Piscotty’s demotion has the outfield playing musical chairs.
A lot has been made of Stephen Piscotty’s recent demotion. If you want to read about how it effects his career and future with the Cardinals, Tyler wrote an excellent article here. Today, I’m going to discuss the effect it has on the team, specifically the outfield, and what that might mean for the future.
With Piscotty down in the minors, the current outfielders on the 25 man roster are Tommy Pham, Dexter Fowler, Randal Grichuk and Jose Martinez. The current starters are Pham, Fowler and Grichuk. However, some fans are starting to make noise about the possibility of Jose Martinez starting in the outfield over one of the three regulars.
While this seems like a pretty straightforward question to ask, the answer is a little more complicated then it might seem. The first thing to address though, is who would Martinez replace in the outfield?
Four men enter, three men leave
The simplest way to determine the best starting outfield is to compare the values of each of the four players and select the best three. This doesn’t just mean offense though. Defense matters, especially because some players are much worse at certain outfield positions than others.
Let’s get the easy one out of the way, nobody is supplanting Tommy Pham in the lineup. Pham has been raking and playing excellent defense for the Cards in what looks to be a breakout season. He’s probably been the Cardinals best offensive players and their best defensive outfielder. He’s definitely here to stay. Pham has been playing center field with Fowler on the shelf, but he can play any outfield position well.
Dexter Fowler is also a pretty easy keep. His offense is not quite as good as Pham, but it’s been passable so far. His defense is in the same category. Although Pham is a better centerfielder than Fowler, center field is the only position Fowler has played his entire career (besides a single inning in right in 2008). Plus, it’s not a very good look to put your big free agent signing on the bench.
Two men enter, one man leaves
That leaves us with Randal Grichuk vs. Jose Martinez for the remaining outfield spot. Offensively, Martinez blows Grichuk out of the water. Martinez is slashing .289/.357/.507 with 8 HRs while Grichuk is slashing .228/.278/.438. It’s clear Martinez made the most of his time while Fowler was sidelined. His offensive numbers are just far and away superior to Grichuk, who has been struggling all season.
Defensively, things don’t look as great for Martinez. Fowler has locked down center and Pham can play either corner outfield position. According to the metrics we have, Martinez and Grichuk are both better in right field defensively. Grichuk is a much better defender than Martinez, although that’s not saying much, as both are still below average. Although Martinez’s dWAR is -0.5, his oWAR is 1.0.
Compare that to Grichuk, whose oWAR and dWAR are both -0.1. Martinez’s positive contributions outweigh his defensive faults, so ideally, he would start over Grichuk. That leaves us with an outfield of Pham, Fowler and Martinez being the most valuable.
Are the Cardinals actually trying to win?
The real question though, is what are the Cardinals trying to do this season? If they’re really trying to win like they say they are, then Martinez is pretty clearly the better choice to start in the outfield. The American League allows him to find his way into the lineup as a DH, but when the Cardinals get back to the national league, it will be interesting to see where Matheny decides to put Martinez.
Grichuk as a starter only makes sense for a few reasons. One, the Cardinals believe in his potential. He’s only 25 and has had impressive stretches before, maybe the Cardinals believe he can capture that magic. Two, they believe Martinez is so bad in the outfield that it outweighs his offense. Three, the Cardinals aren’t super invested in winning this season and just throw Grichuk out there to possibly improve their draft position.
If Martinez isn’t in the starting lineup over Grichuk come Friday, it will tell us a lot about the direction this team is trying to go in. It could either be a team trying their best to compete in a division that is slipping away as the postseason looms. Or it could be a team resigned to try their luck again in 2018. Whatever the case, it’s clear that Jose Martinez should be starting, so long as the Cardinals are trying to win.
Photo Credit: Denny Medley