Most of the starting spots for the Cardinals are set. If healthy, Yadier Molina will be starting catcher. If not Brayan Pena will be getting the bulk of innings behind the plate. Matt Carpenter is entrenched at third, same with Peralta and Wong up the middle. Holliday is set to again fill Left field, although he is now taking reps at first. Either way he will be a starter, and at this point him starting at first is a long shot, so this analysis will assume he is in Left.
The remaining three positions have five candidates to fill the job. Randal Grichuk, Tommy Pham, Stephen Piscotty, Brandon Moss, and Matt Adams will be competing with one another for the Center Field, Right Field, and First Base spots. Due to the positional versatility of the players involved, Moss, Adams, and Piscotty is the only combination that won't work because either Randal Grichuk or Tommy Pham will need to man Center Field. And that's where we'll start our analysis:
Center Field: Randal Grichuk vs. Tommy Pham
Both of these players had fine 2015 seasons. Let's review each players stats:
|Grichuk||6.3 %||31.4 %||.272||.365||.276||.329||.548||.370||137||1.9||17.1||1.1||3.1|
|Pham||11.0 %||23.7 %||.209||.333||.268||.347||.477||.352||125||3.3||8.4||0.8||1.5|
As I covered last week, Grichuk had one of the worst plate approaches in the league last year, but made up for it with amazing results when making contact. Pham is more balanced. He had a well above average walk rate and while he struck out a little more than average (league average among non-pitchers in 2015 was 19.9%) he still is a lot better than Randal in the category.
Of course, Randal had much better results on contact, but Pham had good results as well and neither had enough of a sample size to have much faith in them. So let's examine their batted ball stats and see what we can gleam:
|Grichuk||20.6 %||37.9 %||10.1 %||19.1 %||12.3 %||50.5 %||30.8 %||18.7 %||36.9 %|
|Pham||21.2 %||51.3 %||3.2 %||16.1 %||6.9 %||30.1 %||43.4 %||26.6 %||38.1 %|
This actually paints a really clear picture. Pham's slightly higher LD%, higher GB%, lower pop-up rate, and his ability to hit to all fields points towards Pham having a better chance of doing well on balls in play. Grichuk's lower GB%, slightly higher HR/FB rate, and higher Pull% indicates that Grichuk should supply more power. Of course, the sample size here is still smaller than what we would prefer, but it's not meaningless at this point either.
For instance both player's HR/FB rate are more likely to regress than not. Grichuk's rate was just behind Edwin Encarnacion, David Ortiz, and Ryan Braun. Pham's was just behind Brandon Crawford, Adrian Gonzalez, and Adams Jones. Both Grichuk and Pham fell short of a qualified season, but the six others did, and were all in the top 25 in HR/FB rate in 2015 (out of a player pool of 141). We can't assume they're that good yet, but at least they have that level of potential.
First Base: Brandon Moss vs. Matt Adams vs. Stephen Piscotty
This situation is a bit more complicated, and there are handedness issues to consider. Adams and Moss have both hit weaker against LHP in their career:
|Adams vs L||230||3.9 %||30.9 %||.197||.230||.317||.119||.259||.241||50|
|Adams vs R||929||5.9 %||20.2 %||.296||.337||.485||.189||.343||.355||128|
|Moss vs L||559||9.3 %||28.1 %||.246||.322||.399||.153||.323||.318||100|
|Moss vs. R||2097||9.5 %||25.8 %||.243||.322||.463||.220||.289||.339||114|
|2013-2014 Moss||1085||10.8 %||27.0 %||.234||.291||.244||.335||.478||.353||129||1.1||35.9||-29||4.6|
|2015 Moss||526||9.3 %||28.1 %||.181||.285||.226||.304||.407||.308||94||-0.4||-3.9||-7.8||0.6|
|2013-2014 Adams||882||5.6 %||22.0 %||.187||.338||.287||.327||.474||.347||123||-2.5||20||-13.2||3.6|
|2015 Adams||186||5.4 %||22.0 %||.137||.285||.240||.280||.377||.284||78||0.9||-3.8||-0.3||0.2|
|2013-2014||22.6 %||37.9 %||6.4 %||12.7 %||41.8 %||32.7 %||25.5 %||34.9 %|
|2015||20.1 %||41.0 %||7.7 %||9.6 %||43.7 %||31.1 %||25.2 %||37.0 %|
|2013-2014||19.7 %||30.2 %||50.2 %||9.1 %||16.7 %||44.3 %||33.8 %||21.9 %||36.3 %|
|2015||20.4 %||32.5 %||47.1 %||6.6 %||12.5 %||49.4 %||30.6 %||20.1 %||39.2 %|
|Stephen Piscotty||7.8 %||21.9 %||.189||.372||.305||.359||.494||.364||133||-1.3||8.5||-6||1.1|
|21.2%||45.3 %||33.5 %||1.7 %||11.7 %||34.6 %||31.3 %||34.1 %||37.4 %|
Who I would start and where
Before I give you my picks for who would start where, a caveat: this analysis shows that all 5 of these players are very evenly matched. The difference between my preferred three and my least preferred three is going to be pretty small. Also all of these players except for Piscotty have extensive injury histories, so for parts of the season there will probably be no competition at all, just whichever three that are healthy will start.
But with that caveat, I would pick for Grichuk and Pham in the outfield, with Moss at first against RHP and Piscotty against LHP. Piscotty would also be the primary sub at all 3 outfield spots, with whoever plays RF shifting to center on days that the CF needs rest. I think Piscotty is a similar value to Grichuk and Pham at the plate, but those two are both likely to be better fielders than Piscotty in right.
This would lead to a good amount of playing time for everyone except Adams, who has no real role other than spelling Moss against RHP and pinch-hitting duties. But, an injury to Moss would put him at first against RHP and an injury to Piscotty would lead to him backing up all the outfield spots by proxy, and an injury to Pham or Grichuk would lead to him backing up the corners by proxy.
Who Steamer would start
The Steamer projections for each player, stretched out to 600 PA for the counting stats:
|Adams||6.0 %||21.1 %||.190||.309||.270||.316||.460||.332||111||7.5||-7.5||2|
|Grichuk||5.5 %||24.3 %||.196||.295||.249||.296||.445||.317||101||1.1||-2.2||1.9|
|Pham||8.2 %||22.6 %||.139||.331||.265||.329||.405||.320||103||3||-5.4||1.7|
|Moss||9.7 %||26.8 %||.205||.291||.240||.322||.445||.330||110||7||-13.3||1.3|
|Piscotty||7.5 %||16.8 %||.140||.304||.267||.327||.407||.319||103||1.2||-8.3||1.2|
So I think Adams is at the bottom of the bunch, but Steamer feels the opposite. Steamer and I completely disagree with Adams' projected ISO. He has been lower than that the last two years, and the only year he exceeded it was in 319 PA in 2013. Perhaps he gets extra credit for entering his age 27 season, with the assumption that he's entering his physical prime.
Who Matheny will start
Grichuk and Adams are the biggest Mike guys, so I have a hard time not seeing those two start. Moss has that veteran-y prove-y-ness though, so you can't count him out. If I had to guess I'd think those three will be starting opening day, with Matheny looking to get Piscotty in as often as he can. Pham I think will end up being the odd man out assuming everyone is healthy. Everyone will not stay healthy though, and I think the most obvious prediction is that if healthy, each player will have a shot at an everyday job. It will be interesting to see how it shakes out in 2016.