Mar 2, 2013; St. Louis, MO, USA; St. Louis Cardinals center fielder Oscar Taveras (87) connects for a base hit against the Washington Nationals at Roger Dean Stadium. The Nationals defeated the Cardinals 6-2. Mandatory Credit: Scott Rovak-USA TODAY Sports
People, what is the rush in bringing up Oscar Taveras? St. Louis Cardinals fans are so anxious to get him to the majors, but is there really any justification behind that? Could he really provide that “spark” to the offense that seems to be missing? Is he a better alternative than Peter Bourjos or Jon Jay or Allen Craig/Matt Adams or Matt Holliday? Let’s take a look at some statistics to find out.
Let’s start with Matt Holliday. With him signed until 2016 with big money, he will not be taking a seat to let a youngster play in left field. Let’s look at his stats anyway. Holliday appears to be a slow starter. Last year, Holliday was hitting only .254 at the end of May. He then went on to hit .325 after that. His 2012 season was similar but not as pronounced. In March and April of 2012 he hit .215. Then in May, he exploded and hit .340. But even still, the first week of May 2012 he was still trying to figure things out. His 2011 season was an anomaly. He started out hot and then tailed off. But besides that, he always tends to struggle the first few months before breaking out when the weather warms up. Holliday’s career numbers for March/April are .298. May is slightly better at .302. In June and July his numbers peak at .323 and .328, respectively. Once again, he normally starts slow. Nothing to worry about with his power/production drop, he will back to his normal numbers soon enough.
Peter Bourjos, though there are no options remaining to send him to the minors, looks like he could use some time in the minors. He’s improving a little bit from hitting only .160 in March and April to hitting .255 in May. But the issue I see is that he’s still not very good. Looking back at last year, he had a great first half hitting .333 but only .109 the second half. Now granted he didn’t get as much playing time the second half of last year, but I suspect that he’s only a .250-.270 type hitter with speed but no power. Bourjos is also swinging at more pitches than he ever has before (50.1%) and making contact 2.3% less than he did last year. Even more troubling, he’s swinging at 8.2% more pitches outside the zone and making contact 12.5% less on those pitches compared to last year. His strike out rate is the highest it’s ever been. He is clearly trying to force things. However, he is the Cardinals best defender by far. His UZR rating is 3.3. The next closest outfielder is Craig at 1.6. Bourjos would be ranked 25th in the league on defense (although he hasn’t played enough to be officially qualified for the ranking). I feel he should be benched and used for defensive substitutions or pinch running late in games.
Allen Craig has definitely not been hitting like his usual self. In March and April he hit a lowly .220. However, in May he’s hitting.283. Another good sign is that his other numbers are up too. His SLG has increased from .367 to .380. But his biggest jump has been his OBP which went from .277 to .347. This is because he’s walking more (BB% from 6.7 to 7.9%). This could mean that he is being more patient at the plate and looking for the right pitches to hit rather than just trying to force hits. Another big improvement has been his LD%. He is hitting 6.7% more line drives than the first 2 months. This also means that his groundball and fly ball rates have dropped too. He’s definitely not to the level he was last year, but he’s showing great signs of improvement. Stick with him and he’ll be close to hitting like he did last year in no time. He needs to stay in the line up, whether in right field, or at first base.
Jon Jay is similar to Holliday in that he usually doesn’t hit well in the early months of the season. The difference is that the best you can expect from Jay is a slight increase in his hitting in the summer months. Right now he’s hitting .279. I can’t see him hitting more than .290 again for a season. He also doesn’t hit for power. The most HRs he’s had in a season is 10. He seems like a good bench player, or maybe a trade piece.
Matt Adams is a tough bat to take out of the lineup. He’s hitting .325 (leading all 1st basemen) with an OPS of .811. He doesn’t have a lot of HR, only 3, but he’s 4th in the league in doubles compared to all 1st basemen. And tied for 1st in triples (however he’s only hit 2). His power numbers aren’t great but he’s still getting hits. The power will come eventually. He isn’t great with RISP, hitting only .182. But the entire team seems to be having that issue. I don’t see Adams losing any playing time.
All that being said, it looks like Adams is a lock at first base, Craig is a lock in right field, and Holliday is a lock in left. But, center field is an option for Taveras, or whoever the Cardinals decide to call up. Let’s take a look at those minor leaguers.
Let’s get Stephen Piscotty out of the way. Although he is doing well in Memphis, hitting .292 with an OPS of .756, he’s still not as good as Oscar Taveras or Randal Grichuk. This is only his 3rd season in the minor leagues. He would be better off staying in Memphis this year and improving. He did show a lot of promise during spring training this year, hitting .342 with an OPS of 1.004, so a late call up seems possible.
This is the tough part. Taveras and Grichuk are both crushing minor league pitchers right now. And both are in their 6th season in the minors.
Randal Grichuk was called up in late April and played in 9 games, hitting .143. He was demoted on May 9th. However, in the minors he’s hitting .317 with an OPS of .944. Grichuk is in his first year playing AAA ball. When he did have his shot in the majors, he couldn’t capitalize on the opportunity. Giving him a little bit more time in the minors would do nothing but help him. He will definitely make the roster at some point. I see him in the minors for the majority of the season, unless injury occurs, or maybe as a DH in an AL ballpark.
Oscar Taveras looks to be ready for his major league debut. After getting passed up in April and May in favor of Grichuk he should be given a chance to show what he can do at the major league level. In the minors he’s hitting .325 with an OPS of .879. While he doesn’t possess the HR power of Grichuk, he has more discipline at the plate striking out 5% less than Grichuk in the minors. Grichuk had his chance, now it’s Taveras’ turn…maybe.
The main issue with Taveras is that he is not a good center fielder, and as mentioned above, that seems to be the only fit for him at the big league level. In six seasons, Taveras has played center in 228 games. He has a fielding percentage of 0.978 with 11 errors and 18 assists. Compare those numbers to Peter Bourjos who has a 0.991 fielding percentage, with only 8 errors and 21 assists. If defense truly does win championships, Oscar Taveras is not quite ready for the big leagues yet.
In my opinion, the only time Taveras should be called up to the majors is when the St. Louis Cardinals play in an American League ballpark. Let him DH. See how he does against major league pitching. If he proves he can hit at the top level like he does in AAA, then reconsider sacrificing some defense for his bat. Until then, I think the safe route is for the Cardinals to keep him in the minors and wait for Craig and Holliday to get hot.