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St. Louis Cardinals Have Sided with Defense at 3B Before, and Should Again.

Greg Garcia Makes Great Play

The Matt Adams in Left Field show has been a hot topic in this young season. Coming in a close second, and somewhat connect to it, has been the Third Base discussion. Many have called for Matt Adams to be played regularly at First Base while pushing current starter, Matt Carpenter, back to his former position at Third. The idea would have merit if Matt Adams was worthy of a regular spot in the lineup. He isn’t, his greatest strength and most valuable role is coming off the bench as a pinch hitter. Pushing Carpenter to 3B should not be a part of the equation. While laying his cards on the table, John Mozeliak all but killed off the Adams in LF experiment and shortened the leash on Jhonny Peralta, the named starter at 3B to begin the year. With his struggles both offensively and defensively, he should also not be part of the 3B equation. Another right-handed bat, Jedd Gyorko is a fine part-time 3B, but he is best deployed against left-handed pitchers (or righties that throw a high % of fastballs) as part of a platoon. This leads me to the man that should be playing 3B against the vast majority of RH pitchers, Mr. Greg Garcia. Though many fans will cry out that 3B is a power and production position offensively, this would not be the first time that the Cardinals have gone defense first at the hot corner. Coincidentally, they all have profiled similarly to Greg Garcia.

2001/02 – Placido Polanco

Fernando Tatis was the 3B and cleanup hitter behind Mark McGwire in 1999 and 2000. Prior to the 2001 season, he was sent to Montreal for Dustin Hermanson and Steve Kline. This left a bit of a committee approach at 3B. Tony LaRussa would go with the defensive option more often than not, playing former utility infielder Placido Polanco in 103 games at the position. This number could have been higher, but he was also the backup SS, spelling Renteria for about 30 starts that year. He would also lose some innings at 3B to a fellow named Albert Pujols, who had to be in the lineup. Had Matheny been managing the team, I would have expected Pujols to start 150 games at 3B. LaRussa knew better and Polanco was the regular man for the job and usual #2 hitter in the lineup. He slashed .307/.342/.383 that season with just 3 HR and 38 RBIs. In the field he had a Total Runs Above Average (no DRS data for 2001) of 15. He showed the value of a high on-base, defense first 3B for a 93-win playoff team. He would be packaged in a trade during the 2002 season when the Cardinals had the opportunity to have the best of both the offensive and defensive worlds at 3B. The player acquired in return was Scott Rolen. He was pretty good.

2005 – Abraham Nunez

The aforementioned Scott Rolen had a hand in this next example. After colliding with Hee-Seop Choi at 1B in early May, Rolen would miss 34 games midseason. He would be shutdown in late July, playing just 56 games in the 2005 season. Enter Abraham Nunez. Much like Polanco, Nunez was a career utility infielder who had most of his experience at SS or 2B. The offensive option for LaRussa would have been to play corner man (LF, RF, 1B, 3B) John Mabry at 3B everyday. However, he was not a good defensive player and, maybe more importantly, he was the best pinch hitting option off the bench. (Sound familiar?). He did play a reasonable number of 18 games at the position that year. Abraham Nunez would play in 98 games at 3B. Defensively he has 9 defensive runs saved on the year. At the plate he would slash .285/.343/.361 with just 5 HR and 44 RBIs. Again, good OBP with a good glove was the prevailing choice at 3B. Oh by the way, the 2005 team won 100 games.

2011 – Daniel Descalso

David Freese was the on-again, off-again starter at 3B in 2011. He was certainly an offense-first option. However, he was often spelled late in games by Daniel Descalso. When Freese missed 53 games in the middle of the year, Descalso would be the regular at third, appearing in 117 games total at the position. LaRussa could have gone with Allen Craig at 3B while Freese was out, as Craig played the position throughout the minor leagues. He stuck with Descalso instead and Craig played only 2 games there on the season.

While some of his defensive metrics don’t show as well (-6 DRS) he was clearly the better defender than Freese. He would rank 4th in games played at 3B, 5th in double plays turned, and 3rd in fielding percentage. He was a finalist for the Gold Glove despite not necessarily being the starter at the position. At the dish he put up, and this may sound familiar, a .264/.334/.353 slash line with just 1 HR and 28 RBIs. When the playoffs rolled around Freese’s bat would not be denied, but make no mistake, Descalso was a difference maker defensively at 3B for a team that won 90 games, the Wild Card, and (oh yeah) the World Series.

Start Greg Garcia

Garcia should be starting for the 2017 Cardinals. Not over Kolten Wong at 2B and not at SS (pushing Diaz to 3B). He should be the LH swinging side of a 3B platoon with Jedd Gyorko. His career slash line is .261/.381/.362. He isn’t going to hit for power or drive in many runs, but batting 8th (or 9th) he would be a great fit at the plate as he keeps the line moving with high OBP. In the field he has a career 2 DRS and .975 fielding percentage in just 39 games at 3B. He essentially profiles the same as the 3 men I talked about from the LaRussa years. In fact, Garcia has a higher OBP, to this point, than any of the others. Garcia gives the team the best chance defensively at 3B and with his on-base skills he will will never be a drain offensively. We saw him make a few fine plays there on Monday night. Matheny needs to take a page out of his former manager’s playbook and side with defense over offense this year. The team will be better off for it. Thanks for reading!

Rusty Groppel
I'm a diehard Cardinals fan that feels privileged to write about his favorite team in this corner of cyberspace. I'm also the bass player for the best damn band in the 618, Tanglefoot. Check us out some time.
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