Aledmys Diaz (Billy Hurst/USA Today Sports Images)

Evaluating the results of the St. Louis Cardinals first year players in 2016 indicates two clear contenders.

Shortstop Aledmys Diaz edged out closer Seung-hwan Oh as our top St. Louis Cardinals first-year player in 2016.

In 2016, the St. Louis Cardinals employed 14 rookies - six position players and eight pitchers. Their contributions were considerable, totaling 9.5 fWAR, Wins Above Replacement for the season. That compares very favorably to the 6.3 mark from the 2015 Cardinals’ 13 first-year players.

Four of the 14 registered WARs over 1.0 and two over 2.0. Therefore, using WAR to narrow down the selection of candidates for The Cardinal Nation’s St. Louis Cardinals Rookie of the Year award was fairly straightforward.

While two home-grown Cardinals, infielder Greg Garcia and pitcher Alex Reyes, were strong performers, two relative newcomers to the organization, shortstop Aledmys Diaz and reliever Seung-hwan Oh, rose to the top over the 162-game season.

In a close finish, Diaz is The Cardinal Nation’s 2016 Rookie of the Year.

http://www.scout.com/player/187201-aledmys-diaz?s=321

Here are key stats from the Cardinals’ rookie position players. They are ordered by the far right column, fWAR.

Position players G PA HR RBI BB% K% AVG OBP SLG wRC+ fWAR
Aledmys Diaz 111 460 17 65 8.9% 13.0% 0.300 0.369 0.510 132 2.7
Greg Garcia 99 257 3 17 14.8% 19.5% 0.276 0.393 0.369 111 1.9
Jose Martinez 12 18 0 1 11.1% 5.6% 0.438 0.500 0.500 178 0.2
Jeremy Hazelbaker 114 224 12 28 8.0% 28.6% 0.235 0.295 0.480 101 0.1
Carson Kelly 10 14 0 1 0.0% 14.3% 0.154 0.214 0.231 20 -0.1
Alberto Rosario 20 41 0 2 4.9% 12.2% 0.184 0.225 0.237 22 -0.3

Across the National League, 2016 may be known as the Year of the Rookie Shortstop. Batting second in Colorado’s lineup in his first taste of the Majors, Trevor Story broke out of the gates with an impressive power surge. Before suffering a torn thumb ligament that ended his season two months early, Story was a top contender for the NL Rookie of the Year Award.

The likely winner, Corey Seager, also batting second for his Dodgers club, helped lead Los Angeles all the way into the NL Championship Series. His fWAR of 7.5 not only tops all NL rookies, it is second in the league overall, behind MVP front-runner Kris Bryant.

Like Story, Diaz’ NL Rookie of the Year campaign was limited by injury. The Cuban appeared in 111 games, missing a month due to a thumb fracture, but still batted .300. The shortstop’s .510 slugging percentage was first on the entire team, ahead of notable boppers Brandon Moss, Jedd Gyorko, Matt Adams, Matt Holliday and Randal Grichuk.

Diaz’ 2.7 WAR was not only tops among Cardinals first-year position players, it was second among all hitters on the team to TCN’s Player of the Year, Matt Carpenter. The Cuban’s .879 OPS, second-highest on the club, was also only .006 behind Carpenter. When Carpenter was unable to play in the MLB All-Star Game due to injury, Diaz was named to the NL squad as his replacement.

Pitchers W L SV G GS IP K/9 BB/9 ERA FIP fWAR
Seung-hwan Oh 6 3 19 76 0 79.2 11.6 2.0 1.92 2.13 2.6
Alex Reyes 4 1 1 12 5 46.0 10.2 4.5 1.57 2.67 1.4
Matt Bowman 2 5 0 59 0 67.2 6.9 2.7 3.46 3.31 0.7
Luke Weaver 1 4 0 9 8 36.1 11.2 3.0 5.70 4.33 0.5
Miguel Socolovich 1 0 0 15 0 18.0 8.0 2.5 2.00 3.65 0.1
Dean Kiekhefer 0 0 0 26 0 22.0 5.7 2.9 5.32 4.28 0.0
Sam Tuivailala 0 0 0 12 0 9.0 7.0 6.0 6.00 4.26 0.0
Mike Mayers 1 1 0 4 1 5.1 3.4 5.1 27.00 11.96 -0.3

Already named our Relief Pitcher of the Year, Oh’s praises as one of the brightest spots of the season have already been sung. (Sorry about that!) Moving into the closer’s role in late June, the Korean native went 19 for 22 in save opportunities and logged 2.6 WAR overall.

http://www.scout.com/player/204704-seung-hwan-oh?s=321

Comparing the two rookies, the 26-year-old shortstop and the 34-year-old setup man-turned-closer, I gave the slight edge to the everyday player, Diaz.

Though I must admit I have wondered if the Cardinals’ 2016 might have concluded differently had Oh been closing all season long, I feel the same way about Diaz being kept at the bottom of the batting order until the season was one-fourth over.

Congratulations to Aledmys Diaz, The Cardinal Nation’s St. Louis Cardinals Rookie of the Year for 2016.

 

Honorable mentions

I want to come back to the 2016 season of Greg Garcia. It seems the use of the reserve infielder, in 257 plate appearances over 99 games, optimized his contribution at a very solid 1.9 WAR. Of special note is Garcia’s team-best walk rate of 14.8 percent, a half-point higher than leadoff man Carpenter.

http://www.scout.com/player/145002-greg-garcia?s=321

To help put Garcia’s WAR into perspective, prior infielders Pete Kozma and Daniel Descalso together never approached that level over their careers with St. Louis. In four seasons with the Cards, Descalso totaled just 0.1 WAR and in Kozma’s two full years with St. Louis, his aggregate WAR was -0.6.

http://www.scout.com/player/174617-alex-reyes?s=321

Despite tossing just 46 innings, right-hander Alex Reyes shined when finally moved into the rotation for the final month of the season and delivered 1.4 WAR, fourth-best among Cardinals rookies. Had the wraps been taken off the organization’s top prospect earlier, he could have won this award.

 

Prior TCN St. Louis Rookies of the Year

I am not sure why it took so long to recognize this category, with this being just our third annual award.

  TCN Rookie of the Year
2016 Aledmys Diaz
2015 Randal Grichuk
2014 Kolten Wong

Click here to review the prior decade’s annual award winners in all categories, majors and minors.

 

For more

Link to master article with all 2016 award winners, team recaps and article schedules for the remainder of this series. The series will conclude on Tuesday with our very comprehensive 2016 Cardinals season recap.

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Brian Walton can be reached via email at brian@thecardinalnationblog.com. Also catch his Cardinals commentary at The Cardinal Nation blog. Follow Brian on Twitter.

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