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Brian Walton's news and commentary on the St. Louis Cardinals (TM) and their minor league system

Cardinals catching injury trickledown theory

How much might Jason LaRue’s injury have affected Cardinals minor league results?

Jason LaRue (Scott Boehm/Getty Images)Injuries happen in baseball and excuses are not appreciated in many corners for a good reason.

Still, I can’t help but think about the lingering and scattering impact of the concussion sustained by St. Louis Cardinals catcher Jason LaRue suffered at the cleats of Cincinnati Reds pitcher Johnny Cueto on August 10.

We all know that Cueto was suspended for seven games and LaRue is done for his career, but what about the downstream affects?

At the major league level, having the veteran LaRue available, might manager Tony La Russa have been more inclined to give more regular rest to starting catcher Yadier Molina? Struggling with a sore knee, Molina has still hit .315 in the second half after an abysmal .223 start, but is back in St. Louis getting his knee examined again.

Prior to Molina’s latest setback, new St. Louis reserve catchers Bryan Anderson and Matt Pagnozzi had been given a total of four major league starts in the six weeks since Anderson first arrived from Triple-A Memphis to replace LaRue.

Further, by taking both members of the Redbirds’ catching tandem, how much was the Memphis club weakened? Since having joined the Redbirds, Steven Hill batted just .176 and reportedly was not always sharp behind the plate while Tony Cruz hit .214 in the regular season. Starter Cruz posted a meager .143 average over the two rounds of the Pacific Coast League playoffs.

The trickle-down effect may have been most felt at Springfield, where Nick Derba and Charles Cutler took over the catching duties. Derba batted .240 at Double-A this year while Cutler batted .218 in the regular season. Derba is considered one of the better defensive catchers in the system, yet the Springfield pitching staff allowed an average of six runs per game in the playoffs while the catcher batted .313.

Taking it one more step, could the loss of Derba and Cutler been a factor in Palm Beach’s late-season swoon, both offensively and with handling their pitchers? Despite finishing ten games over .500, the Florida State League Cardinals suffered through a 4-14 stretch during the final weeks that ruined their playoff chances. Palm Beach’s replacement catchers contributed very little with their bats.

Obviously, the impact on their teams is all speculation, but what is clear is that in almost every case, the batting results of the promoted catchers dropped off considerably as they were moved up. As such, the level of offense the higher level minor league club received declined, in some cases, substantially.

Cardinals catchers, batting average by level, 2010 regular season

Average St. Louis Memphis Springfield Palm Beach
Pagnozzi 0.250 0.242
Anderson 0.280 0.270
Cruz 0.214 0.289
Hill 0.176 0.280
Derba 0.240 0.202
Cutler 0.218 0.292
Espinoza 0.158
De La Cruz 0.194

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