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Thursday Rockpile: Why starting Ian Stewart at third base in 2012 is a very bad idea

The St. Louis Cardinals could have decided to stick with a decent, but imperfect cost controlled solution on the left side of the infield in Brendan Ryan, but chose not to. It seemed to work out okay for them.
The St. Louis Cardinals could have decided to stick with a decent, but imperfect cost controlled solution on the left side of the infield in Brendan Ryan, but chose not to. It seemed to work out okay for them.

The St. Louis Cardinals took game one of the World Series yesterday, an accomplishment very few of the leading sabrmetric writers would have predicted on the day they traded Colby Rasmus and others for Edwin Jackson, Octavio Dotel and Mark Rzepczynski. In fact, St. Louis pulled several moves that were counter to what's become the conventional model to get to where they are. They dumped defensive specialist Brendan Ryan at shortstop and added defensive liability Lance Berkman to the outfield. They got rid of a young and talented player before his prime in Rasmus for relief help and an erratic flamethrower in Jackson.

It certainly helps that the Cardinals already had an all time great player in Albert Pujols and another near that category in former Rockies outfielder Matt Holliday, not to mention Berkman, who's also going to be in the Hall of Fame picture if he's not already a lock.

At any rate, I believe that the lesson to be learned from St. Louis is that our understanding of the sport is incomplete, that for example defense can't be predicted with as much accuracy as we think it can when players switch positions or teams. Which leads me to my rebuttal of Jeff Aberle's points in yesterday's Rockpile. And there's no disrespect intended, this just happens to be a situation where we've come to vastly different conclusions based on the evidence we have at hand.

1. Ian Stewart isn't a very good baseball player. Mike Pagliarulo had a long career as a journeyman and was a bit of a hero for the Minnesota Twins in the 1991 post season, but Pagliarulo isn't exactly the prototype most fans will think of when they put together their ideal third base candidate. Pagliarulo is Ian Stewart's most similar histoircal hitter through age 26 according to Baseball Reference. Shane Andrews, who was a bench player through his prime and barely seen in the majors after turning 29, is second. Either way, the Rockies could do better.

2. It's possible that Ian Stewart could be the same sinkhole he was in 2011. The basic idea that works in the macro-sense is that player values regress to around their career average, this should particularly be true for players in their primes. This suggests that Jose Lopez will rebound in 2011 after a miserable season in 2010. Oh wait, we're a year forward now... but maybe you get my point. Just as sometimes players break out to the plus side and never look back after so called fluke seasons, it's very possible that Stewart has found a new level of performance. Jeff's scenario of a rebound is more likely, but the possibility of Stewart being the player he was in 2011 is simply too big to ignore. 

3. Nolan Arenado probably is ready to take over, right now. I actually agree with Jeff's points about not trading for David Wright or signing Aramis Ramirez to a too expensive, too long contract, but I'm in this camp because Arenado's readiness makes it not worth it. I actually think Stewart could very well start in 2012 for the Rockies, but he won't be needed for long, with Arenado likely forcing his way in before the middle of June. Arenado's learning curve is very high, very fast. Given his professional career to date, he's not going to need the AA and AAA time that a lot of people seem to expect, if he needs it at all to adjust to major league play.

4. Because the obvious alternatives aren't appealing doesn't mean that there aren't better options available. This is where a good GM will earn his stripes. We've gone through the list of available free agents and known trade chips and found them lacking, but maybe that just means that Dan O'Dowd and the Rockies need to dig deeper for a better solution. The Reds have a logjam at third with Todd Frazier and Juan Francisco ready and Scott Rolen the incumbent. Any of the three might be available, and all three could represent upgrades in 2012 over Stewart. Rolen in particular might be a relatively cheap trade target due to his age, $6.5 million due in the final year of his contract, and bad 2011 season. He's still a lifetime 124 wRC+ hitter, and an ideal right handed complement to not only Stewart, but our left hand heavy outfield.

Anyway, I'm very late as is right now, the main point is that the Rockies don't have to settle for the players we think are available to them, and they don't have to settle for Stewart if they didn't want to.