Figuring Out the Outfield and Other Lineup Notes

The St Louis Cardinals head into these final days of May having experienced unusual consistency in their lineups (infield more so than outfield).  With 47 games already played, the Cardinals have six players who have started at least 42 games at the same position.

Last year at this point – for example – Kolten Wong had only made 32 starts at second.  Matt Carpenter had made 11 starts there, and Greg Garcia had started 4 times.

Paul DeJong had made just 39 starts at shortstop – with Garcia and Jedd Gyorko taking the other 8 games.

Carpenter had manned third base 24 times – somewhat more than the 18 starts that Gyorko had there.  At this point last year, Gyorko had made a total of 20 starts.  This year, he projects to get 21 starts all year.

Tommy Pham had started 39 games in center, and Dexter Fowler was the starter in right 37 times.

Yadier Molina – out with an injury – had started just 29 games, with Francisco Pena his primary backup making 12 starts.  Matt Wieters is Yadi’s primary backup this year.  He is projected to make 10 starts all season.

At this point last year, only two players had made as many as 42 starts at the same position – Marcell Ozuna making 43 starts in left and Jose Martinez making 42 starts at first.  All things being equal, DeJong would probably have made that many at shortstop, but he was already on the shelf with a broken wrist at this point last season.

This is one of the main cultural differences between this year’s team and the 2018 squad (that was 26-21 after 47 games).  In previous years, management has made a concerted effort to get the bench involved.  Gyorko, Munoz and Wieters are all counted on as being important pieces of the 2019 puzzle.  They have had 39, 35 and 20 at bats so far, respectively.

The Outfield Puzzle

With Molina catching 44 games so far, Paul Goldschmidt making 46 starts at first base, Wong making 44 starts at second base, DeJong making 46 starts at shortstop, Carpenter making 42 at third and Marcell Ozuna starting 45 times in left field, there are only two defensive positions (center and right) that have seen any real flux at all – and that only because Harrison Bader missed a few games with a hamstring.

But, Harrison’s recent resurgence at the plate has complicated the outfield picture.  In effect, Mike Shildt has four outfielders who all deserve to start and all need to play, but only three openings.

My suspicion is that Bader will be on the bench when the season resumes tomorrow afternoon.  Before that happens, it’s worth pointing out that he and Fowler have been the principle centerfielders this year, with Bader making 22 starts there, and Fowler 20.  The Cards are 13-9 in Bader’s starts, and 9-11 when Fowler starts in center.  The offense does improve if Dexter is starting.  St Louis averages 5.25 runs per game with Dex in center, as opposed to 4.68 runs per game with Harrison.  But the team ERA is almost a run and a half lower (3.50 to 4.99) with Bader in center.

Right field has been mostly Martinez (30 starts) and Fowler (16).  The record is slightly better with Jose out there (16-14 vs 8-8).  Offensively, the team scores a bit more with Martinez (5.17 runs per game to 5.06).  As you might expect, the defense favors Fowler, 4.23 ERA to 4.59.

Putting together a team is one of the great challenges in baseball – or, indeed, of any sport.  Maintaining that team over the long stretch of 162 games is maybe even more challenging.  I am not even suggesting a major outfield re-shuffling. My suggestion here is that maybe more people should have more chances to contribute.

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