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Is right field a St. Louis Cardinals strength or weakness this postseason?

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With Carlos Beltran manning right field last October, the position was a strength for the Cardinals. With Beltran gone, is right field a strength or a weakness this postseason?

Tom Szczerbowski

Last October, Carlos Beltran patrolled right field for the National League pennant-winning St. Louis Cardinals. Beltran batted .296/.339/.491 (.359 wOBA, 131 wRC+) during the 2013 regulations season. The smooth switch-hitter is also one of if not the greatest postseason batter in the history of baseball, as reflected by his career .333/.445/.683 (.469 wOBA, 195 wRC+) October stat line. While Beltran's defensive range wasn't what it once was, his offensive prowess made right field an undeniable strength for the Cardinals.

Last Hot Stove, the Cardinals extended a qualifying offer to Beltran and then didn't really negotiate with the veteran. Beltran, who would be 37 for the 2014 season, signed with the Yankees for three years and $45 million. The Cardinals understandably were fine letting the aging Beltran walk, for they could install Matt Adams, who had batted .284/.335/.503 (.365 wOBA, 135 wRC+) as a part-timer in 2013, at first base and shift Allen Craig, the incumbent cleanup hitter with a 2013 stat line of .315/.373/.457 (.363 wOBA, 134 wRC+), to right field in the place of Beltran. It was a fine plan, but even the best-laid plans sometimes don't work out.

Consider the following chart:

Player

BA

OBP

SLG

OPS

ISO

wOBA

wRC+

A

.245

.278

.400

.678

.155

.299

90

B

.237

.291

.346

.638

.109

.286

81

C

.239

.278

.312

.590

.073

.265

67

D

.231

.294

.348

.643

.117

.287

82

I put these players in a random order so that you, dear reader, couldn't immediately guess their respective identities based on their placement top to bottom on the chart. So we'll bounce around and discuss them. Each player donned the birds on the bat this season and has had an impact on right field in some way.

Allen Craig (Player B)

It was difficult to watch Craig, a 2011 hero as well as 2012 and 2013 stalwart, struggle so mightily this season. But no matter how horrible Craig looked at the plate, manager Mike Matheny stuck with him. In July, Matheny even indicated that he felt a lineup with Craig (who has long brought negative value to the table on the bases and afield) gave the Cards the best chance to win in spite of his awful batting. Nostalgia for the Craig of yesteryear had plainly clouded Matheny's assessment of the Craig that swung before us this season and, out of sentimentality-fueled loyalty, Matheny stood by his guy. That is until general manager John Mozeliak stepped in and separated Matheny from Craig by shipping the one-time slugger to Boston (with Joe Kelly) for John Lackey. At the time of the trade, Craig had notched 398 PAs with the Cards and posted a .237/.291/.346 (.286 wOBA, 81 wRC+). With the Red Sox, Craig hit .128/.234/.191 (.208 wOBA, 22 wRC+). Unloading Craig was classic addition by subtraction. The move untethered Matheny from his veteran loyalty and allowed him to mix and match outfield alignments.

Oscar Taveras (Player C)

Taveras was The Next Big Thing entering the season. A consensus top-five prospect for two consecutive offseasons, the expectations for the young lefthander with the violent swing had grown outsized as he arrived in Jupiter at the age of 21, attempting to return from ankle surgery that had ended his 2013 early. Taveras made his big-league debut at the end of May because of an Adams injury and hit a homer in his first game. But he struggled after that, the Cardinals demoted him upon Adams's activation from the DL, and then recalled Taveras in July. During his second MLB stint, Taveras continued to scuffle. Even after the Cardinals cleared the way for him to play almost daily by trading Craig, Taveras still didn't hit much. But down the home stretch, Taveras has started to hit a bit.

Month

BABIP

BA

OBP

SLG

OPS

ISO

wOBA

wRC+

April

-

-

-

-

-

-

-

-

May

.000

.333

.333

1.333

.1667

1.000

.712

372

June

.207

.176

.216

.206

.422

.029

.192

17

July

.241

.222

.246

.302

.548

.079

.244

53

August

.297

.244

.292

.289

.581

.044

.264

66

September

.324

.295

.340

.386

.727

.091

.326

109

Taveras has gradually improved since the canyon-esque valley of June. And in September he was a batsman comfortably above the park-adjusted league average, as reflected by his 109 wRC+. While the power still hasn't revealed itself, Taveras appears to be learning and maturing as a hitter. This makes him a nice option for Matheny this postseason.

Randal Grichuk (Player A)

According to Mozeliak, the Cardinals would not have traded David Freese and Fernando Salas to the Angels for Peter Bourjos alone. The trade wouldn't have happened without Grichuk, a player the Cardinals have liked since before he was drafted by the Angels in the 2009 draft. When the offense got off to a sluggish collective start this season, the Cardinals promoted Grichuk to the majors in an attempt to give the club a jolt. But the vicious-swinging 22-year-old struggled with the ungodly breaking balls hurled by major-league pitchers and was demoted after an underwhelming cup of coffee in St. Louis. However, a Shane Robinson injury gave Grichuk another opportunity—and he's seized it.

Month

BABIP

BA

OBP

SLG

OPS

ISO

wOBA

wRC+

April

.333

.143

.143

.143

.286

.000

.127

-27

May

.231

.167

.250

.333

.583

.167

.259

63

June

.083

.105

.150

.263

.413

.158

.186

13

July

-

-

-

-

-

-

-

-

August

.417

.313

.313

.375

.688

.063

.303

93

September

.389

.320

.346

.520

.866

.200

.379

145

Since Grichuk's recall to St. Louis, he has notched 68 Pas and batted .318/.338/.485 (.361 wOBA, 132 wRC+). He still isn't walking (2.9% walk rate since his second promotion to the majors) but he's lowered his strikeouts to an acceptable level. With the power Grichuk brings to the table, he's an outfield option as enticing as he is promising.

Peter Bourjos (Player D)

Like many of his Cardinals teammates, Bourjos got off to an ugly start with the bat. Matheny responded to the team's slow start by burying newcomers like Bourjos (or outright banishing them to Triple-A, in the case of rookie Kolten Wong) and doubling down on incumbent Cardinals, men with whom Matheny had previously been through the 162-game grind and October battles. As a result, opportunity was hard for Bourjos to come by throughout much of the season's early months. The fact that incumbent center fielder Jon Jay was hitting very well didn't help Bourjos's case for playing time. But the Craig trade has allowed Matheny to play Jay and Bourjos side-by-side, with Bourjos in center and Jay in right, giving the Cards very good outfield defense. And during the season's later months, Bourjos's hitting has improved.

Month

BABIP

BA

OBP

SLG

OPS

ISO

wOBA

wRC+

April

.242

.160

.250

.260

.510

.100

.236

47

May

.326

.238

.294

.349

.643

.111

.289

83

June

.273

.204

.259

.306

.565

.102

.245

53

July

.400

.360

.407

.600

1.007

.240

.436

184

August

.333

.250

.333

.406

.740

.156

.332

113

September

.333

.244

.292

.311

.603

.067

.272

71

Bourjos has put together a very good second half. So good, in fact, that I wouldn't be surprised to see the Holliday-Bourjos-Jay outfield alignment with some regularity this October.

#

Looking at the overall stat lines for the Cardinals' right-field options this October would understandably lead one to conclude that the position has been a black hole this season and is a weakness in the postseason. But the Cardinals have a 22-year-old (Taveras) and a just-turned-23-year-old (Grichuk) in the mix, and both of whom have developed as the season has progressed. Throw in the option of starting all-universe defender Bourjos in center and shifting Jay, with his .303/.372/.378 (.336 wOBA, 116 wRC+) batting line, to right and the position is a solid one this October, even if it's far from Beltran-esque.