The process of selecting candidates for The Cardinal Nation’s St. Louis Cardinals Rookie of the Year award was fairly straightforward.
Unlike many years, when pitchers coming up from the minors were prevalent, the 2015 rookie headliners are hitters. Sure, had Tim Cooney’s season not ended prematurely due to an appendectomy, the left-hander would likely have received a number of starts in the final month, but that did not happen. Relievers Sam Tuivailala and Miguel Socolovich had their moments, but they were relatively few in comparison to the leading rookie position players.
Yes, the bats were the big story among Cardinals rookies in 2015. Among the four primary contenders, three remained at Triple-A Memphis until the second half of the season, when injuries and/or ineffectiveness finally created an opportunity with St. Louis.
Stephen Piscotty was an immediate sensation upon his late July arrival, bringing a welcome injection of offense - spraying extra-base hits and driving in key runs. In addition, he increased his value and playing time by his versatility, making starts at all three outfield positions plus first base. One could make an argument that Piscotty was the team’s MVP for August and September.
Tommy Pham, oft-injured and now 27 years of age, had to be disappointed once again when his strong spring training showing ended with a badly-strained quad that sidelined him until early June. He finally seized his chance during his second call up starting in mid-August, when no other healthy and effective center fielders were available, and was a key contributor down the stretch.
Once thought to be a prime candidate to replace non-tendered utilityman Daniel Descalso, instead infielder Greg Garcia was a surprise early cut from spring camp. Only late in the season, when it became clear that middle infielders Jhonny Peralta and Kolten Wong were getting gassed from playing every day, did Garcia receive the call and any meaningful playing time, still as much as a pinch-hitter than anything. The organization’s stubbornness to stick with sub-Mendoza line hitter Pete Kozma instead essentially rendered one bench spot useless for much of the season – until the NLDS, when Kozma was left off the roster in favor of Garcia.
That leaves Randal Grichuk among our Cardinals rookie population. Based on his regular play in the final month and post-season of 2014, the outfielder had a head start coming into 2015. In fact, he was the only rookie to remain with St. Louis the entire season, offering tantalizing power – when he could stay on the field.
Grichuk had two lengthy stints on the disabled list that throttled his consistency. Before the season was barely two weeks old, a back injury sidelined the 23-year-old for a month, until mid-May. (The photo at the left was taken during his Florida rehab in May.) An August elbow injury that hampered his throwing even upon his September return, directly opened the door for Pham.
Coming into the season, The Cardinal Nation had Grichuk and Piscotty ranked among the system’s top five prospects. Pham was at 13 with Garcia at 21. (See top 40 ranking in table below.)
|Hitters (Top 40)||bWAR||PA||HR||RBI||BA||BABIP||OBP||BB%||SLG||XBH%||OPS||SO%|
|Randal Grichuk (4)||3.2||350||17||47||0.276||0.365||0.329||6.3%||0.548||13.4%||0.877||31.4%|
|Stephen Piscotty (5)||0.9||256||7||39||0.305||0.372||0.359||7.8%||0.494||10.2%||0.853||21.9%|
|Tommy Pham (13)||1.5||173||5||18||0.268||0.333||0.347||11.0%||0.477||9.8%||0.824||23.7%|
|Greg Garcia (21)||0.7||87||2||4||0.240||0.262||0.337||11.5%||0.387||8.1%||0.724||13.8%|
|Pitchers (Top 40)||bWAR||IP|
|Tim Cooney (7)||0.7||31.1|
|M. Socolovich (NR)||0.7||29.2|
|Sam Tuivailala (8)||0.3||14.2|
Looking at the numbers, Grichuk still managed 350 plate appearances, roughly 100 more than Piscotty and double the workload of Pham. Like the pitchers mentioned earlier, Garcia did not see enough action to have a real chance for this award.
Wins Above Replacement offers an interesting perspective. I was not surprised to see Grichuk on top, but did not expect to see Pham ahead of Piscotty.
While Piscotty had the highest batting average of the three outfielders, some have expressed concern that his high BABIP, batting average on balls in play, will lead to a correction. Interestingly, Grichuk’s BABIP is lower by just a few points.
Neither Piscotty nor Grichuk take a lot of walks, with the former’s slightly higher rate contributing to a better on-base percentage.
Of course, power is Grichuk’s forte. It only stands to reason that with over 13 percent of his hits going for extra bases, his slugging percentage and OPS would top the rookie class.
In fact, despite his limited at-bats compared to every-day players healthy all season, Grichuk’s 17 home runs tied him for second on the team with Jhonny Peralta, behind Matt Carpenter. However, in both slugging and OPS, Grichuk bested even Carpenter for the top marks on the entire Cardinals roster in 2015.
Even with a strikeout rate that continues to be concerning, Grichuk’s team leadership in those key offensive categories is enough to justify his selection as The Cardinal Nation’s Rookie of the Year for 2015.
Link to master article with all 2015 award winners, team recaps and article schedules for the remainder of this series. That includes our St. Louis Relief Pitcher and Starting Pitcher of the Year, up next.
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