After losing his primary position to a rookie in 2016 and the rise of two other potential third basemen, Jhonny Peralta may no longer have a starting spot in 2017 for the Cardinals.
Transition to Third Base
Jhonny Peralta started 298 games for the Cardinals at shortstop from 2014 to 2015. But after missing the first two months of baseball in 2016 to a torn ligament in his left thumb, Peralta came back to find that he had been replaced at SS. Aledyms Diaz, a rookie, had taken over for the injured veteran while winning over the St. Louis fans.
Diaz produced a .364 OBP with 8 home runs and 16 doubles, before Peralta made it back from the DL. Diaz’ All-Star campaign and 132 wRC+ on the year made it very difficult for Peralta, a lifetime 103 wRC+ hitter, to even compete offensively for the starting shortstop title.
Defensively, Peralta has always been an above average shortstop, but a below average 3rd baseman. From 2011 to 2015 Peralta had DEF scores of: 16.7, 18.0, 8.3, 18.8, and -0.8 (where a 0 signifies a completely average fielder), when he played shortstop every day.
But in 2016 when Peralta mainly played 3rd base, his DEF was -8.9. This is a huge difference, especially since about 8 or 9 DEF points in either direction signifies a full win for a team over the course of a season.
So where does an aging, mediocre-hitting, below-average fielding third baseman fit on the the Cardinals starting roster? That’s the thing, Peralta’s days look to be numbered as a starter in St. Louis. Diaz definitely deserves the starting shortstop role, as you can read about here and here.
But on top of Diaz, the Cardinals also have Jedd Gyroko and Greg Garcia. Gyorko and Garcia are both in their prime (28 and 27 respectively), have above-average fielding metrics at 3rd base, and were more productive offensively than Peralta in 2016.
By playing either Gyorko or Garcia at 3rd, the Cardinals would improve both offensively and defensively, while giving a younger player more time to shine.
So where can Peralta go? With 2017 being the last year of his 4yr/$53mil deal, trading him away seems like a safe option. But for now, Spring Training will give Peralta the chance to prove that he deserves a starting spot in St. Louis for 2017.
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Statistics from Fangraphs.com