First base is a position from which offensive leadership is expected. That did not occur for the 2015 St. Louis Cardinals.
Of St. Louis’ eight non-pitching positions, here is how the aggregate first basemen stacked up in comparison to their Cardinals peers:
Batting average – .235 / ranked seventh (second to last)
On-base percentage – .310 / seventh
Slugging percentage – .392 / fifth
OPS – .702 / sixth
In other words, in all the slash line categories, the first basemen were in the bottom half of the inconsistent 2015 Cardinals offense.
Among the 15 National League teams’ first basemen, the story is worse:
Batting average – 14th
On-base percentage – 11th
Slugging percentage – 15th
OPS – 15th
Home runs – 13th
RBI – 13th
That is right. Of what teams want the most from first base – slugging (and OPS) – the Cardinals were dead last in the league in 2015.
Sure, there are explanations, but they don’t change the bottom line.
In the second straight May, Matt Adams hit the disabled list. The big man suffered a significant right quad tear and went out on the 27th. Before being injured, his line was .243/.281/.375/.656. All were career lows.
The 27-year-old did not return until September 10 and did not appear to be 100 percent. 10 of his 17 appearances were as a pinch-hitter as he went just 7 for 31 (.226/.273/.387/.660) to close out the season. Adams was left off the playoff roster.
Veteran Mark Reynolds took over as the every-day first baseman for Adams until Brandon Moss was acquired from Cleveland on July 30. Reynolds’ line at first for the season was .237/.331/.426/.757. He hit 11 home runs and drove in 38 in 311 plate appearances while at first base before departing as a free agent following the season.
31 of Moss’ 51 games after joining the Cardinals were spent at first despite the fact that he was acquired after left-fielder Matt Holliday was injured. When playing at first, Moss hit just two home runs and plated four in 97 plate appearances with a line of .213/.278/.360/.638.
Though Stephen Piscotty first arrived from Memphis on July 21, the rookie primarily played at his regular position in the outfield, with only occasional appearances (nine games) at first. In that small slice of data, 27 plate appearances, Piscotty the first baseman slashed .333/.407/.458/.866. He had a home run and seven RBI.
In a potential look to the future, Piscotty started three of the Cardinals’ four NLDS games at first base and continued to hit well.
After the 2015 season, general manager John Mozeliak pointedly said on KMOX Radio that he wants a .900 OPS out of first base, not a .750. It seemed the most likely position for the team to seek an upgrade for 2016, but that has not been the case, at least to date.
As of now, Piscotty, Moss and Adams are all on the 2016 team. Moss and Adams would not be an ideal platoon as both hit left-handed while the right-handed hitting Piscotty may be needed in the outfield.
How the 2016 Cardinals could get to .900 with their existing personnel remains a major question. Adams’ only season above .780 was .839 in 2013, far below the ideal. Even before his 2014 hip surgery, Moss reached it just once, in a partial season of action back in 2012 (.954).
Piscotty is the wild card. With regular 2015 right-fielder Jason Heyward having moved on and no replacement yet added, that duty would seem to fall to Piscotty by default and if so, would likely keep him out of the first base derby.
No matter where it comes from, the Cardinals need more from first base in 2016 if they want to improve on their 2015 offensive inconsistencies.
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