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06 May 2011

I Miss Skip

(source: Wikipedia)
I have heard/read/inferred that segments of Cardinal Nation are not missing Skip Schumaker while he's on the DL.  Many of these opinions are based on a recent hot streak - and one scintillating home run - by Daniel Descalso.  I want to make a public statement: I still miss Skip.

Why do I miss Skip?  First, I have drank the Tony La Russa Kool-Aid.  I prefer proven veterans with a track record of success as my everyday player.  Skip has proven to be a successful big league hitter with a .290 career batting average.  He remains a liability against lefties, but he hits .308 against right-handed pitching.  And in case you haven't noticed, there is a preponderance of right-handed pitcher in baseball.  Additionally, he has been clutch in his career - batting .288 with RISP and .321/.371/.491 with runners on third base.
Secondly, Skip's defense is not as horrible as it is made out to be.  Clearly Descalso has the better skills at second (it is the position he came up playing), but Skip has some positives.  I have come to appreciate a good arm at second base, and Schumaker's hose was the envy of Rick Ankiel we he was in St. Louis.  A strong arm helps tremendously on turning double plays and on relay throws, and Skip's allows him some wiggle-room to compensate for his unfamiliarity on positioning and footwork in the infield.  And those instincts are improving.  Skip is a determined worker, who managed to fill a gaping hole in the roster in 2009 with only an off-season of training.  A more infielder-focused training regimen this past winter had Skip looking more fluid in the field this spring, with an easy to identify increase in range to his left.

Thirdly, his attitude and grit are needed.  The Cardinals will take the field of battle 162 times each season.  La Russa's clubs are celebrated for playing a "Hard Nine" innings every game.  Schumaker is the type of warrior his mates want fighting to the end every day.  Identified as a core player of the team by his manager, one can infer his teammates and coaches feel the same.  His sacrifice to make the adjustment to 2B goes a long way in my book.  A superlative defensive corner outfielder, his power wasn't up to the standards of that position, but it fits well as a middle infielder.

While Descalso has impressed thus far in his major league career, he still is just a .238 hitter who has had some awful at bats against elite pitchers this year.  Descalso at the moment is best used as a defensive replacement and spot starter.  He is still vulnerable to being over-exposed as a hitter at this stage in his career.
Surprisingly, as a left-handed hitter he hits lefties better than he does right-handers.  With David Freese's bad ankles and bad luck, Descalso provides depth at that position.  And the Cardinals have been desperate for a decent backup at third for some time now.

Yes, I miss Skip.  We need him in the lineup as the starting second baseman.  Descalso has value as a platoon against lefties and a late-inning defensive replacement at 2B.  It also gives La Russa the flexibility with resources that he so desires.  All of this adds up to utilizing Descalso in a way that maximizes his chances for success.

Next year?  It could be a different story.  If Descalso keeps growing - and hitting - as he has been lately, it might make for some tough decisions for St. Louis GM John Mozeliak when Schumaker's contract ends after this season.  Maybe then Skip can be rewarded for his sacrificial move to 2B with a bigger contract with a lesser team in need of his talents.

But for now, we need Skip.  Cardinal Nation should be missing him as I do.

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