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St. Louis Cardinals: 2017’s Biggest Defensive Improvement

Much has been made of the St. Louis Cardinals defense this offseason. The addition of Dexter Fowler should add much more consistency and reliability to the outfield defense. But the biggest defensive upgrade will be caused by the trickle down effect from the Fowler signing. Randal Grichuk will be a huge improvement over Matt Holliday in left field.

Using defensive metrics to look at Matt Holliday’s defense you can see that it won’t take much for a big improvement. UZR/150 measures the number of runs above or below average a fielder is and scales it to 150 games. Holliday has a UZR/150 of -11.7 in 2016. This ranks 17th out of 19 left fielders with a minimum of 600 innings played at the position.

Randal Grichuk has only logged 402.1 innings in left field in his career. In that time though, he has a UZR/150 of 23.9. This is a massive improvement over the defense that Matt Holliday provided.

Obviously these numbers are a good sign, but defensive metrics can be fickle when looking at sample sizes such as these. Another indicator of Grichuks defensive ability will be to look at his performance in center field this past season.

Grichuk posted a UZR/150 of -1.8 in 2016. Just barely below league average. If we look at his 2016 defensive charts from baseballsavant.com there is reason to believe he will improve on that number with a move to left field.

Randal Grichuk’s 2016 base hits allowed.

This first chart uses hang time and the players starting distance from the balls landing point. As you can see, most of the base hits that Grichuk allowed were on very tough plays. There are however a couple catches that it appears he should have made. There are three hits that fall into the easy or routine portion of the chart and two on the line between routine and tough.

We can look at his spray chart of hits allowed to get an idea of what happened on these plays.

Randal Grichuk’s 2016 base hit spray chart.

You can see two very easy plays missed that were hit almost directly over his head. It appears that getting a read on the ball hit directly at him was his biggest issue.

This is an issue that is likely to improve. A ball hit directly at you in center field is one of the toughest plays that an outfielder faces on a regular basis. When a ball is hit at you in left field it’s much easier to get a read on because the ball will tail or hook one way or the other depending on the handedness of the batter.

I believe this is a big contributor in the difference between Grichuk’s defensive metrics in left and center field. With the steady defense of Fowler and Piscotty already in the outfield, Grichuk has the position to make this one of the better defensive outfields in all of baseball.

Thanks for reading!

and let’s talk some Cardinals baseball.

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  • John Baker

    Good read, Adam. Thanks for a story that is positive about Grichuk, something more Card fans should read. I sense that many Card fans really don’t get this guy’s potential. I do. Just having Randal in LF will will allow him to show more value. I hope that the “trade Grichuk” wishers will consider the alternatives (Pham/Martinez), and see that neither are MLB starting material. All hail Adam.

    • Adam Butler

      Thanks! Grichuk will definitely never have a good obp. But I do think he’s being undersold. A good defensive player with legit power can be a very valuable player.

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