I can’t remember who told me as a child, but I’m pretty sure it was either my father or my grandfather. Regardless, it was good advice.
“You got to always know the enemy.”
I’ve followed this advice throughout my life. That’s why I know a lot about the teams in the National League’s Central Division.
The Cubs are my favorite team, but I can tell you about almost any team in the Central Division, mainly the Brewers and Cardinals.
Milwaukee has become the Cubs' No. 1 enemy in the last couple of years, and the Cardinals have always been a thorn in the Cubs’ side. That’s why I know the Cardinals have a problem on their team and it’s not the good kind of problem for any team in the Central.
The Cardinals have plenty of options in the outfield, but all of them have great numbers. So the problems are:
Which guy do you play?
How do you give each guy enough playing time?
I’ll go through each guy and then you can draw up your conclusions on who should play. At the end, I’ll throw in my two cents in who should play and who should grab some bench.
Chris Duncan is currently the starting left fielder, but his time there might be coming to an end. Duncan has shown flashes of his success from two years ago, but for the most part he’s trying not to be that guy anymore.
He doesn’t really want to be known as a home run guy, so he has completely changed his approach at the plate.
Two years ago, he only walked 30 times in 280 ABs with a .363 OBP. Last year, he only walked 55 times in 375 ABs with a .354 OBP. This year, he has walked 10 times in 48 ABs with a .407 OBP.
He doesn’t want to be known as an all-or-nothing guy, such as his brother who plays for the Yankees. Instead, he has concentrated in the offseason on working counts.
Currently, Duncan has good numbers: 11 runs, two home runs, six RBIs, and one stolen base while batting .275; but having good numbers with all this competition may not help him keep his job.
Brian Barton is Duncan's backup. He is widely unknown, because he receives very little playing time and hasn’t done anything newsworthy yet. His numbers are: .343 average, four RBIs, four runs scored, six strikeouts, with no home runs in only 35 ABs.
You’ll notice that I listed strikeouts, That's because he's a strikeout machine.
In 2006, when he split his time between A and AA ball, Barton struck out 109 times in 295 ABs-that's a strikeout every 2.70 ABs. In 2007, he struck out 117 times in 389 ABs-that's a strikeout every 3.32 ABs.
Basically, if this guy is starting the game and you're the opposing pitcher, you're almost guaranteed a strikeout.
So you’re probably wondering why he’s currently sitting up in the majors instead of back in the minors working on not striking out so much. It's because of his speed potential.
In 2006, he stole 41 bases with an 84 percent success rate. In 2007, he stole 21 bases with a 68 percent success rate.
Rick Ankiel he came screaming onto the scene late last year by hitting 11 home runs and driving in 39 runs in only 47 games. This year he started off hot again, but has slowly come back to earth.
While he was in the minors making his comeback, he displayed the same kind of power he showed in the majors. He hit 32 home runs and drove in 89 in only 102 games before getting the call up.
If you add those numbers together, he got 43 home runs and 128 RBIs for one whole year. That’s insane for a guy that used to be a pitcher.
He’s never hit for average, so his numbers in that regard have been pretty steady, but he doesn’t really like working the counts, like Duncan. That only hurts the Cardinals.
He’s there for Albert Pujols’ protection, so he doesn’t really need to work a count. He’s the guy you want hitting home runs. The only problem is, he’s not hitting them this year yet.
Ankiel's stats include 11 runs, four home runs, and 11 RBI while batting .244. If he doesn’t start to show some more consistency, he might be out of the starting job before Duncan, especially if Colby Rasmus gets the call up.
Skip Schumaker can play center or right field and is primarily known as a backup, but he is starting to see a lot of playing time.
Last year, he had pretty good numbers with limited playing time: 19 runs, two home runs, and 19 RBI while batting .333.
He’s obviously not a power guy, but he gives you a decent leadoff man, because he usually puts the ball in play-he has more walks (13) than he does strikeouts (9).
Schumaker gives you a consistent glove too. So far this year, he has only committed one error. For his whole career he only has three errors in 640 innings played.
Ryan Ludwick is having a great first month, batting .328 while scoring 14 runs, hitting two home runs, and driving in 12. However, he has a huge problem on his hands: he still can’t hit away from his home field.
Ludwick is a .279 career hitter at home, and he hits .237 on the road. This year, he’s hitting .400 at home and .250 on the road. But for some reason, he hits more home runs on the road then he does at home.
As you can see the Cardinals, have surplus of talent in the outfield, but none of these guys can hit lefties. The only one who is even notable is Ankiel, and he’s only hitting .261 against them with two home runs while driving in four and scoring four.
These are the numbers they have this year, so far, against right and left handers:
Right Handed Pitching: 67-of-206, .325, six home runs, 28 RBIs, 32 R
Left Handed Pitching: 21-of-104, .201, five home runs, 12 RBIs, 17 R
I, as a Cubs fan, think they should start all of the guys with the worst numbers, but for them to win they should start: Schumaker (LF), Ankiel (CF), and Ludwick (RF).
I think that what Duncan has done in the offseason is going to be great for his career, but if you’re looking for the guys that give you the best chance at winning right now, these are the guys.
Plus, Duncan can be a defensive liability sometimes, while the rest of these guys are consistent fielders.
Cardinal Manager Tony La Russa likes to stick with veterans, so time will tell which way he goes with this one. Consider it a back-and-forth for the rest of the year, until someone breaks out.