Do the St. Louis Cardinals already have a player like Chris Davis on their roster?
The St. Louis Cardinals have recently been linked to free agent slugger Chris Davis, and it’s not hard to see why. The Cardinals could use a first baseman and they could use some power in their lineup. Crush Davis has both. Some of us think this is a great idea, others not so much.
But what if the Cardinals don’t need to chase Davis and pay his high price tag because they already have him?
A few days ago, I wrote a piece comparing Randal Grichuk and Stephen Piscotty, and I discovered that Grichuk is really hard to figure out. He has a unique profile as a hitter: striking out too much, walking too little, and absolutely crushing the ball otherwise. In an effort to find some way to project the Cardinals’ young outfielder, I dug around in Fangraphs. After looking at Grichuk’s numbers, I decided to find every player who struck out more than 30% of the time, walked less than 7% of the time, and had an ISO over .190 through their age 25 season, going back to 1920. I came up with the following names:
[table id=13 /]
That’s a short list, to say the least. In nearly 100 years of baseball, only four players have profiled anything like Grichuk. It’s kind of a strange list, too. You’ve got Oswaldo Arcia, who we’ll ignore because he’s not much older than Grichuk at this point and it’s hard to tell where he’s going (although “nowhere” seems to be a reasonable bet at this point).
Next is Wily Mo Pena, who never developed into a full time player, although he hit some home runs along the way. There’s two-sport star Bo Jackson, who’s career was cut short due to some serious hip problems. Finally, you have the man himself — Chris Davis, who’s had two fantastic seasons since 2013, with a truly awful one sandwiched in between.
Unfortunately, the picture of what to expect hasn’t gotten much clearer. It’s fairly obvious that this particular set of skills can fizzle pretty easily, but it’s not entirely clear what happens when it doesn’t. Davis’ success looks to be the best case scenario, but it’s hard to say due to Jackson’s unusual career. Let’s see if we can’t learn something from this nonetheless.
First, Grichuk has been the best of the bunch so far, and it’s not particularly close. The St. Louis Cardinals’ young outfielder has the highest batting average, slugging percentage, ISO, wRC+, and WAR. What stand out the most are the 38 slugging points he has on the next best of the group. There is no doubt that Grichuk is providing the most power — at least right this minute.
It’s also worth noting that Grichuk doesn’t even have a full season’s worth of plate appearances yet, which could skew the results in his favor. He also has the benefit of the highest BABIP, which could indicate he’s gotten reasonably lucky so far in his Major League career. In terms of striking out, he’s actually at the bottom of the list, although he also walks the least. In short, to date, Grichuk actually looks to be the best of the bunch, although it’s fair to not be sold completely at this point.
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Upon further examination, we can learn a few more things. While Grichuk’s bat is providing a lot of his value, it’s not the only thing providing value. His base running is right about average, but his defense stands head and shoulders above the rest of the group, and that’s while playing a lot of the defensively difficult center field. In the past, scouts were concerned that Grichuk wouldn’t be able to handle center, but according to the advanced metrics, the young outfielder has excelled so far.
There’s plenty of time for the numbers to adjust, but at this point, he’s good. By providing above average defense with the glove, Grichuk sets himself apart. The league average wRC+ for center fielders in 2015 was 101. If Randal can lock down center field with his glove, he can still provide value even if his bat does slip, while all of the others in this group relied solely on their performance at the plate.
Given everything we’ve seen, there’s a lot of reason to be optimistic about the St. Louis Cardinals’ outfielder, but at this point, I’m still not satisfied. I want to learn more. Let’s try comparing Grichuk’s first season to Chris Davis’ first season, since he seems to be the best and most straightforward comp:
[table id=14 /]
Wow. No, I didn’t just copy the same numbers over for Davis, although I can see why you’d think that. They’re remarkably similar seasons in almost every way. Davis was a year younger (22) than Grichuk was this past year (23), but that’s relatively insignificant. Clearly, Davis and Grichuk are two of a kind: lots of strike outs, not a lot of walks, and endless hard hit balls.
I decided to do a little bit of research into Chris Davis’ progress as a prospect, and the similarities don’t end with the numbers. Tell me when these excerpts from John Sickels at Minor League Ball start to sound familiar:
"Scouts were very impressed with his power, but noted that his swing was long and wondered if he’d hit for sufficient average and show an adequate eye at higher levels.He clobbered any fastball thrown his way when I saw him, but breaking stuff and changeups were problematic; sometimes he handled them, sometimes he didn’t."
Those are the same things we’ve been hearing about Grichuk ever since the St. Louis Cardinals traded for him. It’s kind of uncanny. We know how Davis turned out, ultimately peaking in 2013 with a stunning 53 home run performance, before slumping in 2014 and rebounding with 47 home runs in 2015. Now he’s in for a monster payday at the ripe age of 30, and the Cardinals are supposedly interested, but maybe they shouldn’t be.
To jump to the conclusion that Randal Grichuk will be the next player to hit 50 home runs based on a year of stats and Chris Davis’ development would be foolish. As far as I’m aware, no scouts have been enamored with Grichuk’s power the same way they were with Davis’, but you don’t have to squint a whole lot to start daydreaming about what St. Louis might have.
As the Cardinals pursue a veteran slugger with dollar signs flashing through his eyes, maybe they should be watching Randal Grichuk and wondering if they have their own slugger already in the fold just waiting to burst on the scene in a major way. The young outfielder has a really unique set of skills, but if he can keep showing that he’s the rare breed that can succeed with them, we may be watching a special player.