St. Louis Cardinals: Jedd Gyorko 2017 Expectations

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St. Louis Cardinals
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Jedd Gyorko’s breakout in 2016 has many St. Louis Cardinals fans calling for him to take on a role as an everyday player in 2017.

The St. Louis Cardinals are entering the 2017 season with a question mark at third base. The front office appears intent on rolling with Peralta to start the season while some fans are hoping for a solution from the free agent or trade market; others are calling for Jedd Gyorko to take over full-time duties at third.

There were indications last season that Gyorko could handle this responsibility. In limited time at third in 2016, he flashed above-average defensive ability and posted a 1.7 UZR and 8.4 UZR/150. His bat, if his success at the plate holds up, would likely profile well at third.

How Gyorko will fare at the plate going forward is difficult to predict. His success this past year was largely due to an increased ability to hit home runs: his 24.4% HR/FB rate was the highest of his career and was more than 8.0% greater than his previous career high in 2013.

Since the Padres and Cardinals home parks have been similarly difficult for right handed batters since 2013 (as measured by FanGraphs Handedness Park Factors), Gyorko will likely see his home run prowess regress in future seasons.

Jedd Gyorko does appear, however, to have made an adjustment in his offensive approach to support higher power numbers. He became a more pull-dependent-fly-ball hitter this past season, posting a career high 45.2% Pull% to go with a career high 40.3% FB%.

Therefore, while expecting him to maintain his 2016 HR/FB rate might be unreasonable, we might imagine that this rate going forward will be above his career average entering the 2016 season.

Gyorko might also be due for some positive regression at the plate going forward.

His 2016 BABIP was a career-low .244 and fourth lowest among players with greater than 400 plate appearances in 2016, which might indicate he hit into some bad luck. While part of this is due to hitting more fly balls, he only ranked 54th among the sample set in FB%. Additionally, he had an above-average Hard% of 34.8%, in line with a 34.0% career average.

Overall, his batted ball profile suggests he should expect some better batted ball luck going forward, and his Steamer Projections see his BABIP rebounding to .278 next season. Thus, it is likely he will maintain similar offensive value going forward, though with slightly less power and a slightly better average.

There are, however, signs that point against using Gyorko as the everyday third baseman to start 2017.

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First off, Gyorko has been a notoriously bad hitter in the first month of the season over his career. In 87 career games in March or April, he owns a .193/.263/.295 line worth only a 56 wRC+; his Hard% in March/April of 26.1% is nearly 10% lower than his overall average Hard% of 34.0%. Given this susceptibility to slow starts, it makes more sense to leave Gyorko in a backup role where he will not be depended on offensively early in the season while the starters are well rested.

Defensively, it would require a small leap of faith to assume Jedd Gyorko would be ready to handle everyday responsibilities at the hot corner.

He has played only 364 career innings at third, compared to 438 at shortstop and over 3,000 at second base. While he was above-average at third in 2016, his limited playing time is too small a sample size to draw any conclusions as to how he would fare over a full season at the position.

Given these limitations, Jedd Gyorko might be best kept in a utility role for the 2017 season. From this role, he can serve as an insurance policy for every infield position should injuries arise.

Additionally, he can still manage to get around 400 plate appearances and play in approximately three out of every four games in his role as a utility backup infielder. He can probably expect to play 300 innings at both second and third, while putting in another combined 300 innings between shortstop and first.

Steamer projects that Gyorko will put together a .249/.311/.495 line and an average 100 wRC+ season at the plate while being slightly below-average defensively. Overall, he is expected to be worth 1.5 WAR. Offensively, I think this is a fair expectation for Gyorko, however, I expect him to be worth more defensively, since he will primarily play positions where he has recently had above average ratings.

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I predict Gyorko will again be worth between 2.0 and 2.5 WAR in 2017 as he continues to thrive in his utility role with the St. Louis Cardinals.  Thanks for reading and go Cardinals!