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TCN Blog 2015 Top Story #19: First Base (Mis) Fortune

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.

Here is how 2015 rolled out.

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.

Link to The Cardinal Nation Blog’s top 20 stories of the year countdown

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Brian Walton

Brian Walton runs The Cardinal Nation and The Cardinal Nation Blog, covering the St. Louis Cardinals and minor league system.
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29 Responses to “TCN Blog 2015 Top Story #19: First Base (Mis) Fortune”

  1. JumboShrimp says:

    It’s good for Mo to live with a 900 ops reference point for an ideal roster. But he also has to live in the real world.
    In the real world, moss is not going to get above 800 again. Piscotty is a decent bet to reach 800. A healthy Adams could reach 800. 800 may be the best that is possible.
    The Orioles have made noises of impatience with Davis, so his situation seems ambiguous. His asking price may be too high for many teams, based on his talent.

  2. blingboy says:

    It is pretty clear that Mo had no plan to get to .900 at 1B this winter. Even if Heyward had signed to play RF, no combination of Adams, Moss and Piscotty adds up to .900 OPS at 1B over 700 PAs. Wishful thinking is not a strategy. Lucky for him, it does not have to happen this winter. It does have to happen, though.

    Meanwhile, we have a team very much like the one that won 100 games. We should be able to hang until Mo comes up with a move.

    We should also not assume that everything goes right for the Cubs.

  3. WestCoastbirdWatcher says:

    Considering Jocetty himself doesn’t appear to under fire……it raises some pretty interesting question about payroll protocols, the Reds aren’t the only team exploring TV money rebuilds, and that is what this is in Cinci and Atlanta etc…..

    If Bill has been sanction by the other owners or self imposed sanctions, considering his expenditures this winter, and Holiday leaving, he is almost doing a rebuild himself, coming out very young and very cheap. Spare me the illusions. Molina is wearing the cast of shame. Should he blow the next surgery, that’s a perfect year long excuse for a dive into 3rd place. Bill’s lucky to have such an understanding insurance carrier.

    • Brian Walton says:

      Jocketty is already on his way out. His successor, son of one the Reds owners, is in charge now.

      Thanks for stopping by and Happy Holidays. Are you now a free agent poster? 😉

    • crdswmn says:

      Westy! Long time no see.

      So if Molina is wearing the cast of shame, is Grichuk wearing the truss of chagrin? Seems only fair to me.

      Don’t be a stranger. I miss your posts.

      • WestCoastbirdWatcher says:

        I’m guessing that the irrelevance of Jocetty also goes on to prove a point. The game is changing. The Reds will get subsidized players rejected from other experiments, along with some of the prospects they got. They will create their own stories. I’m guessing John Barlycorn now rules free agency.

        Hi CRD………. the pressures the young players have to please MM looks to be a problem. They need to close that weight room. It is the foundation for Holidays unmaking. I’m sure he won’t hear about it. They’ll take that insurance money every time right now. Big City need weights? RG need weights? Molina didn’t re-tear. He stretched it out before it was healed. Weights??? You betcha. That Astro mess didn’t just disappear. You may be looking at it right now.

  4. blingboy says:

    Mo and his wonks, the ones Luhnow didn’t want, went into the FA season loaded for bear, so they thought. Ready to pull the trigger on high AAV long term deals. Problem is, they prepared to fight the last war. This one is all about these player option deals. Our side brought knives to a gun fight and got carved up. Bill’s money is sill in his pocket, though, which will be handy if the 1B slugger comes along.

  5. WestCoastbirdWatcher says:

    I think you are all wrong about Heyward. The guy new his situation. If Holiday doesn’t get hurt, he is a platoon player by August, and his FA value would have been 100m dollars less. The guy fought through the BS and lead the team in some of those dark days. I doubt Bill gets hung out with those other bids on board. That was just a show. Bill is on Plan. If Carrasco opens up, he leaps on that contract.

    • blingboy says:

      If Heyward was going to be platooned, it would have started the day his agent said he wasn’t negotiating during the season.

      Who would he have been platooned with? Grichuk was playing CF for injured Jay. Nobody would have known Piscotty could play if Holliday were not out. Bourjos? Don’t make me laugh.

      After the rough start, Heyward played well. He didn’t lay down at the end like most of the rest. He was playing for the money. His only problem was the Cards needed him to be a middle of the order producer, which is not his game. He wanted to maximize his take and be used in a role that matches his game. No problem there.

      • Brian Walton says:

        I am with you but just wanted to ask a question about the last paragraph. My question sounds a lot like something you might say, but here goes…

        If Heyward did not want to be a top of the order guy (Atlanta) and he did not want to be a middle of the order guy (St. Louis), what is left is not worth $20-some million per year, is it?

        • WestCoastbirdWatcher says:

          Tactically. With Cardinal hitting schemes, they have no middle of the order hitters.

          MC went mental. MH never was. He has been reduced to a singles hitter. JP broke down trying to hit for power. MR could not answer the bell. Moss slumped.

          And the most damaging of all. They were screwing with Piscotty’s stance all the way into the playoffs. Add the Tommy Pham pressure to conform to schemes, and you have to start asking yourself, WTF are these guys up to. I’m not going there either.

        • blingboy says:

          Responding to Brian, you make an astute point (like something I’d say).

          To reconfigure my point a bit, I think that Heyward was not interested in being a middle of the order hitter in a lineup where even if he started 154 games and hit .290, his teammates would only present him with enough chances to matter that he could only drive in 60 runs all year. It has to be admitted that, based upon what we are seeing, the supposition that that would be his future was prescient. That future would not be appealing to a player looking at opting out in a few years.

          Even if Mo had offered the same player opt out terms, what would Heyward’s market value be after three more 60 RBI seasons? In Chicago, where ever he bats, he is likely to be a key part of a potent offense. Highlight reel ammo for next go round.

  6. WestCoastbirdWatcher says:

    “If Heyward was going to be platooned, it would have started the day his agent said he wasn’t negotiating during the season.”

    This is presumptuous. It suggests that Bill ever had any intention of keeping JH. He took a contract that he had full control over. Maximum leverage. And preceded to sell ticket with it. In almost all scenarios, JH was hitting the highway. Bill ended up having to confront one of the most difficult of the scenarios, which had JH playing well on an over achieving team. Don’t forget that with 2 weeks left, this team was in real trouble.

    “Who would he have been platooned with? Grichuk was playing CF for injured Jay. Nobody would have known Piscotty could play if Holliday were not out. Bourjos? Don’t make me laugh.”

    He was being platooned. Don’t forget Moss. And the losing streak.

    A///// him to be a middle of the order producer, which is not his game/////.

    And that is where they placed him. The activities of this team in September were some of the darkest moments I’ve seen in sports. But I’m not going there.

    • Brian Walton says:

      A few random thoughts.

      Heyward was never platooned. He played 154 games, taking off roughly one day per month.

      I believe it was Rob Rains who wrote a “Heyward wasn’t worth it” kind of article after the Cubs signing. Rains pointed out that Heyward is not the kind of player that people go out of their way to see. That he did not sell tickets like a Pujols or Wainwright. I had never thought of it quite that way.

      I can’t speak for the other players, but their supposed messing with Piscotty seemed to work pretty well in both the regular season and playoffs. Piscotty and Heyward provided most of the offense in the NLDS.

      • WestCoastbirdWatcher says:

        He started 154 games????? they were on the way to establishing his position as a platoon player. When they were pretty much justified, Holiday went down, and with Jay hurt, that play was over. All in a 10day period.

        JH is a model African American player. That is 50% of the Chicago impetus to sign him. What do Fox dollars have to do with anything at this point. Homer Baily over 100m????

        Brian, it would appear the JH and Agent had a different opinion of his options than you. Look at Piscotty’s AB’s and watch how they cooled a red hot kid. Pham was on fire, and got benched for not following protocols. And those are things I noticed. If BD gets a shot at that Carrasco contract, you could lose at least Wong and some pitching. Time will tell. Lets watch.

  7. blingboy says:

    Commenting on Westy’s posts:

    1) Since there are not a lot of non-latino African American stars in MLB these days, it is reasonable to think that it could be a consideration, especially in a market where appealing to that demographic would make economic sense. I have no idea if it makes more sense in Chicago than elsewhere.

    2) I do not buy the platoon thing. At most, they would have sat Heyward some to try to break up the slow start/slump if Holliday had remained available. Mo would not stand for the guy he traded Miller for not being presented as a key ingredient. It is exactly the same as why the big contracts meant that Pujols and later Holliday were going to bat 3rd every day no matter what. I think that BDW expects big investments to produce big results, and the GM knows that if he makes the commitment he is going to be wearing it for the duration.

    3) Yes, Piscotty would get sat right in the middle of tearing it up. Nothing unusual there. The Cardinals way seems to include not letting a young player acquire a sense of entitlement. I do not agree with sitting a hot bat, but I understand why they do it.

    4) Looking at Carrasco’s salary and his WAR, he is likely to produce $30M+ surplus value per year for a while. Everyone will know this. Mo wants to be in the business of developing that guy, not buying him, but he’d look into it. If the Cards get to thinking Reyes has make-up issues it could happen. If we offered anything else, we’d get outbid.

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