Scrambling after the tragic death of Oscar Taveras in October 2014, the St. Louis Cardinals made a major investment to firm up their 2015 outfield via the acquisition of Jason Heyward in trade from Atlanta.
Then expected to be an area of stability for the 2015 Cardinals, instead the outfield turned into a major area of churn.
Heyward delivered what was expected of him, ready to play each day (154 games played) with Gold Glove-caliber defense and above-average offense. In the 15-team National League in total, Cardinals right fielders ranked second in batting average, third in on-base percentage, and fifth in both slugging and OPS.
Heyward’s starting outfield mates were not as fortunate, however.
In aggregate, center fielder Jon Jay and left fielder Matt Holliday could only answer the bell for 152 games. In other words, the Cardinals received only about one season’s worth of play from their other two projected outfield starters in 2015. And when they were in the lineup, they were less than 100 percent more often than not.
Jay never recovered from a 2014 wrist injury that required surgery and struggled to his worst season as a Cardinal while playing in just 79 games.
Others tried at the position included Peter Bourjos and Randal Grichuk, before Tommy Pham arrived during August. The relatively good results from Grichuk and Pham were not enough to overcome the longer-term struggles by Jay and Bourjos, both of whom are now ex-Cardinals. As a group, Cardinals center fielders ranked 13th in the NL in batting, on-base percentage and OPS and 12th in slugging.
In left, Holliday was actually off to a good start that included setting a new National League record for consecutive games on base to open the season at 45, though his power output was down. However, his season was ruined when he tried to come back too soon from an early June right quad strain (see photo) and ended up playing in a career-low 73 games.
Unlike in center field, those filling in for Holliday – primarily Stephen Piscotty and Grichuk – did an admirable job. As a result, the patchwork left fielders were in aggregate second in batting average, third in slugging and first in OBP and OPS in the league.
Even Grichuk dealt with the injury bug, with weight room-driven elbow problems that sidelined him for a month in the early part of the season and which knocked him back onto the DL again in August. It was bad enough that initially he was not allowed to throw upon his September return. Despite being with St. Louis all season long, Grichuk played in just 103 games.
One positive by-product of the long periods of down time by Jay and Holliday was that the young outfielders Grichuk, Piscotty and Pham all seemed to find their way as Major League rookies in 2015.
So the growing pains suffered this past season may position the team better to compensate for the departure of Heyward for 2016.
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