The St. Louis Cardinals need someone to step up and take over at shortstop with Jhonny Peralta out. Is Jedd Gyorko the answer?
By now, you’ve heard the news about St. Louis Cardinals shortstop Jhonny Peralta. Earlier this week, news broke (no pun intended) that Peralta will miss two to three months with a torn ligament in his thumb suffered from fielding a ground ball.
It’s barely even March and already the Cardinals are picking up where they left off in 2015 — with more injuries. What is it with this team and torn thumb ligaments lately? While it’s certainly not good news at all, Bernie Miklasz of 101sports.com explained why the loss of Peralta for two to three months isn’t necessarily devastating for St. Louis:
"Think of it this way: last season the Cardinals led the majors with 100 wins despite Peralta slugging only .360 after May. And they prevailed over the 98-win Pirates and 97-win Cubs despite Peralta hitting only two homers and slugging a weak .305 from Aug. 1 until the end of the regular season. The Cardinals had a .603 winning percentage after the All-Star break last season (fifth-best in the majors) even with a fatigued Peralta performing at the below-replacement level."
Miklasz makes a great point. Despite Peralta having a terrible second half of the season last year, the Cardinals still went on to win 100 games and hold off their division rivals. Who’s to say they can’t do it again? Not to mention, the injury could wind up being a blessing in disguise for Peralta, who will now be well rested come June and July. Still, the injury leaves a hole at shortstop as the season draws closer and someone has to fill that role.
Is newcomer Jedd Gyorko the answer?
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When the Cardinals acquired Gyorko in the offseason, I thought it was a good move by general manager John Mozeliak. As I wrote, the Gyorko trade will pay off because he is an offensive upgrade to the Cardinals bench and a guy who would give manager Mike Matheny flexibility in giving some time off for Peralta and Kolten Wong up the middle. The trade could prove to be even more crucial now with a wide open chance for Gyorko to play a big role with this team early on. But is he the right guy to take over shortstop while Peralta recovers?
Let’s look at the facts.
Gyorko has played the bulk of his career thus far at second base. The 27-year old has played 319 games at second base for a total of 2,673 innings. Gyorko has appeared at shortstop in only 29 games logging 220.2 innings there. So, the good news is Gyorko DOES have experience at shortstop, its just not very much.
But there is something that Gyorko has going for him in taking over at shortstop — his bat.
Gyorko has a 162-game average of 22 homers and 76 RBI, which isn’t far off from Peralta’s average of 19 homers and 81 RBI. The biggest difference is consistency. Peralta is a career .268 hitter with a .426 slugging percentage, while Gyorko has a .236 career batting average and a .395 slugging percentage. What’s worse, Gyorko struck out 23.4 percent of the time in 2015 compared to Peralta’s 17.3 strikeout percentage.
Despite the shortcomings, Gyorko may have a leg up on the competition at this point in Spring Training. The former San Diego Padre has more major league experience than both Aledmys Diaz, who has none, and backup player Greg Garcia, who has only logged 89 at bats in the Majors. Gyorko is also getting paid $4M by the Cardinals this year and as high as $13M in 2019. So, the Cardinals will likely want to get as much value as they can out of the slugging second baseman.
Only time will tell as Spring Training progresses, but I see this shortstop competition really coming down to Gyorko and Diaz. And Diaz is making an impression. The 25-year old went 4-for-4 in yesterday’s game, and he’s been red hot early on this spring batting .353 with two doubles, three RBI and a .471 slugging percentage. Jeff Sullivan wrote a great piece over at FanGraphs about why it might be time for the Cardinals to give Diaz his shot. It’s hard to disagree.
St. Louis signed Diaz to a 4-year deal back in 2014 with hopes of seeing him one day take over the starting role at shortstop. The Peralta injury just might be the chance the rookie needs to break through and make it to The Show. He has continued to show promise after a stellar second half of the season last year and a strong showing in the Arizona Fall League. For now, it should be fun watching Gyorko and Diaz battle it out for the starting gig. I believe Gyorko flashes enough power to convince the Cardinals to plug him in at the shortstop position come Opening Day. But don’t be shocked if Diaz continues his hot streak and forces the Cardinals’ hand. I wouldn’t mind seeing that, either.
Who do you think should be the Cardinals starting shortstop come Opening Day? Let me know on Twitter or comment below.