wasn't terribly off from the projections. But anyone who counted on him to hit 20 homers was sorely disappointed when he managed a tenth of that amount in only 81 at bats over the course of the season.

Chris Carpenter would win 12 games in 2012 with a 3.49 ERA in more than 200 innings pitched, according to ZIPS. But in real life, Carp couldn't shake a nerve condition in his shoulder until the last weeks of the campaign. He ended up making three starts, pitching a total of 17 innings.

On the other side of the coin, Lance Lynn was projected to compile a 7-7 record with an ERA of 4.09 by Zips. He won 18 games and had a 3.78 ERA. Who could have predicted that sort of performance?

I'm not trying to pick on Zips -- or any other stats based projection publication. I'm just saying that there are a lot of variables that make it awfully tough to predict the future.

But there's a pretty good argument to be made that the Reds had a lot of breaks go their way last year and that it's hard to be so fortunate no matter how good you are. Cincinnati's best player, Joey Votto missed several weeks due to injury and the team played better in terms of winning percentage without him than it played with him. How does that happen?

On the other side of the coin, the Cardinals had a ridiculously bad record in close games last season. They just weren't very lucky.

Odds are that both team are going to move closer to the average in the middle in 2013. But, further, it's sort of unfair to compare the team that took the field with "Cardinals" on the front of its uniforms in April, May and June of 2012 to the 2013 Reds. The early Cardinals had a version of Adam Wainwright not fully recovered from Tommy John surgery and Skip Schumaker as the starting second baseman. The team that made it to within one game of the World Series had Pete Kozma in a major role and Edward Mujica, Joe Kelly and Trevor Rosenthal completely changing the ability of the bullpen.

So, while the Reds are going to be a formidable foe, I don't think the Cardinals need to concede anything.

Choo is a good player. And he'll help Cincinnati. But over the last two seasons he is a .274 hitter who has missed a quarter of the games his team played to injury. He's struck out 150 times or more in two of the last four seasons -- and he was on a pace to do it in a third of those seasons if he wouldn't have been hurt.

He's also penciled in to the Reds lineup in centerfield, a position at which he has started 10 times as a major leaguer. If Choo can't make a go of it in center, that means Jay Bruce will have to slide over and play a spot he's appeared in 35 times over five seasons. There is a reason he hasn't played there more often.

And it's reasonable to believe that players put in defensive positions in which they aren't comfortable that their offense might suffer.

In short, there are enough scenarios that could play out in the Cardinals' favor that I'm not going to tear up my tickets before the games are even played. Let's not forget that it was the Cardinals who were still dancing at the ball long after Cinderella's glass slipped was shattered.

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