St. Louis Cardinals: No offense, but Gyorko’s glove must stay

CHICAGO, IL - AUGUST 12: Jedd Gyorko #3 of the St. Louis Cardinals bobbles a ground ball hit by Javier Baez #9 of the Chicago Cubs (not pictured) and is unable to make a play during the fifth inning at Wrigley Field on August 12, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Jon Durr/Getty Images)
CHICAGO, IL - AUGUST 12: Jedd Gyorko #3 of the St. Louis Cardinals bobbles a ground ball hit by Javier Baez #9 of the Chicago Cubs (not pictured) and is unable to make a play during the fifth inning at Wrigley Field on August 12, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Jon Durr/Getty Images) /

The St. Louis Cardinals are somehow competing for a 2017 playoff spot while at the same time evaluating and remaking the roster for the future. Yet as management considers options, one thing seems clear:  Jedd Gyorko should remain as the team’s everyday third baseman, but not for the reason you may think.

The reason the St. Louis Cardinals should keep Jedd Gyorko is that by at least one measure, as of this writing, he is the fourth best defensive player in the National League. And the two-year trend suggests this is no fluke for the St. Louis Cardinals third bagger.

The Cards knew, when they acquired Gyorko from the San Diego Pardres, that they’d gotten a guy with major potential on both sides of the ball. But his defensive pedigree was exceptional, just not at third base.

After starring at shortstop in his high school career in West Virginia, Gyorko won a national award as the best player at that position in NCAA Division 1 baseball. He was shifted to third base when the Padres drafted him, but then once again moved, to second base.

With the Padres, Gyorko played over 300 games at second, and only a handful at first. He was adequate at the pivot, but nothing out of the ordinary. Still, he built a nice power portfolio, smashing 49 home runs in only about 1300 at bats, and the second half of 2015 showed promise with a .740 OBP

It may say more about the Padres’ continuing struggles that they were willing to unload Gyorko for Jon Jay (not to mention them sending money to the Cards to defray part of the contract commitment), but the St. Louis Cardinals found themselves with a highly athletic guy with unfulfilled potential (can you say Randal Grichuk, anyone?)

In 2016, Gyorko was moved around with great frequency. He covered all four infield positions, with third and second offering the most innings. And we all know the Tale of the Tape: He smashed thirty dingers and despite a weak OBP, pushed just over the .800 OPS mark.

What wasn’t talked about much, however, was how Gyorko managed to put a positive 0.7 defensive WAR on the books for 2016. Though being asked to Ben Zobrist the heck out of the infield, his performance on defense was admirable indeed.

Then, once installed as the everyday third baseman in 2017, his glove took off. A position that requires less range than pure athletic instinct, Gyorko, who doesn’t look it, has proven as potent at the hot corner as anyone other than the Nolen Arenados of the baseball world.

Want proof?

1Tucker BarnhardtCincinnatiCatcher2.5
2Nolan ArenadoColoradoThird2.2
3Addison RussellChicagoSS/2B2.0
4JEDD GYORKOSt. Louis3B/SS/2B/1B1.9
5Manny PinaMilwaukeeCatcher1.9
6Juan LagaresNew YorkCenterfielder1.7
7Wilmer DifoWashingtonSS/2B1.5
8Trevor StoryColoradoShortstop1.5
9Brandon CrawfordSan FranciscoShortstop1.3
10Jason HeywardChicagoRightfielder1.3

There you have it. Along with heavyweights like Arenado and Adison Russell sits Gyorko. Not another St. Louis Cardinals player cracks the top-10 list in the National League.

If Gyorko didn’t have the history of major athleticism, or of handling and adapting to multiple positions with aplomb, we might be hesitant to assume the best for the future. But his pedigree comes equipped with expectations that he is up to the task.

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The offensive side of the Gyorko equation has been mildly disappointing more recently. Overall, his OPS weighs in at a more than reasonable .809, but this is really a tale of two halves.

Everything through June was good-to-great, while July dropped like a rock and August, with much rest provided by his manager, Mike Matheny, was back to adequate before a late-month injury.

I’m not suggsting that Jedd is the second coming of Brooks Robinson or Mike Schmidt. But for a team that has struggled with its defensive identity for two seasons now, having a stabilizing influence at third, especially next to a newcomer like Paul DeJong, has tremendous advantages.

The St. Louis Cardinals continue to be a team and system replete with pitchers who induce outs on the ground. To have a spectacular (and now steadier) glove like Kolten Wong at second, a seemingly competent fielder at short with DeJong, and a well-above-average third baseman such as Gyorko, seems like a recipe for cutting down on miscues and, ultimately, on defensive runs.

The St. Louis Cardinals are no doubt going to have to find a strong bat to install somewhere in the lineup to improve the team’s chances for 2018 and beyond. That the team is looking is hardly a secret. But there are many ways that the offense can improve without sacrificing those assets who provide defensive value.

Look, if the Cards can make a serious play on an infield genius like Andrelton Simmons and move DeJong to third, then I’ll be first to admit that a Gyorko deal or using him as a Zobrist-like supersub could be a fine idea.

But absent that kind of move, I’d much rather see Gyorko remain at the hot corner as a plus defender; bring his acknowledged power to the offensive side; and find a bat to replace another position (e.g., first base or outfield). That would keep the best of our fielding prowess while adding to the oomph at the plate.

Next: Make or break time

Gyorko is a guy of fine athletic ability and strong defensive skills, who can wallop a few dingers and, most of the time, be a contributor at the plate. That’s enough for me, and hopefully, it’ll be enough for the Cardinals in 2018.