Jedd Gyorko and Brandon Moss Powering Cardinals

Last season, 64 players hit at least 20 home runs. It was 57 the year before. This year, there are already 68 players with 20 home runs and, with six weeks of the season remaining, there are another 40 players with at least 15 home runs who have at least a shot. Two of the players powering up this year, Jedd Gyorko and Brandon Moss, were relatively recent under-the-radar acquisitions for the Cardinals who’ve now helped the club to a National League-leading 173 homers. Their deals didn’t necessarily look great at the time they were made, but both players have helped put the Cardinals in position for a sixth straight playoff appearance.

While baseball has generally been homer-happy this season, St. Louis has spread its power around. No player on the club’s roster sits among the top 30 in the majors in homers. Moss’ 23 paces the team. That said, the Cardinals also have an MLB-leading nine players who’ve recorded double-digit home-run totals this year, with Tommy Pham (nine) knocking on the door right now and Jhonny Peralta, injured for most of the year, possessing an outside shot after having accumulated six homers so far. A roster with 10 players featuring double-digit homer totals would tie the National League record set by the Cincinnati Reds in both 1999 and 2000, per the Baseball Reference Play Index. Eleven players in double-digits would tie the MLB record set by the 2004 Detroit Tigers and matched by the Houston Astros last season.

After averaging 122 homers over the last three years, the Cardinals are on pace for 228, which would represent the most any National League team has hit since the Brewers hit 231 in the 2007 season. It’s not just Moss and Gyorko, either: Matt Holliday, currently on the DL, has 19; Stephen Piscotty has 18; and both Matt Carpenter and Randal Grichuk have recorded 15 homers this year. However, Moss and Gyorko are definitely the most efficient when it comes to the long ball. There are 179 players this season who’ve reached the 10-homer mark. By plate appearances per home run, two Cardinals appear prominently near the top of the list.

Most Prolific Home-Run Hitters in 2016
Team PA HR PA/HR
Mark Trumbo Orioles 518 38 13.6
Brandon Moss Cardinals 327 23 14.2
Khris Davis Athletics 469 32 14.7
Ryan Schimpf Padres 206 14 14.7
Jedd Gyorko Cardinals 298 20 14.9
Ryan Howard Phillies 286 19 15.1
Edwin Encarnacion Blue Jays 534 35 15.3
Pedro Alvarez Orioles 293 19 15.4
Trevor Story Rockies 415 27 15.4
Yoenis Cespedes Mets 389 25 15.6
Min. 10 HR

The Cardinals’ leading home run-hitters, Gyorko and Moss, have combined for 43 home runs in just 625 plate appearances on the season, even while finding the path to playing time a bit of a struggle. Moss came to the Cardinals last season in a deadline deal for pitching prospect Rob Kaminsky, a trade the present author panned given Moss’ struggles to regain his power after hip surgery in 2014. Moss was fine for the Cardinals last year, with a 108 wRC+, but he lacked power, hitting only four home runs in 151 plate appearances, leading to a .159 ISO.

Tendered a contract in his final year of arbitration, Moss was kept primarily as a back-up plan in case the team failed to bring back Jason Heyward and might have been traded had the Cardinals signed the current Chicago Cubs right fielder. The 32-year-old Moss is making just $8.2 million this season, and despite failing to make the Cardinals’ opening-day lineup and serving a stint on the disabled list for a sore ankle, Moss’ NL-leading .314 ISO (minimum 300 PA) will make him a quality free-agent target in a potentially weak free-agent class. Moss still strikes out a ton (30% this year), but his walk rate (9%) and his power have led to a 138 wRC+ that’s 20th in MLB (min. 300 PA). In one season, Moss went from a potential non-tender candidate to a qualifying-offer candidate.

Gyorko, for his part, came to St. Louis in the offseason in what Jeff Sullivan called a trade of “interesting players in uninteresting trade” as the Cardinals sent the Padres Jon Jay in exchange for Jedd Gyorko and $7.5 million of Gyorko’s remaining contract. Earlier in the season, it appeared that the Padres might have gotten the better of the Cardinals. Jay was carrying a solid 106 wRC+ and looked to be turning himself into a decent trade chip, while Jedd Gyorko had a middling 91 wRC+ and looked to have a struggle on his hands to gain traction with Carpenter, Peralta, Aledmys Diaz, Kolten Wong, and even Greg Garcia all in line for playing time at his potential positions. On the heels of 92 wRC+ last season and 76 in 2014, even with the Padres paying part of his salary, the $21.5 million owed to Gyorko after this year through 2019 looked like it might be wasted on a player unlikely to play at an average level.

Injuries to Diaz, Moss, Peralta and Holliday (leading to Matt Carpenter at first base) — along with an extended stay for Kolten Wong in Mike Matheny’s doghouse — have opened up more playing time for Gyorko. He’s taken advantage. Gyorko’s total of 13 homers in the second half is tied with Yasmany Tomas in the NL; only Brian Dozier has more, having hit 14 second-half home runs. He’s not quite out of a Matt Christopher novel, but 13 of Gyorko’s last 27 hits have been homers.

Gyorko has been aggressive, swinging on the first pitch in 110 out of 298 plate appearances, per Brooks Baseball, and recording a 36.9% first-pitch swing rate that’s nearly nine points above league average. He’s whiffed or fouled off 69 of those pitches and, in 41 at-bats, hit eight home runs for a .439/.439/1.049 slash line. Only Chris Davis (11 on 162 swings), Robinson Cano (10 on 194 swings), and Khris Davis (9 on 163 swings) have more first-pitch homers than Gyorko — and six of Gyorko’s eight first-pitch homers have occurred in the second half. He’s increased his wRC+ on the season to 112, and that’s a three-win player over the course of a season if one assumes average defense. Even his projections, which are naturally more conservative, regard him as a two-win player. At around $7 million a year for ages 28 through 30, that’s a solid deal.

With Brandon Moss set for free agency, Kolten Wong still on a long-term deal, the emergence of Aledmys Diaz, and the presence of Jhonny Peralta on a reasonable one-year deal for $10 million, the Cardinals will have some decisions to make in the offseason. Matt Carpenter can still play second or third base, but his bat is sufficient for first. The Cardinals could opt to use Gyorko in a utility role, borrowing time at second and third base to get him significant playing time over the course of the season. The team could also sacrifice the depth that has been so beneficial this season and choose to move Peralta and install Gyorko as everyday starter.

Regardless, this appears to be one of those good problems to have. The team appeared to have struck out in the offseason on their principal targets, but depth has proved to be important given their injuries. The Cardinals made two minor trades that appeared to tilt away from the Cardinals favor in the early going, but bringing in Gyorko and Moss, who might or might not be friends, has worked out very well for the Cardinals this year.





Craig Edwards can be found on twitter @craigjedwards.

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Spudchukar
Member
Spudchukar

Been waitin’ for this post. Both have solidified starting roles, and not just offensively, as both have been above average defenders. The Pham/Hazelbaker duo also gives pop and defense in left. Add in Piscotti, Grichuk, Carpenter and the soon to return Diaz, and the offense is dangerous.

jhalpin23
Member
jhalpin23

The offense is certainly dangerous from a homerun perspective but I wouldn’t consider Grichuk and Hazelbaker dangerous, not sure either one can keep an OBP above 300.

Pham is interesting because of thepower/walk rate but he’s striking out 34% of the time and has a really high BABIP so it will be interesting to see how he ends up.

Carpenter is a total stud and even though Piscotty and Diaz came back to Earth a little bit after insane starts they are both solidly above average players.

Spudchukar
Member
Spudchukar

Until the last couple of weeks I would agree with you on Grichuk, but he has been an extra base machine recently, but I still have my doubts. Hazelbaker however, is a different story. I wish he would get more playing time. His mid-season slump, was confounded by a reduced playing time and a minor injury. Since his return he has been effective, and both provide speed and defense.

Yeah, Pham strikes out a lot but when he makes contact it is serious, contributing to his high BABIP, and again he provides speed and D. Piscotti, has been in a bit of a funk, although the power has remained.

Diaz however is an All-Star in the making. His approach and ability to barrel up and/or hit the other way should allow him to have continued success, and his defense has been much improved in the second half. But the Cards need him back if they are going to make a real second half push.

jhalpin23
Member
jhalpin23

You keep stating that Grichuk, Pham and Hazelbaker provide plus defense and speed but they mostly seem to grade out at or below average across the board in defense and speed (Grichuk’s speed the possible exception.) Maybe one of them makes it as a regular but they all kind of seem like 4th or 5th outfielders to me.

Diaz I agree seems like above average to all-star level, I still question the defense but the bat is impressive.

Spudchukar
Member
Spudchukar

All three are plus corner outfielders, and average centerfielders. I place little value on either defensive or base running stats. I watch everyday, and while only Hazelbaker has real base stealing skills, but all are far above average speed when going first to third or home, and closing down gaps. They have all misplayed a couple of balls, and some errant throws, but they still have the skills to make terrific plays. Diaz has work to do defensively, no doubt, but flashes skills that make some believe he can stick at SS. I’m not so sure, but his bat will play somewhere.

Lanidrac
Member
Lanidrac

What do you mean “All-Star in the making”? Diaz WAS an All-Star this year. While it was only because of the Carpenter injury, he still had the numbers to justify it.

Lanidrac
Member
Lanidrac

Well, Adams will be back soon and allow Moss to play more outfield instead of Pham or Hazelbaker.

Dave T
Member
Dave T

Moss in the OF is already happening quite a bit even without Adams, with Carpenter at 1B. And Diaz is also hopefully back before too long ( he took grounders yesterday – http://www.rotoworld.com/player/mlb/7384/aledmys-diaz ). That means a logjam at 2B/3B – Gyorko, Peralta, Garcia, and Wong – even with Carpenter at 1B.

I think that the team’s best defensive IF alignments have Carpenter at 1B, and it’s not worthwhile to change that just to get Matt Adams’ roughly league average bat into the lineup.

Once everyone’s back, I’d like to see a starting IF of something like Carpenter – 1B, Wong – 2B, Diaz – SS, and Gyorko – 3B. Probably put Peralta at 3B and Gyorko at 2B against LH starting pitchers. Doubt that will happen, though, as Wong currently appears buried behind all 3 of Gyorko, Peralta, and Garcia.

Spudchukar
Member
Spudchukar

Wong deserves to be low man on the totem poll. Benching Pham, Hazelbaker or adams in order to let Wong play, makes no sense. He has shown no consistent offensive ability.

Lanidrac
Member
Lanidrac

Now if only the starting rotation could be more consistent, this team could be a very dangerous underdog if they make the playoffs.