St. Louis Cardinals: Backup- Harrison Bader or Tommy Pham?


The St. Louis Cardinals have made some decisions this offseason and will have other decisions to make come spring training.  One of these will be who makes the best outfield backup.

The St. Louis Cardinals signing of Dexter Fowler suggests that the 2017 outfield is set: Randal Grichuk, Fowler, and Stephen Piscotty.  This leaves a question for spring training– who will serve as the backup?

Yesterday I penned a piece examining Harrison Bader and comparing him to Oscar Taveras.  I promised that I would pen a piece today examining Bader to Tommy Pham.  So here it is.

Let me do a little recap of yesterday’s piece for you here.  In short, I love Harrison Bader but question whether it would be better for him to serve in 2017 in Memphis first to get additional everyday play and then climb to the majors when most needed (e.g. injury, trade, or roster expansion).

In yesterday’s article, I showed how Bader’s statistics are similar to those of Taveras save some of the splendor and splash.  That said, Taveras carried stronger promise (not discrediting Bader).  Moreover, Taveras built a longer career in the minors which could suggest that Bader needs a touch more development.

One more quick review.  Let’s take a look/review at Bader’s numbers:

2015212 TeamsA-A-61235407313211321761549.311.368.523.892
201521State CollegeA-72961120242005.379.400.6551.055
2016222 TeamsAA-AAA131465701241951958131336131.267.335.452.786
All Levels (2 Seasons)1927001101973273090301951180.281.346.476.822

…and Bader’s defensive numbers:

All Levels (2 Seasons)CF1451206.13913731263.9852.872.66
All Levels (2 Seasons)LF27190.04843412.9792.231.74
All Levels (1 Season)OF125992.12882741042.9862.582.27
All Levels (2 Seasons)RF17118.125241001.0001.901.47

Okay then, to the matter at hand.  Let’s do some comparison to Pham to see if Harrison would be a better solution as backup than Pham who is currently slated to be the 2017 outfield support piece.

Offensively, Pham has compiled three years of MLB experience appearing in 314 at-bats and posting a slash line of .245/.333/.455.  While it isn’t comparing apples-to-apples necessarily, if we compare Pham’s three MLB seasons’ numbers to Bader’s AAA numbers, Pham has Harrison bested in all three slash fields.

How about defense?  Have a look at Pham’s chart:

3 SeasonsOF112710.01401364021.0001.771.25
2 SeasonsCF67481.21061024021.0001.981.58
3 SeasonsLF50201.130300001.0001.340.60
3 SeasonsRF927.0440001.0001.330.44
3 SeasonsTOT112710.01401364021.0001.771.25

This is where things start to fall apart for Pham.  Again, while it isn’t a fair apples-to-apples comparison, Pham’s RF/9 numbers pale to those of Bader’s.  In CF, Pham owns the 1.98 RF/9 where Bader (see charts above) owns a 2.87 RF/9.  Likewise, LF and RF show similar weaknesses when compared to Bader.

Looking at speed, something that Bader holds as a shining glimmer for his future, his thirty swiped bases in only two seasons far out-shines Pham’s miserable four bases stolen in three seasons.  The St. Louis Cardinals far and wide need speed and it would appear that Bader has Pham bested here.

Pham is under team control until 2022 and Bader has yet to start his clock thanks to his not yet making his MLB debut.  Under these notions, Pham is arbitration-eligible in 2019.  These items, in combination with his MLB experience, could make him of interest to another team should he improve his numbers.  This might contribute to his serving as backup until a trade can be built.

In the same vein, Bader’s lacking minor league experience could well contribute to his NOT serving as the backup in 2017.  Not until a trade or injury might require his service, that is.

Let’s sum it up.  Offensively speaking, Pham is a better option (today) over Bader; Pham 1, Bader 0.  In terms of defense, Bader is a better option (today) than Pham; all tied at 1.  In terms of speed, Bader is a better option (today) than Pham; Bader 2, Pham 1.

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If we stopped here, we might have to argue for Bader.  This would ignore the need for value-added as was mentioned just three paragraphs above.  With this in mind, we must admit that Pham adds value to himself by serving as backup and focusing on increasing his numbers.  Likewise, we must admit that Bader adds value by increasing his everyday play in Memphis.

If we quantify this caveat, then, we should say that Pham’s service in the majors would earn him a point.  This would tie the score once more and we would end sitting at a dead tie (something that doesn’t happen in baseball).  Perhaps the old hackneyed saying of of “if it isn’t broken, don’t fix it” might apply here.

Next: Aledmys Diaz Review and Preview

While I am not personally a Pham fan (the man is made of glass quite frankly), I think that starting 2017 with him as the outfield backup makes more sense in the long run for Tommy (build value to be used as a trade piece at deadline) and makes more sense for Harrison (play every day in the minors).  That said, I see this more likely to happen than anything else, at least for now.