Jedd Gyorko has been a big help to the Cardinals’ offense recently, and the coaching staff deserves a lot of credit for it.
When Gyorko came to the Cardinals in a trade for Jon Jay, there wasn’t a huge reaction. Jay was going to be buried on the bench, so getting a useful piece for him was not a bad idea. Whether or not Gyorko would be “useful” was up for debate. The trade didn’t seem like much at the time, but Gyorko has added some power to the lineup lately. Actually, he has added a lot of things. Gyorko has made many improvements in the smaller areas of the game that are lending themselves to larger improvements in his overall game.
With 11 home runs in 170 at-bats, Gyorko is in the midst of his best per at-bat season. Some of that can be attributed to the fact that he is only playing part-time, but the rate statistics have improved, too. Before the doubleheader in which he hit three home runs, the Cardinals’ infielder already owned his highest single-season HR/AB mark. Now, he is beating his previous best by nearly six at-bats per homer.
What is the cause for his power spike? Well, some it is due to an uptick in home runs per fly ball. That will come back down, but Gyorko is also putting the ball in play more often this year. His contact rate this season is about two percent higher than his career average. Gyorko is also swinging at more strikes. His z-swing rate is up more than three percent from his career rate, which bodes well for striking out less. Strike outs have always been a problem for Gyorko, but not as much in 2016. He is down 2.5 percent from his career norm, which means more balls in play, and more balls that could go out of the park.
Some of the extra homers are luck and some are improved skill, but Gyorko has improved in other areas, too. In addition to striking out less, Gyorko is also walking more. Gyorko’s low OBP has always been a problem for him in the past. While his .321 mark this year is not great, it is better than his career .295. One reason for the OBP increase is that he has increased his walk rate by two percent last year. He currently sits at a respectable 7.9 percent walk rate.
Players make adjustments all the time. It is part of sticking in the big leagues. What few players manage to do is make multiple adjustments at the same time. Improving in one area is pretty hard, but Gyorko focused on everything this year.
— St. Louis Cardinals (@Cardinals) July 20, 2016
In the field, Gyorko had never rated as a good fielder before coming the the Cardinals. He bottomed out at -9 Defensive Runs Saved in 2014 and never recorded a number better than -4. UZR was also not a fan of his fielding in San Diego. That metric had him closer to average at second base, but horrendous at short or third. This year, Gyorko has been just fine. He has saved six runs at second base per DRS and is seventh among second basemen with at least 100 innings in UZR/150. Mike Matheny, Jose Oquendo, and the rest of the coaching staff deserve a lot of credit for that transformation.
On top of the hitting and fielding adjustments, Gyorko also improved his baserunning this year. I know that I talk about baserunning more than I should, but players rarely get much better at it throughout their careers. Rookies and younger players make some bonehead plays, but baserunning isn’t necessarily something that comes with more practice. According to Fangraphs, Gyorko has improved by nearly four runs on the bases from 2015 (-2.7) to 2016 (+1.2). That number is cumulative, so it should even grow larger. Also, Gyorko is not playing nearly as often, making his four run improvement all the more impressive.
Gyorko still isn’t a complete player. Nobody is trying to argue that. However, he did make adjustments and improvements in many different areas. At the same time, one player can only do so much. He definitely needed a lot of help from the coaching staff to get to this point. I don’t know who, specifically, he has been working with, but those coaches have done an outstanding job. They have turned him into a better and more complete player, and the improvements are noticeable even in such a small sample size.
Photo captured by: Jeff Curry – USA TODAY Sports