This is the fourth part of a series about the disjointedness of the St. Louis Cardinals baseball team and organization. This part details how it seems that the Cardinals view defense and fielding and how that plays a part in how disjointed I believe the Cardinals team is at the major league level.
The Fielding Over the last few years, the St. Louis Cardinals have seemingly gone out of their way to attempt to maximize player value in the minors (and then the majors) by pushing players to their limits defensively, up the defensive spectrum. One example of this recently is Paul DeJong. He was drafted in the 4th round out of college as a third baseman. Third base is not the easiest position to play in the majors - or even the infield. However, after an impressive minor league debut at the dish, after 170ish games the Cardinals decided to give DeJong a shot at shortstop. He played 11 games in AA Springfield at SS and then was sent to the AFL as a short stop as well. Now, keep in mind that DeJong was a catcher and third baseman in college but was drafted as a third baseman. He came up to the majors and has only played second base and shortstop there.
The Cardinals have done this all over, though. It has led to the Cardinals having very weak defense around the field at the expense of hitting the last few years. Of course, that piece goes back to a very Matheny-esque philosophy as he obviously prefers players he views as “hitters” at any position he can get them. He plays people who hit (or at least have hit for him at one time or another) more so than players who come up and don’t succeed with the bat immediately.
The last few years have seen the Cardinals play Matt Carpenter at 3B over 3,600 innings, Jon Jay in CF 3,400+ innings (of course it was tough to move him to left field with Matt Holliday planted there), Matt Carpenter play at 2B in over 1,500 innings, Aledmys Diaz at SS for nearly a full season, Dexter Fowler in CF for a whole season, Daniel Descalso at SS for over 650 innings, Jose Martinez on the field (to be fair, we don’t have a DH spot), Matt Adams in LF, Kolten Wong in CF. You get the picture.
Part of that has to be on Matheny - which is not the point here. The Cardinals upper management has allowed this to happen by suggesting this all over the field at all levels. Carson Kelly (successfully) made the switch from 3B to C. Paul DeJong has so far (somewhat successfully) made the switch from 3B to SS while in the Cardinals’ system. Randal Grichuk made the move from RF to CF successfully. They’ve seen enough success to have gotten more and more bold with the idea, it seems. But when you are doing that all around the field at the highest level, it has seemingly led to a lot of defensive confusion and ineptitude.
Please check back Friday and Saturday to see how this all fits together.
*As always, thank you to Fangraphs for a wonderful data selection to parse through!