One of the top issues to be addressed for St. Louis Cardinals 2017 Spring training, "fundamentals" and where best to place Matt Carpenter in the infield.
Before I get to this subject, I hope to shout that manager Mike Matheny, over all the bellowing of fans, leaves Carpenter as lead-off hitter. No more experiments to allow any other player to start the line-up off. Why would you remove one of the best lead-off hitters in the MLB just to satisfy the begging of another to do so?
Matt Carpenter held a .527 SLG/.913 OPS as lead-off in 2016.
Billy Hurst-USA TODAY Sports
This past season, Carpenter closed the season as lead-off with a .276 BA/.386 OBP/.527 SLG/.913 OPS with 20 HR/65 RBI/35-2B/6-3B on 118 hits. Batting #2, .000 BA with one RBI/3 AB. Batting #3, 36 AB for 8 hits and one double for a .222 BA. He is the Cardinals lead-off. Get over it and allow him to do his best work with his bat at the top of the line-up. Thank you for allowing my 'soapbox' moment.
Now ~ Fundamentals and retiring errors. A must situation for 2017
The MLB is made up of professionals. Those who have refined their game, both offensively and defensively, to be in the majors. Not a small feat. To 'error' is part of human nature, no matter what job you have. However, the Cardinals did a bit too much this past season. At times, they looked like a bunch of "Keystone Cops" on the field. Missed plays and communication breakdowns from one player or another wanting to do too much. Last season, the Cardinals defensively, were one of the worst in both leagues. "Out of all 30 MLB teams, the Redbirds were 25th in Fielding Percentage (.983) and 25th in Errors (107)." (Brendan Dlubala, RedbirdsRant.com)
Out of the 107 errors committed, 77 were made in the infield. Most of these were committed by Aledmys Diaz (16), Matt Carpenter (13), Jedd Gyorko, (10), Greg Garcia (8), Kolten Wong (8), and Matt Adams (7).
Diaz, who earned his way to every-day shortstop, will remain so in 2017 and will be working on his fielding in the off-season. With being on the 15-Day DL in 2016, due to a fractured thumb injury and even though cleared to play, some of his 16 could have been due to confidence in his right hand. However, still he collected 16 in his rookie season. SS/3B Jhonny Peralta, also on the DL due to thumb surgery in Spring training, was placed at third base upon being activated. As it is presumed, he will remain at the third bag and improvement to be seen for 2017. 2B Kolton Wong, hands down a great defender at second; however, with closing 2016 with a .240 BA/5 HR/23 RBI, needs to improve at the plate. In my opinion, he will be challenged in the upcoming 2017 Spring training by infielder JeddGyorko. He closed the season, also an average close to Wong's, a .243 BA with 30 HR/59 RBI/.306 OBP and a .495 SLG. Gyorko could be used between second and third; however, I feel unless Wong really improves his bat in the off-season, we will see Gyorko at second as the Cardinals every-day player. Wong, once again, will come off the bench. Now, Matt Carpenter. Where best to play him?
Carpenter was moved around the bags throughout the season playing all three infield positions. At third base, eight of his errors were committed in 431 innings played for a .935 Fldg%. " .... a minus-2.3 Ultimate Zone Rating [UZR] which places a run value on defense compared to other similarly positioned players. At a negative 2.3, Carpenter was considered a lower than average third baseman defensively in 2016." At second base, better with four errors and a .976 Fldg% in 318 innings, but "UZR was a minus-5.9 which is one of the lowest for an MLB second baseman in 2016." His best was at first base, 312 innings, one error and a .997 Fldg %. "His UZR rating was also a positive 1.0." By law of averages and paper numbers, I feel, Carpenter would be best suited to play first base throughout the season. Especially since it is slim to none that either Moss or Holliday, who both manned first during this past season, will be returning. 1B Matt Adams, if not traded, once again I see him as coming in off the bench and for day-off duty for Carpenter.
PERSONAL VIEW AND MANAGING FROM THE COUCH
Even with the above set-up, should that be the final decision by Matheny, each and every player has to do better in the field. However, and once again, I truly feel our Cardinals need the "permanent" field assignment to do their very best at the plate and to see much improved play in the field. As much as I want to see no more experiments with "who" may be a better lead-off hitter, I would like to see solid play in the field by our players becoming proficient in their position. AND, to see the remaining line-up void of the "lottery" plan for each game. Allow the players to define what they must do in the line-up position assigned - every game. Let them know the importance of each placement in the line-up. Will this particular situation happen on a game-to-game basis? Probably not for reasons of performance in the previous game. No matter the lower rung of the ladder at the plate, leave Carpenter as lead-off.