FOREWORD: Kolten Wong had a fantastic game last night (.229 WPA)—collecting three hits (two of the home run variety), scoring three runs, and knocking in two runs of his own. In fact, some may choose to call his performance "Beltran-esque." He's now had two Beltran-esque games in his last five, but with a .247/.291/.410 slash line and a 96 wRC+, it is apparent that consistency has been an issue for him all season. For every big game, there seems to be three or four hitless games. Wong has been hitless in 28 of 70 games played this season (40%). For comparative purposes, Matt Carpenter has been hitless in 37 of 112 games (33%). That's a 7% disparity, but the biggest difference is that in games Carpenter goes hitless, there is a good chance he still reached base, either via walk or hit by pitch (hence, the .380 on-base percentage).
One could make a solid argument that the number two slot is the most important spot in the lineup, and because of this, teams should consider putting their best hitter in that spot (The Angels agree with this). Wong has received 40% of the two-slot plate appearances (204/507) this season and has been in the two-slot every single game since his last day off (July 25th). Well, as we are all well aware of by now, the offense of the St. Louis Cardinals is 29th overall in runs scored. For perspective, the team was third in runs scored last season and fifth in 2012. When sifting through the lineup, one spot in particular stands out most: the number two slot.
(2014 line does include last night's game)
Based on the numbers seen in the chart, it is quite obvious that the Cardinals have missed the two-slot production from 2012-2013 Carlos Beltran. Unfortunately, for both the Cardinals and Beltran, that player no longer exists. Fortunately, Mike Matheny has viable in-house options that can fill the void that has been the number two slot.
All things considered, such as an unwarranted early-season demotion and a nagging shoulder injury, Wong has had a solid rookie season, but does this mean he is the team's best option in the number two slot? Many point to his speed (17/19 SB, 3.8 BsR) and drool about its utility in front of the lineup's big hitters, but the question is whether he gets on base enough (.291 OBP) for this to become a real factor?
Let's take a look at the rest of Matheny's options...
He has been the team's best, most-consistent hitter since the departure of Albert Pujols. Despite a declining average, his .365 on-base percentage is the second highest on the team behind Carpenter. Taking power into consideration (7 home runs in his last 22 games), he is arguably the team's hottest hitter. Though Holliday makes a whole lot of sense for the number two slot, it is unlikely, and surprisingly, I cannot really blame Matheny. He gave Holliday 57 plate appearances in the two slot earlier in the season (57 more PAs that I thought he would at the beginning of the season), and I applaud him for that. Given the current state of his bat, it is probably in the manager's best interest to just leave his lineup position alone.
The rookie right-fielder is currently riding a seven-game hitting streak, tallying a hit in each game since the Allen Craig-Joe Kelly trade. Sure, it can be considered a "soft" hitting streak—with only one hit in each game—but it's an improvement nonetheless. He has come nowhere close to living up to his expectations yet, but it is hard to ignore that he has been a completely different player since the trade. Given his silly contact rates, unreal plate coverage, and constant threat for power, I think Taveras is a perfect candidate for the number two slot. Plus, he is left-handed, and for whatever reason, I have always been partial to having lefties hit second.
Adams has been fantastic in 2014 and is the only Cardinal hitter with a batting average over .300. He also leads the team in ISO (.188), but his 2.8 BB% has some serious room for improvement. However, at this stage in Adams's development, I would not expect too much of an increase in his walk rate going forward, especially in-season. Thus, despite leading the team in batting average, he finds himself sixth on the team in on-base percentage (.332). Though his left-handed power threat would be nice to see in the two slot, his minuscule walk rate (and subsequently lower on-base percentage) doesn't make him the team's best option.
One hundred thirteen games into the season, Peralta has been the team's most valuable position player (by fWAR at least). A large part of Peralta's value comes from his defense, but this shouldn't necessarily be a knock on his bat—he leads the team in home runs (15) and is second in SLG (.440) and ISO (.187). However, his bat has been cool since the All Star Break, and his on-base percentage is virtually identical to that of Adams. Though he would be a solid option for the two slot on many teams, he doesn't appear to be this team's best option, either.
Admittedly, after Wong's breakout hitting performance last night, he deserves to be penciled into the two slot for at least one more week. However, if he goes into a rut (even a small-sample-sized one) and the offense remains inconsistent, I believe it is Matheny's best interest to replace his spot in the lineup with one of the four players mentioned above.