FanPost

What would it take for the Cards' young batters to reach their potential?

Over the past few weeks I have written posts on Randal Grichuk and on Kolten Wong examining the offensive potential of each player by considering various thresholds in his plate discipline and power and what sort of BABIP performance these thresholds would imply.

I think both posts provide a nice context for analyzing a large slice of potential offensive profiles for Grichuk and Wong, but looking at players like Stephen Piscotty and Aledmys Diaz began to lead me towards a more holistic analysis; that is to say, I wanted to try to form basic outlines for all these players that use information from many aspects of their respective game and return an overall value.

You might realize that what I'm talking about is basically a series of VERY rough and unsophisticated projections. I make no claims that what I present in this post is unbiased or statistically rigorous. I have tried to achieve the former as much as possible, and I do not have the requisite knowledge to achieve the latter.

With that said, let's get down to the details. First, who? Naturally, since the goal of this exercise is to put bounds on what we can realistically expect from a group of players, I decided to go with the (position) players that we have the last information about: the youngsters. And no, that does not include Tommy Pham. Not today, anyway. I'd like to take a look at him another day, because Pham is a player who intrigues me verily. But to return to my answer, the youngsters: Grichuk, Wong, Piscotty, and Diaz.

Why Diaz? Well, I wouldn't have included him a few days ago, but now that the Cardinals are going to be without their heretofore presumed starting shortstop Jhonny Peralta for the next 2-3 months, I thought now would be a good time as any to take a look at Diaz, the intriguing player that we've heard so many different things about over the past two seasons and the guy who seems first in line for the lion's share of PAs at shortstop to start the season. Diaz is also still quite young, like the other players I examine in this post: none of them are older than 25.

The next question is how. Well, I made use of one of the best resources available to the average baseball fan: Fangraphs. Since I'm looking to estimate player production over a season, I naturally availed myself extensively of their very well-explained article on WAR for position players as well as their 2015 batting leaderboard and their Guts! page. All of the constants I used were from the 2015 season, including the linear weights for wOBA and the many constants necessary for making WAR league- and park-adjusted.

For each player I made a set of assumptions to deal with the more pieces of the WAR calculation that I can't really predict based on the short careers of the players concerned in this post: 600 PA for each, which equates to roughly a full, injury-free season for a starter; the player's BsR (the base-running component of WAR) score; the number of fielding runs (half of the defensive component of WAR) the player would accumulate; and the SINGLE position the player would occupy in the field (used to calculate the other half of the defensive component of WAR). I explicitly note each assumption for each player. If you disagree with any of them, feel free to let me know in the comments.

Finally, for the players with MLB experience already under their belt, I needed a way to mete out the ratios of their non-HR hits so as to calculate wOBA. For triples, I decided that the least ridiculous guess would be to simply assign the same number of triples to each one based on the triple-per-hit ratio of MLB in 2015: 2-3 total, depending on how many hits I project a player to record. It seemed reasonable to me, so I went with it. For doubles, I did the same thing, but this time prorated it to 600 PA using each player's ratio of doubles to non-HR hits. The remaining hits that were neither HR nor triples nor doubles were counted, unsurprisingly, as singles.

With all of that said, let's take a look at what I came up with. The results for each player are divided into three scenarios: fairly pessimistic, moderate, and his ceiling, with his BB%, HR, triple-slash, wOBA, and WAR total listed for each one.

The first guy we'll look at is Randal Grichuk, for whom I assumed the following: 600 PA, a BsR of 0 (completely average), and 2.5 fielding runs in centerfield. Here's his table.

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Edit: As cardzfanbub pointed out in the comments, my original table for Grichuk was too rosy on his low and mid projections. I think this is completely correct, and I have to confess that before I originally published this FanPost I was not particularly sure of how to present Grichuk various scenarios. The difficulty, I believe, derives from the huge variance inherent in Randal's profile, and so in order to fully capture this I decided to add another row to Grichuk's table: it is entitled "LOW" with the previous row under that title now designated as "LOW-MID" and the previous "MID" projection listed as "HIGH-MID". Hopefully this better encapsulates the wide range of possibilities that Randal might realize.

I held Grichuk's BB% constant at 6% for all four scenarios because, as I did in my previous post on the Jaguar God, I wanted to focus on batting average and power, which are the two dimensions of his offensive profile that have the potential to vary the most and thereby affect his production the most--and yes, that implicitly assumes certain things about his BABIP as well, which was also the point.

What struck me about this table was the rosy picture it paints of the rad, racing hulk. As you can see, I believe that, given 600 healthy PA, Grichuk has a high chance reach the 25-homer threshold. He's smacked 20 bombs in 466 career MLB PAs, and pictures from Spring Training reveal that he is challenging Matt Holliday for the thickest forearms in camp. The power is real, and if he can keep that strikeout rate from getting too much higher than 30%, then he should make enough contact to tap into it--in my opinion, anyway.

In the low scenario we see the ugly side of Randal's free-swinging profile. In this situation, after having gotten a feel for how to pitch to him, major-league pitchers figure out how to exploit the gaping holes in his swing, and the result is a meager .225 batting average and .278 OBP. Grichuk still flashes above-average power, with a .172 ISO buoyed largely by 20 homers, but his BABIP craters as a greater fraction of his fly balls find gloves instead of seats. That .292 wOBA is significantly below average, and could be termed as "awful." It translates to a wRC+ of about 80.

Peter Bourjos' career wRC+? 90.

In the next scenario, we see Gunrick take on a much more palatable form. Even with a pedestrian .250 AVG and a below-average .302 OBP, Grichuk's immense power would allow him to post a .325 wOBA, which is slightly above average. With scratch baserunning and positive defense at a premium position, Grichuk would actually be a solid regular, posting 3.0 WAR.

That number surprises me a little, but I don't really see anything blatantly wrong with the numbers, so, well, great! Maybe you're more optimistic and think he'll swat 30 round-trippers while posting a solid batting average of .275. In that case, the Cardinals' starting centerfielder becomes a sure-fire All-Star, with a well-above-average .357 wOBA and a fantastic 4.6 WAR. I'll admit that this scenario is more positive than a truly moderate projection: maybe you believe Grichuk hits 30 bombs or hits .275, but not both. Either way, this version of the Chuk doesn't seem THAT unrealistic on its own, and that should make you feel good as a fan of the Birds on the Bat.

Finally, we arrive at Grichuk's best-case scenario. Not only does he smoke 35 homers, but he also puts the ball in play enough to take advantage of his probably-nonexistent high-BABIP skill, culminating in a slash line of 300/348/568. Wrap all that up in a centerfielder who actually saves runs and you're looking at a 25-year old MVP candidate, ladies and gentleman. Wouldn't it be cool if Mike Trout and Randal Grichuk were both MVPs in the same year? I think it would be.

Next on our list is the Cardinals' newly-extended second baseman Kolten Wong. My assumptions for Kolten: 600 PA, 4 BsR (great), and 5 fielding runs at the keystone. Here's his table.

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Wong's pessimistic scenario has his offensive numbers sagging, summarized by a poor .291 wOBA. Thankfully, Wong's defense and baserunning at an important defensive position keep his production from slipping too far. 1.9 WAR is right around average for a starter, and it's not a bad thing to have a league-average player locked in at an important position for the next 5 years.

Wong's moderate scenario is pretty, well, moderate. A 6% walk rate might be a little high for him, but just barely; last year's mark was 5.8%, and his minor league rate is 7.7%. 15 homers is also right around what you'd expect from Wong, given his numbers in his first two MLB seasons.

Really, the difference between this scenario and Wong's 2015 season is that Wong hits 3 homers in the last two months of play instead of 0 and that he plays up to his ability on defense, rather than making the hard plays and booting too many easy ones. I think this sort of season is exceptionally manageable for Kolten, and I wouldn't be at all surprised to see him put up numbers like these next season when he finally gets comfortable in the big leagues.

Wong's ceiling isn't quite as dazzling as Grichuk's is, but it's darn good in its own right. In this scenario he improves his walk rate a bit more than expected and launches dingers at the pace he did from July 2014 to June 2015: 20 homers in 597 PA, plus 3 more in the 2014 postseason. Along with his great numbers on defense and on the bases, this performance would make Wong a regular All-Star, and a top-5 second baseman in the league--perhaps in the game, although I'm too tired to do any research to back that up.

Edit: I finally got around to this basic research, and it turns out that my claim was indeed correct. 4.5 wins would give Kolten the third highest fWAR total for a second baseman. That's stellar.

Any way you slice it, 4.5 WAR from the young second baseman would be welcomed enthusiastically by the Cardinals, especially considering the extension they just finalized with Kolten.

I was planning on covering Stephen Piscotty and Aledmys Diaz in this post as well, but I see that I'm already nearing 1600 words, so I'll cut it short. I'll finish things up another day, with a look at the last two players and a quick summary of everything presented in the two posts.

Again, if you have any questions about my process or if you disagree with any of my assumptions, please don't hesitate to make a note of it in the comments section.