St. Louis Cardinals: The offensive struggles of Aledmys Diaz
By Shane Sturtz
Last year Aledmys Diaz had an All-Star campaign and was the spark plug the St. Louis Cardinals needed. This year Diaz has struggled to reach that same level and doesn’t look like the same player at the plate.
It’s hard to forget the remarkable start Aledmys Diaz had last year. He made the most of his opportunity after being called up to the St. Louis Cardinals due to the injuries to Tommy Pham and fill-in Ruben Tejada.
Diaz exceeded expectations and became the starting shortstop over Jhonny Peralta. Never missing a beat, Diaz hit a scorching .500 in his first 52 at-bats and was in consideration for Rookie of the Year for most of the season.
His performance had the clubhouse and fans beaming. Except he’s had a hard time duplicating his success this season. Diaz’s slash is at .261/.289/.400 with five home runs and 14 RBIs. Respectable numbers, but nothing to boast about.
His passion and hustle hasn’t wavered during his demotion to 6th spot in the batting order. So its not like a Starlin Castro mental lapse during his younger days in Chicago, which is good for all kinds of reasons. His motivation should never be in question especially after losing close friend and Cuban native, Jose Fernandez.
The first knock off for Diaz during this season is that he’s swinging at too many bad pitches outside the zone. Per Fangraphs, his chase rate, or O-Swing%, is up to 37.2% compared to 28.2% in 2016. By Diaz expanding his zone he has walked only seven times in 173 plate appearances. Yikes.
A walk rate of 4% is well below the league average of 8.2%, which is a worrisome trend. Fortunately, his over aggressiveness hasn’t led to an abundance of strikeouts. All in all Diaz is swinging more and not walking enough, which can explain his measly .289 OBP.
There’s no disputing manager Mike Matheny‘s decision to move Diaz down in the order because he’s not producing like he’s capable.
Too many times in the young season I’ve season Diaz swing at the first pitch and ground out to the third baseman or hit a weak, shallow fly ball to the outfield. These are poor, wasted at-bats that aren’t productive in any part of the lineup. Pay attention and you too will see Diaz’s tendencies.
Numbers make his tendencies even clearer as his pull has increased by 7% since last year and his hard hit contact rate is down 5% while his soft contact rate is up 4%. There are many indicators that Diaz is having a hard time squaring balls up, which all comes down to his pitch selection.
It seems like Diaz is developing a pull happy, wiffle ball like approach trying to yank balls over the left field wall.
The numbers are there. He’s not as disciplined at the plate as last year, he’s not finding as many holes in the defense (.271 BABIP) and he’s not in his 2016 form. I get it, but he can play better, and there’s more to it than numbers.
His regression from last year has a lot to do with his approach at the plate. I’m not expecting a Matt Carpenter approach resulting in a twelve pitch walk, but Diaz can at least have a more patient plan at the plate.
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Working to the opposite field or taking the first pitch are some little tweaks that may help over time and increase his plate discipline. It’s often hard for young hitters to stay relaxed at the plate, but it goes a long way.
Instead of grounding into a double play (which he already has five of) on the first pitch, Diaz needs to be more patient. I’d rather have him ground into a double play on the seventh pitch of an at-bat instead of the first pitch. Going deep into counts forces the pitcher to throw strikes and Diaz may see better pitches to hit.
Maybe move Diaz’s locker next to Carpenter’s to rub off on his patience at the plate? Just a thought.
The reason for my modest angst towards Diaz is because I’m not sold on Tommy Pham being in the two spot in the lineup. Pham, leading the team in average exit velocity, may have some pop, but he strikes out too much and is a free swinger like Randall Grichuk. Diaz, on the other hand, has shown signs that he can be a patient, balanced hitter.
I’d much rather have Diaz in the two hole versus Pham and it would make the St. Louis Cardinals a better team.
What adds to the fire of the regressing Diaz situation is that there’s no viable replacement for Diaz.
You might say, well wait, there’s Jedd Gyorko, Greg Garcia and Jhonny Peralta, who have all played games at shortstop. Peralta being the leader of the trio by logging 1,459 innings over his career at shortstop whereas Gyorko and Garcia are more of utility guys. Nevertheless, all have the skills to play shortstop.
Still, Diaz has started at shortstop in 37 of the 41 games this season with little signs of the aforementioned names getting any playing time there.
Matheny seems to be in Diaz’s corner even though the St. Louis Cardinals are 10-1 in games Greg Garcia starts. Garcia has proven to be a tough out who grinds at-bats, something Diaz has a hard time doing. Maybe Garcia would be another good locker buddy for Diaz.
By no means am I saying Diaz needs to be replaced, because he doesn’t. What he needs is internal competition or a motive to let him know that his job is on the line. Diaz shouldn’t have the luxury, like Dexter Fowler or Yadier Molina, to be guaranteed a starting spot, but it sure seems that way.
The St. Louis Cardinals have versatile guys like Carpenter, Garcia and Gyorko that can play numerous spots in the infield, but these lineup combinations that aren’t utilized enough.
With that being said, Diaz is a good major league player that might be going through a small sophomore slump. I have faith he will pick it up and he has already made strides this month by hitting .315 in May. A more locked in approach will be beneficial for the St. Louis Cardinals down the road.
Not mentioned — Diaz’s defense. That’s for another day… sigh. Thanks for reading!