No position on the St. Louis Cardinals, maybe no position in all of baseball, has been as big a revolving door as second base at Busch Stadium in recent years. Since Fernando Vina left after the 2003 season, the position has been a turnstile for one-year stopgaps and replacement-level fill-ins. The fact that Vina is referred to as the model of position stability explains all anyone needs to know about the team's inability to find a long-term solution. Four straight years might as well be a lifetime.
This year's crop of second basemen has proven to be more of the same, with each of the three candidates possessing notable flaws. Daniel Descalso doesn't hit much. Tyler Greene doesn't catch or hit much. And, unless there's been a recent development, Skip Schumaker woke up this morning and was still Skip Schumaker. Even though Kolten Wong is on the horizon, he won't be here soon enough to contribute in 2012.
The popular sentiment among Cardinal Nation is that Schumaker is the best option at the position. A lot of the eye tests would back up that claim. A guy who posts a batting average constantly around .300 and rarely has egregious errors charged to his name is, on the surface, a good player. Defensive shortcomings aside - and, with apologies to your eyes, by pretty much any defensive metric he's well below average - it's his offense that actually presents a problem as a major league starter.
Batting .300 has pretty much always been the litmus test for a major league ballplayer; hit at or above it and you're a great hitter, hit below it and you're not. Skip's .290 lifetime batting average has ensured him a permanent spot in some old school baseball guys' lineups, but fortunately for fans of good baseball everywhere the emergence of new statistics have allowed us to look at baseball players' numbers from a variety of angles.
One of the more interesting new ideas is the empty batting average. As I've learned more about baseball and which players supply the most value, I've found that empty batting averages often make boring players seem a lot less boring. If Daniel Murphy is the poster boy for empty batting averages, Skip is his body double.
Empty batting averages is the idea that all batting averages aren't created equal. The formula is simple: take a player's isolated power (slugging percentage minus batting average) and add it to his isolated discipline (on-base percentage minus batting average). The resulting number gives a good idea of what kind of hitter a player is beyond his ability to hit singles; like batting average itself, the higher the number the better. Whereas a real second baseman and professional hitter like Dustin Pedroia has posted a career IsoD + IsoP of .224, Skip's is .145. For reference, major league second basemen are posting a .187 as a whole in 2012.
Many players with empty batting averages have another redeeming quality, though - speed. Major league teams tolerate empty batting averages from guys like Juan Pierre because they contribute in other ways, mainly by stealing bases and scoring runs. And even then, those guys steal a lot of bases. And they score a lot of runs.
Skip does neither. For his career, Schumaker has stolen 19 bases in 748 games. More importantly, Schumaker, even in the years he spent leading off, has never scored more than 87 runs in one season. In 2008, his 87-run season, Schumaker started and hit leadoff in 143 of his 153 games played. He was still only 57th in the league in runs scored. And he wasn't hitting leadoff for a team devoid of offense, either - that 2008 club had the third-highest wRC+, 107, in the league that year. Schumaker didn't struggle to score runs because of his teammates; rather, he struggled in spite of them.
If Schumaker is successfully ruled out as an everyday option at second base, Descalso becomes the clear if unattractive choice at the position. But the imminent return of Lance Berkman offers another, riskier option: sliding Allen Craig over to second base. It's a position he's played previously. While he missed time recently with a hamstring injury, the knee injury he suffered in 2011 is over a year old. And although he's no Miguel Cabrera, his bat has the ability to offset any negative value he carries on defense.
Manager Mike Matheny was originally insistent that Craig would not be viewed as an option at second base, but the recent use of fellow reformed third baseman Matt Carpenter at the position suggests Matheny might be willing to reconsider his stance. The fact that he took ground balls at second while rehabbing from his hamstring injury is also cause for optimism. In the end, it will be tough for Matheny to keep Craig's bat out of the lineup, especially if the offense struggles or incurs more injuries.
Whichever way the position goes, it's clear that the team will have to wait another year to hopefully find a permanent solution to the problem. Get here soon, Kolten Wong.