Periodically throughout the year, we look at team performance based on who is playing which defensive position. We look and assess position by position.
For all of the considerable upheaval through the first third of the season – and whether for good or for bad – the plan the team left Spring Training with is still pretty much in place.
Position – Catcher
Yadier Molina was removed from the lineup last night due to back stiffness. Yadi has caught 51 of the 59 games so far. Interestingly, St Louis is 21-30 when Molina has started. In those games, they have scored an average of 3.84 runs per game with a team ERA of 4.01.
Eric Fryer – back in St Louis as the backup catcher – has the team at 6-2 when he starts. Even though Eric is hitting less than .200, the team is scoring 4.63 runs per game in his starts, while the team ERA is 3.73. This is not to suggest that the team is better without Molina, but it does give us some confidence when Yadi takes a day off. In the second half of last year, St Louis was 1-9 in games that Molina didn’t start.
Mike Leake has made 3 starts pitching to Fryer. He has gone 3-0 in those starts with a 2.25 ERA and a .145 batting average against. In the 9 games that Yadi has caught him, Mike is 2-5, 2.85 ERA and a .260 batting average against.
Lance Lynn has also been caught by Fryer 3 times in his 9 starts. His results are more even: 1-1, 2.65 with Fryer; 3-2, 2.96 with Molina.
Michael Wacha and Adam Wainwright have only had Fryer behind the plate once each so far this season. For Wacha, that was last night as Molina’s back took him out of the lineup. Michael threw six fine innings (2 runs 5 hits) to Eric.
Fryer’s only turn at catching Wainwright came on April 27 against Toronto. Adam took the win that night (6-4) after giving 4 runs on 9 hits over 6.1 innings.
Carlos Martinez has not pitched to anyone but Molina this season (although that will apparently change this afternoon).
Position – First Base
The offseason plan was to move Matt Carpenter to first and leave him there. That has been – more or less – how it’s gone. Carpenter has started 51 of the 59 games, seeing the team go 23-28 in those games. His most frequent backup has been Jose Martinez, who has made 5 starts at first, with the team losing 3 of those.
Position – Second Base
Another part of the offseason plan was to commit to Kolten Wong at second. Again, this they have mostly done. He sat a couple games early when he got off to a struggling start, and then missed a few more games recently as he spent time on the disabled list. But mostly – for 38 of the 59 games – it has been Kolten Wong at second base. And for the most part this has worked out quite well. While the team is five games below .500 for the season, they are 21-17 when Wong starts at second. The offense perks up (4.55 runs per game) and the defense stabilizes (3.52 ERA). Kolten is having a breakout season, becoming now the player we always thought he could be. Now, if they would just put him back in the leadoff spot.
In Kolten’s recent absence, Paul DeJong ascended from Memphis to hold the fort at second base. Not that DeJong hasn’t looked good defensively and had his moments offensively – and not to blame Paul for the losing streak – but the main part of the team collapse did happen while Wong was away. In the 10 games that DeJong started at second, the Cards were 2-8 with a 4.61 ERA while scoring just 2.8 runs per game.
Position – Shortstop
Aledmys Diaz has started here 53 times in 59 games this season – making shortstop the most stable position on the team through the first third of the season. St Louis, however, is only 23-30 in those games. Greg Garcia has been the primary backup there this season. In the 5 starts he’s made, St Louis is 4-1. The offense has been notably better when Aledmys starts (4.08 rpg v 3.60 rpg), but the team ERA responds to Garcia (3.48 v 3.84). There have also been 20 unearned runs scored in Diaz’ 53 games. In Garcia’s 5 there have been no unearned runs scored against the Cardinals.
I don’t think I’m campaigning for Garcia to take over the position. I am pointing out that he’s maybe more capable than some might suspect. And that Diaz, so far this season, hasn’t played up to his potential (something you could say about a lot of Cardinals thus far).
Position – Third Base
Coming out of Spring Training, this was going to be the home of the since departed Jhonny Peralta. The elements and the hot bat of Jedd Gyorko conspired against him. He made a total of 14 starts at third this season, with the team losing 11 of the 14.
That being said, I’m going to express my opinion that releasing Jhonny may have been a mistake. Jedd Gyorko has clearly claimed the position. He’s now made 40 starts there, leading the team to a 19-21 record, so I’m not floating the idea that Peralta could or should reclaim the position – or even that he would get significant playing time. But the upshot of the decision is that Paul DeJong now sticks on the major league roster, where he will watch a lot of baseball from the bench instead of returning to Memphis where he can play and develop (and there is still some development that needs to happen there).
Meanwhile, at some point of the season some contender will lose a third baseman to injury, slump or some other random situation, and they will be looking for a third baseman – preferably some veteran who has experience in a playoff hunt. I don’t think the Cardinals would have gotten three elite prospects for him, or anything like that. But if they had held onto him until there was a need, they likely could have gotten something for him. I look on this as a missed opportunity both for DeJong and the Cardinal farm system.
Position – Left Field
Tommy Pham has now almost caught Randal Grichuk for the team lead in starts in left field. Grichuk started there 25 times. Pham has now been there for 24 starts. The team went 11-14 for Randal, and 11-13 for Tommy. This even though both the runs per game metric (3.96 – 3.83) and the team ERA (3.57 – 4.35) favor Grichuk.
Position – Center Field
Dexter Fowler was brought in this offseason to be the center fielder. And he has, starting 50 of the first 59 games. After last night’s victory, St Louis is 19-31 when Fowler starts in center, with a 4.18 ERA. Offensively, the team has scored 3.58 runs per game.
The small sample size hero of center field is rookie spark plug Magneuris Sierra. During the spell when Fowler was nursing a shoulder injury, Sierra got 5 starts in center field, leading the team to a 5-0 record and a 33-18 scoring differential.
Position – Right Field
Again, the offseason plan has remained mostly intact. Stephen Piscotty entered camp as the right fielder and has remained so – this in spite of any number of challenges he’s faced so far this season. He has made 37 of the 59 starts, with the team playing 15-22 baseball under his watch. When it hasn’t been Piscotty, it’s usually been Grichuk. The team is 8-7 in his starts in right.
The team has scuffled through the first third of the season, and a lot of that shows in these records. Fowler, Carpenter, Grichuk, Diaz (even, to an extent, Molina) – a lot of Cardinals have underperformed so far. We could add a lot of bullpen names to that list as well. I don’t believe that all of these players have suddenly become bad players (although some of these may end up having bad years). There is just too much baseball left to entirely scrap that plan that has been in place from the beginning. That point may come later on, but for now a lot of these guys deserve the opportunity to play their way out of it.
With that said, the first third of the season has included two fairly seismic shifts in the way this team sets up. First is the emergence of Gyorko, who has been a much more complete player this year than anyone could have predicted. Second is the emergence of Tommy Pham. Sent back down to Memphis to start the season, Pham has – for the moment, anyway – pushed his way into a starting outfield spot.
Neither of these players have ever played at this level for a full season, so it will be interesting to see them in the second half. But for now, they have earned their playing time.
Among the most gratifying developments so far is the quality of depth that the Cards have now on the bench. If nothing else, players like Fryer, Garcia and Sierra have shown that they can step in and still give the team an excellent chance to win the game.
Of note in last night’s 3-2 win (box score). They won the first game of a series, won a game at home, and won a one-run game. All three of those conditions have been challenging to this team so far this year. Yes, yes, it was just Philadelphia – and the Phillies are having a poor year. So this would mean more if it had come against Chicago. But at this point, we’ll take the win.
Sufficient to the day are the challenges thereof.