We continue our position in review series here with the spot where the Cardinals youngest star shined bright.
At the beginning of the year, many predicted trouble for the Cardinals at shortstop. Jhonny Peralta hurt his thumb and the Redbirds turned to a rookie. Aledmys Diaz made his presence felt early and often, tearing up the league in April, and only stopping for an injury. Jedd Gyorko proceeded to fill in admirably for Diaz, with some help from Greg Garcia. Without further ado, here is your Cardinals shortstop position review:
Coming into the season, Diaz had not registered a single MLB at-bat, and only had 58 AAA plate appearances to his name. I guess he figures some things out quickly. When the calendar turned to May, Diaz’s slash line stood at .423/.453/.732. He also had exactly as many walks as he did strikeouts. Those numbers obviously came down a bit once his BABIP came back from the stratosphere, but Diaz has the makings of a stud.
Contact, power, plate discipline, any other hitting tool that you can think of, Diaz has it. He can improve a bit in the field and on the bases, but he is already one of the Cardinals top two hitters. Add on top of that the fact that he is a shortstop, and the Cardinals couldn’t be happier with this kid.
Since 2000, rookie shortstops have recorded a .309 on-base percentage and a .298 wOBA. Diaz’s numbers in those categories were .369 and .370, respectively. So he is already very advanced at getting on-base and hitting for power for his experience and position, what else can this guy do? Glad you asked!
Plate discipline is often a bigger problem for younger players than it is veterans. Pitchers who have been around awhile know how to bait inexperienced players. Or, they at least know how to bait inexperienced players not named Aledmys Diaz. Diaz ranked 100th of 268 players (and sixth among shortstops) with at least 300 PAs in walk rate this season. Keep in mind, pitchers are more likely to challenge rookies with pitches over the middle and are less likely to pitch around them. In strikeout rate, he was 34th, and sixth among shortstops. According to Pitch F/X tracking systems, he was the 64th best in chase rate across all positions, and number four amongst shortstops.
— St. Louis Cardinals (@Cardinals) October 12, 2016
If you’re not convinced that Diaz has the potential to be a franchise cornerstone, check this out:
Diaz: .300 AVG, .369 OBP, 8.9% BB rate, 13.0% K rate, .159 Runs per PA
Player B: .314 AVG, .370 OBP, 7.3% BB rate, 15.6% K rate, .154 Runs per PA
Before I reveal player B, I should note some differences. First, I intentionally left off slugging. Second, the BB and K rates aren’t identical, but they are close enough to make a point. Third, I am not saying that Diaz will be better than player B. Then again, that’s only because player B is Derek Jeter’s rookie year in 1996, and it’s not fair to compare Diaz to him. Diaz isn’t a Hall-of-Famer yet, and won’t be for a long time. However, he does stack up against some of the greatest shortstops of all time at his age.
His defense was below average, but probably not by as much as you think. He was only at -3 DRS last year, and he graded well in turning double plays. His range was his biggest problem, and the errors will go away in a few years. Overall, he will probably grade out as average or better in the field during his peak years. For now, though, Diaz’s bat will continue to carry him to many All-Star games. The Cardinals are absolutely set at shortstop because, say it with me, Aledmys Diaz is their franchise cornerstone.
Gyorko’s offense has already been detailed at other positions, so I will stick to the defense here. Gyorko’s 30 home runs helped a lot, but he made other significant contributions, too. If we look only at shortstop, Gyorko graded poorly in the field. He had -3 DRS and a -6.0 UZR. Those numbers in 218 innings will not get the job done. However, if we look at what he did at second and third base, he wasn’t that bad on the whole. I am supposed to be looking only at the shortstop position, but something doesn’t add up here. Gyorko recorded 6 DRS and 4.9 UZR at second base. At third, he got to 2 DRS and 1.7 UZR.
Shortstop is the hardest position of the three, but it isn’t that much harder. Gyorko showed a good arm at third, and good range at second. Nevertheless, range was his weak link at shortstop, according to UZR. The likeliest scenario is that Gyorko is average overall.
He just happened to perform his worst at shortstop, and his best elsewhere. This is actually a huge improvement for Gyorko. Coming into the season, Gyorko was -19 DRS and -7.2 UZR across the infield for his career. I would say that being average is a huge step up for him. For a backup infielder, average defense is just fine, too.
Gyorko hitting 30 bombs will obviously factor into the grade more than his defense, but both were impressive improvements. I don’t know how long he can keep either one going, but they were needed contributions this season. After Peralta’s injury, Diaz stepped up big. After Diaz’s injury, Gyorko stepped up big. Ultimately, the Cardinals could not have asked for more.
Greg Garcia, Jhonny Peralta, and Ruben Tejada
You can read anything you need to know about these three in the other positional review pieces. Garcia actually played more innings at short than Gyorko did, but wasn’t as important. Gyorko played there when Diaz went down, while Garcia got his work in all year long. Technically it all matters the same, but Garcia did the same sort of thing everywhere. Gyorko’s time at each spot had a bit more of a story behind it.
Peralta and Tejada each played less than 60 innings at shortstop. Neither one really factored much into this position.
It is very tempting to give an A+ here. Diaz was really that good. Unfortunately, Gyorko didn’t keep the grade that high during his tenure there. Gyorko was really good, but it wasn’t enough for an A+. The point is, the Cardinals have a great young shortstop in Diaz. Corey Seager and Addison Russell may overshadow him, but that doesn’t make Diaz less of a player. The Cardinals didn’t return to the playoffs in 2016, but that was through no fault of Aledmys Diaz. They have one piece in place for the next seven years, now they just need to worry about the rest.
Photo Credit: Jeff Curry – USA TODAY Sports