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Bad decisions in the outfield

The Cardinals have made inexplicable lineup decisions regarding one of the three outfield positions

MLB: Chicago Cubs at St. Louis Cardinals Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

The Cardinals are frustrating to watch. Obviously. They have lost the last five games they’ve played, although against very good teams. But a five game losing streak is still a five game losing streak, no matter who the opponents are. But that’s not specifically why they’re frustrating to watch. I can handle losses. Some of them anyway. It’s a long season, this sport isn’t for you if you can’t handle a bad streak of games.

What’s frustrating is the Cardinals outfield. What in the hell are they doing? I wrote a post saying that Harrison Bader should start a couple weeks ago, and I won’t rehash that, seeing as I am firmly in the minority in the Cardinals fanbase with still positive feelings towards Bader and his future. Fine Bader is not the answer, right now. I’ll concede that point. Whatever name they pick out of a hat to field to man right field, however, is certainly not the answer either.

I cannot, honestly I cannot try and even pretend that I understand the logic between Yairo Munoz and Tommy Edman starting in RF. I guess I could pretend, but it would operate on a level of self-delusion I have so far not been able to accomplish. There are a couple reasons I could make up for why they are being forced into the starting lineup, and I’m going to do my best to come up with them as possible rationalizations.

The first reason is that Mike Shildt feels Munoz and Edman have to get into the lineup. They need to play and he will find any way to have them play. .... But why? Why are these the two players who have to play? Lane Thomas is just chopped liver? He has made ZERO effort to play Thomas except for pinch-running, late game defense and pinch-hitting when games are out of hand and honestly that’s not a thing I would care about except YAIRO MUNOZ AND TOMMY EDMAN ARE STARTING OUTFIELDERS.

Secondly, Shildt believes Munoz and Edman are capable outfield defenders, which might be true in a beer softball league. Unfortunately, it’s the major leagues. Munoz is a defensive replacement for Jose Martinez and honestly, I’m not sure he’s an improvement. He’s faster, sure. He also has zero instincts for how to play the outfield, which makes sense since he’s not an outfielder. I mean he’s probably better defensively than Jose, but I cannot definitively say he is, having seen both play and having seen Jose at least throw runners out on the basepaths. Edman hasn’t played outfield since he was in grade school, there is zero chance he’s good out there right now. So the idea that either is a capable outfielder is absurd.

The other reason, maybe, is that Shildt thinks their bats will turn around, that they just need one more game. Which is nice and all, except the projected numbers think they stink too. Both have gotten 100+ PAs this year, and don’t really show any sign of becoming above average hitters. I could see both being in the 90ish wRC+ range hitters, but that’s not a bat you force into a position when they can’t play that position well. So in my mind, you have two players who are pretty decidedly below average in the field with below average bats.

Then there’s the other guy who plays if they don’t play: Jose Martinez. We pretty well know what Martinez is at this point and it’s not a guy who should start anywhere near every day. Start him against lefties. Have him be your first pinch-hitter off the bench. That should be his playing time. That has not been his playing time.

The offense being bad is not a mystery. You have three players playing pretty much exactly to expectations (Marcell Ozuna, Dexter Fowler, Kolten Wong), and one player playing a little better than expected offensively (Paul DeJong). Everyone else but Matt Weiters has been a disappointment, and cumulatively, catcher has still easily been a below average position offensively on the year, probably even compared to the field of other catchers.

The third outfield spot with Edman, Munoz, and Martinez splitting time is a little different than the rest. There is very little hope they will ever been anything but replacement level. Jose Martinez is a -10 RF with a 97 wRC+ on the season and a 103 wRC+ rest of season projection. That’s replacement level. Yairo Munoz is a 72 wRC+ hitter this year with a 78 wRC+ rest of season projection with defense that needs to be above average in order to even reach replacement level. Tommy Edman, 72 wRC+ hitter with a 70 wRC+ rest of season projection, same story as Munoz. Honestly, you can try to argue either Munoz or Edman is better defensively than I’m portraying in the outfield, but it’s not like their bats are picking up the slack anyway. They need their defense to be good to be replacement level in the outfield.

I’m not specifically arguing for Bader to start, but he should start over them since his wRC+ is 72 and he has an 82 wRC+ rest of season projection and oh yeah he’s like 20 runs better defensively than these three guys. Lane Thomas? 80 wRC+ rest of season projection and a lot less blind faith to believe his defense is above average in the corners than the three there now. You can throw Randy Arozarena in here too, though I am admittedly a bit more skeptical of him since he has a .441 BABIP, but he’s very obviously better than Edman or Munoz or Martinez. (Tyler O’Neill presumably will take over the playing time when he returns, but presumably is doing a lot of work for assumptions I would have made before season that ended up happening)

So, Shildt, you got to stop starting those three. There’s very little short-term gain and absolutely zero long-term benefit from this. Martinez is a bat and nothing more and he’s currently not much of a bat. Munoz and Edman are never going to be good enough hitters to warrant playing in RF longer term. Edman, fine if you insist, give him some reps in spring training, I do not know why he’s there now when HE HASN’T PLAYED SINCE GRADE SCHOOL. This is insane. What the hell are the Cardinals doing with the outfield?