The St. Louis Cardinals had few questions going into the 2016 off-season, With many of the questions answered, the focus turned to who should be the starting third baseman, Jedd Gyorko or Jhonny Peralta. Before we answer that question, let’s look back at how the other questions were answered.
Almost all the buzz in the early off-season centered around the outfield market, after John Mozeliak mentioned center field as a position to upgrade. Athleticism was the target for improving a bad, possibly terrible, defensive team. The signing of Dexter Fowler, and shifting of Randal Grichuk has improved the defensive lineup. Say what you will about the metrics in Fowler’s ability to play superior defense to Grichuk in CF, but Grichuk in LF is definitely superior to the 2016 options.
The frustration now has turned toward the infield. Matt Carpenter has been given a permanent position at first base. Probably long overdue, but Kolten Wong has been told to prepare for a full season at second base. A confident Wong will be an elite defender and hopefully he will perform well enough at the plate to not give Mike Matheny reason to sit him for long streaks. The left side of the infield has been a target for fan and media speculation. Aledmys Diaz looked tentative for the early part of the season. This is a guy who barely played above Double-A, before breaking loose with the bat in the later part of 2015. A good portion of his early days in the minors was spent trying to find an infield position, and breaking off two years of rust. Diaz hit enough to get a look in Spring, but was surprisingly sent back to minor league camp after the signing of Ruben Tejada. Diaz played his way back into favor with management and became an all-star. His defense improved in the second half of the season after the game slowed down for him.
The last remaining question mark is unfortunately a large one. The incumbent third baseman is Jhonny Peralta. Injured for a large part first half last year, Peralta returned to play the majority of third the second half of the season. His age related regression was sped up due to wrist issues. Peralta returned with very little extra base power, and seemed to favor the wrist the entire season. I expect a small bounce back from him, due to contract year motivation. I also think a rested Peralta could be valuable to the 2017 team.
The long term solution
The starting third baseman for the 2017 and beyond, should be Jedd Gyorko. Presumably acquired to be a super sub, and right hand platoon for Wong, Gyorko turned into one of the most valuable bats to the 2016 team.
After a rookie season in 2013 in which he hit 23 homers with .745 OPS, and a contract extension, Gyorko was demoted in 2014. The problem with that season turned out to be case of plantar faciatis that wrecked the balance in his swing. His BB rate was up while his K rate was down, but his hard contact level plummeted. 2015 was productive with 16 homers and an OPS of .694.His walk rate was a career low 5.9%, possibly due to aggressiveness to put 2014 in the rear view.
Acquired via trade in December, management loved his ability to strengthen a weak bench. 30 home runs and an ..801 OPS proved to be a valuable everyday bat. Projections point toward slightly less numbers, but in fewer games and at bats. Gyorko maintains the power that could be lost with the departing Matt Holliday, and almost definitely Brandon Moss. Naturally a third baseman, he was moved to second to get his bat in the lineup. Defensive metrics show that third was arguably his best position in 2016. Gyorko could put up comparable career numbers of given the at bats.
Jedd Gyorko needs to be in the lineup everyday. Let’s hope that allows the “athleticism ” mentioned early in the off-season to stay in place with Wong at second. Gyorko needs to take at bats away from Peralta and let Wong breathe at second. The lineup will be better for it.
Thanks for reading!
Thanks for reading.