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By Joe Schwarz of StlCupofJoe.com

It has been a while since I had a baseball post on here, and I really do apologize for that. Between school (final exams are next week) and the SEC Championship game (if only Mizzou's defense had showed up), baseball had been on the back burner somewhat. However, to make it up to you, I was able to score a pretty informative baseball chat with one of ESPN's top baseball writers, Dan Szymborski.

The first three questions involve specific sabermetric statistics. As a fan and a blogger, I always wanted to know what statistics sabermetricians looked at first when breaking down players' numbers. I realize they look at many more statistics than just one, but as fans, our minds are not always able to grasp the depth behind some of these statistics. Thus, I asked him his "go-to" statistic for the three major aspects of the game–hitting, pitching, and defense. I will now use these more in future blogs, and I hope you all will use them to better analyze players' numbers as well.

I followed with three questions involving the St. Louis Cardinals–one about Jhonny Peralta, one about the team going into 2014, and one about Carlos Martinez/Michael Wacha. I concluded the Q&A with a question about his job and any advice he would give to fans who take a look at statistics themselves.

stlCupofJoe: Hitting: What is your single, go-to, most-inclusive statistic when comparing hitters?
Dan Szymborski: I'm at risk of being declared an apostate and being thrown of the fraternity, but OPS+ is still an easy go-to statistic. It gets you most of the way there, it's conceptually easy to grasp, and it's been available and used for the right time. Communicating sabermetric ideas doesn't necessarily mean the exact, most absolutely accurate, statistic.

stlCupofJoe: Pitching: What is your go-to statistic when comparing pitchers? (Let's stick to just starting pitchers here)
Dan Szymborski: FIP. Most predictive basic stat, though ERA+ for a more general audience.

stlCupofJoe: Fielding: With DRS, UZR, UZR/150, RF/9 innings, etc., what is your go-to when comparing fielders?
Dan Szymborski: If forced to choose one, it would be Sean Smith's Total Zone, simply because we have those numbers historically. Now, I like to blend UZR/DRS and regress toward the mean.

stlCupofJoe: What is your opinion of the Jhonny Peralta deal for the Cardinals?
Dan Szymborski: I'm a big fan of the Peralta signing. It was a gaping hole for the Cardinals last season, one I didn't think they had the proper motivation to fix, but they proved me wrong. The Cardinals are in WS Contention – it's not smart for them to sort through guys like Greg Garcia and gamble on who works out.

stlCupofJoe: In YOUR opinion, compare this year's Cardinals (I realize some more deals may be made) going into the season to last year's team. Which one is in a better position, projection-wise?
Dan Szymborski: I think they're a better team, as frightening as that may be to the rest of the NL. Remember, they only got 9 starts from Michael Wacha during the regular season and a whole lot of starts from the Great Kozmandias (Look on his bat, ye Mighty, and despair). And they're not even a million years old, there's enough youth to cancel out possible age-related decline from Matt Holliday or a little regression from Yadi Molina.

stlCupofJoe: A little projecting here, given full health (fingers crossed), which young phenom projects the best as a starter? Carlos Martinez or Michael Wacha.
Dan Szymborski: Michael Wacha. Already *having* success in the majors is a big boost to future expectations. We've already seen Wacha be able to get major league hitters out consistently as a starter. We *believe* Martinez has a high chance of doing so, but he hasn't done it yet.

stlCupofJoe: What's your favorite part of your job working over at ESPN?
Dan Szymborski: The getting paid to write baseball part! I would've been quite surprised to be told 20 years ago that I would be a baseball writer for ESPN and not working a really boring job at a bank or an investment firm.

stlCupofJoe: What's one message you would like to tell fans who try to make sense of all the statistics involved in baseball?
Dan Szymborski: The most important part of using stats is learning when *not* to use each particular stat. There are a lot of people out there that, while interested in modern baseball stats, don't quite get the benefits and downsides of each of those statistics.

Thank you so much for the time, Dan. It means a lot.

Give Dan a follow on Twitter: @DSzymborski

Until next time…

Joe

For more updates, follow me on Twitter: @stlCupofJoe or Facebook: stlCupofJoe's Sports Page

Joe Schwarz contributes to KSDK Sports as a Cardinals blogger. You can read more of Joe's writing at stlcupofjoe.com or follow him on twitter at @stlcupofjoe

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