Throughout the offseason, the St. Louis Cardinals repeatedly committed to improving the defense. In an eleventh-hour volte face, Matt Adams is now a serious candidate to get reps in left field during the season.
The St. Louis Cardinals engaged in a widespread media and marketing campaign that could become a casebook example of branding in future business school courses. Fans were told that the St. Louis Cardinals had lost their “Way” in 2016. Fans were promised a return to fundamentals – with a focus on run prevention – in order to return to postseason play.
Fans were also told to trust Kolten Wong at second base due to his defensive prowess. We were told to trust Matt Carpenter at first and to trust Jhonny Peralta at third. We were told to trust Dexter Fowler in center and that he would improve Randal Grichuk in left.
Wow. This hypocrisy gives me the feeling of the rug being pulled from under my feet. I trusted the process. I believed the St. Louis Cardinals when they promised an increased focus on defense would return the postseason to St. Louis. Now, it is clear that the St. Louis Cardinals were lying.
I was suspect of the “run prevention” branding when we signed Dex, an average center fielder, at best. The concern heightened when Carpenter was moved to first base – an admittedly new position. The shuffle continued with Peralta moving to third to give Aledmys Diaz more reps at short.
Enough is enough. The buck stops here. The St. Louis Cardinals are not focused on run prevention for the 2017 season: the St. Louis Cardinals are focused on maximizing the potency of their lineup.
I have no problem with focusing on a lineup that wears down opposing pitchers. Last year’s team, while underachieving, was exciting to watch. No game was out of reach when seven or eight of your starting nine could hit a three-run homer.
My problem is with the dishonesty. The hypocrisy. Smoke and mirrors and misdirection were exploited to deceive the fans. We bought in, and we doubled down against doubters. Let us take a quick look at how this team has gotten worse defensively in order to put the lineup Mike Matheny wants together.
Players Out of Position
The most glaring example is Matt Adams in left field. Shedding a few pounds and doing pilates does not a left fielder make. Adams has never started a game at any position other than first base – in the majors or the minors. He will not be as good as either Matt Holliday or Brandon Moss, who posted UZRs of -5.1 and 2.2 respectively.
As Kolten Wong showed in his cameo in center last year, learning a new position in real time at the major league level does not work.
Who’s on First? What’s on Third?
Moving on to Jhonny. Jhonny has played over 570 innings at third base for the St. Louis Cardinals, generating a UZR of -8.8. Compare that to Jedd Gyorko’s UZR of 1.7 and Matt Carpenter’s UZR of -2.3 at third in 2016.
Based on UZR, the correct deployment would be Carpenter at third and Adams at first. If you assume Carpenter at first, then Jhonny should be benched and Gyorko should start – based on defensive metrics. Finally, Adams should be at first base or on the bench. He should not go anywhere near left field.
The Focus Shifts to the Lineup
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All of this goes to show that the St. Louis Cardinals are not interested in putting the best defensive lineup out there. The focus is on providing a potent lineup. Unfortunately, the St. Louis Cardinals tried that approach last season and missed the playoffs for the first time in five or six years.
The St. Louis Cardinals are built around pitching. More importantly, the pitchers we have, for the most part, pitch to contact. Therefore, those pitchers rely on their fielders being able to pick it. The defensive deployments being discussed do not instill confidence that run prevention will improve.
John Mozeliak and Mike Matheny should hold a press conference explaining the departure from the offseason branding issued by the team concerning run prevention. The defensive deployments depart from a focus on run prevention and show more of the same of the experimental carousel of defensive players out of position that failed last year.
Should you want to read more on Mozeliak’s views on the St. Louis Cardinals in 2017, then jump over to MLB and have a read.
Nobody likes a hypocrite. Nobody likes a team changing its direction the last few weeks of spring training. Management and the front office must be held accountable, by the media and the fans, for this about-face during the last days of spring training.