Allen Craig (2011), Pete Kozma (2012), Matt Adams (2013), Randal Grichuk (2014), and Tommy Pham (2015) all share at least one thing in common: hitting well in the month of September as rookies for the St. Louis Cardinals. For a perennial playoff team, September is a fun month because not only do you have the stretch run to pay attention to but you also have expanded rosters with rookies often getting more chances to showcase their ability than they received all season. And as you will see in the two graphs below, the Cardinals have reaped the benefits of hot-hitting rookies for five straight seasons now.
Using Standard Statistics
Using wRC+ (FanGraphs primer)
Not to discredit the performances of Craig, Kozma, Adams, or Grichuk, but what Pham has been able to do this season—particularly September—has not only been really impressive but necessary given the prolonged injuries to Matt Holliday (quad/head) and Grichuk (elbow), combined with the injury and subsequent ineffectiveness of incumbent center fielder Jon Jay (wrist/thumb). Where would the Cardinals be in the standings without the second-half performance of Pham (and no, I have not forgotten about what Stephen Piscotty has done, too)? The fact is, without Pham and Piscotty, I would not like the Cardinals' chances of being four games up on the Pirates and six up on the Cubs, with 11 games left to play.
Frankly, Pham's performance warrants a starting spot through the end of the regular season and into the playoffs. And no, this isn't one of those "you helped get us here, so let's reward you for it" scenarios, either. With Grichuk physically unable to throw the ball with any authority (honestly, with Pham playing the way he is, I have no idea why the medical staff is even pushing Grichuk this season), Jay swinging the bat harmlessly, and Holliday still not 100%, there are no real obstacles in Pham's way because he is the best option. What has been a long, enduring road to the big leagues is finally opening up to the 27.5 year old outfielder.
The last thing to consider is Pham's situation in 2016. His big-league performance thus far (1.5 fWAR in 149 plate appearances) shows that, when healthy, he definitely belongs in the show. Of course, his book is still being developed by opponents and pitchers will undoubtedly adjust their approach to line up with his flaws, but the talent is most definitely there and he has shown the ability to adapt himself already. With Holliday, Grichuk, Piscotty, Jay, and hopefully Heyward (do it, Mo) coming back, the outfield will once again be quite crowded, but as we have learned, especially this season, depth always seems to work itself out.
Tommy Pham has arrived at the fork in the road of his career, and damn, he's going to take it.