By Jason Wojciechowski on May 6, 2011 at 5:40 PM
I want to leave a comment on this post over at Dan Hennessy's Baseballin' on a Budget blog (the A's SweetSpot blog), but I cannot for the life of me figure out how to register for a commenting account. All I get is a login page. So what would've been a short comment there turns into a long-ish post here.
How do we feel about the possibility that Adrian Cardenas could end up starting at third base this summer? Hennessy runs through the reasons why Kevin Kouzmanoff and Andy LaRoche aren't getting the job done and are likely to keep not getting the job done as the year continues. Would Cardenas be an upgrade?
Cardenas used to be a prospect, coming in 76th and 74th on the Baseball America list in 2008 and 2009. He hasn't been there in two years, though, and this season is the first time he's managed to actually do any damage at AAA, batting .347/.405/.455, though obviously in just 112 PAs. He's split his time between third base and left field, having ceded second to Jemile Weeks.
I've actually seen Cardenas play at Midland, and (IANAS1 warning, of course) the rep on him seems right: sweet lefty swing, no power, doesn't take enough pitches out of the zone to walk his way to a truly excellent OBP. This is why Cardenas's PECOTA weighted-mean forecast is just .323 OBP / .336 SLG. That doesn't seem very good, but check Kouzmanoff's PECOTA: .293/.390. Thirty points of OBP is quite a bit, reducing the importance of Kouzmanoff's power advantage -- the True Average difference comes out to just three points (.247 to .250), in favor of Kouzmanoff. LaRoche's PECOTA TAv is .253. (His non-adjusted numbers appear to have been forecast for the Pirates -- they're .326/.372, for what it's worth, but reduce them by whatever to account for league and park, and it looks like you get something directly between Cardenas and Kouzmanoff on each component.)
All three options have practically the same lackluster weighted-mean projection for the bat, then, which leaves one asking questions about who is most likely to exceed or fall short of their computer-destined line. Perhaps I'm falling prey to my bias against watching Kevin Kouzmanoff's GEICO act at the plate, but I'd put my vote on giving LaRoche and Cardenas the shot, perhaps in a job-sharing arrangement or perhaps in an alignment paralleling the one the A's started the year in, with Cardenas the every-day man and LaRoche getting spot starts at all the infield positions.
I'm also not talking about defense here because I have no idea what to think. Everyone on the internet seems to believe that Kouzmanoff can play defense, but I wonder how much that's colored by his high UZR marks. The system has loved Kouzmanoff for years, but FRAA ranks him significantly lower. I'm talking about fifteen-run differences here. The eyes don't really help us, because Kouzmanoff's an awkard player. Awkward doesn't mean he can't pick it and throw, though, and we've all seen him make excellent, athletic plays at the hot corner.
Andy LaRoche, by contrast, got solid marks from both UZR and FRAA in 2009, his only full season at a single position, and neither FRAA nor Total Zone has enjoyed Cardenas's minor league work.
Here's one thing about Cardenas that you might not realize, because I certainly didn't: he's 23. He's been with the A's since 2008, and in pro ball since 2006, but he was a high-school draftee. He's over two years younger than the A's youngest position player, Daric Barton. He is, in short, not yet a totally failed prospect, playing out the string as a 26-year-old at AAA, hoping to get a shot at a bench job here or there. There's still hope.
Adding this all up -- the ages of everyone involved, the continuing decline of Kouzmanoff, Cardenas's lefty bat contrasting with LaRoche's right-sider, and Bob Geren's recent five-day benching of Kouzmanoff -- I would not count out seeing my vote come true, with Cardenas as either the every-day third baseman or the lefty "half" of a platoon with the right-handed LaRoche come July 1, leaving Kouzmanoff in some hole somewhere.2 Or in Kansas City.