When the rumors were flying around that the Cardinals were interested in signing Edwin Encarnacion, I didn’t take it too seriously. I felt the Cardinals would get enough from third base. While third would be an obvious weakness, I didn’t think it would be too significant.
Since leading the 2014 Cardinals in home runs with 21, his home run per fly ball rate has declined annually. It was 12.4% in 2014 and dropped to 9.6% in 2016. However, it could rebound a little bit. Peralta was hampered by a thumb injury in 2016, an injury similar to the ones sustained by Yadier Molina in both 2014 and 2015. Molina’s power nearly disappeared before slugging .529 in the second half of 2016. I expect Peralta’s HR/FB rate to rebound to approximately his 2015 levels.
Peralta’s walk rate has declined every year since 2014, and he’s not getting any younger. I expect the walk rate to continue to decline to 6.5%, well below league average. Unlike his BB%, his strikeout rate has maintained relatively stable. Considering he is entering his age 35 season, it is reasonable to expect a slight, but not catastrophic increase in K%. Peralta enters the season as the “starter” at third. However, with Gyorko on the bench, a slow start by Peralta could mean a lot less playing time for Peralta. There’s certainly reason to think a slow start is possible. Since the All-Star break in 2015, Peralta has been in significant decline, and a thumb injury last spring did not help.
I am projecting Jhonny Peralta for:
The fact that Jedd Gyorko set the record for fewest RBI’s in a thirty home-run season speaks to the flukiness of his 2016. Nearly twice as many fly balls resulted in home-runs for Gyorko than they did in 2015 with San Diego. While some uptick in HR/FB could be attributed to leaving the hitters wasteland that is PETCO Park, I expect some decline in this area from 2016. But, the 17.2% I am projecting is still higher than any season in San Diego.In terms of OPS, we have a slightly below average offensive player (.727 to .739). There are definitely worse players in the major leagues, but the Cardinals a rebound from Peralta that I don’t foresee.
Not only were more of Gyorko’s fly balls becoming home-runs, he was hitting more fly balls than he ever had. After a diminishing FB% following his rookie year of 2013, Gyorko elevated 40.3% of the balls he put in play. Combining career highs in FB% and HR/FB% means it is very unlikely that he does not repeat the power he showed in 2016.
One area we could see progression is BABIP. While Gyorko has never been exceptionally good at getting hits, his .244 BABIP was well below his career average. Some of this could be due to a career low line drive percentage, but much of it can be chalked up to bad luck. I am projecting Peralta to bat .276 on balls in play in 2017.
All things considered, we end up with:
I projected Gyorko and Peralta for the same number of plate appearances to make them easier to compare. One thing Gyorko has going for is his above average power. While his average and OBP leave something to be desired, he slugs well above league average.
Neither are particularly inspiring. If another option becomes available, like Mark Trumbo, the front office should explore it. However, I still think the Cardinals have something to work with at the hot corner. Gyorko and Peralta must be used properly, which could be Matheny’s toughest task in 2017.
Thanks for reading, as always.