How Will Inability To Solve Shortstop Problem Affect St. Louis Cardinals Down The Stretch?

By Thom Tsang
Scott Kane-USA TODAY Sports

I think it’s fair to say that there aren’t a whole lot of Pete Kozma fans out there in Missouri these days.

The shortstop’s name has elicited his fair share of frustration from the St. Louis Cardinals fan base this season thanks to his .218/.275/.275 line, so you can perhaps imagine what the team is going through … even though his -0.2 fWAR hasn’t quite hurt the team’s ability to stay in the thick of the NL Central race thus far.

Still, considering everything that the redbirds have done right in the 2013 season, it seems almost strange that they’ve left the glaring hole at shortstop to this point of the season, no?

After all, it’s not as though the team has the division locked up by any means, and every additional game that Kozma makes him a further liability to the team’s goals to just that. Sure, he’s an above-average fielder at 4.0 fielding runs above average thus far, but the near-automatic out he represents in the lineup drags the team down that much more.

Of course, we also can’t forget about Daniel Descalso, his part-time partner in crime with whom Kozma has formed what could only be considered the opposite of a dynamic duo. A .691 OPS means that the former isn’t quite the guaranteed liability at the plate, but at 11.2 fielding runs below average overall and a -39.1 UZR/150 over his 226.2 at shortstop … well, you know.

But what choice does the team have?

The best move would have been to try and acquire a shortstop, but the rumored Carlos Martinez/Alexei Ramirez fell though, and the the team did not push any further despite not having a ton of options in the minors.

Once a potential replacement, Ryan Jackson has posted a miserable .530 OPS in August at Triple-A, and his .219/.280/.229 triple-slash since the minor league All-Star break doesn’t exactly leave a lot of hope that he’ll be any better than replacement level if called upon. Greg Garcia has been on a tear with a .999 OPS August, but his .689 OPS pre-All-Star numbers doesn’t necessarily suggest it’ll last.

Regardless of how you want to spin it, the fact is that St. Louis has gotten below replacement value production out of their shortstops this season at -0.5 fWAR.

More notably, they’re arguably the only playoff contender in the league with a shortstop hole that’s actually cost them wins (well, half-win, I suppose); even the Cincinnati Reds, who ranks 22nd in shortstop value, has gotten 0.5 fWAR from Zack Cosart and Cesar Izturis combined in 2013.

And with the Cardinals being in a three-team race where even a half game might mean the difference between having to play a one-game playoff in the Wild Card round or earning a spot in the divisional series, don’t be surprised if the shortstop issues ends up making a difference in the end.

Thom is an MLB writer for Follow him on Twitter @BlueJaysRant, or add him to your network on Google

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