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The adjustment tool

Whatever their physical tools, the success of Aledmys Diaz, Matt Carpenter and Stephen Piscotty is based largely on their ability to make adjustments.

Patrick Gorski-USA TODAY Sports

Advance Scouting is nothing new in baseball, but in this era when data is more easily compiled, the speed at which teams develop a "book" on a player is faster than ever.

Look even just at the heat maps in this piece Joe Schwarz wrote about Aledmys Diaz at the end of May. In April, Diaz was a relative unknown, and pitchers mixed-it-up with balls all around the zone. By May, they were attacking him almost exclusively with balls down-and-away, and Diaz began to struggle.

And then in June, a magical thing happened. Aledmys Diaz adjusted to the way he was being attacked, and went back to being a well-above-average offensive shortstop.

I'm not going to get too deep into how Diaz adjusted, although Bernie Miklasz did here. The walk rate is up and he's hitting more balls to the opposite field, suggesting he's either leaving that low-and-outside pitch alone or driving it the other way. Yes, we're in small-sample-size territory. Yes, dividing his performance on a monthly basis sets arbitrary end-points. But for now, call me a believer.

Let's hope Diaz can continue to follow in the footsteps of Matt Carpenter, the Patron Saint of Making Adjustments. I wrote this spring about Carpenter's preternatural ability to mold himself into a new player: The contact guy, the walk guy, the power guy, and his promise to combine them Voltron-style into the best possible Matt Carpenter in 2016.

And how has Carpenter been doing in pursuing that goal? Thus far, he has kept and even increased the power, he's lowered the strikeouts, his walk rate is up... Jeff Sullivan at Fangraphs is even pondering if Carpenter is becoming Jose Bautista.

Stephen Piscotty, the third member of the current MV3 (or at least the top three guys in terms of WAR), has also shown a propensity to make adjustments. He went into 2015 looking to improve his power stroke. His ISO spiked in the minors that season, and he's maintained increased power in the majors. As he approaches 600 MLB plate appearances for his career, he's remained remarkably consistent, unfazed by whatever "book" opposing pitchers have put together on him.

Contrast these three with Randal Grichuk, a Greek God of a man with an absolutely elite power tool. The story of Grichuk's career thus far, despite occasional reports of a breakthrough, has been an inability to make adjustments. Slight improvements to his walk and strikeout rates this season are a ray of hope, but the shift is absolutely killing him.

Grichuk sports a 115 wRC+ without the shift; just a 75 wRC+ against the shift. Has that become part of the book on him? Prior to this season, only 6% of his PAs were against the shift. This season, teams have shifted on him in 41% of his PAs.

It can happen just that fast. Consider how quickly American League pitchers swarmed when they detected a small hole in the swing of even the great Mike Trout.

Now, as you may have heard a time or two during a Cardinals broadcast, Grichuk was drafted just before Trout. And look, I'm not really putting too much stock in draft position, but in some crude way, it does suggest that the two players appeared roughly equivalent in terms of tools in June of 2009. There are many reasons why Mike Trout is maybe the greatest player who ever lived and Randal Grichuk is back in Memphis, but Trout's ability to adjust - as he did soon after Jeff Sullivan's article on that "hole" appeared - can't be overlooked.

Advance Scouting used to be a much less formalized endeavor. The Book on a hitter might be a general notion to "keep the ball away," and if a guy had a tendency to pull the ball, the infielders might take a step or two in that direction. Now pitchers are given actual charts, and all of the infielders will go and stand exactly where that hitter pulls the ball.

The Cardinals - and certainly every other organization - make an effort to identify players who will be able to make adjustments. Howard Megdal's The Cardinals Way includes stories of coaches at showcases asking players to make adjustments, not particularly to measure the results, but just to see if they are willing and able to do it. That "coachability" factors into their draft stock.

But truly measuring a player's future ability to make adjustments will likely remain a difficult task. Players with elite tools will be able to ride those tools to success throughout amateur ball and the minor leagues. Even in the upper minors, as one player told the VEB podcast last year, advance scouting reports are minimal and unreliable. A player might well ride elite tools all the way to the majors, only then to have a hole exposed, and only then for the organization to find out if he's a player with the ability to make adjustments and close that hole.

I don't think it's a coincidence that these three recently emerging, top performers on the Cardinals are united less by their Prospect Pedigree and more by their ability to make adjustments.