As with most positions for the Cardinals, third base was a mixed bag in 2016. Looking closely at the performances of Matt Carpenter, Ruben Tejada, Jhonny Peralta, Greg Garcia, and Jedd Gyorko, let’s see how the Cardinals handled the hot corner.
In 2016, due to both injury and performance, the Cardinals seemingly saw a different combination of infielders every single night. Third base contributed largely to such a mixed bag of defenders, as 5 different Cardinals played the position in 2016.
Matt Carpenter has made his name in the Major Leagues as a utility infielder. In 2016, Carpenter continued with this legacy, making starts at 3 infield positions. While he made 35 starts at first base, and 37 at second base, he started the most games at third with 52. Obviously, with so much movement and little time to truly master a certain infield position, Carpenter performed admirably as a defender across all his opportunities.
Specifically at third base, Carpenter committed 8 errors over the course of the season, resulting in a fielding percentage of .935. Below his career third base fielding percentage of .955, the average fan would complain that Carpenter performed below expectation in 2016.
While there may be a grain of truth to such a statement, one must recognize that Carpenter spent more time at different positions in 2016 than any other season of his 6 year career. As a result, Carpenter had more to handle as a player than ever before, perhaps limiting his comfort level at a position that has bred stellar results for him in the past.
At the plate, Matt Carpenter epitomized his identity as a solid, consistent force. Slashing a line of .271/.305/.505, Carpenter played like the rock that St. Louis has become so accustomed to. Overall, fans must prioritize not the defensive statistics of Matt Carpenter, but his priceless versatility and absurd offensive consistency. At 31 years of age, expect more of the same going forward. Hopefully, though, 2017 will allow Carpenter to focus on just one position.
Sadly, Jhonny Peralta spent much of 2016 on the bench as a result of a thumb injury. Even so, he managed to make 67 starts as the team’s third basemen. Typically not known as a defensive juggernaut, Peralta performed relatively well at third throughout 2016. While his sample size is on the smaller side, his fielding percentage of .976 is well above the league average of .956. Moreover, looking at Fangraph’s “Inside Edge Fielding,” it seems that Peralta performs as about an average MLB third baseman. Specifically, Peralta made 100% of his “routine” opportunities, while successfully converting on 50% of “even” plays (plays with a 50% probability of being made). While Peralta may not be a third basemen that wows the crowd on a regular basis with his leather, he is still pretty solid.
Offensively, Peralta performed slightly below his career averages, which is understandable considering his age of 34. With a slash line of .260/.307/.408, Peralta has seemingly passed his prime as an offensive force. With that being said, however, Peralta’s “below average” performance is still extremely solid, as he offers a clutch, veteran bat in the middle of the line up. As long as he can stay healthy, Peralta should be a welcomed member of the Cardinals infield unit. He may not be the force he once was, but he is still a difference maker.
In late May, the Cardinals designated Ruben Tejada for assignment, choosing to place their faith in Greg Garcia (who will be talked about later). After slashing an abysmal .176/.225/.250, the move to part ways with Tejada was not much of a shock. Given his limited role with the 2016 Cardinals, playing only 23 games, it is difficult to say more. Originally an option at third base in St. Louis, it simply did not work out.
A utility infielder, Garcia played both second and third for the Cardinals in 2016. As a third baseman, he was pretty decent, with a UZR 1.6 and a “routine” play percentage of 91.3%. Much like both Carpenter and Peralta, Garcia is not bad defensively, nor is he an exceptional defensive force. As a utility infielder coming exclusively from a role on the bench, he performed as to be expected.
Offensively, Garcia was very good, especially considering his limited role. With a .276/.393/.369 slash, Garcia performed exceptionally considering his fragmented role, a role that inhibits him to gain sustained offensive flow and confidence. Assuming Garcia sticks around, he is a solid player coming off the bench for the Cards.
As all Cardinals fans know, Gyorko’s power was one of the biggest surprises of the 2016 season. Despite hitting .243 with only 59 RBIs, Gyorko smashed 30 home runs on the season. Showing the power that is often desired in the hot corner, Gyorko shocked the baseball world as an offensive power. The question, then, rests in whether or not Gyorko can keep up such power numbers.
Very similar defensively to Garcia, Gyorko posted a UZR of 1.7 on the season. As with all the Cardinals third basemen, Gyorko was somewhere around average. While there were no egregious mistakes being made, it is safe to say that third base is not Gyorko’s true position, thus eliminating the need to overanalyze his defensive production. As with Carpenter and Garcia, Gyorko’s defensive value comes not from his skill or arm, but rather from his versatility to play every infield position.
The Cardinals situation at third base was far from ideal this past season. All things considered, though, a group of utility fielders filled in admirably for the injured Peralta. As a group, none of the players possess a game-changing defensive presence, in a negative or positive light. While the Cardinals would service greatly from a true third baseman, their committee was fine this year, considering pretty solid offensive performance across the board. Moving forward, the Cardinals would benefit (obviously) from an injury free 2017, allowing one man to gain comfort and command in the hot corner.