The St. Louis Cardinals have been a headache for fantasy owners all season. Their lineup is in constant flux due to managerial decisions and injuries. They’ve used four second basemen and three shortstops and a revolving door of first basemen/outfielders. Recently, one of their best and most reliable options in that revolving door went down. Matt Holliday looks like he could miss at least two weeks and probably more with a thumb injury. Just ask Jhonny Peralta about lingering thumb injuries. Or Dustin Pedroia from 2015. Or Ryan Braun from 2015.
Even with Holliday out of the picture, there are still too many outfield options in St. Louis. Tommy Pham, Jeremy Hazelbaker, Brandon Moss, Stephen Piscotty, and Randall Grichuk have all logged time in the Cardinals outfield this year and are all currently healthy. How can we, as fantasy owners, sort out this mess? Ideally, we would be able to read Mike Matheny’s mind, but since we can’t do that, we’ll have to look at usage and performance.
|Games Played in August||PA in Aug|
Well, we can see many similarities between these players. Everyone but Piscotty and the now-injured Holliday (who we will ignore for the rest of this post) have worse-than-average strikeout rates. Everyone except Hazelbaker has great hard hit %, well above league average. Everyone has worse-than-average swinging strike rates. Everyone but Pham has average-ish walk rates. All but Moss have both decent to great power and some steals.
Looking just at skills and not usage, let’s start eliminating the worst hitters of the group. Hazelbaker has a bad average, strikeout rate, hard hit rate, and hits the most ground balls. That’s not a great combo. Yes, he has 8 HR and 5 SB in just 179 PA (that would be something like 22 HR and 15 SB over a full year), but I don’t see his power continuing at the same rate. He’s out.
Next, Grichuk’s low OBP and middle-of-the-pack hard hit %, combined with being sent down to AAA multiple times this season lead me to drop him. Pham is next simply because his 36.4 HR/FB% will not continue and his power should drop considerably. Without the same power, he isn’t as valuable as Piscotty or Moss, but I still really like him, as you will see. Piscotty is more consistent and reliable than Moss and less injury-prone, so Moss gets eliminated here. That means I would order them like this based only on hitting: Piscotty, Moss, Pham, Grichuk, Hazelbaker.
Here’s where we look at actual usage. Positionally, Hazelbaker and Pham can play any outfield position, Grichuk can play center or left, Moss can play either corner or first base, and Piscotty can play center or right. With so much overlap, that doesn’t really help us. Looking just at the third table with games and plate appearances in August, it is clear that Piscotty and Moss are everyday players. It looks like Pham is next in line, well ahead of Hazelbaker and Grichuk, but Grichuk was just recalled days ago, so it’s not really clear.
For what it’s worth, the Cardinals’ official depth chart lists Grichuk as the starter in center, with Moss in left and Piscotty in right. This week’s lineups show one start for Pham in center, one for Hazelbaker, one for Piscotty, and two for Grichuk. Grichuk was recalled on Thursday (August 11) and has started both games since then in center with Moss in left and Piscotty in right.
Given all that, it looks like Matheny will give everyday at-bats to Piscotty and Moss and Grichuk will get most of the time share in center, even though I think Pham is a better hitter in fantasy and real life. I like what Pham did last year and this year. He has been hitting the ball hard (he is 13th in baseball in average exit velocity, tied with Miguel Sano and just ahead of David Ortiz and Josh Donaldson) and shouldn’t have to do anything else to earn more playing time. Grichuk is still pretty good and ownable in all leagues, but if you have room in a dynasty league for a stash or a part time player, Pham is a good bet.
The defensive metrics seem to point to Grichuk and Piscotty being the best defenders of the group, which seems to indicate that Matheny is valuing defensive value over offensive value to some degree. That’s about the best I can do to clear up this complex outfield log jam. At least Holliday is out of the picture in the near term. When he comes back, that means that Moss, Piscotty, Hazelbaker, and Pham are all competing for one spot. Yikes! Oh, and Tschus!