When a nagging calf strain forced the St. Louis Cardinals to place first baseman Matt Adams on the disabled list, the club promoted all-universe barreler of pitched baseballs Oscar Taveras to the majors. (And what a big-league debut he had.) Adams began his rehab stint last night with Triple-A Memphis and is playing his fourth and apparently final game with the Redbirds today. With Adams set to return to the St. Louis roster, should the Cardinals send Taveras back down to Memphis?
To look at Taveras’s batting line over his first 40 big-league PAs is to be underwhelmed and perhaps even disappointed. His slash line of .189/.225/.297 works out to a .231 wOBA and 43 wRC+. That’s downright WIG-like, at least on the surface.
First, let us sing that familiar sabermetric refrain: Small Sample Size. 40 PAs is ridiculously small. 37 ABs is tinier still. Stats born out of such a minute sample are subject to wild fluctuation. For example, if Taveras had just three more batted balls safely find the outfield grass, his BA would be .270. I’m not one much for giving players credit for something they didn’t accomplish results-wise on the field (like giving them credit for three hits they didn’t notch), but Taveras’s plate approach and swing make such an exercise somewhat less offensive to my predilections. Taveras’s peripherals reveal a batter who has put good swings on major-league pitching.
Taveras has swung and missed 2.5% of the time by Fangraphs swinging-strike rate (SwStr%). Let me repeat that: Taveras has come up empty on just 2.5% of his swings. At 9.1%, the MLB non-pitcher SwStr% is over triple that of Taveras. Small sample size, sure, but that’s an awful lot of contact.
Speaking of contact, Taveras has done nothing to disprove the scouting reports indicating that he has an innate and elite skill at barreling the baseball. If a baseball is thrown, Taveras can hit it.
MLB non-pitchers have made contact 79.7% of the time this year. Taveras has done so 92.4% of the time. On pitches in the zone, those MLB players who aren’t pitchers have made contact 87.3% of the time. Taveras? 92.5%. Perhaps my favorite Taveras contact stat is the fact that he’s basically equaled his in-zone contact rate on pitches outside the zone: 92.3%. This compared to the MLB non-pitcher out-of-zone contact rate of 65.7%. Yes, it’s a small sample size, but holy shit. This gives my eyeballs so much confirmation (bias?).
Despite Taveras’s solid debut and mouth-watering contact skill, the Cardinals should demote him to Triple-A upon Adams’s activation from the DL. As Joe broke down earlier in the season, there could easily be enough playing time carved out for Taveras. But that presupposes manager Mike Matheny is willing to do so. And I don’t think he is.
Just last night, Matheny opted to play Jon Jay in left field over Taveras against a lefthanded starter. There’s little reason to think that Matheny will carve out playing time for the inexperienced Taveras in center at the expense of Jay, with his veteran proveyness. Likewise, I find it hard to believe that Matheny would sit Matt Holliday or Allen Craig in favor of Taveras against righthanded pitching (however bad Craig has performed against righties so far this season and however much Holliday’s back may need more regular days off) or Adams against southpaws (however bad Big Mayo’s results against southpaws have been during his big-league career).
It’s a question of development. Taveras needs to play daily or something very close to it. With Adams on the DL, Taveras could do that in St. Louis. But with Adams activated, an outfield consisting of Holliday, Craig, Jay, Bourjos, and Grichuk (or Shane Robinson), and Matheny penciling in the lineup, the PAs won’t be plentiful or regular enough for Taveras. Without frequent playing time, it’s difficult to justify having Taveras on the St. Louis 25-man roster from either a development or financial (Super Two arbitration qualification) perspective. Consequently, the Cardinals should demote Taveras upon Adams’s activation.