(Baseball StL) -- With the All Star break on the horizon, all focus seems to be on trades. Ask 10 fans “what do the Cardinals need?” and nine of them seem to say, “a better shortstop.” The argument has some foundation, as shortstop is the only position where the Cards aren’t starting someone who is playing like an All Star, or where they don’t immediately have a potential All Star in the wings.
The problem with having a great team is fans tend to look for ANY weak point and endeavor to fix it. Since Pete Kozma isn’t playing at an elite level, fans look to right that wrong. Allow me to illustrate why there is no real wrong to be righted, nor would righting it help in any way.
To begin, we must identify what player we would tap for shortstop in exchange for Kozma. Many in barrooms and message boards around Cardinal Nation wanted Tulowitzki to start the year. As the Birds began to win, those cries dimmed a bit, but many still want management to package a deal for the Rockies’ stud shortstop.
He does make the most sense given his playing level and age, and since many consider him to be a top all-around SS, he makes for a perfect example for demonstrating why Kozma is absolutely more valuable.
Here are the traditional stats by which to compare the two offensively.
|HR 16||HR 1|
|RBI 51||RBI 25|
|OBP .413||OBP .303|
Traditional metrics show Tulo comfortably in the lead. Going a level deeper, WAR, or wins against replacement (a measure of how many more wins a player gives your team versus a readily-available minimum wage contract player) is a projected 6.1 for 2013 for Tulo and a projected 2.1 for Kozma. This means that by sheer virtue of having Tulowitzki on the team over Kozma, the Cardinals would win 4 more games in 2013.
Looking at VORP (a measure of how many runs a player produces per outs they consume), Tulowitzki is sitting at 25.3. His career shows he will end the year somewhere around 45 (45.6 avg from 09,10,11, injured in 12). Kozma is sitting at 9.8, which is sixth for rookies.
The value (runs created vs outs consumed) of the SS position with Tulowitzki would increase by 16 if current numbers hold, though Tulo would likely return to form somewhere in the mid 40 range. Kozma does not have a body of work to make a projection, though if we were to assume he makes NO improvement whatsoever in this metric (doubtful), the gap would be 36.
More likely, as he is essentially 1/3 of Tulo’s VORP, he would improve at 1/3 the rate, making his final somewhere around 15 or so.
Here’s a look at their defensive stats:
|Fld pct: .996||Fld Pct: .990|
|RangeFactor: 4.89||RangeFactor: 4.67|
|Chances: 273||Chances: 300|
|PO: 87||PO: 79|
|E: 2||E: 3|
|DP: 36||DP: 49|
|Assists: 185||Assists: 218|
|Defensive WAR: .8||Defensive WAR: .5|
By most traditional defensive metrics, Kozma is more or less equal to Tulowitzki. Their range, fielding percentage, and errors are essentially the same. Kozma leads in double plays and assists, while Tulowitzki edges him in rage factor, but those are somewhat hard to comparably measure.
UZR, or ultimate zone rating, is perhaps the best measurement to compare the two. UZR (put simply) measures the amount of runs saved by a player on balls hit into the zone they are responsible for compared to the average.
I know this sounds messy, but stay with me. Here is the key:
Gold Glove Caliber +15
Above Average +5
Below Average -5
So Tulo is currently sitting at 6.2 (above average, but not great). Over 150 games, he is projected at 16 (Gold Glove).
Kozma is sitting at 4.9 (right above average). Over 150 games, he rises to 11.4 (great but short of gold glove).
Now these are obviously high ending numbers because they are projected from current stats. Tulo has never reached 16 in his career (15.1 in ‘07 in 155 games is his best mark).
Now we come to the most important thing in baseball: salary.
Tulo’s current contract is $157.75M over 10 years spanning from 2011-2020. He makes $10M this year, $16M in 2014, $20M per year from 2015-2019, and $14M in 2020. After that there’s a club option.
Kozma is making $490,000 this year. Now, obviously he won’t make that forever, but in 2013, Tulowitzki is making 20 times what Kozma is. Statistically, is he 20 times better?
Now let’s say the Cardinals trade for him.
For simplicity’s sake, let’s remove Tulo’s entire $10M 2013 salary. He still has $130 million remaining in his contract, not including bonuses of up to $6 million more.
For this price, assuming the two were both to stay til 2020, the Cardinals would gain 4.3 more wins a season (4 due to offensive WAR and .3 due to defensive WAR), or 25.8 total for the duration of the contract if they had Tulowitzki instead of Kozma.
SS would produce between 96-180 more runs per out over the course of the contract.
Strictly defensively, the SS position would improve by about 1.3 runs per average surrendered per season, or 7.8 for the 6 years between 2014-2020.
For the sake of (hilarious) argument, let’s say the Cardinals pay Kozma $18 million for 6 years (2014-2020). That would be a 600% increase in yearly salary, but let’s say they think he’s worth it. Even if that contract happened, they would still pay $112 million more if they had Tulowitzki.
So taking all that statistical improvement I mentioned, and the fact that Tulo (comfortably) costs $112 million more in this scenario, the Cardinals pay:
$4.3 million per win.
Between $1.1M-$622,000 per run produced per out.
$14.3 million per run prevented.
And that’s all based on paying Kozma $18 Million for six years, which will never happen. Do you consider this a good use of money? I do not. Looking at production versus the price paid, Kozma is a tremendously better value.
Additionally, the Cardinals would never get Tulowitzki straight up for Kozma. They would likely need to trade two TOP prospects i.e- Tavaras and a pitcher. No matter what the club would gain in Tulo’s WARP and VORP, they would almost certainly take a net loss if they dumped prospective talent.
Now, the argument could be made that, “even if we don’t go after Tulowitzki, we still need someone else,” but that too is incorrect.
We just compared the Cardinals’ minimum wage rookie to perhaps the best all-around shortstop in baseball, and could not make the trade worth it.
Even if Tulowitzki isn’t the gold standard, the analysis of just how much money it would cost the club to move the needle in a significant way should dissuade fans from urging a move.
There is simply no other shortstop that would both radically improve the position and NOT be over priced.
Kozma is essentially a rookie, and he’s hitting .250 and providing above average defense. Perhaps one could argue Kozma’s short-term numbers don’t match his long-term track record, and that isn’t unreasonable. However, $130 million is an awful lot to gamble on a guy falling off.
If I’m wrong, Kozma’s stats plunge and the Cardinals are forced to go out and pick up a shortstop (ironically, they would probably sign someone who is playing about where Kozma is playing now for more than they are currently paying him).
If I’m not, they save themselves a ton of money and keep a shortstop that has been good enough for them to amass the best record in baseball.
Ultimately, the Cardinals don’t need anything. If fans insist on talking about trading, they can certainly do so, but I must insist they look elsewhere. Pete isn’t the prettiest girl at the dance, but he can bust a move and is a cheap date. If the rest of the night is going perfectly, don’t throw away a good thing chasing a beauty queen.