St. Louis Cardinals: Center field riding the center line?

Jul 5, 2015; St. Louis, MO, USA; St. Louis Cardinals center fielder Thomas Pham (60) celebrates with left fielder Randal Grichuk (15) after defeating the San Diego Padres at Busch Stadium. The Cardinals won 3-1. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports
Jul 5, 2015; St. Louis, MO, USA; St. Louis Cardinals center fielder Thomas Pham (60) celebrates with left fielder Randal Grichuk (15) after defeating the San Diego Padres at Busch Stadium. The Cardinals won 3-1. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports /

2015 ended with the St. Louis Cardinals posting a 100-win season despite a lackluster offense.  But was it all lackluster?

The St. Louis Cardinals‘ center fielders combined to post some above and some below-average offensive numbers last year.  How about 2016?

After a few days away, and after reviewing a few positions from the 2015 Cardinals that reported above-average offense in 2015, I am glad to be back examining our final two remaining positions.  As a quick reminder, these articles examine the St. Louis Cardinals position by position in comparison fashion to the rest of the majors.

Next up: center field.

The following was the MLB overall offensive statistics:


Now let’s look at the MLB average for center field:


Now let’s look at the Cardinals 2015 team average for players appearing at left field:


See what I mean about back-and-forth center field offense?  Whenever I’m asked if I want the good news or the bad news first, I almost always choose the bad news. Let’s start with these first.

In 2015, the Cardinal center fielders posted sub-par offensive numbers in the fields of stolen bases (16.6 fewer), K-rate (4.1 percentage points greater), BABIP (likely related to the inflated K-rate), batting average, and OBP.

To the positive, the 2015 center fielders posted ab0ve-average offensive numbers in the fields of home runs (7.7 additional dingers), RBI (10.5 additional runs), ISO, and WAR.  Fields such as walk rate, and admittedly a few of the above-average and below-average, posted numbers only a few points off which makes them nearly identical.

These up-and-down numbers indicate exactly why GM Mozeliak decided to move players such as Jon Jay and Peter Bourjos—two of the Cardinals to appear in center field in 2015.   Jay posted a 2015 slash line of .210/.306/.257 and Bourjos posted a 2015 slash line of .200/.290/.333.  To add insult to injury, Jay posted a WAR of 0.3 with Bourjos posting a -0.5.  A good move to get rid of these sub-par players.

On the other hand, the other two players to appear in 2015 at center field were Randal Grichuk and Tommy Pham—two players remaining with the Cardinals.  In 2015, Grichuk posted a slash line of .276/.329/.548 and Pham posted a slash line of .268/.347/.477.

To add to the positives, Grichuk posted a WAR of 3.1 and Pham posted a WAR of 1.5.  These two players attributed to the above-average numbers while Jay and Bourjos can be blamed for the below-average numbers.

Now let’s turn to projections…

MLB center field Steamer projections:


Now, how about Steamer projections for the 2016 Cardinals:


In the absence of Jay of Bourjos, Grichuk and Pham (the two players denoted in these Cardinal projections) are slated to post better-than-average numbers in home runs (4.7 additional dingers), RBI (11.5 additional runs), better batting average, better SLG, and better OPS.

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That said, Grichuk and Pham are projected to post lower numbers in the fields of strikeouts (21.5 additional Ks), fewer stolen bases (5.3 fewer), lower OBP (again, likely attributed to the additional strikeouts), and exactly identical WAR.  It should be noted that many of these lower stats are just barely below the MLB average and that many of the above-average numbers are just barely above as well.

Should fans worry that the 2016 Cardinal center fielders are showing similar (albeit better than 2015) up-and-down numbers compared to the MLB average?  I feel that these numbers do lead to a little concern.  Following a year when the offense was weak and power was an absentee landlord, 2016 Cardinals need a spark from the bats.  With this in mind, and with the numbers above, fans should be ever so slightly concerned.

The more appropriate question is whether or not average is acceptable for a team that has red-jacket-wearing historical players such as Jim Edmonds (receiving a larger broadcasting role in 2016) and Willie McGee who destroyed average numbers.  Have we fans been spoiled by great players of old?  Will average hold things solidly enough to suffice in 2016?

All frustrations aside, should the positions I have reviewed with positive projections hold true, then perhaps a stable center field with average numbers may be just something the Cardinals need.  And, should the best case scenarios present themselves with Grichuk then fans can laugh in the face of these projections and this entire article will become moot!

Next: St. Louis Cardinals: Left field, offensive or offensive?

I am very excited about this series and hope that you will follow along as I examine each position on the Cardinals when comparing 2015 stats against the stats of the rest of the league as well as looking at each positions projections.  Follow me on Twitter and let’s discuss each position as we progress through spring training and beyond!