St. Louis Cardinals: Is Tommy Pham the Best Fourth Outfielder Option?

Aug 20, 2016; Philadelphia, PA, USA; St. Louis Cardinals center fielder Tommy Pham (28) before action against the Philadelphia Phillies at Citizens Bank Park. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports
Aug 20, 2016; Philadelphia, PA, USA; St. Louis Cardinals center fielder Tommy Pham (28) before action against the Philadelphia Phillies at Citizens Bank Park. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports /

The 2017 St. Louis Cardinals outfield was stabilized through the addition of center fielder Deter Fowler. However, there remains the question of who will serve as the primary backup for the starting outfielders.

The St. Louis Cardinals went into the offseason with the primary goal of adding a center fielder while moving Randal Grichuk to left field. They added Dexter Fowler and solidified the starting outfield to consist of Grichuk in left, Fowler in center, and Stephen Piscotty in right. While this move was important and filled a void in the outfield, did it really create stability?

Yes, an outfield of Grichuk, Fowler, and Piscotty looks to be one of the best defensively and possibly one of the best offensively, however, not all things go according to plan. As many Cardinals fans should know, injuries and slumps can completely change a player’s season or even the entire team’s. And wouldn’t it be safe to say that an injury or a slump is likely to happen in the 2017 season?

Grichuk has had his fair share of up-and-down production while also suffering from a minor elbow injury back in 2015. Piscotty had his first full season in 2016 that looks solid but what many don’t realize is that he went from hitting .295/.370/.480 in the first half of the season to a second half slash-line of .247/.310/.430. Fowler has been pretty consistent throughout his career but you never know how a player will adapt to a change of scenery (see: Jay Bruce to the NY Mets).

So basically, this outfield has a ton of potential but there are some reasons for John Mozeliak to have a backup plan if things go south. With that said, as it stands now, the St. Louis Cardinals will rely on Tommy Pham as their fourth outfielder. He will bear the burden of relieving the main three guys if injured as well as fill in if the team is in need of a spark. But, is Tommy Pham really the guy for the job?

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Pham, 28, has appeared in 3 major league seasons (all with the Cardinals) and has recorded a slash-line of .245/.333/.440 with 14 home runs, 35 RBI, and 77 hits in 136 games and 314 at-bats. The bulk of his play came in 2016 playing in 78 games and batting .226/.324/.440 with 9 home runs and 17 RBI.

While those numbers may not impress anyone, it is important to note that Pham is under team control until 2022, he’s cheap (paid $510k in 2016), he can adequately defend all three OF positions, and there are underlying reasons to believe he’s better than advertised.

For one, Pham’s 2016 OBP (.324) and SLG (.440) are higher than the league averages (.322/.417). Furthermore, his Isolated Power (SLG-AVG) in 2016 was listed at .214 while the league average was .162. And if his low batting average is a concern, his Batting Average on Balls in Play (BABIP) in 2016 was .342 so there is reason for higher hopes. Also, he recorded a 10.9% walk rate while the league average as 8.2%.

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Pham isn’t a star but he walks and gets on base very well for a bench player and that is a extremely valuable for a National League team that needs pinch hitting and substitutions throughout a game. However, Pham’s main issue is strikeouts. In 2016, the league average for strikeout% was 21.1%. Compare that to Pham’s 38.8% and we now see a glaring issue. If Pham is to be the main St. Louis Cardinals’ backup outfielder, he can’t strikeout in nearly 40% of his at bats.

This is all without mentioning the other problem with Tommy Pham: his injury history. Pham was injured in 2016 which led the Cardinals to call Aledmys Diaz up to start the season. Pham was also injured in 2015 and has had numerous injuries that have stifled his minor league development. The theme has been that he’s always shown promise and potential but all of it was often derailed by injury. Now, he’s 28 years old and the time to prove himself may have passed.

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The St. Louis Cardinals will have to evaluate their current outfield situation and decide whether Tommy Pham can be relied upon as the 4th outfielder in 2017. He’s had injury issues and struggled at the plate at times but he’s also shown potential. Pham won’t need to be an everyday guy but if his number is called upon, he’ll need to produce. Otherwise, the Cardinals may need to add yet another outfielder.