St. Louis Cardinals: New Outfield Reminiscent of Late 90s Group

Feb 17, 2017; Jupiter, FL, USA; St. Louis Cardinals center fielder Dexter Fowler (25) makes a catch during spring training drills in front of Cardinals center fielder Randal Grichuk (left) Cardinals center fielder Tommy Pham (center) as Cardinals right fielder Stephen Piscotty (right) looks on at Roger Dean Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports
Feb 17, 2017; Jupiter, FL, USA; St. Louis Cardinals center fielder Dexter Fowler (25) makes a catch during spring training drills in front of Cardinals center fielder Randal Grichuk (left) Cardinals center fielder Tommy Pham (center) as Cardinals right fielder Stephen Piscotty (right) looks on at Roger Dean Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports /
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The St. Louis Cardinals have a new outfield unit, and while fans may see uncertainty in this young group, history teaches us that this group will be successful and fun to watch.

Many fans look at the St. Louis Cardinals projected starting outfield of Randal Grichuk, Dexter Fowler, and Stephen Piscotty and they see uncertainty.  The story goes that Grichuk is unpredictable, Fowler had a career year that might not be sustainable, and Piscotty simply has too small a sample size.

I get it.  Especially with the younger flanks, it can be difficult to predict performance.  When thinking about the years to come for Grichuk, Dex, and Piscotty, I was instantly reminded of my favorite St. Louis Cardinals outfield growing up:  Ron Gant, Ray Lankford, and Brian Jordan.

These three outfielders patrolled the confines of Busch as a unit from 1996-1998.  If you are anything like me, you enjoyed the mix of speed, power, athleticism, and swagger these three had.  Fortunately, Gant, Lankford, and Jordan are more than just a memory, they are our best comparison to our current group of speedy, powerful, athletic, and confident outfielders.

The Smooth Operators

In order to drive the point home, let me offer you two 162-game averages and you decide which pair of outfielders I am comparing:

Option one:

92 runs, 149 hits, 34 doubles, 5 triples, 23 HRs, 83 RBIs, 25 SB, 79 BB, 148 SOs, .272/.364/.477, .840 OPS, 123 OPS+

Option two:

95 runs, 152 hits, 30 doubles, 11 triples, 12 HRs, 52 RBIs, 19 SB, 84 BB, 148 SOs, .268/.366/.422, .788 OPS, 107 OPS+

When I did this exercise, I was shocked at the similarity in these numbers.  If you have not figured it out yet, option one is Ray Lankford, and option two is Dexter Fowler.  So, if you want to know what kind of season Dexter Fowler will have, on average, think of Ray Lankford in his age-30 season (1997) with substantially less pop and speed.

We can also expect, based on recent performance, that Dex will have a high OBP (but topping Lankford’s .411 OBP from 1997 seems like a bit of a stretch).  When I see these two outfielders in the field, I always think they look smooth.  That is just another trait they share.

Sluggers in Left

Moving to left field, another comparison:

Option one:

72 runs, 128 hits, 33 doubles, 6 triples, 25 HR, 71 RBIs, 5 SB, 32 BB, 162 SOs, .254/.302/.495, .797 OPS, 112 OPS+

Option two:

96 runs, 146 hits, 27 doubles, 4 triples, 28 HR, 89 RBIs, 21 SB, 68 BB, 125 SOs, .256/.336/.468, .803 OPS, 112 OPS+

Option one is Randal Grichuk and option two is Ron Gant.

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Think of these guys as our big sluggers in the outfield.  While it appears that Gant has the better numbers across the board (did you notice they have the same initials?), note that we only have a few incomplete seasons from Grichuk.  Even still, Grichuk has Gant beat on slugging, which surprised me, and equals Gant in OPS and OPS+.  Grichuk also posts similar numbers of doubles, triples, and bombs.

If you look at Gant’s three seasons with the St. Louis Cardinals, however, the similarities are even more pronounced.  In three Cardinals seasons, Gant slashed .238/.332/.456, with a .789 OPS and a 106 OPS-Plus. Gant also averaged approximately 103 hits, 17 doubles, 2 triples, 25 HRs, 70 RBIs, 11 SBs, 61 BBs, and 117 SOs during his Cardinal tenure.

Those numbers are eerily similar to Grichuk, who is now playing the same position and filling a similar role.

Gant was a grip it and rip it slugger with the Cardinals, and Grichuk is taking that same approach into the season.  In order to be as successful as Gant, though, Grichuk will need to improve his .302 OBP to somewhere closer to the .336 OBP Gant produced.

The All-Around Right Fielders

Finally, our right fielders:

Option one:

86 runs, 173 hits, 38 doubles, 5 triples, 22 HR, 93 RBIs, 7 SB, 53 BB, 142 SOs, .282/.348/.467, .815 OPS, 117 OPS+

Option two:

84 runs, 162 hits, 30 doubles, 4 triples, 20 HR, 91 RBIs, 13 SB, 39 BB, 94 SOs, .282/.333/.455, .788 OPS, 105 OPS+

Option two is Brian Jordan, and option one is Stephen Piscotty.  Piscotty’s sample size is only two seasons, but his numbers still stand out as very similar to Brian Jordan.  They have almost identical runs, hits, doubles, triples, bombs, RBIs, and slash lines.

Beyond the numbers, Piscotty reminds of Jordan.  Jordan took very intentional at-bats, always doing what was needed in the situation.  Jordan would go the other way, bunt for a hit, or smash one over the wall when the situation called for it.  Piscotty has some of that in him too.

Next: 2017 Predictions

Gant, Lankford, and Jordan all had elements of very good five-tool players.  The resemblance Grichuk, Fowler, and Piscotty have to the outfield of the late 1990s is uncanny.  Watching those guys play in the 1990s was a highlight of my youth, and now I get to see the modern version play this season.  I know they won’t disappoint.

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