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Thanks to depth, the St. Louis Cardinals outfield has been a strength despite injuries

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Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

Tommy Pham clubbed two homers and notched a triple in the St. Louis Cardinals' victory over the Milwaukee Brewers on Wednesday night. Pham's three hits continued a trend. Due to injury and ineffectiveness, the Cardinals' outfield depth has become more than an abstraction. It has helped propel El Birdos to a higher win total in 2015 than they had in 2014. And the Cards have 18 games left to on their regular-season slate.

The Cardinals received good batting production from left and center fields during the 2014 campaign. Matt Holliday once again was a lineup stalwart, notching 667 plate appearances (PA) in 156 games. Using his bat, Jon Jay wrested the primary center fielder role away from Peter Bourjos. Jay tallied 468 PA in 147 games.

A year ago, right field was a black hole for the Cardinals. Allen Craig and Oscar Taveras received the majority of the playing time there. The Cardinals traded Craig to the Red Sox at the deadline and Taveras met his end while driving drunk on a rainswept Dominican road during last year's World Series.

Out of necessity, the St. Louis outfield has looked a lot different in 2015. It has also provided healthier batting production despite being less healthy.

In a move that somehow seems underappreciated, general manager John Mozeliak acquired Jason Heyward from the Braves. The move was spurred by Taveras's passing. Prior to the phenomenon's fatal car wreck, the Cards were planning on entering 2015 with him in an ostensible spring-training competition for the primary right-fielder job. That St. Louis management planned on Taveras winning it was made clear by how they reacted to his untimely death. Instead of rolling with the other two outfielders who would battle Taveras for the job and having a two-man competition, they traded Shelby Miller (and Tyrell Jenkins) for Heyward (and Jordan Walden). Thank goodness they did. Heyward's bat has been an integral part of the Cardinals' lineup (to say nothing of his fielding and baserunning).

Entering the year, the Cardinals were counting on Holliday in left and Jay in center. The dependence on Holliday was appropriate. The slugger's offensive consistency as a big-leaguer overall and with the Cardinals is impressive. Following the club's three-game losing streak to end last year's NLCS and shortly after Jay underwent corrective surgery on his wriest, Mozeliak and manager Mike Matheny dubbed Jay the everyday center fielder for 2015. Any critique of the rationale behind this declaration must be set aside for another day. All that matters for this post is that this was management's decision.

As so often happens during the 162-game season, fate took a hand. Heyward has been Heyward, a joy to watch. But Holliday and Jay have been by and large absent during the club's historic run. Holliday made two trips to the disabled list (DL) due to a torn quad muscle. Jay also found himself on the DL twice, due to the same injured wrist that required surgery last autumn.

Stepping into the outfield void left by Holliday and Jay were Randal Grichuk, Tommy Pham, Stephen Piscotty, and (to a lesser extent) Brandon Moss. The first three represented outfield depth on the paper 40-man roster before opening day. During the season, depth in the form of a preseason projection has given way to tangible reality. The results have been far more positive than any Cardinals fan had a right to reasonably expect.

What has the fill-ins' success meant for the Cardinals on the field? Offensive production on par with what they could have expected from Holliday and Jay, believe it or not. Throw in Heyward's hitting and the 2015 Cardinals' outfield is on pace to outpace its predecessor's batting production.

I've created two charts—one with the 2014 outfield's batting production and the other with the 2015 outfield's. Because we've been conditioned to look at stats like home runs (HR), runs batted in (RBI), batting average (BA), on-base percentage (OBP), and slugging percentage (SLG), I've included these stats in the charts. I've also included weighted on-base average (wOBA), which is the basis of a stat called weighted runs created (wRC). This is the stat that will be the focus of our inquiry. Fangraphs describes it thusly in the site's Glossary:

Weighted Runs Created (wRC) is an improved version of Bill James’ Runs Created (RC) statistic, which attempted to quantify a player’s total offensive value and measure it by runs. In Runs Created, instead of looking at a player’s line and listing out all the details (e.g. 23 2B, 15 HR, 55 BB, 110 K, 19 SB, 5 CS), the information is synthesized into one metric in order to say, "Player X was worth 24 runs to his team last year." While the idea was sound, James’ formula has since been superseded by Tom Tango’s wRC , which is based off Weighted On-Base Average (wOBA).

wRC and wOBA are based on the notion that not all offensive hits are created equal. Unlike BA, it does not value a single the same as a homer. wOBA differs from OBP because it recognizes that a double is not the same as a walk. SLG attempts to give weight to the various types of hits, but does so arbitrarily. This means that when OBP and SLG are combined into OPS, SLG is overrated compared to OBP. Using linear weights, wRC and wOBA assign a run value to each offensive outcome. Rather than the rate basis represented by wOBA, we're using the weighted runs total as represented by wRC.

Keep in mind that we are not using wRC+ for this exercise. The wRC totals we're using are not adjusted for either park effects or league. We are using the raw wRC total.

2014 Outfield Batting

Name

G

PA

HR

RBI

SB

BABIP

AVG

OBP

SLG

wOBA

wRC

Holliday

156

667

20

90

4

.298

.272

.370

.441

.360

97

Jay

140

468

3

46

6

.363

.303

.372

.378

.336

60

Bourjos

119

294

4

24

9

.311

.231

.294

.348

.287

35

Grichuk

47

116

3

8

0

.316

.245

.278

.400

.299

26

Craig

97

398

7

44

1

.281

.237

.291

.346

.286

18

Taveras

80

248

3

22

0

.272

.239

.278

.312

.265

11

Total

-

2265

40

238

20

.304

.257

.327

.373

.313

250

2015 Outfield Batting

Name

G

PA

HR

RBI

SB

BABIP

AVG

OBP

SLG

wOBA

wRC

Heyward

140

552

12

55

22

.329

.293

.355

.446

.346

76

Grichuk

90

319

16

46

4

.374

.281

.332

.563

.377

52

Holliday

63

254

4

31

2

.346

.290

.409

.420

.362

39

Pham

37

123

4

12

1

.300

.257

.341

.468

.347

32

Piscotty

51

207

4

30

2

.397

.316

.362

.489

.364

17

Jay

68

224

1

10

0

.258

.219

.305

.270

.255

15

Moss

36

117

4

8

0

.277

.218

.325

.386

.310

13

Bourjos

105

219

3

12

5

.269

.201

.293

.323

.269

17

Total

-

2015

48

204

36

.326

.269

.344

.432

.335

261

You can quibble with my inclusion of Moss, since the one-time slugger has played some first base as well as outfield since joining the Cardinals. But even if we exclude Moss, the collective St. Louis outfield run production in 2015 is just two wRC below what the unit produced in 2014 and in about 250 fewer PA. If the outfield doesn't collectively descend into a horrid slump for the remainder of the season, it will far surpass the batting production of its predecessor. We have Grichuk, Piscotty, and Pham to thank for that.

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