clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

MLB Trade Deadline: First base is the St. Louis Cardinals' weakest link

New, 1087 comments
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

The MLB non-waiver trade deadline is fast approaching.Two weeks ago, I wondered if the St. Louis Cardinals needed to make any moves at all before the trade deadline. They had the best record in baseball and a comfortable lead in the division standings. Since then, things have changed. St. Louis still owns MLB's top winning percentage, but the Pittsburgh Pirates have winnowed the Cards' division lead to 2.5 games. The Pirates are a talented team and there's little reason to expect them to fade in the dogs days of summer or early fall. The heat is on in the NL Central.

General manager John Mozeliak has transformed the Cardinals in recent years from a team whose strength was run production to one that is best at run prevention. Pitching and fielding form the foundation of the 2015 Cardinals' success. Craig illustrated just how good the Cardinals' pitching has been with charts on Tuesday. The pitching has been superb, as indicated by the Defensive Independent Pitching (DIPS) stats. The high level of the Redbirds' fielding and pitching is reflected by the club's ERA. While there are health and workload questions in the starting rotation and bullpen, the Cardinals appear to have enough arms on the roster and likely to return from the DL to insulate the team's pitching.

The Cardinals' batting is perceived to be its weakness compared to its pitching. Here's how the Cardinals' collective batting non-pitcher batting stats compare to MLB non-pitchers overall.

Non-Pitcher Batting: Cardinals vs. MLB


Non-P

K%

BB%

BABIP

BA

OBP

SLG

ISO

wOBA

wRC+

MLB

19.6

7.7

.299

.256

.319

.403

.147

.315

100

STL

19.7

8.3

.313

.264

.331

.401

.138

.319

104

Diff.

+0.1

+0.5

+.014

+.008

+.012

-.001

-.009

+.004

+4

Not too shabby at all. The Cardinals are an above-average offensive team. This even though, by Isolated Power (ISO)—a stat that focuses on extra-base hits to the exclusion of singles—is several points below the MLB average. Given their power-suppressing home ballpark, that's not surprising. Weighted runs created plus (wRC+) is a stat that measures the run value of each batting outcome, adjusts for park effects, and is scaled so that 100 is average, every point that is above 100 is a percentage point better than average, and every point below 100 is a percentage point worse than average. Given their skill for reaching base safely, slightly-below-average power-hitting as measured by ISO, and pitcher-friendly home park, it's not surpising that the Cardinals' wRC+ is 104 or four percentage points better than the MLB average.

Where might they most easily improve on offense? To see, let's compare the Cardinals' offensive production by defensive position according to Fangraphs. We'll start with the positions at which the Cardinals have gotten production most above the league-wide MLB total as measured by wRC+.

Left Field

LF

K%

BB%

BABIP

BA

OBP

SLG

ISO

wOBA

wRC+

MLB

20.7

7.7

.305

.256

.319

.400

.144

.314

100

STL

23.2

10.4

.355

.282

.362

.473

.191

.358

130

Diff.

+2.5

+2.7

+.050

+.026

+.043

+.073

+.047

+.044

+30

We don't yet have the technology to combine Matt Holliday, Randal Grichuk, and Tommy Pham into one player. But if we did, that Frankenstein monster of a left fielder would have an offensive line that looks like this. Holliday will return to action shortly. ZiPS (131), Steamer (129), and Depth Charts (130) all see him maintaining the overall production from the trio as measured by wRC+. If Holliday returns, remains healthy, and hits as projected, it will allow the Cards to maintain their elite left-field batting and improve offensively elsewhere in the outfield.

Shortstop

SS

K%

BB%

BABIP

BA

OBP

SLG

ISO

wOBA

wRC+

MLB

17.5

5.8

.292

.251

.299

.361

.110

.289

82

STL

18.5

8.1

.313

.274

.334

.421

.147

.328

110

Diff.

+1.0

+2.3

+.021

+.023

+.035

+.060

+.037

+.039

+28

As Craig and I discussed on the VEB podcast recently, Jhonny Peralta is the best hitting shortstop in all of baseball. It would be very difficult if not impossible to upgrade over him at the bat (or overall) in a cost-effecitve fashion.

Third Base

3B

K%

BB%

BABIP

BA

OBP

SLG

ISO

wOBA

wRC+

MLB

18.3

6.9

.296

.260

.317

.411

.151

.317

102

STL

20.1

13.4

.323

.271

.374

.442

.170

.357

130

Diff.

+1.8

+6.5

+.027

+.011

+.057

+.031

+.019

+.040

+28

Matt Carpenter started the season on fire. As RB recently noted, he has cooled off considerably since then, which is cause for concern. Carpenter's hitting fell off to such a degree that he was not even selected for the All-Star Game despite his hot start giving him a large share of the early fan vote. Even though Carpenter's offensive production has fallen off a cliff since his bout with "extreme exhaustion," it is still very good overall and much better than his peers at the hot corner. Carpenter is hitting .266/.371/.430 (.351 wOBA, 126 wRC+). Add in a handful of good PA for Greg Garcia (Fangraphs divvies up positional output somewhat strangely) and you have a collective Cardinals keystone batting line that is 30% better than their MLB peers at the position. An upgrade at the position is unlikely.

Second Base

2B

K%

BB%

BABIP

BA

OBP

SLG

ISO

wOBA

wRC+

MLB

17.7

7.1

.301

.258

.316

.380

.122

.305

93

STL

17.4

6.6

.301

.263

.327

.397

.134

.317

102

Diff.

-0.3

-0.5

+/- 0

+.005

+.011

+.017

+.012

+.012

+9

Kolten Wong's batting production has fallen back down to earth some after his great start at the plate. He is currently hitting .280/.343/.434 (.338 wOBA, 117 wRC+), which is still very good for a second baseman and head and shoulders above the Cardinals' overall second base line, which is dragged down by the dead weight of Pete Kozma's 5 wRC+ over 71 PA. It would be difficult for the Cards to improve on Wong's production at the trade deadline and likely impossible to supplant him with a better all-around second sacker.

Right Field

RF

K%

BB%

BABIP

BA

OBP

SLG

ISO

wOBA

wRC+

MLB

21.6

8.3

.306

.258

.324

.420

.162

.325

107

STL

17.0

7.1

.307

.273

.327

.416

.143

.324

107

Diff.

-4.6

-1.2

+.001

+.015

+.003

-.004

-.019

-.001

+/- 0

For whatever reason, the Fangraphs St. Louis right field collective consists of just the Cardinals' primary right fielder: Jason Heyward. Thus, this chart is a comparison of Heyward's 2015 hitting to that of MLB right fielders overall. Heyward has been an average hitter for a right fielder. Throw in his elite defense and base-running and you've got a very nice player. But you probably knew that already.

Catcher

C

K%

BB%

BABIP

BA

OBP

SLG

ISO

wOBA

wRC+

MLB

20.8

7.9

.280

.238

.302

.373

.135

.297

87

STL

13.4

5.7

.306

.270

.308

.337

.067

.283

79

Diff.

-7.4

-2.2

+.026

+.032

+.006

-.036

-.068

-.014

-8

This includes Tony Cruz and the other forgettable catcher types who have dug in a time or two for the Cards this year who are not Yadier Molina. But that doesn't change the fact that there's a reason folks are no longer advocating for Yadier Molina to start games at first base even though Mark Reynolds has not hit well. Molina has taken the lion's share of the plate appearances (PA) at catcher this year. While he has posted a healthy batting average (BA) and on-base percentage (OBP), but has hit for virtually no power whatsoever. This has led to a batting line that is below average for a big-leaguer but about average for a major-league catcher. Molina is hitting .284/.323/.358 (.298 wOBA, 89 wRC+). It's extremely hard to even imagine the Cardinals jettisoning Molina and installing another catcher who is an overall upgrade over the man who has won multiple Platinum Gloves and even more of the Golden variety even if such a move might lead to better hitting from the position.

Center Field

CF

K%

BB%

BABIP

BA

OBP

SLG

ISO

wOBA

wRC+

MLB

19.4

7.5

.312

.263

.323

.402

.139

.317

101

STL

18.5

8.8

.273

.226

.312

.320

.094

.276

74

Diff.

-0.9

+1.3

-.039

-.037

-.009

-.082

-.045

-.031

-27

The first step to improving center field was to not play the injured Jon Jay there anymore. By placing Jay on the DL, Mozeliak has prevented Matheny from doing so at least for the near term. Jay is batting an ugly .223/.311/.265 (.255 wOBA, 60 wRC+) in 2015. That's 51 points worse than MLB center fielders overall by wRC+. The Cardinals do not need to trade for a center fielder, though, to upgrade at the position. The activation of Holliday will slide Grichuk over a spot, from left field to center. He'll likely get the majority of the PA there while Jay is out. Even if Grichuk's current line is unsustainable, it's hard to imagine him hitting as poorly as Jay has this year. As for Peter Bourjos, it's apparent that Matheny sees him as little more than a fifth outfielder.

First Base

1B

K%

BB%

BABIP

BA

OBP

SLG

ISO

wOBA

wRC+

MLB

20.7

9.3

.292

.255

.329

.436

.181

.332

112

STL

28.3

6.9

.304

.233

.287

.372

.140

.288

83

Diff.

+7.6

-2.4

+.008

-.022

-.042

-.064

-.041

-.034

-29

The Cardinals' weakest lineup link is first base. Matt Adams hit poorly before a torn quad landed him on the 60-day DL and likely ended his season. Mark Reynolds replaced Adams and hasn't hit much better. The Xavier Scruggs and Dan Johnson experiments haven't resulted in much of anything. Here are the batting lines for the Cardnals who have predominantly played first base in 2015:

1B

PA

K%

BB%

BABIP

BA

OBP

SLG

ISO

wOBA

wRC+

Adams

153

22.9

5.2

.292

.243

.281

.375

.132

.285

80

Reynolds

260

32.3

8.8

.306

.222

.292

.389

.167

.298

89

Scruggs

11

23.3

0.0

.344

.262

.279

.310

.048

.260

63

Johnson

43

27.3

9.1

.286

.200

.273

.200

.000

.223

38

That's ghastly. Making it all the worse is how good MLB first basemen are at hitting overall. There is a cavernous gap between the first base production in St. Louis and MLB as a whole. Moreover, there is such a dearth of internal options at the position that the Cardinals have decided to transition top outfield prospect Stephen Piscotty to first in Triple-A. But his ETA at first base in majors, if he has one at all, is unlikely to come before the trade deadline. The most likely avenue for an upgrade appears to be the trade block. Goodness knows the Cards need it. St. Louis will have a hard time outpacing the Pirates in the Central race while competing with first base tied behind their back.

FanDuel

SBN and FanDuel have entered into an exclusive daily fantasy baseball partnership for the 2015 season. James Shields faces the Colorado Rockies at Petco Park. Play FanDuel here.